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

March 21, 2005: P.S. A Column On Things

March 21, 2005 Vol. 7, No. 11

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Floating Down The River of Life
  • Marlow in the Netherlands
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Humor

  • No Child Left Behind: The Football Version
  • The Top 16 Surprises at a Nudist Restaurant

Movies

  • Robots

Letters

  • Malchman on Pi Day, Sullivan on Fforde, Cronkite not a class act, Dan Grobstein File

General News

Floating Down The River of Life

Every week can't be interesting and exciting--and I say Thank God for that. If there weren't little breaks in life now and then, I know it would kill me--I mean, even faster than it is killing me now.

Should be some interesting stuff to report next week, as the teachers in my district begin "work to rule," arriving and leaving when contractually obliged, taking no work home to correct at night. This is hard to do, since you can't actually do our job in the time available, but where in America haven't you heard that one before?

Marlow in The Netherlands

Marlow is in The Netherlands right now, at Leiden University, working on her degree in International Relations. Here's what's new from her:

I did manage to have some fun going into Amsterdam with A and her boyfriend and two visiting friends of hers from Texas. They were pretty tired and low key, so A and I mainly just chattered away with a bigger audience. We're going through the same morale and academic cycles together to the point where we can finish not just each other's stories but each other's emotions and everything.

Anyway, then yesterday H called to invite me to the market with him. I accepted the invitation and we did some of the normal fish and cheese buying and then H got a call from his mom and stepfather. They live about ten minutes away by train, I think by the beach. H invited me to have coffee with them, which I did in the same place Rae and I had dinner on the canals (Annie's kitchen). H's mom seemed nice enough, after dealing with the non-English speaking dutch parents it was nice to be able to use my normal speaking voice and get the appropriate reactions. H and his mom would lapse into Dutch occasionally, so then I would be left making small talk with H's [American expat] stepdad. The best reaction I got from him was when I talked about making fun of Dutch people, I guess that is a common expat theme. We wandered around the market some more and then H's parents took off.

So yeah. The last couple of days have been non-stop action, and it doesn't stop here. Next it is on to my second and final test on Tuesday, along with a three page paper due for another class. Then New York on Weds, and I still have a seminar paper due on the 8th. D'oh.

Political Notes

Briefs

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Highlights of GDC: last week I was at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Mostly I attended sessions on game AI programming, but two other events really stuck out for me. Will Wright a founder of Maxis (now part of EA) and designer of many well known games (most recently The Sims and its sequels) spoke about his Next Big Thing: SPORE. It looks fantastic, fun, open-ended and very innovative. It is arranged a bit like the classic Eames Powers of Ten, where each level is a game about a different level of complexity in living systems. Each level also echos a classic game or game genre. Beyond all that, it represents a solution to the sky-rocking cost of game development by making extensive use of user-created procedural content (see GameSpy article for more detail). Later that same day, there was a lively, high spirited panel discussion called Burning Down the House: Game Developers Rant (see this partial transcript) which touched on a host of controversial issues in the game industry.

Facial recognition: we've all heard about scary Big Brotherish systems that scan faces in public places to single out bad guys. Here are two more interesting applications of related technology. Nikon Face-Priority AF allows cameras to find the face(s) in a scene, then apply auto focus to those regions of the image. In the vast majority of photography it is the faces we care most about, regardless of whether they are in the center of the frame or the foreground or whatever. This is a conceptually simple pairing of two preexisting technologies (facial recognition and auto focus) but the combination is extremely powerful. Similarly a clever combination of camera cell phones and facial recognition produces a camera phone that recognizes its owner and so can limit use of the phone or certify the callers identity.

Growing pains in the blogosphere: Dan Gillmor on The Gathering Storms Over Speech, Declan McCullagh on The coming crackdown on blogging and why Thomas Paine would have been a blogger: The Apple Bloggers 3: Heirs To Revolutionary Pamphleteers.

Technobits: AOL says "all your message are belong to us": AOL Eavesdrops, Grants Itself Permission To Steal Your AIM Conversations and AOL Spokesman Misleads, Dodges the Real Problems --- Alert Best E-Voting Bill Reintroduced - Lend Your Support! --- Creative Commons Is Rewriting Rules of Copyright --- Machines Not Lost in Translation --- The long tail of software. Millions of Markets of Dozens. --- How tunes get stuck in your head --- Martian dust devils finally caught on camera --- PowerBook accelerometer hacks --- way cool: semiautomatic color tinting of gray-scale images: Colorization Using Optimization

Humor

No Child Left Behind: The Football Version

This is so funny and so true. Thank you Kent Peterman.

1. All teams must make the state playoffs, and all will win the championship. If a team does not win the championship, they will be on probation until they are the champions, and coaches will be held accountable.

2. All kids will be expected to have the same football skills at the same time and in the same conditions. No exceptions will be made for interest in football, a desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities or disabilities. ALL KIDS WILL PLAY FOOTBALL AT A PROFICIENT LEVEL.

3. Talented players will be asked to work out on their own without instruction. This is because the coaches will be using all their instructional time with the athletes who aren't interested in football, have limited athletic ability or whose parents don't like football.

4. Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in the 4th,! 8th and 11th games.

5. This will create a New Age of sports where every school is expected to have the same level of talent and all teams will reach the same minimal goals. If no child gets ahead, then no child will be left behind.

The Top 16 Surprises at a Nudist Restaurant

Check out No. 3

March 14, 2005

NOTE FROM CHRIS:

A Manhattan restaurant has recently begun allowing patrons to get naked for their monthly "Clothing Optional Dinner."

16> Let's just say that getting wasabi in your eye isn't the worst thing that can happen.

15> Sizzling hot-plate dishes served with a side of aloe.

14> Who knew all the chefs at Benihana were Jewish?

13> Turns out silicone repels drawn butter, making lobster bibs unnecessary.

12> Their claim for "Best Sticky Buns in Town" refers to their vinyl seats.

11> Paris Hilton banned from entering. Hey, they've got to maintain some standards.

10> The cook steadfastly refuses to budge from his "no bacon" rule.

9> You'd be amazed how many straws and extra napkins a waitress can tuck into a fat roll.

8> The waiters all wear thong hairnets.

7> Suprisingly, it's easier to choke down snails when you've got boobs to look at.

6> "Waiter, there's soup in my hair!" frequently heard throughout the evening.

5> When you take out your credit card to pay, the cashier bends over and asks you to swipe it.

4> The napkin goes under your lap.

3> Waiters no longer have to take the soup back to the kitchen in order to get their revenge.

2> Thanks to its extended "sneeze" guard, the salad bar looks like the popemobile.

and Topfive.com's Number 1 Surprise at a Nudist Restaurant...

1> "I beg your pardon, sir -- I thought you were signaling for the check."

[ The Top 5 List www.topfive.com ]
[ Copyright 2005 by Chris White ]
=======================
Selected from 142 submissions from 51 contributors. Today's Top 5 List authors are:
------------------------------------
Dave Wesley, Pleasant Hill, CA -- 1, 10 (33rd #1/Hall of Famer)
Martin Bredeck, Hybla Valley, VA -- 1 (12th #1)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 3

Movies

Robots

From the makes of "Ice Age" comes a feature-length animated film that was released in March for a good reason--it's mildly entertaining, but it's no Incredibles. While Robots is, as advertised, the coolest looking computer animated film ever, and has Robin Williams AND Mel Brooks in the voice talent department, it just isn't engaging. I mean, there is a plot, but I didn't care. It didn't warm my heart. It made me laugh now and then, but greatness in an animated film is ephemeral. This one misses. It aims to entertain young and old alike and succeeds, as far as I can tell, in entertaining neither, judging from the blank stares of the young'uns at the screening I attended.

Letters

Malchman on Pi Day, Sullivan on Fforde, Cronkite not a class act, Dan Grobstein File

Robert Malchman noted Pi Day (and check out Pi Approximation Day as well)

March 14, written 3-14 in the USA date format, is the official day for Pi Day

Kevin Sullivan writes:

I just read my first Thursday Next novel (by Jasper Fforde), cover to cover without putting it down. For no good reason, I started with #2 in the series, Lost in a Good Book. The ride was a cross between "Snow Crash" and "Hitchhiker's Guide". While Jasper Fforde is no Douglas Adams, he's well versed in the tradition Adams created, is delightfully tongue-in-cheek, and is occasionally startlingly original. I've put the entire series at the top of my reading list and requested #1, "The Jane Eyre Affair" from the library.

I could just kick myself. After hearing either a review of Something Rotten or an interview with Jasper Fforde on NPR, I ordered the book. I loved it! Of course, reading the last book first will take some of the edge off the earlier novels, I fear, but never mind. Really, it is the spirit of Adams, not to mention Cleese and Idle. Wonderful, dry, witty British stuff. Man, I wish I could write like that. I anxiously await my chance to read the others; several are on my Amazon wish list.

My reference to Walter Cronkite as a "class act" drew a vigorous rebuttal:

Walter Cronkite is not now, never was, and never will be a "class" act, in the usual meaning of that term. Going to the second meaning of an actor masquerading as a reporter [not a real reporter or journalist] with a patina of "class," Cronkite has always qualified with plenty of room to spare. Going back to the usual meaning, a "class" act does not degrade a true American patriot and hard-working real journalist like Dan Rather. It was inappropriate to make the comment (even interspersed with praise) that Rather should have been replaced (essentially in the name of corporate profits for Cronkite's employer and presumed payer of his pension) long ago as anchor. A "class" act does not pander, even tongue in cheek, to a currently incompetent buffoon complicit in the deaths of over 1,500 Americans in Iraq such as Wolf Blitzer. A "class" act does not moan that there should be more reporting at CBS News and then belittle a reporter such as Rather who went much farther out of his way than Cronkite (when Cronkite was anchor) to provide that reporting.

Dan Grobstein File

  • More science kill from Dubya: Interstellar Pioneers Of Earth Might Be Turned Off. That is, the fathead-in-chief may stop listening to Voyager.
  • From Britain;'s Guardian Newspaper: The peak of Mt Kilimanjaro as it has not been seen for 11,000 years. But don't worry: the U.S. Government says there is no global warming.
  • Gizzogle is funny--an old familiar idea, dressed up in a new format.
  • Those banner ads offering a free Ipod? Feggedabout it says SFGATE, the web site of the San Francisco Chronicle.
  • Financial Times: Shoot and Kill an Iraqi, pay $2,500.
  • James Wolcott writes:
    This country is wearing a blindfold, staggering backwards, and slitting its own throat in slow motion. Watch the cable news, listen to our elected leaders: there's no more urgency about the economic decline in living standards dead ahead than there is about addressing global warming or loosening the chokehold of military spending. A country where "evolution" is becoming a bad word is not a country interested in facing reality. Instead, as the passage of the bankruptcy bill shows, corporate-political power is going to grind every last dollar out of the desperate and destitute rather than confront the difficult macro decisions. The elites in this country have never had it so good, and as long as they're prospering the distress will smothered under the surface, kept under a lid.

New York Times:

  • ARTS | March 20, 2005
    Frank Rich: Enron: Patron Saint of Bush's Fake News
    By FRANK RICH
    Revisiting the Enron story as it re-emerges in 2005 is to be reminded of just how much the Enron culture has continued to shape the Bush administration.
  • Dan passed this on, along with a quote from the Atrios blog that alerted him to it:
    One of Atrios' comments says it all: "So once again the party of "small government" and "states' rights" and "individual responsibility" wastes hours of time and thousands of dollars sticking their nose where it doesn't belong...and by the WAY, who's calling these thugs on their VIOLATION of the SANCTITY of the Schiavos' marriage? sorry for the shouting. tinfoil hattie"

    NATIONAL | March 18, 2005
    Congress Moves to Halt Feeding Tube Removal in Florida
    By ABBY GOODNOUGH and CARL HULSE
    House leaders said they would launch an investigation of the Terri Schiavo case and issue subpoenas halting the removal of her feeding tube, scheduled for 1 p.m. ET.
  • The fight over evolution has reached the big, big screen. Several Imax theaters, including some in science museums, are refusing to show movies that mention the subject - or the Big Bang or the geology of the earth - fearing protests from people who object to films that contradict biblical descriptions of the origin of Earth and its creatures.
  • Federal and state law enforcement officials say sophisticated criminals have begun to use the unsecured Wi-Fi networks of unsuspecting consumers and businesses to help cover their tracks in cyberspace.

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