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

P.S. A Column On Things: May 27, 2002

May 27, 2002 Vol. 4, No. 21

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Memorial Day
  • System Dynamics
  • Rae on Fencing
  • Dictionary of Subtle Differences
  • Bush Doesn't Know Whom To Call
  • In Brief

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs
  • Copy Protection

Web Site of the Week

  • Ads You're Not Likely To See, Factual Error Found On Internet


  • None


  • Star Wars Redux: Digital


  • Joe Brancatelli on Humor, Kevin Sullivan and Peggy Coquet on Education

General News

"That's basically what life consists of - transitions and reactions to them - or some other stuff that is equally discomforting."

--Mari Schindler

Memorial Day

There's a reason we have today off. We're supposed to spend some time remembering the men and women who died in the service of our country, defending our freedom in our nations' wars. I'm going to spend some time amidst the frivolity (Marlow will be home from college, so it will be extra frivolous) remembering and reminding my children to remember. Are you?

We were off in LA this weekend for a memorial to my late father-in-law Fred W. Marlow, West Point 1918, and a long-time Los Angeles real estate developer. Go ahead, remember someone important in your life too.

System Dynamics

When MIT Prof. Jay Forester helped me hurdle the bureaucratic roadblock that might have prevented me from getting my teaching credential, I promised to help him promote the use of System Dynamics in K-12 education. System Dynamics is a method of modeling real-world systems, and it has a lot of potential as an educational technology. Here's the call for this year's conference:

2002 Systems Thinking and Dynamic Modeling Conference for K-12 Education

The 2002 Systems Thinking and Dynamics Modeling Conference, sponsored by the Creative Learning Exchange, will be held at the New England Conference Center at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, from 8:30 Saturday morning, June 29, to Noon on Monday, July 1.

The Systems Thinking and Dynamic Modeling Conference provides opportunity for educators and interested citizens to explore what is current and possible in K-12 systems education. The Conference is designed to involve experienced individuals as well as novices in K-12 systems education.

For more information, go to the Creative Learning Exchange website, call the Creative Learning Exchange (978-287-0070) or e-mail Andi Miller.

Rae on Fencing

My daughter recently described a fencing experience. I think she is an excellent writer, so I want to share this:

Sometimes I don't know why I have stuck with fencing for this long. it can be so frustrating that I want to scream or spit or sharpen my epee and impale myself. Today was one of those wonderful days when I -really- fenced.

The guy that I'm really competitive with only comes one Wednesdays. For various reasons I've been missing Wednesdays (too much schoolwork and the silly history AP). I have been anticipating fencing him again for a couple weeks, but he was faster than lightning and as accurate as Zeus. After like thirty minutes of fencing I finally got with the program. I didn't let him put as much pressure on me. I pushed him back, and made my second intention actions work.

Ha! Take that! That's what you get for nicknaming me "Funnylooking." stabstabstabstabstab. red light is on! boo yeah! Who's "Funnylooking" now? huh? huh? eat steel!

I was totally drenched in sweat afterwards and I felt like I had run a marathon, but I was happy that I got the last touch. a beautiful second intention action. False attack! Disengage! Riposte!

It's really all in good fun. I want to verbally riposte against him when he calls me "Funnylooking" but he doesn't take teasing too well, so I have to let him verbally bully me a bit.

i fenced another dude, who always counterattacks into my attacks, and I feel like I end up doing most of the work in the bouts against him. I see what he's doing, but I have trouble correctly responding to it. I made one improvement in fencing him- my distance. I let the boy get too close.

Dictionary Of Subtle Differences

I love a good discussion of words, don't you? This one is courtesy of Kevin Sullivan:

The need for a dictionary of subtle differences (What's the difference between...) was met when I was asking myself the difference between sarcastic and sardonic before finally settling on ironic. Many thinks to (one of my most used sites) and the American Heritage Dictionary cited therein.

sar·casti·cal·ly adv. Synonyms: sarcastic, ironic, caustic, satirical, sardonic These adjectives mean having or marked by a feeling of bitterness and a biting or cutting quality. Sarcastic suggests sharp taunting and ridicule that wounds: "a deserved reputation for sarcastic, acerbic and uninhibited polemics" (Burke Marshall). Ironic implies a subtler form of mockery in which an intended meaning is conveyed obliquely: "a man of eccentric charm, ironic humor, andabove allprofound literary genius" (Jonathan Kirsch). Caustic means corrosive and bitingly trenchant: "The caustic jokes... deal with such diverse matters as political assassination, talk-show hosts, medical ethics" (Frank Rich). Satirical implies exposure, especially of vice or folly, to ridicule: "on the surface a satirical look at commercial radio, but also a study of the misuse of telecommunications" (Richard Harrington). Sardonic is associated with scorn, derision, mockery, and often cynicism: "He was proud, sardonic, harsh to inferiority of every description" (Charlotte Brontë).

Bush Doesn't Know Whom To Call

In his 5/20/02 column, Bill Safire concedes that his illegitimacy called the wrong (and unlawful) person for an analysis of domestic possibilities. He called Tenet (who by law can do nothing about domestic law enforcement) when he should have called (if he were actually acting in accord with his oath of office to see that the laws were faithfully executed) Freeh or his successor over at the FBI. Safire tries to blame Tenet for not calling the bureau. The blame belongs squarely where the buck stops in the Oval Office. If Safire wants to dump Tenet he should write the column, not weasel into it this way. By the way, Safire has never (to the best of one observer's recollection) withdrawn his erroneous column alleging a threat (per Karl Rove) to Air Force One in early September. Safire was asked to do so and brushed off the query as if the truth and factual reporting were unimportant to him.

In Brief

The West Wing is the best television on television, no matter what HBO thinks. Six Feet Under is interesting, but it isn't about anything. I love the show, needless to say. Take advantage of the reruns this summer to get to know the program. You can also find luridly detailed and wildly opinionated episode summaries at The West Wing Continuity Guide and Television Without Pity. If someone sees a transcript of the Bartlett/Ritchie meeting, I'd love to hear about it. Ritchie is proved, conclusively, to be an idiot. Another good site Daniel Dern brought to my attention is West Wing Watch, which invites government officials to spot and report gaffes in the show. Very amusing.

* * *

The best comedy? That 70s Show, even though the final episode proved, conclusively, that Eric is an idiot. Topher Grace is a remarkable comic actor. His character is a moron. Why yes, I do have a crush on Donna.

* * *

Craig's Technobriefs last week included this item:

Speaking of faces, see Why Is This Man Smiling?

I skim all his links before posting, then read them afterwards. This is a fantastic article about computer animation from Wired magazine. I was particularly impressed with the fact that human mouths don't open like garage doors. Because saliva is sticky, they zipper open from the center out. People probably think I have developed a vanity problem because I can't pass a mirror now without opening my mouth and watching the process. Fascinating. I love this stuff.

* * *

Among other fascinating items, Dan Rosenbaum's blog includes a cool story of his days at UPI, as well as a mention of the Esther Dyson/Bill Ziff electronic Computer Industry Daily newsletter that was started up in the spring of 1985 or so. It was so ahead of its time; a daily electronic newsletter, to be delivered via MCI Mail. Not going to that publication was the smartest move I never made. Esther called me to LA to meet her at a convention. We had a brief discussion. She called me at home that night to ask me to meet the publisher for breakfast in the Redwood Room of the Clift Hotel -- "It's pro forma. I plan to hire you, but he has to meet you." I took an instant visceral dislike to the man before he'd finished ordering his meal. I called Esther from a hotel pay phone and left a message that I was declining the offer (which would have doubled my salary). She called and screamed at me for being an idiot, and said if her publisher was such a fool, she'd get rid of him. I stood my ground. Instead of me, she hired Jeff Moad from Electronic News to join her all-star staff. There were months of dry runs and weeks of newsletters before the whole profitless thing was shut down. At least everybody got six months severance (Ziff-Davis was a class act back then). And, at least, I didn't leave me job for it.

* * *

Those of you who view this column with a Netscape Browser have been having serious technical difficulties since my much-touted tiny technical change to server-side includes. Thanks to all of you--you know who you are--for reporting your troubles and not giving up on the column or me. My ISP said he couldn't help. My former colleague Dave Methvin, now of PCPitstop, suggested the problem might lie in Netscape's infamous sensitivity to syntax errors. I ran the offending code through Dreamweaver's "fix Microsoft's lousy syntax" routine... and it did. In fact, I learned how to get the "quotation" sections of my column to come out in sans serif type, even when viewed by Netscape. OK, that last sentence won't mean much to most of you, but it was important to me. Worth the hour it took? Well, yes, because it restores four of my most faithful readers. I hope I didn't lose too many others who didn't bother to complain during the month of the problem. By the way, through the magic of sever-side includes, all the previous columns are also fixed now.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig checks in:

Microsoft VP Jim Allchin testified in the dissenting states remedy hearing. He claimed that national security, even the war in Afghanistan, would be endangered if Microsoft was forced to make parts of its source code public. eWeek says Allchin "acknowledged that some Microsoft code was so flawed it could not be safely disclosed." On the other hand, when Microsoft tries to lobby against the Pentagon's use of open-source software they claim that proprietary software is more secure because it is hidden from view. The view of the Open Source community is that quality (in this case, security) comes from having "many eyeballs" searching the code for flaws. Along these lines, The Economist asks: should software makers be made more accountable for damage caused by faulty programs?

The ACM (professional society for computer scientists) is editorializing against the CBDTPA and decries the DMCA while in Washington the fatcats fiddle while Free Use burns.

I can't top EFF's headline for this item: Hollywood Wants to Plug the "Analog Hole".

Blogging news: In Salon, Steven Johnson writes about the role of blogging and suggests that bloggers are an invaluable tool for filtering the cacophony of the web into usable and timely digests. The book Essential Blogging is nearing completion, the authors have put it online for a public review. The O'Reilly Emerging Technology conference was so heavily covered by bloggers it became newsworthy. Here is a conference schedule annotated with links to the blogs who covered each session.

Technobits: Why does the phrase "Google Labs" remind me more of "Muppet Labs" more than, say "Bell Labs"? If you managed to miss the meme last week, visit to see their new toys. How can you resist a page that asks "Did you ever wonder what it would be like to pop a water balloon in space?" (Note contains some stale links.)

Copy Protection

Dan Grobstein was the first to notice an article in The New Scientist: Sony's latest CD copy protection comes unstuck.

Then I heard Harry Shearer reading an article from a British newspaper that sounded a lot like

Marker pens, sticky tape crack music CD protection

This seems amazing, if true:

Not only will the Celine Dion audio disc fail to play on new flat-screen iMacs but it will lock the CD tray and prevent the machine from been rebooted properly. This is not something users can fix themselves and means a trip to a dealer for repairs. An article on Apple's knowledge base explains the issue in more depth.

Apple must think it is true; they've published a knowledgebase article on the subject.

Web Site of the Week

Ads You're Not Likely To See

Kevin Sullivan is just all over the column this week:

I believe you'll enjoy this one that came to me by way of NetSurfer Digest. It says wonderfully ironic things about our culture with ads you're not likely to ever see.

Daniel Dern found Factual Error Found on Internet, a fine example of sarcasm.




Star Wars II Redux: Digital Projection

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

Remember last week, when I said there is only one scene in the entire film with digital artifacts--the background seemed mottled when Anakin and Padmé were on a picnic? It was mottled in the digital version as well. If I were George Lucas, I would have thrown the scene out.

Speaking of Lucas, I have heard him praise digital projection for being "rock steady." You don't really notice how much jitter there is in a typical, traditional, badly maintained suburban projector until you see a digital version of the film. And it's hard to put your finger on at first, but eventually you notice: no scratches. No splices. No marks in the corner for the end of reels.

I do wonder if maybe they aren't cheating a little on the amount of digital data stored and shipped: small bright objects in the background were pixelated. But man, the foreground looked good.

Several homages I noticed this time I missed the first time: the senator's space ship looked like a WWII twin engine airplane. The flames on the assassin's ship looked like cheesy Flash Gordon effects. Bobba Fett twirled his gun before re-holstering it--western serial style. Lucas' sense of humor is back for sure.


Joe Brancatelli on Humor, Kevin Sullivan and Peggy Coquet on Education

I commented on comedy writing last week, in the context of landing high on a Top 5 list with an entry I tossed off. Joe Brancatelli checks in:

Wanna know how hard it is to write comedy? Your correspondent swiped one of his 15 Rolling Stones tour names from the Simpsons. In an episode where Lisa is in college and is contemplating marriage, there's a poster on her dorm-room wall that says "Rolling Stones Steel Wheelchairs Tour."

Which proves again that anything funny and trenchant has already been on The Simpsons...

Kevin Sullivan (here he is again) had a brief comment on education:

Wasn't it Bill Cosby's mom who when asked if a glass was half empty or half full, replied, "It depends on whether you are filling it or emptying it." I've seen good subs and bad permanent teachers. The worst waste our time, the best, affect positive change.

Peggy Coquet wrote to me about education, inspired by all my talk of my teacher credential course.

I hold two separate views about public education. My pragmatic~cynical view is that the purpose of education is to create skilled workers for US businesses. That's why so much of "education" revolves around being on time, showing up every day, acting compliant, working quietly at your desk, being task-oriented, being neat, and mastering basic skills. No American employer wants to hire the genius who can construct an amazing scientific device, but only shows up on Tuesdays, stoned, and gets into fights with everybody. It's also why US public education is slow to reward/encourage the genius, quick to discipline the exotic. But it's also why US public schools enjoy such strong support from the business community.

The second (philosophical~romantic) view is that education is designed to enrich and enliven the minds of young people, leading them into rewarding and challenging maturity where they can use the skills and knowledge to create a better future for us all. This approach results in schools that teach research rather than results, artistic accomplishment rather than neatness, creativity rather than compliance. It is particularly ill-suited to the standard-brand education distributed in most US public schools. And it is ill-suited to most students, I believe, many of whom don't function well in less-structured environment. But I think this is the reason schools are widely and (mostly) willingly supported with tax dollars by childless adults.

It is tempting to hope that the two can be somehow melded, and the wild genius tamed a little and the dull-normal encouraged to expand and live a little more on the edge, outside the box. This is the hope and promise of charter schools and their ilk. But there is one huge, overwhelming problem: parents.

When I was in my intense mothering mode, I stayed at home, did volunteer work (among other things, edited a parenting magazine), took care of the kids, despaired about the housework, and provide care for my ailing mother. There was almost enough money, as is usual, so the pressure was not intense for me to be an income-producer. That was good. My lack of personal fulfillment was another matter! Paychecks make you feel valued; volunteering seems dilettantish, somehow unreal, no matter how important your contribution.

I had little energy for or interest in searching out the "best" school for my bright, creative children. I had less interest in spending my hectic mornings driving one to Oregon Episcopal School (55 minutes round-trip) and another to say, Franciscan Montessori, another hour in the opposite direction. I also believed then - and continue to believe - that children should "grow where they're planted" - in the neighborhood school, with the neighborhood children, for the neighborhood. My white-bread blue-collar children were in the minority at Sabin, and again at Beaumont Middle. They did well. They were, I believe, helpful in inspiring and mentoring other children who had less home support. (My daughter is a dedicated "rescuer.")

I had two primary ideas then (I still have them, but with less certainty) that informed my decision to send my children to the neighborhood schools. (I was sharply criticized for the decision.)

One was this: If all the "best" parents flee the public schools, how _well_ will the remaining children be educated?

The second was: Elitist behavior has no place in education. If you leave, you lose the chance to work to improve conditions for everybody. Work to improve the system; don't abandon it with a sneer.

Public, free, accessible education is important to parents, to the children, to the economy. It cannot - and should not - be replaced by "designer" education choices, including charter schools, voucher systems, etc.

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