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.
July 1, 2002 Vol. 4, No. 26
Table of Contents:
Fencing: We're A Little Late This Week
Rae and I left for the summer national fencing tournament Friday morning, so my choice was to post the column Thursday Night or Monday Night. In light of how good last week's column was, I didn't want to cut it short, and the column is, after all, dated Monday. So, I decided to post Monday. Details of the fencing experience will be up next Monday.
Speaking of my fencing daughter Rae, she did very well on her history SAT 2 test. 90th percentile. No less than she deserves, I might add.
This Just In: Rae placed sixth in Division III Women's Epée at the U.S. Fencing Association Summer Nationals in Greenville, S.C.; I hope to have more to report on this next week.
A Sobering First-Person Report on Teaching
Man, do I wish I head fewer scruples. If I did, I'd reprint this commentary in full. I think it is very important. Instead, I'll just give you a taste and strongly suggest you surf over to the New York Times and read the whole thing. It is important for anyone who cares about education.
My Brief Teaching Career
When I quit my job as an investment-banking analyst to become a New York City public school teacher, I knew I would be trading one set of challenges for another - stacks of papers to grade replaced late nights at the office, and recalcitrant students supplanted irascible managing directors. But I was eager to become a teacher and believed I could have a positive effect on young lives.
The daily reality of my New York City public school, a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school where I taught mainly in the upper grades, would turn out to be shockingly grim: the attendance records where the number of absences can reach into the high double figures, the obscenities that ring in the hallways, the fateful test-score reports showing that even the brightest students often fall short of minimum state standards.
Lack of a supportive administration, however, exacerbates all these problems and is what ultimately pushed me to leave. When a teacher is overwhelmed by a class that defies order, for example, a principal should have some words of advice, particularly for a very inexperienced teaching staff without much other recourse.
The real victims of this exodus are the children, who do not have the option of abandoning the classroom to go back to business, to graduate school or into publishing. They are left to stick it out, each year with a new crop of recruits.
In a related story, apparently the New York Supreme Court has decided that the state's constitution only requires an education sufficient to enable its citizens to accomplish pretty basic tasks. That's sad. Check out the story and the commentary on Dan Rosenbaum's web site.
Pledge of Allegiance
I feel obliged to comment on this controversy in the news. Of course, the Appeals Court is correct, "under God" is unconstitutional as a matter of law. But of course the opinion will never stand. Perhaps I am too wimpy about my convictions, but if I objected to the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, I would just let it go. I think much of the difficulty and strife in this world comes from people who sweat the small stuff way too much. I understand the argument that, when it comes to matters of principle, there is no such thing as small stuff. I think that argument is so bogus as to beggar description and is beneath rebuttal. Show me where it says you can't say the rest of the pledge and leave those words out. Who'd ever notice, unless you brought it to their attention? What ever happened to perspective? Don't we have more important things to worry about at the moment? I think so. The only way any good could come out of this would be if we could somehow harness all the hot air that will be bloviated on the subject and use it to generate electricity.
I got to musing via e-mail with an old and dear friend this week, and decided to share said musings with you.
The leap into the classroom is next for me. A full load at Chapman (where I am earning--and I do mean earning--my teaching credential) is two classes; I am taking three. I have to spend 12 hours this summer tutoring a student who reads two or more years below grade level. Of course, I have to find the little bugger first! Plus read a few hundred pages a week, write papers, do projects, and be a good dad.
On the other hand, I don't have a job, so I think I'm up to it. I mean, what else do I have to do? Well, except finish Rae's doll house, I mean...
I feel, at nearly 50, a little old to be leaping, but I'm too young to rust out, so here I go...
Where is Deus Ex Machina when you need it? Previously in my life, something has always dropped in from the rafters. The rafters seem suspiciously quiet and empty this time.
On the other hand, I have witnessed and been informed by email of some truly horrible bad-luck stories that have struck people in my age cohort. Scary stuff, when health and life fall apart at the same time, when children just don't work out the way you'd hoped. And chilling when you get several of these reports in a period of a few weeks. Does God use foreshadowing? Geez, I hope not.
Cling, cling, to that which is important: your health, your family. All else is ephemera. No one ever croaked out, "I wish I'd spent more time in the office..." on their death bed.
Life conspires to keep us from seeing, understanding and acting in our own best interest. Your job is distracting. The news is distracting. It is easy to lose track of what's important. Don't. Twenty years from now, no one will remember or care if you were on time with that report, or if you went the extra mile at work. But it is quite possible your child or best friend will remember being stood up/disappointed by your absence. Easy for me to say--but hard for me to do, even now, as it may be for you. First things first, my friend, first things first.
For the last several months, I have been suffering from unusual heat in my spine at night. As it turns out, this is a problem my wife Vicki has been having for years. She believes it may be Kundalini energy; she finds relief from it when she says her mantra.
I don't have a mantra, and as yet, I don't have much of a coping mechanism for this phenomenon. I have difficulty believing it is Kundalini energy in my case, since I associate that phenomenon with (at least) the beginnings of spiritual enlightenment, something I am so far away from that I cannot see it from where I sit, or imagine it from where my head is at. So, I don't know what it is, but perhaps I will get myself a mantra and see if that helps. One thing I have learned for sure after 21 years of marriage to a woman more spiritually evolved than myself: there is a lot I don't know and a lot I don't understand, and, frankly, a lot that Western medicine, science and philosophy can't (or won't) explain, but would do well to devote some time and energy to investigating.
More Midlife Crisis Musing
Apparently my item here two weeks ago about how I will be remembered was universally interpreted as a sign of a mid-life crisis on my part. Thus, I felt a special resonance when I read this passage from the biography of the LA Times and its greatest publisher, Otis Chandler, Privileged Son. Chandler went to see psychic Bill Burns, who is quoted on p. 429 as telling him he "couldn't take credit for his own accomplishments. That's why he continued to display... plaques... they were external proof of what he should have internalized by middle age, when most men dump the awards of their youth in a box and store them in the attic."
Inspired by this passage, I am going to take down the plaques on the wall of my home office and place them carefully in a box. I think I will leave my mobile plaque (my brass rate--that is, my MIT class ring) on my hand, and maybe I'll leave the Stewart award on my desk, since the solid piece of brass is the best paperweight I have. But I am at mid-life, I have internalized my accomplishments, and it is time to move on, if for no other reason than to make room for the new accomplishments still to come!
Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs
Craig checks in:
MSNBC covered the law proposed by clueful Peruvian Congressman Dr. Edgar David Villanueva Nuñez (mentioned hereMay 13) which will require government computers to use Open Source software. See also Linux World's Ending Microsoft FUD: An Interview with Peruvian Congressman Villanueva
This week Microsoft announcement itsPalladium project, a less vaporous version of the "Trustworthy Computing" initiative Gates proposed back in January. Certainly it's good news that Microsoft plans to make its future systems less insecure. Packaging preexisting security technology into Windows is a good idea. Unfortunately, in the case of Palladium it apparently comes with the price of strong Digital Rights Management, which usually leads to loss of consumer's Fair Use rights. Another approach is to develop Open Source cross-platform utilities that provide the security services consumer need without having to put all of our security eggs in Microsoft's basket. See this analysis with links from The Twenty report.
In the ongoing debate about liability for buggy software, NIST reports thatsoftware errors cost the American economy $60 billion a year. They estimate that better software development development practices would reduce this number by $22 billion.
Last Monday I watchedBigger Than Enron on PBS's excellent Frontline documentary series. If you get a chance to see it please do, it is very well done. There is a lot of background information at the web page. This installment's subtitle was "why the largest business scandal in American history is just the tip of the iceberg -- and why investors should care" and right on cue two days later came WorldCom's 3.8 billion dollar accounting debacle, followed later in the week by Xerox's need to restate its quarterly results.
Mozilla news: bothCNN and MSNBC ran generally positive reviews of Mozilla 1.0, the open source web browser. I use it as my primary browser (plus email and FTP client) on my Linux machine at the office. It is rock solid and very usable. I've heard similar reports about the Windows version. I also use a PowerBook, but the Mac version of Mozilla is less stable and less finished. CNN and USA Today recently profiled CardCops a group of White Hats who have been tracking and stinging "carders" (online credit card thieves) then passing the information on to CardCops members and law enforcement. They have a database of potentially compromised credit card numbers for consumers to check. I suspect they are on the level, but my suspicious wife note that this would be a great front for carders! (Recall the ingenious fake ATM scam?)
Yamaha announced a CD-RW burner with a feature called DiscT@2 allowing the user toetch arbitrary artwork on the disk surface "between" the data. Semant-O-Matic aggregates blog posts matching a given keyword onto a single page. MSNBC wrote Microsoft takes big losses on Xbox and both Reuters and Slashdot talked about a possible XBox plus UltimateTV combination. This New Scientist item has a great gee-whiz Popular Science feel to it: Gigantic airships aim to damp forest fires. My coworker Robin Greene says: "from Slashdot, check out this animated GIF for a new input paradigm: predictive text input that plays like a side scrolling shoot-em-up..."
The Top 15 Signs You're Actually Listening to Schmelvis Presley
I've swooped up to No. 11!
June 25, 2002
15> Starts off every blues song with, "You think YOU'VE got problems?"
14> "A hundred and fifty dollars a night! Talk about your Heartbreak Hotel!"
13> He's wearing a blue suede rhinestone-studded yarmulke.
12> "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog... you couldn't have been a lawyer or a doctor?"
11> That last lyric sounded suspiciously like "Return to Seder."
10> Elvis? Fried chicken. Schmelvis? Fried lox.
9> Acknowledges the crowd by muttering, "L'chaim... l'chaim very much!"
8> The melody *sounds* like "All Shook Up," but you could swear he's singing, "I'm all verklempt."
7> Tells stories of what it was like on the set of his 1962 movie, "Goys! Goys! Goys!"
6> Washes down pills by the handful with a bottle of Manischevitz.
5> Elvis: long sideburns; Schmelvis: long sidecurls
4> You're pretty sure that's a fried peanut-butter-and-gefilte- fish sandwich sticking out of his back pocket.
3> "Well that's all right, Mama... yes, Mama... I know, Mama... whatever you say, Mama."
2> "What's with these Jordanaires? Don't we have any nice Israeli back-up singers?"
and Topfive.com's Number 1 Sign You're Actually Listening to *Schmelvis* Presley...
1> "You want I should schvitz on this towel and give it to you for free? What are you, meshuggenah?"
[ Copyright 2002 by Chris White ]
Selected from 96 submissions from 37 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Jim Rosenberg, Greensboro, NC -- 1 (34th #1 / Hall of Famer)
Pat Sajak, Los Angeles, CA -- 2, 14
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 11
You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database.
I've noticed, and I'm sure you have as well, that my reviews are getting shorter and less frequent. Although my total count for this year is still pretty healthy, the fact is that my work on my teaching credential is cutting into my movie going time. And as the clock ticks down towards 50, as I put distance between myself and the journalism business, it becomes increasingly clear that this is not an audition for my lifelong dream of being a professional movie reviewer. Rather, it's just a few thoughts of mine on films I've seen, shared with some friends and acquaintances and a handful of strangers who've dropped by.
Having gotten that off my chest, let me say that Steven Spielberg has recovered nicely from last year's AI with this film, which is a rousing piece of well-done commercial entertainment.
Regular readers will recall how much I despise movies that run more than two hours. This one runs 2:30, and yet I didn't mind, in part because the last 30 minutes made the entire movie into something different. I will avoid spoilers, but let me just say you'll be shocked at the terminal twists in this one. They aren't the least bit predictable. In fact, you could edit one scene, halt this film at two hours and have a totally different (and, I might add, thoroughly un-American, non-commercial) film.
Everything about this film is so impressive. The plot for example, taken from a Philip K. Dick story. He wrote the story that became Blade Runner as well. I read a lot of Philip K. Dick stories when I was a young science fiction fan. He's good, really good. The acting. Once again, Tom Cruise shows he can act. The directing? Well, let's just say Steven Spielberg is working hard at committing art in a commercial context, and succeeding more often than he fails. Go see his films folks, so that someday you can say you saw a hall of famer when he was at the peak of his career. The scene in the mall with the pre-cog girl: a masterpiece.
Basically, this is a "falsely accused cop runs to save his name" movie. How trite is that? In Spielberg's hands, not trite at all. Rated PG-13 for violence, brief language, some sexuality and drug content. That's about the right age limit for it. Go and see this movie! A masterpiece!
You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database.
I like animation. Regulars here know that. So I went into this inclined to like it, despite tepid reviews. Also, while I love the digital stuff (Toy Story, Monsters, Inc.), I also have a soft spot for hand-drawn animation. Not that limited-motion television crap, but the real thing. This is the real thing. A first class film made by first class talents. Of course, I was the only person in the theater over the age of 12 not accompanied by a child, but I loved the movie and I'm not ashamed to say so. It was touching, charming, clever, well-done, well-written and worked on multiple levels, the same as any good Warner Brothers short or Disney feature cartoon. Plus, this one is a little off the wall, taking the sensibility of a few minutes of a film like Little Mermaid (all the parts with Sebastian the Crab) and extending it to an entire film. The Chronicle suggested this was an eight-minute idea, overstretched to 80 minutes. I don't think so. It passed the Paul Schindler "Am I checking my watch test" with flying colors. I wasn't. Edge from a Disney feature cartoon? Well, yes.
Rated PG for mild sci-fi action. I'd take any kid over the age of 5, but none younger, and no one sensitive. If you like cartoons, you'll like Stitch.
The Dan's: Gantt, Grobstein and Rosenbaum. And Katherine Gray.
Dan Gantt, who worked on The Tech with me at MIT checked in with one last note on the whole, "How Not To Be Remembered" issue:
It may come as some solace to you that I will always remember you for being one of the two people of my personal acquaintance to have been a guest on the David Susskind show. The other was a woman who, at the time, lived in my Manhattan apartment building. She was invited to appear to display the wares from her New York City lingerie shop, which was apparently a favorite venue of Mr. Susskind's wife. Now, mind you, I found the "aspirin" topic to be quite interesting. I must admit, however, that her choice of visuals made a somewhat more lasting impression.
(I appeared on Susskind in 1979 to plug my book, Aspirin Therapy: Reducing Your Risk Of Heart Disease.)
Katherine Gray found this lovely item NPR : The Quiz Show, Present at the Creation" which appealed to the quiz show buff in me.
If you're interested in television or musical theater, you'll get a kick out of this Dan Grobstein find:
Magical Find Excites TV Historians
... the first dress rehearsal of the CBS television musical "Cinderella," featuring Julie Andrews, recorded on kinescope in Manhattan on March 17, 1957.
Dan also found one of those "what's the world coming to" stories in the Times:
June 25, 2002
A State Supreme Court jury in Manhattan had awarded $14.1 million to a woman who was hit by an E train. The accident occurred on May 3, 2000, in a subway tunnel just north of the 34th Street station on the Eighth Avenue line.
... But only a head of stone could ignore an obvious question: What was she doing in that strange place to begin with?
The answer, by the way, is, apparently, committing suicide. Our legal system... (shake head)
Dan Rosenbaum's latest musings include A Challenge to Develop Commerce-Enabled Weblogs, Vanilla Coke, A Bridge Too Far, Snappy Comebacks, I Really Don't Like Monday, and Is the Record Business Becoming Like the Book Business?
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