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: August 12, 2002

August 12, 2002 Vol. 4, No. 32

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Yosemite Past and Present
  • Professional Writer No More
  • Pedagogy Is Hard Work
  • The Doll House

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • None


  • The Top 15 Corporate Executive Pickup Lines


  • Full Frontal
  • Signs


  • Link-O-Rama: Dalton, Grobstein, Albinus, Sullivan, Reynolds

General News

Yosemite Past and Present

I remember my first trip to Yosemite. It was December 1977. I had just broken up with my girlfriend, Carol Ann, and moved in with Peter Greenberg, a Newsweek reporter with a spare bedroom in his Noe Valley Victorian and a convertible Mustang. He spent half his time at his other home in Sherman Oaks, and invited me to use his car when he was gone. Dick Winslow had just mailed me the uncorrected galley proofs of my book, Aspirin Therapy. I had been to the World Affairs Council wine tasting where I first met Vicki. We had dated twice.

I decided it would be fun/wonderful/romantic to edit my proofs over a four-day weekend at Yosemite. The only housing available was the small cabins at Curry Village, but since I was unfamiliar with the pecking order of Yosemite housing at the time, that seemed wonderful.

I mention Vicki because, on our third date, I asked her if she would spend the weekend with me. She said it was too soon in our relationship and declined my invitation. She was probably right, but her presence would substantially have increased the romance of the weekend, I imagine. It might have reduced the quality of my copyediting, but that's a sacrifice I would willingly have made.

So, I packed up the convertible and drove the four hours to Yosemite in December. It was a winter wonderland, with frozen waterfalls and snow on the ground and in the trees. I ate every night at the Ahwahnee hotel and developed a crush on the female pianist, to the extent of asking her when she got off. She said, "Midnight; that's when my husband comes to pick me up." The beauty and grandeur of the place overwhelmed me. Of course, a part of me will always associate Yosemite with Felix Hoffman, the Bayer Company and prostaglandins.

Fast forward to the present. Vicki and I have been to Yosemite together several times, separately once or twice, and gone there often with one or both of our daughters. This past weekend, we spent four days there with both girls, as Marlow came home from New York City for a week. We stayed in two canvas tent cabins, a housing stock we hadn't used in 20 years. The last time we stayed in one, Marlow slept in a crib and was quite upset by the morning's dip of the thermometer into the 40s. Vicki and I found the not-quite-double bed a bit too small, and Marlow and Rae complained some about sharing a bed, but this time around no one complained about the cool mornings, especially when compared to the 80-degree afternoons. We did complain about the noise in the camp, however.

When awake we hiked, we biked and we took a 7 a.m. photography walk where most of us learned a lot of new things about photography. Marlow had taken a class at Columbia, so she'd heard most of it before. The girls took art lessons, something they had done once before five or 10 years ago. This time they learned how to use water-based acrylics, and both of them in the space of three hours, produced quite wonderful renditions of Half Dome, the familiar symbol of the park and its dominant physical feature. We spent our final night on the outskirts of Yosemite at the Wawona Hotel, a lovely Victorian pile with broad porches and shared bathrooms. We hiked through the Mariposa grove of Sequoia trees, an awesome sight we'd only seen once before. Vicki and the girls frolicked in the Wawona's pool.

Next time? We will enter our names in the lottery for a chance to spend a week hiking between the five High Sierra camps; maybe we'll rent a Motel T ford for a tour of the valley, and perhaps spend a night at the Ahwahnee. There's a lot to do at Yosemite, and it's no wonder so many millions of people visit it each year--it is truly one of the most spectacular places on the planet.

Professional Writer No More

The odd thought struck me recently, that, as the first anniversary of my layoff approaches (Oct. 2), this is the longest period in my adult life when I have not written anything for money. Ever since Technology Review paid me to reprint my "Day in the life of Jerry Wiesner" article from The Tech, I have writtten for a living. Until now. It was really brought home to me as I signed my tax form (we filed late; it's a long story). Every tax form I have filed for 30 years has listed my job title as "journalist." Starting next year, it will have to say "teacher."

I guess total change in your life status doesn't really strike you until it slaps you in the face. As Ian Shoales once put it, middle aged guys like change about as much as they like heart attacks.

Pedagogy Is Hard Work

Do some things in the column seem a little short this week? Not waxing as lyrical as you expect, or at the usual length (except for Craig, who compensated by going a bit long this week)? Well, that's because it is the end of the term at Chapman University, where I am engaged in the serious business of earning my California State Teaching Credential--or as his fraudulency, President Bush, would have it, becoming a "highly qualified teacher." I am taking three courses, and of course all the big stuff is due at the end of the term. If only I knew precisely how much work to do for a B, I'd settle for that grade, but of course, despite all the rubrics and numbers, you never really know, so I continue to work my ass off... probably too hard... I need to learn how to attenuate my effort to a reasonable level. The curse of the overachiever.

The Doll House

The obsessively observant among you, or those with photographic memories, will recall my having mentioned, shortly after I became unemployed last fall, that I was taking on a long-term project: construction of a dollhouse which Vicki and I had purchased for Rae. It came in the form of a kit; fully constructed dollhouses are priced like real houses.

Well, to make a long story short, I worked on the dollhouse diligently from October through January, then less diligently as I began substitute teaching. There was a month or two this Spring when I didn't work on it at all. But, wearying of the $60 monthly table rental at the dollhouse studio, I rolled up my sleeves and, by commuting out to Benicia frequently during June, I was able to finish it. I should probably post a picture or two of it here (let me know if you're interested in seeing it). It is fully wired with electric lights, fully shingled, and includes a ballroom with a hand-inlaid wooden floor and mirrors on the end walls.

By the way, I did not finish the shingling before I brought the dollhouse home. Mr. Cooper, the eponymous owner of Cooper's Dollhouse Studio, predicted I'd never finish it at home. I did. I am very proud of myself. It is the most amazing thing I have every built with my own two hands. Under close and constant supervision, yes, but every nail, every glued joint, all the walls and floors, all the electrical wiring (I had some help with the fixtures, I admit) was done by me. If I'm half as good at teaching as I am at building a dollhouse, I'll be twice as good as any teacher I ever had. Except maybe for Edwin Diamond.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds cruises the net for you:

US Rep. Howard Berman's anti-peer-to-peer bill has been discussed here several times. It is noteworthy for allowing copyright holders to use "technological self help" (a.k.a. cyberattacks) against any computer they suspect of unauthorized copying. US media companies have been having a depressingly easy time of trampling consumer's rights by buying corrupt politicians to enact laws like DMCA. Now a clueful wake-up call from Australia: regardless of who they buy off in the US, the media-led cyberattacks envisioned under the Berman bill are still an extremely serious crime in Australia. US media executives visiting Australia would find themselves subject to arrest and imprisonment. Media company assets in Australia could be subject to seizure. If more and more clear-headed and independent nations follow Australia's lead, media executives could find themselves trapped inside Fortress America.

Janis Ian has posted a thoughtful followup: Fallout to her earlier insightful article: The Internet Debacle.

I rarely have anything good to say about Microsoft, so it may come as a shock to hear me admit that they did the Right Thing by choosing not to use the DMCA to suppress academic publication about the flaw in its Xbox security system. Last week HP had threatened to do so but then did an about-face.

DTV roundup: FCC Puts a Fee in Digital TV, FCC Sets Digital Timetable for TV Makers, TiVo Might Rue Arrival of DTV, If DTV's Busted, So Is the Budget.

ChrisPaget (aka Foon) posted a white paper called ...Shatter Attacks - How to break Windows which purports to identify a deep, systemic security flaw in the Win32 API. There is a discussion about this topic at Slashdot.

Don't Link to Us! is a blog devoted to logging clueless linking policies like ask before linking and no deep links. Creating a web site then asking people not to link is the web-analog of establishing a business then asking customers not to pay. Getting people to link to your site is what gives it value. This value is what Google does such a good job of measuring with its PageRank.

I live in San Mateo county, between San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and was thrilled when our Board of Supervisors adopted a tough, ground-breaking (though currently, largely symbolic) financial information privacy ordinance by Supervisor Mike Nevin. The ordinance effectively reverses the burden established by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act regarding a financial intuition's ability to release their customer's private information to third parties. Gramm-Leach-Bliley says the consumer has to explicitly opt-out. Now San Mateo County says the bank has to get your explicit written permission before they can release your information. I hope this grass-roots movement spreads to other communities.

PRIMES is in P: a discovery of historical import in fundamental number theory. Prof. Manindra Agarwal and two young students have identified an efficient (polynomial time deterministic) algorithm to test if a number is prime or not. If vetted by peer review, this work will be of both historic and practical importance, since prime testing has applications in cryptography.

Edsger Wybe Dijkstra, a giant among computer scientists, died this week after a long battle with cancer. He is perhaps best known for delivering us into the the era of modern structured programming languages by proclaiming in 1968 Go To Considered Harmful He also invented a fundamental path-finding algorithm ("A*") used by countless route planning systems and video games. He invented the semaphore concept built into most modern computers to allow asynchronous multiprocessing. For more, see this Dijkstra archive.

Technobits: MSNBC likes OpenOffice --- Sun can't get its story straight on StarOffice for OS X --- Wireless on the road: HighWLAN --- Boeing says anti-grav story overblown --- EarthViewer is just like the Globe in Snow Crash --- Weblog genealogy: --- ZDNet says Playstation 3 chip nears completion --- Wired's Girding Against the Copyright Mob mentions the Consumers Bill of Rights from --- The ACLU's characterization is right on target, it is surreal that the DOJ's embattled Operation TIPS has partnered with Fox's "America's Most Wanted". But this suggests the story may have been too good to be true. --- AP's report Halliburton subsidiary awarded key contract despite fraud probe prompted This Modern World to conclude "political satire is officially redundant."

Web Site of the Week



The Top 15 Corporate Executive Pickup Lines

The list restarts after hiatus, and four days later, I'm a sort of winner at No. 15

August 5, 2002

15> "What say we go back to my place so I can do to you what I've been doing to my shareholders for the last few years?"

14> "Nice dress! But it would look better in my shredder."

13> "Hey, Bruno, as long we're sharing a cell..."

12> "Is that a $1.2 million bonus for you in my pants, or am I just happy to see you?"

11> "What do you think will drop faster, our stock price or these pants?"

10> "I know you're married, but you really should diversity those assets of yours."

9> "Screw all those indictments -- I can still get us a night in the Lincoln Bedroom."

8> "Excuse me, is your name WorldCom? 'Cause those look like some seriously inflated assets!"

7> "Alice, get that ass-kisser Murphy in here, pronto!"

6> "Hey, baby, are you into bondage? I could really use some help with these handcuffs if you've got a minute."

5> "If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against an approved committee for evaluation in hopes of a future merger?"

4> "Say, what's a nice girl like you doing at a special Senate hearing like this?"

3> "Honey, I have extensive dealings with Bush."

2> "C'mon, sweetie -- it's my last chance to be with a woman for 3-to-5 years."

and's Number 1 Corporate Executive Pickup Line...

1> "In your case, baby, I tend to think inside the box."

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2002 by Chris White ]
Selected from 135 submissions from 51 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Tom Stoudt, Fort Washington, PA -- 1, 15 (3rd #1)
Sandra Hull, Arlington, VA -- 1 (23rd #1 / Hall of Famer)
Dawson Rambo, Santa Rosa, CA -- 15
Shel Rozan, Montreal, Canada -- 15
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 15


Full Frontal

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

The New Yorker called this a naively awful film, and you do have to wonder what the hell Steven Soderbergh was thinking. He had a dream cast (Blair Underwood, Julia Roberts, David Hyde Pierce, Catherine Keener, David Duchovny and Nicky Katt as Hitler) and, apparently, a script (credited to Coleman Hough), but if there's a plot here, I missed it.

One review I read predicted you'd like this film if you loved movies and the process of making them. It is true there is a film-within-a-film subplot, and you get to see a location shoot and all kinds of gear. I'd prefer to say that if you are a person who truly believes it is the journey, not the destination, you'll enjoy this film. Or if you are a rabid fan of any of the major actors. I mean, it is a kick to see them in a film where they have done their own hair and makeup and have been given their head to act up a storm. It's almost like seeing them on stage.

I kind of liked it and didn't walk out. A tepid endorsement is the most I can manage. Rated R for language and some sexual content. There is a tiny bit of full frontal exposure, but it is blurry and distant. Not a porn film (like the other film with the same title), but art for art's sake taken to an extreme, up to and including fuzzy digital hand-held footage by the hour.

By the way, Nicky Katt has been in 36 movies and TV shows (including Boston Public, and surely you remember him as Spike in Batman or the waiter in Sister Act), but you've never seen him like this. Not since The Producers has there been a funnier Hitler in a stage play within a movie. You may even forget Dick Shawn after seeing his portrayal. His is the only role that has the aura of having been written; at one point he tells Eva Braun he hasn't got time for a relationship because he is "swimming in lake me." And that isn't even his best scene!


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

Typically, sound in films is an afterthought, a subtle embellishment, as obvious as the parsley next to a steak. In Signs, the sound should be listed as a character. Tod A. Maitland gets the sound credit. I don't know if it's him or one of the other eight members of the sound crew who will be waltzing with Oscar next spring, but if there is any justice in this world, one of them will be walking down the aisle with the little neutered statuette.

This is a film by M. Night "Sixth Sense" Shyamalan. He wrote, produced and directed it and plays a small but crucial role as well. So you know it will be suspense and terror written with intelligence. The Alfred Hitchcock of the 21st century. As with Sixth Sense, or his other, less-memorable outing, Unbreakable, the plot is so involved and involving that to say much about it would be to spoil your enjoyment. It's taut, brilliant, well-done and PG-13 for some frightening moments. I should say so.


Link-O-Rama: Dalton, Grobstein, Albinus, Sullivan, Reynolds

Here's a phrase you're going to see again: a friend of mine is leaving New York City because of the "Three T's: Taxes, Traffic and Terrorists."

Catch up with Phil Albinus' weblog. As he puts it:

How do you cool down on a long, hot summer's day? Check out the cool thoughts, keen observations, heart-warming humor and pedestrian HTML coding. And after while, you won't even notice the nudity - Promise!

Dan Grobstein found a New York Times story about taking the local train instead of the express, Choosing a Slow Pace in Japan by the paper's Tokyo correspondent, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, as well as Thomas Friedman's characterization of the Bush foreign policy team as "mealy-mouthed... phonies."

Richard Dalton asks, "Worried about Terrorists? They're small change. Or as Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and he is us." He forwards a Boston Globe op-ed article that suggests an Aug. 4, 2007 speech on global warning for President McCain.

Kevin Sullivan thought Salon's article on dropped domain names was "insightful, well written and just plain fun.

Daniel Dern forwarded a friend's summary of a new Ad Council public service announcement. Now, normally, the Ad Council's product promotes controversial issues like Mom and apple pie, but this time they've really put the bit in their teeth. You can see the library PSA on their web site. Here's a summary by a friend of Dan's:

It begins with a teenager who approaches the help counter at a library. He tells the librarian that he can't find the books he has on a list, which he hands her. She looks them up in the computer, and replies, "These books are no longer available... may I have your name, please?" When the kid walks away from the counter without giving his name, he's approached by two men in suits (one of whom takes his arm) appearing from behind some shelves, who "just have a couple of questions" for him. Meanwhile, the librarian is watching with a look of sadness and concern.

A tagline appears: "What if America wasn't America? Freedom. Appreciate it. Cherish it. Protect it."

Sadly, such public service announcements are needed in the post 9/11 atmosphere of hysteria. As Benjamin Franklin said, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." By the way, Thomas Jefferson never added that those who trade liberty for safety will eventually lose both, although he could have since it is true and he was a pretty smart guy.

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