PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 4 No. 12

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

March 26, 2001

One Tough Week

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.

Some Material in this column comes from anonymous incoming e-mail; such material is usually reproduced in the Arial (Sans Serif) type font to distinguish it from the original material

Table of Contents:

General News

  • One Tough Week
  • How'd We Turn Out Like That?
  • A Great Tom Lehrer Profile
  • Profile in Courage
  • I Hope I Don't Forget

Computer Industry News

  • Rexall's rotten eCommerce example
  • Craig Rules!

Web Site of the Week

    • All Your Base Are Belong To Us


  • The Top 12 Provisions in Michael Jackson's
    "Children's Bill of Rights"


  • Men of Honor


  • Eurostar Redux

General News

One Tough Week

Something happened this week that hasn't happened in the whole 17 months I been doing this column/blog. Someone in the real world actually made a pointed reference to it. I was having lunch with my boss on Thursday, and he said, "I wonder how you're going to handle all this in your column." I don't think he reads it as a rule, although he may read it this week, since he's gone from managing a large staff to managing a much smaller one.

Since Day 1 in this column, I have walked a very fine line between the personal and professional. For the first year or so, I don't think I mentioned my job more than once or twice: too many traps and pitfalls. The column is mostly about me and my opinions, secondarily about my family, and thirdly about the opinions and writing of my friends. In fact, if not for the impeachment of Bill Clinton, this column might never have come into existence.

But the second reason I started it is that I missed writing. I used to write for a living, but that really hasn't been true since late 1996. I found I needed an outlet.

Anyway, last Monday I hid out in the corporate attorney's offices until the announcement at 1 p.m., since my presence in New York would tip the fact that the news was dire. I arrived just after the division president started talking. Once my staff saw me, their faces fell; they knew for certain, about 10 minutes before their colleagues, that their jobs were gone.

I felt awful. I felt angry that the operations were closed and the people laid off. As is almost always the case in a layoff, these were good people doing a good job whose losses were the result of forces beyond their control. That just never seems fair, no matter how often you see capitalism in action. The fact that, for the fourth time in my 20 years at this company, I had survived a layoff while ,those around me did not only reinforced my sense of survivor guilt. As soon as the meeting was over, I had to do dozens of things simultaneously. I had to reach out to the small handful of people the company wanted to keep and reassure them. I had to help those who were laid off try to find jobs elsewhere in the company (a sad game of musical chairs with too many players and no enough chairs). And I had to begin, in a rudimentary way, the planning for the new, slimmed-down version of our operations. I had long to-do and phone lists, and some days I didn't get to everything.

I felt it was important to get my gratitude on the record. Here is the note I sent to my staff on Tuesday, edited to eliminate some company specific references.

You are a good person. You are the same good person you were yesterday morning. No corporate decision to terminate your job or your access to the web server can terminate your talent, your ability, or your personality.
Please remember, this was not about you… It was an economic decision, not a personal decision.
As you go out to make first-class career, hold your head up high, and tell people proudly, as I will, that you were part of the … team. Of the 18 jobs I have had since college (13 of them inside [this company]), this is the one of which I will always be most proud, because my team was the most talented, the most successful (judged by any terms save economics) and the most harmonious (YES! believe it or not!)--the one in which the team members took the best care of each other. If I never manage a large group again, I have known the joy of coordinating a great team.
I have loved every minute of this job, and I like and respect each and every one of you, professionally and personally. I will do everything in my power to help you land on your feet, but remember, I'll just be helping. You'll land on your feet on your own, because you're good, talented human beings. God bless you, good luck, stay in touch.
Warmest personal regards,
Paul E. Schindler Jr., for the last time, signing off, proudly, as

It was a long hard week, with many moments of sadness and a few of joy (as some people found new jobs and others celebrated their new freedom). It was neither as bad as I had feared nor as good as I had hoped. It was capitalism, red in tooth and claw, engaging in its endless cycle of destruction and renewal. If I can create a metaphor based on lots of things people have said to me this week, layoffs are like forest fires, clearing out the duff on the forest floor of people's lives, allowing the new growth the air and sunlight they need. Most people find their lives improve after layoffs. I hope that is true for my former staff, whom I wish Godspeed, whether they read this column or not.

I want to end on a lighter note. When my friend Richard Dalton heard what had happened, he wrote:

As a friend used to say, "This industry has more ups and downs than a bride's nightgown." Pithy but not very PC.

How'd We Turn Out Like That?

After reading about my brother Steve last week, Joe Brancatelli wrote:

Write more about you and your brother. There's an obviously wonderful mine of material there. As you yourself say, you guys lead separate lives. How did you get there? Why did you get there?

Before I get into that, I'll remind you that Steve and I golfed last Saturday. Kevin Sullivan commented:

Glad to see you're out on the links. There is truth in the game.

Kevin's right about that. I played golf religiously (which is to say, every Sunday morning) from age 12 to 18. I took lessons. I practiced. I played with my father and brother. And I got the same score the last day I golfed that I got the first day--about 65 strokes on 9 holes, and that is generous scoring. Only when I came back to the game, decades later, as an adult who had long stopped caring, did my game improve. I can't tell you what I scored when I played with Steve on Saturday, because I no longer chase balls in the rough. That raises the price of my game (it takes me a dozen balls to play 18 holes), but it keeps things moving along and allows me to enjoy the game more. But I can tell you I enjoyed our time on the links more than any game I ever played as a young man at Rose City (our home course).

Now to Joe's question. I have often wondered how I ended up a college-graduate journalist, one marriage, upper middle class, brie and Chablis and my favorite game is tennis, while my brother, only 18 months younger, ended up a (now-retired) career Navy man, a high school graduate, on his second marriage, working class. (He is now, in his 40s, going back to get a college degree).

A certain amount of the difference between Steve and me was pure, dumb luck. For example, I was engaged to be married twice before I married Vicki. I could, but for the grace of God, be on my third marriage right now instead of my first.

Some of it was, apparently, genetic. Right from the start, Steve loved sports--all sports. I loved academics, all academics. Steve was a star Little League pitcher and a natural golfer, among many other sports accomplishments. He also had the voice of an angel, and sang in both a rock band and our high school's elite choral group, The Benson Ambassadors. I was denied these means of expression. So, I caddied for the grade school golf team and managed the grade school softball team. I can't carry a tune in a bucket, so I stayed away from public displays of my lack of talent along that vector.

And yet… I am reworking a memoir I wrote in 1985 (to bring it up to date, among other things). I notice that every reference to Steve from birth in 1952 to my departure for college in 1970, is about "Steve and me," which reminds me that we were really joined at the hip in our youth. We were close. We spent a lot of time together. We enjoyed each other's company then, and we still do. We just aren't in the same place very often, and don't gravitate towards the same activities. For example, Steve (who lives in Oak Harbor, Wash.) plays golf regularly--I play no more than once a year, and often less. We both bowled in grade school. I stopped bowling, he didn't.

From the time I was 12, I knew I wanted to go to MIT or CalTech (Admitted to both, I ended up at MIT). Steve's passion was to play sports and sing, neither of which required a college degree. So I spent hours a day on my homework and excelled. He spent much less time, and merely did well.

I left for Massachusetts in 1970. Steve stayed in Portland until he joined the Navy. I met and was socialized by a cosmopolitan group of people from all over the country and learned to play squash, tennis and racquetball. Steve's cohort consisted of people much like those we grew up with in our working-class neighborhood. I remain the only male in our family ever to graduate from college.

We come from the same stock and we shared an upbringing. But we made different choices about our lives and had different luck, so we ended up in different professions, in different places, with different tastes. Nature versus nurture.

A Great Tom Lehrer Profile

I have been a Tom Lehrer fan since college. He's a musical genius. The UPI Alumni mailing list produced this note last week:

S.F. Weekly (alternative type paper) had a long article on Tom Lehrer about a year ago. He's now a prof at University of California/Santa Cruz (best known its surfing and for not having grades, if i remember correctly). The article (which is really good, despite the fact its lead anecdote appears to be not about Tom Lehrer at all.

I should note that Lehrer taught mathematics in the MIT Political Science Department while I was an undergraduate. My friend Cathy Buckley took the course, and invited him to dinner at our living group. He was funny, witty and entertaining, and we were too polite to ask him to sing, an oversight I now regret. He told us he stopped writing because nothing seemed funny anymore.

The story that Lehrer stopped because of pressure from the Werner Von Braun family over a parody that mocked the expatriate scientist from Hitler's rocket program has been authoritatively debunked.

Profile In Courage

Sometimes, instead of just implementing a corporate directive to lay people off, someone protests. Sometimes, it even works. Both these stories are from the NY Times, which I happened to be reading last week. Note that you have to register to read Times stories, but that registration is free. However, they also time out their archives and charge for access, so read these stories sooner, rather than later, if you're interested.

First a publisher resigns:

Date: March 20, 2001
Newspaper Publisher Quits Over Profit Goals
Jay T. Harris, the chairman and publisher of The San Jose Mercury News, quit his posts and warned his corporate bosses at Knight Ridder that their profit targets for the financially squeezed newspaper risk "significant and lasting harm to the Mercury News as a journalistic enterprise."

then officials say, "no, really, no layoffs."

Date: March 21, 2001
Executives Signal No Layoffs in San Jose Paper's Newsroom
Two top managers at The San Jose Mercury News signaled that they could make necessary cutbacks without laying off employees.

I Hope I Don't Forget

My friend David Sims wrote this. I suggest you check out the original, which comes with pictures. But I print it here because I think it is great. I have thought this a million times as a father and never put it into words.

I hope I don't forget
how you marched straight up that hill
on that hot, spring day,
a half mile or so
to the place where the ground levels out.
Up there, I showed you where the bullfrogs live
and we laughed at their squeaks as they
splashed away from our prodding sticks.
Coming down,
I asked for your hand,
but you said no,
and wouldn't even slow down
till you slipped
and landed hard on your bottom.
That's when I picked you up
and hugged you.
While you cried,
two mountain bikers rolled past, smiling.
I hope I don't forget.

Computer Industry News

Rexall's rotten eCommerce example

God, I wish I could reach David Strom's consistent level of quality each week. In his latest Web Informant Internet column, he concludes:

It is a shame that Rexall is doing this, because this could sour many people's initial experience with eCommerce, let alone get them into deep financial trouble. It is also yet another indication that eCommerce has gone mainstream. With opportunities such as Rexall's, people can quickly lose money fast over the Internet. Rexall has a rotten idea, and I hope others realize it for what it is. And I wish that there were someway to prevent companies from joining MLMs [multi-level marketing organizations] and affiliate programs, because the two combined are nothing but trouble.

Craig Rules

Check This Out. If you go after March 30, look for the March 23 page using search by date on the upper left side of the page. If you click on the third icon, you'll find it refers to Craig Reynolds, my friend and MIT classmate, and his work on computer graphics representation of flocking behavior.

Golan Levin is Guest Editing today (23/03/01) on he has picked you as one of his 12 inspirations and your work is posted on the front page...go see what he says.
Freshfroot is kind of like a visual search + resource engine aimed at anyone working or playing in Art/design. Each day there is a new theme and for that theme 12 items that have been harvested from a round the web..we look for the more tangential pieces that can get lost in the sludge of the web -we take a good look, chew them over, spit them out and offer them to the audience on a plate.

With a fascinating interface that is a bit opaque for linear old me. In fact, I've never seen anything quite like this interface.

Web Site of the Week

All Your Base Are Belong To Us

Dave Sims is by far the coolest web surfer I know, and he sent me this URL. It will make a little more sense (but only a little) if you read this first.


The Top 12 Provisions in Michael Jackson's
"Children's Bill of Rights"

I relentlessly continue to submit Macarena items to the list; Chris White, the moderator, continues to ignore them. However, I came in at No. 2 on this list, my highest finish in months. Still, it's an honor just to be a contributor. Just ask Pat Sajak (yes, THAT Pat Sajak).

March 20, 2001


"King of Pop" Michael Jackson recently proposed a "Children's Bill of Rights," claiming he wants to "recreate the parent-child bond, renew its promise, and light the way forward for all the beautiful children who are destined one day to walk this earth."

Uh... sure, Mike. We're with ya, dude.

The Top 12 Provisions in Michael Jackson's "Children's Bill of Rights"

12> The right to bare arms. And bare legs. And taut, young buttocks. And...
11> Every child has the right, regardless of race or national origin, to grow up to be a rich, white eccentric.
10> All kids should be exposed to fine imported and microbrew beers. Wait -- which Michael Jackson are we talking about here?
9> The right to make a hideous face and have it freeze that way, through the miracle of plastic surgery.
8> An oxygen sleep chamber in every home, a llama in every yard.
7> No child should be intimidated by predatory adults who try to force them to do something they don't want to do, such as decline the generous settlement offer and drag the whole thing out through a long and messy public trial.
6> Children have the right to participate in wholesome activities such as riding bikes, playing musical instruments, and collecting skeletal remains.
5> Crying like a pantywaist is mandatory.
4> All newly potty-trained youngsters are granted the honorific "The King of Plop."
3> Every child must serve a mandatory six months in the Neverland Tickle-Fight Brigade.
2> Kids have the right. Michael takes the left side.
and's Number 1 Provision in Michael Jackson's "Children's Bill of Rights"...
1> Prosthetics and physical therapy for unfortunate children who cannot moonwalk.
[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2001 by Chris White ]
Selected from 92 submissions from 35 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Wade Kwon, Birmingham, AL -- 1, 8 (13th #1)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 2


Men of Honor

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

For the second week in a row, I'm going to talk about a film you can't (I don't think) see in a theater; Men of Honor. I saw it on an airplane on my way back from New York to California, so I don't know exactly what the theatrical version is like. I mean, I can tell there are a few F-words that got substituted out (and I still think there'd be a market for home buyers of airline versions of movies), but if there was a sex scene cut it was really gratuitous.

Actually, I doubt there was sex. Bill Cosby was an executive producer of this film, so it is mostly about uplift. About a black son living up to his father's high expectation and overcoming racism to become the first black salvage diver in the U.S. Navy. Cuba Gooding Jr. turns in yet another performance filled with controlled anger and great dignity, leavened with a few light moments and a touch of romance. And Robert DeNiro--well, if he's not careful, he's going to end up with a lifetime achievement award from someone.



Eurostar Redux, Sullivan on Ps and Qs

Two of the funniest, cleverest people I know, Joe Brancatelli and Larry King, are both excellent writers with a droll sense of humor, a great deal of wit, a first-class vocabulary and a way with anecdote. Larry King wrote a commentary for me last week on Eurostar. Joe read it, and offered a response. I sent his letter to Larry, who riposted. Their complete exchange would double the length of this column, but I highly recommend it. Here are excerpts from both sides, starting with Joe:

What your American ex-pat scribe doesn't know (or has forgotten) is that Americans know nothing about trains. We don't condescend; we're amazed they work. As I told some Brit friends last month, while they were whining incessantly at the pub about RailTrack, the government-run infrastructure in the UK, Americans would KILL for RailTrack's problems. The British system, by American standards, remains a marvel. So does the French, German and Italian systems. For a whole variety of reasons, we've let our rail system wither. It's fallen and it doesn't know how or why to get up. So when Americans encounter a rail network that works--and can actually get you somewhere--we are at first stunned, and then amazed, and, finally, embarrassed. After all, we think, how dumb are we?
That said, your ex-pat American friend should remember that everything about trains confuse Americans. Most of us can't even read a timetable. I include myself in that--and I live on a commuter line. If it weren't for the little station-specific cheat sheets my line stocks, I'd never know when the trains leave. The full schedule flummoxes me.

Among the many wonderful things about Joe's commentary is that he uses the word flummoxes twice! Mr. Brancatelli, by the way, is a professional travel writer. I couldn't resist offering Larry a chance to engage Joe without the usual week's delay, and he obliged me with a return commentary that includes these indelible lines:

Your invitation to ``engage Joe in colloquy'' sounds suspiciously like an attempt to stir up trouble, but what the hell, I've got a little time on my hands.
Actually, I think he's right on his main point, which is that most Americans find trains mysterious and somewhat intimidating. I've never understood why the United States decided to let its passenger rail system wither away, but by now the decision looks irreversible.
If for some reason the United States tries to revive its railroads, though, I hope no one uses Britain's system as a model. Joe's protests to the contrary notwithstanding, it's falling apart. No, that's not quite true. It was deliberately broken apart, in a bi-partisan effort begun under the Tories and completed by the current Labour government, to privatize the old state-owned monopoly, British Rail.
The British ruling classes have a peculiar enthusiasm for wildly impractical, hugely complicated solutions to not-very-difficult problems. Nowhere was that enthusiasm more evident than the breakup of Brit Rail. In essence, a sluggish public system run by an incompetent bureaucracy was replaced by a quasi-private, semi-public system run by three, four, or twenty-odd different incompetent bureaucracies, depending on how you count.

You simply must read the whole thing. Let me tempt you with one more bit of Larry's prose:

The British, however, are possessed of a magnificent ability to look squarely at a problem, analyze in close detail all its components, and then ignore completely everything that's staring them in the face. It's a trait that occasionally benefits them enormously. Confronted by the menace of Hitler, most of the continental countries realistically determined that they hadn't a snowball's chance in hell and gave up. The British ignored the undeniable facts that they were outmanned and outgunned and defended by an army inferior to Germany's in every respect, and soldiered on regardless.

Need I mention that Mr. King is an American living in London?

Kevin Sullivan chimes in with more on Ps and Qs, a subject we dealt with last week:

So here's the best research I could find on P's and Q's. Its a pretty good site, but their answer wasn't definitive.
It also did a great job on "OK". Do you know why we say OK, and why OK is more accurate than okay? Their OK definition jibes with what I'd heard before so their credibility is WAY UP in my humble opinion.

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