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 10, 2002

June 10, 2002 Vol. 4, No. 23

Table of Contents:

General News

  • The Meaning Of Life
  • The Role Of Music In My Life
  • Asia SF
  • Homeland Security Roundup
  • After The Diagnosis

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • Hoaxes


  • The Top 16 Favorite Movies of Animals
  • The Top 14 Courses at Evil Overlord University


  • Space Station 3D


  • Dan Grobstein Finds Dumb Test, Daniel Dern Finds Dumb Marketing, The Space Pen Urban Legend

General News

The Meaning of Life

No, not the Monty Python film (one of their best, by the way), but thoughts on the subject. First, from a novel my mother is reading:

We are born not knowing where we came from, we have no idea what we are going to do, and we have no idea how long we have to do it before we go to the next unknown. That's not an exact quote, and not so terribly original, but it sure sums it up well!

Well, yes it does! Reminds me of Douglas Adams, who used to say that humanity clearly had lost its owners manual, and that if only we hadn't thrown it in a drawer and forgotten where it was, things would have been so much clearer, simpler and more obvious. Yes, I know, some people think the bible/torah/koran is the owner's manual, but if it is, it's been transliterated from another language, and has entirely too much "tab a in slot b" and not enough practical advice.

The Role Of Music In My Life

This column, of course, is supposed to be about... well... me. My life, my family, my political opinions, my opinions about movies, my sense of humor. And it is, mostly.

But sometimes, the things that bring you the most pleasure are so quotidian that you forget to mention them. Or at least, don't mention them often enough.

Every Wednesday, almost without fail, for the last eight years, I have gone to the rehearsals of the Contra Costa Wind Symphony (CCWS), a brass band in which I play tenor saxophone. I love it. It is my most important extra-curricular activity, and if teachers' education gets in the way of it next year, I will be sad and bitter.

Although words are my business, it is difficult for me to describe the joy I feel when playing music as part of an ensemble. I feel no particular need to solo--solos make me nervous. As Steve Wood, the first tenor puts it, "I wouldn't mind if we never had a concert. I prefer rehearsals. Concerts are a pain!" To an extent he is right. It is not about sharing the music, although that is a pleasant fringe benefit and allows your family and friends to hear what you've been doing with all that time. It is about playing the music, for two hours every week, under the baton of a conductor who cares and is trying to help you improve. When I am playing, I am transported.

I would play even if I knew for certain that it was cutting my life short. But as it happens, there is statistical evidence that playing music wards off Alzheimer's and even the less severe ravages of old-age memory loss. As a brain exercise, playing music is almost as effective as working crossword puzzles. It also turns out that music extends your life. Factoring out booze and drugs (not particular problems for amateur musicians who aren't on the road all the time), musicians live longer. I am guessing it is because we have something beautiful to live for.

I still get up every morning, despite being "between positions," mostly because I am a husband and father and love my family. However, I can imagine getting up every day because I had music to play.

If you ever played a wind instrument, dust it off and find your local brass band. You might be pleasantly surprised.

I announced a concert Friday night for the Danville Band and played in one Saturday with the CCWS. I'll be playing on Moraga Commons at 2pm on the Fourth of July. I hope to see you there!

Asia SF

Female impersonator dancers are now known as "gender illusionists," at least at Asia SF, where they are all Asian, and all pretty good demonstrations of the plastic surgeon's art. Marlow looked at one of them and said, "I don't think normal breasts would hold that dress up."

On the recommendation of one of my nieces, we went to Asia SF for dinner and a show. We got both. They say their fusion cuisine is three-star; I'd give it two stars at best. But the entertainment is three-star, assuming your taste runs to men who have worked very hard to look like women and who lip sync sexy or double entendre songs while doing as much choreography as you can manage while dancing on top of a bar. The dancers are also your waiters, and they are so friendly. We went quite early (they open at 5, we went at 6), and our waitress advised us, several times, to come back later when the show gets raunchier. Actually, it was raunchy enough for us at 6.

Homeland Security Roundup

Astounding though it may seem, I actually spotted an interesting, under-reported news story, without help from my source in Washington, or Dern, or Reynolds or even Grobstein. I happened to be browsing the San Francisco Chronicle web site on Monday during my prep period while substituting, and one of their web-only columns caught my eye in a big way.

Monday, June 3, 2002 (SF Gate)
Heads-Up To Ashcroft Proves Threat Was Known Before 9/11
Harley Sorensen, Special to SF Gate

... Bush knew something was going to happen involving airplanes. He just didn't know what or exactly when. His attorney general, John Ashcroft, knew.

...On July 26, 2001, reported that John Ashcroft had stopped flying on commercial airlines. Ashcroft used to fly commercial, just as Janet Reno did. So why, two months before Sept. 11, did he start taking chartered government planes?

...Because of a "threat assessment" by the FBI... But neither the FBI nor the Justice Department ... would identify what the threat was, when it was detected or who made it.

The FBI did advise Ashcroft to stay off commercial aircraft. The rest of us just had to take our chances.

Funny the Chronicle chose not to run this in its paper editions. But then I think all the American media have been cowed into an odd sort of semi-silence, where they report the facts but shy away from pursuing them, lending them meaning, or even pounding on them until they can't be ignored. In short, in a stunning act of hypocrisy, the mainstream media refuse to "connect the dots," even as they pummel the government for not connecting the dots. Whew!

Elsewhere, from a front page article (June 1, 2002) in the New York Times titled "F.B.I. Report Found Agency Not Ready To Counter Terror" one finds the real story and only news in the last sentence (conveniently placed below the fold on page A10). Talk about a buried lede! "Meanwhile, officials said that after the Bush Administration came into office, top Justice Department officials did not initially see the urgent need to upgrade counterterrorism. In August, officials said, the bureau's acting director, Tom Pickard, met with Mr. Ashcroft on a supplemental financing request for counterterrorism, but was turned down."

The reader may recall that the reason/excuse offered for not following the early July FBI lead to flight schools was an alleged lack of money in the $4 billion per year or so already available to the FBI. At two (2) flight schools per agent per week day, some may note that the ten (10) agents who recently spent nine (9) months listening to a madam in New Orleans could have instead visited about 3,600 flight schools.

As for the Department of Homeland Security proposal: More knowledgeable Republicans usually refrain from re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. As a less knowledgeable Republican, his illegitimacy (whether this reflects more on Yale and Harvard (each of which conferred a degree on his illegitimacy) than the party which traded guns for drugs with a terrorist nation from about 1981-1986 is left as an exercise for the reader) chose to re-arrange the deck chairs (by calling for a Dept of Homeland Security) to seek protection (for himself and the self-declared paragon of national security experience and truth telling (especially about his medical condition) now hiding out in an undisclosed location) from their employers once they figure out what the doleful duo and co-conspirators were really doing from January 20, 2001 to September 10, 2001. After all, if the FBI (mis)Director is willing to admit (even before the first half-baked co-opted in advance investigation really gets rolling) that maybe the bureau just might have stopped the whole disaster, just imagine what he'll be willing to admit when they actually get some facts.

After The Diagnosis

Richard Dalton checks in with a find from the Stanford Medical School:

This is a great paper, written for breast cancer patients but you can easily substitute prostate, lung or XXX for breast. Basically it says take charge, it's your life. And it is.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig checks in:

Reuters's Andy Sullivan writes ReplayTV Users Sue for Right to Skip Commercials in what is presumably a response to Turner Broadcasting CEO Jamie Kellner's intemperate comments (mentioned here on May 13) about how -- in his little fantasy world -- viewers enter into a contract to watch commercials in exchange for watching broadcast programming. The always enlightened Rep. Rick Boucher is mentioned: "...{he said the consumer suit was a welcome development, and said he planned to introduce a bill soon that would protect consumers' fair-use rights. 'Surely there's no law that says you have to watch commercials,' said Rep. Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat..."

As mentioned here on May 27, Microsoft is spreading FUD about national security threats from Open Source software. Now one of their surrogates, The Alexis de Tocqueville Institution plans to release a report called "Opening the Open Source Debate". Early reactions can be found at LawMeme, ZDnet and Wired. Along those same lines, Ralph Nader suggests U.S. Govt Buying Could Help Crimp Microsoft.

Claire Tristram's NY Times op-ed piece Silicon Valley Grows Up casts the CBDTPA (et cetera) issue as "Hollywood versus Silicon Valley" and notes: "But simply stating 'you just don't understand, Senator' -- even if it is a perfectly reasonable response -- isn't going to work in this latest battle, as Silicon Valley is learning. Hollywood does a far better job than the valley of speaking in one voice on Capitol Hill. Painfully, if not surprisingly, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, former mayor of San Francisco, is a co-sponsor of the Hollings bill; Hollywood has contributed roughly twice as much money to her as Silicon Valley has." Found via Declan McCullagh's Politech site.

In Facing the Music Michael Wolff writes in New York Magazine about the technical and cultural pressures changing the music industry: "Rock stars and music-industry execs once ruled the earth, but now -- in terms of size and profit margins -- the music industry is becoming the book business (minus the literacy)."

Wireless technology news: in Newsweek, Steven Levy and Brad Stone's Wild About Wi-Fi tells of the accelerating adoption of wireless network technology and how it may shake up the ISP industry. CNN's Congestion wears on wireless talks about interference between neighboring wireless networks and from other devices using the same band of the radio spectrum. (We discovered at home that our Apple AirPort and new wireless phone use the same frequency.) In MIT's Technology Review, Erika Jonietz writes Wireless Goes Wide about potential commercial applications of ultrawideband radio technology. Over at the PBS website, Cringely weighs in.

While I'm not a fan of software patents, ya gotta love anything that will slow down the flood of pop-up/pop-under advertisements: Pop-under ads may hit publisher wallets. I find it hard to feel much sympathy with revenue lost to web sites. Yes a pop-under may be somewhat more "effective" than a banner ad, but then it would be even MORE effective to hire a thug to come to my home a pistol-whip me until I purchased the advertised product. I think we need to draw the line somewhere! BTW, the Mozilla browser (which just had its 1.0 release) has a great feature: a checkbox in Preferences that prevents JavaScript from opening unrequested windows. This completely prevents pop-up ads.

Enterprising MIT grad student Andrew Huang used some cheap custom hardware and some clever analysis to reverse engineer the Xbox security system allowing the possibility of running unsanctioned code (say Linux, or an homemade Xbox game) on the console. Here is his tech memo and his project page.

Blogging news: Cory Doctorow writes My Blog, My Outboard Brain about the value of a blog to its author -- shades of Vannevar Bush's Memex concept described in his 1945 article As We May Think.

Oops, what if the single person who knows the password to a government database suddenly passes away? Dead Men Tell No Passwords

Web Site of the Week

NetComix, Hoaxes

Wow, there are a lot of Net comix! Try Penny Arcade, a strip about gamers that loathes Xbox, and so can't be all bad. This was a link off a page Craig Reynolds sent me to.

Kevin Sullivan found this on the Netsurfer Digest and noted,"This link was fun. I (being an ex-pseudo engineer) enjoyed the re-engineering of fast food for left handed people." I like the phrase ex-pseudo engineer; describes me as well. Here's what he found:

Hoaxes through History

Pretty much anyone with a brain who has received the Nigerian scam e-mail - and that includes everyone who receives e-mail, we guess - knows something about hoaxes. The Museum of Hoaxes does not yet list this current scam, but with entertaining variety it covers hoaxes from the donation of Constantine in 750 CE ("A forgery that became the basis for 1200 years of Papal rule") and Pope Joan ("Was there once a female pope?"), to the more recent Freewheelz ("Internet-age company gives away free cars," an April Fool's Day enterprise in 2000) and the Emulex Hoax ("23-year-old college student terrifies Wall Street"). Naturally, descriptions get more detailed as you approach the Information Age. Pope Joan couldn't make documentaries for PBS, nor did the young Mark Twain hold a press conference to explain his finding a petrified man. We're pretty sure you've never heard of many of the amusing and outlandish stories recounted here. If you've ever fallen victim to a hoax, rest assured you have company - even though that company may have died a long time ago.


The Top 16 Favorite Movies of Animals

I came in at No. 10

June 4, 2002

16> A Beautiful Mynah

15> Pup Fiction

14> Spotacus

13> Some Like It Barfed Up

12> Bark Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Bones

11> Fetch

10> Lord of the Ringworms

9> Y Tu Llama Tambien

8> Sheep's Gotta Have It

7> In Heat in the Night

6> Butt-Sniffin' in the Rain

5> Beach Blanket Dingo

4> The Muttrix

3> My Best Friend's Bedding

2> Revenge of the Herds

and's Number 1 Favorite Movie of Animals...

1> The Postman Always Screams Twice

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2002 by Chris White ]
Selected from 108 submissions from 39 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Dave Juurlink, Toronto, Canada -- 1, 3 (7th #1)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 10

The Top 14 Courses at Evil Overlord University

Big pileup at No. 7, but better to be part of a crowd than to be left off.

June 6, 2002

14> Advanced Nemesis Taunting

13> Managing Mothership Security 212: Beware the Hacker With an Apple Powerbook

12> Speech 302: Brevity Workshop -- making your "conquering the world" oratory short enough so that your nemesis doesn't get away.

11> Applications in Rube Goldbergian Technology

10> Psychology 450: Am I an Evil Twin?

9> Fashion Design 311/Uniforms: Diagonal Zippers, Unisex Jumpsuits and Nehru Jackets

8> Preparing for the LSAT

7> Communication 302: High-Pitched Cackling

6> Managing Your Minions: Variations on the "46 Virgins" Promise

5> Evil Mustache Twirling 401

4> Business Master Class With Professor Emeritus Bill Gates

3> Comparative Obliterature

2> The Power... ... ... ... ...of the Dramatic Pause!

and's Number 1 Course at Evil Overlord University...

1> Prisoner Management 210: Kill Them! Just Kill Them NOW!!!

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2002 by Chris White ]
Selected from 106 submissions from 41 contributors.
|Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Joseph Moore, Concord, CA -- 1, 13 (13th #1)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 7
Lev L. Spiro, Los Angeles, CA -- 7 (Hall of Famer)
Whit Watson, West Hartford, CT -- 7


Space Station 3D

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

I have almost never turned this space over to an outside reviewer. When I got this from John Ruley his excitement was so palpable, and on a subject so close to my heart, that I felt I had to get the word out before I had a chance to see it myself. I might not get around to seeing this film. It is the penultimate week of the term, and I have 200 pages of reading, two finals and an eight-page paper to finish in the next 10 days.

Kate and I made a trip into San Francisco yesterday to return a cat we'd been taking care of for her brother Mike (a long story), and went to see the movie "Space Station 3D". It's playing at IMAX theatres nation-wide, and it is just unbelievable. It was shot by the first two station crews and the supporting Shuttle crews, using double-lens IMAX cameras in-situ; and it's narrated by Tom Cruise, who's enthusiasm for the station is both evidently genuine and infectious. Running time is about an hour. The combination of the 3D effect (which really works--even Kate got it, which is unusual) and the ultra-wide-screen IMAX format really puts you inside the picture. I found myself looking up-down-side-to-side, and off course there are obligatory moments where things fly out at the camera.

If you have an IMAX near you, and can spare an hour this is really worth seeing!


Dan Grobstein Finds Dumb Test, Daniel Dern Finds Dumb Marketing, The Space Pen Urban Legend

Dan Grobstein found this little "can you believe it" item:

The Elderly Man and the Sea? Test Sanitizes Literary Texts
June 2, 2002
New York Times

New York State's standardized English exams have become so sanitized, critics say, that they have skewed classic literary works that students are tested on.

He also found an op-ed piece on the subject by Diane Ravitch, a historian of education at New York University, who is writing a book about censorship in the educational publishing industry. The New Yorker also had a lengthy piece ridiculing this practice, complete with specific examples.

For our next item about Tivo and "push" programming, Daniel Dern notes, " Sheesh. Don't let these guys build cars." Harry Shearer also noted this item with derision on his public radio program, Le Show.

As reported by Dave Coursey in his AnchorDesk for June 3:

Fresh in my mind is Richard Shim's ZDNet News story from late last week about how TiVo essentially force-fed a BBC comedy to its customers in the U.K. As Shim describes it:

"TiVo subscribers in the United Kingdom last week found the BBC comedy 'Dossa and Joe' automatically pushed onto their digital video recorders unless they had already programmed the device to record another show during the same time slot....Many customers were baffled by the show's appearance as a new menu item--one they had not recorded and could not delete. The program will be deleted automatically after four days, according to TiVo."

A friend sent me the old story of the US developing an expensive space pen while the Russians simply used pencils. Turns out this is an urban legend and it isn't true. So, let's all stop spreading it. There is enough real stuff for which we should criticize the government; we don't need to make stuff up. Like the Department of Defense's $640 toilet seat and $436 hammer and the National Park Service's $797,400 outhouse, which you can find out about at Citizens Against Government Waste.

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