PS... A Column
By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.
June 18, 2001
Thinking About Death
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:
The Appropriate Response To A Memorial Service
One of the most emotionally brilliant people I have ever known, a friend from college who I found recently after years of looking (thanks to the Internet) dropped me this note after last week's column:
Another thing that a memorial service can make us do is choose with our heart what we will do with the delicious days left to us before our service is held. That is especially hard for someone as multitalented as you, dear Paul. Not a bad problem to have. Choose well.
It was both sweet and thought provoking, as much of her correspondence is. I think I have recommended her website before, but if not, let me do so again, because it is quite unusual. She channels a daily message from spirits she calls angels at angelsdailymessage.com.
Anyway, again this week, I found myself thinking a lot about the duty I owe friends and loved ones. Not surprisingly, I have booked every demi-friend for lunch, either last week or this. People I care about, whom I don't see often enough, who live around here. Next step is to try to do something good and important for a friend far away, something I should have done years ago. I'll share it with you, if I can.
Bob Jones: Not What You Think
I reprinted Dan Rosenbaum's brief comment about a homeless kid with 1600 on his SATs going to Bob Jones because, like many people, the media have formed my impression of Bob Jones University. I still believe you can argue with its theology and some of its (now-repealed) rules for on-campus behavior. But there's always a difference between what we know via an intermediary and what we know from personal experience. Turns out Harrison Klein, a friend I've known since college, has some first-hand knowledge:
I have to take issue with Dan Rosenbaum's comment on Trevor Loflin's plans to go to Bob Jones University ("Is it possible to be smart and dumb at the same time?"). As an institution, Bob Jones may have a lot that you and I find distasteful, but particularly for a Baptist kid it's a great place to get an education.
I happen to know six Bob Jones graduates personally; four are cousins (my mother's brother married a religious woman and they sent all their kids there), one is the daughter of one of those cousins, and one is a friend and broadcasting colleague. They represent a diverse mix of professions, personalities, and attitudes toward religion and social issues. Professionally, two are successful and wealthy business executives (my cousin was a partner at Arthur Andersen and then CFO of a large midwest electric utility before he retired, my friend is the CFO of Entercom Broadcasting), one is a doctor, one is a stay-at-home mother with a design business, one co-owns with another cousin the lumber company my grandfather founded, and the daughter is in medical school at the University of Iowa. All of them are fine people who are a credit to their communities, involved in a variety of civic and religious volunteer work.
The education you get at college is far more dependent on your attitude than on the college. I certainly recall a number of friends that completely wasted their time at MIT and Stanford. It sounds like Trevor Loflin's faith has had very positive results so far. I wouldn't be too quick to judge his decision based on a stereotype about the institution he selected.
But for your readers going to Maui instead of Bob Jones, be sure to check out <http://www.hawaii-holiday.com/> (my own shameless self-promotion).
Harrison was kind enough not to name names, but while I did not completely waste my time at MIT, I certainly didn't use it to maximum advantage. So he's right about attitude, and I know that first hand, not via media accounts.
It Took Me 60 Years to Live Spring
A billion mouse-brown branches change.
I am perennially boggled by how modest the greatest generation was and is.
Here's a story of two medals my mother tells about a family friend:
King won a purple heart on Okinawa. Then he won a medal for bravery for jumping over the rail of his troop ship as it was docking in Bremerton, Wash, after the war - a young sailor had fallen in and King pulled him out before the ships crashed together at the dock. He didn't tell anyone and we didn't know till they mailed the medal to his wife.
My journalism professor, a close personal friend of 30 years, never mentioned his Silver Star except in his written bio, which I didn't see until I had known him for two decades. A retired buddy of mine flew in the same squadron as the Enola Gay--a fact that it took him 15 years to mention. My best friend's father was a bombardier in WWII--hardly ever mentioned it.
But then, most Viet vets are pretty quiet about it as well; for different reasons, I suspect.
What I've always been told when I asked WWII vets was, "we did it, we came home, and what most of us wanted more than anything was to forget it ever happened and get on with our lives." Which, as we know, they did with a vengeance--and thus the baby boom (my father was too young for WWII, my paternal grandfather too old, my maternal grandfather 4F). I am in that demographic (born 1952), but as a result of normal fecundity, not the making up for lost time of a generation scarred by depression and war.
Sometimes I wonder how my generation would hold up under that kind of adversity. Then I realize we'd fold like a deck of cards. An option we have thanks to the sacrifice of the greatest generation.
Computer Industry News
Jon Carroll on The Internet
The Internet continues to baffle me, as it does many people. I can't figure out what's going to work, commercially, and what's not. Frankly, I have yet to figure out how professionals who produce information are going to be able to make enough money to enable them to produce it, at least not when they're organized into "magazines" and "newspapers" as we have known them. Maybe we'll live in a world of newsletters, and you'll have to read 10 or 20 to find out what you need to know. Gosh, I hope not.
Anyway, my hero, Jon Carroll, daily columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle writes very cogently and lucidly on this subject, as so many others. I have here extracted some of his remarks about the net from a recent column that was really about a specific use of the net (follow the link if you wish to make sense of the headline):
People who need priests
WE ARE STILL trying to figure out what the Internet is good for. That's one of the reasons for the huge dot-com bust -- people created companies based on guesses. The guesses seemed logical, but they were wrong.
Being wrong is fine. Being wrong with $50 million of other people's money is not fine. Hence the perception that it's all over. But it's not all over. The Internet is still teaching us what it is good at.
People are still trying to figure out how to make a business model out of what the Internet is good at. This is proving to be hard. The Internet may be a very good thing for information and a very bad thing for business models.
One thing the Internet is very good at is linking tiny communities of people with shared interests...
This is going on under the radar, because this great modern blessing does not scale up to a major profit center. Small entrepreneurs, though, can find places. Grandiose thinking, it turns out, is disastrous. Modest thinking is helpful.
For the record, let me note that I think failing with $50 million of other people's money is fine; that's how capitalism works. Without risk and failure, there is no growth and change.
50 Years Ago This Week
Look at what a half-century has wrought. It was 50 years ago today that the famed Univac, widely considered the first commercial computer, made its public debut during a dedication at the U.S. Census Bureau. At the time, proponents assured the world that computers would give us shorter workweeks and paperless offices. But there's no disputing the impact the subsequent computer revolution has had on business and, more recently, life away from work.
The first implications of the widespread influence Univac and its offspring would have came in the fall of 1952, when the fifth Univac machine correctly predicted Dwight Eisenhower's landslide victory over Adlai Stevenson. CBS News chose not to reveal that prediction until it had been verified by a hand count, but the implications were clear. Computers were on the verge of transforming the way we accessed information.
After delivering the first seven Univacs to government agencies, Remington Rand (now Unisys Corp.) made its first private-industry sale to General Electric Co. in 1954. Shortly thereafter, GE revealed that by using its Univac to automate payroll, it was able to reassign a large number of payroll clerks to other positions within the company. In all, Remington Rand sold 46 Univacs, which, given the then-enormous price tag of $1 million to $1.5 million, was considered mass production at the time. "It was really the beginning of the computer industry," says computer historian George Gray, a systems programmer for the State of Georgia who writes the Unisys History Newsletter.
The contrast between the Univac and today's mainframe equivalents is astounding. Unisys' ES7000 server, for instance, offers 216,000 times the speed and 7.6 million times the memory of the Univac while consuming one-eighteenth as much power and just 1/24th of the Univac's weight. But even with such advances, computers remain both a blessing and a curse, a fact that led Unisys to mark Univac's 50th birthday by issuing an apology for the resulting inconveniences that sometimes outweigh the benefits. "For all the data, for all the analysis, for all the processing, they still don't help us understand," Unisys VP Guy Esnouf says of modern computers. "It's still just as difficult to make a decision." - Tony Kontzer
Is this story closer to memory than history for you? Do you remember using punch cards? Join us in an old-fogey discussion at the InformationWEEKListening Post.
I mentioned this in passing a few weeks ago, but upon seeing his plea for publicity and new subscriptions, I realized I hadn't fully plugged it here. SFNL, along with Web Insider, are my two favorite newsletters. Here's the description from his web site:
Scot Finnie's Newslettercovers Windows, broadband, do-it-yourself networking, Microsoft, and the Internet. You'll get insights, analysis, explanation, tips, and straight-shooting advice about desktop computing today, and tomorrow. If you're familiar with my earlier newsletters — Broadband Report and Windows Insider — you know what to expect from this one.
Your Fly Is Open
Not Top5 (at least not credited) but widespread on the Internet and mildly amusing:
20) The cucumber has left the salad.
19) I can see the gun of Navarone.
18) Someone tore down the wall, and your Pink Floyd is hanging out.
17) You've got Windows in your laptop.
16) Sailor Ned's trying to take a little shore leave.
15) Your soldier ain't so unknown now.
14) Quasimodo needs to go back in the tower and tend to his bell.
13) Paging Mr. Johnson... Paging Mr. Johnson...
12) You need to bring your tray table to the upright and locked position.
11) Your pod bay door is open, Hal.
10) Elvis Junior has LEFT the building!
9) Mini Me is making a break for the escape pod.
8) Ensign Hanes is reporting a hull breach on the lower deck, Sir!
7) The Buick is not all the way in the garage.
6) Dr. Kimble has escaped!
5) You've got your fly set for "Monica" instead of "Hillary."
4) Our next guest is someone who needs no introduction...
3) You've got a security breach at Los Pantalones.
2) I'm talking about Shaft, can you dig it?
And the number one way to tell someone their fly isUnzipped...
1) I thought you were crazy; now I see your nuts
Correction Of The Week
The Paris New Music Review retracts its statement from a previous issue. Our unintentional implication in a published retraction of the assertion that [powerful politician] "Jesse Helms of the United States is a scum and slimebag, who probably has crushed-velvet paintings of Elvis on his mantelpiece" was that Elvis is associated with the lower dregs of society. The statement was entirely incorrect.
You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database
Making up for lost time, I saw four movies this week, one during the week and three on the weekend. I feel almost sated. But there is so much reading and writing to do! In honor of Fathers' Day, Rae and I hit three films on Saturday.
Evolution I saw during the week. Well, David Duchovny can act, and is mildly amusing, but the film is a bow-wow dog that manages to waste him, Dan Ackroyd (what a shame), Julianne Moore and a bunch of special effects in an effort that should be funny, but is, instead, stupid, pointless and boring. Don't bother.
You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database
I have to thank Rae for pointing out several things I wouldn't have noticed: there are numerous visual references to Star Wars in this film, and it is definitely too complicated and fast-moving for the typical Disney animated film demographic of 10-year-olds. Michael J. Fox does yeomen work as the voice of the young hero, and James Garner is cast against type as the voice of the villain, in which role he does a first-class job. The story was not as strong as usual for a Disney movie.
OK, not great. At least it isn't offensive. You can take small kids to it, but they may well be baffled. Animation, of course, is first-rate and top-notch. The comic relief is a little too much like Disney television animation for my taste, as opposed to the usual, more sophisticated level typically attained in the firm's theatrical releases. The Mrs. Packer character, for example, while mildly amusing, actually appeared in a Goofy movie.
You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database
Breathtakingly beautiful. Spectacular and overwhelming. A feast for the eyes. The first half hour is as confusing as a Shakespeare play, which is apt, because all the grand old Shakespeare themes are here, including a Duke, mistaken identities and love, lost, found, mangled and, in the end, triumphing over all.
Frankly, I thought they story was deficient, but Rae tells me it isn't, and Jill, the daughter of a friend who is interested in moviemaking has seen it four times. I can imagine going a second time just to scan the screen for cute effects on the edges, just as I did the early Star Wars movies.
Nicole Kidman is a knockout, and Ewan McGregor either has a pleasant singing voice or a good voice double and is well suited to the role of the sweet, innocent, poverty-striken writer. Director Baz Luhrmann has made the most self-consciously arty, "directed" movie movie I can recall in several years. I think the only thing he forgot was a clock wipe.
I object to the perennial plot device in which the beautiful woman picks the poor writer for love instead of the rich man for security; does this really happen in real life? Not as often as in the movies, certainly. But of course the poor writers who write movies would like it to turn out that way.
A heck of a movie to look at; utterly inappropriate for pre-teens and even young teens. Seldom has an R rating been more completely deserved. Adults should enjoy it.
You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database
John Travolta should play villains more often. But preferably in movies with better scripts. The opening scene is a brilliant, shocking stunner (involving the death by explosion of a hostage and some extremely fancy computer-enhanced slow-mo footage), following which the film goes mostly downhill for the middle 90 minutes before picking up again at the end. For an action thriller, there's not much action or thrills. If you don't have enough action and thrills, you should have good writing and engaging characters. If you don't have either, you don't have much of a movie.
This isn't much of a movie.
Richard Dalton on Death
Richard Dalton, a friend of mine who feels strongly about the death penalty, sent this note, in partial reference to my eulogy of last week:
I was struck by the beautiful tribute to Beverly Schlimme and the demonization of Thomas McVeigh that reached a crescendo on the same day.
The people who died in the horrific Oklahoma City bombing are dead--just like Beverly. Those 168 people died in a way that was perhaps less painful than Beverly. I'm sure many of their relatives feel they "shouldn't" have died. Endless news reportage certainly drives home the pain and anger relatives still feel about this tragedy.
Yet Beverly's death is no less tragic than the Oklahomans' for friends and relatives. And the choice is to celebrate Beverly's life, and loves, and value. Not to flail away at the demon cancer.
Daniel Dern sent me the URL for this page of funny pictures. They're funny. What can I say, it would be the Web Site of the Week if I weren't busy up there plugging my friend and colleague Scot Finnie.
About that modest family war hero
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