PS... A Column
By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.
Feb. 12, 2001
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:
A Really Touching Novel
Seldom have I been so touched as I was by Replay, a time travel novel by Ken Grimwood recommended to me by Dan Grobstein. I admit, I have been away from speculative fiction for some time, so the genre (also know as science fiction) may have grown, matured and changed since I read it. This is as good as any I can recall.
Those of you familiar with my taste, of course will realize the basic plot, of a many reliving his life, bears a vague resemblance to my favorite film, Groundhog Day. The difference being that this novel is more than just entertainment. While it is entertaining, it is also thought provoking.
Now I will have to try to take Daniel Dern's advice:
1632, by Eric Flint, which asks the question (not really a spoiler), as a variation on the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court, "What if an entire town of, say, unionized coal miners was sent back in time?"
And Now A Few Words About Sponsors
I wrote this editorial for the two sites I edit, Byte.com and Winmag.com.
The role of advertising on content Web sites, and what it means to be ad supported.
I've been thinking about writing this column since last fall, when a number of you complained about a pop-up advertisement that seemed obnoxious. To some of you, it seemed obnoxious by its very existence. Others were upset because it popped up every time you came to the Winmag.com home page.
It was only supposed to pop up once per session; a programming glitch turned a mildly annoying advertisement into a truly irritating one. We fixed the problem as soon as it became apparent.
But it raises a larger issue, one which is very familiar to those of us in publishing, but which we like to draw to the attention of our readers now and then.
This is an advertiser-supported Web site. Without the advertising we'd have to charge you for the creation of our unique information. Even with ads, we may someday have to charge you for some of our content. (Let me hasten to add that Winmag.com currently has no plans to charge our readers in any way!)…
… you can read the rest at Byte.com.
New York, Boston And My Left Calf
I had a brief, but unusually pleasant trip to the East Coast last week. First, my apologies to the many worthies not included on the itinerary. I knew I would be short of time, and rather than disappoint you in advance, I felt it would be easier to disappoint you in retrospect. But it wouldn't really be a blog (web log) without a travelogue now and then, would it?
The very nicest part of the trip was the fact that I got to see Marlow on Tuesday night, within hours of my arrival, on Wednesday, briefly, late at night and on Thursday before leaving for Boston.
The worst part also came on Tuesday night, when I suffered a severe sprain in my left calf, sufficiently painful to send me to the St. Luke's Hospital emergency room in Manhattan, where I whiled away a lovely four hours for five minutes with the intern. She was nice enough to reassure me that I had not torn up my Achilles tendon or my knee, told me wrapping it wouldn't help, that staying off it was inadvisable, and that the best thing I could do was elevate it and take pain relievers. Which I did.
It had been, until then, such a perfect evening. Marlow and I had dinner at the Four Seasons, a first for both of us in America's most famous restaurant--where men must wear jackets, tennis shoes are prohibited and no one may wear blue jeans.
Wednesday I met with my superiors in the Manhattan office. Wednesday night at 11 p.m. (after a nap, I admit) I met Marlow at Xando, a coffee bar where they give you a grill and let you make your own 'smores at your table.
Thursday, I spent the day with my Long Island colleagues.
Please note that the terseness of the entries about my colleagues is not meant as disrespect, but simply reflects my efforts to keep this column personal, not professional.
Thursday night, at Markt, a Belgian restaurant at 14th and 9th in the heart of the meatpacking district, Marlow and I met my wife's sister, Pamela Drake, for dinner. Pamela was in town for the toy fair; she runs a toy company. It was very interesting food, and there was a picture on the wall of King Badouin and Queen Fabiola, whose visit to Connecticut I covered for UPI (and Belgian radio) in 1976.
Friday, another day with colleagues. Friday night, the 120th birthday dinner of my college newspaper, The Tech. They have finished the work I began in 1972, when I raised $5,000 to have The Tech microfilmed. They spent $30,000 of their own money (the paper is wildly profitable now) to scan all the back issues; the images, along with a full-text search engine, will be available on the Internet soon. I'll let you know.
Saturday was a delight from start to finish. I spent it with my friends Barb Moore (we've been fast friends for 29 years), her daughter Carolyn and her husband Jack Van Woerkom. Carolyn is almost 14, just two years younger than Rae. I saw her final middle-school swim meet, met her horse Chico, and saw a bit of the Weston/Sudbury/Concord countryside. A good time was had by all.
Finally, Sunday morning Richard and Linda Dalton, two of my friends of long standing (22 years), drove up from Cape Cod to join me for brunch in Boston. I was touched by their willingness to make that hour-long trek basically just to see me.
And so we come to the flight back to SF; I am writing this column on the plane. Doesn't that make it sound cooler and more exotic than usual?
MIT's Charm School
Every couple of years someone discovers the "charm school" for MIT undergraduates. This year it was the New York Times. The story concludes thusly:
Dr. Merritt said etiquette and manners have improved at MIT in recent years, perhaps in part because the university, once heavily male, is approaching an equal mix of men and women.
But the charm school may have helped, too. "Now, thanks to charm school," he said, "it's all fixed.
Let me underline that throwaway note about MIT being nearly 50-50. In the late 1960s, nearly all the Ivy and near-Ivy colleges went co-ed. Most promised to achieve gender parity. Only MIT has come close. It’s no accident--serious recruitment of women has been going on for years. If only either of my own daughters had been interested.
Computer Industry News
Making Money With Content Sites
Goodness, you must get tired of me quoting from David Strom's Web Informant, but it's so good on a regular basis. This week is no exception. Let me simply point, out, however (I hope David doesn't feel I am revealing a secret here) that David pays the outside authors whose work runs in his newsletter. He can do that, he tells me, because his newsletter is a business proposition. Mine is assuredly not, so don't get your hopes up. But do read, and learn from, this fascinating essay:
You may think the recent round of layoffs at ad-supported news and discussion Web sites shows that they are doomed to lose money unless they find new sources of revenue. Au contraire -- well-run news sites can be profitable even if banner ads are their only source of income, and many already are, including the Open Source Development Network'sSlashdot and Freshmeat sites. Here's a report from Robin Miller, editor-in-chief of OSDN.com.
Scott Blake sent me this URL, containing digital portraits of cultural icons like Jesus, Andy Warhol, and Oprah rendered using bar codes to depict the final image.
As usual, I make no warranty, express or implied, about whether this story is true or not. But it's a good story.
A Charlotte, NC, man, having purchased a box of very rare and expensive cigars, then insured them against fire among other things. Within a month, having smoked his entire stockpile of these great cigars and without yet having made even his first premium payment on the policy, the man filed a claim against the insurance company. In his claim, the man stated the cigars were lost "in a series of small fires." The insurance company refused to pay, citing the obvious reason: that the man had consumed the cigars in the normal fashion. The man sued...and won! In delivering the ruling the judge agreed with the insurance company that the claim was frivolous. The Judge stated, nevertheless, that the man held a policy from the company in which it had warranted that the cigars were insurable and also guaranteed that it would insure them against fire, without defining what is considered to be "unacceptable fire," and was thus obligated to pay the claim. Rather than endure a lengthy and costly appeal process, the insurance company accepted the ruling and paid $15,000.00 to the man for his loss of the rare cigars lost in the "fires."
NOW FOR THE BEST PART...
After the man cashed the check, the insurance company had him arrested on 24 counts of ARSON! With his own insurance claim and testimony from the previous case being used against him, the man was convicted of intentionally burning his insured property and sentenced him to 24 months in jail and a $24,000.00 fine. This is a true story and was the 1st place winner in the recent Criminal Lawyers Darwin Award Contest.
You Might Be From The Pacific Northwest If You…
I try not to run humor except for the Top 5 lists. But I didn't make the Top 5 this week, and this one comes from my brother, and since I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and Steve still lives there, and because it is both funny and true, I decided to run it.
1. Feel guilty throwing aluminum cans or paper in the trash.
Bill Murray Article
You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database.
Once again, I saw no movies this week, but you can go read this article about Bill Murray, especially if you think, as I do, that Groundhog Day is the best film ever made. Thank you, Dan Grobstein.
My J-Book Site, The Upshot of My Hacked Page, More On Power, A Compliment
Dan Rosenbaum wants to remind all of you that:
Pitchers and catchers report this week.
Mychelle Tremblay of Les Éditions Cybérie wrote to thank me for my journalism books site, to note that it got broken when I had to reload my site after it was hacked (I've fixed it) and to suggest I add some movies to my movie list, including Michael Mann's The Insider, which I didn't see, but may buy.
On that same subject, I received a lovely and touching note from Keith Colquhoun, one of the authors whose work I cite:
I'm pleased that my book Goebbels & Gladys made your list. Tell the truth, I wasn't all that keen on the title. I'd have preferred "Stories of Fleet Street", but my English publisher, John Murray, thought it was not fetching enough, and the American publisher presumably agreed. As it happened, the novel sold only a few thousand copies and went out of print, although it got good reviews. So perhaps titles don't matter one way or another. G & G. although fiction drew on my own experiences in newspapers. Most of the funny bits have a background of truth. I have had eight novels published and expect to have a ninth,Killing Stalin out this year. But my day job is with the Economist, where I write about Asian affairs among other things. All best for your interesting site.
Since Keith wrote one book I rather enjoyed, I am going to take a flyer on his next one when it is out. I'll let you know.
Several of you expressed interest and concern that my home page has been hacked twice. One of the reasons I use a local ISP is that I feel I get good response. This message came from technical support last week:
We spent the majority of the day yesterday researching the methods this person may be using to gain access to the server. It boils down to an exploit in Microsoft Frontpage extensions on the server. We have made some upgrades to the server and are in the process of rebuilding a completely new machine with increased security on it. It appears to be an undocumented and un-fixed bug in Frontpage that they're using. This makes it very difficult for us to repair, so we've had to use some alternative methods to block them. Obviously we are concerned about these events and are doing everything possible to stop them. We are also keeping full logs of all these activities and have sent them to the FBI for investigation.
He also told me the attack came from Russia.
Craig Reynolds adds a note to our ongoing power coverage:
This article in the Chronicle lays a lot of blame for the energy crisis at the governor's feet. He recently took a reasonable step, seeking long term contracts to avoid the spot market, but apparently the utilities, PUC and US DOE had been urging exactly that approach for the last six months.
Craig also found a Super Bowl Ad criticism site, which Peggy Coquet brought to my attention, along with some praise and comment:
First, flattery -- it's nearly always a pleasure to read your stuff! (I would have left out the "nearly," but I didn't want to appear too effusive.)
I think your California power conspiracy article from Pioneer Planet is too tame. We here in tree-hugger land are fairly sure that this was orchestrated so that Bush would open up the Alaska oil reserves, in spite of them being in a protected wilderness area. Once a prohibition is breached, it's easier to breach again ... and again. All that precious Alaska oil going unused? About one year's worth here in the US, from what I read. (And just for the record ... I will entertain almost any conspiracy theory where Republican electoral politics are concerned.)
I loved the piece from Jon Carroll. I think that endless curiosity is what makes a good interviewer. Do you also have trouble getting people to stop telling you their life stories?
Still on the subject of the Super Bowl, Miriam H. Nadel had this comment about my ridicule of Accenture:
The "greater sign" above the "t" in Accenture may be silly, but it isn't that weird to put diacritical marks above consonants. Or don't the tildas above "n"s in Spanish count?
The correct name for that mark is a "caret" by the way. A useful trick for understanding French words with a caret over a vowel is to mentally insert an "s" after the vowel. About 90% of the time (my guess, not at all validated) that turns it into a close enough English word.
In computer circles, I think we call them tilde rather than tilda, but that's probably a single/plural thing.
Turning back to power for a moment, my anonymous correspondent, in reference to my remarks about California power bonds last week, asks:
If the 300 million people to whom you are referring are all inhabitants of the United States, since when has the United States Government stopped taxing interest on its own bonds? There has been a ban in place since the eighteenth century on the USG taxing interest on the obligations of the states (although since there was typically no income tax until the early 20th century, the ban had little practical effect for a long time).
Perhaps he is confused from years of living in the District of Columbia. Perhaps he is not the only one. In any case, my comment was that California bond interest is taxable to citizens of other states. Only for Californians is it "double tax free," that is, subject to neither state nor federal tax.
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