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: June 3, 2002

June 3, 2002 Vol. 4, No. 22

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Remembering, Separating
  • The Real Birth of On-Line Newsletters
  • Arcane Mysteries of Purring
  • Air Travel Is Too Hard

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • Genial Genealogy, Popular Names, Express Lanes


  • The Wisdom Of Will Rogers


  • Nine Queens
  • Enigma
  • Sum Of All Fears


  • Paul Makes The Top 5, Phil Albinus Weblog, Open Letter To John Ashcroft, Ross Snyder on Education

General News

Remembering, Separating

During the Memorial Day weekend, we flew to Los Angeles, and hooked up with most of the rest of my wife's family for a luncheon in memory of my late father-in-law, prominent and successful Los Angeles real estate developer Fred W. Marlow. Fred was, among other things, the father of Westchester. He was also the father of two beautiful daughters, my wife and her sister, a son, and seven grandchildren. A West Point graduate, he was strong-willed, sometimes difficult, and very generous. He died five years ago last month.

I think people recognize the truth in the aphorism "we never die as long as we live on in the memories of others." By that standard, Fred will be around for a good 60 more years, if not longer. He has unquestionably impacted, and mostly improved the lives of his family and those of us who married into his family.

Marlow flew in from New York to meet us, having just finished moving to her summer dorm room. She isn't going to school this summer, she's working for Sen. Hilary Clinton in her Manhattan office (on the east side, near Grand Central, which means Marlow has to--gasp--change trains!). Her preliminary assignment is to constituent services, an area she doesn't much care for, but we'll see how that goes.

The point is, we only have her at home for a week this summer (two if she decides to come back in August), and we haven't seen her since she left in mid-January. Which sets me to musing on the relationships we have with our adult children. I mean, I only have one adult child so far, but the outlines of my feelings are becoming clear.

It is easy to take your daughter for granted when she is a child, living at home. You try not to; you try to follow the sound advice to appreciate every stage of their lives and spend your time in the present, not the future.

You know (if us you know) where your daughter is, day and night, who she is with, what she is doing. You give that up when she goes to college. At home, you see her in moods good and bad, times good and bad, the triumphs and the tragedies. At school, you hear only the highlights, and those taper off as the years go by. I knew much more of Marlow as a freshman than I did of her as a junior.

Separation is not instantaneous, of course. She begins to separate in middle school. The process is accelerated with the drivers' license, and becomes abrupt with the departure for college. Maybe you get her at home for a summer, as we did, or two summers as my parents did. Maybe she doesn't come home for summers at all, as happens with many students.

But the point is, you wake up one day and your child is an adult, technically for tax purposes a dependent but not really dependent on you for anything, and, at 21, fully able to do anything she damn well pleases. Fortunately, most of what pleases her pleases you, but that's just a residue of good parenting. This is still someone you love and care about, often to the point of physical ache, but she is now more of an adult friend than a child. She may sleep in her old room, filled with her dolls and toys, but she seems more like a guest than a resident. It is a very strange feeling.

I've said it before to Marlow, and, I think in this column, but you go from being the star of the sitcom that is her life to being the special guest star on the Christmas show, and, if you're lucky, the season finale. It is jarring, it is difficult, and as my mother often said, it is the whole point of raising a child. If they don't achieve separation, they may be failures as adult and you are certainly a failure as a parent. How much separation? That, my friends, is the great question of the second half of my life. I'll keep you posted.

The REAL Birth of On-Line Newsletters

Last week, I wrote about the Computer Industry Daily (the best job I never took), as a result of a brief item on same in Dan Rosenbaum's Over the Edge. Many people characterize it as the first, failed, attempt at a regular e-mail newsletter. In fairness, I've never heard Esther claim maternity herself, but it is often claimed on her behalf. My long-time friend and colleague Richard Dalton would like to set the record straight:

Far be it from me to attempt to one-up an industry luminary like Esther Dyson, but...

You may recall that Tom Hargadon and I started an on-line information service in 1980 (about knowledge worker systems) via New Jersey Institute of Technology's EIES Network. The service included news briefs and subscriber interaction via e-mail. Tom went on to other adventures, I focused on the Open Systems (paper) newsletter and the nascent Whole Earth Software Catalog while the service collapsed of its own weight. Was fun, though.

You may also remember (in 1981) working with me on an "office automation" study for Telia, the Swedish telecommunications service. The reporting and editing was also done via the EIES network. The best part came when we billed Telia electronically and they paid within a week to our account via wire transfer.

I do well remember the on-line information service in question. Like Esther, Richard and Tom had far outrun the available technology and were serving an audience too small and poor to support the service they had in mind. Hargadon went on to work on high-speed delivery of software by wire--again, a few years too early. Where was the Internet when we needed it?

Arcane Mysteries of Purring

That wacky Jon Carroll has done it again. Another great cat column. However, I must say that, this time, I think he's wrong.

The arcane mysteries of purring
San Francisco Chronicle
Thursday, May 30, 2002
Jon Carroll

...Recent research has indicated, however, that cats purr when they are dying, when they are giving birth and in other times of high stress....

SO WHEN LITTLE Fluffball jumps up on your lap and starts to vibrate in a way that melts your heart, Fluffy is actually saying, "I'm having a good time, really I am, no problems here, oh joy, what fun."...

But brilliant Mother Nature has arranged so that we hear these rumblings of pain as signs of contentment. This maintains the symbiotic relationship between human and cat, and the harmony of the natural world is maintained.

Research or no research, I think purring means a cat is happy, most of the time.

Air Travel's Too Hard

The head of American Airlines thinks air travel may be too hard. Although he and his ilk and generally nincompoops, he may be right in this case. A tip of the PSACOT hat to Dan Rosenbaum for spotting this.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig checks in:

This week the opposition to Senator Fritz Hollings's anti-consumer Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (CBDTPA) got a theme song: The Tinseltown Club. The Flash-animated spot and song are from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and friends. The animation and lyrics lampoon the CBDTPA and Disney. The melody will be familiar to us Baby Boomers, it is the theme song of the Mickey Mouse Club, ironically used under the parody provision in the U.S. copyright law. Last Wednesday this URL was "Slashdotted" and broke the Daypop Top 10. EFF's servers ground to a halt. I hope that is evidence of a groundswell of opposition to this nosebleed of a law.

I have harped repeatedly about music and movie companies trying to use strong arm tactics (lawsuits, DMCA, CBDTPA, etc.) rather than rethink their outmoded revenue models. Now Vivendi Universal has made a small step toward such rethinking:
Record labels offer MP3 test for 99 cents. The recording in question is merely a "dance remix" of a song on an upcoming CD by Meshell Ndegeocello, a relatively obscure musician (at least I'd never heard of her). It can be seen as a cynical effort to "prove" that selling music as cheap MP3s won't work. It can also be seen as a courageous and admirable attempt to buck the industry's entrenched ways of doing business. I decided to go with the latter, and bought a copy of the file for 99 cents to support the initiative. We'll see...

The RIAA's attempt to extort ridiculous royalty rates from webcasters was mentioned here on
May 6. The Librarian of Congress wisely rejected that foolishness. See coverage by Wired, AP and Newsbytes.

Back on
May 13th I mentioned Jon Udell's discussion of meta-blogging tools like the backlinks at Disenchanted. Now metalinker provides a lightweight version of something quite similar. It allows you to make a link after each of your blog items which brings up a Blodex-created page of links, each of which is to an item by some other blogger who has linked back to your original item. For example, click on the "b"s at

Three links about locality:
nyc bloggers is a clickable map of the approximate physical location of blogs (well, probably of their authors) in the New York City area. Local2Me offers "neighborhood wisdom at internet speed". It is similar to a newsgroup or discussion board, but allows targeting to a specified radius around a geographical location. For example, its ideal when you want a recommendation for a good local plumber. Local2Me was founded by Michael Olivier whom I worked with at SGI's Silicon Studio. Daniel Egnor won Google's first programming contest by creating a location-based filter for search results, he describes it as a kind of Google-powered Yellow Pages for the Web.

Cool online airport traffic maps: Passur's AirportMonitor software will display both "near real time" and recent history of airport traffic at
Los Angeles' LAX and Atlanta's ATL. Be sure to try zooming out and clicking on an individual aircraft for more detail. They say they have other users, but I haven't found URLs for them. (Please let me know if you find more.) There is something similar for San Francisco's SFO apparently based on different software.

Two researchers in the area of "artificial immune systems" want you to
donate your bookmarks to science for a research project related to specialized search engines. You would be right to wonder if this was a privacy-invasion scam of some sort, but I think it is legit. I hear about it in a scholarly digest, and the citations check out. (BTW: what's the chance that a professor named "Uwe" would take a job at the University of the West of England (aka UWE)?)

Web Site of the Week

Genial Genealogy, Popular Names, Express Lanes

Kevin Sullivan found this:

Did you know that you are a direct descendant of Mohammed? (saw this via NetSurfer Digest).


Richard Dalton reports:

If you know someone shopping for baby names, here's the short list (and a link to the long list).

Interesting demographic note: the top 100 boys list includes Jose, Carlos, Jesus, Juan, Eduardo, and Ricardo.

Dan Grobstein forwarded this column, but since the Tribune is selling it, I am only going to give you a taste and a URL. Rest assured, it is funny.

Apologies to the shopper with too much in his cart

By Mark Cloud.

Mark Cloud, of Atlanta, is the man in line behind you with eight items

May 28, 2002

To the man in line in front of me...

I only wish that at the time I had understood the selflessness of your taking the time to explain to me that the two six-packs of beer were actually only one item because they were both Pabst Blue Ribbon. But instead of learning from your wisdom, I ignorantly tried to defend my absurd position by saying that even if you counted the two six-packs as one item then you still had 20 items in your cart, which was twice the express-line limit...


The Wisdom Of Will Rogers

"When I die, I want to die like my grandfather who died peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming like all the passengers in his car."

"Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin' it back in."

"If you're riding ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it's still there."

"If you get to thinking you're a person of some influence, try ordering somebody else's dog around."

"After eating an entire bull, a mountain lion felt so good he started roaring. He kept it up until a hunter came along and shot him... The moral: When you're full of bull, keep your mouth shut."

"Never kick a cow chip on a hot day."

"There's two theories to arguing with a woman. Neither one works."

"If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging."

"Never slap a man who's chewing tobacco."

"It don't take a genius to spot a goat in a flock of sheep."

"The quickest way to double your money is to fold it over and put it back in your pocket."

"Don't squat with your spurs on."

"Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment."

"Never miss a good chance to shut up."

"Always drink upstream from the herd."

"When you're throwing' your weight around, be ready to have it thrown around by somebody else."

"There are three kinds of men:

The ones that learn by reading.

The few who learn by observation.

The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.


Nine Queens

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

My elder daughter, Marlow, is home from Columbia for a week. On Monday (Memorial Day) we spent the afternoon together in the city (dinner at Cha-Cha-Cha in the Haight near Golden Gate Park), then off to the Opera Plaza Cinema. The four of us could not agree on a film, so Vicki and Marlow went to see Italian for Beginners, while Rae and I chose Nine Queens. Sometimes a family just can't agree whether to see an Argentinian film in Spanish or a Danish film with Italian in it.

Nine Queens is a caper film, basically a two-hour exploration of the old-fashioned pigeon drop fraud. It is full of twists and turns, and is well-acted, well-shot and goes down easy while being engaging. It is the best kind of film of this sort, which is to say that you can't tell the good guys from the bad guys, or sort out the two sides until the very last minute. No special effects, no recognizable stars, a minimum of implausible coincidences. If it makes it to your town (or you see it on video tape) rent it. It may also be known by its Spanish title, Neuva reinas. It is rated R for language (ample use of the F word), but there is nothing else offensive about it.


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

Here is IMDB's plot summary: A young genius frantically races against time to crack an enemy code and solve the mystery surrounding the woman he loves.

Or, as one reviewer put it at the site, history without histrionics. Well, actually, with some histrionics. As usual when the British are involved, its all about the acting. Dougray Scott plays a codebreaking mathematician who, as one spycatcher puts it, "is the only one here at Bletchley Park who managed to get himself screwed into a nervous breakdown by a beautiful blonde." Said blonde being Saffron Burrows, a looker who has been in a bunch of stuff I haven't seen. Kate "Titanic" Winslet is playing a dowdy girl once more, which is, in my opinion, a real stretch for her, albeit one she has now pulled off several times. In fact, the filmmakers have the nerve to include a "you're beautiful without your glasses scene"--with ironic distance of course.

The script is scarcely chronological during the first half, and after a while you feel as though you might get airsick from all the turns and swoops. Then the credits roll at the end and you realize that Tom Stoppard wrote the film, and that explains a lot.

By the way, much of the codebreaking lore in the film is accurate, which is always nice in a movie that is based in a real place at a real time.

Hardly pulse-pounding (see next review), but good if you like your movies thoughty and talky. Only one sex scene, (and one scene later where it is referenced explicitly) but it is rather torrid. Too bad, because otherwise it would be rather a good family film.

Sum Of All Fears

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

Slam bang action that proves that the words "pulse pounding" when applied to a movie may be literal and not figurative. Exciting action, with the only all-talking climax I can ever recall seeing in a modern spy film. Ben Affleck is no Harrison Ford, but at least he's age-appropriate for the Jack Ryan role. And wasn't James Cromwell born to play an American president? It's nice to see Philip Baker "Magnolia" Hall get some screen time for the most interesting face in Hollywood. The screenwriter made up for Clancy's wooden dialog and simplified the story while maintaining its basic thrust (interestingly, the president in the movie is less of a jerk than in the book, which is the opposite of real life). The nuclear blast and the special effects are bone chilling.

The movie won't make you think, for even a second, about anything, but man, will you be entertained.


Paul Makes The Top 5, Phil Albinus Weblog, Open Letter To John Ashcroft, Ross Snyder on Education

I made the Top 5 list, The Top 15 Redneck Porno Movies with an entry that came in second, but I consider this column to be family-oriented, and rated no more than PG-13 at worst, so if you want to see my racy entry and the others, you'll have to sail over to the web site. I suggest becoming a member so you can see the whole hysterical list. It's the funniest place on the Internet!
Phil Albinus, the self-described "Owner, operator, janitor, intimate apparel advisor" of this web site is a friend and former colleague. Here's how he describes it:

Forget Slate, Salon and Bored Teens at the, all the news you need is on Phil Albinus Worldwide Media Limited. Keen observations, heart-warming humor and cute little pictures.

And after while, you won't even notice the nudity - Promise!

Tell a friend, make it your home page, and read it to your kids.

This was written as a poem. Daniel Dern forwarded it to me:

The following is a letter read by Claire Braz-Valentine, the author, at this year's In Celebration of the Muse, Cabrillo College. It is worth knowing that the author is a woman of 60+ years, conservatively dressed and obviously quite talented.

An Open Letter To John Ashcroft, Attorney General Of The United States

On January 28, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that he spent $8,000 of taxpayer's money for drapes to cover up the exposed breast of The Spirit of Justice, an 18 ft aluminum statue of a woman that stands in the Department of Justice's Hall of Justice.

John, John, John, you've got your priorities all wrong. While men fly airplanes into skyscrapers, dive bomb the pentagon, while they stick explosives into their shoes, and then book a seat right next to us, while they hide knives in their luggage, steal kids on school buses, take little girls from their beds at night, drive trucks into our state capital buildings, while our president calls dangerous men all over the world evildoers and devils, while we live in the threat of biological warfare, nuclear destruction, annihilation, you are out buying yardage to save Americans from the appalling alarming, abominable aluminum alloy of evil, that terrible ten foot tin tittie. You might not be able to find Bin Laden, but you sure as hell found the hooter in the hall of justice.

It's not that we aren't grateful. But while we were begging the women of Afghanistan to not cover up their faces, you are begging your staff members to just cover up that nipple, to save the American people from that monstrous metal mammary. How can we ever thank you?

So, in your office every morning, in your secret prayer meeting, while an American woman is sexually assaulted every 6 seconds, while anthrax floats around the post office and settles in the chest of senior citizens, you've got another chest on your mind. While American sons arrive home in body bags and heat seeking missiles fly around a foreign country looking for any warm body, you think of another body. And you pray for the biggest bra in the world. John, you see that breast on the Spirit of Justice in the spirit of your own inhibited sexuality. And when we women see our grandmothers, our mothers, our daughters, our granddaughters, our sisters, ourselves, when we women see that statue,

the Spirit of Justice, we see the spirit of strength, the spirit of survival. Every day we view innocent bodies dragged out of rubble, and women and children laid out like thin limp dolls and baptized into death as collateral damage, and we see the hollow-eyed Afghani mother whose milk has dried up underneath her burka in famine, in shame, and her children are dead at her breast.

While you look at that breast, John, that jug on the Spirit of Justice, and deal with your thoughts of lust and sex and nakedness, we see it as a testimony to motherhood. You see it as a tit.

It's not the money it cost. It's the message you send. We've got the right to live in freedom. We've got the right to cheat Americans out of millions of dollars and then just not want to tell congress about it. We've got the right to drop bombs, night and day, on a small country that has no army, no navy, no military at all, because we've got the right to bear arms. But we just better not even think about the right to bare breasts.

So now John, you can be photographed while you stand there and talk about guns and bombs and poisons without that breast appearing over your right shoulder, without that bodacious bosom bothering you and we just wanted to tell you in the spirit of justice, in the spirit of truth, John, there is still one very big boob left standing there in that picture.

My friend Ross Snyder responded to the recent discussion of education in this column with this note:

The reason why I vote for school bonds and such is an argument one of our representatives made many years ago: especially we who have no kids in school have a duty to pay our share of what it costs to live in an educated community.

Elitism is out of fashion among many (most?) educational professionals, who, I guess, consider themselves egalitarians. I have a sister-in-law, to be precise she is the sister of my brother's first wife... She was for years principal of a primary school in Walnut Creek. No egalitarian, she protested vociferously that the educational establishment was forever demanding she educate the uneducable no matter at what cost to the competent and the gifted. I suspect "uneducable" may have been a code word for black and Latino. I can't argue strongly there, since I read that good sociological research finds possibly inherent inability, and certainly poverty and parental indifference are disproportionate in those sectors.

Against the grain, I guess, my policy would be to encourage the gifted at whatever cost to the merely competent and worse. One good friend, an emeritus prof from the State University system, differs. He says he was always tempted to pay extra attention to the top youngsters because they respond so readily, but felt he must resist that urge since these are the very ones who don't need it, who can't be prevented from learning, and he felt it his duty to concentrate on pushing the others, to reach their potentials.

Ross' commentary goes to the heart of what's called multiculturalism, an essential part of modern teacher education. Seeming inability and parental indifference are sometimes just that--they seem to exist because of differing cultural norms. They can create problems in education unless they are dealt with. Of course what the textbooks fail to point out is that there is real inability and actual parental indifference and it is (for sure!) not limited to persons of low socio-economic status.

Poverty, of course, is very real and does definitely interfere with education, whether through poor nutrition, chaotic home life or the creation of low self-esteem.

All in all, however, students from high socio-economic status homes are easier to teach than those with low SES, which is why there are no teachers on emergency credentials in Orinda and hundreds in Oakland, just a few miles (and a few worlds) away.

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