PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.

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

I have a day job. So every word of this is my opinion, not that of my employer. This offer IS 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.

To Pay For This Column Voluntarily
Tales of Teaching 2004
Tales of Teaching 2005

April 29, 2002 Vol. 4, No. 17

Table of Contents:

General News

  • How Much We Don't Change
  • Letter from London
  • Breaking The Silence on Weight
  • A Big Fat Plug: Big Nose Bird HTML Site
  • Paul Finds Some News: Selling the Speaker's Furniture in Boston, European Complicity in a Second Holocaust

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs
  • Bits O' Dern

Web Site of the Week

  • A Great Comic Strip, Dan Rosenbaum's Web Log


  • Think and Strive


  • The Cat's Meow


  • Kevin Sullivan Views The News, Rich Levin on the Big Bang

General News

How Much We Don't Change

I have been having the eerie experience of late of transcribing the journal of my freshman year in college. Not the original handwritten document; oh god. That ran to hundreds of pages. But in the summer of 1971, while working as a transmitter engineer at KKEY radio in Vancouver, Wash. (just over the river from Portland, Ore., my home town) I boiled down my diary into a 120-page manuscript I called The Great American Novel. Well, it was great, but it wasn't any of those other things. No plot, no protagonist, and "great" would have to be used advisedly to describe it. But it is luridly detailed, and all the decisions about what happened that year that was important were made from extremely close range. Some of those decisions, of course, were wrong. People and events that turned out to be quite interesting in my later life were given short shrift. The famous "no, there's four black tubes here" incident does not appear. There's not a word, either, about my first exposure to Edwin Diamond that spring. I wish there was; he turned out to be the most important non-family member in my life. It was an epochal year, and I am grateful for the record. It's the year I resolved to become a journalist. It is the year my academic career went off the rails for good. It is the year I grew my first beard, fell in love, drank my first Irish Mist. All of that is here, along with the colorful cast that peopled me life then--one of whom is already gone.

Ronald Reagan is quoted in the Edmund Morris biography Dutch on the subject of what it's like to watch yourself in a 40-year-old movie. I paraphrase here (if someone has the quote to hand, please forward): It's not like watching yourself. You have no memory of making the movie. It's like watching someone you knew, who looks a little like you.

Same thing reading your writing from 31 years ago. Interestingly, I make many of the same spelling mistakes now that I made then, only now there are spellcheckers to catch the errors. Many of my locutions remain the same, albeit some of the more baroque ones are somewhat less obvious now. I meandered then, I meander now. I think I could tell it was my writing even if it weren't for the subject matter, but that isn't crystal clear. What is clear is that it is a lovely pleasant experience to relive, in detail, incidents long forgotten and have them come swimming back into your memory. It makes you want to talk to, or write to, some of the ones who are still alive. It makes you shudder. It is like life itself, once removed.

Letter from London

It is still spring, so I am still getting letters from my friend, expatriate American financial journalist Larry King, who is based in London. I heard a Sylvia Poggioli appearance at San Francisco's City Arts and Lectures series and asked Larry how it compared to England:

You asked a little while ago whether I experienced the same outpouring of affection and sympathy an NPR correspondent encountered in Italy immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, when strangers on the street heard her American accent and came up and hugged her. You do need to grasp that she was in Italy and I am in England. No one has ever spontaneously hugged a stranger on the street in England, sober. Drunken oafs might paw some bystanders after important victories by the English national football team. The last one occurred in 1966.
Degrees of emotional repression aside, I know what she was talking about. For a few weeks after Sept. 11, people tended to fall silent and offer a certain deference when they heard my accent in a store or restaurant. Sometimes they offered condolences and support as well. Government officials I deal with dropped their usual condescension and thinly veiled contempt, although they maintained their determination to provide no assistance whatsoever, especially that which they were being paid to provide.

Larry then went on to provide some analysis of British Journalism:

Those of us forced to read the London papers sometimes speculate about which is greater: the average British hack's sloth, mendacity, ignorance, obsequiousness, capacity for drink, or aversion to paying for that drink. Smart money tends to split between the latter two.

I suggest you read the full text of Larry King On England, the U.S. and the Middle East.

Breaking The Silence On Weight

I haven't said much about my weight loss program in a while, and the more astute among you would have (correctly) assumed that either there was no news or bad news. For most of the last few months there was no news; then two weeks ago, I "fell off the wagon" and put on five pounds.

Fortunately, I do have a "set point" at the moment, and it is 25 pounds lower than it was last fall. So, by taking quick and decisive action, I moved those pounds out before they could unpack their boxes, get their phone calls and mail forwarded and settle in for a long stay. I am now redoubling my efforts to break through to a new set point, down 25 pounds by fall. The process is complicated by the stress of substitute teaching, the stress of taking teaching credential courses, the stress of adjusting my life to not having a high-paying full-time job. Two weeks ago I was dealing with that stress by eating. I don't think that's the only way to deal with it. But I'll let you know. In the meantime, you may conduct small tasteful celebration of my small success on the long and winding road from "morbidly obese" to just overweight. It's a 100-pound road, but I am up to the challenge.

A Big Fat Plug: Big Nose Bird HTML Site

Last week, my Internet Service Provider, Silicon Connections (this isn't the plug, but they're very good as well) turned on server-side includes for this web site. Alert readers will recall my announcement of same.

This week, I decided it would be cool if people coming to my widely distributed URLs could be conducted, automatically, to the new web pages. I knew there was HTML code that would do that, but, of course, I needed to find the code. A Google search did what Google Searches do; it turned up a very popular page that has lots of other pages pointing to it. Now I'm going to point to it to:

Big Nose Bird: HTML, free CGI Scripts, graphics, tutorials and more for the webmaster- for free!

I note that the site's home page has server side includes on it (it is SHTML instead of HTML). More importantly, it has a great search engine, such that when I entered "forwarding," it immediately found a page with exactly the HTML I was looking for.

A big tip of the PSACOT hat to Big Nose Bird, the place to go if you want to do something fancy in HTML.

Paul Finds Some News: Selling the Speaker's Furniture in Boston, European Complicity in a Second Holocaust

Most often, the cool links on this site come from other people, those with more time to surf the net, or better luck in finding interesting places. Well, this week I have two stories to suggest, although I admit they both come from other media.

NPR had a neat story about a funding argument that may result in the sale of the furniture of the speaker of the Massachusetts House.

Jason Beaubien of member station WBUR reports that Massachusetts is auctioning off state-owned cars and office furniture to raise money for candidates who qualify for funds under the state's clean elections law -- a law the state legislature has refused to fund.

In the April 28 San Francisco Chronicle: tough words from Ron Rosenbaum, the author of Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil, in a piece adapted from an article in The New York Observer.

The second Holocaust- and European complicity

We have to examine the dynamic going on in the mind of Europe at this moment: a dynamic that suggests that Europeans, on some deep if not entirely conscious level, are willing to be complicit in the murder of the Jews again.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

I continue to marvel at Craig's ability to find good stuff on the web. This week is no exception, and after a week off, he returns with a field of gems that would put a South African diamond mine to shame.

Microsoft's Christopher Jones testified at the antitrust remedy hearings that the dissenting states' remedies could make using Windows "...a confusing and frustrating experience..." Thank goodness its not that way now!

The roll-out of digital television broadcasting has been delayed by the entertainment industry's fear of piracy [Ed. Note: or its fear of losing its traditionally obscene profit margins]. This in turn has slowed consumer's adoption of compatible receivers. The manufacturers and content producers are converging:
Industry Near Deal for Anti-Pirate Broadcast Flag. There remains the small matter of preserving consumer's fair use rights, such as the ability to time-shift a broadcast to watch later. [Ed Note: Not to mention the fact that every high-density TV sold to date, and every one sold today will be rendered worthless, useless and inoperable by the adoption of anti-piracy measures]

Despite their lock on a very popular product, the RIAA's members can't figure out how to make money with it. Their solution? Ask for more money from the government to keep their failing revenue model going:
RIAA wants tax dollars to combat piracy

The record companies say their losses are due to online file trading. As Paul commented two weeks ago, there are a LOT of other reasons their business is off. More detail on this can be found in Wired's
Slagging Over Sagging CD Sales.

Most web servers run Apache under Linux or Unix. But now even if your server runs Windows, you can now use the excellent Apache http server software:
Apache 2.0 Beats IIS at Its Own Game

It was big news in the computer games industry (where I work) when Seamus Blackley, the "father of the Xbox"
resigned from Microsoft. It happened to coincide with the publication of Dean Takahashi's book.

See these cool
tessellating animations. The first still image from Pixar's next film "Finding Nemo" has been released. And what could be stranger that using Google AdWords to distribute poetry?

Bits O' Dern

Daniel Dern, a former colleague, fellow MIT graduate and long time friend, shipped me a few items this week:

From my home town paper by way of SlashDot:

Slashdot | MS Pressuring NW Schools: Pay Up, Or Face Audit

An eBook with a folding screen (Yahoo pulls its news down after a while, so the link may be dead; try searching for Samsung SDI on Reuters):

Yahoo! News - Forget Laptops, the Folding Screen Lands in Korea

Finally, apropos of my item here some time back about a backyard monorail (spotted by my daughter Marlow), Daniel notes two web outbreaks of the Simpsons' monorail song, as sung by the late Phil Hartman, as a .wav file and an .ra file. It also appears on the Simpsons' CD, "Songs in the Key of Springfield."

Web Site of the Week

A Great Comic Strip, Dan Rosenbaum's Web Log

My daughter Rae is very passionate about an online comic strip she just discovered, Ozy and Millie by D.C. Simpson.

Also, regular contributor Dan Rosenbaum has started his own weblog--worth a read! For example, Daniel Dern really liked Elmo in Washington, which Dan spotted.

Let's let Dan describe it himself:

Like so many others, I've started a weblog. It, too, is called Over the Edge. I've spent some time of the last week or so populating it, so there is already a There there, though you can also get to it from the (still incomplete) main home page. This is the introductory piece. There's not a hell of a lot of technology coverage there yet. That will change. But keep in mind that the coverage will still be filtered through my own particular worldview.

The weblog advantages are many. They're easier to write and maintain -- not to mention archive. They're way cheaper to run, especially if you already have hosting, as I do. The weblog has comment threading and e-mail responding built in. They're not invasive; you can dip in when you like, without my cluttering your inbox. (From a writer's perspective, of course that means I have to be interesting enough to motivate you to keep coming back. That's not always a good thing.)


It's Not Safe To Think And Strive

From regular contributor Kent Peterman:

It all started innocently enough. I began to think at parties now and then to loosen up. Inevitably though, one thought led to another, and soon I was more than just a social thinker. I started to think alone - "to relax" I told myself, but I knew it wasn't true. Thinking became more and more important to me, and finally I was thinking all the time. I even began to think on the job. I knew that thinking and employment don't mix, but I couldn't stop myself. I began to avoid friends at lunchtime so I could read Thoreau and Kafka. I would return to the office dizzied and confused, asking, "What is it exactly we are doing here?"

Things weren't going so great at home either. One evening I turned off the TV and asked my wife about the meaning of life. She spent that night at her mother's. I soon had a reputation as a heavy thinker. One day the boss stopped by to warn me, "I like you, and it hurts me to say this, but your thinking has become a real problem. If you don't stop thinking on the job, you'll simply have to find another job." That sure gave me a lot to think about.

I went home early after my conversation with the boss. "Honey," I confessed, "I've been thinking . . ."

"I know you've been thinking," she grimaced, "and I've had about all I can take!"

"But Honey, surely it's not that serious."

"It is that serious," she said, lower lip aquiver. "You think as much as a college prof-essor, and college professors don't make any money, so if you keep on thinking we won't have any money!"

"That's a faulty syllogism," I replied impatiently, and of course she began to cry. I'd had enough. "I'm going to the library," I snarled as I stomped out the door. I headed for the library, listening to NPR and in the mood for some Nietzsche. I roared into the parking lot and ran up to the big glass doors.they didn't open. The library was closed!

To this day, I believe that a higher power was looking out for me that night. As I sank to the ground clawing at the unfeeling glass, whimpering for relief, a poster caught my eye. "Friend, is heavy thinking ruining your life?" it asked. You probably recognize that line. It comes from the standard Thinkers Anonymous poster. Which is why I am what I am today: a recovering thinker.

I never miss a Thinkers Anonymous meeting. Each week we watch a non-educational video; last week it was "Porky's". Then we share experiences about how we avoided thinking since the last meeting. I still have my job, and things are a lot better at home - in fact my wife compliments me when I'm thoughtless. Life just seems.easier, somehow, now that I've stopped thinking. And I can even enjoy talk radio.


The Cat's Meow

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

Check out a cool recitation of the known facts of the Thomas Ince case at the Urban Legends Reference page.

When the New Yorker profiles the director the week before a movie opens, you know you have an interesting movie on your hands. Once-hot Hollywood wonder-boy director and film historian Peter Bogdonavich has been through the ringer in the three decades since Last Picture Show both personally and professionally. But he's back with a fictionalized version of a reputed murder on board William Randolph Hearst's yacht, called The Cat's Meow.

What is it with filmmakers and Hearst? One of the best movies of all time, Citizen Kane, was devoted to the man when he was still alive and still powerful. Two of the best American biographies ever written chronicle his life for the print crowd. And now Bogdonavich, ably assisted by a stunning, Oscar-quality performance by Edward Herrmann, has rendered the man on the screen once more. I've read the two main Hearst bios, and seen Citizen Kane of course, as well as the TV movie about the life of Orson Welles. This is simply the most life-like depiction of Hearst ever filmed. Eddie Izzard doesn't look like Charlie Chaplin, but he does resemble Welles. And Kirsten Dunst as Marion Davies, of course, resembles Susan Foster from the Welles movie. No surprise there. Actually, there are a dozen scenes that pay homage to Welles.

This is a well-constructed murder mystery, where, like an episode of Columbo, you know who's going to die but stay on to see why and how. Bogdonavich is a very moverly movie maker, with carefully composed scenes, actorly acting and artistic lighting, both on the coast of Greece (exterior shots) and on the soundstage in Berlin where he shot the interiors. You both quickly forget it's a movie and never forget it. The man is good, very good. This is a tremendously entertaining adult film. Three stars out of five, and don't take anyone under 17, what with the murder, sex, booze and drugs. If you love stories of old Hollywood, you'll love The Cat's Meow.


Kevin Sullivan Views The News, Rich Levin on the Big Bang

Kevin Sullivan found two news items:

The death of Linda Lovelace was both tragic and the passing of another era. And while the opportunity for humor occurred, on this one I decided to pass.

How well i remember thrilling to her fictional anatomical irregularity all those years ago. It was a more innocent time, when we could claim ignorance of the industry in which she worked. Her death, indeed, marks the end of an era.

Not so for the other item he found, somewhere in the dictionary between lunacy and sarcasm: Mideast Peace Process Derailed, Burned To Ground, Shoveled Over With Dirt.

Rich Levin found an MSNBC article on the origins of the universe, Questioning the Big Bang, which offers an alternate scenario. Follow the link to the flash animation!

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