PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 4 No. 45

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

January 7, 2002

I'm Not Really Here!

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:

    • Another Dirty Little Secret
    • Getting Started In Journalism
    • The Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture
    • An Audio Spotlight?
    • Neath The Streets of New York
    • Cheating In The Internet Age

Computer Industry News:

    • Furby Supercomputing

Web Site of the Week:

    • None


    • You Might Be An Engineer


  • Cartoon Bloopers


  • Dalton and Mostyn on Bookstores, Dalton on Comedians


General News

Another Dirty Little Secret

Have you ever wondered why the year-end issues of print publications and year-end versions of television news shows fill up with "look back" features that count down the top news stories of the year? Well, it ain't because they think you've developed a sudden interest in your rear view mirror, bucko. It's because they think that a) you're not paying attention and in any case b) they're not there. Anyone in this country with a lick of power or authority takes the week off between Christmas and New Year's Day and the moderately powerful get two weeks. The really powerful take the whole month, but that's another story.

This is my way of saying: I'm not here. I am out of town with Rae at a fencing tournament.

But, to avoid an unseemly gap, I have dug deep in the PSACOT archives, to present stories, articles and jokes I have been meaning to bring to your attention for some time.

My apologies to all of you whose contributions were made last week and don't appear this week. Hang on! Many of you will see the light of day on Jan. 14!

Getting Started In Journalism

A couple of years ago, I spotted this in a book of columns by Mayes, the Readers' Editor (in the U.S., we'd call him an Ombudsman) for The Guardian. It is one of the most sensible things I have ever read. If you want to be a journalist, or know someone who does, follow the link and read the whole column.

Scoop dreams
The Readers' Editor on starting out in journalism

Ian Mayes
Saturday October 23, 1999
The Guardian

...I recall the conversation between the young Bateson in Evelyn Waugh's Scoop (quoting from which I acknowledge as a weakness) when he went to meet William Boot at the station on his return to London: "But do you think it's a good way of training oneself - inventing imaginary news?" "None better," said William.

Personally, I find all this so exciting that I almost wish I were going round again, I mean in journalism, of course, although I would, I hope, do some things differently (who was it who said, "If life had a second edition, how I would correct the proofs"?). [according to the Internet, the line was uttered by John Clare (1793 - 1864), a "preasant poet" who spent the more than a third of his life in insane asylums]


One generation has always felt it detected a decline in standards in the succeeding one. One of the great Guardian writers, Neville Cardus, said in his Autobiography: "It was not possible to get into print in those days [c1908] if you could not write good English. 'Can you write?' was the first thing asked by editors of young men when they were being interviewed after applying for a job as a junior reporter. Today, editors as a rule do not raise this question." He wrote that in, or at least it was published in, 1947.


A final thought, from the Italian poet, Petrarch: "Many have not become what they might have because they believed they were what people mistakenly said they were." Thanks again, and good luck.

The Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture

I recently heard about this project from Prof. Saltzman, who ran across my journalism movies web site. I am hoping to work with the project, and, not to be too morbid about it, to leave my collection of journalism books and moves to USC. Anyway, for those of you who are journalists (and even those of you who are not), here's the skinny.

The Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture (IJPC),
a Project of the Norman Lear Center
Director: Joe Saltzman, associate dean and professor of journalism
The Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California.

Mission: To investigate and analyze, through research and publication, the conflicting images of the journalist in film, television, radio, commercials, cartoons, and fiction, demonstrating their impact on the American public’s perception of newsgatherers.

As part of its commitment, IJPC will undertake the following:

*Publication of books, periodicals, monographs, and articles. First publication: Frank Capra and the Image of the Journalist in American Film by Joe Saltzman. Future publications will include specific categories summarizing the images of the journalist: anonymous reporters; columnists and critics; cub reporters; editors; flawed male journalists; investigative reporters; memorable newsroom families; photojournalists and newsreel shooters; publishers and media owners; real-life journalists; sob sisters; sports journalists; and war and foreign correspondents. Each will be the subject of a separate publication including a book-length essay and CD-ROM supplement.

*Maintain, enlarge, and archive IJPC’s database of nearly 20,000 items of the journalist in films, television, radio, commercials, cartoons, and fiction.

*Maintain, enlarge, and archive IJPC’s collection of 1,200 videotapes, audiotapes, and MP3 files (more than 5,000 hours of radio programs) and various scripts, books, novels, short stories, research materials, articles, and other artifacts.

*Surveys documenting the public perception of journalists and the journalists’ perception of journalists in both fiction and nonfiction media.

*Creation of symposia, exhibits, conferences, classes, and video-audio festivals documenting the image of the journalist in popular culture. Two examples: curating an exhibit of the image of the journalist in film and television for the Newseum in Washington, DC, in 2002, and the creation of a USC Annenberg School of Journalism class featuring twenty-eight documentaries showing the image of the journalist in film and television in the twentieth century.

*Working with researchers and scholars in the field. Loren Ghiglione, dean, the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University, and Richard Ness, author of From Headline Hunter to Superman: A Journalism Filmography, are two of the top researchers in the field who have agreed to work on the IJPC project.

*Creation of a Web site sharing research materials with the public and academic community.

*Creation of a journal featuring articles from experts in the field.

An Audio Spotlight?

My friend and former colleague Joy Culbertson pointed this New York Times story out to me a long time ago. I can still see the link, but you might have to register, or even pay, to see it. This sounds pretty cool, no pun intended.

An Audio Spotlight Creates a Personal Wall of Sound


A person hears a voice in her ear, turns around and sees nobody there. No one else has heard it. Or she hears footsteps in a room, the product of an invisible presence. Is her mind playing tricks on her?

Or is it a jokester, F. Joseph Pompei? A 28-year-old graduate student who is part scientist and part showman, Mr. Pompei has invented a device that projects a discrete beam of sound in much the same way a spotlight projects a beam of light.

Neath The Streets of New York

I don't know why, but I've always been fascinated by fictional depictions of abandoned tunnels or abandoned subway stations beneath New York. As an adult, I've learned there is all kinds of forgotten infrastructure beneath the Big Apple. Daniel Rosenbaum was kind enough to tip me to this New York Times story.

May 7, 2001
Underground Mail Road
In the bowels of New York City a century ago, not only was there the whoosh of water through pipes and the whiz of subways through tunnels, there was the zip of mail moving through pneumatic tubes at about 30 miles per hour.

The tubes — others snaked under Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and St. Louis — were put into use by the United States Post Office in 1897. In Manhattan, they extended about 27 miles, from the old Custom House in Battery Park to Harlem and back through Times Square, Grand Central Terminal and the main post office near Pennsylvania Station. At the City Hall station, the mail went over the Brooklyn Bridge to the general post office in Brooklyn.

Cheating In The Internet Age

David Strom, in his regularly excellent Web Informant newsletter (it is difficult for me to restrain myself from citing it every week in my column) dealt with some extremely important issues last spring. I have been meaning to bring this to your attention ever since.

11 May 2001: Cheating vs. collaboration
[I]n an era when people swap music over the Internet, forward email messages and send texts to each other with a single keystroke, the lines between collaboration and theft have blurred. -- NY Times article yesterday

The front-page article in the Times (and the original story in the Richmond paper) blames the Internet as a factor in suspected widespread cheating of University of Virginia students taking an introductory science class taught by Lou Bloomfield.

What attracted me to the story was the role played by Bloomfield, who developed a computer program to scan all of the papers he received to look for similar word combinations. The program found 122 matches in scanning over 2000 students' papers. And these weren't just a few words here and there: Bloomfield told me that all of the papers matched at least 500 or so words or about a third of their length.

Computer Industry News

Furby Supercomputing

My friend and ex-colleague Daniel Dern found a site that says you can link Furby dolls together to form a supercomputer:

Furbeowulf Cluster Computing

Massively parallel processing design and implementation with commodity products

For many years, consumer spending on high-tech toys has been growing at a rate far faster than the relatively stagnant supercomputing industry. By the second half of the 1990s, the sales of even a single moderately successful high-tech consumer toy such as the Tamagotchi, Playstation2, GameBoy, or Furby greatly outstripped the revenues of all supercomputing products combined.

The competition for the consumer high-tech toy market is fierce and well-funded, and the impetus to provide ever more powerful products to maintain or increase market share has resulted in the computing power found in children's toys making proportionately far greater strides than have been seen in even the most aggressive conventional supercomputing technologies.

Web Site of the Week



You Might Be An Engineer

There are numerous variations on this theme. This particular variation came to me from fellow MIT-graduate-gone-bad Daniel Dern: (length warning)

Buying flowers for your girlfriend or spending the money to upgrade your RAM is a moral dilemma.

Dilbert is your hero.

Everyone else on the Alaskan cruise is on deck peering at the scenery, and you are still on a personal tour of the engine room.

In college you thought Spring Break was a metal fatigue failure.

On vacation, you are reading a computer manual and turning the pages faster than someone else who is reading a John Grisham novel.

People groan at the party when you pick out the music.

The blinking 12:00 on someone's VCR draws you in like a tractor beam to fix it.

The only jokes you receive are through e-mail.

The salespeople at Circuit City can't answer any of your questions.

The thought that a CD could refer to finance or music never enters your mind.

When you go into a computer store, you eavesdrop on a salesperson talking with customers and you butt in to correct him and spend next twenty minutes answering the customers' questions, while the salesperson stands by silently, nodding his head.

You are able to argue persuasively that Ross Perot's phrase "electronic town hall" makes more sense than the term "information superhighway," but you don't because, after all, the man still uses hand-drawn pie charts.

You are at an air show and know how fast the skydivers are falling.

You are aware that computers are actually only good for playing games, but are afraid to say so out loud.

You are convinced you can build a phazer from your garage door opener and your camera's flash attachment.

You are currently gathering the components to build your own nuclear reactor.

You are next in line on death row in a French prison and you find that the guillotine is not working properly so you offer to fix it.

You are wine tasting and find yourself paying more attention to the cork screws than the '84 Chardonnay.

You bought your wife a new CD ROM for her birthday.

You can name at least six Star Trek episodes.

You can quote scenes from any Monty Python movie.

You can type 70 words a minute but can't read your own handwriting.

You can't fit any more colored pens in your shirt pocket.

You can't remember where you parked your car for the 3rd time this week.

You can't write unless the paper has both horizontal and vertical lines.

You carry a list for everything except the groceries.

You carry on a one-hour debate over the expected results of a test that actually takes five minutes to run.

You comment to your wife that her straight hair is nice and parallel.

You disdain people who use low baud rates.

Your car has a "Beam me up Scotty" bumper sticker.

You ever burned down the gymnasium with your science fair project.

You ever forgot to get a haircut ... for 6 months.

You find yourself at the airport on your vacation studying the baggage handling equipment.

You go on the rides at Disneyland and sit backwards in the chairs to see how they do the special effects.

You have a functioning home copier machine, but every toaster you own turns bread into charcoal.

You have a habit of destroying things in order to see how they work.

You have ever debated who was a better captain: Kirk or Piccard.

You have ever owned a calculator with no equals key and know what RPN stands for.

You have ever purchased an electronic appliance "as-is".

You have ever saved the power cord from a broken appliance.

You have ever taken the back off your TV just to see what's inside.

You have memorized the Discovery Channel program schedule but have seen most of the shows already.

You have modified your can opener to be microprocessor driven.

You have more friends on the Internet than in real life.

You have used coat hangers and duct tape for something other than hanging coats and taping ducts.

You just don't have the heart to throw away the 100-in-1 electronics kit you got for your ninth birthday.

You know how to take the cover off your computer, and what size screwdriver to use.

You know the altitude limits for turning on and off electronic equipment on commercial flights.

You know the direction the water swirls when you flush.

You know what http:// stands for.

You look forward to Christmas only to put together the kids' toys.

You order pizza over the Internet and pay for it through your home banking software.

You own "Official Star Trek" anything.

You own one or more white short-sleeve dress shirts.

You rearrange the dishwasher to maximize the packing factor.

You rooted for HAL, the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

You rotate your screen savers more frequently than your automobile tires.

You see a good design and still have to change it.

You spend more time on your home computer than in your car.

You still own a slide rule and you know how to work it.

You talk about the high resolution and picture-in-picture capability of your big screen TV while everybody is watching the Superbowl.

You talk about trellis code modulation at parties.

You think a pocket protector is a fashion accessory.

You think Sales and Marketing are Satan's children.

You think that when people around you yawn, it's because they didn't get enough sleep.

You think your computer looks better without the cover.

You thought the contraption ET used to phone home was stupid.

You thought the real heroes of "Apollo 13" were the mission controllers.

You walk around with your hands in your two front pockets 99% of the time.

You window shop at Radio Shack.

You would rather get more dots per inch than miles per gallon.

You're in the back seat of your car, she's looking wistfully at the moon, and you're trying to locate a geosynchronous satellite.

You've already calculated how much you make per second.

You've ever tried to repair a $5 radio.

Your checkbook always balances.

Your dress clothes come from Sears.

Your favorite actor is R2D2.

Your favorite character on Gilligan's Island was "The Professor".

Your favorite James Bond character is "Q," the guy who makes the gadgets.

Your girlfriend says the way you dress is no reflection on her.

Your idea of good interpersonal communication means getting the decimal point in the right place.

Your ideal evening consists of fast-forwarding through the latest sci-fi movie looking for technical inaccuracies.

Your Internet bill is higher than your long distance charges.

Your IQ is a higher number than your weight.

Your spouse sends you an email instead of calling you to dinner.

Your three-year-old son asks why the sky is blue and you try to explain atmospheric absorption theory.

Your wardrobe looks like you shop at Goodwill Industries.

Your wife hasn't the foggiest idea what you do at work.

Your wristwatch has more computing power than a 450 MHz Pentium.

Your wristwatch has more buttons than a telephone.


Cartoon Bloopers

I wrote recently that "The joke, of course, is that there are no bloopers or outtakes in an animated film," in reference to the "cute" bloopers at the end of Bugs' Life or Monsters Inc.. Turns out that isn't true. How do I know? Because Craig Reynolds said so. Craig has actually worked on CGI in Hollywood; he was on the team that did the effects in Tron and still keeps track of the field:

This is certainly true of classical hand-drawn animation. Modern computer animation, with its extensive use of procedural tools, has its own style of blooper. Many early tests for an animated scene contain the graphical manifestation of software bugs, some of which can be funny. These goofs are debugged long before the scene goes into final production. When PDI made Shrek they collected these outtakes and include them as a Special Feature on the DVD release. The movie and the outtakes are worth the price of admission.


Dalton and Mostyn on Book Stores, Dalton on Comedians

Richard Dalton began an exchange with this note:

Both Adair Lara and Jon Carroll teach occasional courses in the kind of stuff they do at Book Passage, the great Corte Madera book store. Suggest you get on their (e-)mailing list: They also have a very good series of talks by authors. I really miss that store. Do you know of a similar independent in Boston or Cambridge?

I told Richard I didn't know because I wasn't into bookstores when I was in college, but that Kevin Mostyn, another friend of mine, was likely to be a treasure trove. He was, albeit a disappointing one in this case.

I have been to Book Passage many times, I live nearby, it's a great store. Not quite as great at Cody's in Berkeley. Cody's has a customer service desk, staffed by people who really know the stock. I have gone there, and asked questions about books for which I could not remember either the author or the title, but I could remember some vague description of the obscure subjects. They always would say, "Oh, you want the XXXXX by YYYY book. Go to aisle 6, row 5, shelf 2, it's got a red cover, with black lettering; it's about 5 or 6 books from the left end of the shelf." For used books, there are some great stores in the Bay Area, I won't tantalize you.

As for Boston or Cambridge, I never found a store with such service, other than Schoenhof's, which sells foreign language books. Very knowledgeable, multi-lingual staff. Sometimes you find a good clerk at Booksmith, but not often. As a kid, I used to go to Book Clearing House on Boylston street. Later to the Coop; great selection, lousy staff. It's strange that Boston/Cambridge should be inferior to the Bay Area for books.

Richard concluded:

Thanks for the info. As for the Bay Area, I like Green Apple on Clement Street (near 6th) best. Really a 60s throwback, it has a great selection of new/used books. Staff is usually good. Best browsing store in the SF for my money--and I've spent a lot of it there over the years.

It has always baffled me that San Francisco isn't a better bookstore town. There are certainly a lot of readers here. Makes one wonder why Powell's is in Portland, Oregon and not here.

On another subject, I wrote: "Hollywood never gives credit to comedians..."

Richard Dalton asked: What about Woody Allen? I'd say: it took him way too long to win an Oscar, and he only won one. Still, Richard wrote out an interesting anecdote which I'd like to share.

I know, some people will say he's a director, a writer, a clarinet player, or a cradle robber. Nonetheless, he has been and continues to be a comedian.

One anecdote. Soon after I moved to San Francisco, I went with a couple of friends to hear Anton LaVey speak. He's the guy who made a number of headlines in the '60s because of his satanic "church." Headquarters was a modest Richmond district home painted all black. Oh yeah... he had a full-grown lion in the back which made the neighbors tetchy.

Anyway, I wanted to see the service because the altar was supposed to be a nude woman. My young mind raced: "If that's the altar, what's the service like?"

Big disappointment. Seems that Anton didn't let you attend services until you attended an orientation course (at $10 a pop for many weeks). So my friends and I sat through an hour of mostly derivative "revelations" about facial expressions and personality. Along with the tedious lecture you had to endure the strongest odor of cat urine I've ever encountered.

So where's this going? My friends lobbied to go at the break. We had planned to go night-clubbing after the LaVey stint. As we headed for the exit, I got a chance to utter maybe my best exit line. LaVey spotted us and said, "Oh, Mr. Dalton... where are you going? We haven't finished the presentation."

I responded: "Sorry. We have to catch Woody Allen's second show at the Purple Onion."

Woody Allen is a comedian who has gotten enormous credit from Hollywood, New York, and all points between. --


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