PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 4 No. 49

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

December 24/31, 2001

Merry Christmas!/Happy New Year! Year-End Double Issue

I no longer have a day job, so every word of this is my opinion, and if you don't like it, lump it. This offer is NOT void in Wisconsin.

Except, of course, that some material in this column comes from incoming e-mail; such material is usually reproduced in the Sans Serif type font to distinguish it from the (somewhat) original material

Family photos 1, 2, 3

Table of Contents:

General News:

    • Christmas Message
    • Pretty Busy For An Unemployed Guy
    • Eat The Rich
    • Weight Loss
    • Special Double Year-End Issue
    • Where Are You All Coming From
    • Duh Of The Year Award

Computer Industry News:

    • Figuring Out Your News
    • Don't Steal Music, Please

Web Site of the Week:

    • Hack News From MIT/Firesign!


    • Shaggy Dog Story: The Photographer
    • Journalism Light Bulb Jokes
    • Legal Language Spoof


    • None


    • None

General News

Christmas Message

First, a bit of housekeeping: no column next week, since I'll be on vacation in New Orleans with no PC. I hope you'll still be around to welcome the column back on Jan. 7, 2002, as we greet another year without commercial space travel on Pan Am or HAL.

In the fine old tradition of journalists who recycle their holiday messages year after year, here's my Christmas message, based on my Christmas message of Dec. 21, 1998 (with a few slight modifications).

Season's greetings to one and all. Apologies to those of you who feel oppressed by the season. I know Christians, atheists and Jews who feel the seasonal oppression in equal parts. Oppression and depression. I'm sorry. This message isn't going to cheer you up, much.

This is a time of year that has inspired some of the most brilliant writing in the English language, from Dickens' A Christmas Carol, to the sturdy newspaper editorial entitled "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus," to The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and the unforgettable Bill Murray vehicle, Scrooged.

Alas, like so many of us, the muse seems to have taken off early. I briefly considered throwing in some of Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas In Wales which Fr. Harrison West and I recited several times at Benson High School assemblies (long before he was Fr. West). But then I decided just to do a quick Christmas column, then leave you to your holiday vacation.

What is Christmas about? It can be about the birth of Jesus, but for most of us it isn't. It's about many things.

Christmas is about singing (or listening to) Christmas carols. My favorite annual Christmas party, bar none, is the Christmas Caroling party held annually by our best friends. They're Jewish, and so are many of the partygoers. Joyful voices raised together. Doesn't matter if they're not in tune. Doesn't matter if some of the lyrics are Christian claptrap. Jingle Bells, White Christmas and Jingle Bell Rock, along with the rest of the secular Christmas liturgy are just plain fun. I wince a little sometimes when we sing the later verses of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," or "Good King Wenceslas." (Question: why is it that the muse flees most lyricists somewhere between the first and second verses?) Besides, Norm Schlansky and I get to do "Five Golden Rings" every year. {This year, a newcomer convinced us to let him join in!).

Christmas is about family and friends. It is about Egg Nog and all the rest of the seasonal food. It is about the children--bless my wife for her decision a decade ago to limit gift giving to the kids (that is, adults give gifts to kids, not to each other). Since then, not another fruit basket has been sacrificed to the impossible task of thinking up presents for adults who already own everything they want.

It's about travelling, at the worst travel time of year, to be with your family. Marlow flying in from New York, for example. Or all of us flying to New Orleans, just because Vicki and the girls have never been there before.

Christmas is about family traditions when you're a kid, and the blending of family traditions when you marry. My family stayed at home on Christmas, my wife was always a Christmas runaway. My lights went up the Saturday after Thanksgiving each year and came down the Saturday after New Years. Vicki's went up on Christmas Eve and came down on Boxing Day.

We've had artificial trees for years. Marlow asked for a big tree her freshman year at college, and we got a 14-footer. She was impressed. We're back to artificial trees this year, but I think there is at least one more tall real tree in our future, when Rae goes off to college.

Christmas is about giving thanks. Thanksgiving is the official holiday to give thanks for our good fortune, but nothing says you can't do that at Christmas as well. Every Christmas morning when I wake up with my health, my wife, my children and my parents as part of this world, I count my blessings. Mine are beyond counting. I hope yours are too. I am now diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes, but you know what, I'm grateful because there are lots of worse diseases in the world. Mine, at least, is under control.

Merry Christmas!

I still don't know if it snowed seven days and nights when I was 12 or 12 days and nights when I was 7...

Pretty Busy For An Unemployed Guy

Several of you have called, and, no doubt, wondered why I didn't get right back to you. I mean, after, all, I'm unemployed, so I must have a lot of free time on my hands, right?

Well, first of all, I took a piece of advice from Jake Kirchner, ex of PC Magazine and my former boss at WINDOWS Magazine. He spent a spell unemployed last year. What he told me to do was pick a long-simmering project and invest some time in it. Two years ago, Vicki bought a dollhouse for Rae, our younger daughter. She thought we could assemble it together as a family project. Last Christmas we tried. It took more talent, patience and tools then we had as a group. So, within days of being laid off in October, I went to Cooper's Dollhouse in Benicia, Calif., and rented a table. I spend 10-20 hours a week there. Jim Cooper, the proprietor, won't assemble a dollhouse for you (except under special circumstances and at great expense), but he'll show you how to do it, step by step. Even a 10-thumbser like myself can follow his crystal-clear instructions. So that's a lot of time there.

Then there's my memoirs. Yes, that's right, my memoirs. I realize most of you who know me would have some doubts about whether I'd done anything to write memoirs about, doubts that would be compounded if you knew that I was re-vamping the first volume, written in 1985 and covering the first 33 years of my life. I am also working on Volume 2, which I envision as covering the years 1985-2001. Volume 1 was written mostly from memory, with reference to a few documents. I plan to make Volume 2 mostly a book of annotated documents. It turns out 1985 was the year I moved from CP/M to DOS. I have virtually every piece of incoming and outgoing email I have written or received since then. Most memos I've gotten were also electronic, and also saved. I have been stashing the best documents in a special folder on my PC, and it now has more than 70 documents of various lengths in it.

I've also prepared bound volumes of this Internet column (the Internet could dry up and blow away; I want to preserve these writings of mine), and collected three years worth of Fusco Brothers comic strips, since they are no longer published in book form.

Combine that with a week of classes from the outplacement firm, and time spent looking for work--I'm collecting unemployment, I'm required to look for work. Also, catching up on the piles and piles of little things that cover my desk and breed like rabbits at night when I am asleep, and you have the portrait of a man who's too busy to promptly return phone calls.

And next week, we're headed for LA to celebrate Christmas with Vicki's mom, then to New Orleans, just because Vicki and the girls have never been there. Then three out-of-town fencing tournaments in two months. I'm busier now than when I was working--and I was very busy when I was working!

Eat The Rich

Between the Aerosmith Lyrics, the 1987 British film and the Dutch Porn Site (don't ask me!), I have been unable to determine the origin of the phrase, "Eat The Rich. In any case, it wouldn't surprise me if it gains new currency in the face of the economic stimulus package that failed to work its way through Congress before the winter recess. I could have sworn "trickle-down" economics had been discredited. But here we are, deep in the throes of a recession, and instead of more health insurance for the unemployed, his fraudulency and the GOP pack of business lickspittles on Capitol Hill are vying to see who can return more money to the super-wealthy. And, oh yes, refund the entire Alternative Minimum Tax, all of it, that's ever been paid. Talk about changing the rules after the final gun had sounded! Mumia would be a free man today if the legal system took the same care-free attitude towards the statute of limitations as, apparently, Congress does. If the extension of unemployment benefits doesn't make it through as part of the eventual, post-Christmas package--at this writing it appears ensconced--then the whole thing will be a blatant, patent, fraud. We need bottom-up stimulus, not more privilege for the privileged. The Democrats would be right to oppose it.

Weight Loss

While speaking this week with Caden Henderson, one of my best friends from college days and beyond, we got on the subject of weight, a problem for both of us.

I have been telling people, a lot, during the last few weeks, that I have learned some important lessons from my two good friends who are recovering alcoholics. One really important lesson is to take it one day at a time. In their case, alcohol, in my case food. The prospect of a lifetime of constrained and restrained eating is so daunting as to be totally discouraging. But if I just get through this hour, this day, this week, and take it one day at a time, I think I can get through.

I have also been retelling a stunningly well-done scene from the television program The West Wing. Leo, President' Bartlett's chief of staff, is shown in flashback getting drunk. The scene in incredibly powerful, realistic and well acted. I was deeply moved, because it resonated so precisely with my food problems. Leo is narrating the scene for his attorney. She says, "Why didn't you stop at just one drink." Leo replies, "You know, I just can't understand people who leave a half a glass of wine." The speech goes on, but I was kicked into an instant reverie. BINGO. I can't understand people who leave half a plate of food at a restaurant (neither can Caden).

I can't understand people who can look at a German Chocolate Cake and not, just for a minute, wonder what it would be like to eat all of it. My mind works differently from that of thin people. I know that. I will always be a recovering overeater. I will not be able to not think about it, this minute, this hour, this day. Beyond that, I won't think about it.

Well, this is a heck of a way of backing into the fact that in the last six months I have lost 25 pounds, with the help of a wonderful M.D., after my psychotherapist and physical trainer spent better than a year laying the ground work. At the rate of 5 pounds a month, by next Christmas, I will have achieved my desired weight. Then it will simply be a matter of maintaining it, one day at a time for the rest of my life.

Wish me luck.

(And by the way, I don't know what they're smoking over at the New England Journal Of Medicine when they dispute the Surgeon General's report on obesity by suggesting the statistical link between obesity and premature death is not firmly established. Wake up and smell the fat on the griddle, folks. Amazingly, this is a journal that has always been in a leadership anti-smoking position. Their failure on this issue is depressing.)

Special Double Year-End Issue

Just a note about my publication schedule. First of all, it is with great pride that I note that of 52 possible weekly issues this year, I actually produced 49, my best calendar year ever. But we all know that no one in their right mind works the week between Christmas and New Years, and if you think I'm taking a portable to New Orleans, you've got another think coming. If the New Yorker can do one double issue every quarter, maybe I'm entitled to the same frequency. Actually, I've beaten them by one, but then my issues are shorter.

On Jan. 7, because I'll be out of town the weekend before, I have a very special issue planned. Wait until you see it! I'll probably post it early, since I'm out of town that weekend as well, and you'll all be tired of this column by then.

Where Are You All Coming From?

I know, I know, there's probably some really cool technical way to figure this out, especially since my ISP gave me access to my web logs. But I don't have a log analyzer, and I wouldn't understand the output if I did have one, unless it could do the interpretation for me. So, I am putting the question directly to you, my readers. In the last month, the average daily traffic at this site has more than doubled, from 42 pageviews to 106. I did recently register with Blogdex and Daypop, but I wonder; is that really it? So, I'm asking; if you're new to the column and you aren't a personal or business acquaintance of mine, how did you find the column? Drop me a note at

Duh Of The Year Award

It's time for all entries in the annual PSACOT "duh" of the year award.

First prize is a free year-long Internet only subscription to PSACOT.

Second prize is an all expenses unpaid two week trip for two to the resort destination(s) of your choice. Fly first class to the French Riviera, Aspen, Tahiti. Stay in five star hotels, dine in the finest three star restaurants. You'll provide yourself with a limo, driver and your own 300 foot yacht (only available on the French Riviera and Tahiti). To foster the new national spirit of self-reliance and interdependence, you'll pay all the expenses and we will be pleased to read your picture postcards.

Entries must be received by PSACOT by Friday, December 29, 2001 (Pacific Standard Time). Winning entry to be selected solely by PSACOT and to be published and prizes awarded in the next issue of PSACOT.

Entries so far:

1. George W. Bush for saying: "So, giving away billions of dollars in tax refunds really can cause a deficit."

2. The official(s) at FBI headquarters who said about 11 a.m. on the morning of September 11, 2001: "So that's what that flight instructor in Minnesota who reported Zacarias Moussaoui was talking about on August 13 of this year when he told us "Do you realize that a 747 loaded with fuel can be used as a bomb?" (see article in The New York Times, December 22, 2001, by Philip Shenon titled "Flight School Warned F.B.I. of Suspicions" and subtitled "Instructor Said Airplane 'Can Be Used as a Bomb'")

3. The senior law enforcement official who, after admitting that the FBI was relying in its anthrax investigation upon the only people with the apparent ability to cause the attack, wondered why the investigation wasn't making any progerss and said: "We're working with these people and looking at them as potential suspects." (see the end of the article in The New York Times, December 22, 2001, by William J. Broad and David Johnston titled U.S. Inquiry Tried, but Failed, To Link Iraq to Anthrax Attack"; as an inside baseball aside, some journalists refer to this as "burying the lead")

Get your entry in now.


Computer Industry News

Figuring Out Your News

From the ever-vigilant Craig Reynolds:

Something interesting is happening at but I'm not quite sure what. It looks like a news monitoring and filtering service. The filtering ("recent relevant news") seems to be looking for news which is "similar" to what you have been reading. Not sure though, I couldn't find any description at the site. It appears to be run by NEC Research Institute, the group that brought us the the excellent system for autonomous cross-referencing of online research papers.

Don't Steal Music, Please

And from Craig again:

I thought Don't steal music, pretty please was a good article about digital rights management: don't try to be a control-freak, there is plenty of money to be made.

...Just as HBO doesn't try to stop you from taping its movies, so music sellers need to let go and trust their customers. Remove the incentives for people to steal, rather than imposing more technology that treats customers as would-be shoplifters...

Web Site of the Week

Hack News From MIT/Firesign Theater

Thank you, Martin Heller, for spotting the news of this hack at MIT. I reprint here the text from the page, but you should really go see the pictures, and follow the link to the poster below as well.

On a snowy morning during Fall finals, at the beginning of the week that the first Lord Of The Rings movie was to be released, a "gold" ring with red Elvish script appeared around the Great Dome.

As in JRR Tolkein's novel, the "ring" was inscribed with text that translates to:

"One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all,
and in the darkness bind them."

Gandalf said about the text, "The letters are Elvish, of an ancient mode, but the language is that of Mordor, which I will not utter here."

The hackers were apparently not completely successful, for neither the Great Dome nor Building 10 managed to vanish into the realm of shadows.

Around the time that the hack appeared, a photoshopped movie poster was also floating around MIT humor lists, depicting Frodo holding an MIT Brass Rat (the MIT class ring) with the subtitle "One Ring To Rule Them All".

On another matter, how did Brian Westley know I'm a Firesign Theater Fan? Anyway, he wrote:

If you're such a Firehead, how about a link?

Done and Done.


Shaggy Dog Story: The Photographer

The Smiths were unable to conceive children, and decided to use a surrogate father to start their family. On the day the proxy father was to arrive, Mr. Smith kissed his wife and said, "I'm off. The man should be here soon".

Half an hour later, just by chance, a door-to-door baby photographer rang the doorbell, hoping to make a sale. "Good morning madam. I've come to...."

"Oh, no need to explain. I've been expecting you," Mrs. Smith cut in.

"Really?" the photographer asked. "Well, good! I've made a specialty of babies."

"That's what my husband and I had hoped. Please come in and have a seat."

After a moment she asked, blushing, "Well, where do we start?"

"Leave everything to me. I usually try two in the bathtub, one on the couch and perhaps a couple on the bed. Sometimes the living room floor is fun too; you can really spread out!"

"Bathtub, living room floor? No wonder it didn't work for Harry and me."

"Well, madam, none of us can guarantee a good one every time. But if we try several different positions and I shoot from six or seven angles, I'm sure you'll be pleased with the results."

"My, that's a lot of ..." gasped Mrs. Smith.

"Madam, in my line of work, a man must take his time. I'd love to be in and out in five minutes, but you'd be disappointed with that, I'm sure."

"Don't I know it.", Mrs. Smith said quietly.

The photographer opened his briefcase and pulled out a portfolio of his baby pictures. "This was done on the top of a bus."

"Oh my God!!" Mrs. Smith exclaimed, tugging at her handkerchief.

"And these twins turned out exceptionally well - when you consider their mother was so difficult to work with."

"She was difficult ?" asked Mrs. Smith.

"Yes, I'm afraid so. I finally had to take her to the park to get the job done right. People were crowding around four and five deep, pushing to get a good look."

"Four and five deep?" asked Mrs. Smith, eyes widened in amazement.

"Yes", the photographer said. "For more than three hours, too. The mother was constantly squealing and yelling - I could hardly concentrate. Then darkness approached and I began to rush my shots. Finally, when the squirrels began nibbling on my equipment, I just packed it all in."

Mrs. Smith leaned forward. "You mean they actually chewed on your,"

"That's right. Well, madam, if you're ready, I'll set up my tripod so that we can get to work."


"Oh yes, I have to use a tripod to rest my Canon on. It's much too big for me to hold very long...

Madam? Madam?

Journalist Light Bulb Jokes

Q. How many copy editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A. I can't tell whether you mean "change a light bulb" or "have sex in a light bulb." Can we remove the ambiguity?

Q. How many ad-traffic coordinators does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A. It'll be on the next report.

Q. How many chief editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A. If it's not on the edit calendar, none: we're not going to do it.

Q. How many circ directors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A. Well, if you assume a 10% response rate, and a cost of $400/thousand....

Q. How many production editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A. Only one, but that's going to cost us an extra production day.

Q. How many art directors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A. Does it HAVE to be a light bulb?

Q. How many managing editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A. You were supposed to have changed that light bulb last week.

Q. How many editors does it take to change a light bulb?
A. I'm really sorry I haven't gotten back to you, the question is pretty dense and it's taking me a little longer to get through than I thought. I'll finish reading it over the weekend and call you on Monday.

Q. How many copy editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A. The last time this question was asked it involved managing editors. Is the difference intentional? Should one or the other instance be changed? It seems inconsistent.

Q. How many proofreaders does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A. Proofreaders aren't supposed to change light bulbs. They should just query them.

Q. How many writers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A. But why do we have to CHANGE it?

Q. How many publishers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A. Three. One to screw it in, and two to hold down the author.

Q: How many PR people does it take to screw in a light bulb? A: When's your deadline? Is an answer by Monday too late?

Legal Language Parody

I love parodies of legal language, a sea in which we are all constantly drowning.


Please accept the below wish with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all ...

... And a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2002, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great, (not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country or is the only "AMERICA" in the Western Hemisphere), and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, choice of computer platform, or sexual preference of the wishee.

(By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.)



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