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

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

March 13, 2006 Vol. 8, No. 11

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Training: Historical
  • Training: At Present

Political News

  • Briefs

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

None this week


  • Republican Kittens


  • Neal Vitale Looks at the Oscars
  • Mrs. Henderson Presents


  • Steve Coquet Finds God Quote, Shulman homage; Malchman's headline of the week, Dan Grobstein File

General News

Training: Historical

In my previous life as a journalist, I worked for two decades at a company whose wise co-founders believe that training was important; when their son became president, he raised the ante and made the specific suggestion, in public, before the assembled employees, that we should have 40 hours of training a year. I believed him.

Then I noticed that this suggestion was honored more in the breach than in the observance. Let's list a couple of the things you might expect a company to do if it were serious about this suggestion. They might have an in-house training department, or a contract with outside trainers. We never did the former, and spent a year or two doing the latter until the initiative petered out. The company might judge managers on the training their staff received. It might, but it didn't.

The company might provide departments with training funds. When I mentioned this to my editor once, he whooped with laughter and said whatever training I got was coming straight out of his travel budget, and was therefore not going to happen until Satan started doing figure eights on the rink outside his office.

In two decades at the firm, I got 40 hours of training only once. I was asked to produce a CD-ROM at a time when CD-ROM authoring tools were few and far between, wildly expensive and totally inappropriate for creating a CD version of a magazine. In fact, during the two-year life of the project, every word from the print publication had to be hand-massaged and carefully checked, as the publishing software not only offered no easy way to export text, it vigorously resisted efforts to do so. We wrote Macros and converters and hired custom programmers, and were doing about as well with the last issue as the first.

Since everyone who was buying this CD-ROM owned a Windows computer, and since Windows Help could be used to publish text, I found and signed up for a company-funded week in Seattle where, in a room full of people who actually knew how to program, I could struggle with the intricacies of Windows Help. This included all the unfixed bugs and undocumented features the organizers could find.

My total programming experience could be charitably characterized as a grab bag: three years of BASIC in high school, one year of Cobol in college, two years of Z80 assembler in 1980, and five years of dBase II and Superbase database programming (in a language that closely resembled basic) in the late 1980s.

Still, I managed to walk out of the conference with a sufficient level of skill to produce the CD with only 60 hours or so of work a week. Six months later, my editor realized this Internet thing was going to catch on. The next quarterly issue of the CD-ROM, I was told, would be coded in HTML. Which meant converting all the text we had and learning a language that correlated with precisely nothing I had ever seen or learned before. Plus, I couldn't find anyone teaching a one-week course in HTML, nor was I likely to get funding for such a venture anyway.

Since the "Dummies" series was produced by a direct competitor, I felt obliged to find another bible: "Teach Yourself HTML in 7 Days," a book which is now, alas, out of print, superseded by another work by the same author that is at once more complicated and less useful. And of course, it took me hundreds of hours to produce a buggy product that the least competent 8th grader in my middle school could now produce during lunch. Plus, because Netscape wanted us to pay $5 a copy for their browser (on a $10 cd-rom!) and Internet Explorer was free, we loaded up IE 1.0 (and then IE 2.0, then 3.0) on our CD. You would not want your worst enemy to have to produce a commercial product in Internet Explorer 1.0-which made me, I guess, my own worst enemy. By the way, although I was dragged screaming and kicking into HTML, it does appear my editor was right.

After that, my division grew smaller and smaller, and training was forgotten, as was travel, and then 80% of my colleagues and then me.

But the point of my story, in case you've forgotten, didn't notice or can't figure it out, is that training, at least in all the journalism organizations I worked for, was mostly theoretical or self-induced. In the end, the suggestion that we should get 40 hours a year of training proved as firm as the company's commitment to remain independent. It was sold in 1999.


Training: At Present

When it comes to training, teaching is a whole different kettle of fish.

People say the defining characteristics of a profession are that it requires specific post-graduate professional education, licensing, and continuing education. By this definition, teachers, psychotherapists, real estate brokers, doctors and lawyers, among others, are clearly professionals (and my wife holds three professional credentials). In my old racket, journalism, we liked to call ourselves a profession, but you need a very elastic definition of the word to squeeze in the ink-stained wretches (what are they now, pixel-stained wretches?). I was a journalist for 30 years, but now I am well and truly a professional.

Lifetime teaching credentials (my wife and her sister each have one) went out about the time Disco Duck came in, which means you have to log classroom time and continuing education time , which you have to report to the state every five years if you wish to keep your license to practice.

You are also encouraged, in a very real way (which is to say the administration will pay for a substitute) to attend educational conventions. As I write this, I am in the San Jose Hilton, next to the San Jose Convention center, after a long day at the California League of Middle Schools convention, where I have gotten ideas on how to teach history and how to maintain control of my classroom. I also got a look at a cool textbook we probably won't adopt. It has been fascinating to sit in rooms, large and small, surrounded by middle school teachers. We bounce ideas off each other. We learn our problems are not unique and our solutions may actually have merit. If I'm allowed to teach for a few more years, I may even do a presentation at this conference some time. In fact, I even learned that most of the presenters and most of my fellow teachers agree with me that No Child Left Behind is a crock and that the state standards are ridiculous, unrealistic, downright silly, and in the case of one 7th grade requirement, not spelled correctly.

10 am

Political Notes


  • President Bush has ordered an invasion of the Canary Islands, so we can fight the bird flu over there and not over here.


Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

None This Week



Republican Kittens

George W. Bush and a secret service agent are taking a stroll when they come upon a little girl carrying a basket with a blanket over it. Curious, Bush asks the girl, "What's in the basket?"

"New baby kittens," she replies, and she opens the basket to show him.

"How nice," says Bush. "What kind are they?"

The little girl says, "Republicans."

Bush smiles, pats the little girl on the head and continues on.

Three weeks later, Bush is taking another stroll, this time with Karl Rove. They see the little girl again with the same basket. Bush says, "Watch this, Karl -- it's really cute."

They approach the little girl. Bush greets her and asks how the kittens are doing, and she says, "Fine."

Then, smirking, he nudges Rove with his elbow and asks the little girl, "And can you tell us what kind of kittens they are?"

She replies, "Democrats."

Aghast, Bush says, "But three weeks ago you said they were Republicans!"

"I know," she says. "But now their eyes are open."



Neal Vitale Looks at the Oscars

I thought it was painful to watch, and reminded me of the discomfort that greeted Letterman (we were there live for that one!) - I don't think today's crop of TV guys are right for that event. Funniest moment was the make-up with Ferrell and Carell, though Streep and Tomlin were up there. I also liked the opening with the other hosts, and Tom Hanks was amusing. The whole show was dreadfully dull, with only the pimp song winning providing any excitement. Fashions were generally pretty good - I think Keira Knightley is gorgeous, and she certainly looked great. But what was that growth of Charlize Theron's shoulder? Too much mining, I guess. I was amused by Francis McDormand - hair, dress, caught picking her nose.... I was glad it wasn't a Brokeback sweep - nothing surprised me very much. (Except for - how does Dolly Parton stay upright?) There were a lot of good nominees. Sorry that Good Night didn't get anything, and disappointed that Hoffman didn't bark (as he had supposedly promised to do). I think I got 15 out of 24, so not bad, but not great.

[Paul did terrible, with 3 of the big 7 (Hoffman, Weisz and Wallace and Gromit) and missing both live action and animated shorts, even though he saw all of them. His prediction record was actually worse, since he had his own pick and the academy's pick, which means he really only got 3 out of 14 picks]


Mrs. Henderson Presents

3 stars

Presumably, this lovely little British show-business film will get a small kick in the box office. It received exposure on the Oscarcast, despite the fact that Judi Dench did not get the Oscar and her co-star Bob Hoskins was not even nominated. The film did not appear elsewhere in the award ceremony. Near as I can figure, Dame Judi won her nod because, as usual, Hollywood offered little more than a series of whore and girlfriend roles to its female actors, and nothing to 90% of them after they turn 40. Where was Meryl Streep this year, except on the Oscarcast? Mrs. Henderson Presents is the story of London's Windmill Theater, and is loosely based on actual fact. Which is to say, there was a Mrs. Henderson, a Vivian Van Damm and a Windmill Theater that never closed. The film is entertaining and well done. Christopher Guest fans will not want to miss his cameo as the Lord Chamberlain (London's censor of stage performances). Nothing urgent about it, but worth seeing, now or later on DVD.



Steve Coquet Finds God Quote, Shulman homage; Malchman's headline of the week, Dan Grobstein File

Kent Peterman wants a GM PAD, maybe you will too. Perhaps General Motors is not doomed, if they just start building some of their concept cars... Also from Kent: Extreme Survival Quiz.

Steve Coquet checks in:

I always like Anu Garg's quotes, but this is particularly apropos:
"You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." -Anne Lamott, writer (1954- )

Steve also notes:

I just read Slate's excerpt of Alan Greenspan's memoir. It reminds me of nothing so much as the opening to the 1950 Max Shulman novel, Sleep Till Noon. I know he is just parodying the popular conception of his own style, but I can't help remembering,  "... I was young, but wise for my age. For instance, when he said, 'Get rich,' I knew that he meant that I should accumulate large sums of money." That quote may be inaccurate. I read the book in high school or junior high. By the way, a lot of his work is still in print, available at Amazon.

I loved Max Shulman

Robert Malchman checks in with the headline of the week: California court: Peeing in public illegal and asks, "Am I a prude, or does it strike you as odd that we've come to a point where CNN deems 'peeing' an acceptable word to put in a headline?"

Dan Grobstein File


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