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

November 14, 2005 Vol. 7, No. 45

Table of Contents:

Unless there is overwhelming demand for the traditional column format, I'm going to stop posting new columns in that format and simply make this file into an automatic redirect. Write me at to express your opinion

General News

  • Doing RSS
  • A Visit to Portland
  • The Rose in Bloom
  • Political Notes
    • Political Humor, Plamegate / Should We Torture Libby?, Alitowatch, Politicizing Nat'l Sec. Adviser

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • On the Effectiveness of Aluminum Foil Helmets


  • Squid and Whale
  • Chicken Little


  • Dalton on the HPV Virus, Dan Grobstein File

General News

Doing RSS

And now for something completely different: a tutorial on setting up an RSS feed. I e-mailed this to a friend recently, then realized that I spent hours searching for an explanation this simple somewhere on the net. Perhaps some poor benighted sole seeking similar information will find this in Google and be spared my search process.

Compiling an RSS feed is much easier than I had realized before I started doing it. I avoided it for a couple of years because I figured I didn't have the time, and didn't understand what the hell it was. In the end, it only took me a half day to get up to speed and about 15 minutes to prepare it.

Basically, it is a structured summary of the material you have available each week, contained in an html-like file which you place on your web site. my file, psacot.rss (it doesn't really matter what filetype you use, but most people use .rss) is attached. People then point their RSS feed reader at it. The feedreader periodically looks to see if there is something new.

An RSS file can have a maximum of 15 stories in it, but people's feed readers keep the old stories from last week as well.

You can get a great, free RSS generator here:

You can get a great free feed reader here:

It is always a good idea to be the first to look at your RSS feed each week, to make sure nothing "funny" has happened.

Each item consists of headline, URL and description.

To walk you through the file, there is some stuff on top that the generator can't handle, so I add it in every week by hand (or rather, did add it before typepad started doing it for me). I would imagine it is pretty clear what you'd have to swap out to make this code work for you. Be sure the rss version and channel tags are at the top. Do not change them.

<rss version="2.0">


<title>P.S. A Column On Things</title>


<description>Paul Schindler's weekly self-published column</description>

<image> <title>Paul Schindler</title> <url></url> <link></link> </image>


<managingEditor> (Paul Schindler) </managingEditor>

Then there is the individual item. These can be generated by the RSS generator, which creates the tags, converts any non-standard characters and generally makes sure you don't leave anything out. Here's one example:

Here is what the generator will come up with:


<title>*Historic PowerPoints* *How To Start Your Day With A Positive Outlook*</title>


<description>Historic PowerPoints: First Lincoln, now Jefferson (Declaration of Independence) How To Start Your Day With A Positive Outlook: Microsoft Windows can help!</description>


Again, I think you'll find the tags (the stuff between the angle brackets <>) very clear; you'll note that every open tag has a close tag (the same word with a / in front of it)

The simple RSS generator cannot handle a "comments" field or a "category" field, so I add those by hand to the generated code. They look like this:



I put them just before the description and they work fine.

It is possible a more sophisticated generator could add them, or you could just leave them out.




If you don't, no feedreader will accept your RSS file.

Post the resulting text file on your site; call it, then tell people to start pointing at it. Update it each time you post a new item. Voila!


A Visit to Portland

I spent a three-day weekend in Portland with my parents, who were nice enough to allow me some time to visit old friends. Since I didn't ask for permission to use their names, I'll use letters.

By the way, I stayed in what I am quite certain is Portland's finest Bed and Breaktfast. If you simply must have a hotel (and you want neither plastic nor expense nor shabby gentility) stay at the Benson Hotel, long Portland's finest. On the other hand, if you, like me, prefer a quiet, well-appointed B&B, my hometown offers none finer than the White House. I have stayed in most of the rooms. They are all excellent.

While I am hometown recommendation mode, my recommendation for the best food in the most unexpected place is the Jubitz Truck stop out by the Columbia River. Let me tell you, truck stops aren't what they used to be, and doubly so for the food. The worst meal my family ever ate was a tie between a Chinese restaurant in Gold Country, and a truck stop somewhere in California (the memory has been blessedly scrubbed). Jubitz serves recipes developed by Portland's most well-known chef.

So, Friday morning I began my visit with my first appearance at a commercial radio station in 20 years. My high school best friend, B, allowed me to sit in on the last 15 minutes of his morning drive-time show, then took me on a tour of the five stations that broadcast from the same facility. When I last worked at a commercial station in 1971, you couldn't own more than an AM and an FM in a single market. The computerization is cool and impressive. No more cart machines!

From there over to my high school radio station, where I met two classmates who are now officials. We shared stories, swapped news of  friends and foes, and enjoyed a surprisingly good lunch at Applebee's. They were polite enough to be interested in how I was doing in my newfound career as a teacher.

Certainly the most unusual part of the visit was my afternoon coffee at the Marriott Courtyard off Marine Drive. There, I met two regular readers of and contributors to this column whom I had never laid eyes on before. How extremely cool. We could have talked all night, but I had one more stop--my friend E and his wife and son.

Imagine my surprise when I couldn't find his house--in my hometown. Turns out I had his old address, and his cellphone crapped out, and I didn't have his home phone number--but he had my parents number, and he left a message, so we hooked up the next day, giving me 90 minutes to renew my acquaintance with his wife P and meet his son for the first time, while also enjoying his excellent home-made Chai Latte.

Off to Powell's World of Books at 10th and West Burnside in downtown (opposite the corner where the Top 40 DJs of KISN and KGAR battled in the 1960s), which is, simultaneously, the largest, best organized, most cyber-friendly--oh heck, it's just the world's best used book store. No trip home is complete without a short stop there.

Dinner at Amalfi's, the Italian family restaurant four short blocks from my parents' home (some thing  do get better with time), and breakfast at Colwood Golf Course on Sunday morning. Maybe I should visit my parents more often.


Rose in Bloom

Well, it takes a little while, but usually the Internet comes through. I complained in this space some time ago that the lyrics to the lovely song "Rose in Bloom," the longtime theme song of Portland's 50,000-watt KEX were not available on the Internet. Joel Miller of Portland posted the original jingle on the Portland Radio Spots website, then spotted my old column and told me about it. I transcribed the lyrics. This should bring a tear of nostalgia to many an Oregon resident of the 1960s...

The rose in bloom
The scent of pine
A young romance at timberline
It's the Call of the Northwest in Portland

The awesome view from council crest
The finest sight in all the west
It's the Call of the Northwest in Portland

Take a stroll in Washington Park
Almost any afternoon

Drive by the river after dark
Glistening in the moonlight

So many things remind us of
The city we will always love
It's the Call of the Northwest in Portland, Portland

KEX in Portland

Political Notes

Political Humor, Plamegate / Should We Torture Libby?, Alitowatch, Politicizing Nat'l Sec. Adviser

The position of national security adviser was formerly a non-political position, the person stayed out of obvious politics and campaigning; that all ended on Thursday, 11/10/05 when Stephen Hadley stepped up to the microphones and continued to destroy the national security of the United States by overtly politicizing the position and further grossly misrepresenting the facts about intelligence and Iraq to his employers - the American people.)

The actual facts:

"Asterisks Dot White House's Iraq Argument" (by Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus, The Washington Post, p. A1, 11/12/05) which begins by observing that George W. Bush and Stephen Hadley (the national security adviser) offered two arguments recently in response to critics of Bush's Iraqi quagmire: 1) Congress saw the same intelligence as the administration and 2) independent commissions have determined the administration did not misrepresent the intelligence. Then we find the following in the second paragraph which reads in its entirety right there on the front page of the Post:

"Neither assertion is wholly accurate."

(All that stood between the Post and a more straightforward statement was probably a sense of reserve and a squadron of libel lawyers.)(In English, that sentence translates as: "They were lying.")


Miers was the most qualified person in the country for the Supreme Court according to George W. Bush. .She did not understand the law. Alito is less than the most qualified, because he did not get the first nomination for O'Connor's seat. So, clearly he does not understand the law either, and is therefore not qualified to sit on the Supreme Court, according to George W. Bush. The appropriate course of conduct is to wait for another generation of lawyers to be trained or at least for another law school class to matriculate and graduate. Then Bush can think about nominating someone else. O'Connor will do just fine until June, 2009. We should not settle for an unqualified jurist (which means any other lawyer/person--Supreme Court justices need not be lawyers) on the court right now.


Alito has a conflict of interest problem. Clearly unqualified for any court. Decided a case involving Vanguard (the mutual fund firm) after promising the Senate at his confirmation hearings (to be an appellate judge) that he would recuse himself from any such case involving Vanguard. One of Nixon's nominations lost or was withdrawn over a very small amount of money in shares of a litigant in a case before the nominee.

Arguably the issue here is false testimony at the confirmation hearing (difficult to prove) in addition to conflict of interest.

The amount involved in just one of the at least three instances of questionable Alito conduct is at least $390,000 owned by Alito. He apparently had no ownership interest in Vanguard or Smith Barney; no indication of the amount his sister stood to win or lose when he ruled on a case in which her law firm represented a party (28 USC 455(b)(5)(ii) and (iii) - it may be that his sister was not acting as a lawyer of record in the case. The degree of Alito's knowledge of his sister's profit participation or responsibility for firm debts is not now known to PSACOT



Question for Dick and George, given your support for torture to protect the country and our intelligence officers and assets, do you support torturing Scooter Libby to determine the truth of the Cheney-Libby-Rove-Wilson-Plame Affair? If not, why not? 11/10/05 "Judy We Hardly Knew Ye" based on conversation with firedoglake's source at NYT): They were sorry to see Judy go. "Many people were hoping for an actual execution in the town square but it was not to happen," they said. "It's hard to imagine how dreadful it is to work with her," and "a twenty year nightmare is over."


Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Sony's invasive DRM, part II: this story has continued to get worse and worse. As mentioned here last week, Sony/BMG took an amazingly ill-considered approach to DRM on several recent music CDs. In order to slow down a few file sharers, they decided to attack their customers' computers with dangerous malware. When you try to play one of these toxic disks (list of titles here) on a Windows PC, Sony/BMG takes it upon itself to infect your PC with a rootkit (a hacker's tool) and spyware to track your future behavior. This raises the an interesting question: who is more despicable and anti-social: people who share music, or corporations who intentionally damage their customer's PCs? From the BBC: Sony tries to patch up piracy row and CNet: Sony's mess keeps getting bigger. Once your PC is compromised by Sony's rootkit, all kinds of nasty infections can get in: Hackers use Sony BMG to hide on PCs and World of Warcraft hackers using Sony BMG rootkit. For an in-depth technical analysis see: More on Sony: Dangerous Decloaking Patch, EULAs and Phoning Home and SonyBMG and First4Internet Release Mysterious Software Update. When thousands of PCs are damaged by your actions, can lawsuits be far behind? Go get 'em: Sony sued over copy-protected CDs, Sony Spyware Draws Lawsuits and Wanna sue the pants off Sony?.

Microsoft sounds own death knell: the guys in Redmond seem to be vaguely aware that their goose is cooked, but it hasn't quite sunk in yet: Microsoft memos show pressure for change, Internet Services Crucial, Microsoft Memos Say and Leaked Documents from Bill Gates and Ray Ozzie. To their credit, they have not yet given up on fixing all the bugs in Windows: Microsoft's Secret Bug Squasher. More on the theme of "dead company walking": OpenDocument format gathers steam and French taxman opts for OpenOffice. You may recall that just last week Google announced it was pumping resources into OpenOffice.

Darwin's revenge: good news about the pro-Intelligent Design school board in Dover Pennsylvania: The Creationists Get Creamed and Small Group Wields Major Influence in Intelligent Design Debate. I would be very surprised to learn that God is as small-minded as Pat Robertson seems to think: Evangelist says voters reject God. For a contrary view on the wisdom of fighting ID with copyright: Evolutionists Are Wrong!

Fab Lab: from bits to atoms: as mentioned briefly here in October the Fab Lab is a project of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms. Their goal is to jump start a revolution in "desktop manufacturing". Just as computers have evolved from room-filling behemoths used in industry, to tiny boxes in most American households -- the Fab Lab folks want to shrink a small factory to fit in your garage. An assortment of articles: Imagine, Make It Real in Fab Lab, Fab Labs unshackle kids' imaginations and Fabulous fabrications. You can also read CBA Director Neil Gershenfeld's book FAB ("The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop--From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication"). You can also listen to an interview with him from last week's Science Friday segment of NPR's "Talk of the Nation".

Moving Canvas / Parasite is a clever gorilla art project. The perpetrators are really lucky they did not get arrested on terrorism charges, let alone shot on sight by nervous security forces. See this Quicktime video (36MB) about the project. More information here and here.

Technobits: Congress divided on broadcast flag plan --- Lessig on Google Print --- as I mentioned in October, I think "video on demand" will be huge: NBC and CBS to Sell Reruns for 99 Cents Each --- Yahoo Plans to Connect Services With TiVo --- Got 2 Extra Hours for Your E-Mail? --- History's Worst Software Bugs --- anti-pirate sonic death ray --- Open-source LED puzzle-blocks --- Star Wars as postmodern art --- On the Effectiveness of Aluminium Foil Helmets: An Empirical Study.



Aluminum Foil Helmets

On the Effectiveness of Aluminum Foil Helmets:
An Empirical Study
Ali Rahim, Ben Recht, Jason Taylor , Noah Vawter
17 Feb 2005
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department, MIT/ Media Laboratory, MIT.

Among a fringe community of paranoids, aluminum helmets serve as the protective measure of choice against invasive radio signals. We investigate the efficacy of three aluminum helmet designs on a sample group of four individuals. Using a $250,000 network analyser, we find that although on average all helmets attenuate invasive radio frequencies in either directions (either emanating from an outside source, or emanating from the cranium of the subject), certain frequencies are in fact greatly amplified. These amplified frequencies coincide with radio bands reserved for government use according to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Statistical evidence suggests the use of helmets may in fact enhance the government's invasive abilities. We theorize that the government may in fact have started the helmet craze for this reason.  



The Squid and the Whale

Noah Baumbach, who wrote and directed The Whale and The Squid clearly wanted to do an autobiographical work based on this own childhood, surviving a parental divorce in Brooklyn in the 1980s. At the least, I'd say he better have either signed releases or a great relationship with everyone who is identifiable in this film, including his own parents. The thing is, there's just no reason to set it in Brooklyn in the 1980s except to make it true to his life. It adds nothing, and, well, frankly Noah, I don't care if it's an accurate depiction of your life. I'd like it to be a good film, and, if I'm lucky, to be art. Alas, it falls short on both accounts.

According to IMDB the Tagline is Joint Custody Blows. The Plot Outline: "Based on the true childhood experiences of Noah Baumbach and his brother, The Squid and the Whale tells the touching story of two young boys dealing with their parents divorce in Brooklyn in the 1980's."

I wasn't touched. I was sometimes entertained, several times totally grossed out, and a few times confused. Jeff Daniels gives the performance of his career in this film as the father--if it were a better movie, he might be up for an Oscar. Laura Linney is good in everything she does, so the movie isn't so much a tour de force for her.

The Squid and the Whale are an exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in New York. Fine. I am sure they meant a lot to young Noah. In fact, I am sure they served as a metaphor--for something in his life. The problem is, I didn't get enough information from the movie to figure out what they represent. Who's the squid? Who's the whale? Is it just the fact that they are two creatures fighting? Maybe I'm thick, but at times I wondered if I had wondered into one of this incomprehensible David Lynch films. If Jeff Daniels had talked to himself on the telephone, the resemblance would have been complete.

MPAA: Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic dialogue and language. At least it's only 90 minutes. OK. Not all that special.


Chicken Little

Imagine my surprise when I heard that Chicken Little was at the top of the box office list. I would have sworn that word of mouth would have killed this turkey just in time for Thanksgiving. I guess what we have here is families desperate for a film, any film, that did not have explicit sex,  gory decapitations, or both.

Director Mark and writers Robert L. Baird  and Steve Bencich understood the Disney formula--take a public domain story, add a couple of songs, remove all the dark aspects and, when in doubt, be cute. But even with the recipe in hand, they can't make the stew taste good. More like a dog's breakfast, I'm afraid.

From IMDB: "Tagline: Chicken Little. Movie Big. Plot Outline: After ruining his reputation with the town, a courageous chicken must come to the rescue of his fellow citizens when aliens start an invasion."

A ton of top-flight voice talent was marshaled for this debacle including Garry Marshall Don Knotts, Patrick Stewart, Wallace Shawn, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard, Adam West and Catherine O'Hara. Alas, as Robots proved (by wasting the great Robin Williams and Mel Brooks) the best voice talent in the world won't save a mediocre film.

Disney has abandoned hand-drawn animation, which is a shame. Technically, they have mastered computer animation; there's a little innovation here, and no obvious embarrassment--except for the character design. What's up with that? It looks like characters from four different cartoons walked onto the set. The Incredibles (and every Pixar film) has a sensibility and a style. Chicken Little has a soundtrack from the 80s (and what's up with that? I guess those folks are 25 now and in the young-child parental demographic).

When Katzenberg was there, Disney made a string of hits, including Little Mermaid and Lion King, revitalizing both the art of animation and the Disney studio. Then he went to Dreamworks. Disney quality plummeted and Dreamworks Animation hasn't had a real hit. Apparently Disney and Katzenberg was one of those magical teams, neither of whose members can work without the other. Too bad.

If you are fascinated by the mechanics of computer automation (or just enjoy stopping to stare at car crashes), and aren't took picky about the story, go ahead and see this film. It's also OK if your children are quite young and not very discriminating. Everyone else should think twice before they hop on the bandwagon and go see it.




Dalton on the HPV Virus, Dan Grobstein File

This from Richard Dalton: 

Hard to believe, but there is strong opposition to the new vaccine that has been 100 percent effective against the HPV virus that causes most cervical cancer (and upwards of 4,000 deaths a year).  Ellen Goodman draws our attention to the vigorous denunciations of this medical breakthrough, coming from (you guessed it) right-wing fruitcakes.

I have a five year-old  granddaughter.  She could needlessly die of cervical cancer because a bunch of lunatic fringe types believe that it's "...a disease that is 100 percent preventable with abstinence..." and want to block childhood vaccinations for this virusbecause " sends the wrong message."  That is something I won't let them get away with.

Dan Grobstein File

Paul's Broadway item from last week led to a few Broadway thoughts from Dan:

They charged my Amex for PHC tickets. I'll know exactly what I got soon when the tickets arrive in the mail.

The staging of The Woman in White was really neat. They had a plain white semicircle background with several doors built into it. A middle portion could slide out. All of this was on a turntable on stage with trapdoors.

All the backgrounds were computer generated and projected onto the white semicircle. Some had movement so characters could walk along a street scene and the background would change. Or they would project woods or a library or the outside of a building. A doorframe was projected onto the doors in the background so they could walk through. If they had to walk into a church they would walk through one side of the wall, the turntable would turn and there they would be inside the church. They would move the necessary furniture into the scene while the wall was turned around. They were able to have an amazing number of locations for the action to take place.

I'm not the biggest Andrew Lloyd Webber fan, though I love Evita. I've seen Phantom, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Bombay Dreams (produced). I find the starting and stopping of the music to be jarring. I think that they could make a single of one or two with a little work. We missed seeing one of the English leads, Maria Friedman who played Marion Halcombe. She had a sudden illness.

The Nathan Lane-Matthew Broderick Odd Couple is sold out for the initial run. When I found out about it I tried Ticketmaster but couldn't find a date with seats. I went to the theatre and they only had a few seats for Wednesday matinees with limited views.

[Ed. Note: The reviews of the Odd Couple have NOT been good...]

New York Times

  • | November 6, 2005
    Just Googling It Is Striking Fear Into Companies
    As Google increasingly becomes the starting point for finding information, companies are beginning to view the company with some angst, mixed with admiration.


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