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

February 6, 2006: P.S. A Column On Things

February 6, 2006 Vol. 8, No. 6

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Irony
  • Best Groundhog Day Ever
  • I'm Real!

Political News

  • Bush and Cheney Ordered Plame Leaks. Who's a Crook, Unclean Hands at Election Time

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • Is Hell Exothermic?


  • Neal and Paul do the Oscars
  • Neal Vitale Reviews: Mrs. Peterson Presents
  • Brokeback Mountain
  • Memoirs of a Geisha


  • Peterman on Birthday Calendar, Stalking your mate, Groundhog Day cartoon, Dan Grobstein File

General News


This year, both Groundhog Day and the State of the Union Address fall on the same day. As Air America Radio pointed out,

"It is an ironic juxtaposition: one involves a meaningless ritual in which we look to a creature of little intelligence for prognostication, and the other involves a groundhog."


Best Groundhog Day Ever

Wow oh wow. Early last week, David Miller, senior producer of Open Source, a PRI (Public Radio International) radio program which originates at WGBH, Boston, was thinking of doing a Groundhog Day show. Host Christopher Lydon loved the film, but wondered if there was an hour's worth of material.

When you enter "Groundhog Day" and "Movie" into Google, the first hit is my site. So he called and e-mailed, and I helped convince him and others on the staff it was worth doing the show. I also guided them towards other guests and Internet resources. Thursday at noon the e-mail came: would I be a guest? Could I get over to UC Berkeley's Dwinelle Hall, where there is a remote studio? Would I? Could I? You bet I could. As a former producer, I pointed out that I might sound better from a remote studio than on a telephone line. Miller agreed.

Mr. S., the principal at my middle school, agreed to take the last 20 minutes of my last class so I could get to Berkeley on time. I am unfamiliar with the Cal campus, but managed to find both a parking place and the unmarked studio quickly. It is really a TV studio, but it is also usable for remote radio broadcasting. It was a very plain studio with a great Electrovoice microphone and a wonderful pair of Sony headsets. I settled in, nuzzled the wind guard on the microphone and tried to relax my voice to its lowest range.

At 3:45 pacific, the host still hadn't pre-recorded the one-minute opening description of the broadcast--the windup. What I could hear of master control at WGBH sounded like barely controlled chaos, and my voice was still being echoed back to me on a three-quarter second delay. If you've ever had that happen to you, you know it makes it almost impossible to talk.

Four O'Clock, the show starts. A minute later, a five minute wait for news at the top of the hour. Then host Christopher Lydon sets up the show, again, and introduces me. We talk for six or seven minutes, then he brings on the other guests one by one, including, most notably, the screenwriter of the movie, Danny Rubin. I am in awe. That's expectable, I suppose, since I think Rubin wrote the best motion picture ever.

My wife and several friends who have heard the program believe I acquitted myself well. I am inclined to agree with them. It was a thrilling hour, and should widen both my fame and the film's stature.

Here is the rundown of Open Source's Groundhog Day broadcast. It includes a description, some related links, and the downloadable MP3 of the program itself.

In the course of appearing on the program, I discovered two new resources: professors (from Harvard and Iowa State) who have written Groundhog Day essays. The essays are not on the Internet, but I have sought permission to reprint excerpts. In the meantime, if you're interested, the essays are contained in these books


I'm A Real Boy

Well, it took rather a long time, but the State of California has finally conceded that I am qualified to teach U.S. History and English to students in grades six through 12. I completed my courses and my BTSA new-teacher training in June 2005 and immediately applied for a clear credential (I was teaching on a provisional credential). Although the California Commission on Teacher Credentialling tells visitors to expect a 75-day delay in processing of credentials, mine was delayed for seven months. Last week, they popped me an email that they had finally dug through the stack to my application and approved it, effective last July. So, from now until July 2010, I can teach unencumbered.

Of course the process was length and labyrinthine, and gets worse every year. It costs somewhere between $3,000 (Cal State) and $15,000 (private college) in order to take the graduate courses the state requires of teachers, followed by two years of BTSA mentoring (if you're lucky enough to land a job). If you ever hear anyone who wonders why there is a shortage of teachers, send them my way.

Of course, I am of two minds about this (as I am about so many things, being a good liberal). On the one hand, if you don't make it hard to become a teacher, unsuitable people will join the profession. And it is crystal clear that my pre-teaching stand--that all you need to teach is subject knowledge--was clearly just plain ignorant. Without some work on pedagogy and classroom management, the most knowledgeable person in the world will fail as a teacher. On the other hand, the hurdles I had to jump comprise a fairly substantial barrier to entry for someone who is, like me, in middle age and decades removed from a college classroom. We need more teachers. We need more good teachers. We need a teacher credentialling process redesigned from top to bottom to insure the attainment of these two goals without a lot of excess and unnecessary state-required fal-de-rol and pointless paperwork.


Political Notes

Bush and Cheney Ordered Plame Leaks. Who's a Crook, Unclean Hands at Election Time

Raw Story: Letter from special prosecutor Fitzgerald to Scooter Libbey's attorneys.

Libby was directed "by his superiors" to release classified information to the press. This was part, of course, of the effort to infringe upon the First Amendment rights of Joe Wilson. It was also intended to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States by revealing Mrs. Wilson's job. George and Dick ordered the crime, according to Scooter's grand jury testimony, since, arguably, they were his only superiors. Of course, that's all right then, because, as Richard Nixon once memorably said, "If the President orders it done, it's not a crime." The current Capitol Hill division of the Republican National Committee (aka Congress) apparently agrees, through its inaction, with Nixon.

This information about criminal orders is contained in the 3rd sentence of the paragraph which appears at the bottom of page 6 of the January 23, 2006, letter (Exhibit C-- page 6 of the letter is page 15 of the pdf file)

See also Court filings shed more light on CIA leak investigation


Q: After learning that, in violation of the Constitution, the law, and his campaign pledges, George W. Bush advocated warrantless interception of the communications of U.S. citizens inside the United States, what's the difference between Richard Nixon and George W. Bush?

A: Nixon went on national television to say: "I am not a crook." Bush went on national television to say: "I am a crook." (by admitting the unconstitutional warrantless wiretapping of, and eavesdropping on, electronic communications involving U.S.citizens in the United States)


New Yorker: Election Dispatch Watching Hamas
If George and Dick had a clue about democracy they would understand that the person with the most votes wins. Since their recent campaigns were marked by vote casting and counting irregularities (to be charitable about it), they may think that the winner is whoever Karl wants it to be without regard to how the votes are actually cast. As previously reported in PSACOT, Condi was way above her highest level of competence as a staffer 20 or so years ago; absolutely clueless.



Impeachment Watch


Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

by Craig Reynolds

The weekly Google item: depending on who you listen to, Goobuntu is either a direct attack by Google on the Windows hegemony of the desktop (Google at work on desktop Linux) or just an in-house tool for the Googleplex (Google Downplays Goobuntu Linux Rumor).  See this blog on Goobuntu which is not run by Google.  China: from the official Google blog: Google in China.  Here is a survey of some of the sites blocked by Sites Google Agreed to Censor in China.  While this has an amusing tone of tweaking the censor's naive nose: Chinese Google filter only works if you can spell, you have to assume it will be interpreted by the censor as a bug report and this leak will soon be closed.  More on circumvention: How to Outwit the World's Internet CensorsMaps: Last week I mentioned the 10 minute Google Map treatment and here is another approach to doing it yourself: Your Own Google Maps.

The weekly DRM item: the DRM kettle calls the Doctorow pot black!  First Cory Doctorow (author, EFF pioneer and Boing Boing stalwart) took some well deserved shots at StarForce for doing for games what (Sony BMG malware creator) First4Internet did for music: Anti-copying malware installs itself with dozens of games. Then they threaten to sue him sounding all the world like a petulant 12-year-old. While elsewhere: Music lovers caught in DRM battle and here is a great idea: IPac - Your Senator Needs an iPod.

Comparison of Music Recommenders: in an earlier column I briefly mentioned Pandora ("Find Music You'll Love"). Recently Slashdot featured Steve Krause's Pandora and Nature vs. Nurture in Music Recommenders. He explains the differing approach used by the two services and compares the user experience.  One Slashdot reader comes down on the side of "I use both...I suspect statistics will triumph over design, no matter how knowledgeable a group of musicologists you assemble" and recommends Filters 101 for background on the technology (terminology note: these recommendation systems are a form of collaborative filtering.).  Other readers suggested related services: iRATE radio and Tubes.  See also foafing the music.

Cameras, binoculars, cell phones, movies: a loosely connected group of links related to things with lenses. Whats new in still cameras for 2006?: Pixel Counting Joins Film in Obsolete Bin (Interesting quote: "First, there's the astonishing collapse of the film camera market. By some tallies, 92 percent of all cameras sold are now digital...") Tracking spy satellites with binoculars and stopwatches: I Spy.  Talk about low budget production: Have cell phone? Make a movie -- and low budget distribution: Warner Bros to sell movies on net.

Technobits: George Bush versus human-animal hybrids --- RIM wins UK patent case, while in the US: Patent in BlackBerry case gets non-final rejection --- Negroponte's $100 laptop versus Gate's cellphone-based idea --- Verbatim: Search firms surveyed on privacy --- Global Warming Interactive, a "serious game" for learning about global warming --- a "long bet": Blogs versus the NY Times in Google --- Carbon chips offer gecko strength --- For Sony's Robotic Aibo, It's the Last Year of the Dog, prompting the BBC to ask: What happened to the Robot Age? --- Airborne Wind Power (Cory called them Flying windmills) --- cool aurora pictures from the Earth Observatory --- glterminal via OS X terminal app mimics old-timey glass teletype --- flickr spin-offs: fastr -- a flickr game (guess the tag common to all images) Spell with flickr: "psacot" (use your browser's Reload to see other variations).



Is Hell Exothermic?

The Urban Legend site this story almost certainly is not true, but it is still funny, so I'm repeating it.

Bonus Question: Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)?

Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle's Law (gas cools when it expands and heats when it is compressed) or some variant.

One student, however, wrote the following:

First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So we need to know the rate at which souls are moving into Hell and the rate at which they are leaving. I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving.

As for how many souls are entering Hell, let's look at the different Religions, that exist in the world today. Most of these religions state that

if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there is more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to Hell.

With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of Souls in Hell, to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added.

This gives two possibilities:

1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.

2. If Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.

So which is it?

If we accept the postulate given to me by Teresa, during my Freshman year that, "it will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you," and take into account the fact that I slept with her last night, then number 2 must be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is exothermic and has already frozen over. The corollary of this theory is that since Hell has frozen over, it follows that it is not accepting any more souls and is therefore, extinct...leaving only Heaven thereby proving the existence of a divine being which explains why, last night, Teresa kept shouting "Oh my God."



Neal and Paul do the Oscars

Neither Neal nor I should quit our day jobs: here's how we did with our predictions on the Oscar nominations:










Supporting Actor








Supporting Actress




Animated Film












Adapted Screenplay




Original Screenplay











I will note that my one prediction of a technical Oscar--sound for the movie Rent --was inexplicably overlooked by the academy. Neal's commentary on our efforts:

While not horrible, we were not brilliant in our prognostications. Paul, you were better in the film, directing, and writing (nice sweep in Original Screenplay!) categories, while I did a bit better in most of the acting areas. Overall, we both seemed to underestimate Crash. I certainly underestimated Capote, and overestimated Constant Gardener - a big loser in these nominations. With roughly five weeks to go, I think it will be a Brokeback sweep, as with the Golden Globes. [Small satisfactions - Wallace & Gromit, Terence Howard]

I don't care what the Academy thinks, I still didn't care all that much for Terrence Howard's performance, or the movie Hustle and Flow. And there's no excuse for freezing out Woody Allen's Match Point except that Hollywood hates Woody (and vice versa) and that's been true for a long time.


Neal Vitale Reviews: Mrs. Henderson Presents

4 stars

British director Stephen Frears is a consistent creator of small, fine films, with The Grifters, Dangerous Liaisons, and The Snapper among his credits. Mrs. Henderson Presents is another success - lovely and warm, cleverly-written and well-acted, featuring masterful performances by Judi Dench (for which she has justifiably earned an Oscar nomination), Bob Hoskins, and, in a minor role, Christopher Guest. The film is the politely risqué story of the wealthy, recently-widowed Mrs. Henderson (Dench) and her newly-hired theatre manager (Hoskins), who together scandalize pre-World War II London by presenting a touch of Continental-styled vaudeville - complete with nude young ladies. The early trajectory of Mrs. Henderson Presents suggests a pleasant trifle, amusing but insubstantial. But the film takes a darker turn toward the end and, though it remains persistently uplifting, gains a dimension that serves it well. With domestic grosses just topping $2 million, few have seen Mrs. Henderson Presents, which is a shame - it is well worth seeing.

--Neal Vitale


Brokeback Mountain

3 Stars

Right on the edge of butt-numbing at two hours and 14 minutes, this Oscar powerhouse did not move me as much as it did some other reviewers, including Neal, who gave it 3.5 stars some time ago. I found my interest flagging in the long middle section. Where or where is a producer in Hollywood willing to rein in a director like Ang Lee, to take him into a corner and say, "I'm not releasing this film until you tighten it up! Trim a minute off each scene, lose a subplot or two; keep the good stuff at the beginning and end and lose some chunks of the boring middle." The only reason I didn't walk out is that I wanted to see how it ended, having never read the original short story. It was worth the wait--barely. Clearly, the makers of this film will do well at Oscar time because, in the words of a critic in the San Francisco Chronicle the Academy likes socially liberal and artistically conservative films. If you're gay (out or closeted), or one of those people like me who likes to see every Best Picture nominee (I made it this year!), go see Brokeback. Otherwise, give it a pass.


Memoirs of a Geisha

3 stars

A controversial book becomes a controversial movie. You may recall that the original novel suffered from charges of inaccuracy (sloppy research) and social incorrectness (because it was written by a guy). The movie, in turn, has suffered from the suggestion that it was not as accurate as, nor true to, the novel. I never read the novel, and I've never studied geisha's in any detail, so I can't speak directly to either of the two criticisms. I can saw, however, that it is a butt-number (slightly more than two hours). The film is also breathtakingly beautiful (it should be nominated for makeup, costumes and cinematography), and that the director's weird and eccentric decisions on how much "Japanese" accent each character should use made large swaths of the film unintelligible. And if it was really the actors' accents and not the director's choice, then Rob Marshall should be drawn and quartered for not reading the cards at the preview and looping out the missing dialog.

OK, not offensive (unless you are offended by Chinese actors playing Japanese), not boring (too often). We come not to praise Memoirs but to bury it with faint praise.



Peterman on Birthday Calendar, Stalking your mate, Groundhog Day cartoon, Dan Grobstein File

Kent Peterman found Birthday Calculator. "This is really cool. After you've finished reading the info, click again, and see what the moon looked like the night you were born. This is neat."

The Guardian newspaper: How I stalked my girlfriend. Turns out you can GPS track anyone whose cell phone you can grab for five minutes.

Glen Speckert found a great Groundhog Day cartoon. Of course, in a few years it will be indecipherable.

Dan Grobstein File

New York Times

  • January 29, 2006
    Spies, Lies and Wiretaps
    A bit over a week ago, President Bush and his men promised to provide the legal, constitutional and moral justifications for the sort of warrantless spying on Americans that has been illegal for nearly 30 years. Instead, we got the familiar mix of political spin, clumsy historical misinformation, contemptuous dismissals of civil liberties concerns, cynical attempts to paint dissents as anti-American and pro-terrorist, and a couple of big, dangerous lies.
  • January 29, 2006
    Japanese Scientists Identify Ear Wax Gene
    Earwax may not play a prominent part in human history but at least a small role for it has now been found by a team of Japanese researchers.Earwax comes in two types, wet and dry.



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