PS... A Column
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.
June 24, 2002 Vol. 4, No. 25
Table of Contents:
More On How Not To Be Remembered (Sullivan, Brancatelli and Dalton)
Well, imagine my surprise. Last week's lead item, on How Not To Be Remembered stirred a hornet's nest of instant response from some of my oldest and best friends. Funny, how a guy who used to make his living expressing himself in writing can express himself so unclearly. And of course, it also points out what a good idea editors are, even when you are writing a personal column--perhaps especially then. What I wrote was sincerely what I felt after reading the Carson profile and the Langa biography. An editor might have noted that the overall tone of the piece sounded suspiciously like a fishing expedition, asking people to tell me how wonderful I am. Not my intent, although, bracingly, that is what happened. First, some of the reaction, then my second thoughts on the subject.
Kevin Sullivan checked in first:
Your discourse on who will remember you and how is full-mid-life crisis and you're right on schedule. Fear not, the sun will rise tomorrow somewhere, whether you come to grips with this puzzle or not.
I was unfamiliar with the koan and thought it was super-cool. My wife knew it after the first line. Apparently, if you're into enlightenment, you've heard it.
Next to react was Joe Brancatelli, my editor at Information Systems News and a personal friend for more than two decades. Joe didn't sugar-coat his reaction.
I can honestly say I am horrified by what you've written today.
How dare you denigrate your contribution to journalism, to your readers, and to the people you have met along the way.
I truly do understand you may be at a turning point in your life, but I cannot let several comments go unanswered.
1) I refuse to believe your journalism career is over. Your voice is too vital and your vision too clear to stop covering technology in specific and anything else you want to write about. You may talk about yourself as a journalist in the past tense, but I won't... I know you, Paul; you are, at heart, a journalist. You may cut back--or even stop--creating from time to time, but I know a day will come when you'll be drawn back to this. It's what you are.
2) Awards are stupid, meaningless, and journalism awards are especially so. To measure your career based on how many awards you have is ludicrous. Did you get into this profession to win awards? Of course you didn't. So why measure your contributions by whether someone else deigned to give you some meaningless designation?
3) How dare you say you won't be remembered for anything you've written or edited? First of all, no one knows what (or if) they will be remembered for. Besides, again, who cares? The measure of a journalist's success is the same as the measure of success for anything: Did you go out there and give the best you could every day you did your job? Did you play fair and act a gentleman? Did you tell the truth? Did you help the people who worked for you? Did you give the best to the people who employed you? These are the things that matter. If we base importance on "being remembered," then, well, 99.99 percent of the people who have ever walked the planet have been a failure. I reject that as a measure of anything.
4) The measure of your impact as a journalist is the number of people who've been somehow changed or enlightened by what you've done. And that, as you have so clearly said at the beginning of PSACOT, is unknowable. But I can assure you that you have impacted many. How could you not have? You have spent large swatches of your career to date explaining and guiding people through one of the most dramatic periods of technological upheaval the human race has ever known. How many people know how to use computers--and thus do a job and thus feed their families--because of you? How many people made a product better--and thus helped society at large--because of something you wrote? How many journalists have you trained or helped--and how will their contributions help society? All these things are unknowable, I admit, but I'm willing to guess with confidence that you have touched far more people than you could ever guess.
Johnny Carson made a generation of Americans laugh... During much of the same time, you have made technology understandable, productive and affordable for countless readers. I don't see the difference between the two of you--except maybe he's got a few more bucks than you, and you still have another generation's worth of time to continue to make a difference.
Of course, I hadn't intended for Joe or anyone else to take it personally. But then, I guess this is just one more reminder that we are all part of a large intricate web of life, and that no action we take fails to shake all the parts of the web in ways we don't understand. Flapping butterfly wings and hurricanes, chaos theory, that sort of thing. I do believe I am through with professional journalism, but life has thrown me curveballs since I was 13, so I guess it would be a real surprise if I see nothing but changeups for the next 30 years. Of course, I didn't get into the journalism business to win awards, Joe's right--I got into it to change the world, and because I loved the intellectual challenge of imposing order on disordered reality, in consonance with a precise set of rules under tight deadlines. The answer to all Joe's questions in section 3 is a rousing yes, and that's always been a point of pride with me, although I think that adds up to a career as a journeyman, not a star. I had once hoped to be a star. I'll settle for being a journeyman. One who can be proud of every day he spent in the business. As for impacting people's lives, I predict I'll impact more people, more directly, more positively, in my first year as a teacher than in my three decades as a journalist, but that remains to be seen.
Richard Dalton commented on a single point in my essay. We have both known what it is to give our editorial best in the service of a publication that didn't make money.
Your statement, "The magazine was not a moneymaker when I was there, so my work had no value" sounds like a twisted Zen exercise, along the lines of "If a tree falls in an empty bank vault, does it make a noise?" Your job was to contribute professional writing to the magazine's content, which I saw you do. If you wrote 200% more and 500% better there's no reason to believe that Information Week would have been a success.
But that's a marketplace question. What is the value of acquitting yourself honorably, by doing the job you were paid to do? If that isn't "valuable," then Enron has won.
Richard's right of course. My work had value by my criteria, just not by the criteria of the people running my company. I always did believe there wasn't really much I could do about the lack of financial success at the magazine during my era. But of course, editors who work on financial loser books are losers, and editors who work on financial winner books are winners, regardless of the quality of the editorial content. Fair or not, that's the way it is.
In the end, the question for me when I graduated from school and began adult life was: is life going to be more like Benson High (where I was a big fish in a small pond), or MIT (where I was a small fish in a big pond). I made big pond choices throughout my career, and I don't regret that.
Apropos of Joe's remarks, I was a gentleman and a hard worker. When I began my career, I had hoped for more: to be a big fish in a big pond, to be a journalist who mattered and made a big difference in the broader world. There aren't too many of those. I turned out not to be one of them. He's also right, we can't know how we will be known.
Zen seems to arise in many of the responses, as does a longer term view. One good college friend wrote:
The awards that God has given you are the blessings of a loving family and amusing friends, and talents in your children that, we assure you, will surprise you yet, and talents in yourself still to be developed and shared. Would you not rather have these awards than wooden plaques upon the wall? Wood falls to dust, but believe us, Love endures, even when there is no conscious mind to "remember" a name or a word or a deed.
Bay State Lovers Rejoice
I know this column attracts an unusual number of MIT graduates as readers (fancy that), so they may find some interest in this missive from Bob Nilsson, who offers a surprisingly broad and interesting choice of goods in his e-store.
Sorry I've been quiet lately. I have borrowed a page from your book and have taken advantage of the tech lull here in Massachusetts to launch into a second (albeit part-time) career. Over the last few years, I had noticed two things that pointed to an opportunity. One was that a substantial portion of the people living here in Massachusetts would not live anywhere else. This was driven home when the company where I worked offered a generous relocation package to anyone willing to move to the company's California division. Despite the well-known advantages of life in California, no onewas willing to relocate. The second thing I noticed is that there is currently no store catering specifically to state residents and visitors who have a sweet spot for Massachusetts. That is, there is no store with a product line that is "Made in Massachusetts". Hence, I have launched Massachusetts Bay Trading Company, an eStore "promoting the quality of Massachusetts products and offering a rich selection of items associated with the Commonwealth". I would be very appreciative if you could give it a glance and let me know what you think. If nothing else, take the Massachusetts trivia test and see how you do. The quiz is 22 questions and the high score to date is 86%.
Getting What You Want
Kevin Sullivan found Five Steps to Getting What You Want, by Carol Tuttle.
You'll want to read the whole thing, but to summarize:
Step 1: Know what you want.Have a desire.
Step 2: Ask for what you want. Ask God, the angels, the Universe. You are asking a power greater than yourself to assist you in creating.
Step 3: Believe you can have it. Have faith, free of any doubt, that what you desire and have asked for is going to be manifested to you.
Step 4: Let go and allow. Basically get out of your own way and allow the spirit to be in charge of bringing your desire to you.
Step 5: Express gratitude.
Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs
Craig checks in:
It will be techno-very-brief this week; we took a family vacation so my web scouring was curtailed.
3D Satellite Map
Dan Grobstein found this cool 3D Map that shows the orbit of every satellite now orbiting the Earth. It is cool.
I've seen this kicking around the net several times; Jeremy Barna sent it to me most recently.
A major research institution has recently announced the discovery of the heaviest element yet known to science. This new element has been tentatively named "Administratium". Administratium has 1 neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 111 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.
These 312 particles are held together by a force called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. Since Administratium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected as it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of Administratium causes one reaction to take over 4 days to complete when it would normally take less than a second.
Administratium has a normal half-life of 3 years; it does not decay but instead undergoes a reorganization, in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons and assistant deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, Administratium's mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization causes some morons to become neutrons forming isodopes.
This characteristic of moron-promotion leads some scientists to speculate that Administratium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as "Critical Morass."
You will know it when you see it.
The Top 16 Signs Your Neighbor Has a Dirty Bomb
Featuring yours truly at No. 15.
June 19, 2002
16> Three times this week she's come over to borrow a cup of uranium-238.
15> Daily muffled booms and the constant smell of charred hamster.
14> Her every outfit is coordinated with a matching lead apron.
13> There's a large pile of dead Jehovah's Witnesses at his front door.
12> The box-office total for the first weekend of his new movie, "Bill and Monica's Excellent Adventure," was only $4860.
11> After listening attentively to your Amway spiel, she asks if you sell bomb cleaner.
10> Always kind of squirrelly, his son Skippy is now completely indistinguishable from one.
9> A 20-foot pineapple just ate your dog, kennel and all.
8> The nearest nuclear plant is 300 miles away, but your goldfish just started quoting Aristotle.
7> You see a mushroom cloud in his back yard, yet his BBQ grill is covered.
6> Before: Whines about how nobody likes him. Now: Cackles about how everyone will fear him.
5> You no longer step in your dog's poop now that it glows like neon.
4> Before you can even load the bong, that weed he grows in his basement fires up all on its own.
3> None of his other bombs press you for anal.
2> You're a day late returning his hedge trimmer and he gets all "Hulk smash!" on you.
and Topfive.com's Number 1 Sign Your Neighbor Has a Dirty Bomb...
1> When CNN airs spy-plane footage of the suspected Al-Qaeda terrorist compound, you spot your kid's Frisbee on the roof.
[ The Top 5 Listwww.topfive.com ]
[ Copyright 2002 by Chris White ]
Selected from 133 submissions from 47 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Andy Ihnatko, Boston, MA -- 1 (9th #1)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 15
The Top 16 Signs It's Time to Get Out of Show Business
Movin' on up: No. 14!
June 21, 2002
16> Sure, Winona shoplifts clothes, too -- but not from Wal-Mart.
15> Penthouse refuses to run topless photos of you, even after you offer them $1,000,000.
14> Everyone who introduces you puts air quotes around the word "talent."
13> Your mom hasn't been available to drive you to auditions since she died back in '83.
12> Your latest commercial has you pitching 10-10-14:59.
11> Mr. de Mille hasn't returned any of your calls in the last 40 or so years.
10> Producers have begun demanding you use a body double, even for voice-over work.
9> Critics be damned, you're about to start shooting "Glitter II."
8> Your first publicity photo was a daguerreotype taken by Matthew Brady.
7> You run into Shatner at the cleaners, and he says you look like crap.
6> Twenty years as an actor, yet you still can't be traced to Kevin Bacon.
5> Contestants choose to concede the game rather than pick your Hollywood Square.
4> The Directors Guild is building a fence around your house.
3> You get axed from your 1-800-COLLECT commercial gig as soon as Screech becomes available.
2> Your agent politely informs you that it looks like talkies are here to stay.
and Topfive.com's Number 1 Sign It's Time to Get Out of Show Business...
1> Thirty seconds into your bout, Gary Coleman is standing triumphantly on your chest with his gloves raised in victory.
[ The Top 5 Listwww.topfive.com ]
[ Copyright 2002 by Chris White ]
Selected from 97 submissions from 36 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Don Swain, Rochester Hills, MI -- 1 (15th #1)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 14
You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database.
Steve Coquet On Harley Sorenson on Homeland Security; Dan Grobstein's Picks, Bob Nilsson On George W. And John Doe 2
Steve Coquet was a week late sending me this, then I was a week late posting it. That doesn't make his musings less relevant, however.
Am I the only one around to whom 'Office of Homeland Security' sounds way too similar to 'GeStaadtsPolizei' and 'Politbureau'?Harley Sorensen is worried about what Hillary Clinton might do. Has he forgotten that the single greatest expansion of illegal activities by the CIA was when GB the 1st was first head of said agency and then Vice President and President ? Does he (or any one else) not believe that GB 2nd shares at least some of his father's beliefs and prejudices? For example,. a belief in corporate rights and a concomitant disdain for human ones?
Just thought I'd throw a few rhetorical questions your way.
About frightening women in the White House, though: how 'bout a first lady who brought a fortune teller into the White House? Or a former prospective first lady who staunchly believes in the first amendment except if someone publishes music that offends her ? One Demo, one Republican. The important thing about both of them is neither one was or would have been President. Anything a president does must be laid firmly at his feet.
Dan Grobstein offers his picks from recent news coverage, including Frank Rich on Dick Cheney's now forgotten pre-9/11 role in antiterrorism, Department of Homeland Insecurity. The paper reviewed Stephen Wolfram's new book under the headline, 'A New Kind of Science': You Know That Space-Time Thing? Never Mind. He found an AP story entitled Spam Food Gets Own Museum. I know for sure Monty Python aren't the only people who have an odd affinity for Spam; Marlow used to love a web site called "Find The Can Of Spam." Finally, he liked Richard Cohen's column on Casino Capitalists, and so did I.
A couple of notes from Bob Nilsson:
Something interesting I saw in IMDb- they list many politicians as "Actors" because the politicians have appeared in films, although the classification is also appropriate for other reasons. If you type inGeorge W. Bush, his "trivia" begins with "son of former president George Bush", includes his arrest records and offers a long list of personal quotes such as: "I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully" "One of the common denominators I have found is that expectations rise above that which is expected" "More and more of our imports come from overseas", etc....
Have you heard the latest conspiracy theory? They say that Jose Padillo (the purported "dirty bomber") is adead ringer for John Doe #2.
I do enjoy your columns. The topics, especially the personal ones, provide excellent fodder for dinner table conversations. That is not to say that we discuss the Schindlers- rather the topics addressed, such as kids leaving home, competing in sports, trying different careers, etc.
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