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 26, 2002

August 26, 2002 Vol. 4, No. 34

Table of Contents:

General News

  • How Teachers Are Different (cont.)
  • Buddhist Film Festival
  • About Technobriefs
  • More Undesirable Obit Stuff
  • Do Good: Support Tom Barrett

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • Dern: Bible Stories In Lego, Cats With Attitude


  • None


  • S1M0NE


  • Online Newspapers, Netsurfer Books, Fixed War Games

General News

How Teachers Are Different (cont.)

Another in our continuing series of reports from the front as I join the apparent legion on middle-aged people making a career change into teaching.

Last night marked the end of my second term and my fifth class in my teacher certificate program at Chapman University's Concord branch. I hung out for a while after class chatting with Erik, who teaches at Pittsburg High, out at the edge of my county in the low-rent district (in case I never mentioned it, I live nearer San Francisco in what can only be termed the high-rent district).

I mentioned that he made his school sound a lot better than the newspapers make it sound. He painted his satisfaction as a matter of respect. "In your district, mom's a lawyer and dad's a neurosurgeon, and the students will either think, or tell you to your face, 'What do you know? You're just a teacher.' At Pitt, I get respect. Since I'm not making any money no matter where I teach, the choice boils down to poverty or poverty with respect. I choose poverty with respect."

I would put it more broadly; poverty with job satisfaction or without. During my last few years, I worked very hard at my journalism job and did well, but I did not find it satisfying or fulfilling. I expect teaching to be exhausting, frustrating, difficult--and, at some level, satisfying and fulfilling. We shall see.

One other thing; my ex-teacher mom and I discussed the question of listening. We share a love of our own voices, and mom told me she had trouble learning to listen to the students at first. I'll try to shorten my learning curve as much as possible.

Buddhist Film Festival

I am very excited about the upcoming Buddhist film festival in San Francisco. Here is the introduction from the San Francisco Zen Center web site:

REAL to REAL: Buddhism and Film September 20 through 23 at the Castro Theater in San Francisco

Is it an international film festival? A manifestation of the meeting of Buddhism and American culture? Or simply the empty screen upon which all is projected?

REAL to REAL: Buddhism and Film, a three-day festival featuring Buddhist-oriented films, blurs the boundaries between East and West, old and new, the sacred and the profane, in a dialogue that engages both Buddhists and non-Buddhists.

Don't worry if you don't understand what a "Buddhist" film is, each film will be introduced by a guest speaker illuminating that film's uniquely Buddhist sensibility. Guest speakers will include Gretel Erlich, Michael O'Keefe, Rina Sircar, Doris Dorrie, and others.

About Technobriefs

Of course, if you're not really all that interested in technology, there's no point in you reading much further in this item. But if you are, I want to take a moment to highlight one of the "lower down" features of this column. After two years of fitful use and misuse, and nearly a year after I left the computer journalism field, I was thinking of dropping the "Computer Industry News" section of this column, since I so seldom had anything interesting to say. It was about that time that I noticed that Craig Reynolds was regularly sending me great links. We formalized the relationship, and the result is your weekly dose of Technobriefs.

I'd be lying if I said I read every link Craig sends every week-in fact, during one recent week there were a few hours during which there was a duplicate link in the section. Anyway, I use Technobriefs the way I suspect you do; as a pointer to interesting comments on subjects I find interesting. Well, last week I printed out every link Craig sent and have been reading my way through them. I was reminded all over again why I hand over that chunk of column to my friend and college classmate. When it comes to a wide-gauge mind, a person who finds interesting nuggets amid the Fool's Gold and dross which choke the Internet, Craig is in a class almost by himself (along with the less-prolific but always-relevant Richard Dalton). It will be a sad day for PSACOT when Craig gets his own blog and moves on, but he'll go right into the blogrolling section and get an occasional plug just like my other blogger friends. Just like Dick Clark with New Years Eve, when Craig goes, he's taking Computer Industry News with him.

More Undesirable Obit Stuff

A few weeks back I had an item from Modern Humorist about words you don't want to see in your obit (young, potential, decline, fall from grace). I was reminded of this while reading a headline I hope never to see over my obit: "Doris Wishman--maker of bad films." Kudos to Vicki for bringing it to my attention.

Not that the headline isn't true, according to the New York Times obituary, which politely called her just a "B Film Director." You can see where the San Francisco Chronicle got the headline from reading the lede:

Doris Wishman, a prolific independent director of truly tasteless movies - from nudist camp romps to the cult classic "Bad Girls Go to Hell" - died on Aug. 10 in Miami. She lived in Coral Gables, Fla.

The problem, of course, is that "tasteless" wouldn't fit in the space available, while "bad" would. And thus are headlines born. The obit calls her the "female Ed Wood." Now that is damned with faint praise.

Do Good: Support Tom Barrett

Tom Barrett is running a hard race for governor of Wisconsin. His fraudulency, "the president" and his political party are pouring money into the opposing campaign, in the hopes of doing a "Florida" up north in 2004. If you believe in good government and progressive politics, and if you want the winner to actually win in the next presidential election, check out the Barrett web site, then write a check out to:

Barrett For Wisconsin
P.O. Box 510796
Milwaukee, WI 53203

The limit is $10,000 per person. Knock yourself out. Even much smaller amounts will almost certainly help.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds cruises the net for you:

IWT, a New Jersey-based ISP, announced a very clever bit of anti-anti-P2P strategy: they will aggressively deny the RIAA (and its toady minions) access to IWT's network. The plan includes a decoy Gnutella server full of random bits. This strikes me as a very well crafted, very apt and proportionate response to the "technological self help measures" (aka cyberattacks) that would be decriminalized by US Rep Howard Berman's anti-P2P bill. Kudos to Information Wave Technologies! In related developments, those nose-bleeds over at the RIAA are suing ISPs that have the audacity to allow their users unfettered access to the web (although this later fizzled out), and pressuring Verizon to reveal the name of an individual peer-to-peer user (see also Wired's coverage of this case and the bigger picture).

Peter Chernin, president of News Corp., complained about the lack of moral conduct on the Internet, and then in the same speech he backed US Rep. Howard Berman's anti-P2P bill that would allow copyright holders to mount warrantless vigilante hack attacks against consumer's computers, based on mere suspicion. There certainly is a lack of morality on the net, and it flows from media barons like Chernin.

Declan McCullagh lately seems to be going for more controversy in his writings. Last week I mentioned his geeks should stay out of politics piece, then he wrote a maybe the DMCA isn't so bad piece. Princeton Prof. Edward Felten, one of the first to feel the chilling effects of the DMCA on academic research, got into the discussion.

Spam news: an anti-spam filter based on a copyrighted haiku (but dependent on the ability to identify and sue the spammer, often the hardest part) and another one which caught my eye because its implemented in Lisp, my all-time favorite programming language: A Plan For Spam.

From my coworker Gabor Nagy: the Vice Fund, a "socially irresponsible" mutual fund. He points out that it seems oddly appropriate that the Vice Fund is thinking about adding Microsoft to its holdings.

Technobits: Lawrence Lessig is now blogging --- Slate's Hit Charade: the music industry's self-inflicted wounds. --- Jakob Nielsen says: Let Users Control Font Size --- Will Apple produce an iPhone? --- VoIP (network telephony) is apparently huge in Japan. --- Google is running a contest based on web searching.

Web Site of the Week

Dern: Bible Stories In Lego, Cats With Attitude

As Daniel Dern put it, "Another reason to love the net" is The Brick Testament, bible stories told in Lego.

His other find this week? Cats With Attitude.

I particularly like "fastball kitty" and (on the 2nd page) "carpet bombing."





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

Here's the plot summary from IMDB:

A producer's film is endangered when his star walks off, so he decides to digitally create an actress to substitute for the star, becoming an overnight sensation that everyone thinks is a real person.

When Al Yankovic does one of his marathons on VH1, they call it Al TV. Well, this is Al Movie. I like Al Pacino. I don't even mind that he is in virtually every scene of this movie, many of them by himself in a room talking to himself via his creation, Simone. That's because he's a very good, very entertaining actor, even (or especially) when he is doing comedy. This is a funny film with a message. Not surprising, perhaps, given that director/writer Andrew Niccol previously did the rather similar Truman Show. Both films invite us to examine the nature of reality.

This one was widely touted and long-awaited, although the close-in publicity blitz was rather lighter than I might have expected. Probably the low budget and the low expectations. It was dumped into the dog days of August. Not as ignominously as Pluto Nash which was withheld from reviewers--the kiss of death; Simone just got no promotion, the kiss of a bad hacking cough.

But enough inside baseball. As the computer graphically aware among you must know (Craig Reynolds--go see this and check me if I'm wrong), most of the simthespian's work was done by Canadian model Rachel Roberts, on whom Simone is clearly based. So, it's as everyone says; you still can't build a plausible computer actor from scratch. Yet. But Pacino's line, "with the cost of actors going up and the cost of computer going down... the scales tipped," is spot on.

It's worth going to this film just to see Catherine Keener play a relatively normal human being. And I am a big Jay Mohr fan, so I enjoyed his 30 seconds of screen time. Evan Rachel Wood, who plays Pacino and Keener's daughter, is fresh and refreshing and will now be seen regularly, I predict. The sensuality is of a PG-13 sort.

While most professional reviews were mixed, I give this film an undiluted rave. I found myself, literally, laughing out on a half-dozen occasions. Go see it.

As a semi-professional observer of journalist depictions in movies, however, I must register a protest. Credit where credit is due; I owe this insight to Joe Saltzman of the IJPC. I have read the syllabus of his USC course on the media image of journalists, and it isn't a pretty picture. We (OK, they, since I am no longer a practicing journalist) were depicted for decades as basically noble people doing the Lord's work--afflicting the comfortable, comforting the afflicted, that sort of thing. But starting in the 70s, the image turned, and by the 80s and 90s, journalists were depicted as ravening pack animals. This coincided when the disappearance of the ex-journalist as screenwriter and his replacement by the screenwriter who has never done anything else but write screenplays, and whose best friends--movie people all--thing of journalists as, to use the British term, "reptiles." Check out the pack of journalists in The Right Stuff, actually played by a comedy troupe!

The trend continues with a vengeance in this film. Two scenes of the Hollywood press on a movie lot literally chasing the Al Pacino character. A horde trespassing on his property at the beach house. Hordes outside the hotel. Hordes outside the courtroom. The only differentiated journalists are Pruitt Taylor Vince, the editor of Echo (a cross between People and the National Enquirer), and his comic relief lackey, Jason Schwartzman. Vince is depicted as an underwear-sniffing weirdo and a blackmailer (well, OK, that's a sensitive portrayal of an editor). Schwartzman, by the way, has a bright future as a comic character actor.

The portrayal of reports in this film is not a pretty picture, and it is a long way from Woodward and Bernstein. In fact, the journalists in this film are a lot closer to the model of Richard "Dick" Thornburg, Reporter for WWTW-TV in Die Hard. Can't place him? He's the one who gets cold-cocked by Willis' wife, Bonnie Bedelia, to the sound of overwhelming cheers in the movie theater.

The journalists in this film as depicted as stupid, vicious or both. Not one of them acts out of noble motives, and in this film they don't even advance the plot--they just annoy and harass the main characters. Goodness, the Hollywood elite must really resent their dependence on publicity to depict reporters like this.

Richard Dalton sends along this appropriate link from Wired News: For Simone, 'Fake' Is Flattery by Michael Stroud.


Online Newspapers, Netsurfer Books, Fixed War Games, They Don't Hate Us

College students, who practically live on line, would be among the first to convert to regularly reading the electronic newspaper, right? Wrong, says the New York Times in an article distributed to the members of the advisory board of The Tech, the MIT Newspaper.

Kevin Sullivan gets the Netsurfer Books e-zine, which lists a number of remarkable books, any one of which I would be proud to own if I had not sworn off buying new books for a year or two while I read off some of my backlog. The people who run this site/newsletter are clever and sophisticated and I love their taste in books.

Craig Reynolds heard this on NPR, then found it on the British Guardian newspaper site. I think the headline says it all: War game was fixed to ensure American victory, claims general.

Dan Grobstein suggests Thomas L. Friedman's New York Times column, Drowning Freedom In Oil, in which he explains why the U.S. can't really promote democracy in the Muslim world as long as it is dependent on oil, and why invading Iraq is pointless in that context.

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