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.


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June 19, 2006: P.S. A Column on Things

June 19, 2006 Vol. 8, No. 24

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Appendix Trouble
  • Technology Excitement
  • Remembering New York

Political News

  • Pot Calls Kettle Black, Rove Off Hook

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs: On Hiatus

Humor

  • Promise not to laugh

Movies

  • Cars
  • Prairie Home Companion

Letters

  • Red Hot Meme, Tom LaSusa Links, Dern on Pope's Advice, Reynolds on How To Cheat, Dan Grobstein File

General News

Appendix Trouble

Father's Day this year took a sharp right turn at about 5 p.m. on Saturday, when Vicki called me from the emergency room at John Muir hospital. She had gone to one of those "open on weekends, see a doctor" offices about her abdominal pain, which had been chronic all week but was gradually getting worse. They sent her in for testing.

A mere three hours later, blood work and CAT scan in hand, the diagnosis came in. No fever, no elevated white cell count, mild nausea but no vomiting. However, the CAT scan trumped all the other tests. Her appendix was inflamed.

Vicki was scheduled for an 11pm emergency appendectomy. She had only a few of the classic symptoms, which led her physician to site the 80/20 rule: 80% of all people have classic symptoms, 20% do not, and yet they have the condition anyway.

Medicine's motto used to be "first do no harm." As you may know, it is now "Get the hell out of the hospital." Vicki was released 12 hours after her operation. One the one hand: it will seem awfully fast if she develops complications. On the other hand, the major complication from an appendectomy is infection, and there is no place on earth in which you are more likely to get an infection than in a hospital. It's great to have her home, and a wonder and a joy that the appendix didn't burst or infect her gut. She should recover quickly (as long as she avoids contact sports), as the surgery was lathroscopic (tiny slit, then use a periscope to see inside). To avoid infection during the removal, the appendix is placed in a plastic bag before it is pulled out. An M.D. friend of mine told me surgeons used condoms for this purpose before the medical supply houses started manufacturing special bags--at 10 times the cost. I am sure they are 10 times better.

Yeah, right.

Anyway, she's home now, resting comfortably, and hoping to go to Tassajara next weekend as planned.

11:00

Technology Excitement

When it comes to technology, I am the kind of guy who programmed his own Z80-based Exidy Sorcerer in assembly language (with generous help from John Taylor, I confess), including writing my own word processor, modem program and checkbook programs. Then, I took a longer than average stop off in CP/M, courtesy of a machine called Big Board (once again, Thanks John). As the world moved to DOS, I went, screaming and kicking, to the buggy and derivative operating system that the world was writing software for. I remember Microsoft sending me my first mouse, along with a copy of Windows V. 1. My wife had a Mac at that point, and I had friends who worked for Apple, but I though Macs were for wimps, and graphical interfaces were inefficient and resource-intensive (they are, but me and everyone like me lost that battle a long time ago). I loaded up a copy of GEM (an ill-fated Windows competitor) to run my Superbase database application, but the new, improved version ran on Windows 2.0, so I found a box Microsoft had sent me and ran it. I did not come fully into Windows until 3.0, and only then because I worked for Windows Magazine. Our editor, Fred Langa, gave us until the end of the year to leave DOS behind, so our daily computing experience would be identical to that of our target reader. I had to give up Higgins, the best PIM I have ever used, because they never did make a Windows version of it.

Why am I telling you all this? I am, surprisingly for a geek of my background and education, quite comfortable with being behind the curve in many technologies. My previous employer gave me a Nokia cellphone in 1999 when I became an editor and when they took it back the day I was laid off in 2001, I went right out and bought an identical unit. I was no stranger to cellphones; prior to 1999, I had bought my own cellphones, going back to the one I had in 1988, which was built into my car). So, I have been at this cellphone thing for 18 years, which is longer than most people.

The Nokia screen was green and black. It made phone calls and it had an internal phone book and data link to your PC's serial port (USB? What's USB?). With difficulty, you could read and write text messages. I didn't write one until 2003, when Marlow text messaged me as she walked towards the podium on her graduation day. I was happy with the phone; ring tones were severely limited, but I didn't want a toy, I wanted something that made and received phone calls.

Except, of course, the battery was large, and could not last more than a few hours between charges (so I carried extra batteries). And Cingular was constantly asking me to move up to GSM technology. And I read that two billion ring tones are sold each year. How is that even possible? My ancient Nokia phone could not download or use any ringtones that weren't built into it.

When Marlow, my older daughter, was here at Christmas, she said that if I still had the same cellphone when she got back, she was going to "drop" it on a concrete floor, over and over, until it ceased to work. Then, she and Rae found that my wife Vicki wouldn't mind getting a new cellphone for her birthday. They decided to bring her into the 21st century. Marlow and I spent several hours at Fry's, and came away with two Motorola Razrs (if it was good enough for Vicki it was good enough for me). Vicki made mine a Fathers' Day present. For the first time in my life, I own a cellphone capable of using musical ringtones.

After years of using awkward cradles for the carphones, the new ones have Bluetooth; if you sit down in the car, it senses the phone in your pocket and puts it on the built-in speakerphone. How cool is that? Well, to those of you who buy cellphones more often that once every seven years, probably not all that cool. But it was cool to me, as was the wireless headset I got. I used to think they were weird. Now I can see they could be indispensible.

I didn't want a camera or Internet access, but they don't' sell any phones today that don't have both. It turns out the Internet access worked out well; as I was setting my phone up, I purchased three ring tone: "We are Family" for my family calls, "A little help from my friends" for friends. I wanted the show tune, "Friendship, Friendship, it's the perfect blendship," but, amid all the rap and hip-hop on offer, it seems show tunes don't cut the mustard as ringtones.

Now, if only we could figure out how to make the 108 names of Amma into Vicki's ring tone...

10:00

Remembering New York

Ross Snyder writes, elegiacally, of his time in New York over the years:

Last night I tuned the Tony Awards broadcast, was hooked and watched to the very end.

Patricia Neal, described as the first-ever Tony winner in her class, in 1947, was there. She had a stroke a few years ago that ended her acting career, but not the honor received -- the one for lifetime acting achievement. There was a guy on each side of her, ready to steady if necessary, but she followed it all through. Julie Andrews presented some of the awards. Hal Prince also received the lifetime achievement award. As they listed his productions, I had seen every one. In a way it made me happy, if nostalgic. My thoughts collected for a long while before I slept.

New York has given me so very much. If you'll believe this, in 1938 I went there for the first time, to hear Flagstad as Kundry in "Parsifal" and Marjorie Lawrence as Bruennhilde, riding a real horse into the fake fire at the end of "Goetterdaemmerung," It was the second time for any "Ring" opera -- I had seen the second and last of them at San Francisco in 1936, when, in my first year at Berkeley, I also heard Flagstad and Melchior in "Tristan."

The Tonys reminded me only lightly of the operatic times, though. What got me was Broadway recollections. "The Man Who Came to Dinner" was only one. Others poured into recall. In 1952, most of which I spent working in NY on Ampex' behalf for Michael Todd, I saw every single Broadway production from fifth row center, usually with a bright and delightful young woman I'd known in SF, who had moved east. Those were producers' seats, always withheld to the last minute for colleagues. A musical highlight was the little-noticed Rodgers & Hammerstein "Me And Juliet," whose disc I treasure to this day.

Ampex had me there constantly, at first for record company contacts, then for the cinema project after the 1952 Todd-AO development. I didn't miss much on Broadway, even got to know the backstage at some. Toward the end of my part in that venture, I was hit hard by Todd's death, only weeks after I saw him at MGM in L.A. rejoicing at the success of "80 Days," and more heartily at having married "the most beautiful woman in the world."

I think you're aware that in the HP years I was often in New York to see the trade-publication people, and thus could catch most of the important Broadway shows and many a concert at Philharmonic Hall, later named for Avery Fisher, whom I knew through the Audio Society.

For a guy without a trace of acting, dancing or singing talent, I've had a long and rewarding life in the company of those who could. If, one day, the angels ask me what I remember, much of it will be New York.

Ross's note inspired me to jot down a few of my own Big Apple memories. First, I should not how surprised I have been by the number of intelligent, college-educated California professionals who have never--that is never been to New York City. Or, like my late friend DL, went once in his 20s and never again. He was a lawyer. He had no need to go. He was a Cal graduate, and like many native Cal and Stanford graduates, never saw the allure of the east.

I, on the other hand, am a native of Oregon. I couldn't wait. My first visit to NYC was the day of my 18th birthday. The drinking age was 18 back then, and I had my first beer in a Greenwich Village bar a few blocks from the Cooper Union, where I has just assisted my roommate on a shoot.

I am sure there are some professional and college-educated residents of Boston who have never been to New York either, although on a percentage basis, it must be smaller than the sample of Californians. I went regularly, scores of times; 13 weeks straight during my junior year. My first fiancée, Sherry Grobstein, lived in Rosell, NJ, a suburb of NYC, which means December 31, 1972 is as close as I'll ever come to being in Times Square on New Years Eve. We were a short train ride away, but had already heard that the only reason you would want to be there was if you liked being crowded and vomited on. Call me wacky, but that wasn't appealing.

On several occasions, I took the 5:30 am train from Boston's South Station to New York's Penn Station on a Wednesday, watched a noon movie, saw a matinee show, went to an afternoon movie, saw an evening show, and then took a late train back to Boston. Sometimes, I'd go to NYC and watch five films that were never coming to Boston (back in the days of DVDs, there were art films that you saw in NYC or LA, or you never saw them). I also made the five-hour drive many times, and did a lifetime of bus riding in those four undergraduate years.

As an adult, I have been to New York about 100 times, mostly on business when I worked for a company based on Long Island. I frequently stayed in Manhattan and reverse commuted out.

Who can forget all those plays and musicals? I remember Two for the Seesaw, with Tommy Tune at the Uris Theater, which included a character in silver lame and red fright wig. I wanted the suit. I had a front row seat for Danny Kaye in Two by Two in 1970, courtesy of a couple who took pity on me trying to buy a ticket on the sidewalk (and courtesy of their absent daughter). I saw the original productions of Company and Chicago (the original Chicago is better than the stripped-down revival). I saw A Chorus Line in 1976 with CF, my second fiancée who cried and felt that the entire thing applied to her, and that she had to get out of Willamantic, Conn. and follow her heart. She followed it--away from me.

And yet, to loop back around to Ross, we had different experiences of New York. In my 33 years of travelling there (mostly behind me now, I suspect), I never saw an opera, a ballet or a symphony concert. Weird, huh?

9:00

Political Notes

Pot Calls Kettle Black, Rove Off Hook

The New York Times recent stealthy and snarky attack on Hillary Clinton's marriage (including putting tabloid gossip into the mainstream media), by the mainstream media's own rules, puts other marriages in play. Never George H.W. Bush, or George W. Bush, of course, because despite widespread reports of marital infidelity (not just sleeping apart, not just arguing, but infidelity), they are Republicans, so they get a pass. Is Laura Bush living at the Mayflower Hotel [search for Laura]? I wish I knew, but I know one thing for sure: I won't read about it in the New York Times. Not on the front page anyway. Probably just a snarky attack on the rumor by relentless right-wing mouthpiece and Times op-ed columnist David Brooks.

So, if it is fair to offer a context-free analysis of Clinton's marriage (without comparing it to say, any other U.S. Senator's marriage, a seemingly obvious comparison), blogger Atrios is right to print (and I am right to re-distribute) a description of the marriage of Times editor Bill Keller, who had an affair and left his wife to marry his pregnant mistress.

***

I, along with about half of the left side of the blogosphere reprinted the report that Karl Rove was about to be indicted. So, the be fair, it is my sad, sad duty to report that the New York Times quoted his lawyer last week as saying that there will be no Fitzmas for America's nastiest political operative; "no indictment" says the weasel's shyster.

Briefs

  • A humorous memo to the Secretary of Agriculture on the subject of New Orleans residents not raising hogs.
  • Terrorist in a bootleg T-shirt. The author mingled at madrasas and hung with Hezbollah, but that's not why Homeland Security picked him up. By Ray LeMoine.
  • George W. Bush wants to keep our fellow citizens fighting and dying. Why? The leaders of the sovereign nation directly concerned want a timeline - now!

8:00

Technobriefs

by Craig Reynolds , who is still working hard at his real job this week.

7:00

Humor

Promise Not To Laugh

A man went to the doctor and said, "Doctor, I've got a problem, but if you're going to treat it, first you've got to promise not to laugh." "Of course I won't laugh," the doctor said. "I'm a professional. In over twenty years I've never laughed at a patient." "OK then," the man said, and proceeded to drop his trousers, revealing the tiniest penis the doctor has ever seen. Unable to control himself, the doctor fell laughing to the floor. Ten minutes later he was able to struggle to his feet and regain his composure. "I'm so sorry," he said. "I don't know what came over me. On my honor as a doctor and a gentleman, I promise it won't happen again." "OK," the man says. "Now," the doctor says, getting down to business. "What seems to be the problem?" "Well," the guy says, "it's swollen...."

6:40

Movies

Cars

3 stars

Too long. Great voice talent, however, in the service of a beautifully animated, but ultimately unengaging plot about a young hot-shot race car learning life lessons from a retired Hudson Hornet race car played by Paul Newman (ironically, a race car driver in real life). The CGI is amazing. However, how could Pixar lose sight of the fact that CGI in the service of an unengaging story is ultimately hollow? I hope the merger with Disney isn't diluting the Pixar spirit. Probably not, since the work on this one was done long before the corporate parents got hitched. Let's hope John Lassiter can hold onto his vision for a few more films. He needed to change his windshield wipers before he did this one.

6:35

Prairie Home Companion

4 stars

Marlow found this movie meandering and pointless. Rae, my other daughter, noted "Of course! That would be the point of a PHC movie." I agree with Rae. But I have to tell you it isn't enough to love director Robert Altman. Or that you love actors Lily Tomlin, Tommy Lee Jones (who, truth be told, has but the tiniest of cameos; how he got billing for it, I'll never know), Kevin Kline (a pitch-perfect Guy Noir--how about a Guy Noir movie?) Meryl Streep, John C. Reilly and Woody Harrelson. No, to like this film, to enjoy it, even to sit there and watch it and leave without feeling you have wasted your time, you have to love Garrison Keillor and PHC. You have to love that old-fashioned story-teller methodology, with its character-based humor, interspersed with puns, bad jokes, old-timey and oddball music and cute homespun sound effects by Tom Keith. You have to believe in a 1940s style radio variety show, and enjoy the prospect of attending a broadcast in person (which Marlow did with me twice and Rae once). If you don't like all of those things, and the Ketchup Advisory Council too, run, don't walk, away from this movie. If you do like those things, as I do, you're in for a treat. Amazingly, not a word is spoken about Lake Woebegone, which is fine because, apparently, that's what the sequel will be about.

6:30

Letters

Red Hot Meme, Tom LaSusa Links, Dern on Pope's Advice, Reynolds on How To Cheat, Dan Grobstein File

Red-Hot Meme: Snakes on a Plane. Wikipedia's take on the subject.

Weird links from Tom Lasusa and his friends... I know what you're thinking, "Dammit why hasn't some lounge lizard singer belted out 'Closer' by NIN?"... To quote from the site: "Someone has taken words from thousands of Bush speeches and mashed them together so he actually sings U2's Sunday Bloody Sunday."... The Official Geek Test... President Bush addresses the country on the challenging topic of illegal border crossing... Stanford prof sues James Joyce estate for right to study Joyce... [ed. Note; the New Yorker recently had a lengthy article on this subject]... Inside Apple's iPod factories -- or "iSweatshop"... When Diet Coke and Mentos mix...

Daniel Dern finds: Pope Advised Hawking Not to Study Origin of Universe

Craig Reynolds had just enough time to forward How to cheat good.

Dan Grobstein File

  • Audrey Tautou (from Amelie) came up in a review last week. Her first English-speaking role was in Dirty Pretty Things. A Netflix recommendation I thought was very good: Walk on Water (following the suicide of his wife, an Israeli intelligence agent is assigned to befriend the grandchildren of a Nazi war criminal.)

5:00

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