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: July 29, 2002

July 29, 2002 Vol. 4, No. 30

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Airport Security
  • My Readership, Going Commando
  • Mari Schindler and Kevin Sullivan on Teaching

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • Bob Nilsson's Picks: Long Bets, The Onion, Space Invaders


  • Paul Krassner: Still At It


  • Lovely and Amazing


  • Mari Schindler on Teaching Teachers, Dan Grobstein's Link-o-Mania

General News

Airport Security

It's been a while since I led this column with politics. But I recently attempted to get the search engines to spider my site more often (don't you just love Internet jargon?) so I'd like to give them something to distribute. Besides, I have to make these comments here because I can't make them at an airport, without running a serious risk of being arrested.

The post 9/11 security measures introduced at our country's airports are bogus and worse than useless--they do nothing to prevent terrorism. Instead, the security measures are teetering on the brink of strangling our air transportation system to death.

They are worse then useless because the only people who are daunted by the gantlet they now have to run to get to an airplane are normal people. Civilians: tourists and business travelers. A dedicated terrorist doesn't mind waiting 90 minutes, outside the terminal, ina security line. Normal people do. Eventually, they'll stop flying. Of course, there's a simple solution to this: open enough security stations and hire enough checkers to move people at a reasonable pace through the new ridiculous, pointless, unecessary security checks. But since the airline industry could never even bring itself to avoid scheduling more flights during an hour than the maximum physical capacity of an airport, this obvious solution remains chimeral.

It is time to point out to the emperor his clotheless state. We all agree our opponents in the war against are not idiots. THEY AREN'T GOING TO DO IT AGAIN. It doesn't make any sense. We're watching the airports and the planes now. So they'll hijack a truck, or pull an Ocean's 11 trick on New York City or San Francisco, both of which depend on amazingly fragile power supply systems.

They aren't going to pay cash for a one-way ticket. They aren't going to carry on guns or knives--their accomplices would plant them, in the extremely unlikely event they tried the "commercial airliner turned into a missle" trick again.

Of course, I am aware of the counter-argument that, should we drop our guard, they'd try it again. But nothing we are doing now would have stopped them! The extra carry-on baggage checks? They had weapons stashed on the planes. The constant ID checks? They all had seemingly valid fake ideas. The extra attention paid to people with cash tickets or one-way tickets? No hijacker in his right mind will ever pay cash or buy a one-way ticket again. They have plenty of money! They aren't going to blow up a plane. They are going to blow up a bridge, or a monument, or a shopping center full of people.

I would sooner staple a skunk to my forehead and go to a convention of banjo makers than fly voluntarily. Most Americans will soon feel the same. (I stole that vivid image from Scot Adams). Get some serious security, including air marshals on every flight, or get the hell out of our way. And if you are going to search us, hire enough screeners so the lines don't stretch outside the building.

My Readership, Going Commando

As Harry Shearer would say if he were here, "No, I'm not suggesting my readership is going commando, or should. I just have two small items and I decided to put them under one headline. Hence the comma."

I received a Top 5 list about the Top 15 Things That Would Be Different If Underwear Had Never Been Invented. The list included several references to "going commando," a phrase I had never heard before. A quick Internet search revealed that it meant, "not wearing any underwear," and was apparently based on the belief that military commandos don't bother with undergarments when they are on duty. I don't know any commandos, so I can't say. I tried it in college. Didn't care for it. I had a good college buddy (you know who you are), who I assume slipped into tighty whities some time ago, since he is now in his 50s.

I am proud to say my readership has stabilized at a consistent 413 visitors a week, 59 a day. I used to worry that it was mostly spiders, but although I am being spidered some, there is no evidence that I am being spidered a lot. Since I don't know that many people, and I only email about 150 notices of column posting each week, I have to assume a lot of you are people I don't know personally who just enjoy reading this. To you, I say, again, thanks, and, say, have you considered paying for this column? There are links at the top and bottom that would make this quite easy.

Mari Schindler and Kevin Sullivan on Teaching

My mom hews to her strong opinion on education courses:

I still think about 90% of the education courses don't in fact, teach you how to teach - I still think that's a hands on deal for the most part.

Kevin Sullivan also had some thoughts on education:

Interesting discussion about teachers and "quality". My finding was that at the elementary, middle and high school levels there was usually not an issue with a teacher's lack of knowledge about a subject area. There was frequently a teacher's lack of ability to lead, guide, coach, and instruct the student on how to get from one set of constructs in their head to the constructs indicative of some knowledge gained. That ability to "teach" I found sorely lacking at all levels and it got worse at MIT where a deeper subject area knowledge appeared to be taken as a license for a blatant disregard for the art of teaching.

Amen. When Kevin and I were at MIT, the University denied tenure to the winner of the Killian Teaching Prize so frequently that it was joked that the award was cursed.

I just found out that the Japanese characters for teacher is (sen-sei) is made up of Sen (prior, earlier) and Sei (birth, alive). A teacher was someone born earlier or started prior growing. The word Sen is also used for last week, (sen-shu) and last month (sen-gatsu) and last year (sen-nen). Sei has an implication of growing. It's not deep, just interesting.

Kevin also noted:

Its the teacher's responsibility to teach
Its the student's responsibility to learn

I had already planned to make this one of the rules of my classroom, when I get one.

Some students will resist learning. "Like leading a horse to water,... But if he gets thirsty enough, he will drink" Part of the art of teaching is encouraging the thirst. And some are silly asses who would rather drop dead of thirst.

Two interesting pointers on this topic:

  • The last chapter of the last book of the Narnia series presents C.S. Lewis ideas and images on people accepting (or not) the teachings of Christianity. Some people look on the bread and wine of new learnings as a trough full of swill that they would rather avoid.
  • Harold "Doc" Edgerton, who I consider the best "teacher" I ever met either at MIT or elsewhere, always said that it was the teacher's responsibility to present information at least three times, because he knew learning new ideas was not an easy thing.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds cruises the net for you:

I've been on the road for eight days attending SIGGRAPH 2002 in San Antonio, Texas. While the whole convention center was bathed in a public 802.11 wireless network, I've done little bloggable web-surfing this week. I have been completely taken up by this yearly highlight for the fields of computer graphics, animation and interaction.

Quick video summaries are available for the
Papers, Electronic Theater and other venues. If you are a graphics geek like me, note that almost all of the SIGGRAPH papers are freely available online. Esther Dyson gave the keynote address -- which should soon be available as online video -- about ICANN and online identity systems. In answer to a question after the talk she mentioned PingID and open source alternative to both Microsoft's Passport and Oracle et al.'s Liberty Alliance.

There was a very funny "Fast-Forward Papers Preview" session in which authors of each of the papers got 50 seconds to give a "commercial" for their paper. The most memorable for me was the gangsta rap by
Professor Ken Perlin on his paper Improving Noise (0.3 MB PDF).

Paul Debevec, a pioneer in image-based modeling and rendering, needed to build a geodesic dome in his lab at ICT for the work reported at SIGGRAPH in A Lighting Reproduction Approach to Live-Action Compositing. During his talk, Paul mentioned this cool little geodesic dome calculator he found on the web.

Technobits: another chapter in the seesaw over webcast royalties
Congressional bill would benefit small Webcasters --- Fair Use advocates silenced by Big Brother and Declan McCullagh's Photos from geektivists disrupting Commerce Dept. roundtable --- Who Bought Bush's Stock?.

Web Site of the Week

Bob Nilsson's Picks: Long Bets, The Onion, Space Invaders

Bob Nilsson offers three neat sites:

The first is a web site that posts long term, high stakes bets on scientific and social prognostications. One interesting wager at Long Bets is: "In a Google search of five keywords or phrases representing the top five news stories of 2007, weblogs will rank higher than the New York Times' Web site". Dave Winer initiated the $2,000 bet because he has given up that NYT reporters can understand technical details on a broad range of relevant topics. As of today, the Long Bets site has 70 open bets ready for joining and 12 set ones. I have to wonder if Danny Hillis will live long enough to see the universe stop expanding in order to collect on his bet. Of course, the way Ray Kurzweil has been predicting an accelerating increase in life expectancy, it just might happen.

The Onion "America's Finest News Source" reminds me of a souped up version of Daily Reamer (the parody edition of The Tech). One of this week's cover stories is "Bush Begins Hunger Strike To Protest Human-Rights Abuses In Nepal", complete with photo.

If anyone has a longing for the days of one of the first electronic video arcade games (before there were enough to fill an arcade), a java version of Space Invaders is available. In fact, I discovered these last two sites while reseaching the latest J2EE development tools.


Paul Krassner: Still At It

Paul Krassner is amusing and political, which is a tough act to bring off. Bill Maher used to be able to do it. Harry Shearer does a remarkable and amazing job every week on his not-very-widely syndicated public radio program, Le Show, which is also available on the Internet. Krassner has been at it for decades, even though he's finally tossed in the towel on his magazine, The Realist. He's involved in a record-label dustup. The San Francisco Chronicle was too chicken to print the URL, but you can follow it from here for the funniest thing "Homer Simpson" is going to say this year.

Homer Simpson Suppressed
by Paul Krassner

My latest album--Irony Lives!--is dedicated to Ken Kesey. It was recorded on February 16, 2002 at Genghis Cohen in Los Angeles.

Dan Castellaneta, who does the voice of Homer on The Simpsons, graciously agreed to introduce my performance, which he did from an offstage microphone in order to maintain the image of that blustery cartoon character.

However, the folks at Fox TV wanted to hear the whole album before granting permission to include the introduction, and they asked for seven copies of the CD.

Finally, on June 7, I was informed by an attorney for Artemis Records that, "Unfortunately, Fox declined our request, and in doing so failed to go into any detail as to what their reasons were."


Lovely and Amazing

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

Am I the only person who thinks that Jake Gyllenhaal, the juvenile lead in this film, is a dead ringer for Tobey Maguire as he appeared in Spider-Man? Looks, affect, the whole package. Gyllenhall has been in 11 films, starting with City Slickers and including the regretable Bubble Boy without making much of an impact (on me, at least), but he shows some real acting chops in this film.

I have read that Catherine "Being John Malkovich" Keener, the female lead in Lovely and Amazing, ditches her "rhymes with witch" personality in her next film, the Steven Soderbergh-helmer Full Frontal. That's as may be, but she's in full bitch mode in this film, which she steals from the enormously talented, second-billed, hard-working character actress Brenda "Secrets and Lies" Blethyn. Kenner is the insecure actress sister. Blethyn is the mother whose botched liposuction operation provides what plot there is in this enjoyable little film.

Emily Mortiner does a stunning job as the insecure actress sister. I didn't notice her in Notting Hill or Disney's The Kid, but I will be keeping my eye out for her in the future. Raven Goodwin, as the adopted third daughter, shows breathtaking range for a 10-year-old. You can never tell with child actors, but she just might have a future.

In 1981, when we were young and our marriage was too, Vicki wrote a screenplay entitled A Good Man Is Hard To Find. Set in Europe, it was a series of vignettes held together with a thin plot line. I enjoyed it, but we never submitted it anywhere on the assumption that it didn't have enough story to it. After seeing Lovely and Amazing it is clear that you can get a plotless film made by an Independent if you have the right actors lined up. If you like to peek deeply into other people's lives, and aren't too concered with story arc and character development, this might be the film for you. Rated R for language and nudity, so don't take the kiddies.

Austin Powers In Goldmember

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

According to IMDB, Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post comments: that the movie is "puerile, pitiful, grotesque, offensive, immature, repulsive and, of course, extremely funny." It is all of that. It is cut faster than an MTV video, and features Mike Myers in four roles intead of three. I would almost root for the series to go on, just to see him get into Alec "Kind Hearts and Coronets" Guiness territory with seven simultaneous on-screen roles. We only have to wait six to nine more years. More fun than waiting for episodes 7, 8 and 9 of Star Wars! Rated PG-13 for sexual innuendo, crude humor and language. What more need I say?


Dan Grobstein's Link-o-Mania, Marlow Finds Bush-Bashing, Peggy Coquet Follows Up TIPS

What is golf? Kevin Sulllivan defined it this week as " basically a walk around carrying a bag and stopping frequently." As a former golfer, I prefer Mark Twain, "Golf is a good walk spoiled."

Dan Grobstein really cut loose with suggestions this week, and space prevents me from running excerpts from all the links. But the net can now tell you everything you ever wanted to know about french fries in every major country. From Newsweek: The Fire That Won't Die Out: A tragedy at a girls' school in Mecca gives Saudi rulers an opening to break down ancient barriers. But will they? Normally nasty Washington post columnist Mike Kelly writes a sort of nice column. The loss or privacy because of search engines is grist for Jennifer Lee's New York Times article, Net Users Try to Elude the Google Grasp (and yes, I know I am all over the Internet like cheap on a suit). Two Arab community activists object to racial profiling in a Washington Post op-ed piece, Just the Facts, Mr. Ashcroft. Bob Greene laments the death of the water cooler and the "bowling alone" phenomenon in the Chicago Tribune article Quiet Hours At The Water Cooler. Note that this requires registration and will disappear July 30, unless you want to pay to read it.

My daughter Marlow found an amusing parody called The Economic Hangover by David Turnley on Alternet. It makes fun of his fraudulency. What can I say?

Peggy Coquet found a followup to last week's TIPS commentary in an unsigned editorial at the New York Times online edition which ended:

The Bush administration's post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorism tactics - secret detentions of suspects, denial of the right to trial and now citizen spying - have in common a lack of faith in democratic institutions and a free society. If TIPS is ever put into effect, the first people who should be turned in as a threat to our way of life are the Justice Department officials who thought up this most un-American of programs.

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