PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 3 No. 1

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

January 3, 2000

Happy New Millenium

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

  • About Newspapers
  • The Schindlers Do Legoland California
  • A Pretty Quiet Christmas and New Years

Computer Industry News

  • Saving Microsoft's Bacon

Web Site of the Week

  • Merlin-net: Pictures for the Rest Of Us


  • The Top 12 Things Overheard in the Year 2999
  • This Too Shall Pass Away


  • Man On The Moon
  • Bicentennial Man
  • Galaxy Quest
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley
  • Fantasia 2000


Kent Peterman on 21

General News

About Newspapers

In her column of December 30, Adair Lara included this great newspaper quote:

THE DAILY FISH wrap. A 19th century Irish immigrant named O'Reilly called the newspaper ``a biography of something greater than a man. It is the biography of a DAY. It is a photograph, of twenty four hours' length, of the mysterious river of time that is sweeping past us forever. And yet we take our year's newspapers -- which contain more tales of sorrow and suffering, and joy and success, and ambition and defeat, and villainy and virtue, than the greatest book ever written -- and we use them to light the fire.''

The Schindlers Do Legoland California

We all like Legos, so we figured we could drive to Carlsbad, a half-hour north of San Diego, after Christmas at my mother-in-law's house. Vicki wins the most pithy comment award: "It's hard to walk around here with all the strollers."

Let's just say that Legoland California is pitched to a really young demographic.

Although I disagree with the sentiment, second-place in the pithy summary department goes to Marlow, who said, "There weren't enough things made of Legos." Now, I actually thought there were plenty of things made of Legos, from the New York Skyline, to a life-size Darth Vader, to a larger-than-life head of Albert Einstein. But it wasn't enough for my college girl.

Me? I was disappointed at the factory tour. I was expecting a real Lego factory, not a few select machines from a Lego factory, operating at slow speed so we could see what was going on.

If you're a Lego fanatic, it is probably worth a visit, but I wouldn't allow more than half a day to see it. There's a mild roller coaster, some self-propelled rides, and a few well-stocked Lego stores, but it ain't Disneyland.

A Pretty Quiet Christmas and New Years

Christmas Day we flew to Los Angeles and spent that day and the next in Pacific Palisades with my wife's mother Lynne. It was a wonderful, relaxing and low-key pair of days. Saturday night, we ate dinner at the LA Country Club, where Lynne is a member. Sunday, the girls and I rented bicycles and rode from Santa Monica to well-past Marina Del Rey. We saw some fascinating street entertainers and had marginal pizza at Venice Beach.

We hit Legoland California (see above) on our way to the Hotel Del Coronado, in the San Diego suburb of Coronado, where we spent a night. Then home for an at-home New Year's eve. Vicki and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary a night early. We took the girls to an early New Year's Eve Dinner in Danville and got home by 8. We turned down two invitations to parties and watched the ball drop in Time Square at 9 o'clock on TV at a friend's house. I was asleep by 11, and that's how I greeted the new millennium: prone and unconscious. Not a bad way to do it, really.

Computer Industry News

Saving Microsoft's Bacon

The ever-alert Craig Reynolds spotted this story at Wired (these are the highlights):

Microsoft's free email service had been partially crippled because it forgot to pay a $35 bill….
The glitch was caused after Microsoft failed to pay a $35 fee for rights to the Internet domain name, which verifies user names and passwords for Hotmail and other services.
In an ironic twist, the missed billing was discovered and paid by Michael Chaney, an Antioch, Tennessee-based programmer who works with the Linux operating system, an upstart competitor to Microsoft's Windows platform…

Web Site of the Week


David Tenenbaum was chairman of The Tech at MIT when I was Editor-In-Chief. But before that (and even during his term at the top) David was a first-rate photographer. So good, in fact, that he was an Associated Press photographer for many years (he was in Memphis after Elvis died and shot a lot of NASA launches, among many, many other cool assignments). In his later years, he's been working on the marriage of technology and photography, including creation of a remote camera for better rocket launch pictures, and the creation of companies for digitizing and filing professional quality pictures.

Now, he's running a web site where private individuals can buy newspaper and National Football League pictures for their private use. I think the story of the site is so interesting that the URL I linked to above is actually the "about" page, which David modestly links to from the bottom of his "contact us" page.

This is an interesting idea, well executed, and you should surf over there and have a look. In fact, you should buy a picture or two, so this becomes a success for David.

Hey David--how about adding publicity stills from the movie studios?


The Top 12 Things Overheard in the Year 2999

OK, they were both ties, but I still got a two-fer, hitting this list at numbers five and seven.

December 29, 1999

12> "Thank you for calling Epson. All operators are currently helping other customers. You have been on hold for approximately... one... thousand... years...."

11> "Senator Thurmond, your wife is on line 3."

10> "Another Christmas like this, and just may turn a profit!"

9> "Chris White, you have been defrosted to stand judgement for the recently discovered document known as 'The Rejected Hurricane Name List'."

8> "I found it on the Galactinet -- I think it's a picture of how humans used to reproduce."

7> "Hi, I'm Dick Clark, here to count you down into the newmillennium!"

6> "I did *not* have cybersex with that netbot."

5> "Okay, I'll go over it one more time: It doesn't really start until January 1, *3001* because..."

4> "Middle East peace talks have been put on hold once again..."

3> "25,000 zelgers, same as on Mars."

2> "We at NASA cannot be discouraged by this recent failure, and we are fully confident that our next manned mission to Mars will be a complete success."

and's Number 1 Thing Overheard in the Year 2999...

1> "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of Microsoft..."

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 1999 by Chris White ]

Selected from 109 submissions from 40 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Brian Jones, Atlanta, GA -- 4, 5
Jeff Scherer, Brooklyn, NY -- 4, 12
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 5, 7
Peter Bauer, Rochester, NY -- 5, 11
LeMel Hebert-Williams, San Francisco, CA -- 5, 11 (Hall of Famer)
Kevin Hawley, Fairless Hills, PA -- 5 (Hall of Famer)
Dennis Koho, Keizer, OR -- 5
Mark Schmidt, Amsterdam, Holland -- 5
Julie K. Stahlhut, Kalamazoo, MI -- 7 (Rookie!)
Rachel Blubaugh, Lewisville, TX -- 7, 11
Sue Prifogle Otte, Rushville, IN -- 7, 11
Larry Baum, Hong Kong -- 7
John Gephart IV, Harrisburg, PA -- 7
Dave Henry, Slidell, LA -- 7
Dave Wesley, Pleasant Hill, CA -- 7 (Hall of Famer)
Jim Rosenberg, Greensboro, NC -- Topic (Hall of Famer)
Tristan Fabriani, Passaic, NJ -- Topic
Almighty Rabbi Crut -- Banner tag
Bill Muse, Seattle, WA -- RU name (Hall of Famer)
Jeffrey Anbinder, Ithaca, NY -- Honorable Mention name
Chris White, New York, NY -- List owner/editor

This Too Shall Pass Away

For years, I have been crediting the line, "This Too Will Pass" to Kurt Vonnegut. And while it certainly appears in his work, my good friend Tom Ewing suggested it was biblical, or at the very least, older than Vonnegut. He did some Internet research and found it attributed, in variant form, to Abraham Lincoln. I have placed this under humor because Vonnegut, at least,

It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent an aphorism to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words, "And this, too, shall pass away."


Man On The Moon

Too many reviews. No facts. Just capsule reviews this week.

I like my biopics to offer me some insight into the subject. Man On The Moon was a wonderful Jim Carrey performance, and a great summary of Andy Kaufman's life. In fact, we watched his only TV special, Andy's Playhouse, on Comedy Central (along with several selected episodes of Taxi) before seeing the movie. It was very enlightening. Which the movie was not. Do not go to see this film if you want insight into what made Andy Kaufman tick. You see him ticking, you just never know why.

One review asked if perhaps Kaufman was not a genius. Perhaps, it speculated, he was just one of those entertaining sociopaths who occasionally crops up in American show business. I lean towards the latter. I never liked him, and if memory serves me, I voted against him in the Saturday Night Live poll that asked if he should be allowed to host again. Way too strange for my taste.

A mildly entertaining picture that would puzzle young children and might interest some teenagers who have an off-beat sense of humor. Adults should see this film only if they were Andy Kaufman fans (or suffer from intense curiosity about him as a performer) or Jim Carrey fans so dedicated they must see everything in which he appears. Everyone else can take a pass.

Bicentennial Man

Robin Williams in a film that pulls out all the stops to make you laugh and cry. Most of the other performances are incidental. Williams makes a very entertaining robot, and gets even more entertaining when he takes on human form. The movie asks the question, "what does it mean to be human," but doesn't go a long ways towards answering it.

This is simple, old-fashioned science fiction which, while enhanced with digital effects, is mostly about the story of a robot who lives to be 200 years old and gets to mourn the passing of three generations of the family that originally owned him.

There's a decent 90 minute film, and maybe even a tolerable two-hour film in the 140 minute running time of the theatrical version This film did not pass my "glance at the watch" test; I was checking every few minutes for the last hour, hoping for release.

Galaxy Quest

A lot of high concept movies bog down once the exposition of the clever idea is over. The pitch for this film must have seemed irresistible in Hollywood: "We'll parody Star Trek, character for character, but these aliens will think the actors are the crew of a real star ship. And then the fun begins."

The difference between this film and most films hatched this way is that this really is where the fun begins. Tim Allen weaves elements of William Shatner into his performance as the commander. Alan Rickman, the once great actor reduced to playing an alien beneath heavy gill makeup spouts a few Spockian lines, and there is an hysterical anti-Scotty in the engine room.

The point here is that, even in the scenes that make fun of Trekkies, the satire is loving and gentle, never mean-spirited. As a person who appreciates Star Trek in all its incarnations (without getting carried away), I was never offended.

In fact, most of this movie was screaming out loud, rolling in the aisles, achingly funny. You have to know and like Star Trek and have some familiarity with the Trekkie phenomenon for this film to have its full impact on you. But if you like Star Trek, Science Fiction, parody and Tim Allen (with Sigourney Weaver thrown in as eye candy), run, don't walk, to see Galaxy Quest. At the very least, it is not as bad as you think it is going to be. Anybody of any age can see this film; I can't imagine why it got a PG rating. And it's a snappy and enjoyable 90 minutes that never drags.

The Talented Mr. Ripley

Speaking of sociopaths, Matt Damon as Tom Ripley was handed one of those roles which Academy members react to as reliably as Pavlov's dogs to the luncheon bell. At the very least, he'll be nominated as best actor, and I think he's got a chance of copping the little gold statue.

I was interested in seeing this film because I myself am a working-class kid who spends some of his time with people who were born to wealth. Thus, I am always interested in seeing the portrayal of this situation in movies. Generally, the working class kid is noble and the wealthy people are snobs who scorn their good fortune and generally behave like boors.

This film sticks with half the formula, but Damon's character is far from noble. He's a social climber who refuses to climb back down. This is a tale of murder, set in beautiful Italian locations during the late 1950s. The movies is worth going to see just for the scenery and Damon. Top-notch performances by Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow (either of whom might get supporting actor nods) are just icing on the cake.

It isn't a mystery; you see all the murders committed on-screen. The violence and sex are far from graphic. However, the hints are very strong (naked legs, splattered blood), so you wouldn't want to see this film with anyone you'd have to explain intercourse or adultery to, nor with anyone who would be squeamish about seeing bloody murder weapons in someone's hand.

Alas, this film also failed the watch test. A more disciplined director could easily have brought it in between 90 minutes and two hours instead of over two hours. Heck, I could have made the cuts. When will Hollywood learn that less is more?

Fantasia 2000

Comedy and animation are the two genres in which Hollywood almost never makes the mistake of going long. Fantasia 2000 is a romp from start to finish at 90 minutes, and you'll never be looking at your watch.

The long-awaited, long-anticipated update of Disney's 1941 classic does not disappoint. Right now, it is showing only at Imax theaters (we saw it at the Sony Metreon in San Francisco), but it will be shown in regular theaters after April. If you have such a theater near you, and the time to attend it, by all means go, especially if you like the original.

The only segment repeated is the Sorcerer's Apprentice. It looks remarkably good after digital restoration. The other segments, however, are simply breathtaking on a 100 by 100 foot screen (OK, a 70-foot Steve Martin seemed a little much), with the astounding visual clarity and unbelievable sound reproduction of the Imax process. It is much more than the difference between 35mm and 70mm. More like the difference between seeing it on television versus seeing it in a theater.

There are abstract butterflies, flamingos with yo-yo's, the aforementioned Steve Martin (at his best) as well as Bette Midler, Penn and Teller, Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones introducing the segments. Mickey, who got only a few lines in the original, gets a funny sketch with Donald Duck before the Noah's Ark sequence. The closing animation, set to Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, is so beautiful and moving (with an homage to Bambi thrown in) that the entire history of animation could be justified just by this segment alone.

Walt had planned to re-issue Fantasia every few years with new segments and old segments combined, but the critical and financial failure of Fantasia in 1941 put the kibosh on that plan. Videotape sales proved so spectacular, however, that Disney coughed up the money for this sequel--likely to be the first of many.

This is a first class piece of work, suitable for children of all ages, and I mean all ages. See it in Imax if you can, but see it.


Kent Peterman on 21

When I mentioned last week I had tried out for the revived 21 television game show, I provoked this response from regular correspondent Kent Peterman:

Not remember 21? My God this inveterate Game Show Junkie remembers it vividly. I loved it. I even remember being home from school ill on one propitious occasion when "Treasure Hunt" (the original one) went off the air for giving answers to contestants. The host (Jan Murray) tried to waffle and explained that it was all in fun and never meant to hurt anyone. I was appalled that any show would be fixed. Were quiz show scandals the beginning of the end of our age of innocence in America? Surely the Nixon affair (Not to be confused with the current spate of presidential affairs.) hastened the end along. It has been said until that time that along with being our president the prez was a national father figure and it was hard to find out that daddy lied. For better or worse it opened our national eyes, but the quiz show scandals were a help. A harbinger of things to come that all was not as it seemed.

I agree with your premise about comedy writing. I love word play and have since I was a child. To me words have always been toys, playthings, like blocks, and trucks.

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