PS... A Column
By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.
May 10, 1999
Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit
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:
After a tumultuous week, it's been a rather quiet week. So, a short column, mostly of other people's work I like.
I would have missed this first-class piece of commentary if not for my friend Richard Dalton.
Following is an editorial byTom Steinert-Threlkeld of Interactive Week magazine. I found it particularly thoughtful and courageous for someone in the Internet publishing business and sent a response, something I rarely do, but probably should do more often.
Malice in Wonderland
Some intractable problems seem simple to solve. If your humble servant were running this Great Land of Ours, the proliferation of guns would be brought under control without batting an eye.
The retail, mail-order and Internet sales of firearms would be banned. In fact, police stations would become the only outlets for purchasing guns. Stores of all kinds - physical and digital - would be out of the bullet business. And the only valid reason for being issued a weapon would be demonstrable concern for personal safety. Registration of the firearm would be part of the purchase, naturally. Yes, criminals would have more guns than law-abiding citizens. But that will always be the case. And, yes, it would put an end to sporting use of firearms. But shooting any living being has never seemed to be very sporting. That hardly seems debatable anymore; but debate it we will, even in light of what has happened in Colorado, Arkansas and elsewhere.
Why our schools have become shooting galleries is a subject that could bedevil us for the rest of our lives. What is only slightly comforting is that, at least so far, the Internet has not become a rich resource for the arming of Americans. Trigger.com still only takes you to the site of an Internet access provider in Canada.
As Senior Writers Randy Barrett and Karen J. Bannan found in Inter@ctive Week's May 3 Cover Story, it may be easy to buy drugs and alcohol without much background checking, but picking up a gun is not easy.
Just like the use of the phone, automobile and other tools, we can't kid ourselves: There will always be ways to conduct illegal transactions via the Net. Encrypted e-mail is a perfect medium for conducting such business, which is why law enforcers want so badly to decipher it. Uncontrolled auctions are another. And only if we're into self-delusion can we any longer convince ourselves that violent video games, dark role models such as Marilyn Manson or hate sites on the Web don't desensitize an already insensitive society - or push fragile, ill minds over the edge.
It's time for the makers of Doom and Quake to turn in their Ferraris and earn their next millions trying to undo the damage they have done to human instincts. The human race has enough malice in its heart - see Kosovo - without getting any helping hands from interactive role-playing.
It's also time, though, for law enforcers, school administrators and even neighborhood watches to recognize that the Web is a starting point for fighting back. Never before have we had the chance to know so much about our friends, neighbors and classmates - without even breaching their privacy. Young people in particular love to tell you more about themselves than you might care to know, as was demonstrated in Littleton, Colo.
Monitoring Web sites for insight into our fellow human beings should and will become a common practice. But the truly determined maniac will learn how not to leave any clues out in the open - on the Web or elsewhere.
Over the long haul, we will find that the only weapons we have to fight back with are our hearts, minds and souls. Humane interaction is the only way out.
Richard Dalton's Response:
Thanks, Tom, for a well thought-out (and felt) editorial (May 3, 1999). Iím sure youíve had rabid responses from Early American gun-toters. Unfortunately, a large group of Late American gun victims canít comment. Yet it still seems to surprise us in this country, that the right to shoot at things means the risk of being shot at. And this even applies to the people we love most.
After all this debate, one question always remains for me: how many children are we willing to sacrifice to preserve the Right to Bear Arms?
Digital Story Telling
Hey, Richard Dalton again. Recently, Richard turned me on to the whole concept of Digital Storytelling and introduced me to one of the movers and shakers in the field, a San Francisco entrepreneur named Dana Atchley. You can see what he is up to at www.nextexit.com and www.dstory.com. You can even use the latter URL to sign up for his digital storytelling conference. I intend to.
It's kind of hard to explain, but the basic idea is people have always told stories, but now they can tell them with some digital help that doesn't get in the way of the storytelling, but rather enhances it. This has both personal and commercial implications. The San Jose Mercury had a great story on the subject, from which I pulled this quote:
It's one more example of rapid technological change fed by basic desire. In her 1997 book, Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace, MIT humanities Professor Janet H. Murray puts it this way: "The human urge for representation, for storytelling, and for the transformational use of the imagination is an immutable part of our makeup, and the narrative potential of the new digital medium is dazzling."
It's a newsletter. It's a web site. It's both! It's David Strom's Web Informant.
David Strom was my supervisor at PC Week during the brief but relatively happy period that I toiled at that Ziff-Davis publication as a Senior Technical Analyst. He went on to found CMP's Network Computing (and, while there, taped a segment for CMP's ill-fated PC Vision television project, which I edited). He's been a freelancer for years.
He runs the marvelously well-written and informative weekly e-mail newsletter Web Informant. If you are at all interested in the World Wide Web, I'd suggest you sign up for it. To get an idea of what Dave and his friends write about, visit the web site and see past columns.
I'll tell you how much I like the newsletter; on two occasions (so far), I have purchased material from it for Byte.com, my real-world job.
Just one note; I hate to spoil your innocence, as mine was spoiled, but you know those "letters" Dave runs in the newsletter where he says, "my friend Joe wrote aboutÖ"
I always thought those were just emails from his friends and colleagues. And some of them are. But some of them are articles Dave pays for. As he told me when I was talking to him about it, "the newsletter promotes me and my consulting services. If I have to pay someone for an article to get people to read the newsletter, I will." A point to remember for all your fledgling newsletter publishers out there.
Quote from Daily Telegraph, 1 May 1999, Property section - in an article explaining how to keep seagulls from nesting on your chimney-stack: (note that a search of the Telegraph online failed to turn up this article)
The other day, I got a call from a man complaining that the gulls outside his window were interfering with his voice-activated computer. Apparently, every time a seagull let out a loud squawk, his computer would type up the word 'Aldershot' on this screen. After a while, that kind of thing can drive you mad.
One Story, Two Authors
From the Washington Post Invitational:
First Runner-Up: "Green Eggs and Hamlet":
Would you kill him in his bed?
Blonde Ice Fishing
A blonde wanted to go ice fishing. She'd seen many books on the subject, and finally, after getting all the necessary "tools" together, she made for the nearest frozen lake. After positioning her comfy footstool, she started to make a circular cut in the ice.
Suddenly---from the sky---a voice boomed, "THERE ARE NO FISH UNDER THE ICE!"
Startled, the blonde moved further down the ice, poured a thermos of Cappuccino, and began to cut yet another hole.
Again, from the heavens, the voice bellowed, "THERE ARE NO FISH UNDER THE ICE!"
The blonde, now quite worried, moved way down to the opposite end of the ice, set up her stool, and tried again to cut her hole.
The voice came once more. "THERE ARE NO FISH UNDER THE ICE!"
She stopped, looked skyward, and said, "Is that you, Lord?"
The voice replied, "No, idiot... this is the Manager of the Ice Rink!"
Just the facts (courtesy of the Internet Movie Database). Director: Jon Amiel (apparently at one time director Antoine Fuqua was attached). Writers: Ronald Bass, Michael Hertzberg. Tagline: The trap is set. Plot Outline: Catherine Zeta-Jones works for an insurance agency that sends her to track down and help capture a jewel thief, played by Sean Connery. Running Time: 1:58. Rated R.
First, I need to note that my younger daughter, Rae, was so disgusted by the previews for this film that she boycotted it and encouraged me to do the same. But I have a weakness for Sean Connery and for action films.
Can you guess what a self-confident, feminist 14-year-old hated to much about this film?
Yes, that's right, the love interest between a man in his 60s and a woman in her 20s. She's not only young enough to be his daughter, she's young enough to be his granddaughter.
As it turns out, however, the love interest is played somewhat ambiguously. There is not only no on-screen sex between them, it isn't really suggested. There are hugs and kisses (a few of them more than fatherly/grandfatherly), but the character played by Connery, while he seems to have love and compassion for Zeta-Jones, doesn't have it in a way that smacks of incest.
This is a reasonably well-plotted thriller, with some above-average stunts and special effects. There are at least three plot twists that caught me by surprise (defined as me figuring it out more than 60 seconds before they figure it out on screen. Less than 60 seconds doesn't count).
I liked Mission Impossible on TV. I even liked the movie. I have always been a big fan of caper films, even in the last decade or so when they've gotten so big, complicated, loud and noisy. I don't think I could ever tire of the genre. So, I liked this film.
I guess the film is rated R because the good guys get away with crime, because the sex (no intercourse, one scene of flashed breasts), violence and language didn't strike me as any more than PG-13 at worst. You could take any mature teenager to this film if they like action/adventure.
Maury Chaykin does a breathtakingly funny cameo as villain Conrad Greene. I can tell you I wouldn't have taken my shirt off for this role, but I'm glad he did.
Correspondents Take A Holiday
Usually, the dog days don't start until August. But this week, all my usual (and unusual--you know who you are) correspondents have taken the week off.
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