PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 4 No. 14

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

April 8, 2002

A Glorious Vacation

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
To Pay For This Column

Table of Contents:

General News

  • A Glorious Vacation
  • A Profound Notion About Ideas
  • Confusion Central
  • Peace March
  • More on Quotes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds Techobriefs
  • Scot Finnie on XP and Muscle Machines
  • Why Upside's Down, Microsoft Villainy Revealed

Web Site of the Week

  • Harry Shearer and the Credibility Gap


  • None


  • Iris
  • Death To Smoochie
  • Halle Berry--Is My Face Red


  • IBM and Nazi Germany, Eric Raymond on Linux, Bob Nilsson has a few thoughts

General News

A Glorious Vacation

I'd love to record every glorious minute of what was certainly one of the most delightful vacations Vicki, Rae and I have taken in years, but I must resist the temptation. Of course, it saddens me to contemplate that this will be among the last vacations we take with Rae, who will be off to college in just about 16 months.

We went first to Pt. Reyes. We rode our bikes in Samuel P. Taylor State Park, whose 6 mile paved bike path is one of the coolest in the San Francisco Bay Area. I mean, it isn't the Iron Horse Trail, length-wise, but it is much more interesting and beautiful. We also rode the Sausalito-Corte Madera bike path (the one that starts around Gate 5 road and has a section through a marsh). We also hiked in the Pt. Reyes National Seashore. We scouted the Tiburon bike trail for next time. Stayed at the B&B in Olema called "An English Oak" in the Acorn cottage, which we can highly recommend. Dinner at the Olema Inn--great atmosphere and some of the best food in California.

In the second phase of the vacation, we rode along the Napa River trail in Napa; technically a hiking path, but you can ride your bike along it if you're willing to get off and walk around a hazard now and then. Highly recommended. I mean, it's no Samuel P. Taylor, but then what is? We stayed at the Embassy Suites, Napa. What it lacks in style points it makes up for in happy hour and a free real breakfast including eggs, sausage, french toast, pancakes and fruit.

We were going to ride the Silverado Trail, but the traffic was too much, so we rode the Cross-Yountville Road (2 miles) and took the left on Yount Road for another two miles until it ran into Highway 29. Yount Road is a country farming access road, with zero traffic (except for a few tractors) and beautiful scenery. Also recommended. We drove over to Santa Rose to check out the Santa Rosa to Forestville bike trail. Six miles of former electric street railway right of way. Looks very promising. Then to Mill Valley where we saw Iris in the lovely theater downtown and had dinner at the Champagne deli next door. Excellent beef stroganoff, may I say.

In short, a little bit of heaven on earth, made even better by the presence of two of the most wonderful women on earth, my wife and my daughter. I am blessed indeed. Now, off to Fresno for a fencing tournament.

A Profound Notion About Ideas

Once again, it is too bad the New Yorker does not maintain a real website. I was gobsmacked by some remarks in the middle of a long article about a philosopher named Popper, written by Adam Gopnik in the April 1, 2002 issue under the headline, The Porcupine. Finally, an intellectually satisfying explanation of the personalities of my favorite comic writers, Garrison Keillor, S.J. Perelman, Groucho Marx and Mark Twain. Not to mention confirming a feeling I have long had about Thurber, not one of my favorites.

The Law of the Mental Mirror Image. We write what we are not. It is not merely that we fail to live up to our best ideas but that our best ideas, and the tone that goes with them, tend to be the opposite of our natural temperament. Rousseau wrote of the feelings of the heart and the beauties of nature while stewing and seething in a little room. Dr. Johnson pleaded for Christian stoicism in desperate fear of damnation. The masters of the wry middle style, Lionel Trilling and Randall Jarrell, were mired in sadness and confusion. The angry and competitive man (James Thurber) writes tender and rueful humor because his own condition is what he seeks to escape. The apostles of calm reason are hypersensitive and neurotic; William James arrived at a pose of universal cheerfulness in the face of constant panic. Art critics are often visually insensitive--look at their living rooms!-and literary critics are often slow and puzzled readers, searching for the meaning, and cooks are seldom trenchermen, being more fascinated by recipes than greedy for food.

It is not so much that we are drawn to things that frighten us as that we are drawn to things that we can think of as things-as subjects that exist outside the boundaries of all that is just the way we are. It is not merely that we do not live up to our ideals but that we cannot, since our ideals are exactly the part of us that we do not instantly identify as just part of life. An original thought is like a death mask of a man, with the solids made hollow and the nose a cavity, a portrait pulled inside out. We are our ideas... for they include everything we are-but turned right around to face us, and looking back at us in surprise.

Confusion Central

Another in a series of historic e-mails I received years ago from financial journalist Larry King when he worked at the headquarters of a trade publishing firm:

The Things Up With Which He Will Not Put

The Osgood piece that ended each sentence with a preposition showed up. It was a telling blow against that prohibition old-maid schoolteachers are so fond of. I wonder how many of them found anything in it to quarrel over. A tour de force like that is hard to argue with.

I wonder, though, how long it took him to work the whole thing out. A preposition is not generally a natural thing to end a sentence with. I suspect that is the underlying reason for that old taboo, arrant pedantry aside.

Incidentally, Osgood reports a different version of the Churchillian anecdote and Churchill's retort from the one I've heard of. In my version, some pedant in an anonymous ministry wrote a memo concerning the promiscuous use of sentences with prepositions at the end and sent it out and about. Churchill got it, snorted, scrawled ``This is the kind of nonsense up with which I will no longer put'' on it, and sent it back.

The advice that Pittsburgh is a bad town to get something in your eye in but a good town to get something in your eye out reminds me of the old dictum that New York is a great town to get in trouble in but a hard town for those in trouble to get out of.

Actually, it's not that old; I just made it up.

Peace March

Shades of the 60's! Richard Dalton forwarded me a message calling for an April 20 peace march on Washington. I remember April 1971; 31 years later and we're still trying to get the government to listen.

Dear friend,

As we enter the seventh month of the War on Terrorism, the Bush administration is getting ready to launch a major offensive in Iraq. US military action in countries from Indonesia to Somalia to Columbia also appears to be in the works.

It's time to demonstrate that September 11th is not a mandate for war without end. Please join the American Friends Service Committee, Peace Action, and thousands of people in Washington, DC on April 20th for a nonviolent march to stop the War On Terrorism.

For more information, go to:

More On Quotes

It isn't just journalists who read this column. In fact, sometimes I feel like an archeologist, standing before one of those perfect cliffs with undisturbed layers where you can read the history of the world. In may case, I have undisturbed and unmixed layers of grade school, high school, college and adult friends who have stayed in, or re-entered my life. One of the most spiritual and intellectually challenging of my college friends had this reaction to my question about asking someone to freshen up a quote:

Ah, Paul, I dream of the day when what people say actually matches what their soul is projecting all around them. Quotes would be no problem then. If reporters could report on the beauty of the souls they interview, rather than just the babble, I might actually read newspapers. Have you ever interviewed someone whose spoken words matched the truths in his aura? That is an interview worth doing, and such an experience is the reason I have faith in human evolution, as slow as it might be. When will your question become "Can I report what your soul is really doing this for, rather than what words your mouth just said?"

This articulates my frequent frustration with journalism: I write the best story I can, but fail to capture or impart the truth.

Mark Your Calendars: Paul In Concert

Mark your calendars and don't miss this event. If you don't live around here, fly in for it. The music will be great and the second tenor saxophone will be... well, modesty forbids. I won't be announcing; there won't be an announcer.

Contra Costa Wind Symphony
Gala 20th Anniversary Concert
Saturday, April 27th, 2002 8 p.m.

Hofmann Theatre
Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts
Walnut Creek, California.

Tickets are now available. Call the Regional Center Box Office at
(925) 943-SHOW

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Some good news about Fritz Hollings' CBDTPA, apparently Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, has come out against the bill which makes a quick passage unlikely. Note that Leahy's committee is seeking public comment on the bill and related issues.

Unisys and Microsoft began an anti-Unix advertising campaign complete with a website. Their intended message was muddied a bit on Monday when it was noticed that the server for the site--like the majority of web servers--was running Unix. By the end of the week they must have decided that the reliability of a Unix server was not worth the PR hit, by Friday it was running a Microsoft server.

I love that second item. It is so perfectly Microsoft. Thanks, Craig, as always.

Scot Finnie on XP and Muscle Machines

I recently sent newsletter editor Scot Finnie a letter from one of my readers, about Windows XP and muscle machines. I liked his response. Here it is:

I think your reader has a point. But ... I'm also positive that he would be in love with Windows XP if he could get over his built-in inhibition and also give up on his ancient software dependencies. I'm not kicking at askSam, which is a wonderful application. It's just that ... sometimes an OS transcends any one application. I'm afraid that both Linux and Windows XP are like that. Windows 98 is safe, but it just isn't, ah, transcendent. And Windows Me is a laughingstock. And in Windows 2000, NT hadn't quite been tamed yet.

I loathe product activation, but Microsoft has chosen the right time to implement it. Windows XP is a better Windows today than Windows 95 was in 1995. And that's saying something. There was so much pent up demand then. Now, the market is lackadaisical. That's the arm XP has behind its back. Windows 95's only significant Achilles's heel was that it was so damn late.

But I digress. To answer your question, Muscle machines have more CPU muscle than our current software really knows how to take advantage of. The more important hardware bits are bus speed, drive performance, video performance, and most importantly, Internet performance (for most things). Hardware that has more horsepower is never, ever an unimportant thing. What people don't seem to realize is that just because PCs are open-architecture, that doesn't mean one size fits all. Some PCs are very definitely faster than others. Waiting around to buy the $899 PC on sale with a four-year-old OS means that you're probably also getting substandard hardware. Case in point, just now, there aren't a large number of Pentium 4s selling for $900. If you're lucky, you might get what you pay for. But you never, ever get what you don't pay for.

Now, having made my point in probably an overly big way, your reader's conclusion that what we really need is faster RAM, and especially faster, not so much bigger, hard drives, is one of those cut-to-the-chase observations. We in the industry are so used to the hard drive manufacturers introducing modest but important little performance improvements every three years of so. They dole out new technology jealously. Then we're content with big, big, big, and cheap, cheap, cheap. He's right, dramatically improved hard drive speed would change computing. In fact, anything at all that might make software go markedly faster would probably set the industry on a tear again. We're stymied by software right now.

Why Upside's Down, Microsoft Villainy Revealed

Three great technology articles in the San Francisco Chronicle on one day:

Upside's downside: Tech magazine's founder lost more than money during publication's rise and fall
Dan Fost
When confronted with the complaints of dozens of angry creditors, people who feel cheated, David Bunnell shows flashes of anger himself. "I got an anonymous e-mail comparing me to Osama bin Laden," said the former chief executive of Upside Magazine.

Angry creditors line up to collect overdue bills
Dan Fost
It may be the granddaddy of the biz-tech magazines, but as Upside crawls from the ashes of the dot-com bust, it leaves a legacy of unpaid bills and angry creditors. Last year, Upside's chief financier, MCG Capital Corp., foreclosed.

TECH21: Microsoft trial full of nuggets
Henry Norr
Everybody's tired by now of the Microsoft antitrust trial, but that doesn't diminish the importance of its outcome for the future of high tech. And if you're interested in the nitty-gritty of how the industry works, there's no better source accessible to outsiders than the documents and testimony from the case.


Palm Software executive:

The process by which we got there was very disturbing. If in order to get access to every Microsoft technology we have to wait two years, catch their employees in falsehoods and testify in a major court case, it will be an enormous hindrance to our business."


I found the testimony of Red Hat's Tiemann compelling for two reasons.

First, it provided a lot of concrete, technical detail fleshing out the oft- repeated allegation that Microsoft "embraces and extends" industry standards with proprietary, undocumented extensions that make it difficult for other companies' products to work well, or sometimes at all, with Microsoft's.

Web Site of the Week

Credibility Gap

I remember the Credibility Gap from their very odd album which was in the library of the MIT FM radio station when I worked there. Never as big as the Firesign Theater, they were still quite funny. Harry Shearer, a member of the group now famous as a voice talent on The Simpsons has posted some of their funniest bits. The first one is a very clever updating of the old Abbott and Costello bit, "who's on first."





You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database.

Every time I see Kate Winslet naked (which is just about every time I see the poor girl in a film), I think what an asshole James Cameron is for calling her fat. She is perfectly sized and stunningly beautiful. She makes a terrific young Iris, and should have been given as Oscar, although Judi Dench also turned in a terrific performance as the older Iris. Jim Broadbent was, in fact, excellent as the older John Bayley, and Hugh Bonnevile's resemblance to him is so remarkable that I swore they had allowed Broadbent to play Bayley young and old.

This is the story of English novelist Iris Murdoch's descent into Alzheimer's. It is powerful, moving, tragic, sad, and very important. It is also so wrong. Let me make my position clear: if you really, really love someone, don't destroy your life trying to be a single-handed Alzheimer's care giver. The person you loved is gone. Get them decent care, see them now and then, but don't flush your life down the toilet like Bayley did. I consider this a cautionary tale.

Don't take the kids. Sex, nakedness and a depressing adult story.

Death To Smoochy

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database.

A perfect 101 minute gem, a movie that I wouldn't change a scene of. Black humor at its best, showcasing the remarkable acting and directing talents of Danny DeVito and the always-worth-watching acting talent of Robin Williams. Edward Norton continues to demonstrated that he is the most flexible, least typecast actor of his generation. From Fight Club to Death To Smoochy is one of the greatest leaps I have ever seen.

Adam Resnick wrote and directed one of the worst movies ever made, the 1994 Chris Elliot disaster Cabin Boy (complete with hideous cameos by his father, Bob Elliot of Bob and Ray and David Letterman of the Oscars). Here, he has here written a film that is clever, amusing and fascinating, without a single false note, but with more red herrings and plot twists than you can shake a stick at. In the end, no one ends up being who or what you expect.

Thoroughly entertaining, uproariously funny adult-only humor. Start the word of mouth now; this movie does not deserve the death of a thousand empty seats that it is receiving. It is hard to categorize and hard to describe but it is good and worth seeing.

Near the end, be sure to keep you eye on the news ticker behind Norton and Nora (Catherine Keener) Wells; you won't want to miss what is, for my money, the funniest background joke in recent movie history.

As I said, not for kids. Murder, implied sex, bad language, gratuitous ice skating in fuzzy costumes. All in the service of entertainment, of course.

Halle Berry--Is My Face Red

Last issue, I characterized Halle Berry as unprepared during her Oscar speech. Harrison Klein set me right, and boy, is my face red. Harrison's explanation makes much more sense than mine.

You thought Halle Berry was surprised by her Academy Award and her speech was unprepared? No wonder she won an Academy Award for acting! I thought it was a bit too transparently overacted. I found it particularly amusing that they showed a short scene from Monster's Ball in which she goes hysterical, then they give her the award+ and she does pretty much the identical scene in her acceptance speech. She goes hysterical, but while ostensibly out of her mind with surprise and joy, she manages to say,

"This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It's for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it's for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened. Thank you. I'm so honored. I'm so honored. And I thank the Academy for choosing me to be the vessel for which His blessing might flow."

"...choosing me to be the vessel for which His blessing might flow." That's unprepared? I mean, these are ACTORS! I'm prepared to believe that an Academy Award-winning actor can act the part of winning an Academy Award.


IBM and Nazi Germany, Eric Raymond on Linux, Bob Nilsson has a few thoughts

I mentioned a story connecting IBM and Nazi Germany last week in the column. Dan Rosenbaum wrote:

It's the front page of this week's Village Voice. I haven't yet read it, but Black has been flogging this story for years, and it had been debunked in the past. Dunno what new angle he's dug up.

Here's the story:

How IBM Helped Automate the Nazi Death Machine in Poland
Final Solutions
by Edwin Black

Just before we left on vacation, Dan also dug up this story about a Sonoma County hazard; heaven knows how he ran across it in the Sacramento Bee:

Jack rabbits attack walkers in Sonoma County; man bitten, woman forced to evade jack rabbit

Ross Snyder notes:

Colleague of yours, Eric Raymond at ZDNet UK, gives cogent argument Linux may doom Windows.

Kevin Sullivan reports in with a nice MSNBC piece on The Queen Mother's Last Laugh.

The best April Fools' joke reported to me came from Joy Culbertson, who found a Google report on the technology used by the Google search engine. It's not what you think. Let's just say Herb Caen would have been amazed.

BobNilsson had several items:

In preparation for April Fools Day, the Boston Globe pointed readers to a site which offers prank software for Windows. There are free programs that flip the screen upside down, randomly move the cursor, and display a "click here" button that flees from the cursor. For the blue screen of death gag and the backwards mouse, you have to pay.

Is haiku making a resurgence? The MIT web site has added some color to the usual bland 404 error message. "I ate your Web page. Forgive me. It was juicy and tart on my tongue" is the message when looking for non-existent pages.

Preprogramming search engines with results that point to paid sponsors can have unintended results. For example, if you search for bad service with lots of pain these two messages come back.

"Looking for bad service with lots of pain - try Shop-by-Request..." "Look for bad service with lots of pain at eBay - The World's Online Marketplace. Find it at eBay..."

The last one reminds me of the stuff you get from some spellcheckers when you write in Bill Gates or Microsoft or one of their competitors. Except those lookups were jokes, and these "sponsored search results" are serious. Computers are so dumb. Unless E-Bay wants to be listed that way.

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