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 10, 2006: P.S. A Column on Things

July 10, 2006 Vol. 8, No. 27

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Glorious Fourth
  • Paul's Law Of Disproportionate Response

Political News

  • Just Briefs

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs:


  • Four Religious Truths


  • Superman Returns
  • The Devil Wears Prada


  • Lasusa Links, Dan Grobstein File, Peterman Skills Test, Speckert on Memory

General News

Glorious Fourth

Rae was home from Reno last weekend, which added a special piquancy to the holiday weekend. Marlow was also home, although she took off Monday for a July 4 party on the beach at Malibu (woo-hoo!). Rae had to be back in Reno on the fourth for work, so Vicki and I went alone to the boat Life Dancing, which anchored in the bay for a first-class view of Benicia's fireworks. If someone asks you out on a boat for firework watching, bring a coat and say yes. All the predictions were for fog, and there was no fog. Who says God hates the San Francisco Bay area?

Marlow's apartment search has begun in earnest, and I suspect she'll be on her own soon...


Paul's Law of Disproportionate Response

I have noticed all my adult life a major disconnect between the importance I assign to a word, deed or action and its eventual importance. In particular, I have found the corollary of asymmetrical experience. If you participate in one of the most important moments in a person's life, it will be with a casual remark, an action taken without thinking (not the same thing as a thoughtless act) or by accident. In short, 30 years later they will cherish the interaction, and you will either not remember it or swear it could never have happened.

This is very close to the Law of Unintended Consequences, much beloved of my late journalism professor, Edwin Diamond, who pitched a book about the five greatest unintended consequences of the 20th century (Levittown and the Interstate Freeway system were two, as I recall). Alas, no one over bought the idea.

The specific example of asymmetrical experience I have in mind is a person who wandered into the offices of The Tech, the MIT student newspaper, back in the early 70s. According to him, I was a nice as could be, friendly and welcoming, and even though he never joined the staff, when he saw my byline 10 years later, he became a source of mine because he felt so good about out interaction. Wow! I didn't recognize him, couldn't remember our meeting. But he clearly did.

The general example I have in mind is my students. I am kind and decent, to the best of my ability, to every student I have. I assume the best of them, and try to treat them with respect. Part of my morning devotional is to thank God I have the strength (emotional mostly) to do good works, should the opportunity present itself. Thing is, as I grow older, I realize I probably won't recognize it as an opportunity.

By the way, I have not yet achieved the state of grace in which I love my job as a teacher, although with each passing year, I feel I am coming closer. Again, as with so much in life, I'll probably pass over the line silently some afternoon without noticing.

So, what do I conclude from all this? Since you never know how it will turn out, the best way to live your life is treat every moment, every gesture, every interaction, as an opportunity to be nice to the other person, to make them feel good about themselves and their accomplishments. To, if I am not overstating it, recognize the God in them.

In fact, I recently received a lovely and poetic expression of my observation from a spiritually oriented friend of mine. I enjoyed it, so I want to share it.

Some of the things you have done or said that seemed most insignificant to you, were actually the most important, from the Divine viewpoint of the progress of the evolution of human consciousness. And some of what you thought most important or successful, was but a part of the fleeting dream, that must be seen through for all hearts to awaken to their own Wonderful Selves.

Life is but a dream? Could be...


Political Notes

Just Briefs




PSACOT Technobriefs by Craig Reynolds

Technobits: Net Neutrality Battle Shifts To Full Senate --- Inside the Spyware Scandal: "When Sony BMG hid a 'rootkit' on their CDs last year, they spied on you and let hackers in. What were they thinking?" --- more on Google's plans for world domination: A Search Engine That's Becoming an Inventor --- John McCarthy on 50 years of AI: Getting machines to think like us --- cognitive computing: This is your brain on a microchip (see also) --- India plans satellite navigation system --- oh no, the end of exponential growth, or a glitch?: Findory traffic Q2 2006 --- worldwide power: Universal Plug Adapter --- Indie band pulls out of iTunes, cites "crippled DRM" --- Residents sell blank CDs --- Cool light leads to greener chips --- Gene reveals mammoth coat colour --- Ball Lightning: A Shocking Scientific Mystery --- amazing photo via APOD: tornado over the rainbow in Kansas I love the composition, the sunlit forground with the dark storm clouds behind, all in a photo that was probably taken in a big hurry!



Four Religious Truths

1. Muslims do not recognize Jews as God's chosen people.

2. Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.

3. Protestants do not recognize the Pope as the leader of the Christian

4. Baptists do not recognize each other at Hooters or the liquor store



Superman Returns

4.5 stars

Daniel Dern and I both saw Superman Returns last week. His more detailed description comes first. Let me note Dern and I are almost exactly the same age, so our early DC comics experience is identical. The only difference is that, while he missed Marvel, I bought the first appearance of Spiderman in Amazing Fantasy and the first issue of the Fantastic Four by Lee and Kirby. At that point, I was hooked on Marvel with DC as a sidelight. 'Nuff Said. Daniel's report:

I grew up at just the right time to catch the start of what's now called DC Comics' "Silver Age," when DC 'restarted' characters and comics with the 'new' Flash (Barry Allen), new Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Atom (Ray Palmer), and the Justice League of America (which didn't have Superman or Batman in it for quite a while). (I somehow missed Marvel Comics entirely, until college.) Comics were a dime when I started buying, although they went up to twelve cents within a few years.

I thought I was just old enough to have bought the first Showcase issue with the Barry Allen Flash, but Wikipedia implies I wasn't quite old enough. Even so.

And I watched George Reeves on television as Superman ... man, that Mole Men one was scary! (Who knew some of these were in color? Not me, until I saw one last week while visiting a friend.)

So I loved Superman 1, with Christopher Reeve (give or take a few real dumb scenes, like the Supes&Lois flying one, not to mention the turns-back-time thing). (They've apparently issued a director's cut DVD worth seeing.) Superman 2, with the Phantom Zone villains, remains the best, in my memory (I need to resee it), just as I still think Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, is the best of the ST movies to date.

Superman 3 and 4 I don't think I saw in theatres, and what I saw of them on TV doesn't make me regret it, Richard Pryor or not. (Ditto the Helen Slater Supergirl movie.)

From what I'd read about the efforts to make the movie, I wasn't optimistic. They'd burned through ten writers and scripts, and nearly a million bucks each, including considering some incredibly dumb costumes and ideas, like a black costume, a "supercar," etc.

But Steve, who runs Outer Limits, the place I've been buying my comics books for the past two decades, said it was worth seeing.

Superman Returns takes place after Superman II. He's been away five years (searching for the remains of Krypton). He returns. There's threats, villains, Lois Lane, disasters, etc. That's all I'll tell you, just in case you want to be surprised.

Things I liked a lot about this movie:

The look. Lois looks like she did in the ~1940's comics, in terms of face and hairstyle.

No commercial logos. Unlike XMen 3, which had Fox News etc all over, I didn't see any ads or products. [ed. note: perhaps because WB, unlike Fox, does not own a news network).

Flying. A nice mix of classic flying, and levitation-style floating.

A reasonable amount of super activity.

Unlike the Spiderman movies, there was a lot of punching, and some blood, but no hyperviolence. I'd bring my sub-13-year old nephew to this without a qualm. [ed. note: this was one of Rae's favorite parts too]

There were a few plot holes, but like the lack of Kryptonian authentication security on important technology, but hey, it's only a comic book.

They kept it moving, it hung together.

Unlike Xmen, where you could probably follow it, but there was a lot of character/backstory you wouldn't know without having read at least a few year's worth of comics, Superman Returns is simple: He's from another planet, he's strong, he's vulnerable to kryptonite, he's also Clark Kent.

I'm sure there were ways this movie could have been better, but there were even more ways it could have been worse.

The Smallville TV show, and the last decade or so of Superman comics, have changed our sense of whether he's really Clark Kent or Superman, at heart; this one re-nebbishes Clark, but hey, it's a trope.

As a boy, I was absolutely certain that Clark Kent was Superman in disguise; as I have grown older, I have come to appreciate the ambiguity, and now I'm not so sure.

I saw Superman Returns in 3D Imax. If you have the opportunity to see it in this format, I recommend it without reservation, despite the fact that, no doubt for reasons of eye strain, there are only 20 minutes worth of 3d scenes. The two 3D previews are pretty cool, however. The rest of the film sounds pretty good with a seven-foot tall woofer (when the villain's boots strike a body, the thumping makes your chest rattle).

Anyway, Kevin Spacey is the best Lex Luthor ever, in any medium. From his first scene to his last, he manages to act as if he really were the vilest human on earth, with a straight face. Gene Hackman was good; Spacey is mind-boggling. He also had the best scene in the movie, with his moll, Parker "Queen of the Bs" Posey: "You know what my father used to say to me?" "You're losing your hair?" "No." "Get out of here?" "No." and so on. Very funny scene. And Lex's white overcoat was the coolest super villain fashion statement I have ever seen; way better than Dr. Doom, or Dr. Octopus.

My wife thought it was pretty good, and both my daughters loved it. We talked about it the rest of the day. My opinion: best Superman movie ever.


The Devil Wears Prada

4 Stars

I usually try to read the New Yorker review of a film before I write mine, so I can either agree, disagree, or ignore the nation's best and most thoughtful film reviewers. In this case, I agree whole-heartedly; Meryl Streep is simply the best evil female boss in recent movie history, far surpassing Faye Dunaway (Network), Sigourney Weaver (Working Girl) and Glenn Close (101 Dalmatians). The quiet evil is always more scary than the noisy evil. Streep never raised her voice as the bitchy fashion magazine editor who tortures her young assistant. The New Yorker found the movie better than the novel because of the loss of repetition and detail, but I found those parts of the novel charming and interesting. I guess if you've ever been a daily or magazine journalist, you might prefer the novel, but since there are so few of us, the movie might be a better presentation of the material. Anne Hathaway still does cute very well (for how much longer, one wonders? Hollywood is so nasty to pretty young actresses), and Stanley Tucci continues his march toward the title of "best character actor ever." Actually, I think both Streep and Tucci deserve Oscars--which of course doesn't mean they'll get them.



Lasusa Links, Dan Grobstein File, Peterman Skills Test, Speckert on Memory

Links from Tom Lasusa and his friends: Seriously, is NASA just Stupid? They're still willing to take a chance with the astronauts...time for new management there... Doonesbury's Answer to Creationists... Senator Ted Stevens on the 'internets' (not misspelled) ...Designer who rescued Jews in Nazi era dies. May he rest in peace. He's earned it... Tom's Superman Review...

A skills test from Kent Peterman (answer at bottom of column):

You are driving in a car at a constant speed. On your right side is a valley and on your left side is a fire engine traveling at the same speed as you. In front of you is a galloping pig which is the same size as your car and you cannot overtake it. Behind you is a helicopter flying at ground level. Both the giant pig and the helicopter are also traveling at the same speed as you. What must you do to safely get out of this highly dangerous situation?



Glen Speckert and I recently discussed the price of flash memory; he followed up with this note:

A follow-up on our conversation of memory prices. 8 GB Compact Flash for $169.99.

And I remember when a 500 MB disk was a BIG deal. I remember when File Systems could hold a max of 2 GB.

So how long until we can carry our life experiences around with us in our iPods?

A good question; I remember when I paid $3,000 for a 10MB disk drive that was the size of two full-size VHS players, stacked atop each other.


Daniel Dern:

Physicists Address Superman's Powers. Obviously, done by folks who still think his powers are big-planet-gravity derived, rather than the more current psionic orientation. Like, didn't they notice in the movie that he was often hovering? That's not an air current thing.

Dan Grobstein File

This is from a blogger who used to write under the pseudonym of "southknoxbubba", but who was outed by the local newspaper. He shut down his site and it now redirects to where he now posts on

Kuja, a 23 year old gorilla, died at the National Zoo during heart surgery. The report says the gorilla became lethargic and had a loss of appetite about a month ago. I'm certain it had nothing to do with this [Bill Frist].


Skills test answer: Get off the merry-go-round!!


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