PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 4 No. 35

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

September 17, 2001

Happy Birthday To Me

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:

  • Happy Birthday To Me
  • Tragedy and Disaster
  • Zeneration X: The Carpenter Story
  • Some Serious Post-Terror Questions

Computer Industry News:

  • Computer Graphics Demo
  • Quick Hits

Web Site of the Week:

  • Daypop, Save Our Takeaways, Computer Takeover


    • Rose
    • Things I Wish I'd Known


  • The Closet


    • Rolling Down The Columbia, More on National Missile Defense, Post-Terror reactions

General News

Happy Birthday To Me

I am 49 years old today. I am in reasonably good health, I'm losing weight, I've never smoked, I don't drink coffee, and I have my alcohol intake down to two glasses of wine a week.

I have a beautiful wife who loves me. I have two beautiful daughters who love me and demonstrate my parenting skills, every day, to everyone they meet, by the way they conduct themselves, by their grace, intelligence, wit and humor.

I've been at the same company for 20 years and almost no one here hates me. The same is true for the five jobs I had in the five years before I got here.

Most of my high school and college friends are still talking to me, and in recent months even some of the ones who had stopped talking to me are talking to me again.

Both my parents are alive, and I still have one living grandparent. My mother tells me she expected all this on the hot September day when I was born all those years ago, after putting her through four days of labor.

I cannot imagine any gifts more precious than these. I strive every day to remember the difference between being born on second base and hitting a double--although I will take credit for stealing third and home.

By luck, diligence and the grace of God, I have a wonderful life. I've shared it with a small circle of people so far, but I'm young yet.

Tragedy and Disaster

I am left speechless by last week's events in New York and Washington--a state that many of you know does not come naturally to me. In the past few hours, I have already gotten one email suggesting that the whole thing would never have happened if all the passengers on all four jets had been packing concealed weapons, and another saying the United States asked for it by its attacks on Iraq and Serbia. A friend called to say this is what we get for lobbing 18-inch shells into Lebanon.

I prefer Vicki's formulation: how can these people say they believe in God? That's my question. I have lots more questions, but let's see how things settle out in the days and weeks to come.

I thank God that Marlow was six miles away at Columbia, safe and sound, and that the handful of friends, relatives and acquaintances who were in or near the World Trade Center escaped with their lives. I am sure thousands of people didn't. That's a disaster and a tragedy. I only wish we had a wiser president to guide us in this troubled time.

My friend Joe Brancatelli wrote an excellent column on the impact of the tragedy on fliers:

The Brancatelli File: We Will Fly Again
This is no tough-guy boast or irrational bragging or a rhetorical flourish. This is a simple, quiet statement of fact. We will fly again. We will fly again because our lives and our livelihoods depend on it. We will fly again because there is something deep in the American psyche, some distant distillation of Manifest Destiny, that compels us to travel and explore. We will fly again because flying is the ultimate expression of our free society and everything we cherish. And we will fly again because that is exactly what the terrorists don't want us to do.

InformationWeek columnist Robert Rubin also wrote a first-class column, on the effect of the terrorism on information technology.

Late in the week, I began to get a flood of letters; see that section for more.

Some Serious Post-Terror Questions

The longest and most detailed analysis of the follow-up to last week's events came from my anonymous correspondent.

Question 1: Given about $330 billion a year (joint budget of the "neutral" department (use of "defense" here might imply they could actually provide some (to say nothing of offense) which is a dubious proposition given that they couldn't get a supersonic jet fighter 150 miles in an hour on September 11) and various ignorant (if the reader wants to use the word "intelligence" here that's on you) agencies) and the following information:
1. The ignorant agencies have known for a long time that every time the prime suspect has been connected to a prior event, he has provided about three weeks advance warning in the form of a videotape released through various journalistic outlets in his neighborhood. The ignorant agencies have also known for a long time that the prime suspect uses people who have been in place for a long time in the country in which he is interested and when he is interested in expressing publicly his views on matters of the day he sends in a senior representative to direct the last minute arrangements.
2. About Aug. 17, the prime suspect released a videotape warning of a great harm to be inflicted on the US (that, dear reader, means you and me).
3. On Aug 17, in Minnesota a known associate (that means the ignorant agencies and their foreign counterparts were well aware of the connection) of the prime suspect walked into a flight school and asked for training on a 747 simulator in return for a large amount of cash. The training he wanted was how to handle a 747 in level flight only. The associate was uninterested in taking off or landing. The instructors (who actually were intelligent) notified local agents of the feeble bureau of inquiry (again, if you want to refer to it as the "federal bureau of investigation" thereby implying that given a ten finger searching party the group could collectively mount an investigation resulting in location of its own ear lobe (this is a family magazine) in less than a few years (that is, soon enough to make a difference), that's on you). The agents arrested the associate for an immigration violation and placed him in a county jail in Minnesota. Agents also visited a flying school in Oklahoma where the above-mentioned known associate studied flying earlier in 2001. While at the Oklahoma school the agents told the school's owner that the known associate had done something "very bad" (again, this is in August) (presumably they were not referring to overstaying his officially allowed time as a guest).
4. On Aug. 21, the central ignorant agency notified the official meeters and greeters at the border (INS) that two other associates of the prime suspect had just been identified and should not be allowed to pass go without collecting $200 and should also not be allowed into the country (it seems the not so lovely visage of one of the associates had been captured on film meeting on the other side of the world with one of the prime suspect's other associates who had been involved in a major violation of environmental regulations last October (something about a major oil spill, 17 dead sailors, and a big hole in the side of one of our ships)). Precisely how much time elapsed between the time the film was made and Aug. 21 is not presently known to the public. In any event, the meeters and greeters responded, essentially, too late, they're in already. So the feeble bureau of inquiry went looking for them and was shocked to find out they were not staying where they said they would stay (the level of shock was clearly exceeded only by the shock experienced by the person who discovered gambling in Rick's Cafe).
5. On Aug. 28, the two associates mentioned immediately above made reservations for a flight to LA they actually took (but did not complete as scheduled) on September 11. The reservations were made using the same names given by the ignorant agency to INS and then to the feeble bureau. The tickets were purchased for cash in Baltimore on September
5. Whether the feeble bureau ever thought to inquire of the airlines as to whether they had reservations for either associate is not presently known to the public. The reason these two associates did not complete the flight as scheduled is because instead of landing in LA they wound up without an invitation or an admit slip (and without even using the door) in a really big five-sided office building in suburban Washington. Reportedly, on Monday the 10th, the feeble bureau was looking (unsuccessfully) for these associates in a certain southern state which (as everyone with the exception of five government employees in Washington realized) gave a plurality of its votes last year to Gore.
6. On September 6, a helpful gentleman from the west side of the prime suspect's neighborhood called police in the US to advise quite precisely of events scheduled for New York on the 11th. Said gentleman is now an involuntary guest of another government.
Could your local Brownie troop or senior nursery school class have provided a better result on the 11th?
Answer 1: In all likelihood; if not, change troop leaders or teachers.
Question 2: If this is what we get when we give these people $330 billion a year, what results do you expect if we give them another $40 billion?
Answer 2: Have a drink, duck and cover, and think about something else (this is a family magazine).

A Reuters story along this same line:

FBI Had Been Hunting Two Hijack Suspects -Newsweek

The Carpenter Story

Drew Kossoff is back doing his Zeneration X newsletter. In this week's edition, he pointed at some stories on his web site. I was particularly taken with one, which I reprint here. I am sure Drew won't mind J

It reminds me of what Adelina Diamond once said to me: life is a supermarket, and when you get to the checkout stand, the only things in your cart will be the things you put there. Here's a more eloquent expression of the same idea:

THE CARPENTER - why we need to pursue excellence every day
An elderly carpenter was ready to retire. He told his employer-contractor of his plans to leave the house building business and live a more leisurely life with his wife enjoying his extended family. He would miss the paycheck, but he needed to retire. They could get by.
The contractor was sorry to see his good worker go and ask if he could build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter said yes, but in time it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end his career.
When the carpenter finished his work and the builder came to inspect the house, the contractor handed the front-door key to the carpenter. "This is your house," he said, "my gift to you." What a shock! What a shame! If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done it all so differently. Now he had to live in the home he had built none too well.
So it is with us. We build our lives in a distracted way, reacting rather than acting, willing to put up less than the best. At important points we do not give the job our best effort. Then with a shock we look at the situation we have created and find that we are now living in the house we have built. If we had realized that we would have done it differently.
Think of yourself as the carpenter. Think about your house. Each day you hammer a nail, place a board, or erect a wall. Build wisely. It is the only life you will ever build. Even if you live it for only one day more, that day deserves to be lived graciously and with dignity. The plaque on the wall says, "Life is a do-it-yourself project." Who could say it more clearly? Your life today is the result of your attitudes and choices in the past. Your life tomorrow will be the result of your attitudes and the choices you make today.

Computer Industry News

Computer Graphics Demo

I heard Phil Gramm saying he was "conservative before it was cool," and I have often said I "telecommuted before it was possible." Well, Craig Reynolds "did computer graphics before it was possible," on the Nick Negroponte's Architecture Machine (Arcmac) at MIT in 1975. He worked on Tron, his flocking program controlled the CGI bats in Batman II, and he still works in the field. We were classmates, we are friends, and his is a frequent contributor to this column, who, like sometime contributor Glen Speckert, seldom misses Siggraph. I got this from him. Craig notes that this is "a work in progress, we hope to submit a more polished version to the Art Gallery of SIGGRAPH 2002."

The as-yet-unnamed demo (called "Stuart / Birds / Fish" for now) was shown by Dominic Mallinson (Director of our R&D group at Sony Computer Entertainment America) at SIGGRAPH 2001 during the panel discussion Video Game Play and Design: Procedural Directions. It is an autonomous microworld, a group of about 200 interacting characters which runs on a PlayStation2 in real time (60Hz update rate). User interaction is limited to adjusting the viewpoint. There are birds flocking above and fish schooling below (strongly reminiscent of Breaking the Ice, but that is that is the influence of my coworker Stewart Sargaison, not mine, I swear!) Unlike BtI, these birds and fish freely pass through the surface, morphing to the other creature in the process. Walking on the water is Stuart Little and two of his siblings. The surface ripples in reaction to nearby mice, birds and fish. The mice watch the birds and/or fish, their attention being drawn to the nearest and most dense concentrations, they also walk toward this location. The mice glance at each other as they pass by.

Pick a QuickTime file suitable for your connection speed:
(7 MB)
(14 MB)
(68 MB)

Quick Hits

Rich Levin found this list of computer industry \influencers which includes several friends and colleagues, but not me.

Glen Speckert found a fantastic parody of the classic Apple Computer Macintosh Introduction advertisement.

A friend wrote:

Echoes of the HP-Compaq "megadeal" are now also reverberating in Europe. Here's, for example, a link to The Sunday Business Post, a leading Irish (Dublin) newspaper.

Finally, I admit I am no Linux Guy, but apparently some Linux universal clock rolled over to 1 billion recently. A friend of Marlow's captured the magic moment of the Great Rollover, and we have it here:

> Sun Sep 9 01:46:38 2001 (999999998)
> Sun Sep 9 01:46:39 2001 (999999999)
> Sun Sep 9 01:46:40 2001 (1000000000)
> Sun Sep 9 01:46:41 2001 (1000000001)
> Sun Sep 9 01:46:42 2001 (1000000002)

I am sure my West Coast friends got up at 6 a.m. to watch it happen, right?

Rich Pournelle forwards this note from Slashdot:

A talented guy wrote a great example of the quality of talent that is going to waste in these economic "hard times". An unemployed friend of mine put together a kickass tool which lets you query a database of craigslist statistics and generate graphs comparing various things such as job postings and apartments for rent.

Craig Reynolds sent this in. I think he's right.

It seems that for web-based news media to become dependable enough for prime time it needs to prepare for peak server loads rather than just typical server loads.
News sites simplified after performance bogs down
Internet holds up in aftermath of terrorist attacks

And Craig also found this excellent story on Wired:

Who Said the Web Fell Apart?

Web Site of the Week

Daypop, Save Our Takeaways, Computer Takeover

I have skipped this feature several times in recent weeks, and now I have an embarrassment of riches.

Craig Reynolds found this at Blogdex:

Daypop is a frequently-updated search engine targeted at news sites. You type in a keyword and you get a page of links to coverage of matching events over the last 24 hours.

Dan Grobstein says:

An interesting reverse psychology set of ads.

Joy Culbertson found a discussion of Steven Hawking's prediction that computers may take over the world.



An elderly couple had dinner at another couple's house, and after eating, the wives left the table and went into the kitchen. The two elderly gentlemen were talking, and one said, "Last night we went out to a new restaurant, and it was really great. I would recommend it very highly." The other man said, "What is the name of the restaurant?" The first man thought and thought and finally said, "What is the name of that flower you give to someone you love? You know... the one that is red and has thorns." "Do you mean a rose?" "Yes," the man said. He turned toward the kitchen and yelled, "Rose, what's the name of that restaurant we went to last night?"

Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Went Out In The Real World

1. Any and all compliments can be handled by simply saying, "Why, thank you," (though it helps if you say it with a Southern accent).
2. Some people are working backstage, some are playing in the orchestra, some are on stage singing, some are in the audience as critics and some are there to applaud. Know who and where you are.
3. Never give yourself a haircut after three margaritas.
4. When baking, follow directions. When cooking, go by your own taste.
5. Never continue dating anyone who is rude to the waiter and doesn't like dogs/cats.
6. You need only two tools. WD-40 and duct tape. If it doesn't move and it should, use the WD-40. If it moves and shouldn't, use the tape.
7. The five most essential words for a healthy, vital relationship: "I apologize" and "You are right".
8. Everyone seems normal until you get to know them.
9. When you make a mistake, make amends immediately. It's easier to eat crow while it's still warm.
10. The only really good advice that I remember my mother ever gave me was "Go! You might meet somebody!"
11. If he/she says that you are too good for him/her--believe it.
12. I've learned to pick my battles; I ask myself, Will this matter one year from now? How about one month? One week? One day?
13. Never pass up an opportunity to go to the bathroom.
14. Living well really is the best revenge. Being miserable because of a bad or former relationship just might mean that the other person was right about you.
15. Knowing how to listen to music is as great a talent as knowing how to make it.
16. Work is good but it's not that important.
17. Never underestimate the kindness of your fellow man.


The Closet

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

François Pignon is about to be fired. But the spreading rumor about his homosexuality changes it all...

That's the summary of the subtitled French comedy, now showing in art houses all over America, including the soon-to-close Park Theater in Lafayette, Calif., near my home. This is the best kind of Gérard Depardieu film; one in which he is a seldom-seen secondary character. Daniel Auteuil carries the film as Pignon and does a fine job of it.

I have noted here before, and will, no doubt, note again, that the French can do laugh-out-loud funny for adults so much better than the Americans that it is embarrassing. In the last decade, I haven't seen an American comedy pitched at an audience older than 15 that was this funny. It's a farce from start to finish: boring accountant gets fired. Gay man next door says: pretend you're gay, then they won't fire you. Scheme works. Suddenly, everyone finds the boring accountant more interesting, including his estranged son and his ex-wife.

Probably, this is just more proof, if more proof was needed, that reasonable budgets produce better films. An American producer would have smothered this film in stars or fancy sets. Lacking the budget to do that, the French simply count on good writing and good acting. I can tell you which I'd rather watch.

This film is not suitable for young teenagers, but the sex is brief, dorsal, hetero, and photographed from about 100 feet away. It is very, very funny and well done.


Rolling Down The Columbia, More on National Missile Defense, Post-Terror reactions

Life does go on, and I'd like to share my Mother's description of a trip down the Columbia River from Portland to Astoria and back. I wish I'd been along. Sounds like a welcome respite from the week's cares:

Our cruise to Astoria was wonderful, we both enjoyed it and each other. The river is even more incredible than we had ever known. Turns out that much of the time when you drive down one side or the other, your view is blocked by the many sloughs - so that when we saw the vast extent of water from shore to shore, it took our breath away. Anyway, it was a great day for both your father and me, and we got to see the city lights as we arrived back at Jantzen Beach at about 8pm - having left at 7:30 am. The historian on board did a remarkable job, hugely informative and entertaining.

Last week, I printed a Top 5 list to which my contribution was a joke about using 10,000 bras for the National Missile Defense. This elicited a response from my anonymous correspondent:

While it was just a joke (precisely the same as the National Missile Defense System), your No. 11 (concerning utilization of various unused items) may have miscalculated the relative effectiveness or cost-effectiveness of the two systems.
In terms of effectiveness, there is a non-zero probability that your launch vehicle will snag and stop an RV with the proper trajectory (say one coming in about 10 feet off the ground and between two base trees for the launch vehicle on top of Mt. McKinley). There is a zero probability that the NMD will ever stop anything other than a lot of taxpayer dollars (about which more below). The quotient is infinite not merely twice as effective. In terms of cost-effectiveness, and assuming (wildly optimistically) that the NMD actually will have the same probability of killing (or even stopping) an RV as the 1,000 bras, the procurement cost of NMD will run into the billions (and if the people who bought his current job for His Illegitimacy (the contractors and sub-contractors) have anything to say about it (and they will) the cost (not value which is negative or zero) will reach into the trillions).
From the facts stated, the procurement cost for your system was zero (actual value at retail was apparently $37,000). Again, your system is infinitely more cost-effective (effectiveness the same, but a few trillion divided by zero is again infinite).
Dump Rumsfeld (with all of his conflicts of interest), we want Schindler for Secretary of Defense.

Post Terror Reactions

This seems like a good story:

An Afghan-American speaks
You can't bomb us back into the Stone Age. We're already there. But you can start a new world war, and that's exactly what Osama bin Laden wants.

When you have a president who doesn't really have a mandate from the American people, they're liable to get pretty upset at a time like this. One of my correspondents wrote in on that subject, but after reading and rereading her remarks, I decided they were too inflammatory to print, at least this week. .Let me just say to her, and to all the other people who have spoken to me about their misgivings about our currently 80%-approved President: I share your misgivings. Just because he's sitting in Franklin Roosevelt's chair doesn't make him Franklin Roosevelt.

Frank Rich wrote a great column in the New York Times on Saturday. It will only be on line free for a few more days, than you have to pay for it, so move fast:

Here are just two paragraphs of it:

For the America that is gone, the America that could have it all and feel no pain beyond that on cable TV, George W. Bush was the perfect president. We could have a big tax cut (or at least some of us could) along with increases in spending for better schools and defense - and all without having to dip into the Social Security stash. We could lick our energy crisis - does anyone still remember the energy crisis? - while still guzzling gas. Faith-based institutions would take care of the poor and unfortunate. No serviceman would have to spend any more time in harm's way than Mr. Bush (or most political leaders of his generation, regardless of party) did during Vietnam.


In all this we've been blessed, for there were 48 hours during which the president was scarcely visible or articulate. The country is rooting for Mr. Bush, as it must. We need him to become the president of the America we have now. This means in part a U- turn in style - more face time with his fellow citizens, less scripted rhetoric from the alliterative phrasemakers who stick pretty words in his mouth (as they did Tuesday night) that sound as if they were written by the same glib stylists who gave him "home to the heartland" and "communities of character." But style is the easy part. What's more pressing are changes in content. Many of his administration's previous policies are either irrelevant or contrary to a war-bound nation's interests.

Read the whole thing; it is definitely worth it. You have until Sept. 22.

Thomas Friedman's excellent column on World War III will only be available until the 20th. An excerpt:

I suddenly imagined a group of terrorists somewhere here in the Middle East, sipping coffee, also watching CNN and laughing hysterically: "Hey boss, did you hear that? We just blew up Wall Street and the Pentagon and their response is no more curbside check- in?"

The anonymous "open letter to a terrorist" that several of you sent me is too long to repost, but here's a good website at which to read it in full (thanks for tipping me to Daypop Craig--that's how I found it). If anyone has information on authorship of this, please let me know. I'd rather give credit. Here are the first and last paragraphs.

Well, you hit the World Trade Center, but you missed America. You hit the Pentagon, but you missed America. You used helpless American bodies, to take out other American bodies, but like a poor marksman, you still missed America. Why? Because of something you guys will never understand. America isn't about a building or two, not about financial centers, not about military centers, America isn't about a place, America isn't even about a bunch of bodies. America is about an idea. An idea, that you can go someplace where you can earn as much as you can figure out how to, live for the most part, like you envisioned living, and pursue Happiness. (No guarantees that you'll reach it, but you can sure try!)


And killing a few thousand of us, or a few million of us, won't change it. Most of the time, it's a pretty happy-go-lucky kind of Spirit. Until we're crossed in a cowardly manner, then it becomes an entirely different kind of Spirit. Wait until you see what we do with that Spirit, this time. Sleep tight, if you can. We're coming.

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