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 13, 2006: P.S. A Column On Things

February 13, 2006 Vol. 8, No. 7

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Quiet Jubilation

Political News

  • Students V. Gonzales

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • Outsource Bush
  • Secret Message


  • Neal Vitale Reviews: Cool Videos and Websites
  • Walk the Line
  • Firewall


  • Urban Legend Alert, Peterman on Plates, Cheatley Looks at Stars, Dern notes passing of NBC pioneer, 31 days in Iraq, Coquet find Iraq Critique, Dan Grobstein File

General News

Quiet Jubilation

Henry David Thoreau famously said that "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." If you know me, you know I am neither quiet nor desperate. I prefer to think of my life as being punctuated with moments of quiet jubilation.

Following a lesson plan developed by my fellow teacher Mrs. S, we had "yarnin'" on Thursday, in which students made up tales that might be told around a campfire by Mountain Men (one of the subjects of the current chapter, along with the Alamo). Friday was another lesson plan of hers, the "Mountain Man Olympics." For the students, these are two of the most interesting days of the year, which means I like them too. Not every day can be a fun, non-book learning activity, but at least few days every year can be like that. Maybe we really will do a civil war re-enactment some day.

If we actually made history interesting, as opposed to stuffing them full of random facts, we'd never get them ready for the STAR test. Ironically, on the one hand the state demands that we demand higher thinking skills from our students. On the other hand, the state demands that our students pass a high-stakes test which consists of multiple choice guessing at random historical facts.


Political Notes

Students V. Gonzales

Just when you think the American legal profession has hit rock bottom, you hear something that gives you hope for the future. On top of the fact that several conservative, Bush-appointed lawyers could not stomach his efforts to secretly overturn the constitution, we now have this, from Neal Vitale's friend Janet Rice. It seems to have originated on the Insomnia blog. At least, there's no credit line and that's the highest link on Google.

Future American lawyers to be proud of.... and not Alberto Gonzales.

Alberto Gonzales spoke before law students at Georgetown today, justifying illegal, unauthorized surveillance of US citizens, but during the course of his speech the students in class did something pretty courageous and brave. They got up from their seats and turned their backs to him. To make matters worse for Gonzales, additional students came into the room wearing black cowls and carrying a simple banner, written on a sheet.

Fortunately for him, it was a brief speech... followed by a panel discussion that basically ripped his argument.

And, David Cole, Georgetown University Law Professor and one of the people on the panel said, "When you're a law student, they tell you that if you can't argue the law, argue the facts.

They also tell you if you can't argue the facts, argue the law. If you can't argue either, apparently, the solution is to go on a public relations offensive and make it a political issue... to say over and over again "it's lawful" and to think that the American people will somehow come to believe this if we say it often enough.

In light of this, I'm proud of the very civil civil disobedience that was shown here today."

It was a good day for dissent.

Now, if Gonzales had just been true to his oath to defend the constitution, and answered the Senate's questions about other Presidential orders secretly overturning other aspects of federal law.




Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

by Craig Reynolds

Got Game? there was much talk this week about IBM's plan to put the Cell Processor into "blade servers". Heretofore the Cell has generally been talked about as the heart of Sony's upcoming PLAYSTATION(r)3 game console, but it was designed by a consortium of Sony, Toshiba and IBM as a family of processors that would power a wide range of devices: I.B.M. Powers Computer With PlayStation Chip, The Cell Chip's Other Life (and see this related item Can Sony's Kutaragi Score Big?). There have been nay-sayers about the PS3/Cell architecture (PlayStation 3 Programming Predicament?) who think it is too hard to program, or that while fast for certain ("stream processing ") tasks it will suck at general computation, then there are others (nudge, nudge) who find PS3 capable of very high performance on decidedly non-stream-processing problems (Crowd Simulation on PS3). Some think the PS3 has "too many notes": This PlayStation May Play Too Much. More generally some think the whole game industry may be doomed (Wave of Video Game Fatigue Afflicts Sales, Not Thumbs) but then others say the same about Hollywood (Blockbuster films are doomed). Speaking of the decline of innovation in games, it speaks volumes that the game of the year would have the number 4 in its title: 'Resident Evil 4' video game of the year-1UP Awards. Is this evidence of a "wildly successful franchise" or does the industry have an "inability to innovate"?  On the third hand, this research suggests Better living through video games?

Beginning of mass customization? this brief article: If the shoe fits, print it suggests that we may be seeing the first stirrings of the age of mass customization. Although since the company "Prior 2 Lever" is not real enough to even have a web site, I'll try not to get unduly excited. They plan to make fully custom soccer shoes, based on 3d scans of the players foot, using a layered deposition "3d printer" related to those used in stereolithography systems for rapid prototyping. For a wonderful science fiction look at what it would be like to live in a world of mass customization based on nanotech molecular assemblers (printers) see Neal Stephenson's novel The Diamond Age.

Pay to spam? using the spam epidemic as cover, several large ISPs are trying to convince us that paying for email delivery is better than getting it for free (Postage Is Due for Companies Sending E-Mail). Ironically, this ill-conceived notion will not stop typical non-paying spam (after all, if they knew how to filter that out there would be no spam epidemic), it may interfere with email from your friends and family (or force them to pay postage), and allows "respectable" companies to spam you at will, bypassing the ISP's filters.  Geez, talk about a cure that is worse than the disease!  See: Antispam group rejects e-mail payment plan and AOL, Yahoo and Goodmail: Taxing Your Email for Fun and Profit.

More new species: yet another batch of new species, and known species thought to be extinct. This time its in the remote jungle interior of western New Guinea: Paradise found and "Lost World" Found in Indonesia Is Trove of New Species, see this photo gallery.

Lego legends: how Lego embraced its hardcore hackers and introduced a new version of Lego Mindstorms: Geeks in Toyland. And how about his incredible construction: LEGO Difference Engine. What Charles Babbage designed in the 1820s, but could not implement, now can be snapped together out of toy blocks! (As long as I am recommending science fiction, see 1991's The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. It imagines a world where Babbage's engine had been realized and the "computer revolution" happened 120 years earlier. My favorite scene has one of the main characters notice a large flock of birds and briefly speculate that there might be a computational algorithm to simulate flocking.)

Google hates BMW, hearts VW: Google reserves to delist any site it thinks is unfairly gaming Page Rank, generally a matter of presenting different text to spiders than to human surfers.  It makes news when the site owner is a major corporation like Early this month a blogger pointed out BMW's Doorway Pages and then: BMW given Google 'death penalty' . Then there was some push back in the blogosphere: Google 'death penalty' hits Ricoh but meets criticism ("According to Google, 'We cannot tolerate websites trying to manipulate search results' ... Does that apply to China?"). Finally, all was well: BMW back in with Google. Other Google news: VW, Google team up on vehicle navigation systems, Google Copies Your Hard Drive - Government Smiles in Anticipation, US college backs Google Book plan and Rumours mount over Google's internet plan.

Technobits: --- --- A Plug for the Unplugged $100 Laptop --- Bill would force Web sites to delete personal info --- RIM unveils plan to keep US BlackBerrys alive --- How to fool a wiretap: The Spy Who Didn't Shag Me --- translucent concrete --- squeezing silicon for speed --- VW with built-inn Google Maps? --- The solar system no longer has nine planets --- Songs mixed from the sounds of dying hard-drives.



Outsource Bush

Would that we could outsource the presidency.


Secret Message

Seems familiar. Still funny.

After media stories of "We don't even know if Osama is still alive," Osama decided to send George Bush a letter in his own handwriting to let him know he was still in the game.

President Bush opened the letter and it appeared to contain a single line of coded message: 370HSSV-0773H

President Bush was baffled, so he e-mailed it to Condi Rice. Condi and her aides had no clue either, so they sent it to the FBI. No one could solve it at the FBI so it went to the CIA, then to the NSA.

With no clue as to its meaning they eventually asked Britain's MI-6 for help. Within a minute MI-6 cabled the White House with this reply "Tell the President he's holding the message upside down."



Neal Vitale Reviews: Cool Videos and Websites

Cool videos/websites. Possible column inclusion if you're so inclined. - for Beck music & videos (be sure to check out the dancing Sony Qrio robots in the videos for "Hell Yes") - ditto; usually some good live music (and sometimes video) from Wilco


Walk the Line

3 stars

There are only two reasons you would see this film: if you really love Johnny Cash and are interested in a good biopic of him, or if, like me, you like to see all the Academy Award nominated films. To me, Cash was OK, but not the Alpha and Omega. I knew his super hits--Ring of Fire, Walk the Line, Folsom Prison, A Boy Named Sue-but I've never been to a concert and probably wouldn't have gone if I'd been given tickets.

You are probably aware that Joaquin Phoenix is up for best actor for playing Cash and Reese Witherspoon is up for best actress as June Carter. For the most part, I always feel that "best" actor and actress are among the most subjective of the Oscars. Having said that, I feel indifferent about Phoenix's performance, but was excited about Witherspoon. Her performance as June Carter is eerie in the way that Philip Seymour Hoffman is eerie as Capote. I didn't know either of these people personally, but after watching the film performances, I feel as if I do (in the case of Capote, I had seen him on TV of course; I never saw Carter). I left 15 minutes before the end of the film, that's how uninvolved I was with the plot. Besides, I knew how it was going to turn out. Funny how that didn't stop me with Goodnight and Good Luck, but then there's no accounting for taste, is there?



3 stars

Sometimes, don't you wonder when and if Harrison Ford is going to stop gritting his teeth in anger and then hitting people? This is the kind of question that may well occur to you during the brisk 100 minutes of this thriller about a computerized bank break-in. As a retired computer journalist, I can tell you that many aspects of this computerized assault ring true, and a few are pure Hollywood hokum, invented on the spot by some screenwriter for purposes of advancing the plot.

Regular readers, as well as those who know me personally, will now how intense is my distaste for films that put young children in jeopardy. I never liked this, and my distaste grew when I had my own young children. Well, my little girls are 21 and 26 now, but I' still rather not see them in jeopardy on the screen, and I don't like seeing other people's kids threatened either. I realize most Hollywood screenwriters consider it a dramatic necessity, but on of these days I will develop the courage of my biases and walk out on such a film. The line "take the boy downstairs and break his kneecap," combined with several other awful experiences made the film hard for me to watch.

Its redemption came with the ending--not with the stupid, hokey, mandatory fistfight between Harrison Ford and the incredibly creepy villain, played by Paul Bettany, set up by an incredibly piece of technoluck--but by the fact that it ended in 100 minutes. Hooray! Butt-numbing season must be over. Perhaps, when the groundhog sees his shadow, we will indeed have six more weeks of winter, but that the pain will be alleviated by six months of normal-length movies.

Speaking of groundhogs, its been 60-70 degrees every day this week in the San Francisco Bay area, with more predicted for next week. Just thought you'd want to know. I put it down here at the bottom of a film review so as to not rub it in.





Urban Legend Alert, Peterman on Plates, Cheatley Looks at Stars, Dern notes passing of NBC pioneer, 31 days in Iraq, Coquet find Iraq Critique, Dan Grobstein File

The "Stella Awards" a list of incredible lawsuits first created five years ago is cropping up again on the Internet. Don't you believe it. Not a word of it is true. None of those cases ever happened.

Kent Peterman stopped by with the Dictionary of Custom License Plate Terms.

David Cheatley checks in from our neighbor to the North:

A book by a local professor asks some interesting questions by trying to date historical events against reported celestial events, and then tracking them mathematically based on the current positions of the moon and stars. The publishers page.

Daniel Dern notes the passing of NBC's news pioneer Reuven Frank at NPR, MSNBC and Forbes. Good Night David, Good Night Chet. Good Night, Reuven.

A friend of Neal Vitale's sent this in:

  • OPINION | February 6, 2006
    Op-Chart: 31 Days in Iraq
    A visual depiction of the more than 800 people killed as a result of the insurgency in Iraq in January.

Peggy Coquet thinks we should all read this, from the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs:
Intelligence, Policy,and the War in Iraq, a dysfunctional relationship.

Dan Grobstein File

  • Taking Points Memo: The US has a track record of backing down on Islamist demands about The Prophet.
  • Salon: The little man By Garrison Keillor. A commentary on the Commander in Chief.

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