PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 2 No. 15

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

April 26, 1999

Warning: Thoughtful Content Ahead

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

  • Making Time For The Important Stuff
  • Orientation
  • Digital TV
  • The Boys

Computer Industry News

  • Pfeiffer at Compaq

Web Site of the Week

  • Company Sleuth


  • Moral Of The Story
  • Dad Joke


  • Goodbye Lover


  • A thoughtful letter on Kosovo from Richard Dalton.

General News

Making Time For The IMPORTANT Stuff

You may have noticed that I didn't see a movie last week. The only chance I would have had would have been Sunday. Instead, I went to Pier 39 with Vicki and the girls. We went on the virtual reality Turbo Ride, shopped and had dinner at Yet Wah. When we got home, I briefly considered working on the pile of stories I had to edit for work. Instead, I watched a rerun of The Simpsons and a new Family Guy, went to bed early and got a good night's sleep.

I hear a lot of people spending a lot of time talking about how busy they are. We're all busy. You make time for the things that are important to you. I hate to be preachy, but that's an important aphorism that it is all too easy to lose sight of.


Marlow and I are winging our way to Manhattan on Saturday for the Columbia University parents' orientation on Sunday and Monday. She'll spend Sunday night in a sleeping bag in a Columbia dorm; I'll spend Monday in parent briefings while she spends the day in real Columbia classes. We'll be brunching with my close friend and business associate Tom LaSusa on Sunday, and we'll be joined by his wife Kim.

Marlow has just missed several chances to meet Kim--thus she has suggested Kim is imaginary. By that token, her own mother, who has not been seen by a CMP employee since the 1983 Christmas party in Cupertino, is also imaginary.

We're also going to try and squeeze in a couple of Broadway shows, one Saturday night and one Sunday matinee, depending on when we get in and how we feel. Marlow shares my predilection for theater, one we've shared on numerous occasions in New York. Starting next year, I'll take Rae, my younger daughter (14, will be a high school freshman next year), to New York for a long weekend every fall. Just because we live on the left coast doesn’t mean that both my girls shouldn't have at least a passing familiarity with the Big Apple.

Digital TV

No one else in the family particularly cared, but I was lured into signing up for digital cable by three channels I have longed for a long time: BBC America (although I'd rather get BBC1 and BBC2 direct), Turner Movie Channel (leaves the American Movie Channel in the dust) and Sci Fi Channel (I'm a sci fi guy, always have been).

Well, TCI being TCI (do we really want them to provide our phone service and Internet access? I don't think so), they agreed to install four digital boxes, and sent out an installer. He arrived at the guaranteed time. He had the media room cable box installed, when he turned to me and said, "Where's the phone outlet?"

"There isn't a phone outlet within a block of here," I said.

"No phone outlet, no digital box," came his pleasantly baffled reply. "I'm surprised the operator didn't tell you that on the phone."

"I'm not," I said bitterly, chalking up another one for the world-class customer service department of TCI, which knows me and my neighborhood intimately from its call center in Denver.

TCI service goes out at least once a month at our house, in a suburb just 25 miles from San Francisco's financial district. It is fixed without a house visit 99% of the time, but this is a level of fault we wouldn't tolerate from any other utility.

Well, except power, yet another monopoly. Our power goes out that often as well.

But monopoly can't be the whole explanation. Our phone service, on the other hand, even our ISDN line, goes out no more than once a year. So it is possible to reliably service our house. It's just that TCI and PG&E can't figure out how to do it.

So, I called my phone installer, and cursed the cable company. This house is less than two years old. If someone had TOLD me during construction, "hey, you might want phone outlets there," I'd have installed them. No one said a word.

Vicki, my wife, was not fond of having holes drilled in the walls or ceiling (we can't drill them in the floor; two inches of concrete for the thermal heating system). So I called Manny, my private installer, over for a consultation.

We were sulking in the laundry room (where the telephone system is located) when he was struck with insipiration. "Use a wireless phone system that runs on the powe r lines," he said. And low and behold, it came to pass, and it was good.

TCI returned, with a work order for three boxes. That's right, three where I asked for four. Fortunately, he had a box slated to go into the next house. He used it at my house.

Remarkably, three of the four cable boxes worked first shot. The fourth, in Rae's room, can't be reprogrammed to save its life. Looks like replacement city.

Digital cable has some cool features, but it remains to be seen if they are worth the extra money.

The Boys

An update on our two cats, Champagne and Jagermeister.

Jager still hisses at me almost every time I come into a room. If either of them are downstairs when I walk into the Great Room, they run upstairs.

Most nights, they sleep with Marlow or Rae, but if they are shut out of both rooms by mistake, they will deign to spend a little time on our bed. Vicki and I encourage them to stay, but they almost always skitter our when we turn out the light.

Still, they will, no doubt, be lap cats some day. In the meantime, I love them for what they are, and let them know whenever I see them, however briefly.

Rae is worried because Champagne is constantly biting Jager's neck in a way that appears quite serious, although he never draws blood. We've decided that's the line between horseplay and serious cat abuse (even between cats).

Computer Industry News

Pfeiffer at Compaq

Eckhard Pfeiffer jumped (or was pushed) from the CEO job of Compaq Computer this week, just like his predecessor, Rod Canion. Some people say Compaq chairman Ben Rosen is too quick on the trigger finger. Others call Pfeiffer a victim of Internet time, and say Compaq just wasn't scrambling fast enough to keep up.

I'm not close enough to sort out the arguments, except to say this: I've been in Internet time for two years now, and it is a truly amazing, scary, enervating phenomenon. It is almost indescribable. Weeks turn into years, but not the way the song lyric meant. The nice thing is that all the stars that never were have gone somewhere else, to try to be a star there. They sure ain't parking cars and pumping gas.

Web Site of the Week

Company Sleuth

Simple concept, brilliant execution. Company Sleuth is a content aggregation site that gathers together information from multiple other sites and presents it to you in a simple package. Once you register, you can have it prepare a daily page for you which contains information on the web sites, law suits, trademarks, news releases and stock chat room activity that mentions your company of interest. CompanySleuth will email you a summary of new activity on your company page. You can keep track of more than one company.

In this time of uncertainty, I am sleuthing only one company, my own, CMPX (CMP Media Inc.). It makes me feel like I know what's going on, although much bulletin board chat is useless, ad hominem dribble.

Give it a try. Follow a company you know, or one you don't. This service REALLY works.


Moral Of The Story

One day at the end of class, little Johnny's teacher has the class go home and think of a story and then conclude with the moral of that story.

The following day the teacher asks for the first volunteer to tell their story and little Suzy raises her hand.

"My dad owns a farm and every Sunday we load the chicken eggs on the truck and drive into town to sell them at the market. Well, one Sunday we hit a big bump and all the eggs flew out of the basket and onto the road."

The teacher asks for the moral of the story. Suzy replies,"Don't keep all your eggs in one basket."

Next is little Lucy. "Well my dad owns a farm too and every weekend we take the chicken eggs and put them in the incubator. Last weekend only 8 of the 12 eggs hatched."

The teacher asks for the moral of the story. Lucy replies "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched."

Last is little Johnny. "My uncle Ted fought in the Vietnam war; his plane was shot down over enemy territory. He jumped out before it crashed with only a case of beer, a machine gun and a machete.

On the way down he drank the case of beer. Unfortunately, he landed right in the middle of 100
Vietnamese soldiers. He shot 70 with his machine gun, but ran out of bullets, so he pulled out his machete and killed 20 more. The blade on his machete broke, so he
killed the last ten with his bare hands"

Teacher looks in shock at Johnny and asks if there is possibly any moral to his story.

Johnny replies, "Don't mess with uncle Ted when he's been drinking".

Dad Joke

This is not me. I got this joke in the e-mail.

For the second time in a row, I was forced to impose on the woman with whom I carpooled to our children's soccer practices. I phoned and explained that my husband had the car again, so I wouldn't be able to take my turn.
A few minutes before she was due to pick up my son, my husband showed up. Since it was too late for me to call and say I could drive after all, I asked my husband to hide the car in the garage and to stay inside. I also explained to my son that he shouldn't mention anything about his father's whereabouts.
Unfortunately, my husband forgot and was in front of our house chatting with a friend when my carpool partner arrived. When my son returned from practice, I asked him if she had noticed.
"Yes," he replied, "she asked me which of the two men in front of the house was my father. But don't worry. I told her I didn't know."


Goodbye Lover

This is a film for all you people who think there has never been a film I didn't like. I was mildly amused by this film, but I didn't much like it. Don Johnson turned in a reasonable performance as did Patricia Arquette, Mary-Louise Parker, Dermot Mulroney and Ellen DeGeneres.

But if you saw the trailer, you've seen the movie. Yes, there are about three clever plot twists in the last 15 minutes, but that doesn't redeem the other 97 minutes. At least, at 102 minutes, the running time was tolerable.

It was certainly amusing to see Don Johnson playing a devout church-goer--who happens to be sleeping with his brother's wife. There's murder, and insurance money, and gangsters and a serial killer. Didn't director Roland Joffe' used to do good movies?

One thing this movie lets me do, however, is spot a future star. Ray McKinnon plays Rollins, DeGeneres' straight-laced Mormon partner. This man has an incredible knack for playing a dweeb among sharks. I predict a bright future for him as a character actor, and a breakthrough when he finally gets cast in a good movie, which Goodbye Lover isn't.

FOOTNOTE: I know at least one of you has predicted I will see and enjoy The Mummy. Well, while I have nothing against Brendan Fraser, the trailer looks moronic, so unless a) there is a gun pointed to my head or b) the New Yorker reviews it favorably, you will have to look elsewhere for an opinion on this upcoming film, which opens everywhere May 11.


Richard Dalton is one of the most thoughtful people I know, so I shouldn't have been surprised at this missive:

Consider for a moment, the continual use of the word "we" in your Kosovo polemic. We must, we should, we can. I'm assuming you mean that we to represent the United States and that questions of morality and rectitude relate to our peculiar world view.

When you apply that "we" to the planet, it presupposes that everyone has the same set of attitudes, beliefs, and experiences that "we" do and, for some reason, our moral superiority is all that is needed to spread "our" beliefs to all right-thinking people.

I don't disagree with the notion that genocide is wrong. But I retain a degree of humility about the environmental warfare we wage against the world's populations by our flamboyant use of its resources and our neglect of peoples who die by the millions each year for want of minimal nutrition, safe water, and simple, inexpensive medicines.

Consider this: to raise all of the world's population to the U.S. standard of living would require a SEVEN-FOLD increase in the use of planetary materials. Does that sound like a morally spotless platform for debate?

And since "we" have decided to wage a questionable war against the Serbian majority, we will proceed to expend a billion U.S. dollars a month prosecuting an action that few believe will be successful--even if your measure of success is the simple reduction of Kosovar deaths.

We forget all too easily our enslavement of millions of African natives, our forced relocation and genocide of hundreds of thousands of native residents on this continent which (for us) fortunately happened before CNN and the Internet could give us instantaneous views of that tragedy.

It's a muddy old world full of differences that "we" seem hell-bent to wash with our parochial view of clarity. We may be Number 1 but, as the Dallas Cowboys proved, that doesn't make us morally correct.

I responded:

You're right. Our moral position is rather ambiguous. And yet, and yet...

Everything is gray. And all that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

The question, of course, becomes: how do we define evil? How do we recognize it? Are we being given the actual facts? These are all difficult questions.

The easy course is to do nothing. The difficult course is to find a course of action that will make things better, not worse.

To obtain a weekly reminder when new columns are posted
or to offer feedback, advice, praise, or criticism
write to me:

Paul Schindler Home Page | PS...ACOT archives | Journalism Movies

You are visitor number

since October 16, 1998