PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 2 No. 13

Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.

April 12, 1999

I'm On Vacation!

I have a day job, so I need to make it clear to anyone who comes here that the opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not represent those of my employer, my family, or your great-aunt Mathilda. Offer not valid in Wisconsin. You must enter to win.

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Take Your Vacation
  • Old Friends
  • Gasout Redux
  • Vanilla Ice

Computer Industry News

  • 20,000 Email Messages
  • 1972 To The Rescue

Web Site of the Week

  • Rhyming Dictionary


  • Speaking of Electronic Horror Stories
  • Mirror, Mirror


  • The Out-of-Towners, Cruel Intentions


  • Ross Snyder congratulates Marlow, Jan Holland on my mom's contribution, and Katherine Gray on Tudor movies and Keanu Reeves

General News

Take Your Vacation

 I'm on vacation this week. That means if someone was paying me to write this column, I wouldn't. Since it is a labor of love, I'm taking a few hours (I know, you can't believe it takes a few hours to produce this. Well, it does) to collect my thoughts (and those of several of my friends) to produce this cheery missive.

"No one ever complained on their death bed that they wish they'd spent more time in the office." As truisms go, this is one of the truest. As a boy, I knew many men (and now as an adult, I even know some women) who don't take their vacation, who never take it. In some companies, you get cash for that. In most, including the one I work for, when you have accumulated the maximum number of vacation days, you stop accumulating until you take some. You can't cash them out.

I have always striven to be the opposite. Not a person who says, "I've never taken a vacation day," but rather, a person who says, "I've never let a vacation day expire." So far, in the 25 years since I graduated from college, that's a true statement. In fact, I left UPI still owing some days to Peter Brown (Hi Peter!), and while I admittedly had vacation days left when I departed Bank of America, it was only because I'd just been there a year. Honestly, if I'd stayed longer, I would have taken more vacation. Actually, I took about a month's vacation just before I left, but I spent it sitting in my office, staring into space, moping (that's another story...).

My feeling is that people who don't take vacation, whether they are single, married, or family people, are cheating both themselves and their company. Yes, it is true that you lose all the relaxation benefits of vacation about 20 seconds after you step back into the office, but 'tis better to have loved (or lived) and lost than never to have loved at all.

Take your vacation. Do it for your company, your family... and yourself.

Old Friends

One of the coolest things about both the media and the Internet is that, sometimes, it enables you to hook up again with old friends.

In college, I was very fond of Michelle Clubb, a wonderful woman who lived with me and 28 other scholarship students at MIT Student House. She disappeared pretty completely. Since a) I liked her and b) I am always curious what happened to people from my past, I tried to find her. I failed. Then, last week, since she's in the computer business, she heard about me because I'm the editor of We exchanged a couple of brief notes. Now I know what Paul Harvey used to call... the rest of the story.

This has happened to me several times in my life. My estranged grandmother found me (and reconnected with my mother) because she was on the library board when they bought Aspirin Therapy, my book, and she saw my picture of the dust jacket. When I did the Computer Chronicles TV show weekly (and even now that I only do it annually), people I knew will look me up and say hi. A college classmate of mine from the school newspaper, someone who actually reads this column, found me as an adult when he saw my name in Information Systems News and deduced, correctly, from what I had written that I had never IPL'ed a mainframe.

Fame (and noteriety) have their downside, but I'm not going to whine about that. They (and the Internet) have their good sides too.

Gasout Redux

Last week, I ran the gasout suggestion I received from my brother, an idea that is sweeping the Internet. I actually thought (ha!) that the idea was kind of innocuous. I heard quickly from Barry Surman, a media mogul based in New York City:

Shame on you, Paul. Perpetuating a chain letter cloaked in painless faux do-good-ism and a patently ridiculous premise besides.

High gasoline prices in America? NOMINAL gas prices are about the same as when I was in high school (before CD's, PC's and SUV's).

Historically stable -- even declining -- energy costs have been Alan Greenspan's guardian angel in this current, unprecedented non-inflationary run.

Take a European or Asian visitor to your local Arco-Amoco-BP station and -- after you divide the posted price by 3.785 -- see what she thinks of our "high prices." (I'll save my why-can't-the-ostrich-go-metric" rant for another day.)

Were U.S. gasoline prices legitimately worthy of such concern as, say, movie ticket prices, a one-day boycott of purchases would have about as much impact as a one-day moratorium on defecation: With no decrease in CONSUMPTION, there can be no net impact on the amount of waste produced --just more pain when everyone's waiting in line at the pump the next morning.

Perhaps the author meant to suggest the gasoline boycott be held last Thursday (April Fool's Day).

I also got this from my ever-thoughtful friend Ross Snyder, on the left coast:

Of course I'm with you on busting what looks to me like a gasoline conspiracy. And yet, and yet... the American obsession with gas prices is not smart. Set alongside depreciation, insurance, taxes and maintenance, the cost of gas is secondary.

An increase of $1 a gallon would change the total by only a small percentage. We should all consult our calculators. Only drivers of uninsured junkers would find it otherwise. Such an increase would still have us $3 or $4 below Italy and France, although that's not much of a recommendation.

My greenest friends think it should go to $10 if that would shrink the sales of 8,000-pound SUVs and reduce the number of one-per-car commuters, not to mention those uninsured junkers. I'm not saying you'll ever catch me in an econobox, though!

So, the debate rages on, and now I'm not sure whether I'll participate in the boycott at the end of the month or not.

Vanilla Ice

Since this is a real newspaper article, I decided I really couldn't put it under humor. It's just too odd:

Robert Van Winkle to Join Wharton MBA Class of '01

By Joey Pigato

In a sea of Wharton MBA applicants, consider the file of Robert Van Winkle.

A musician when he was in his 20s, Robert has founded a thriving e-commerce Internet site in Coral Gables, Florida. Next, he helped launch a new digital music service that enables music fans to download music off the Web.

Seasoned entrepreneur, 30 years old, high-tech savvy, and success on both coasts sound good? The admissions office thought so. Van Winkle received a much-sought after acceptance to one of the best business schools in America.

So what's so special about Van Winkle?

"Nothing outside of his strong record, so we thought," noted Bob Alig, head of the admissions office.

But Amy Burke, Wharton undergrad working part-time in the admissions office, thought otherwise.

"I was stuffing acceptance envelopes and the last name struck me. Van Winkle in Florida. I asked an admissions officer about his file: a former musician. Then it hit me, Vanilla Ice is coming to Wharton."

A little research proved the improbable was true. A short-lived teen icon with an embarrassing media story touting his "street" background had secured the rights to wander the hallowed halls of Wharton. What the heck happened?

While Van Winkle's 15 minutes of fame ran out many years ago, he hasn't been sulking, reminiscing about the good ol' days. Instead, he used his mega-star earnings (it doesn't take long to build big bucks when you hit it big) to open a couple of businesses in Miami and in Santa Monica, California, and suddenly finds himself a seasoned, successful entrepreneur. Now he wants a business school degree.

So what does the admissions office think about admitting the Ice?

"I can't really say I even heard of him. I guess it'll be a big deal to students, but in our eyes, he's a promising business person, like everyone else we admitted. It's up to him what experience he makes at Wharton. He definitely won't receive any special treatment because of his status."

Student reaction suggested otherwise.

"Ice on campus -- unbelievable," noted first-year Mark Pearson, former music industry insider at Sony Music. "Even though he was a one-and-done star, he was still the man."

Copyright 1998, The Wharton Journal. All Rights Reserved.

Computer Industry News

20,000 Email Messages

My ISP's e-mail server ground to a near-halt this week. I called to find out what was the matter. The tale they told chilled my spine. You might think, from looking at the numbers involved, that someone had suffered a spam attack. The server was moving like Uncle Joe at the Junction because someone had received 20,000 email messages. It's the mechanism that intrigued me.

It wasn't spam. It was an autoresponder program. Some email programs, as you may know, allow your mailbox to respond to incoming mail with a note that says something like "I'm on vacation, I'll get back to you."

One customer had set such a message, then left on vacation. One of the last messages he sent was to a colleague who had also left on vacation. By the time the second person's automatic response had returned to my ISP, it generated an automatic response... well, you get the picture. The numbers were limited only by transit time through the Internet (or the frequency with which the mail programs in question checked in), which, fortunately, was not too swift between the two ISPs in question.

The Law of Unintended Consequences. Two innocent people, creating a cyberspace train wreck. Just imagine what's going to happen when malice enters the picture.

1972 To The Rescue

This came from my mother and an old family friend who worked for IBM for years. I don't know where it was before that.

Here is something I bet you hadn't thought would be an issue for Y2K. You won't be able to use the programmed recording feature.
Do not throw away your VCR in the year 2000. Set it on 1972 because the days will be the same. Please pass this on because you know the manufacturer will not share this information. They will want you to buy a new one that is Y2K compliant."

Web Site of the Week

Rhyming Dictionary

I know several of you are writers. If you write poetry, you'll want to check out this site and bookmark it. Here's what Craig Reynolds had to say about it:

It probably doesn't rate a "site of the week" but since you said you like my parody phrase "Specs, Lies and Videotape", I thought I'd mention that while I was searching for the right for the right substitute for "sex" in the original title I went looking for an online rhyming dictionary and found this cool one.

Actually, Craig, it does rate as a web site of the week. It returned the unsurprising result that there are no rhymes for purple or orange, but it is clever enough to offer "near rhymes" (or what I've always called false rhymes) if asked. It does not offer my favorite near rhyme for Orange (wheel flange), but it does offer these for purple (among others):

maple, nipple, opal, papal, people, pupil, ripple, scruple, snapple, staple, steeple, supple, topple, triple.


Speaking of Electronic Horror Stories

It's wise to remember how easily today's wonderful technology can be misused, sometimes unintentionally, with serious consequences.

Consider the case of the Illinois man who left the snow-filled streets of Chicago for a vacation in Florida. His wife was on a business trip and was planning to meet him there the next day.

When he reached his hotel, he decided to send his wife a quick e-mail. Unable to find the scrap of paper on which he had written her e-mail address, he did his best to type it in from memory.

Unfortunately, he missed one letter, and his note was directed instead to an elderly preacher's wife, whose husband had passed away only the day before.

When the grieving widow checked her e-mail, she took one look at the monitor, let out a piercing scream, and fell to the floor in a dead faint.

At the sound of her cry, her family rushed into the room and saw this note on
the screen:
Dearest Wife,

Just got checked in.
Everything prepared for your arrival tomorrow.
P.S. Dress light. It sure is hot down here.

Mirror, Mirror

Sleeping Beauty, Tom Thumb and Quasimodo were talking. Sleeping Beauty said, "I reckon I'm the most beautiful girl in the world."

Tom Thumb said,"I reckon I'm the smallest person in the world."

Quasimodo said, "I must be the ugliest person in the world."

So they went down to the Guinness Book of Records to have their claims ratified.

Sleeping Beauty came out first looking deliriously happy." It's official, I am the most beautiful girl in the world."

Tom Thumb emerged ecstatic, "And I am officially the smallest person in the world."

Sometime later, Quasimodo came out looking crestfallen and simply said,"Who's Linda Tripp?"


The Out Of Towners

I have only a dim recollection of the 1970 version, directed by Arthur Hiller and written by Neil Simon himself, with Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis in the title role of the visitors to New York beaten down by the scary city. I don't remember liking it very much, and I always thought Sandy Dennis being raped in the dark in Central Park was pretty darn tacky.

This time, Simon wisely let Marc Lawrence handle the screenplay chores. The result is a movie that is probably almost as funny as the stage play on which it is based. Same Wiesman, the director, has directed a lot of TV (including Family Ties) and two quite forgettable movies, D2: The Mighty Ducks, a second-rate sequal, and George of the Jungle, a second-rate original with a lovely John Cleese cameo.

They say you should go with what you know. Cleese has a first-class supporting role in this film, and Lawrence once wrote for Michael J. Fox, who starred in Family Ties. Is it a small world or what?

I could go on and on about Cleese, since I am a major-league Monty Python fan. Suffice it to say he spends two scenes dressed in women's clothing. That alone should recommend the film.

I find Goldie Hawn tolerable in small doses; fortunately she is limited to small doses in this film. Steve Martin, on the other hand, is one of the major talents of our time; a funny standup, a great comic actor, a reasonably good dramatic actor and a damn fine playwright (see any professional product of Picasso at the Lapin Agile that comes anywhere near your town). I am not a member of the affiliates program (alas), so I don't get a cut of the take if you buy Pure Drivel (a collection of Martin's New Yorker essays; you'd know he wrote in the New Yorker if you read it now and then). You should buy the book anyway because it is really funny.

Martin gets to do a brief Groucho Marx homage, a few wonderful deadpan lines, and some great comic acting. Goldie Hawn stays out of his way. Cleese gets the best line in the film. "You aren't going to throw us out are you," whines Hawn. "Oh no. Security will do that."

OK, it plays better on the screen.

Great fun, fine for the whole family as long as everyone is a reasonably sophisticated 12 and up. Some extremely non-explicit sex and adult themes are included.

Getting back to the screenwriter for a minute: Hollywood is a funny place. Lawrence wrote the funny but underappreciated 1993 Michael J. Fox vehicle, Life With Mikey, in which Fox played a child star who is now a child-star agent. Then, six years without a credit, and now this year, this movie (adapting the great Neil Simon), Forces of Nature with Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck (already reviewed here) and the forthcoming James Caan vehicle Mickey Blue-Eyes. I've known a couple of screenwriters, so I know that the reality is that Lawrence has probably written somewhere between six and 12 scripts in the last six years, sold all of them and seen none of them produced. That's the life in Tinseltown. You can, in fact, have a lucrative (if not successful) career as an unproduced screenwriter.

A brief footnote: God, I wish we'd had the Internet when I was in college, or even when I was in general circulation journalism. If I had a nickel for every time I either had to guess or fudge a fact on deadline or a nickel for every minute I spent on the phone chasing one down, I'd be a rich man. Of course, we didn't even have faxes back then, but don't get me started. As I site here and write this column, I don't even have to get up and consult an almanac A quick search of or the Internet Movie Database brings the facts to my fingertips. Is this a cool time or what? Of course, without the Internet, I wouldn't be writing this column and you sure as hell woudn't be reading it.

Cruel Intentions

It has been hard to make my mind up about this film. It is the third movie version of the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses; the first was a 1988 costume drama with Michelle Pfeiffer, John Malkovich and Glenn Close, then made again the next year with Colin Firth, Annette Bening and Meg Tilly.

The tag line of the new version is: In The Game Of Seduction, There Is Only One Rule : Never Fall In Love

It is a modern retelling of the tale. The plot is simplicity itself: sister Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer on TV) bets half brother Ryan Phillippe that he can bed virgin Reese Witherspoon. If he fails, she gets his fancy classic Jaguar convertible; if he succeeds, he gets to bed her his voluptuous, slutty, teasing half sister.

This is the nastiest and most unpleasant piece of business I have seen in ages. It finally disproves the theory that I never see a movie I dislike. The only reason I didn't walk out was because I wanted to see just how far director/writer Roger Kumble would go. Not much further in the movie business, I hope.

The sex was soft-core, but the language and the situations were beyond appalling. And it wasn't the usual modern-day movie business appalling. I thought nothing could be worse than listening to Eddie Murphy using the "f" word in every single sentence of a two-hour movie, but I was wrong. Casual cruelty, combined with casual discussion of a wide variety of sexual acts in a non-erotic context just made me feel dirty watching it.

I'm not a prude. But this movie doesn't deserve even the tiny audiences it is getting. I like Sarah Michelle Gellar and Reese Witherspoon--especially Witherspoon after her classy turn in last year's Pleasantville. I hope both of them survive a film that can only be described, at best, as a serious career mistake.

One thing I will say: the film looks weird and sick in the previews. For a change, they have accurately reflected the underlying film.


Ross Snyder had this to say about Marlow's admission to Columbia:

Congratulations to Marlow. I'll hold out hope that Brown does come through, but Columbia is in what I consider the capital of the world, and she'll thrive there.

Although Ross has spent the better part of his adult life in Silicon Valley, he was born in flyover country (as was I; Oregon is honorary flyover country), and so shares with me and the rest of us denied birth in America's imperial capital a certain fondness for it.

I complained that none of you mentioned my mother's contribution to the column two weeks ago, a stinging rebuke of the rotten Hollywood system that created and perpetuated the blacklist--a subject brought to mind by Elia Kazan's honorary Oscar. I got this from my mother's Australian pen pal Jan Holland:

Elia Kazan ??? Who on earth is Elia Kazan??

Sorry Paul, not ignoring her.... just ignorance.... Mari, as always has a wonderfully sharp wit, and writes beautifully.... as do her descendants, it does seem to run in the family....but the subject means pretty much nothing to me.....

Maybe we could discuss our wonderful John Howard *FUME, BLUSTER, SPIT CHIPS* or maybe the infamous Paul Keating??

Point taken. I guess all of us in the Northern Hemisphere are Pommy Bastards, but just the Brits.

Speaking of friends of my mother's (the second largest group reading this column, after my college classmates and just ahead of family members), I got this lovely not from Katherine Gray, for whom my mother provided in-home child care from pre-school through high school:

Great column. I love the stuff about the Shakespeare movies (which, I shamefully admit, I have not seen but intend to). I envy that you get to go to such lectures. I'm busy stripping paint off my woodwork.

About The Matrix: I didn't listen to the NPR review because they warned usthat he would give away the plot but I did catch the last few sentences and it sounded favorable! I haven't heard Tom Shales give a favorable review since...maybe Schindler's List? I'm not sure. He rarely likes anything.
My associations with Keanu Reeves are a little different than most. I was in high school when they were filming My Own Private Idaho and we had a map of the city up in our social studies class with marks indicating where we'd made a Keanu Siting. There were little hearts indicting where Keanu had kissed some girl and little pot leaves where he had bought weed.
And I gotta tell you, even though I never had my own personal Keanu sighting, I was told he really isn't that far from the Ted we all associate with him. Or is it Bill? I can't remember now. [note: Bill was Alex Winter, who made Freaked in 1993 and hasn't been heard from since]

I do miss the politics in your column, though. For a while there I was relying on you for updates. You remind me of how much I've neglected my liberal responsibilities.

Give Marlow my congrats. I have a friend who went to Columbia and he loved it. Tell her she needs to find the Chinese restaurant in Harlem that serves you all the cheap wine you can drink. And tell her she can get into jazz clubs without ID. New York is very liberal about such things. Well, when I was there they were. I don't know what Guliani has done about that.

Marlow's best friend Stacey Gerson is the younger sister of a Columbia junior, Hillary, who has already told Marlow where to find the Chinese restaurant in question, and has confirmed Katherine's observation about jazz clubs. She is advising Marlow on which dorm to select and telling her about the Columbia Paris campus (where she is ensconced this term).

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