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

August 29, 2005: P.S. A Column On Things

August 29, 2005 Vol. 7, No. 34

Table of Contents:

General News

  • First Day of School
  • You Are What You Eat
  • Paul Schindler, Organ Donor
  • Marlow in China
  • Rae in France
  • Political Notes

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Humor

  • How many members of the Bush administration does it take to change a light bulb?
  • Headlines of 2004

Movies

  • Broken Flowers
  • The 40-Year-Old Virgin
  • Guest DVD Review: Sin City

Letters

  • World War III, Wolfe: Back to school, Beyond Technology, Dan Grobstein File

General News

First Day at School

The night before the first day of school, I was awake at 3:30, and again at 4:30 and 5:30; I managed to fall back asleep each time and stay in bed until 6:30, thanks to my half-time teaching schedule. It made no sense of course--I was ready for school, except for one change I was going to make as an accommodation to a mainstreamed special-needs student (I did it, but it didn't work, so I undid it, all in the last hour before school). The thing is, I wasn't the only one awake. Mrs. S, the teacher across the hall, is in her 14th year. She couldn't sleep either. We both had everything ready; we'd been coming into our rooms on and off for weeks. In fact, we planned together with MB, the new social studies teacher, so we know what we are doing for the next six weeks. Teachers who have been at it longer than her described their opening day jitters. Kent Peterman, who taught for decades, noted here a few weeks ago that he never got over it.

I am very slow in learning students names, but I am going to work harder on that this week, now that I have a seating chart. I have no student teaching assistants this year, so I have to do all my own grunt work; I have taken to asking students to stay after and help. Maybe I can make do with temporary help. But, for the first time, it appears I will have to enter all my own grades into the electronic gradebook. I admit, this is nowhere near as onerous as my math-deficient mom having to calculate all her grades by hand back in the 60s (yech!). But it seems like a lot of work to me.

I have been working very hard at staying calm. I need to tolerate more noise and chaos, because I can't be angry all the time. It scares the students, and doesn't really do me or them any good. So far, so good, but I've only been in class three days.

The school year has 180 days in it. I mentioned that the first day, and mentioned 179 and 178. I am not going to mention the number again until it is down to 10, and I am not going to think about it. Like dieting, you can't think about the whole task (I have 100 pounds to lose and have lost 20); it will scare you into inactivity. Instead, you think of the little chunk right in front of you. I know what I have to do this week, and I am ready for it. I actually managed to be behind my lesson plan at the end of the first day! But a good teacher is flexible. And I'm a good teacher. So I'm flexible.

Your Are What You Eat

From my very thoughtful friend Richard Dalton:

...drink, read, buy, unwrap, and discard.

I'm reading Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte. She's a great researcher and story teller, even when she's focusing on fecal matter in Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal--her home port, so to speak. Her skills have earned her bylines in rags like National Geographic, Harpers and The New Yorker.

One factoid in the book really caught my attention. According to Columbia University's State of Garbage in America for 2003, every American generates 1.3 tons of garbage a year, two-thirds of which ends up in a landfill. That's a little less than the Subaru Forester I drive and, hopefully, our trash output won't take as long to degrade as a car.

The garbage each of us produces is probably as individual an expression of how each of us lives his or her life as any other measuring stick. The 1.3 tons is made up of hundreds of decisions each of us make each day. And I suspect garbage minimization isn't way up in the priority of items in that decision-making process.

I'm reminded of an experience I had at a meeting held by the Institute for the Future, a research and consulting firm I was associated with for a decade or so. There were about 20 people around the conference table. The meeting was on technology's impact on sustainable development during the next 10 years.

Before each client meeting, some administrative person would check to see that the conference room refrigerator was well stocked with bottled water. It was, of course, a very 90s-hip thing to suck on a bottle of water during meetings.

We flailed around on the topic, looking for sweeping change (supported by appropriate technology) that could reduce our negative impact on the planet. Toward the end of the meeting we were brainstorming around the table, generating last minute ideas that could be included in our scenarios.

I looked around the table and volunteered, "We could stop drinking bottled water at meetings." There was a good deal of embarrassed harumphing but the idea did make it to the final report. At the next meeting, pitchers of tap water appeared along with logoed reusable coffee cups.

This is a point made throughout Garbage Land. It isn't just kicking industrial polluters that will cause improvement. The necessary changes are subtle and personal and start with awareness of the decisions each of us make each day.

Before New York City was forced to stop using the Fresh Kill landfill on Staten Island, the accumulated detritus had mounded up into a hill 200 feet high, the highest point on the Atlantic coast. So how many takeout food wrappers and paper coffee cups did you generate this month?

Paul Schindler, Organ Donor

I renewed my driver's license last week, and as usual added the pink "donor" dot to it. But the state has gone a step further, probably because donor dots fall off so easily. They emailed me this confirmation:

I, Paul Schindler, Jr., have signed up with the Donate Life California Organ & Tissue Donor Registry. Please join me in saving and enhancing the lives of thousands of people in need of your help. It took me only a few minutes to sign up -- minutes that could mean years of life for someone else.

To sign up or for more information, please visit
Donate Life.

Marlow in China

Marlow is in Shanghai this summer, working and working on her Chinese. She's spending this week in Beijing.

Well, I may never see Mao. I tried again today, and was told, in a way that, inexplicably, reminded me of Bill Murray's shower experience in Groundhog Day (even before I saw that the movie was once again being featured in Dad's column [last] week), that of course there was no viewing on Mondays. I was going to go yesterday but E wanted to hang out before she went shopping with a friend, and I figured it was actually more enjoyable to chat with her than go stand in a line in Tiananmen. I guess I just did a poor job of researching this. I don't know if I'm going to get a chance to give it a final go tomorrow before I leave. Oh well, it has still been an enjoyable trip.

Rae in France

Rae has completed here time in Montpelier in the south of France, working on her French:

To be honest, I am happy be going back to the States. I think it may be a psychological coping method. Any cognitive dissonance I have about returning has miraculously disappeared in the last two days. I have unwittingly ceded to my inevitable departure.

Still Montpellier seems to me a magical land. A land where men's phone numbers rain from the skies. A land where everyone speaks a strange and new language. A land where you regain your childhood. A land where you can gorge yourself on the best bread you have ever tasted while eating more cheese than you ever have before and still manage to lose weight.

But in reality, I have to return to the States. I come back to France at the very latest after I graduate. When I return, I hope to watch French movies, listen to French music, and seek out professors and French clubbers to practice with.

Political Notes

President Bush continues his accelerating disengagement from reality by declaring Iraq a central front in the war on terror. Of course, he tells this to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Utah, the reddest of the red states--and still there were protestors, led by Salt Lake's Democratic mayor. He was violating the unwritten law that says a mayor of the opposite party does not mess with a presidential visit, and yet there he was. Bush, like Lyndon Johnson, eventually he will only be able to speak on military bases. Vietnam analogy anyone? Can you spell quagmire?

Iraq is the central front in the war on terror (or, to give it its new name, the global struggle against violent extremism, G-SAVE) only because our presence there is generating new terrorists on a daily basis. And, by the way, the President apparently didn't get the memo about the name change, since he used the now inoperative "war" formulation in his speech. Heavens, the conservative commentariat must be as confused as an American Communist prior to WWII. First, the Politburo says Germany is our friend, so you attack American support for England. Then, after June 22, 1941, Germany is our enemy, so you demand American entry into the war. Only now, first Karl Rove says it's a war, so you roll out all your rhetorical guns to support that tired trope. Then Karl says it's G-SAVE, and you re-aim. Then the President goes back to war. It's enough to give Ann Coulter whiplash. Well, perhaps she'll be confused enough to stop providing, in a figurative sense, the service to Bush that Monica Lewinski provided to Clinton.

Briefs

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Anti-science: a few weeks ago Paul Krugman's Design for Confusion examined how pseudo-science can be used to sow doubt about valid research: "...like supply-side economics or global-warming skepticism, intelligent design doesn't have to attract significant support from actual researchers to be effective. All it has to do is create confusion [in the minds of the public]to make it seem as if there really is a controversy about the validity of evolutionary theory..." More reflections on that theme in (Un)Intelligence by Design. The BBC recently looked at the administration's hostility to scientific investigation in The struggle over science. One response to this anti-science campaign has been several prankish memes that seek to parody and so undermine Intelligent Design and similar disinformation schemes. In addition to the recently hot Pastafarian (Flying Spaghetti Monsterism) world view (first covered here in June), there was the Intelligent Falling item Paul mentioned last week. Now, stealing a page from the ID playbook, the folks at Boing Boing made a $1 million Intelligent Design challenge, upping the ante on Kent Hovind by a factor of four.

Google Talk: this week's free gift from the Googleplex is Google Talk a new de-Babelization (or is that de-Balkanization?) of the previously proprietary instant messaging and VoIP worlds. The Gtalk client is for Windows only. Yet because Google wisely based its service on open protocols, standards compliant clients on other platforms (notably Apple's iChat AV 3) are fully compatible with it.  An interesting sidelight is that Gtalk requires a Gmail account, which is now easier to obtain via a unique cell phone as authentication approach. Various perspectives: Google starts online talk service, First Impressions: Google Talk, Skype Forum community heaps scorn on Google Talk, Google aims to unify all Instant Messaging. Some analysis of What It All Means (with Lots of Question Marks) from NYT: Google Gets Better. What's Up With That?, Cringely: Has Google Peaked? and Kottke: GoogleOS? YahooOS? MozillaOS? WebOS?

DRM: bad, good, flip, flop The Long Tail's Chris Anderson makes a persuasive argument that eliminating all piracy is bad business: Just enough piracy. Conversely Andrew Orlowski writes in the Register that the goal should be 100% uncrackable DRM (as if): File swapping MSPs - the future of digital music?. First the FCC floats their idiotic anti-consumer, anti-innovation broadcast flag. Then last May it was tossed out by a federal appeals court. Now the Center for Democracy and Technology recently flip-flopped on the issue. Coverage from Politech: CDT won't oppose broadcast flag and More on CDT's broadcast flag flip-flop. Which part of "democracy and technology" does CDT not understand?

A Not-So-New Kind of Science: back in the Letters section of the May 2004 PSaCoT Paul reprinted my less than enthusiastic comments about Wolfram's A New Kind of Science, citing this collection of reviews and A Thirty-five Year Old Kind of Science. That letter was to a friend and MIT classmate who recently sent me a link to a (new to me) 2003 review by David Naiditch from Skeptic Magazine. It takes an in-depth look at NKS and finds it lacking in rigor and substance. I found it a very enjoyable read: Divine Secrets Of the Ya-Ya Universe (Stephen Wolfram: A New Kind of Science--or a Not-So-New Kind of Computer Program?).

Prehistory of the PC: What the Dormouse Said... by John Markoff (of the NYT) is a new history of the 1960s pre-PARC era of the computer revolution. Read a TR review of it by Bill Joy: The Dream of a Lifetime.

Technobits: two studies in two weeks on the effects of violent video games, reaching opposite conclusions: Video games linked to aggression in boys, APA press release and Violent video games do not cause aggression --- Living Without Microsoft --- 12-hour laptop battery? --- Hybrid hope in stem cell research--- Chimps Show Hallmark of Human Culture, Study Finds --- bio-minimalism: Ocean bug has 'smallest genome' --- Student stumbles on Einstein paper (high res scan) --- if the techno-blog had been a BBS 20 years ago: Engadget 1985.

Humor

How many members of the Bush administration does it take to change a light bulb?

Yet another version of an oft-repeated, oft-modified joke

Question: How many members of the Bush administration does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: Ten.

Explanation:

1. One to deny that a light bulb needs to be changed.

2. One to attack the patriotism of anyone who says the light bulb needs to be changed.

3. One to blame Clinton for burning out the light bulb.

4. One to tell the nations of the world that they are either for changing the light bulb or for eternal darkness.

5. One to give a billion dollar no-bid contract to Halliburton for a new light bulb.

6. One to arrange a photograph of Bush, dressed as a janitor, standing on a step ladder under the banner 'Bulb Accomplished'.

7. One administration insider to resign and in detail reveal how Bush was literally 'in the dark' the whole time.

8. One to viciously smear No. 7.

9. One surrogate to campaign on TV and at rallies on how George Bush has had a strong light-bulb-changing policy all along.

10. And finally, one to confuse Americans about the difference between screwing a light bulb and screwing the country.

Headlines of 2004

Don't these sound a little too good sometimes? Can you say apocryphal?

Crack Found on Governor's Daughter [imagine that]!
Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says [no, really]?
Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
[now that's taking things a bit far]!
Is There a Ring of Debris around Uranus? [not if I wipe thoroughly]!
Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over [what a guy]!
Miners Refuse to Work after Death [no-good-for-nothin' lazy so-and-sos]!
Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant [see if that works any better than a fair trial]!
War Dims Hope for Peace [I can see where it might have that effect!]
If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile [you think]?
Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures [who would have thunk it]!
Enfield(London) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide [they may be on to something]!
Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges [you mean there's something stronger than duct tape]?
Man Struck By Lightning Faces Battery Charge [he probably IS the battery charge]!
New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group [weren't they fat enough]?
Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft [That's what he gets for eating those beans!]
Kids Make Nutritious Snacks [Taste like chicken?]
Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half [Chainsaw Massacre all over again!]
Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors [Boy, are they tall!]
And the winner is....
Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead

Movies

Broken Flowers

OK, those of you who have been paying attention know that my favorite film is Groundhog Day, and one of the main explanations for my love of the film is the breakout performance of Bill Murray, who I have since recognized as a cinematic genius of comedy. On a roll of indie hits, he adds Broken Flowers to his already distinguished performances in Rushmore and Lost in Translation. He has made the transition from frenetic youth to laconic maturity, and we are all the beneficiaries. As my wife said when we saw this film, "aren't they trying awfully hard to be European?" It was slow-moving, episodic, and featured lots of scenes of Bill Murray driving around in various rented cars. He girlfriend leaves him, he gets an anonymous letter claiming he has a son, and his eager-beaver neighbor dispatches him on a search for the son. Frankly, I found the ending unfulfilling, but since the rest of the movie was truly a work of art, I will not insert a spoiler here. If you like Bill Murray's recent work (leaving out the underwater film he did last year), and you can stand a leisurely pace and an un-American non-resolution at the end of the film, go and see this. I think it's Oscar material for Bill and for director Jim Jarmusch--and we're close enough to Oscar season that all the old folks in the Academy may not forget this film by nomination time.. It's not a spoiler if you've seen it in the trailer: Murray does get beat up. But not by one of his ex-girlfriends.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

This is a very funny movie, a pastiche of many film genres (part Porky's, part Animal House; part There's Something About Mary, part When Harry Met Sally) that coalesces into an appealing, warm, and surprisingly realistic romantic comedy. The 40-Year-Old Virgin is the product of a pair of television comedy veterans, writer/producer Judd Apatow ("The Larry Sanders Show," "The Ben Stiller Show," "Freaks and Geeks," "Undeclared") and actor/writer Steve Carell ("The Daily Show," "The Dana Carvey Show," the US version of "The Office"). Carell is gloriously deadpan in a breakout role as the title character, and is surrounded by a nice complement of funny actors (Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen, Jane Lynch). Not to be missed, if only for two hilarious scenes - a literally hair-raising example of depilation and the unintentional over-exposure that can occur during speed-dating .

--Neal Vitale

Guest DVD Review: Sin City

I missed Sin City when it was first released, and finally caught up with it on DVD this week. I completely concur with Paul's original review last April, and simply wanted to add my kudos to what is a truly groundbreaking work. A brilliant realization of a comic book in live action form, splendidly filmed and acted. The "making of" notes on the DVD nicely illuminate the transition from print to the screen. But note - not the squeamish. Even in its cartoonish vernacular, Sin City is spectacularly violent, bloody, and gory.

--Neal Vitale

Letters

World War III, Wolfe: Back to school, Beyond Technology, Dan Grobstein File

We're already in World War III according to a provocative article my brother sent me. The speech by a serving Naval officer in Pensacola starts like this:

America WAKE UP!

That's what we think we heard on the 11th of September 2001 and maybe it was, but I think it should have been "Get Out of Bed!" In fact, I think the alarm clock has been buzzing since 1979 and we have continued to hit the snooze button and roll over for a few more minutes of peaceful sleep since then.

***

For Back to School wit and wisdom, you can't beat my regular contributor, Marjorie Wolfe.

***

From my friend John Hanzel:

A Techie, Absolutely, and More
For computer science students, expanding expertise beyond programming is crucial to future job security as technology jobs move to India and China....
August 23, 2005 - By STEVE LOHR (NYT) - Technology - News

Dan Grobstein File

New York Times

  • OPINION | August 21, 2005
    Op-Ed Columnist: The Swift Boating of Cindy Sheehan
    By FRANK RICH
    The failure of the smear campaign against Cindy Sheehan is yet another historical marker in the collapse of support for the Iraq war.
  • OPINION | August 21, 2005
    Editorial: Walking the Wrong Way
    The Freedom Walk, planned for Sept. 11, is an ill-considered attempt to link the Iraq war to the terrorist attacks of 2001.
  • BUSINESS / YOUR MONEY | August 21, 2005
    Be Warned: Mr. Bubble's Worried Again
    By DAVID LEONHARDT
    Robert J. Shiller is arguing that the housing craze is another bubble destined to end badly, just as every other real-estate boom on record has.
  • OPINION | August 20, 2005
    Op-Ed Contributor: The Trillion-Dollar War
    By LINDA BILMES
    If the American military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan lasts another five years, the total cost of the war could stretch to more than $1.3 trillion.
  • [note from Dan: I love it when she gets pissed at dubya]
    OPINION | August 27, 2005
    Op-Ed Columnist: Bike-Deep in the Big Muddy
    By MAUREEN DOWD
    Wake President Bush up when September begins.

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