PS... A Column
By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.
I have a day job. So every word of this is my opinion, not that of my employer. This offer IS void in Wisconsin. Except, of course, that some material in this column comes from incoming e-mail; such material is usually reproduced in the Sans Serif type font to distinguish it from the (somewhat) original material.
June 17, 2002 Vol. 4, No. 24
Table of Contents:
How Not To Be Remembered
I was just reading the Esquire profile of Johnny Carson on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of his retirement from television (it is the "fun" issue with Kirsten Dunst on the cover). You may have noticed Carson disappeared. To sum up the piece: he's glad he went out on top, doesn't miss TV and is never coming back, so get over it. He has even closed up the Carson Productions office. If you're at all interested in him, the Tonight Show or late-night TV, read the piece.
When Roseanne asked him why he was retiring, he quoted Beverly Sills, who "would rather have people say to [her] at a party, 'Beverly, why did you quit singing, rather than why didn't you quit?'"
And so, I thought, wouldn't it be neat if I had gone out at the top of my game? And then I realized: I'm not sure when that would have been.
I am not going to be remembered as much of a journalist. I was reading Fred Langa's Langalist biography the other day, and noted that he has won 20 awards. I have won five, four internal awards from CMP and one internal award from the Oregon Journal. In short, no one other than my colleagues ever thought any of my work was award-worthy.
Although I am proud of my 30 years and 10 million words as a professional writer and journalist, it is not for my career that I'm going to be remembered. I was a journeyman, a competent craftsman, beloved by my colleagues and staffs, but not a towering or particularly talented figure by any means.
As A.J. Leibling once said, "I write faster than anyone who writes better, and better than anyone who writes faster." And from 1972 until 1992, I wrote longer than anyone, period, at a time when length (combined with cogency) was a prized talent. Then I had to learn to write short.
As for my professional work, I am proudest of my penultimate job as editor of Winmag.com and Byte.com. Yet it is clear from a brief conversation with one of my former supervisors that I did not impress corporate management with my work in those positions. He said he couldn't continue the conversation without permission from HR. I decided I didn't care about senior management's opinion of me. I was never even on the short list for another editor job after that. Apparently, I didn't show them anything.
Then there's the problem of my employers disappearing. I have a scrapbook full of good work I did for the late Oregon Journal, the late United Press International, the late Computer Systems News, the late Information Systems News, and the late Windows Magazine.
Information Week is still around, but no one there knows what I did at the publication. I helped found it. In August 1987, I wrote one-third of all the text that appeared in the magazine. I worked there for five years, winning two internal CMP awards. I single-handedly did the statistical work for the first five InformationWEEK 100/500 lists--both data entry and database programming. I don't expect any kudos: I collected my check and did my job. I don't even really expect to be remembered for any of the work. It would be nice, but that's not how it goes. The magazine was not a moneymaker when I was there, so my work had no value.
Virtually all the multimedia and text work I did on the Internet from 1996 to 2002 was either snuffed out gradually or suddenly and is no longer available on line. It was good work. I was proud of it. In the way of the Internet, it is as if it never happened. Again, it made no money, so there was no reason to keep it around.
I will be remembered professionally, if at all, as a mentor to Tom LaSusa, as the man who did the first Winmag CD-ROM in six weeks with zero budget, as the good boss of 14 people who kept Byte alive for two years and Winmag alive for 20 months. At a time of 50% annual turnover in the company, no one quit from either of my sites. That didn't impress upper management. It impressed me, and it impressed my people. They'll remember.
Carson, of course, knew the ephemeral nature of television accomplishment--if for no other reason than that his first 10 years were erased. Yup. NBC wanted to re-use the tape, and didn't want to pay the storage charges. I am luckier; I have on VHS tape all 100 reviews I did during my five years (19895-1990) as the weekly software reviewer on the PBS program The Computer Chronicles as well as my dozen appearances on the annual buyers' guide show, which they dropped from the schedule in 1999. Of course, with VHS dying as a format, I'd better get them dubbed off or someday they won't be viewable anymore. Is my Chronicles work a body of professional work for which I might be remembered? Doubtful.
I am proud of my work as a journalist. But basically I was just another hired gun with a typewriter--and later with a PC, and still later with a tape recorder.
If I'm remembered at all, it will be on a personal basis, as a good son, a good husband, a good father, and, if I'm really lucky, someday as a good teacher. And that is good enough for me.
By the way, I am aware of the fact that this entire item begs the question of "remembered by whom" and "in what context." The vast majority of people in the world are lucky if their relatives, not to mention total strangers, remember them. And it isn't at all clear to me what value there is to being remembered by people who know your work and not you. Still, when I was young I had hoped to create a body of memorable work. I have. It just turns out my medium was not words (spoken or written) as I had hoped and expected, but people and relationships. Talk about writing in the sand!
The San Francisco Chronicle ran a small picture of John Ashcroft on its front page June 11, under the headline, "The Threat." There was a caption underneath, blah, blah, something about the dirty bomb suspect. But the headline and picture, I think, captured the truth.
My Brother Graduates
The column is short this week because I just flew in from Seattle, and boy are my arms tired.
Seriously, my brother Steve just received his AA degree at the age of 48, and I flew/drove to his home in Oak Harbor, Wash. to celebrate. He wore his red cap and gown, and we took many pictures. Frankly, he's an inspiration to me as I work towards my teaching certificate and eventually a masters' degree in education.
Congratulations on the flat hat Steve! You just proved we're never too old to learn.
My niece Stephanie is as beautiful as always, currently with her hair in corn rows. Her boyfriend Daniel is a delight.
Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs
Craig checks in:
Economist Stan Liebowitz of the Cato Institutehems and haws (in Salon, by Damien Cave) trying to explain why there is no evidence to support his recently published prediction that MP3 downloads, from Napster and its ilk, would cause a dramatic drop in CD sales. On the other side of the coin, the LA Times' Jon Healey writes of Net Music That's a Steal -- but Not Stolen (registration required, see next item) about recent efforts by Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment (note: I work for another Sony company) to sell individual songs in open MP3 format at reasonable prices. Of course the market will debate the meaning of "reasonable". I continue to applaud these flickering signs of cluefullness about the net economy in the music industry, like the 99 cent single mentioned here June 3.
Aside about "free" registration: you probably know that online access to the New York Times "requires free registration". Its been about four years since I registered there so my memory is hazy, but I think they asked fewer revealing personal questions back then. The information is used for demographic tracking with site tracking, they promise not to reveal it. I was faced with similar invasive questions when the LA Times started requiring registration to see their news content. Eventually I decided to register using bogus information: non existent street addresses and so on. While I was manufacturing this information by hand I recalled seeing a NYT Random Login Generator mentioned at Slashdot.
Normally I consider Reuters a pretty solid source for news. I was disappointed when I read Study: Software Piracy Up for Second Straight Year which struck me as a softball rewrite of a BSA press release. There was no indication that Reuters had done any fact checking, let alone independent reporting. Then I saw a MUCH better article later the same day by David Legard of IDG News Service: Software piracy losses fell to $11B in 2001, BSA says, had the Reuters article included the numbers for the two years, they might have gotten the headline right. Finally, and this seems like kind of a key point, just how are they getting these numbers? Presumably the "pirates" aren't ratting themselves out. The IDG article describes the flawed methodology: they estimate use of unlicensed software "...by comparing the amount of legal software supplied to a country with the anticipated demand for software in that country. The difference between the two figures represents the number of unlicensed applications..." Hmm, so if I make an estimate of next year's sales, but sales are actually lower, the difference is due to PIRACY? Whew! I would have questioned the quality of my prediction, but now I know its all the fault of those pesky pirates.
Computer animation news: Yoda's fight scene. It is a mild spoiler to note that in "Attack of the Clones" Yoda kicks butt. I feel free to mention this since I haven't seen the film yet. It has been covered in the movie fan media Fight Club and in the trade press CGW and VFXPro (requires free, painless registration). See for example this still of Yoda being animated (on a Linux machine, BTW). At the other end of the production budget spectrum, look at this home video of a tricked out VW. On first viewing, its easy to miss that this is a tracking shot (camera is not locked down), what happens BEFORE the car moves is half the challenge.
There is other good animation on Michael Smith's site.
Blogging news: thinking about blogging?BlogComp is a handy "Blog Tool Feature Comparison Table. Also, Blog makes it to the Oxford English Dictionary. And Richard Dalton found Blogging Goes Legit, Sort Of at Wired News.
Technobits: More on the "skipping commercials is not theft" theme from Allen Hutchison and Wired's Brad King. More on Linux on government computers. Check out these cool paver stones. One of my coworkers, in addition to being a computer/web geek like me, is also an astronomy geek. He posted some pictures of last Monday's solar eclipse. Finally, see This Modern World's take on Bush and global warming.
Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics
Craig Reynolds found the fascinating Stupid Movie Physics site. Here's the introduction:
Technonerds go to movies strictly for entertainment, and of course, the most entertaining part comes after the movie when they can dissect, criticize, and argue the merits of every detail. However, when supposedly serious scenes totally disregard the laws of physics in blatantly obvious ways it's enough to make us retch. The motion picture industry has failed to police itself against the evils of bad physics. This page is provided as a public service in hopes of improving this deplorable matter. The minds of our children and their ability to master vectors are (shudder) at stake.
The Top 15 Ways Queen Elizabeth Celebrated Her Jubilee
You know what they call the guy whose submission comes in 15th on a list of 15? Winner. I don't normally do this, but I really liked my other two submissions as well, even though they didn't make the list:
Phil and Liz scooted down to the pub and had a few with their mates after work.
Drawing funny ears on photos of Prince Charles during her longevity treatments.
June 10, 2002
15> Called other monarchs and asked, "Do you have Prince Albert in the can? I do!"
14> Got an "It's good to be the Queen" tattoo on her royal ass.
13> Had Charles caned, just for the hell of it.
12> Replaced her crown with a propeller-top beanie for a day.
11> Bungee-jumped from the Tower of London.
10> Same as every week: Got hammered and told everyone what a wanker she has for a son.
9> Knocked the dust off the royal crotch and got her some sweet lovin'.
8> Damn near beat Ozzy at the royal beer-bong race.
7> Had her Mum stuffed and put on casters, then pulled her behind a parade float.
6> Gave 007 a little taste of her riding crop.
5> Pounded a few Jell-O shots, then switched to a middle-finger-only parade wave.
4> Commanded the Royal Guard to show her how they "polish their scepters."
3> Playfully pushed Sir Elton into the palace moat.
2> "Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present the newest addition to the band, *Royal* Spice!"
and Topfive.com's Number 1 Way Queen Elizabeth Celebrated Her Jubilee...
1> Repeatedly psyched out Prince Charles by suddenly dropping her teacup and clutching her chest.
[ The Top 5 Listwww.topfive.com ]
[ Copyright 2002 by Chris White ]
Selected from 100 submissions from 37 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Sandra Hull, Arlington, VA -- 1 (22nd #1/Hall of Famer)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 15
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