PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 2 No. 40

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

November 22, 1999

What's Two Weeks Among Friends

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

  • Giving Thanks

Computer Industry News

  • Comdex Report

Web Site of the Week

  • Not This Week


  • Shaggy Dog Story


  • Being John Malkovich
  • Anywhere But Here


  • Nope

General News

Giving Thanks

First, a quick apology for missing a week. Blame it on Comdex (see below).

This is, of course, the time of year when most of us are given a few days off with the suggestion that we consider what we're thankful for. Many of the tables at which I sit on the holiday have a tradition of going around the table to ask each person what they're thankful for. If this is a tradition at your table, or you're headed for an unfamiliar table where it might crop up, you may as well start thinking about it now, because otherwise you're liable to say something spontaneous (that's good) and stupid (usually less good). Not to mention more revealing, perhaps, than you intend.

I have much to be thankful for this holiday season, as I have had every year of my life. In many ways, mine has been a charmed life. I try very hard to avoid the sin of hubris, which I remember reading about when I was 14. While I don't believe in the panoply of ancient Greek gods, and don't really think I'll be directly punished for thinking that I have earned and deserved my good fortune, I've still always thought it unseemly to take it for granted.

I hope God will always grant me the ability (said to have been denied, for example, to Dan Quayle) not to mistake the act of having been born on third base to be the equivalent of hitting a triple. Well, if Quayle was born on third base, I was born on first or second, but you get the idea. I know I was blessed with the head start of loving parents, married to each other and supportive of education. I will be thankful for that all of my days.

I am thankful for my health, which may seem odd to those of you who know that I was recently diagnosed with adult onset diabetes. I'll spare you the details. Those of you who know about it know that it's easily controllable, and for those of you who don't know about it, don't worry, I won't be checking out any time soon. In fact, if I lose weight and watch my diet, I'll live every bit as long as I would have otherwise, maybe longer.

In essence, the diagnosis makes me thankful for several reasons. First, if could have been worse. Second, it serves as a wakeup call. As a friend of mine who had a heart attack told me, "It beats the hell out of a heart attack." And, by the way, I'm grateful this guy wasn't killed by his heart attack, because we've got a lot of mileage left in our friendship.

I have to admit, though, the diagnosis depressed me and lowered my productivity. I am managing to get my work done during the day, but I don't have as much pizzazz during nights and weekend. Only the thought of missing two weeks in a row spurred me to the keyboard tonight.

I am thankful that I have two living loving parents and a loving brother. I am thankful for my loving and understanding wife, and for the two most wonderful daughters I could have imagined, both of them turning into vibrant, intelligent young women before my very eyes.

I am thankful for a job that involves no heavy lifting and no dirt under my fingernails, that still thrills and excites me and makes me want to get out of bed every morning and do it. I'm no fool. I know for a fact most people are indifferent about their jobs and a significant minority loathe their work. I know I am blessed, thank you.

I am thankful for every sunrise and sunset I get to see, every moment I get to be in, every flower I try so desperately to stop and smell. I am thankful that I can move closer every day to living a life in balance.

I am thankful, finally, for each and every one of you who is reading this column. Thanks and have a great Thanksgiving!

Computer Industry News


[Just another quick note on Microsoft first. Despite the appointment of a well-respected mediator, I don't think the firm will ever settle unless Gates steps down as CEO, because it is personal for him. He doesn't think he, or his company have done anything wrong, so he can't see where there's anything to settle. I just wish I could be in the room the first time he tells the judge, "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."]

I remember being told once that the operational definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This first came up during a computer programming course, I think, when the professor pointed out that if we kept the data the same and the program the same, the results would be the same each time. Seems kind of obvious, doesn't it?

So what was I doing in Las Vegas again? I started going when Fall Comdex was very young--I always thought I was at the first Comdex, in 1979, but I have since seen evidence that my first Comdex was 1980, the second year it was held. This year was the 20th. I have only missed three. Seventeen was more than enough. I am going to spend every waking minute between now and next November figuring out how to not be at Comdex next year, or at least how not to be there Sunday-Thursday, which was my attendance pattern this year.

At least the trip down and back was interesting. I rode in a John Ruley's Piper Cherokee. It is true what he said, that arrival at the private plane terminal is a much more pleasant experience than arriving at the commercial terminal, with is 2-hour cab lines during Comdex (we waited less than 5 minutes for our taxi). However, the eight-hour flight (compared to an hour on a jetliner) more than made up for the time saved. Still, I learned a lot about private aviation, got to talk to John for hours on end and got to fly his airplane. I never had anyone lean back into me, ate not once but twice in the airport restaurant in Bakersfield, and had a better view of the central valley than I am ever likely to have again. Oh, and I also learned a lot about air traffic control. Everyone should do this at least once. Not necessarily with John, of course. And you should eat in a better restaurant J

Well, Comdex and Las Vegas stunk for all the usual reasons. It took me two hours to get my cellphone working, and even then, as happens every year at Comdex, the telecommunications infrastructure broke down under the weight of 100,000 attendees, half of whom, it seems, have cellphones. The transportation infrastructure also breaks down, with traffic jams and 90-minute taxi lines the rule. The service infrastructure breaks down, with 60-90 minute waits for meals. The food is priced as if you were at an airport, and as a special welcome to Comdex attendees, all the hotel room prices are double or tripled, with a four-day minimum stay required. It was not too hot or rainy this year, for a change, but it was still so dry my hair flattened out, my vision blurred and my nose bled. I hate Las Vegas. I don't enjoy gambling, and I usually don't have time during Comdex to see a show (and many of the shows now go dark during Comdex week anyway).

If the show were the greatest trade show in the world, which it once was, it would be almost worth the suffering. But Comdex has been in decline for several years, and, God Willing, will soon collapse from its own weight, just as the National Computer Conference did before it. For my money, the end of Comdex can't happen too soon.

I saw some stuff and did some stuff, but if I have anything to say about it, I'll never see Las Vegas again, certainly not during Comdex.

Web Site of the Week

Taking A Week Off


Shaggy Dog Story

A man was getting a haircut prior to a trip to Rome. He mentioned the trip to the barber who responded, "Rome? Why would anyone want to go there? It's crowded & dirty and full of Italians. You're crazy to go to Rome. So, how are you getting there?"

"We're taking TWA," was the reply. "We got a great rate!"

"TWA?" exclaimed the barber. "That's a terrible airline. Their planes are old, their flight attendants are ugly, and they're always late. So, where are you staying in Rome?"

"We'll be at the downtown International Marriott."

"That dump! That's the worst hotel in the city. The rooms are small, the service is surly and they're overpriced. So, whatcha doing when you get there?"

"We're going to go to see the Vatican and we hope to see the Pope." "That's rich," laughed the barber.

"You and a million other people trying to see him. He'll look the size of an ant. Boy, good luck on this lousy trip of yours. You're going to need it."

A month later, the man again came in for his regular haircut. The barber asked him about his trip to Rome.

"It was wonderful," explained the man, "not only were we on time in one of TWA's brand new planes, but it was overbooked and they bumped us up to first class. The food and wine were wonderful, and I had a beautiful 28 year old stewardess who waited on me hand and foot. And the hotel-it was great! They'd just finished a $25 million remodeling job and now it's the finest hotel in the city. They, too, were overbooked, so they apologized and gave us the presidential suite at no extra charge!"

"Well," muttered the barber, "I know you didn't get to see the pope."

"Actually, we were quite lucky, for as we toured the Vatican, a Swiss Guard tapped me on the shoulder and explained that the pope likes to personally meet some of the visitors, and if I'd be so kind as to step into his private room and wait, the pope would personally greet me. Sure enough, five minutes later the pope walked through the door and shook my hand! I knelt down as he spoke a few words to me."

"Really?" asked the Barber. "What'd he say?"

He said, "Where'd you get the crappy haircut?


Being John Malkovich

Facts courtesy of Internet Movie Database.

Directed by: Spike Jonze; Writing credits: Charlie Kaufman. Genre: Comedy Plot Summary: A puppeteer (John Cusack) discovers a door in his office that allows him to enter the mind of John Malkovich. John Cusack .... Craig Schwartz. Cameron Diaz .... Lotte Schwartz. Catherine Keener .... Maxine. Orson Bean .... Dr. Lester. Mary Kay Place .... Floris. John Malkovich .... John Horatio Malkovich. Charlie Sheen .... Charlie. Runtime: USA:112. Rated R.

This film is so breathtakingly good I hardly know where to start. It is the single most innovative American film I can remember seeing in a decade. It is absolutely brilliant, and it achieves this brilliance with only one scene that is enhanced by digital effects. It is, at its root, a simple yet bizarre story, told in a compelling and visual way. Nothing explodes. No one dies. And, at 112 minutes, there was just enough of it without there being too much.

Hollywood pretends to value screenwriters and their work, but doesn't really, most of the time. Here is a movie that is 100% script and character driven, and it appears to be making money. Charlie Kaufman is a genius, and this is his first movie. I can't wait to see what this guy comes up with next.

Cusack is a failed pupeeter who takes a job on the 7th 1/2 floor of the Herkmer-Fleeber building (sp?) and discovers a doorway into John Malkovich's mind. You slide down this chute, and for 15 minutes you see and feel what John Malkovich is doing. Then you're dropped out by the side of the New Jersey Turnpike. What a concept huh? And I agree with Jonz, no one but John Malkovich could have played the lead role. I always suspected he was the best actor of our times, but now he's gone and proven it (who is he? Herman Mankowicz [Mank] in the HBO movie RKO 281, the bad guy in Dangerous Liaisons, as well as Man in The Iron Mask, Alive, Con Air, Of Mice and Men, Death of A Salesman, and The Killing Fields, as well as a bunch of other art films you never heard of.

Cusack is brilliant as usual. Diaz is stunningly unlovely and a better actor than I realized. Catherine Keener was in 8 Millimeter and Friends and Neighbors, two films I walked across the street to avoid, but she manages to project malevolence personified. Gina Gershon better look to her laurels, her lock on nasty-girl art-film roles may be about to be broken. It was great to see Orson Bean and Mary Kay Place with more than a few lines each, and Charlie Sheen, once more, playing Charlie Sheen (well, why not? It worked for Rob Lowe).

For me, the highlight of the film comes when John Malkovich enters the door into his own mind. The minute he starts on the journey, I'm on the edge of my seat wondering what the directory will do. Although several reviewers have tipped this scene, I think I'll just say that Kaufman and Jonz were brilliant and leave it at that.

There are some gratuitously nasty scenes I could have done without, but overall, I found this an hilarious, brilliant, funny, thought-provoking film.

Although IMDB contained no information on the R rating, I can tell you it is for soft-core sex, language, adult themes, and general weirdness. I wouldn't take a young child. They wouldn't get it anyway. Anyone over 16 should be all right with this, depending on how you (and they) feel about on-screen sex.

Anywhere But Here

Facts courtesy of Internet Movie Database.

Directed by: Wayne Wang. Writing credits: Mona Simpson (novel), Alvin Sargent (screenplay). Genre: Drama. Tagline: A story of a mother who knows best... and a daughter who knows better. Plot Outline: A mother and daughter search for success in Beverly Hills. Susan Sarandon:. Adele August. Natalie Portman:.. Ann August. Rated PG-13 for sex-related material. Runtime: USA:114

This is a chick flick, and I say that in the kindest possible way. It is all about love and feelings, and it is quite moving and really very clever. Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman aren't the only people in the film, but they might as well be. The story is tightly wrapped around the two of them and their love/hate relationship. This film should really be dedicated to every child who ever had an embarrassing, oddball parent.

It follows this odd couple as they leave Wisconsin for LA and struggle to get along with each other while living their lives in the poisonous fog of LA. Yes, another shot of hot sun and palm trees on Christmas Day.

It's hard to pick out memorable scenes and moments, and not much happens, really. A few red herrings are dragged across the screen, but most situations turn out about the way you expect.

This probably sounds like a tepid endorsement, but one of my biggest complaints about American movies is that they have to "do" all the time, as opposed to European films, which are happy just to "be." Well, Anywhere But Here is so comfortable in its own skin, that, most of the time, it just is and invites you to watch. I enjoyed it and would recommend it for a family outing. The sex is all implied; I'd say it's OK for children 12 and up, and if you're lucky, might just initiate a conversation on the nature of parent-child relations. You might even learn something.



Thanks to all of you who wrote. I just didn't have time to assemble letters this week. Perhaps I will have some leisure time over the holidays to catch up.

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