PS... A Column
By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.
March 4, 2002
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 photos1, 2, 3
Table of Contents:
Good News On The College Teaching Front
I continue on my path toward converting myself from a computer journalist into a teacher.
First, I need to state clearly, so that her stake is driven into the ground: my mother strongly advised me to forget about a high school teaching credential and just get cracking on college-level jobs. Sound advice, and I might well be better off taking it, but I have now decided to take my master's degree in education--which has about an 80% overlap with the teaching credential requirements. And an MA, of course, will make me much more employable as a college instructor.
In the meantime, I'm moving along the long and winding road towards a California teaching single subject teaching credential in English, which would enable me to be a newspaper and yearbook advisor, among many other things.
Unless you are a teacher here yourself, you probably didn't realize that the State of California requires every new teacher to demonstrate familiarity with the U.S. Constitution, either by passing a qualified undergraduate course or "testing out." I have no intention of learning any more about the U.S. Constitution than I already know. I do admit cramming so I could get the amendments in the right order--and a good thing too. The 50-question multiple-choice test was decidedly not about the kinds of constitutional issues you might have to deal with in a classroom (separation of powers, roles of the governmental branches). Instead, it was a "gotcha" test that asked things like, "Which amendment resulted in direct election of senators," with choices being 16, 17, 18 and 19. Well, the answer is "yes, it is one of those, and if I needed to know I'd look it up." To make a long story short (whoops! Too late for that!) I got 48 of the 50 questions right.
Which is a lot better than I did a few weeks ago on the Single Subject Assessment of Teachers (SSAT) test for English. Having bested the CBEST test, I assumed this would be another no brainer. I should have been tipped off by the fact that the state does not allow anyone to create a study guide for this test. The SSAT is murderously difficult. I am sure the raw scores will be normalized--that is, the test will be graded on the curve. I can only hope the other teachers taking it had as hard a time as I did. Otherwise, I'll be taking that one again.
Because of my regretably awful undergraduate transcript, I have to take the Miller's Analogy Test on Monday. I'll let you know how I do, but in every practice test, I've been getting 80 out of 100, which is in the 95th percentile. It is a test of vocabulary and general knowledge. Could I ask for a test more perfectly suited to my skills? No, I couldn't.
Finally, I've decided to tell you that I may be hired to lecture in journalism one day a week in Los Angeles this fall. That's a tough commute, but actually quite similar to the one Edwin Diamond did for a decade when he taught at MIT. Interestingly, he was about my age when he started teaching there. I hope I can do half the job he did as a teacher. I'm sure making half (or less) of his pay, without even adjusting for inflation. I'm going to keep the name of the school under wraps--no one there has really given their permission for me to make them fodder for my column. But I like the cut of the dean's jib, and most especially that of the assistant dean who found my Journalism Movie web page and invited me to apply in the first place. They have some cool, revolutionary ideas about journalism education of which you will hear more if I am hired on. Wish me luck.
Cool Technical Note
I don't know if you noticed in your weekly notification email, but thanks to my excellent relationship with my ISP, I was able to obtain a really cool URL for this column. In addition to www.schindler.org/psacot, you can now get here with column.schindler.org. I think the whole "something other than www" method of web navigation is vastly underutilized. For example, the Byte.com audio shows were at audio.byte.com because that's where I put them. It is apparently not that difficult to set up such a URL if you own or control your server--or if you have a really nice ISP. However, I was told if I want a second such URL (film.schindler.org for my movie page, for example), I'll have to pay for it as if it were a separate domain.
Anyway, column.schindler.org; easier to say, easier to remember, easier to find. Just another public service of the vast PSACOT organization.
Photos Are Journalism Too
David Tenenbaum was chairman of The Tech when I was editor-in-chief, elected specifically to "ride herd" on me. He was also an ace photographer, and went on to a long and successful career as an Associated Press photographer. He is responsible for the best 13 weeks of my college life, during which I shared a ride with him and others in his gold Plymouth Duster from Cambridge, Mass. to Manhattan. He went to a master photography class at NYU each week, while I saw 13 Broadway shows (more, I might add, than my daughter at Columbia has seen in nearly three years as a student). I shared these trips with Norm Sandler, Barb Moore, John Hanzel and Mike McNamee among others. I could go on, but I won't. In a recent column, I wrote about journalism in a way David found to be a bit too restricted.
It would be nice if you would just consider, at this advanced stage in life, that there just might be some definition of "Journalism" that transcends your word-centric representation. One that doesn't require you to stretch all the way to the dreaded "broadcast" word, but might apply to those that use more complicated instruments than, say, a pencil.
There have even been, if I recall correctly, things like movies on that segment, as well as the occasional Pulitzer Prize. You know, that lowly, oft-abused sub-segment called "photo-" Journalism.
I mention this because I recently saw one of my 22-year-old images resurrected and fairly widely played, even got interviewed for a couple of newspaper stories. It was the 1980 Lake Placid Olympic shot of hockey (that's the stick-and-puck game) goalie Jim Craig clutching the flag after winning the gold. It's a mediocre picture of a nice moment, and given the recent patriotic surge, apparently was too symbolic for people to pass up resurrecting. It even placed second in the Pulitzer competition at the time. Pictures do count as journalism!
I remember the photo chief at UPI once pointing out to me that the word guys could cover it by phone, and usually did, an option not available to the photo people.
You know what units had the highest mortality in WWII? Combat photographers, because they walked into battle ahead of the troops, with their backs to the enemy. At least that's what my high school English teacher, a WWII combat photographer, told me.
I didn't know that was your picture! God, too bad you missed the Pulitzer. And although I am sure you are being modest about it being a mediocre picture, it is amazing to me how important the even is, relatively. Even on the word side, a mind-boggling event can often transcend adequate reporting to create a great story.
Confusion Central: Art Directors
Years ago, Larry King wrote this mini-essay describing art and art directors at magazines. I reprint it here, lest I be accused of consistency.
More color illustrations and the occasional photo are okay. It is a trend that will have to be carefully watched lest it get out of hand, but at the moment it is not a true threat. The real problem with elaborate illustration, particularly when it involves large-scale color photography is that it virtually requires that an art director and a photo editor be hired and that photographers be allowed into the editorial offices. Art directors do vast damage to a magazine's intellectual coherence, not to mention its editors' sanity. The only people who can hurt a magazine more are publishers and corporate management, and they usually are too busy pretending they have a reason for being allowed to live to actually do anything that affects the publication. Art directors come right into the office, most days, for an hour or two. Photo editors and photographers are merely an aesthetic nuisance and occasionally a sanitation problem.
About "The Paper," The Best Journalism Film Ever
In February 2002, I exchanged email on the subject of this movie with financial journalist Larry King, an American now based in London. He wrote:
By the way, yourcolumn mentions that you think The Paper is the all-time best journalism movie. I'd agree, although it necessarily omits the bonecrushing boredom of much newspaper work and truly awe-inspiring stupidity and cowardice of a lot of newspaper editors….
One of the depressing things about newspapering is how little changes going from a fifth-rate rag in a one-horse town to the New York Times. You get some smarter people in the newsroom, and a lot more of them, at a big-city daily. Generally, management is a bit less miserly about things like travel. So the product improves. But the day-to-day grind of being a reporter or working editor looks and feels much the same, I think.
You can read our whole exchange here.
And if you like Larry's writing (and I know I do) You can read Larry King's remarks on Presidential Greatness here. He tells one of my favorite stories:
Ray Pardo on Killing Time, A Novel
Caleb Carr's Killing Time: A novel of the future. Random House, 2000.
Borrowing a plot-line from Jules Verne, Carr places Dr. Gideon Wolfe as the narrator whose skills are needed by a band of fellow scientists who are trying to get the world to wake up to the fact that most of their "reality" is based on disinformation, false information, or myth. Seeing the future form of the Internet as in the hands of "them" -- a few oligarchs who rule the world from their corporations -- the band tries to get everyone's attention by creating even bigger fabrications, e.g., that Washington's death was orchestrated by a cabal of early American business leaders.
Written in 1999, initially as an assignment for Time magazine on the "near future", Killing Time is a truly frightening examination of the dark possibilities we face -- as underscored by September 11 and the allied reaction. The science (as well as the plot line) is "gee-whiz" only in the device of the Jules Verne-type vehicle used by the protagonists. This book is well worth reading with the books of William Gibson and Neil Stephenson for its exploration of the darkside of the information age.
Copyright © by O. Ray Pardo, February 22, 2002
You can read Ray's whole review here.
Craig's Briefs: Apple Power, Virtual Stunt Artists, NY Times Hacked
Debunking the "megahertz myth" (clock speed does not equal performance) comparisons of high-end Dual G4 PowerMac with various Intel-based systems:
And two items about using Macs in clusters for distributed scientific computing (lack of a rank-mountable box is the major drawback):
Harking back to the item you ran on physics and simulation in computer animation: Petros Faloutsos' (Ph.D. work and SIGGRAPH 2001 paper was the hook for this AP story on the topic:
Here is a perfect PSACOT story: elements of technology and journalism: a gray-hat cracker gains access to sensitive information at the NYT:N.Y. Times source database hacked
The New York Times published a good summary of the current situation regarding the music industry's injudicious attempt to create "copy-protected CDs" which in fact are out of compliance with the CD audio standard according to Philips and Sony Electronics.CD Technology Stops Copies, but It Starts a Controversy
The only device I use to listen to CDs is my PowerBook. Any disc that does not play on it gets returned marked "defective as manufactured".
I concur with that last remark, 100%.
Jim Powell on .Net
I asked Jim his opinion of .Net. I got it--unvarnished! Just the way the President and Vice President like their advice.
My take: Microsoft has never, ever explained exactly what .NET is. It's this vague set of ideas. No business model? Well, maybe. Or it could be that their business model fell through. Is there money to be made from consumers on the Web? I still haven't seen the resistance break down -- with the exception of the oft-cited Wall Street Journal, are people willing to pay for items? Has Hotmail sold many "extra storage" add-ons? I kind of doubt it. Microsoft wants to sell the promise of .NET, which is why they've released the Visual Studio .NET product -- though I've yet to read a single story about what it contains that makes it a must have. It's not the business model that's at the heart of the problem -- it's the entire set of product features. what are they? How can they be used. Finally, with all the holes in Passport, IE, XP, ad nauseum, would you trust your data to Microsoft? Would you as a developer trust Visual Studio .NET? Not I.
A Bohring Story
Glen Speckert recently sent me that great old Academic story (you've seen it) about measuring the height of a building with a barometer, the punch line of which is that you ring up the building superintendent (or security office) and offer to trade them a nice new barometer in exchange for revealing the height of the building. The story ends, "that paper was written by Neils Bohr, the only Dane to ever win the Nobel Prize for physics."
Great story. Of course, he is one of three Danes to have shared the prize, but leaving that aside, the whole story, while lovely and elegant, is, alas, an urban legend. It is getting to that I am starting to think that old saw, promulgated by postal fraud investigators during my youth, may be true of most information you get by e-mail or on the Internet. "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." If we adopted that motto in journalism, of course, American newspapers and magazines would quickly become more boring than they already are.
I found a moderated discussion group which included this response to the Bohr story:
The Urban Legends Reference Pages traces the legend back to a math textbook in 1961 but also cites its appearance in Reader's Digest in 1958. Apparently, Bohr has only been involved for the past couple of years. There seems to be no reason to think it's true of anyone.
I enjoyed (that is, spent too much time at) the Urban Legends site; I was particularly enamored of its analysis of the elements of urban legends, the elements of each legend that lend it credibility and durability. There is also a taxonomy; the Bohr story, for example, belongs to a category along with "which tire was flat" and the proof of the temperature in Hell, of academic final exam stories, many of which involve the mythical requirement that faculty give credit to whimsical, albeit technically correct answers.
A tip o' the PSACOT hat to Bob Nilsson for this:
Don't know if you've seen thiscomprehensive list of predictions from Ian Pearson of BT Group's BTexact Technologies. It is a timeline of 500 predictions for the next 30 years. Although I can find no mention of the obsolescence of human journalists, it does predict you won't compete with AI teachers until 2004. After another 13 years, the AI teacher will get better results than the human teacher.
The lack of predictions on the replacement of lawyers is somewhat disappointing. Nonetheless, courtrooms will apparently not disappear; the automated stenographer is set to debut in 2014.
The longest-term prediction is for the return of theKeo satellite in 51998. That one goes out on a limb since Keo has yet to be launched.
As a parent with teenagers, though, I'm glad video tattoos will not appear until 2010.
Richard Dalton reports:
We have been debating "objective journalism" for decades. One of the more obvious tricks journalists use is to quote someone else (who agrees with his/her opinion) rather than stating it directly.
Call me a cynic, but most objective journalists I know have access to a pot-full of stats that can they can use to lard a straight news story.
In that regard, I may have discovered agold mine of links maintained by the U of Michigan's Document Center. If you can't find what you're looking for there, maybe nobody's counting it.
Bob Nilsson scores twice in one column:
I know about this site because my son and his friends had used the scripts on their web pages (word of this sort of resource travels fast through middle and high schools).One script in particular gives people the creeps by creating ants crawling all over the pages toward the curser. There is even a script that creates UFOs chasing the mouse around.
The Top 17 Slogans for 48-Proof Beer
Back on top again, where I belong.
February 28, 2002
NOTE FROM CHRIS:
In important alcohol news, the makers of Sam Adams beer have announced that they will be producing 48 proof beer, the strongest beer in the world, for a limited time.
17> A Trailer Park in Every Bottle!
16> Because a Beer Hat Only Holds Two Cans
15> Strong Enough for a Bush -- But Made for a Kennedy
14> You Booze, You Snooze
13> You Only Go Around Once in Life -- Might as Well Be Hammered
12> Great Taste, Less Feeling!
11> The Quicker Liquor-Upper
10> Because Roofies Ain't Legal, Homeboy
9> Like Bourbon, Only Carbonated
8> What Beer Drinkers Drink When They Ain't Drinkin' Gasoline
7> 48 Proof: Easily Divisible by Your Favorite 12-Step Program!
6> It's Disinfectastic!
5> Goodbye, Beer Goggles. Hello, Seeing-Eye Dog!
4> 48 Proof! Take THAT, you Canadian WUSSIES!!
3> Get Fried With That
2> Upgrade from Beer Goggles to a Beer Hubble Telescope!
and Topfive.com's Number 1 Slogan for 48-Proof Beer...
1> Now With More of the Active Ingredient Alcoholics Recommend Most
[ The Top 5 Listwww.topfive.com ]
[ Copyright 2002 by Chris White ]
Selected from 157 submissions from 57 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 1 (10th #1)
The Tappett Brothers on Car Talk read a column by Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post about the differences between the way men and women think. It's very funny. Go read it.
CIA Agent Test
Don Davis, who has a good eye for Internet humor, sent me this:
The CIA had an opening for an assassin. After all of the background checks, interviews, and testing were done there were three finalists -- two men and one woman. For the final test, the CIA agents took one of the men to a large metal door and handed him a gun.
"We must know that you will follow your instructions, no matter what the circumstances. Inside this room you will find your wife sitting in a chair. You have to kill her."
The first man said."You can't be serious. I could never shoot my wife," The agent replies, "Then you're not the right man for this job."
The second man was given the same instructions. He took the gun and went into the room. All was quiet for about five minutes. Then the agent came out with tears in his eyes. "I tried, but I can't kill my wife." The agent replies, "You don't have what it takes. Take your wife and go home."
Finally, it was the woman's turn. Only she was told to kill her husband. She took the gun and went into the room. Shots were heard, one shot after another. They heard screaming, crashing, banging on the walls. After a few minutes, all was quiet. The door opened slowly and there stood the woman. She wiped the sweat from her brow and said, "You guys didn't tell me the gun was loaded with blanks. I had to beat him to death with the chair."
None This Week
You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database.
Dan Rosenbaum on The Last Of The Goons, Grobsteins on Diskonkey
Dan Rosenbaum was the first to point out to me that Spike Millican, the last living member of the British comedy troupe, The Goons (as in The Goon Show) had died. He first sent me the URL for the AP obituary from the New York Times. I suggested then end of the world was nigh, when the Times couldn't be bothered with an original obit. He pointed out, " They frequently run placeholder obits until they get one of their own cranked up." And indeed, a few hours later, the real, authoritative obit of Spike Millican appeared.
This father and son note.
Dan Grobstein wrote:
I gave my son Spike a Diskonkey (32 mb of memory with a usb interface that goes on a keychain) a while back. The Mac mounts them as an external disk when you plug them into the USB port. PCs above Windows 98 also see them and mount them. When he was a kid he used to see me change the DOS prompts on the machines at CompUSA to read BUY_ME> or similar phrases.
Spike's message:Have iPod, Will Secretly Bootleg
Check that out. Oh, the possibilities!
I always wanted to do it the other way around -- bring VCDs into CompUSA and play them. Many demo machines have their CDROM disabled so you can't put anything in. I stuck some good mp3s on a couple of ibooks at CompUSA using my Diskonkey before.
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