PS... A Column

on Things

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.


To Pay For This Column Voluntarily
Tales of Teaching 2004
Tales of Teaching 2005

P.S. A Column On Things: July 15, 2002

July 15, 2002 Vol. 4, No. 28

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Head In The Past
  • Well Dip Me In Cedar Chips--No, Really
  • Awakening The Inner Guru
  • A Full Fencing Report
  • Jon Carroll: Cat Columnist

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs
  • Opening A New Window

Web Site of the Week

  • Run, Don't Walk To This Site! The Not So Super Friends

Humor

  • The Juggler and the Drunk

Movies

  • The Road To Perdition

Letters

  • Ross Snyder On FBI/UC and Link-o-Rama

General News

Head In The Past

Like a love affair, a lost job wears off gradually. Last fall and winter, not a day went by that I didn't think about my old company; I was overwhelmed with a whirl of feelings. I even, in effect, had a version of "phantom limb syndrome," that phenomenon in which people who have had a limb amputated still feel sensations from it. Or, to put it another way, I was like a retired fire horse perking up when the alarm is sounded. I'd read a computer industry story and wonder how I was going to get audio for it, before I realized I'll never be gathering audio for a computer industry story again.

Then came spring, and my substitute teaching work, along with enrollment in teacher education classes, distracted me sufficiently that I only though about my old job perhaps once a month. Now, as the thermometer (in that wonderful media neologism) is "topping the century mark," I realized that it's been a month since I thought about my old job. My former employer called and asked me to take on a project, but I am too busy with three ed classes to take anything else on now, so I declined it. I think I'd have declined it in any case, on principle: the computer journalist part of my life is behind me.

But it is strange what will bring a memory to the surface. I was shredding old financial documents, and I ran into a pile of checks from the special account into which I deposited my expense checks and out of which I paid my expenses. When I started working for the old company in 1979, an more experienced employee (OK, I admit it a salesperson) told me I'd get into trouble unless I kept a separate checking account and credit card that I used only for business. He was right; I saw many people get into serious trouble by running everything through their personal card and their personal account. I had that checking account for 23 years. I closed it last January. But the abstract act of closing the account didn't have the finality of shredding the leftover checks. The same old flood of swirling emotions swept over me, briefly, but then it passed. That part of my life really is behind me now.

Well Dip Me In Cedar Chips--No, Really

There is a spa in Freestone, California, in Sonoma County not too far from Bodega Bay (where Alfred Hitchcock shot the exteriors for his move The Birds) called Osmosis. If you go there and ask nicely, you can get naked and be buried, laying down, up to your chin in a vat of 105 cedar chips. Afterwards, for an added extra treat, you can get a good therapeutic massage. Vicki and I have gone several times; because of our conflicting schedules, I went alone last weekend. It really is better than it sounds. I had a wonderful time, and also walked the beach at Bodega Bay, which reminds me of how much I love walking next to the ocean and how much I miss it when I don't do it regularly. I simply have to get to the water more often.

Regular readers will recall that I believe the world is divided into two kinds of people, the kind of people who divide the world into two kinds of people and everyone else. One of those divisions (the exception that proves the rule, of course), is your preference for vacation. In California, at least, there are ocean people, desert people and mountain people (I have never lived in the middle of the country, so I don't know how Iowans divide up their vacation preferences. Far, farther, and somewhere interesting?) I am an ocean person. Fortunately, I married an ocean person. Tahoe leaves us cold, and we've never been to Palm Springs or the Mojave. But we love the ocean.

Awakening The Inner Guru

Dr. Steven B Herrmann is a friend of Vicki's and mine who recently sent her a note on the subject of the "awakening of the inner guru," triggered in part by my recent report here of heat in my back at night. I though it was interesting, and he gave me permission to print excerpts. He began with an historial note about my first name:

Paul, as you know, was the great skeptic of Christ, before his great Ecstasy and conversion on the road to Damascus; whereupon he took up his vocation and preached: "let this Mind be in you that was also in Jesus Christ." Note that the passage in Corinthians does not say: "awaken" the inner Christ, or guru in you; but let the Christ Mind -- the Guru -- "be in you." The problem we are discussing, about the "inner guru," is what do we with Him/Her when she/he has been , Awakened? Vocation in the West appears to be the answer; whereas, in the East, the great accent is upon contemplation. I am not suggesting that either you, or I, could ever career as great as a spiritual teacher as Ghandi, or Christ, or Buddha; but that there is in fact an inner wisdom, an inner sense of knowing that comes from the inner Master, that this is unique; and can only emerge through a vocation. You could live a whole lifetime and never see the impact of your vocation upon the world -- Emily Dickinson is a good example of this, where the career of the Guru remeins an isolated inward phenomenon -- but the vocation to teach, the calling, nevertheless takes place in the form of an ongoing dialoge with the unconscious, and this is what we must follow, according to Jung, if weare to achieve our wholeness.

I hope this clarifies my point a little further, with regards to the discussion we are having about the awakening of the inner guru.

A Full Fencing Report

My daughter Rae wrote this description of her recent triumph at the summer nationals, and I wanted to share it:

The fencing summer national seems like such a long time ago even though June 29th and 30th. I got my best result ever, 6th place out of 150 fencers in Div III women's epée. I breeze-fenced through my pool bouts unchallenged, but alert. I got through four direct elimination bouts and amazingly three of my competitors were left-handed, but luckily I didn't let that throw me. The most exciting part was when I won all my direct elimination bouts, a woman at the bout committee table handed me a fencer's bio slip. I had to write down my coach's name, how long I had been fencing, and my best result. It was so official and delicious; they would announce all of that at the awards ceremony. No matter what I did I was guaranteed a medal because I had made it to the top 8. I, of course, was vying for first.

There was a separate room for the finals, which had fancy sign that had my last name in lights- changing colors and dissolving. I thought that nothing could scare me after the humiliation and trials that were public speaking, but I couldn't breathe. There were over thirty spectators in special seats. There was this elevated metal strip. What I'm used to is cheap metal strips taped to the floor, which get worn with use, and the armorers have to repair. As I stepped onto this foreign elevated metal strip, I thought to myself, "This is still the same sport, I think." I remember exactly two touches out of that fifteen touch-bout. I somehow managed to have a close bout 12-15 and I ended up placing 6th. No I did not get a new national ranking, but I will next fencing season. I will, and Finlayson (the Division III champion) better watch out next year because her flèche with and without disengages won't work on me.

After my bout, I cried, not bawled, not sobbed, but cried. I really wanted to win and had come closer than ever before. My coach was very understanding, "It's okay to cry," he said when he saw me blankly staring into the distance unsure of what expression to wear, "You're supposed to want it so bad that when you don't get it, it hurts." The Northwestern coach was recruiting and he gave me one hell of a sales pitch on his fencing team and his college. I am definitely applying there, and the sales pitch was so good, my dad wishes he were a young college-bound fencer.

Jon Carroll: Cat Columnist

Actually, I think Carroll is America's finest quotidian columnist, bar none, and I'd put a link to every one of his columns if I felt it wouldn't wear you out and overload my column. But I am especially fond of his cat columns:

Odd ecstatic behavior in the past cat month

Jon Carroll
San Francisco Chronicle
Tuesday, July 9, 2002

I'M PRETTY SURE that "cat year" is not a scientific term. It's more a rule of thumb, or a way of explaining why little Tigget is growing old so fast. Seven cat years equal one human year, because that's the way my mother taught me.

It's not an exact measurement. I have owned or participated in the owning of two cats that have exceeded 20 years of age, and yet I know not a single human who has made it to 140. The beloved Bulldog was once, when she was 18, left alone in a house in Inverness for a month without food (the culprit was an extremely slothful teenage neighbor who just kind of forgot what month it was) (that person is now a mother of three, I imagine -- indeed, she may be in your carpool).

Bulldog successfully foraged for field mice, voles and other creatures of the forest. I know very few 126-year-old humans who could have done the same, opposable thumb or not.

...

ARCHIE AND BUCKET are now, say, 23 and 26 in cat years. This is the flower of their cathood, when they have put away kittenish things and yet have not lost their enthusiasm for life, if "enthusiasm" is a word that can be applied to creatures who spend 78 percent of their time napping.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig checks in:

Microsoft claim shakes graphics world from ZDNet. For me, this one strikes too close to home. OpenGL is the lifeblood of the computer graphics industry. It is a powerful, open, free standard Graphical Language (API) that is widely supported by software developers and hardware manufactures. Pretty much everyone supports OpenGL except one very large software company. In the late 1990s Microsoft created its own gratuitously different graphics API in order to leverage Windows and derail OpenGL. (Former Microsoft OpenGL evangelist Chris Hecker wrote passionately about this issue (PDF) in 1997.) They have also been buying up gobs of intellectual property in this area, notably from troubled SGI, the onetime industry leading supplier graphics hardware and software. Microsoft has asserted that it owns the idea of "vertex programming" (better known as "shaders") which were introduced by Pixar around 1990 in its RenderMan language. They were first mentioned in the literature in Rob Cook's 1984 SIGGRAPH paper Shade Trees.

U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), a hero to many in high-tech, is updating his Music Online Competition Act of August 2001 to
strengthen consumers fair use rights and help webcasters according to Erin Joyce of AtNewYork.com. Note that Congressman Boucher is running for reelection and deserves the support of every tech-savvy consumer and advocate of online rights.

The WWF warns of recent acceleration in the rate at which human consumption of Earth's resources outstrips their ability to replenish themselves. They estimate the Earth will be used up by 2050. Read coverage by
The Observer, Reuters and New Scientist.

More cluelessness on the "deep linking" front: a Danish court ruled that it could be construed as a violation of copyright laws. It is worth restating that a "deep link" is the normal USEFUL kind, a hyperlink to a specific web page. This is exactly the technology that caused the web to explode in popularity in the mid 1990s. The opposite concept (a "shallow link"?) would be to mention a specific page at (say) NPR but provide only a generic link to
http://www.npr.org instead. See more at Deep Linking Lunacy by Chris Sherman of Search Engine Watch.

And now, a heaping serving of Technobits:

A promising substrate for optical computing:
Light turns into glowing liquid. -- CNN describes a new class of glass-like amorphous metal alloys with interesting properties in Liquidmetal is super strong. -- Can we trust Microsoft's Palladium? asks Salon's Farhad Manjoo. -- Henry Jenkins writes in Technology Review about Treating Viewers as Criminals. -- Lawmakers: Keep your tunes to yourself: more on US Rep. Howard Berman's (D-CA) stealth bill aimed at peer-to-peer file sharing which was mentioned here last week. -- GigaLaw.com's Doug Isenberg examines the direct email campaign of US Rep Steve Biener (D Delaware) asking if there is a distinction between Commercial Spam and Political Spam -- AP says the Liberty Alliance is poised to release standards for identity authentication on the Internet. This was originally aimed at being an alternative and more open alternative to Microsoft's Passport. -- The unix.org domain was forcibly taken away from its previous operators who ran a non-commercial unix resource center. Their alleged crime? Cyber-squatting. Huh? -- blogChalking is another attempt to provide a geographical index of web logs, as mentioned here on June 3 -- See the Google mirror. Here is a mirror of Paul's home page.

Opening A New Window

Last week, Craig mentioned that he doesn't like web sites that open a new window when you click a link, and cited several usability gurus that agree with him. While opinion is not unanimous, apparently a fair number of experts feel this is a violation of nettiquette. I got the following opinion from regular contributor Glen C. Speckert:

I think it is fine to open links in new windows. I normally do this by holding down the mouse, and waiting for the pop-up menu to show, and then pulling down to "open in a new window" (exact wording varies in each browser, OmniWeb, Netscape, Exploder, iCab, etc)

The "back" button, while easy to find (I think you were wrong about its findability), is the wrong answer, because it then will re-load things, depending on the implementation (although everything could be cached, not every browser implements the back button in an instantaneous manner).

To me, it is the delay associated with re-displaying the previous screen that is unacceptable. When closing a window, the previous one is instantly available.

In addition, I often use the "open link in new window behind this one" which is an option in most browsers (but not in Exploder). This allows me to request the new page, keep reading the old page, and read the new page sometime after it takes its time getting here. Thus avoiding the slow assembly of a page that comes from a slow web site(s). I hate waiting. I only wish this were the default.

Relative to "pop-under" or "pop-up" windows (generally ads, such as for X-10 cameras) which occur without my having touched a link, in a modern browser such as OmniWeb, there is a simple preference where the user can disable these. The mighty monopoly of the masses has decided that this feature is not something which they have chosen to support, so Exploder does not have this capability, at least not on my platform of choice (OSX).

Bob Nilsson also had an opinion:

Tally me on the side in favor of opening a new window for external links. And it is not because I have any trouble finding the back button on the browser. Rather, many links (especially in your column) lead to long trails of subsequent links. While it may not be particularly efficient, I usually have 4-5 or more browsers open at all times, each following a different thread. It is great to get back to the original article by simply toggling to the already-open browser (for example, by using alt-tab in Windows).

It is especially annoying when a link takes over one of the other already-open windows. Usually, I have that window open for a reason and it is a pain when the original content disappears.

Admittedly, "dive into the mark" offers a reasonable alternative: holding down the shift key while you click on a link (or doing a right-click).

It has been a general marketing rule that you should avoid sending visitors away from your site. Earlier, that meant opening a captive frame for external links, but that proved to be too annoying. Opening a separate window for external links is the current compromise, but if this also proves annoying, then it is obviously bad marketing.

AS 400 In Drug Cartel

Rich Levin found this shocking story. Turns out a drug cartel was using an IBM AS400 "mainframe" (we used to call the AS400 a mini) to track every phone call--literally, every phone call--in town and compare them to numbers of diplomats and drug agents. Informers were discovered an regularly assassinated. A chilling story of IT gone wrong.

The Technology Secrets of Cocaine Inc.

Colombian cartels have spent billions of dollars building a sophisticated IT infrastructure. Now it's helping them smuggle more dope than ever before. By Paul Kaihla.

Web Site of the Week

Run, Don't Walk To This Site! The Not So Super Friends

Some of you will recall that I was a comics fan as a youth, first Superman/DC Comics, then Marvel. I was privileged to be there for the Silver Age, from 1960-1970. For example, I remember the first Justice League of America appearance in an anthology title The Brave And The Bold, in which they battled Starro in issue 28. I owned Spiderman's debut in Amazing Fantasy, and complete runs of the first 100 issues of Fantastic Four, Avengers, Spiderman, Daredevil--well, all the Marvel comics started up in the first half of the 1960s. All of them. I love them, read them, then sold them off years ago for a handsome profit, starting with the batch of duplicates that paid my personal expenses my freshman year in college. In any case, I drifted away from Comics and Comix when I went away to school, and have only briefly revisited them since.

Last week, I was given the URL of the single funniest superhero parody I have ever seen: the not-so super friends. Full disclosure: I know the Kim and Tom who create this masterpiece. They are sweet, funny people. Their product is warped, twisted and hilarious. PG-13, or maybe a light R. But definitely worth the price of admission (Free). Skeedadle on over there, you hear!

Humor

The Juggler And The Drunk

Rich Levin sent me this. If it is a true story, I'll eat the flares. But it is funny.

A Utica NY policeman pulled a car over on Rt 12 about 2 miles south of the Mohawk River Bridge.

When the Officer asked the driver why he was speeding, the driver answered that he was a magician and a juggler and he was on his way to Sangertown Square to do a show that night and didn't want to be late.

The officer told the driver juggling fascinated him, and if the driver would do a little juggling for him that he wouldn't give him a ticket.

The driver told the officer that he had sent all of his equipment on ahead and didn't have anything to juggle.

The officer told him that he had some flares in the trunk of his squad car and asked if he could juggle them. The juggler stated that he could, so the officer got three flares, lit them and handed them to the juggler.

While the man was doing his juggling act, a car pulled in behind the squad car, a drunk got out and watched the performance briefly, he then went over to the squad car, opened the rear door and got in. The officer observed him doing this and went over to his squad car, opened the door and asked the drunk what he thought he was doing.

The drunk replied, "Might as well take my butt on to jail, there's no way in hell I can pass that test.

Movies

The Road To Perdition

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database.

Sam "American Beauty" Mendes, Tom "Mr. Oscar" Hanks and Paul "For God's Sake, Do I Have To Say Anything" Newman have teamed up to make one hell of a movie, based on a comic book--excuse me, graphic novel-- of the same name. Rated R for violence and language and a couple of hours long. Don't take any kids younger than about the junior year in high school to see this one. Maybe Elvis Costello was right on NPR: "It just isn't summer until we see Tom Hanks with a vintage gun in his hand," a reference to Saving Private Ryan, Green Mile and Band of Brothers. While I agree with the reviewers who said it was way too early for AFI to give him a lifetime achievement award, he has packed a lot of achievement into his lifetime so far. Hanks has created a body of work that will survive. Newman, of course, joined the pantheon of the unforgettable a long time ago and is now just polishing the luster of his reputation.

Hanks plays Michael Sullivan, a hit man who works for Irish mobster Newman (John Rooney), but gets crosswise with Newman's crazy son Connor (Daniel Craig). Sullivan's son (Tyler Hoechlin, a child actor from whom we will obviously be seeing great things) witnesses dad and Connor rubbing out a mobster, Connor slays Sullivan's wife and other son, and then, as they say in Hollywood, the fun begins. Suffice it to say that Mendes doesn't do unchallenging material. This is a dark, moody, brooding meditation and rumination on the nature of loyalty and of father-son relationships.

SPOILER: It ain't Hamlet, but Newman's last line, "I'm glad it was you," and Hanks last line, "I'm sorry," will be coming back at us in anthologies for the rest of our lives. Some pretty fancy deaths in this film. In terms of cinematography, Newman's death is a masterpiece they'll study in film schools for years to come. I expect Bravo to dissect it someday soon, if it hasn't already. If you see it in American Cinematographer, let me know.

 

Mr. Hanks, Oscar is calling!

Letters

Ross Snyder on FBI/UC and Link-O-Rama

Ross Snyder noted an undercovered scandal:

On June 23 the Chronicle front-paged a report that Senator Feinstein had demanded the FBI report to her what measures it had taken to prevent any recurrence of its malfeasances in the 1960s Clark Kerr/UC scandal.

Not one word has appeared since. I sent the Chronicle piece to friends in the college system in L.A., who were astonished. Not one word had appeared in the L.A. papers.

I wonder... I wonder...

Newspapers are terrible about following up each other's scoops unless they have to, alas.

I replied to ross:

What the FBI did to Clark Kerr was beyond scandalous, and just drives another nail into the coffin which holds Ronald Reagan's reputation, as far as I am concerned. Talk about feet of clay!

One of the things a blog like this is supposed to do is separate the wheat from the chaff. You, my faithful readers, harvested a bumper crop of wheat this week. To keep down the length, I am just going to credit the discoverer and print the URL and the teaser for these great links. I wouldn't be printing them if I didn't think they were worth reading.

Bob Kaplan and Craig Reynolds.

All the President's Enrons
By FRANK RICH
New York Times

George W. Bush is so peeved about corporate America's "wrongdoers" - not to be confused with "evildoers" - that last week he spoke out about them four times in four days. By the time he took a breather, the markets had hit their worst half-year finish since 1970, the Nasdaq was at a five-year low, the dollar was on the skids and, despite much evidence to the contrary, a majority of Americans had told CNN/USA Today pollsters that the country was in a recession

Craig Reynolds, also from the New York Times on the same subject

Succeeding in Business
By PAUL KRUGMAN

Daniel Dern found people with not enough something on their hands (the Lego Ukulele strummer from Middlebury College, as seen on Slashdot), as well as this:

What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?
New York Times
July 7, 2002
By GARY TAUBES

If the members of the American medical establishment were to have a collective find-yourself-standing-naked-in-Times-Square-type nightmare, this might be it. They spend 30 years ridiculing Robert Atkins, author of the phenomenally-best-selling ''Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution'' and ''Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution,'' accusing the Manhattan doctor of quackery and fraud, only to discover that the unrepentant Atkins was right all along. Or maybe it's this: they find that their very own dietary recommendations -- eat less fat and more carbohydrates -- are the cause of the rampaging epidemic of obesity in America. Or, just possibly this: they find out both of the above are true.

Two from Dan Grobstein:

The Ugly Lie About Vouchers

Washington Post

July 7, 2002
By Jane Ehrenfeld
...Who, of those who claimed ties with Michael, would use a voucher to choose a school for him? Who would spend hours visiting schools and reviewing their promotional materials? Who would find the necessary forms, fill them out, make sure that transportation to school was taken care of and monitor Michael's progress to ensure that this was a good place for him? The voucher system promises choice to parents who often are the victims of American neglect and failure. But for many children, that choice is an illusion.

 

Slouching Toward Populism
New York Times
July 10, 2002
By MAUREEN DOWD

WASHINGTON - It must be frustrating for the George Bushes...

And they are hounded by the same old question they have designed their lives to avoid: Can a Bush - born on third base but thinking he hit a triple - ever really understand the problems of the guys in the bleachers? ...the junior Bush now finds himself combating the same accusations of elitism that cost his father re-election.

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