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

July 3, 2006: P.S. A Column on Things

July 3, 2006 Vol. 8, No. 26

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Thanks To A Teacher II, Fans
  • Celebrating Phil Adamsak
  • What Brings You Here

Political News

  • Inconvenient Truth, Prisoners of War

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs:


  • None


  • X-Men: The Fan Perspective
  • Neal Vitale Reviews: The Devil Wears Prada


  • Lasusa Links, Dan Grobstein File

General News

Thanks To A Teacher II, Fans

The two most popular search destinations at this column are my simple RSS Tutorial and Thank You To A Teacher. The latter was, and remains, an anonymous thank you to a great teacher of mine. While continuing to respect his privacy, I found his reply (I mailed him my thank you, in care of his publisher) to be gracious and witty, so I reproduce it here:

Thanks so much for writing, Paul. I hear from erstwhile students now and then, but rarely do they write so passionately or articulately. I remember, with some vagueness, your play on SAM PATCH but I don't remember the advice I gave you, which I should have followed myself more than once over the years. In any case, I'm glad you're well and happy in your work and wish you all the best for the future.

The advice, by the way, was that good versus evil is a comic book, while good versus good is an interesting story.

Years ago, when I first started appearing regularly on PBS, strangers would stop me in public to ask if I was the guy on the Computer Chronicles. I never knew quite how to act or what to say. Barbara Walters had some advice on the issue in one of her books, but the best advice I got was from my friend Bruce Murdock, a top-rated morning DJ now working in our hometown of Portland, Oregon. Number one, he said, was to thank the person for listening or watching. Number two was to ask them about themselves and what they liked about the show. Number three was to answer any reasonable question they had about yourself or your program. There is nothing insincere or phony about this; it just provides a framework for responding to a type of interaction that most of us were not trained for in our youth, and 99.9% of us do not encounter as adults. I am glad they watched. I do want to know what they think. I do not, as Walters said, need a new best friend, but there is no down side and plenty of upside in smiling and being pleasant about the encounter. Meeting a fan is a regular occurrence for you; seeing someone they know from television may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the person who stops you. As with so many of life's encounters (and some of its relationships) it is an asymmetrical situation: important to them, just another day in the supermarket to you.

As a result of my experience, I work really hard at not fawning over entertainers I see in public. A lot of them shop at the Ralph's supermarket on Sunset in Pacific Palisades, near where my in-laws lived. Much as I like them or their work, I kept my lip zipped. Perhaps a nod...

This is all much more relevant now that I am a teacher. Since I live five minutes from the school in which I teach, I constantly see students and/or parents in the grocery store, the drug store, or last night at Merry Wives of Windsor. I am terrible on names; any student from more than a year ago gets a "hi, how are you?" without a name specific. I ask how they're doing in high school, and, if I know they are jocks, how they are doing in their sport. If the parent is there, I praise the student, even if said student is a low-performing miscreant, because why not? It makes both of them feel good and does not harm me. After all, I'm not going to have them as a student again.


Celebrating Phil Adamsak

I wrote this in April 2005, and I stand by it:

I did see Phil Adamsak, business editor the Oregon Journal when I was a reporter there. They broke the mold after they made Phil. He is a terrific, warm human being. My time with him was seminal and helped make me who I am today.

Unbeknownst to me, Phil found it touching. I only intended it to be honest.

In fact, I was back in Portland this weekend, for my shortest trip ever. Up Sunday morning, back Sunday night. I came, not to see my parents (my usual reason), but to pay my respects to this man for whom I worked 30 years ago, for 16 months. The occasion was his 80th birthday. Phil was sweetly fawning, and introduced me to his friends and family in a way that turned my ears red. I often think of asymmetrical experience; the fact that your small, long-forgotten gesture of kindness ends up being a life-changing experience for the recipient. Happens more often than you would think. Apparently, during our time together, this phenomenon worked both ways with Phil and me. In a sense, it is a variation of foxhole syndrome. We worked together, side by side, in a room off the newsroom. Other reporters had to make an effort to see us, and we them.

But there is more to it than that. I have been managed by morons, both before and since working for Phil. As in Black Beauty, he was the nice master that gave me a blanket and mash to eat. I appreciate him more with every passing year, and I went to Portland because I love being able to tell people that sort of thing directly.


What Brings You Here

Can you imagine what moves a person to do a Google search for "rat poop?" Is it the same person, week after week? Or do different people do the search? Someone keeps ending up at my site, finding my item about cleaning out Amma's garage. When I googled the term, it was mostly about pest control. So, I suppose people with rat problems google the term, which, in turn, takes them to my totally irrelevant anecdote. Oh well... maybe some of the eyeballs will stick.

It seems people are as anxious to know as I was who wrote American Liberals Sneaking Across the Border. I am glad a reader wrote to me setting the record straight, so that I can credit Joe Blundo's So To Speak column in the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch.


Political Notes

Inconvenient Truth, Prisoners of War

Richard Dalton writes:

Don't know if you saw this, Paul, and I don't always (or even often) agree with his views, but this quote caught my eye:

Roger Ebert: "In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are You owe it to yourself to see An Inconvenient Truth. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to."


Why we should follow the Geneva Convention, like the Supreme Court says: War Department Pamphlet 21-7 (note: 200K), dated 16 May 1944 (scanned from Dan Grobstein's personal colletinon). General George Marshall, of the Marshall Plan (then Chief of Staff--boss of all military) wrote, "And remember this: The United States is treating enemy prisoners in accordance with the rules. You have a right to demand that your captor do the same to you."

Please do not write and tell me the Geneva Convention applies only to uniformed soldiers; I know that is mostly true. Check out Article 3, which specifically provides for the treatment of people who are not uniformed soldiers. It sets minimum standards. We aren't meeting them. The America I know and love has always had the moral high ground. When we adopt the tactics of our enemies, we prove Benjamin Franklin (the probable author of this quotation) right: "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

But hey. I'm such a wolly headed liberal I thought George Bush meant what he said when he took his oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the constitution, when what he actually did was to ignore, attack and shred the constitution. But don't worry, the Founding Fathers had a plan for this situation; Congress would impeach a rogue, President who ignored the Constitution, dissed the fourth amendment, and vetoed without vetoing. Um, er...




by Craig Reynolds

Google's plan for world domination: check out the two football-sized Google data centers (with room for a third) discussed in NYT's Hiding in Plain Sight, Google Seeks More Power. The article estimates Google currently has 450,000 servers around the world. Others have speculated they are now adding 100,000 new servers per quarter and they now have four petabytes of memory. Elsewhere: Google listens to screen routine, Google can track what you are watching on TV just by listening to the ambient sound near your computer. Presumably they wouldn't do so without your permission, but the typical spyware-writing slime ball would have no such compunctions. In other search news: Music search sites that learn your taste and Digg to allow users to vote for many types of news.

Clouds: weather satellites imaging clouds from above by are old hat, NASA's CloudSat takes CAT-scan like images of vertical slices through storm systems. More information here and here. I'm sure this capability is appreciated by the folks who put together the lovely The Cloud Appreciation Society website. See their Cloud of the Month and the book The Cloudspotter's Guide. Finally, the dark lining of sliver clouds, Airplane Contrails Boost Global Warming, Study Suggests.

Cosmic debris: out on the edge of the solar system Pluto's New Moons Named Nix, Hydra. Like the name of Pluto itself, whose first two letters honor Perceval Lowell, the new names honor the New Horizons probe now in transit to Pluto.  Along the way New Horizons uses asteroid as target practice. And for those who have been kept up nights wondering: Upper size limit for moons explained.

Nuvo electro: three items from the cutting edge of electronics research: Nanowire Transistors Faster than Silicon, 'Silicon Velcro' could make sticky chips and Magnetic field research could make computers 500 times more powerful.

LocoRoco: I first saw LocoRoco back in March at GDC, the BBC recently ran an article about it: Tiny blobs bring PSP to life. The game industry is often criticized, deservedly so, for a mind-numbing lack of creativity in game design. So much game concept and game play is derivative of earlier successful games. New releases are dominated by sequels. There is a strong parallel with feature film production. In both cases huge production costs often lead to timid decisions about which projects to green light. In both industries the risky, innovative and creative projects often come from the "indie" producers. Given all that, it really stands out when major studios go in novel directions like Spore (from EA/Maxis) or LocoRoco (from Sony). Both are unique in concept, look and game play. Another innovative concept is brain games, like Nintendo's Brain Age, for us aging adults.

Technobits: In Digital Age, Advancing a Flexible Copyright System --- Politicos mull action against patent system abusers --- Growing Wikipedia Refines Its 'Anyone Can Edit' Policy --- pushing back the birth of human culture by 25,000 years: Ancient Shell Beads --- new species: chameleon snake --- Two Butterfly Species Evolved Into Third, Study Finds (see also) --- Students Design Sensor Network To Protect Forest --- big flock feeding on small tree:  Starlings, aka "The Birds" see this comment at the author's blog --- ok, you've seen a zillion Coke and Mentos video, but check out this elaborately choreographed Bellagio-style extreme presentation.






X-Men: The Fan Perspective

Two of my good friends are serious comic book readers, so I was interested in their prespective on the X-Men movie when they offered it:

Daniel Dern:

The Last Stand: I liked this just fine. It wasn't fabulous, but it delivered the non-stop action of the past several years of X-Men comics. (If you haven't read some of the comics, you probably would have been tres confused, I concede.) I was afraid I'd feel I'd gone to see a large-screen videogame; I didn't.

I liked large parts of the previous two X-Men movies, but the first one didn't give us enough in-costume action, and the second was kinda muddled. This one just kept on keeping on. Nits: I _still_ don't believe Halley Berrie as Storm, though she was less unconvincing in this one. Still too short, though. But we had lots of X-power in action.

Worth seeing; worth seeing on a screen rather than your television.

Tom Lasusa:

I think that for the most part, the movie delivered. I know there was a lot of backtalk in some message boards, but I think much of it was unfounded, or based upon the dismay of having lost Bryan Singer. But Brett Ratner did a fairly decent job.

If you have to find an issue with the movie, however, it's not that hard. The biggest one I felt was that the two major arcs -- the Dark Phoenix and the Mutant Cure -- could have easily have been two separate movies. Jean's rebirth and turn down the dark path could have held an audience's attention for two hours easily, as could have the other plot. And while I do approve of the change to the Phoenix Origin (SPOILER: taking away the alien aspect of it and making it more a split personality of Jean -- thereby keeping things 'grounded in reality') the fanboy in me was disappointed that we didn't get at least one 'fiery phoenix' moment (considering we got a hint of one back at the end of X2).

The Deaths of the certain X characters as well as the power losses of others was good story -- and of course since this is a comic world, we know that nothing is forever. If you stayed till the end of the credits, you were treated to a final scene that attests to the former.

All in all, I enjoyed it. And it made a slew of cash, which means of course that the whole "this is the final Xmen movie" is probably a bunch of bunk -- and that doesn't even include the supposed Wolverine spin off. I don't doubt for a minute the team will return.


Neal Vitale Reviews: The Devil Wears Prada


3 stars

If you are like me, and frequent the wonderfully bitchy and biting fashion-dissecting website, there is almost no reason to see The Devil Wears Prada - you have heard and seen it all before (and it's probably been funnier online). This film is mildly entertaining thanks to a snappy script and a relatively brisk pace, but the storyline is utterly predictable and inspired. Meryl Streep is brilliant as the film's "devil," magazine editor Miranda Priestley, patterned after long-time Vogue editor Anna Wintour - it is a shame that small gems like this performance are often forgotten by Oscar time.Two of her minions - assistant Emily (newcomer Emily Blount) and creative director Nigel (veteran Stanley Tucci, in a sadly underwritten role modeled on Vogue's Andre Leon Talley) - are amusing enough to enliven the proceedings, and there are many pretty actors about. But these elements are not enough to make The Devil Wears Prada more than forgettable.

--Neal Vitale



Lasusa Links, Dan Grobstein File

Links from Tom Lasusa and his friends: Congress says no to raise in minimum wage (But surprise, they took one for themselves)... UK's Oldest Film Found in Attic... JK Rowling Confirms -- Two to die in final Potter book...Space Shuttle's Not Fixed -- So Why is there a Countdown to Launch?... SpiderMan 3 Teaser Trailer... The Scammer who Got Scammed. This is a beautiful story about one of those Nigerian Email scammers getting a taste of his own medicine, but in a very unique way... Bandits in India use 'ghosts' to rob trucks... 'Revenge of the Wal-Mart Voters'

Dan Grobstein File

  • (I'm not sure what the problem is here. People were happy when it was free. What does an underutilized pay network have to do with US cities that want to put in a free wireless network?)

    TECHNOLOGY | June 26, 2006
    What if They Built an Urban Wireless Network and Hardly Anyone Used It?
    Ninety percent of those in Taipei, Taiwan, can access its wireless network, but just 40,000 of 2.6 million residents pay to use it.
  • "George Bush and his allies in the right-wing media (such as at National Review) have been running around for the last several years boasting about the administration's programs for tracking terrorists and innovating our surveillance methods. In doing so, they have repeatedly -- and in detail -- told the public, and therefore The Terrorists, all sorts of details about the counter-terrorism programs we have implemented, including -- from the President's mouth himself -- programs we have for monitoring international banking transactions."
  • Election coming up; let's announce troop cuts--again.
  • When Viagra is not Viagra
  • Good News! The DOD says the data on the stolen VA computer was not accessed. In other news, there's a bridge in Brooklyn for sale...
  • Eric Alterman: When I was in Italy last week, talking about Bush's war on the media -- and particularly The New York Times -- more than one person asked me if it was not a way to exploit anti-Semitism. I hadn't really thought about it until I was asked, but it is, and it's got to be intentional on some people's part. The usually perspicacious Jon Carroll is the first person I've seen to write about it. It's may also explain why the White House and those lunatics in Congress are hysterical about the Times, but leaving the Journal alone.
  • A bunch of good points from the author of How Would A Patriot Act.


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