PS... A Column
By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.
March 13, 2000
Marlow's Return: A Pleasure
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:
Most pleasures in life are adulterated. Chocolate is fattening. Watching movies and television turns you into a passive zombie. Sitting around undermines your physical fitness. Sex---don't get me started.
On the short list of unadulterated pleasures, at least in my family, is the return of your college-age child for a visit home. It is Spring Break at Columbia University in the City of New York and our first year student, Marlow, along with her friends Hilary and Sam, who are also from our town, are bringing some friends home for a week of suburban and urban frolic.
We've already been warned we won't be seeing much of her, but something is better than nothing, and I'm quite excited by the whole prospect. Plus, there's the forthcoming trip to Washington and New York being planned by Rae and me for the week of April 3.
She is a joy to have around and makes everyone around her happier than they were before (most of the time). I will celebrate her while she is here, and miss her when she goes back. As you can see below, in the letters department, she isn't exactly suffering in Manhattan.
Change is Good
I was pulling some pliers out of my tool box this morning when I ran across my chip puller. This is a very simple device, basically a springy bent piece of metal, which can be used to pull memory or CPU chips from their sockets. If you attempt this maneuver unaided, or with a screwdriver, you will quite often bend the little leads, destroying the (sometimes quite expensive) device you are working on.
I was taken aback when I saw it because I realized that from about 1979 to 1990, a month didn't go by when I didn't use the chip puller, and that in the last decade I don't think I've used it once a year. Things change. I am no longer a computer hobbyist, just a computer user.
In 1980, I wrote both a word processor and a communications program for the Exidy Sorcerer personal computer in Z80 machine code (with a LOT of help and some code borrowed from John Taylor--thank you John!). From 1985 to 1990, I wrote all the database software for the InformationWEEK 100 (then 500). I also wrote the code for the Information Week topical index, in dBase II, then dBase III, then Superbase, then Approach. Every iteration, by the way, was based on the original schema Craig Reynolds and I created for the TTIIPP in 1973--which Craig programmed in Honeywell Multics). I haven't written a line of code in a decade, and I seldom even write macros anymore (after Word 95, I ceased to understand the macro langauge); now I just record them.
When I started in my current job, there were 60 people in my division, 20 at my location. Friday there were 20 total, three at my location, although a fourth starts Monday.
Thursday was the last day at work for my colleague Kerri McCarthy. She went to Quokka, the sports site. I had to ask her how long she's been here. It seemed like a decade. It was really about 14 months. Of course, we're in an Internet division, so we're running on Internet time. Internet time is like dog years, seven for one. So I've known Kerri for a little more than eight years. I'll miss her. She was a good person, fun to work with, competent, with a sense of humor and a level head. She'll be a real success in this racket.
That also means my 32 months in the Internet division work out to be almost 18 years--equal to the period 1979-1997 that I worked on the paper side of the company.
There is a cup in our nearly empty office, filled with pennies, beneath a sign that says "Change is Good." It has been painful to watch as my colleagues have left, one by one, without being replaced. Now, however, we're preparing to go public, and the consultants say we need momentum on both the page view and revenue sides, so, for the nonce, I'll be experiencing the joy of new arrivals, bringing new ideas and new energy to the place. Life really is a great mandella (wheel).
But you'll never convince me change is good.
5, 10 and 15
Stop me if you've heard this one before. In 1986, Vicki and I saw a documentary called "28-Up," by British ITV, which featured footage of the same group of two dozen children who were interviewed at ages 7, 14, 21 and 28. The documentarian wanted to (and did) prove that the British class system is so rigid that virtually every seven-year-old knows exactly what will become of him for the rest of his life.
We were so taken with this that we started our own program of Five-Up. Marlow was 5 at the time, and Rae was just two. So was asked Marlow a set of questions at the age of five and videotaped her answers. We asked her the same questions at the ages of 10 and 15; waiting on her bedside table when she comes home is her 5,10,15 tape. For a variety of reasons, we only finished editing the tape last month (Marlow is now 19--her next interview should be done next year when she's home for Christmas). We also just finished Rae's 5,10, 15 tape.
These tapes are a delightful document for several reasons. First of all, try as you might, you cannot hold in your mind a clear picture of what the girls were like when they were younger. This enables you to make that comparison. Also, most home videos show people in 5 and 10 second clips. This lets us look at the five-year-old or 10-year-old Marlow for one and two minutes at a time, in closeup, while she looks straight at the camera. Ditto Rae. A very pleasant and unusual experience. Finally, you get to see how their answers evolve over time, and that's quite a hoot as well.
I don't think many of you have young children, and in fact some of you have grandchildren. It's a tradition worth suggesting.
Most Moguls Still Don't Get It
Thanks to Jerry Pournelle for leading me to Dana Blankenhorn's web column and email newsletter a-clue.com (as in get a clue). Here is an excerpt from the March 13, 2000 column, Most Moguls Still Don't Get It. This is some of the most intelligent analysis I've ever seen on the future of the relationship between content creators and content distributors. Let me say, however, that I still think there will be a place for impresarios who own the hall, handle the publicity, and book the talent (in cyberspace: run the server, hire the HTML codes, pay for marketing and hire the freelancers). Talent doesn't like to handle the grubby details. Talent never has. Talent never will.
This is especially true on the Web, where the bottlenecks are not where people expected they would be. The bottleneck isn't traffic, or bandwidth, or storage, or money. The bottleneck is talent…
Newspapers will never be able to keep talented writers slaving at low wages because they own the city's biggest printing presses. Any server is a printing press, and talent (like the customer) will have its way. The power of brand is now the power of a relationship, the relationship being the one between the producer and consumer.
Ironically this became obvious decades ago… in the sports industry. Leagues like the NBA now routinely guarantee players half their gross. In the movie industry deals based on percentages, of net profits or gross revenues, are common for the directors, stars, and even writers. This is what will happen in the music industry and (eventually) in journalism. Those who give talent the best deals will win. The day of a musician taking 15% of his record and selling control of his music to a mogul are over.
Milk those cows, or else.
The Top 14 Good Things About Having a Navel
I made No. 6 on this list from March 7, 2000
14> Save enough lint -- knit a festive holiday sweater!www.topfive.com ]
[ Copyright 2000 by Chris White ]
Selected from 154 submissions from 55 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Kevin Wickart, Normal, IL -- 1 (5th #1)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 6
The Top 16 Signs Your Cat is Getting Old
On March 9, I made No. 4 on the list:
16> Goes from 22 hours of happy-go-lucky, kittenish sleep per day to 21 hours of restless, fitful sleep per day.www.topfive.com ]
[ Copyright 2000 by Chris White ]
Selected from 166 submissions from 59 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Scott Sistek, Seattle, WA -- 1 (6th #1)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 4
Boys Don't Cry
You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database.
It's about cheap people leading cheap lives in cheap homes. I went because Hilary Swank won a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for playing Brandon, the sexually confused girl at the center of the film. Also, Chloë Sevigny (his/her girlfriend Lana) got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination and got a Golden Globes nomination (but lost there). The film has won a bundle of awards.
It's an ugly story about prejudice against Brandon, a girl pretending to be a boy in Nebraska. It's based on a true story, which I remember reading about in The New Yorker. As usual, the question in such cases is, "how could you not notice during sex," a question which the movie actually attempts to answer visually, but mostly psychologically.
I think the film comes close to imparting a sense of the awfulness of gender confusion. I've known two men who had sex changes. One of them I knew quite well as a guy. I have never met, before or since, anyone who was unhappier with the sexual hand nature dealt them. She's about a million percent happier and better adjusted as a woman. Same probably would have been true if Brandon could have afforded the operation.
I'll say this, you don't often get this close a look at America's trailer-park-dwelling underclass. The film, accurately I think, depicts the bad decisions and bad luck that put people on the bottom and keep them there. Some of the bad decisions stem from bad education, bad judgment, or lack of money. Some stem from all three. In any case, you watch in awe as they follow the inevitable logic of their station in life--straight into disaster. It's like a very good friend of mine, of whom it has been said, "he'll lie when it would be easier to tell the truth." In this case, Brandon will screw up when it would have been easier to do it right.
No child under 21 should see this film, and adults should only see it if they're interested in issues of gender identity or insist, as I do, on seeing the Oscar-nominated performances.
Mission to Mars
You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database.
Jim & John Thomas wrote the story and the screenplay, with the help of Lowell Cannon (story) and Graham Yost (screenplay). And there's lots of story here. I found some of the plot twists unusually interesting and clever.
Be forewarned, however, the reviews have been scorching. The San Francisco Chronicle called in "metaphysical mumbo-jumbo." I just read through the user comments at the Internet Movie Database, and they range from tepid to vicious.
Well, for what it's worth, here's my opinion. The special effects were very well executed. The character development was minimal, but this is frequently a flaw in science fiction. I mean, George Lucas isn't exactly Tolstoy, yet many of us manage to enjoy StarWars.
Mission to Mars would be called a "juvenile" if it were a novel, which is to say no sex and no swearing. Frankly, I like that in my movies.
It dragged a little in places, especially at the barbecue scene that opens the film and handles all the exposition. I'll say this--exposition is the hardest thing to do in all of literature and dramaturgy, and I don't plan on taking lessons from these guys when my time comes to try my hand at fiction.
It ain't 2001. Heck, it isn't even Phantom Menace. But it's several orders of magnitude better than, just to take one example, Pitch Black. Brian De Palma is a first class director who scatters many directorly touches throughout the film, including several of his patented five-minute, no-cut pan shots. This may not be art, but it is entertaining craftsmanship. Although IMDB does not list the running time, I think it is just about two hours. The film could be 10 or 20 minutes shorter, but it isn't terrible.
I know some of you who read this column take your science fiction quite seriously, so I will certainly make available equal space for opposing (or agreeing) viewpoints. Well, not equal space, but at least some. After all, it's my column!
Breakfast at Tiffany's
Got this note from Marlow on the occasion of her first day of Spring Break at Columbia University In The City of New York. As I read it, I wondered why I was never clever enough to dream up something like "pretend we're rich day." I mean, at MIT we dreamed up things like, "can you set foot on all NYC subway station platforms within 24 hours (it was doable in 1970, but difficult). Anyway, Rae assures me that Audrey Hepburn's breakfast at Tiffany's consisted of buying food and eating it in front of the windows (I've never seen the movie), and that's apparently just what Marlow did.
I had to get up at a decent time to take a shower and dress nice for a "let's pretend we're filthy rich" day with Ryan. We started by going down to Nussbaum and Wu and buying croissants. Then we caught a cab downtown and had Breakfast at Tiffanys! We looked at the displays and then went inside so Ryan could price baby cups for his parents' friends' kid. We wandered around the store and chose all the things we would buy for ourselves and each other depending on who made the first million.
Then we wandered around because we had several hours to kill until our lunch reservations. I ended up buying a purse at Nine West because the one I had before was too ridiculously small. We also went to Bergdorf & Goodman. It was a very posh department store. We also went to Godiva and bought a dozen truffles. We split six champagne and six cognac, but we didn't finish 'em.
Since we were in the neighborhood we stopped by MOMA. However, instead of being free as it was supposed to be, since we didn't have updated stickers on our cards it ended up costing ten bucks each. ouch. That sucked. But it was a fun use of our last hour and a half. We looked at a picture exhibit and the impressionish paintings. There's going to be a Man Ray exhibit there, but not for another week, so they just got my hopes up with the posters.
Finally it was time for lunch at the Russian Tea room. Mmmm, red leather booths. We were in the downstairs "lesser" dining room, but it was still a nice experience. Although our waiter was a little simpering and by the time we got to dessert it was obvious they were clearing out for a break before the dinner crowd arrived. I had a mixed green salad that restored my faith in the existence of actual good vegetables on this coast and then I had the Chicken Kiev. Ryan had some caviar and some fish thing and we shared a couple bottles of Pelegrino. We had fresh fruit and fraise sorbet for dessert with our tea. I really just don't want to eat again because I don't think anything can live up to my new higher standards. I really do need to become fabulously wealthy when I grow up so I can do this on a regular basis.
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