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

July 25, 2005: P.S. A Column On Things

July 25, 2005 Vol. 7, No. 29

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Rents then and Now
  • Marlow in China
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Bad Quotes, Good Interviews
  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Humor

  • The Fruit Test

Movies

  • Best of Youth

Letters

  • Daniel Dern on the FF, Dan Grobstein File

General News

Rents then and Now

I recently reread my journals from the years 1974-1978: graduation from college, three jobs, flushed by a girlfriend and then by a fiancée. I don't recommend this exercise (if you kept journals). It can be truly discouraging to find out a) how unstable you were at that age and b) which part of your anatomy was doing the thinking and talking. But in addition to making note of my own moronic behavior and the irrational behavior of most of the women in my life, I made a fairly regular note of prices, for meals or trips. I also noted the cost of a beautiful two-bedroom flat in San Francisco's Cow Hollow neighborhood that I shared with a woman who suffered from a tragic inability to make up her mind about anything--except, in the end, kicking me out of the beautiful two-bedroom flat. The total rent on this flat during 1977 was $450 a month ($1,460 in 2005 dollars; my share was half, or $730 in current dollars). At the time, I was making $17,000 a year ($55,164 in 2005 dollars) in the public relations department of Bank of America.

Thus, all things being equal, a nice two-bedroom flat in the Cow Hollow district of San Francisco should rent for $1,460 and be supportable on a salary of $55,000. In fact, it rents for about $2,400 a month (about 1.6 times as much, discounting inflation) and would require a salary of $88,000, if the rent were to be the same proportion of salary.

It is a miracle anyone under 40 can afford to live in the city, and they certainly can't live on their salary alone as nicely as I did 28 years ago. Proof positive, if anyone needed it, that real estate in San Francisco has officially gone insane. Our cities are becoming doughnuts: only the very rich and the very poor. The middle class is gone, and at these prices it is no wonder.

Marlow in China

Marlow is in Shanghai this summer, working and working on her Chinese.

Shanghai isn't as obviously fun as Beijing, or easy for me to manage as the area right outside Hagong Da (my school in Haerbin). But I joined a gym and have even started going to spinning class (I've been to two so far, and I think I should buy a towel for the handlebars, but besides that I really enjoy it). And then today, rather than just sitting in my room and either watching Friends episodes on my computer or trying to wade through Chinese television I actually went out to check out my neighborhood a little. It was already 9:30, so stuff was closing even though it looked so lively when I was biking home from the gym, 10 is apparently the magic hour here, which is nice in that its four hours later than I'm used to in Holland. Still, I got a more positive feeling about my neighborhood than I previously had. I found a comic book store and was able to stock up on Doremon comics (xiao ding-dong). The woman who ran the store gave me a five yuan discount without me even asking. I don't really try and haggle in stores for the most part because I don't really know in which ones it's acceptable and in which ones its insulting. Then more to herself than to me started going off about how she'd never expected a foreigner would come in and want to buy her books. I picked up a T-shirt for Rae in the Taiwan style, a fake designer purse, and then I even saw two old beggar men with a monkey. Fancy that, my neighborhood has a begging monkey.

Most of the xiao chi, snack, stands looked a little sparse, so I decided to get my real food in a restaurant, but I look forward to going back earlier and getting some smelly tofu and shaved ice, two of my favorite off-the-street snacks from Taipei.

So, by biking in the right direction for ten minutes I can be in the type of neighborhood I was worried Shanghai didn't have. Phew.

Oh, and also when I was parking my bike in the basement a guard and a bunch of the maids who had just gotten off work were also walking through, and the guard was like "lao wai hen bu cuo." (something like, that foreigner is pretty ok). I'd never talked to him, so he'd probably just seen me biking in and out and thought that was whacky enough. But since he'd made his comment loudly I responded with a good ole "lao wai ye hui shuo zhongwen" (the foreigner can also speak Chinese), which got the appropriate giggles all around.

Political Notes

If you missed Larry Johnson doing the Democratic response to the President's weekly radio address, then catch it on the Atrios blog. I have to say, it was so good I though Atrios was kidding, or had been taken in. But this is not your run of the mill Harry Reid blather. This is powerful stuff which Americans need to hear. Alert readers will recall he was mentioned in last week's column.

***

Richard Dalton responded to my section last week entitled, "MIT in Fiction:"

Your head "MIT in Fiction" should have included the Santorum blather, since MIT was a liberal conspirator, according to the dimwitted senator.

On the subject, Thomas Oliphant had some choice comments in the Sunday Boston Globe:

"Using a simple clarifying concept--priests accused as a percent of priests in the affected diocese--the "center" turns out to have been Covington, Ky.--known to business travelers everywhere as the home of Cincinnati's airport. The percentage of accused priests there from 1950 on was 9.6 percent compared to 7 percent in Boston.

Perhaps Santorum could examine the wild, permissive sexual climates in such dens of iniquity as Albany, Jackson, Miss, and Belleville, Ill, all of which had greater concentrations of accused priests than Boston did."

***

Briefs

Computer Industry News

Bad Quotes, Good Interviews

Every person in the computer industry should read Tech titans wish we wouldn't quote them on this baloney by Kevin Maney in USA Today which debunks several urban-myth type quotations; Western Union didn't reject the telephone, IBM's president never predicted a total demand of five computers, Bill Gates never said 640K would be enough memory, and so on. I recognized every quote in the article!

Also

I have about 50 audio interviews and transcripts I recorded with people who were important in the growth of the Internet, reported between 1997 and 1999. Included are Tim O'Reilly, Eric Raymond, Vint Cerf, Gary Reback.... I'd like to donate them to a museum. I am talking to The Tech museum in San Jose, but do you know any other museum that would be interested in such an audio record of the time?

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Grand Theft defrauds ESRB ratings: reports started to surface on July 8 that a Dutch modder named Patrick Wildenborg created a modification called Hot Coffee that unlocked sex scenes in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas by the Rockstar Games unit of Take-Two Interactive. GTA and GTA:SA were already very controversial for the level of violence and criminal activity they contained. As late as July 20 Rockstar continued to insist that the explicit content had been added by the mod. The notion of adding a scene this way seemed a stretch, and many insiders leaned toward the theory that the sexual content had been included by the publisher in the original release. This was a key point since the game carried the ESRB rating of M (Mature) meaning it had been certified not to contain explicit sexual material. By July 21 the jig was up, Rockstar copped to authoring the sex scenes, the ESRB changed the rating to AO (Adults Only), and most major retailers announced they would stop selling the game. More: Video game sex scandal stirs U.S. standards debate, Gamers, makers hope industry can police itself, The ESRB and Grand Theft Auto Round 50... or something around there., GameSpot interview with ESRB president Patricia Vance about GTA controversy and Take Two may face further investigations over Hot Coffee.

Googlebriefs: it wouldn't be Technobriefs without the weekly rundown of Google items. To celebrate the anniversary of the first lunar landing on July 20, 1969, they launched Google Moon, a take off on Google Earth (or at least Google Maps). One obvious flaw with this beta Google Moon: no driving directions! Meanwhile, back on planet Earth: How Google Maps Got Me Out Of A Traffic Ticket. But as Boing Boing points out, this could open him to other prosecutions.

Technobits: Super speed broadband seen over cable TV in 2006 --- security hole in RFIDs --- Free Software for Busy People --- Sony unveils range of development tools for PS3 --- Chinese online gamer stabbed for selling virtual sword --- Mind May Affect Machines --- Elemental - Is it time to revamp the periodic table? -- a wonderful collection of "vintage snapshots and vernacular photography": Square America.

Humor

The Fruit Test

Kent Peterman sent this along:

Amazing Test

What kind of person are you?

Pretty profound stuff.

In the middle of the table is a round food tray with five kinds of Fruits on it.

They are:

a. Apple

b. Banana

c. Strawberry

d. Peach

e. Orange

Which fruit will you choose? Please think very carefully and don't rush into it. This is great, I was astounded! Your choice reveals a lot about you!

Test results

If you have chosen:

a. Apple: That means you are a person who loves to eat apples

b. Banana: That means you are a person who loves to eat bananas

c. Strawberry: That means you are a person who loves to eat strawberries

d. Peach: That means you are a person who loves to eat peaches

e. Orange: That means you are a person who loves to eat oranges

I hope you find fulfillment in this new insight about yourself. May it bring you peace and understanding, tranquility and all that other profound stuff.

I bet that right now you would like to find me and kick me . Well, You won't find me....because I am still hunting down the person who sent this to me...!

Movies

Best of Youth

On the surface, it sounds like the parody of a foreign film Woody Allen might use as a joke for one of his films. "It's great! It's an Italian television miniseries that runs six hours and is show in two separate sections. We can see it all today if we get there by 4pm..."

Well, Vicki and I were in the city last Sunday, and decided we might want to catch a foreign film. We were at the Cliff House and Ocean Beach, so naturally our thoughts turned to the Balboa, an 80-year-old Richmond-district theater at 38th and Balboa, just 10 blocks from the beach. It is a miracle it is still there. The lights of San Francisco's neighborhood theaters have been blinking off, one by one, for decades now. You'll never see another flick at the Alhambra, nor thrill to 70mm at the Coronet as Jerry Colona and I once did for a Die Hard movie, or Vicki and I did for Star Wars II, or should I say 5). We had seen the SF Chronicle's five-star review of the Italian film, Best of Youth, which despite its jokey description, really is a six-hour subtitled Italian film shown in two parts. We saw part one. We were captivated. It is moving, involving, clever, well-written, well-acted and enjoyable--and we only know as much about the last four decades of Italian history as the average well-informed American. We truly came to care about the two brothers at the heart of the film, and learned to applaud the heroes and hiss the villains--and we haven't even seen the second half yet. We're thinking of catching it next Sunday, unless there's a showing of The Sorrow and the Pity somewhere.

 

Letters

Daniel Dern on the FF, Dan Grobstein File

Daniel Dern offers more thoughts on the Fantastic Four:

I'm old enough that I --could-- have bought and read the Fantastic Four's first comic book appearance, back in 1961 (I would have been nine). But, for whatever reason, I seemed to have been in a DC neighborhood. So instead I got was there for the start of DC's "Silver Age" -- the creation of Barry Allen as Flash, Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, Ray Palmer as the Atom, the birth of the Justice League of America, etc.

It wasn't until much later -- mid-college -- that I seriously encountered Marvel comics. (A friend had pretty much all the Marvel Silver-Age equivalents in their basement -- Spidey, Daredevil, Iron Man/Nick Fury, Hulk, Doc Strange, Thor, and the FF. So I did get caught up, and have followed many of these since.

And the Fantastic Four has had a fabulous time the past five years or so (see my comments elsewhere)... Carlos Pacheco, Rafael Marin, and Jeph Loeb did them proud, and more recently Mark Waid gave them a real workout.

So I was up for a hopefully-good FF movie (I've seen the never-released Roger Corman one, which was true in spirit, but indescribably bad nonetheless) -- hoping it would, at least, be better than Elektra and Catwoman (neither of which I saw) put together. (Not asking much.)

And it more than met those expectations. In fact, it was a danged good movie -- playing it straight, as a comic book movie, but with some of the ironic self-awareness we also saw in The Incredibles and in Batman Begins. It looked good, kept moving, and (as a comic book movie) wasn't inexecrably dumb.

Sure, Doc Doom seemed to think he was really Magneto, power wise, in spots, and Ben Grimm shouldn't be bald, but minor details...

I enjoyed it. Ioan Gruffudd (who had the title role in the TV Horatio Hornblower shows) was a danged good Reed Richards. Chris Evans was a good Johnnie Storm (although shouldn't he have been blond?). Michael Chiklis was a great Ben Grimm.

But Jessica Alba seemed off as Sue Storm -- a little too much like the one from Marvel's thankfully-short-lived "Heroes Reborn" recasting of the gang, some years back. Perhaps it was necessary for dramatic tension or whatever, but I found it off-putting.

After the over-the-topness of Hulk, Spider-Man, X-Men, Batman Begins, and others, it was nice to have a comparatively manageable challenge for Our Heroes to face. (Galactus, Mole Man and others may yet happen, of course.)

But, I realized afterwards, this wasn't quite "my FF" ... this was somebody else's interpretation. I don't --care--, in the fanboy "hey, Spider-man doesn't have organic webs!" sense, but it didn't scratch the "yes, that was it" itch.

So I'd give this a strong B+. (I'd give Batman Begins a low A-.) They got it moving, explained where the costumes came from, had a lot of good lines, and showed the powers in action... and Reed didn't look too weird when he stretched.

Recommended, if you're a comic fan. Even if you're not, maybe, if you still enjoy this stuff. Unless you're a purist fanboy, in which case you go at your own risk...

Dan Grobstein File

Dan has:

always been a fan of Wendell Willkie. I have his photo on my mantle at home. I guess what really got me interested in him was the fact that after he lost the election in 1940 he worked for the US by going overseas at FDR's request and reported to him. He then published One World. This action is so different to anything I've seen in my time watching politics.

In response to comments last week about Have Spacesuit Will Travel

I loved that book. Also "Citizen of the Galaxy". I remember giving an oral book report in 9th or 10th grade about "between planets". The book opens with the hero riding a pack mule in the Grand Canyon or someplace when he gets a telephone call (the entire class laughs here) alerting him to some trouble.

New York Times