PS... A Column
By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.
July 31, 2000
I have a day job, so I need to make it clear to anyone who comes here that the opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not represent those of my employer, my family, or your great-aunt Mathilda. Offer not valid in Wisconsin. You must enter to win.
Table of Contents:
Ross Snyder pointed out:
Been a long while since you mentioned your cats...
Now of course there are people, including readers of this column, who don't feel I mention them often enough, and they know how to read, but nevertheless, it probably is time for a feline update.
Once again, I'd like to apologize, particularly to those of you in the Bay Area. When Jon Carroll writes about Bucket, or when Adair Lara tackles her cats, you can smell the fur.
Well, I can smell the fur (and brush it off most of my clothing for that matter), but despite my extreme affection for our boys, I'm not sure I can capture their wide-ranging and positive influence on my life and that of my family.
They have become more heliotropic in recent weeks, as we hit the height of summer. They find patches of sunlight in the breakfast nook in the morning, in front of the fireplace in the afternoon and in the master bedroom or Vicki's office in the evening. Jagermeister, the beta cat, sits down first, and Champagne then comes along and, as befits the alpha cat, drapes himself all over his hapless sibling.
Jager has become quite the vocalizer. He yelps all day long--he yelps in the morning (usually about 6 a.m.) when he thinks it is time for his daily tablespoon of tuna. He yelps every time I come into the room.
The boys spend their days with Vicki when she's working at home, or with the girls when they are here. If there's no one else in the house, and I am reading in the evening, they may deign to be in the room with me, but that's about it. Vicki says they are often in the way--I'd like to experience that now and then.
They sleep on our bed every night--on Vicki's side, usually on top of her. And every night when we turn off our reading lights and settle in, they leap off the bed because they are shocked--shocked--that we could be so callow as to adjust our positions in bed, something they've never seen before (except every night they've been here for two years).
They continue to be content and to purr loudly and frequently.
And (did I mention this before?) they seem quite happy with their LitterMaid automatic catbox--the one that automatically sweeps their business out of their catbox each time they use it. This device scares many cats--and I am sure the Boys would be scared too, if it ever went off while they were in it. So far, it hasn't. With two cats, a self-cleaning box is a must, I feel. Alas, we still have to empty it.
Marlow's boyfriend Ryan Smee is in town this weekend with his parents to attend a wedding, then will be spending much of next week here as well. Naturally, we're all excited around here to meet him and his family. Coverage of these events will appear next week. I am writing the column on Friday so I won't be tempted to sneak upstairs and work on it Sunday when they're here.
Old Enough Redux
With regard to last week's note about "old enough," Ross Snyder (retired HP PR man, inventor of the SelSync recording technology that enabled tape overdubbing and WW II Army Air Force pilot) writes:
This ancient specimen was thirteen when he was put on the train, alone, for a week in Chicago at the Century of Progress World's Fair.
He was sixteen when first allowed to take the family sedan, with friends, across the SF bay on the ferry, for a Saturday afternoon at long-gone Fleishacker Pool and the SF Zoo.
And he thinks YOUR kids are smarter and better informed about the world around them than he was...
Contentville Part 1
Web Informant last week contained an upbeat review of the new site from Steve Brill of Brill's Content called Contentville. Brigitte Weeks concludes:
Brill's slogan on every page of Contentville is "Readers rejoice" and there's a forty/sixty chance that they will.
Contentville Part 2
My colleague Jon Udell takes a somewhat more jaundiced view:
I just happened to stumble across the online version of Brill's Content, atwww.contentville.com.
It's "value proposition" is:
'Perform lightning fast searches of the archives of nearly two thousand publications, including the New York Times, then purchase and download for immediate reading. Readers rejoice.'
Imagine my surprise when a search for "Jon Udell" turns up not only my book, but a bunch of byte.com columns:
Imagine my further surprise when that URL leads to a shopping page where these columns, freely available at byte.com, can be bought for $2.95 a pop (Citizens Club Price: $2.80).
Cool. Napster (ordered to shut down today) has everyone's shorts in a knot over content piracy. Meanwhile these folks are way ahead of the curve. They're collecting money for free stuff!
Well, OK, let's cut them some slack. The order confirmation page charitably points out:
"There are no shipping costs for electronic goods. After completing the check out process you will be able to download these items right away."
Amazing. Who would have thunk it? Reminds me of my dad's favorite business plan. Just a classified ad with an address, and the line:
"Last chance to send your dollar!"
And it wasn't just Jon; a lot of content providers were upset at this apparent appropriation of their intellectual property.
He had this exchange with a reader on the subject, which I reprint because the reader presents a little of Contentville's side (Italics are the reader, roman text is Jon)
FWIW, Apart from considerations of copyright, I think it says something about the transaction value of knowledge. What's $3 today, vs. a professional spending a little more time and effort to discover info on their own?
Might be true, if the site were a demonstrably superior locator of content. But w/respect to the freely available stuff it aggregates, it isn't. In fact, they don't even fulltext index stuff, so it's actually harder to find stuff there than elsewhere!
The payment actually appears to be for location and transmission, since the content is available free if - and only if - you know where to look for it. Here's a quote from their legal content page: "Occasionally, Legal Documents that we sell at Contentville are available elsewhere on the Internet for free. The reason we charge you for them is that we have taken the trouble to gather them in one place; thus you are paying us a small fee--$2.95 - $3.95-- for the convenience of having easy access to them. "
The service isn't about convenience of access. If anything, it's about editorial selection and presentation of interesting items. Once identified through the service, they're easily accessible elsewhere.
One of my correspondents, who prefers to remain anonymous, sent me this site, which is both amusing and chillingly accurate. I can't wait to see how the Million Billionaire March goes at each convention.
Federal Government Joke Redux
Last week, I ran a joke with this setup:
The NSA, the CIA and the FBI are all trying to prove that they are the best at apprehending criminals. The President decides to give them a test. He releases a rabbit into a forest and each of them has to catch it.
One of my more cynical correspondents offers this version in lieu of the one I already ran:
CIA sends about 50 intelligence officers and a bundle of satellites to surveil the Sahara Desert. The rabbit takes up residence in the CIA lobby after walking out of the adjoining forest and is greeted every day by the Director and those looking for the rabbit in the forest. CIA reports there is no rabbit in the forest. When asked why it looked in the desert, the agency says its photo analysts couldn't tell the difference between the desert and the forest. When asked about the rabbit in the lobby, the agency says again quite accurately there is no rabbit in the forest. If you think this is a joke, think again.
Up At The Villa
You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database.
Philip Haas seems to take his time between movies. He had films in 93 and 97, and in-between made the quite memorable Angels and Insects in 1995. Here, he and his wife, screenwriter Belinda, have taken a Somerset Maugham story and turned it into one of those indelibly British films. You've seen a thousand of them. Sean Penn turns in another brilliant performance as the token American, Kristin Scott Thomas is brilliant as the confused Englishwoman with the bad judgment.
One thing I'll say about Maugham, he knew his way around a plot twist. You never know where this one is going until it gets there.
Very slow, very talk, very artsy. I wouldn't take anyone under 17--not for the sex (some), violence (some) or language (none), but because it will bore them to tears. Literate adults, on the other hand, will be tickled to watch clever plotting, literate dialog, and adult actors in adult situations--in the old-fashioned sense of adult.
Yet More On That Aphorism!
Well, now I know how to generate weeks worth of email. Carelessly misquote a famous aphorism.
This from Miriam Nadel:
According to a biography of Dorothy Parker that I read some years ago, the way the story actually went is that a photographer was explaining away his missing a deadline by saying he was "too fucking busy" and she just muttered "or vice versa."
Uh, Miriam, I don't recognize your name. Where do I know you from, or how did you find this column?
Larry King chimes in again:
I am going to make a name for myself as a pain in the ass this way, but one more small correction . . . Dorothy Parker did tell a messenger from The New Yorker her copy wasn't in because she was too fucking busy, and vice versa, but it was Mr. Ross, not Mr. Shawn, to whom the remark was addressed. So says Genius in Disguise, the biography of Harold Ross by Thomas Kunkel that came out a few years ago, and according to a couple of other, earlier works about the Algonquin Round Table set. That makes sense, because William Shawn didn't become editor of the New Yorker until 1952, after Ross's death late in 1951, and Dorothy Parker had quit writing for The New Yorker quite a while before that. I highly recommend the Kunkel book, by the way. He also edited a collection of Ross's letters, which was published earlier this year and which I also recommend.
I have read the collection of Ross letters and also recommend it, and I have a copy of the Ross biography on my desk. In fact, I have a half-dozen New Yorker books, and when I finish the last of them, I'll share my opinion.
By the way, the collected letters of S.J. Perelman also make good reading.
Speaking of Larry King, he made a brief remark about female British twits last week:
She has a formidable chin and even more formidable teeth -- so formidable it can be hard to distinguish her from the horse whose company she generally prefers to that of her husband and certainly her children.
which drew this response from an anonymous reader:
Larry King in a shocking display of the truth appears to describe the current and long-time consort of the current King-in-waiting. One wonders how Mr. King's trenchant analysis escaped the U.K. without being slapped with a D notice under the Official Secrets Act. Alternatively, if such notice were attached, where do we contribute to the Free Larry King Fund?
Send those checks to me, payable to me.
Kent Peterman, one of the few correspondents who has appeared in both this column and Herb Caen, submits this doggerel:
Dorothy Parker is one of my all time favorites.
And this is one of my favorite quotes of hers:
I like to have a Martini
Also re: TWIT
As I was learning to use a computer I always said that it stood for Techno Weenie In Training.
Richard Dalton checks in with two comments from last week:
Is there any reason why libraries aren't digitizing old newspapers and storing them in databases? Microfilm's so retro, it's quaint. I've seen some reduced-image versions of papers that are quite readable in 8 1/2 X 11" format and with amazing fidelity to the original.
Andů don't wish that the Mechanics Library was more like an airline club. You might get what you wish for. And it's such a wonderful, fusty old place just as it is. Where else can you get most of a gentleman's city club for $60?
Alas, there is a reason; the originals of the newspapers have already been tossed out, in most cases, well before the invention of sufficient digitizing technology. That's a shame. Baker is right; they should have microfilmed the newspapers and saved the originals, rather than throwing them out.
Richard's right about the Mechanics Library, although I still wish they'd had a way I could have joined it on the weekend, so I could have whiled away a few hours there instead of in the Marriott Lobby. Well, one of these days.
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