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

April 3, 2006: P.S. A Column On Things

April 3, 2006 Vol. 8, No. 14

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Tales of Teaching

Political News

  • Notes for Converts

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Humor

  • None

Movies

  • Thank You For Not Smoking
  • She's the Man
  • The Intruder
  • Inside Man

Letters

  • Tom LaSusa Links, Hanzel finds Fed Kids Page, Dan Grobstein File

General News

Tales of Teaching

As I take this week off down at the Oregon Coast for a much needed spring break, I am reminded of the brilliance of the academic calendar (my students and I both need the break), as I encounter the fact that, for most of the world, especially those without school-age children, this is just another week. Kent Peterman, a veteran teacher and dear friend, summed it up late last summer:

Ah yes the back to school anxiety. I know it so well. This is the first time in over 50 years that I have not gone back to school. Normally about this time the back to school ads scare me. This year they don't bother me but a part of me still feels that I should go out and buy new clothes and run around maniacally trying to finish up the stuff I'd planned to do and go to all of the places I'd planned to go over the summer. Then I say, "Wait a minute you can keep right on putting these things off all fall." Or not.

I was away from the academic calendar between my college graduation and the year Marlow went to kindergarten, 12 years. For the two decades since, I was on an academic calendar with her, Rae or both. Before Rae left, I got onto the academic calendar on my own. It is a different world. But one thing is for sure-I now know why teachers get three months off a year. Because without it they would die, or become incompetent. It is that simple.

SPECIAL NOTE: I want to welcome the return of Craig Reynolds and Technobriefs. For those who like content (myself included), it is good to have it back.

11am

Political Notes

Notes for Converts

Dan Grobstein found this in Digbysblog: Rant Of The Year (In A Good Way): Huntington Post: Notes for Converts by Jane Smiley. Some highlights:

[for all of you] newly-minted dissenters from Bush's faith-based reality...those of us who have been anti-Bush from day 1 (defined as the day after the stolen 2000 election) have a few pointers for you that should make your transition more realistic.
1. Bush doesn't know you disagree with him.
2. Bush doesn't care whether you disagree with him
3. Bush does what he feels like doing
4. President Bush is your creation...
5. Tyranny is your creation.
He's losing because the ideas that you taught him and demonstrated for him are bad ideas, self-destructive ideas, and even suicidal ideas... [emphasis added.]
6. As Bad as Bush is, Cheney is Worse. .

The joy of this piece is in the details. Go read it!

***

Briefs

Plamegate

8:00

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

by Craig Reynolds

Autism news: Many have noted that a "cure" for autism might deprive the human race of its most valuable innovators, in The Role Of Evolutionary Genomics In The Development Of Autism Prof. Crespi notes "The imprinted brain hypothesis underscores the viewpoint that the autism spectrum represents human cognitive diversity rather than simply disorder or disability. Indeed, individuals at the highest-functioning end of this spectrum may have driven the development of science, engineering and the arts through mechanistic brilliance coupled with perseverant obsession." On the other hand those same qualities routinely lead to social ostracism of autistic "geeks." Now perhaps a technological fix, a "social prosthetic" on the horizon? Lastly, two books from autistic authors: Do-si-do with Autism is a children's book about living with autism by Sarah Ann Stup, and Urville by Gilles Tréhin is an exploration of his meticulously imagined fictional city. See this profile of the author, including commentary by his father.

DRM sanity: discussion of how DRM technology fails in practice . Then knock me over with a feather, first Sony's Blu-ray and Universals' HD DVD have actually backed away from a draconian "anti piracy" (aka "screw the customer") capability of HDCP. These moves make great sense. Now people might actually be able to watch their Hi-Def movies on their Hi-Def monitors!

Space stuff: "missing link" moonlets found orbiting Saturn. NASA releases new maps of Jupiter, for example here is the cylindrical map. Talk about an unusual perspective: Eclipse Photographed by Space Station Crew. First pictures from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. More Shuttle problems: Investigators: Launch put public at risk and NASA probing mishap, damage to shuttle fuel tank.

Synthetic biology: following up on coverage here last December on syn-bio: Delving into the meaning of artificial life and Virtual Virus is First Simulation of an Entire Life Form.

Independent games: the Independent Games Festival was held at last week's GDC in San Jose. The IGF is to independent game what festivals like Sundance are to independent film. Nimble and innovative game development teams take the risks that big game publishers will not, and so come up with great ideas: The 2006 Independent Games Festival Finalists. At our house last weekend, kids and parents had lots of fun working through the whimsical logic puzzles of Professor Fizzwizzle.

Technobits: commercially available this year: Holograms Break Storage Record --- ajaxWrite a web-based word processing app similar to Writely --- Jell-O Fix for Spinal Cords --- neutrinos have mass --- this is amazingly cool: Prime Numbers Get Hitched. (even ignoring the uncanny Douglas Adams twist that the third moment of the Riemann zeta function turns out to be 42!).

7:00

Humor

None

6:50

Movies

Thank You For Not Smoking

2.5 stars

This film, adapted from an hysterically funny book, is not awful, but it is not as funny as it should and could be. It lacks focus. There are funny moments and funny lines, but in a way it comes off as a 90-minute Monty Python sketch (or series of sketches). It begins, it makes funny and absurd cultural references, it ends abruptly with no real resolution. All it is missing is men dressed up as women. The only reason it is rated R is for gratuitous use of the F word and sex scenes that could easily have been left out or implied. Good heavens, what ever happened to subtlety in the movies?

The featured character is an absolutely immoral spokesman for the tobacco industry, who has no trouble defending a deadly, addictive product because he lacks an ethical core. Amusing to watch, but not terribly sympathetic, especially because, while he is a smoker himself, you get the impression he is too bright not to know what he does is intrinsically evil. His membership in a luncheon club nicknamed "Merchants of Death"--the other two represent guns and alcohol--is funny here, funnier in the book.

The film is OK, not great, if it had a plot, it might have been good. As it is, it is oddly unsatisfying.

630

She's the Man

2.5 stars

Andy Fickman directed this homage to Shakespeare's 12th Night, from a screenplay by Ewan Leslie Karen McCullah Lutz & Kirsten Smith (remember the ampersand means they worked on it as a team). Ewan Leslie gets a story credit and William Shakespeare is mentiond (funny, you'd think he'd get the story credit...) I've seen every one of Shakespeare's plays more than once, after a decade of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as a youth and two decades of the California Shakespeare festival as an adult. A full half of them were modern dress. So is this production.

A full half of the modern dress versions were lame (one at Ashland caused my mother to foreswear Ashland forever). Twelfth Night, for those who weren't paying attention, is one of his several gender confusion plays--in which a girl plays a boy, which in Shakespeare's time would have been a boy playing a girl playing a boy. Certainly a great idea for out time, especially because the framing device to update the play is a cancelled girls' soccer program and the girls' attempt to be admitted to the boys' team. Decent performances in the cause of attempted hilarious confusion. Lackluster at best.Not a disaster or a train wreck, but not very engaging.

620

The Intruder (L'Intrus)

1 star

At San Francisco's Castro Theater last week, Vicki and I exercised our taste in obscure foreign films by seeing Claire Denis's 2004 outing, in French with English subtitles. Of course, at 130 minutes, it was way too long (which goes to show that Americans are not the only people out there making overlong movies). And while She's the man was up front about its confusion and playede it for laughs, this is the single most confusing and disjointed production either of us had seen in decades of watching obscure foreign films. It resembled a David Lynch film edited with a blender. If you read the production notes, it sounds like it makes sense. It's only watching the film that is confusing. In fact, without the production note, the film is gibberish. I can't really tell whether it is art or trash. I mean, it is beautiful and well-acted, but the total confusion of the audience, the seeming meaninglessness of several scenes, left me quite unsatisfied. Let me be clear; I like elliptical film-making. I enjoy a film that doesn't spell everything out in a linear fashion, that challenges me as a viewer rather than insulting and condescending to me. This film just takes that idea too far.

615

Inside Man

3 stars

TV writer Russell Gewirtz proves you can make an elliptical film (I can't tell you how many times my mother and I turned to each other in the dark at the Lloyd Cinema, in the Pacific Northwest's largest movie theater, and asked "huh?") and still provide enough plot for some understanding. Of course, he was helped by the fact that his freshman (produced) outing as a screenwriter was directed by Spike Lee (who re-uses some of his favorite tropes from past movies, including the whole moving without walking schtick). The film features some remarkable talent at the top: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster (are there really people with her job description?), Christopher Plummer and Willem Dafoe. The budget ran out there, but the no-names further down the bill were workmanlike in providing background for the leads. An inexplicable bank robbery, a criminal mastermind, a black New York detective who is just a little smarter, a bank chairman who is not as smart as he thinks he is, combined with a Jodie Foster role so small as to amount to a cameo (despite a trailer that doesn't look that way), produced an enjoyable 129 minutes of theater that would have been several times more enjoyable at 100 or even 110 minutes. When will Hollywood ever learn?

6:10

Letters

Tom LaSusa Links, Hanzel finds Fed Kids Page, Dan Grobstein File

A former colleague and long-time friend, Tom LaSusa thinks you'll enjoy: What Kind of American English Do You Speak?... Could You Pass the US Citizenship Test? ...Chinese artist uses single rabbit hair as paintbrush to paint image on a human hair.... Forbidden Family Guy -- clips removed from episodes.... "Christmas just wouldn't be the same without peanut brittle...Or Jesus."... Remixed propaganda poster photoshopping contest

My college classmate John Hanzel has a well-developed eye for the weird, and three children to help him spot stuff. He writes:

Fed Fun Facts: Apparently believing that U.S. children are having trouble sleeping, the Federal Reserve launched a new Web site, the Federal Reserve Kids Page, that is meant to explain the central bank's history, structure and activities to children between the ages of 11 and 14. The page lacks for interactive elements, though it does include a quiz and a colorful map of the 12 Fed districts. The page is hosted by a rather smug-looking eagle with sunglasses and enormous feet. In one graphic, apparently meant to help illustrate the concept of inflation, the eagle appears to be handing a dollar bill to a hot-dog vendor, possibly because his oversized feet render him unable to hunt for prey. "This new Web page provides younger students with a basic approach to the complexities of the Federal Reserve that is both enjoyable and interesting," said Fed governor Mark Olson. Kids could not immediately be reached for comment.

Dan Grobstein File

  • LA Daily News via Hoffmania Blog: Eric Haney, a retired command sergeant major of the U.S. Army, was a founding member of Delta Force, the military's elite covert counter-terrorist unit steps and speaks.
    Q: What's your assessment of the war in Iraq?
    A: Utter debacle....
  • The Founders Never Imagined a Bush Administration by Joyce Appleby and Gary Hart, via Talking Points Memo [Paul's note: Gary Hart is a thoughtful and intelligent man; if only he could have kept his pants zipped back in 1988...]
  • Americablog : here's a sample of a much longer post:
    • REMEMBER WHEN the 'American Dream' was attainable through diligence and hard work, and not the luck of the 'outsourcing' draw?
    • REMEMBER WHEN the election of a president was considered the result of democracy in action, and not the result of Diebold executives doing the job they were expected to do?
    • REMEMBER WHEN you sang 'God Bless America' as a kid, and never thought you'd grow up to wonder if, in view of your country's actions, asking God's blessing was asking a bit too much?
    • I REMEMBER WHEN ... and I wonder if these ideas will become ancient history by the time those of us old enough to recall them are dead and gone.

New York Times

5:00

You are visitor number


since Oct. 16, 1998.

To obtain a reminder when I post my weekly electronic column,
or to offer feedback, advice, praise, or criticism, email me. (pes-at-sign-schindler-dot-org)

Paul Schindler Home Page PS...ACOT BACK ISSUE archives
Journalism Movies Journalism Quotes
You COULD Pay For This Column Journalism Books
Larry King: Letters From Europe Kevin Sullivan on Teaching
My Prarie Home Companion Script Groundhog Day: Best Film Ever
Women in Journalism Movies Larry King: British Journalists
Edwin Diamond: An Appreciation Tales of Teaching

Page forwarding code courtesy of:
BNB: HTML, free CGI Scripts, graphics, tutorials and more- for free!

FavIcon (displayed in browser address box) courtesy of:
Richard Sleegers


Blog-rolling (My Friends' Weblogs):
Jim Forbes' Forbes on Tech
Jim Powell's The Office Letter