PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 4 No. 2

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

January 15, 2001

Sorry I'm Late, Again

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

  • Marlow's 20th
  • Marlow Leaves
  • More about 2001
  • Starship Regulars
  • Linda Chavez' Story: Insult to our Intelligence?
  • A Touching Tribute

Computer Industry News

  • What The Heck is Ginger?

Web Site of the Week

  • Mapblast


  • Drinking humor
  • Short Dumb Political Joke


  • Traffic


  • More On Time Travel

General News

Marlow's 20th

Marlow, our older daughter, was home from school last week and turned 20; she left for Washington on her way back to Columbia University in the City of New York.

We began our celebration Sunday afternoon, by asking her the same questions was asked her at age 5, 10, and 15, and recording the results. We will edit together this tape (based on a British ITV series called 7-UP, which revisits its subjects every seven years). The progression of Marlow's answers has been interesting over the years. While all the British kids knew whether they'd go to college or not and which college, by the time they were 7, Marlow didn't even know she was headed for Columbia when she was 15.

The Sunday night we had dinner at Tommy Toy's, a very fancy Chinese/French restaurant in the heart of the financial district on Montgomery street. Coat and tie required for me, that's how fancy. $80 per head for the fixed price five-course "specialty of the house" tasting menu, which, if you go, I recommend.

Then we made her breakfast on Thursday.

Next year, on the occasion of her 21st birthday, we'll open a bottle from the case of birth wine that Clark Smith laid down for her in 1982; California and French reds and whites which Clark assured me would last for 21 years. Most of that time the wines (along with Rae's case of birth wine) have been stored in the climate-controlled wine cellar of my friend and colleague Ross Smith. I hope I can talk Marlow out of a thank-you glass for Ross. We'll let you know how it all turns out next year.

Marlow Leaves

She's gone back to school, and thus we continue the ongoing, real-time experiment in which we attempt to discover which hurts more: pulling the bandage off suddenly or gradually. Or, in this case, a slow departure of a beloved child from home or a rapid one. We may not see her here in Orinda again for a year, if she follows her plan to attend summer school and spend the fall in Europe.

Thank God we still have Rae in our lives, but in two and a half years she, too, will jump on the college train, and what will become of us then?

More about 2001

Alert readers will have noted that I had a wussy little item here about how 2001 is not really much like 2001. A columnist at Interactive Week did a much better job with the topic, in an article entitled, Whither The Tech Odyssey?

For me, the nut graf of his column was:

Yet, there remains a place for the kind of collective seeding of new technologies that only government spending can produce. The fact is, the wealth of General Electric, General Motors, IBM and Microsoft combined couldn't get a manned mission to Mars. A fraction of our projected national surplus could. Along the way, it would help finance more exotic research in computer science than private enterprise has the money or motivation to undertake, and it would add a small safety net to a volatile part of the economy.

This reminded me of some previous conversations I'd had with Dr. Jerry Pournelle, a friend, colleague and aerospace engineer, about how we're closer to manned space exploration on the moon and Mars than most people realize. Here's his response, which shows, again, that it's a matter of will and money:

1. I could get a Moon Colony established for $10 billion. USAF could do it for 20. NASA has said they need $80 and one suspects they can't do it at all.
A Moon Colony does 2 things: to build we would have to develop reusable spaceships, and that would mean fairly low cost to orbit (on the order of the price of a First Class airline ticket from DC to Sydney) on a regular basis. (About 5 times that for a ticket to the Moon). Second we would learn enough about the space environment to have a chance of sending a Mars expedition that worked. Right now the human factors are a bigger problem than anything else;
2. I could probably do Mars Colony for under $50 billion but I probably would not live to see it finished.
3. Why me? The people who know how to do it would work for me. Many will not work for each other. It's the way of the world. And it takes parallel approaches and competition.
4. Why not immediately? Because first we have to rebuild the teams that know how to do anything. They have all been broken up. See my web site. When I was 30 I had been in charge of projects bigger than some engineers manage in their lifetimes, and I wasn't all that unusual. Now they just don't let junior people have some money and resources to go solve a problem, and we don't have people who have DONE it.

It saddens me that we have lost our national will on this subject. To repeat Jerry Pournelle's well-turned phrase, I am honored to have lived to see man's first landing on the moon and chagrined to think I might have lived to see his last.

Starship Regulars

I must share two finds; Icebox in general and Starship Regulars in particular. Most of the material on this site is rated R, and it consists largely of smutty innuendo, but its funny, clever animation. If you like you entendres doubled and your entertainment animated, check it out.

Here's the promo for Starship Regulars:

As anyone can tell you, it takes more than one season of shows to travel though a universe as big as ours. Which is precisely why we're proud to bring you all new episodes of Starship Regulars, starting today on Icebox!
What intergalactic dangers face the crew of the Battleship Integrity? What kinds of bizarre alien life forms will they encounter? What responsibilities will Tycho and Wilson weasel out of? To find out, beam directly to Episode 6, "Galien Nation."

Linda Chavez' Story: Insult To Our Intelligence

Thank you Dan Grobstein, for pointing to this great column, which sums up many of the incoherent thoughts I've had in recent weeks.

Insulting Our Intelligence

By Debra Dickerson
Friday, January 12, 2001; Page A25

Let's see if I've got this right: We're supposed to believe that the high-living Rev. Al Sharpton has little in the way of assets or income with which to pay the $65,000 judgment he owes the man he defamed, even less ability to raise it. Clarence Thomas, a Yale law grad, appeals court judge and believer in natural law, never thought about abortion before his confirmation hearings. College boy Clinton didn't inhale. And now, that a nominee for labor secretary who generously harbored and paid a beleaguered illegal immigrant actually believes she was forced to withdraw her candidacy because of mere partisan bloodlust. What next? That every vote counts?

A Touching Tribute

Richard Dalton introduced me to Dana Atchley several years ago. He forwarded this lovely note by Atchley's wife, with the notation, "Sad news. I hope I can earn half the caring and devotion shown in this letter in my own life.

This is Denise Atchley, writing to tell our friends in the Digital Storytelling community about the death of my husband and partner - the love of my life, Dana Atchley.
his daughters Megan, Gillian and I were at his side, telling him of our endless love and indescribable gratitude for having him in our lives. We attribute much of our own personal growth to the lessons and love he gave to us. I found my true soulmate in Dana, he has the most beautiful spirit of any human being I have ever known. I am grateful for the time I had with him, but believe it was unfairly short, we still had much to do.
Dana believed so strongly in the power of love, art, music, stories and family. If we carry these important things with us, not only in our hearts but in our daily doings, it will keep his spirit alive. It is how he would want to be remembered.

Computer Industry News

What the Heck Is Ginger?

On Jan. 9, Dan Grobstein found this story at Later that day, Craig Reynolds sent me this from Salon, Mysterious invention subject of forthcoming book, adding:

The description at the end of Ginger inventor Dean Kamen ("inventor, physicist & snappy dresser") lacks only test pilot and brain surgeon to put him in the same league as Buckaroo Bansai.

The mystery was partially solved by this story which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on Jan. 15:

Mystery Invention Has Technologists Abuzz
Gareth Cook, Boston Globe

.It looks like one rad scooter.
...Yet buried in the files of the U.S. Patent Office are tantalizing clues to the two burning questions among inventors and venture capitalists.
The scooter patent, called simply "Transportation Vehicles and Methods," describes how Kamen and his colleagues have figured out an ingenious way to create a small, surprisingly stable, personal transportation device.
Very cool, though probably not the kind of paradigm shifter that apparently left the likes of Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos breathless after seeing the device.
But another patent, issued just last year to Kamen, describes a design for a power source known as a Stirling engine. And if Kamen has figured out a way to make a fuel-efficient, small and affordable Stirling engine -- the kind that you would need to power a scooter for less than $2,000, as he hinted in a book proposal -- then "it" really would be huge, engineers say.

Web Site of the Week


Craig Reynolds spotted this, and it is by far the coolest innovation in directions I have ever seen. I'm going to start using Mapblast!

Wow, finally something new in driving directions.

Forget Tellme's voice driven directions, Yahoo's turn-by-turn directions, or those stupid big maps that don't give you any data on the small turns. Today I stumbled on MapBlast's beta information layout for directions and I really like it. In addition to giving text step-by-step directions, it makes a diagram that is not to scale labelling all the relevant roads, showing their orientational relationships, and labelling their names and the distances to go on each. In my opinion, this single graphic is more useful than every other bit of information you can get from any source. It looks like something straight from the mind of Tufte.
To try for yourself, go to MapBlast, get your directions the usual way, then click on the big button labeled "Try our new directions". It's really nice to see one of the myriad of navigation sites actually doing some intelligent legwork to improve the final product.

Bonus Site:

Daniel Dern found a site with detailed instructions on how to change the programming of your singing fish!


Drinking Humor

Drink, Drank, Drunk dedicated to my Aunty Freeze...
The problem with some people is that when they aren't drunk, they're sober.
--William Butler Yeats
An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his friends.
--Ernest Hemingway
Drunk is feeling sophisticated when you can't say it.
Abstainer: a weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure.
--Ambrose Bierce
Reality is an illusion that occurs due to lack of alcohol.
I never drink anything stronger than gin before breakfast.
Work is the curse of the drinking classes.
--Oscar Wilde
I'd rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy.
--Tom Waits
When we drink, we get drunk. When we get drunk, we fall asleep. When we fall asleep, we commit no sin. When we commit no sin, we go to heaven. Sooooo, let's all get drunk, and go to heaven....
--Brian O'Rourke
He was a wise man who invented beer.
If you ever reach total enlightenment while drinking beer, I bet it makes beer shoot out your nose.
--Deep Thought, Jack Handy
The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind.
--Humphrey Bogart
Why is American beer served cold? So you can tell it from urine.
--David Moulton
Give me a woman who loves beer and I will conquer the world.
--Kaiser Wilhelm
I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer.
--Homer Simpson
I drink to make other people interesting.
--George Jean Nathan

Short, Dumb Political Joke

Bush wins the election. He and Cheney are having lunch at a diner near the White House. Cheney orders the "Heart-Healthy" salad.

Bush leans over to the waitress and says "Honey, could I have a quickie?"

She's horrified!

She says, "Mr. President Elect, I thought your administration would bring a new era of moral rectitude to the White House. Now I see I was wrong and I'm sorry I voted for you," and she marches off.

Cheney leans over and quietly says, "George, I think it's pronounced 'QUICHE.' "



You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database.

You know what? I really thought Steven Soderbergh was going to be the Orson Welles of the 21st century, with his brilliant start (sex, lies and videotape in the case of Soderbergh) to be followed by a string of artsy flops and gradual radioactivity followed by a second career of card trick appearances on talk shows and Perrier commercials.

It didn't turn out that way. He's made another brilliant movie, Traffic, about drug traffic, a film which is, in its way, as brilliant as his first. Haunting, beautiful, morally ambiguous and unresolved: all the things you don't expect from big Hollywood movies. And I don't think you'll ever see Michael Douglas or Catherine Zeta-Jones act this well again, just as Andie McDowell peaked in his first film.

All the stuff you heard about it being artsy is true. Word is, Soderbergh shot the whole thing himself with a handheld camera. It looks it. And you may have heard about the scenes being different colors (yellow for the drug lord story, blue for the judge's story). I thought this would be something like The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover, the Peter Greenaway film in which there were monochromatic rooms. This takes that idea much further; the films were shot or developed through some fancy filters; the blue scenes are really blue. It is an interesting effect--I wouldn't want to see a lot more of it--and helps you keep track of the complex story line.

According to IMDB, the tagline is "No one gets away clean," and the plot summary is: "A conservative judge is appointed by the President to spearhead America's escalating war against drugs, only to discover that his teenage daughter is a heroin addict." There are two other plots: a corrupt Mexican policeman rats out his more corrupt superior, and an innocent drug lord's wife loses her innocence when he's arrested.

Raw, violent, and though-provoking. It certainly makes drug usage and drug sales look crappy. Adults only, and not a walk in the park.


More on Time Travel

Dan Grobstein, who recommended the excellent time travel novel Time on my hands (discussed in last week's column) also suggests The Jack Finney short stories. Here's what he says:

I liked these best. There is also another book called "Three by Finney" with (it has been a while) longer versions of some of these stories. I guess he was mining his work for other markets. Some of the details in the stories are also in his two time travel novels.
Time and Again is the first novel. If you are familiar with the Christopher Reeve film, "Somewhere in Time," I believe it is called, you will see familiar plot lines stolen from this book. There is even a book in the movie explaining the theory by a "Professor Finney". In "Groundhog Day" Bill Murray plays the theme to this movie when he sees Andie MacDowell enter the dance hall. [ed note: this is my favorite film, and I didn't realize what Bill was playing. Cool!]
The sequel to "Time and Again" -- "From Time to Time". This is a little more rambling and was Finney's last book.

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