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: October 21, 2002

October 21, 2002 Vol. 4, No. 42

Table of Contents:

General News

  • We're A Little Early Folks
  • Thoughts About Pledge Breaks
  • Unemployment: Year One
  • British Museum Egypt Exhibit
  • Is It Real Or Is It Ampex?
  • Dick Armey on American Jews

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • Daniel Dern on Networking, Matt finds Furniture Porn


  • The Top 15 Worst Things to Say to a One-Night Stand the Next Morning


  • None


  • Steve Coquet on Alexandria, Dan Grobstein on Many Things, Dalton and A Friend on Bush Whacking

General News

We're A Little Early Folks

Rae and I are off on a whirlwind college tour, so I had to post on Friday. The result: a short column, an abbreviated TechnoBriefs, and a shorter time than usual to look at last week's column. So I put a link to it up here, in case you were looking for it. We'll let you know how Northwestern, Wellesley and Brandeis are when we get back. By the way, if this column were ever to return a profit beyond expenses (in real money, not Hollywood money), I'd pay my contributors, of course.

Thoughts About Pledge Breaks

Regular readers will recognize the name Richard Dalton, an IT consultant and all-around swell human being. Since 1979, we have been, variously, friends, business partners and tentmates (on the AIDS ride to Los Angeles). My meager attempt at raising some money from you readers brought an interesting essay from him.

Your approach to funding PSACOT is very reasonable, Paul. As you know, getting paid for putting content on the Web has been a problem since its beginning--at least partly due to the voluntary origins of the Internet. I'm reminded of Ted Nelson's pre-Web (1960) Project Xanadu.

One of the things Ted espoused was a database where all documents could be "versioned" by anyone, becoming a new document. For example, you could revise the opening lines of Winter's Tale. People could then decide whether they liked "your version" better than Shakespeare's. If so, any compensation for viewing/downloading Willie & Paul's Winter's Tale would be shared proportionately, according to the amount of each author's contribution.

Similarly, I would receive a proportional share of any compensation PSACOT receives for the words I write and you publish. Hmmm...

All that's fine but I think it still misses a key point. Content's value is not what the author (or publisher) thinks, it's what I the reader thinks, which is why you see so many remaindered volumes in book stores. The Web allows a good mechanism for this where users could pay for each reading (or newsletter issue) according to the content's value. Vol. 4, No. 41 might be worth a buck to me, $5 to your Mother, and nothing to another reader. A content e-Bay, in effect. [ed note: in my case, I am sure it would be a race to the bottom, aka a Dutch auction].

This could require a different attitude on the part of authors involving a focus on social value, rather than personal value. The result would not necessarily create frictionless commerce, but maybe ego-less (or at least less ego) content commerce. Could human nature support this kind of change?

If anyone is interested in the intriguing ideas and quixotic career of Ted Nelson, try:

Unemployment: Year One

I was laid off on October 2, 2001, after 20 years (on and off) at my former employer. My last official day on the payroll was Oct. 16, a year ago this week. I expected a flood of feelings, or at least of words, on this occasion. I thought, perhaps, I would feel melancholy about the fact that I have written almost nothing for pay since then. I did write too-few columns for Joe Brancatelli's excellent JoeSentMe site and this column (for which a few of you pay me). But all-in-all the last year has been the longest stretch I have spent outside the bounds of full-time professional writing since 1972. I thought I'd miss it. I thought I'd pine for reinstatement.

But it turns out that I really am going to walk the walk, after a decade of talking the talk. I am committed to becoming a teacher, and there's no turning back. I will always write--it is in my blood. And if the right offer came along... I'd have to find a way to fit it into my teaching schedule. No sadness. A little pain. And a great deal of gratitude for the wonderful woman who has supported me during this transition, both financially and emotionally, my wife Vicki.

British Museum Egypt Exhibit

It ain't King Tut, but the British Museum's Egypt exhibit, on loan to the San Francisco Fine Arts museum at the Palace of the Legion of Honor is a good middling-level exhibit with some impressive pieces (including a 4,000-pound stone lion) and some excellent notes by the curators. Vicki was unimpressed, and after a while she said it was because of having seen the Tut exhibit two decades ago... and having toured the Cairo museum four decade ago. This is a go-see, but not a must-see exhibition, if you're interested in ancient Egypt.

Is It Real Or Is It Ampex?

On March 3, 1956, at San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House, Walter Selsted and Ross Snyder of Ampex Corp. used an Ampex tape player with three channels recorded on 1/2-inch tape at 30 inches per second to playback pre-recorded selections without warning the audience. Listeners could not tell when the playback had begun, and were amazed to find the musicians hadn't played a note. But that same night, when the experiment continued with alternation between the orchestra and pre-recorded music, the audience could tell when the switch had been made. Snyder (an old friend of mine) and Selsted concluded that reproduction detectably but not noticeably different from live music.

Ross wrote the paper, and it was, remarkably, in clear English. It was presented on June 22, 1956 at the International Congress on Acoustics meeting at MIT. The funniest line was this:

It was, therefore, obvious that larger amplifiers would accomplish little beyond the possible destruction of the speakers during the performance.

When I told Ross I admired the clear writing, he wrote back:

That's very kind of you. I intended sort of a crusade about such things -- in teaching the writing course for scientists and engineers, and in editing the HP Journal. There is no reason, I feel, for those long, turgid, involuted sentences that are so dear to specialists who think that way, but don't realize those they most want to inform, don't. Especially my advice was received with warmth by people writing to seek grants! A fine mutual admiration society grew with Dr. Egon Loebner, an Auschwitz escaper who made major contributions to developing the LED. He knew seven languages and said he had a strong accent in every one, even his native Czech; claimed he needed me for English. Egon is gone now, and I will miss him forever. The association was very gratifying.

In the paper, Ross discussed the Signal to Noise ratio. I was surprised to read that it was the same no matter what the tape speed. You'll need to be a hardcore geek to appreciate this exchange:

I wrote: If signal is no more than 65 db above tape noise regardless of speed... than speed makes no difference in the level of tape noise. is that true? or is the noise less at 30 ips, but the loudest noise is still only 65 db louder.

I wrote that forty-six years ago and some details of tape technology disappeared into my mental wastebasket, I fear. Talking to the co- author not long ago, he said he thought we were getting 72 dB un- distorted above the basic noise of the tape. Higher tape velocity increases the recordable max level, most importantly at high frequencies, although, as I (badly) remember it, noise floor is unchanged.

I never realized the principal advantage of greater speeds was to reduce the effect of dropouts.

It isn't. I was mistaken in saying that. That's an advantage, but good tape is a better solution to the problem than tape speed, and 3M made damned good tape. The main advantage of 30 ips over 15 or less is treble headroom. At 30 ips the wavelength on the tape of every recorded frequency is twice as long as at 15, four times as long as 7.5. As the uppermost recorded frequencies approach the null that occurs at whatever wavelength equals the playback gap width, saturation level approaches. Staying at wavelengths on tape well longer than that decline-range maximizes the headroom for treble frequencies.

My late brother used to say, "gee, sometimes I'd like to be able to consult myself when younger."

A final word from Kevin Mostyn:

There is a problem, however, as tape speed is increased. Bass response goes bad. You have to rotate the PB head slightly to try to reduce the effect. Some people experimented with 20 IPS because of this.

Dick Armey on American Jews

This one was burning up the Internet last week. It was so incendiary I had to check it out to make sure I wasn't being faked. This is real folks.

GOP Leader Armey Disparages Jews Who Disagree w/ Right-Wing

Statement of U.S. Rep. Martin Frost (TX) & U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (NY)

WASHINGTON - According to this weekend's Bradenton Herald, House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) made comments disparaging the intellect of many American Jews while campaigning for Katherine Harris, the GOP nominee for Florida's 13 District last week. According to the Herald:

"'I always see two Jewish communities in America,' Armey replied. 'One of deep intellect and one of shallow, superficial intellect.' Conservatives have a deeper intellect and tend to have 'occupations of the brain' in fields like engineering, science and economics, said Armey, a former economics professor at the University of North Texas. Liberals, on the other hand, tend to flock to 'occupations of the heart,' which he defined as people with jobs in the arts. 'They're going to be liberals ... because they want to feel good,' he said. Armey said that as people grow, they become more conservative because they gain a better sense of 'reality.' Liberals have a 'romanticized' notion of a world they pretend exists, he said." (Bradenton Herald, 09/22/02)

Rep. Martin Frost (D-TX) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), two Jewish Members of the House Democratic Leadership, today issued the following response to Armey's remarks:

"If accurately reported, Dick Armey's comments are absolutely breathtaking in their ignorance. It's very disappointing to us that a high-ranking leader of the Republican Party and the House of Representatives would make such divisive remarks."

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds cruises the net for you:

Microsoft's clueless "switch" ad provided tons of fun this week to Microsoft haters, Apple fans and various critics of corporate dishonesty. First, here is (a non-MS archive of) the original "Mac to PC" ad. Read a review of the whole fiasco from Daring Fireball, plus coverage by the AP, and Wired. Coincidentally CNN ran an unsolicited PC->Mac switch story regarding one of their Tech anchors.

DMCA news: the US Copyright Office is seeking comments on minor adjustments to the deeply flawed Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Some opponents question whether helping to make bad laws slightly better can be considered an improvement. But if the USCO wants to find a concrete example of the real harm done to legitimate enterprise by the DMCA, consider that the US-based distributors of Red Hat Linux are prevented from describing a recent security patch to law-abiding US citizens. The DMCA does not restrict giving this information to foreign cyber-terrorists. Read coverage by The Register,, internetnews and a discussion at Slashdot.

National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace revisited: as reported here on Sept 23 the long awaited White House cybersecurity plan was gutted by special interests before release. Counterpane's Bruce Schneier suggests some concrete policy steps to better secure cyberspace.

Family photos over time: everyone with a camera and kids must have once resolved to compile yearly family portraits. In the frenzy of family life it is hard to maintain the required discipline, so my hat is off to Diego Golberg and his fantastic series of photos. (Synchronicity: my wife and I both spotted this link at Daypop Top 40 last Wednesday, and emailed the URL to each other within the span of three minutes.)

Anti-telemarketing script: OK, we all presumably know that when the the telemarketing weasel calls, the Right Thing is to firmly demand that they place you on their Do Not Call list, then hang up. However this is a more amusing approach.

Technobits: record companies and the Internet: how to fail --- Ed Felten on The Fallacy of the 'Almost General Purpose' Computer --- NYT readership: online rivals print --- NYT on Slashdot --- new Wallace and Gromit shorts.

Web Site of the Week

Daniel Dern On Networking, Matt finds FurniturePorn

Daniel Dern is one of the best networkers I know, and he also writes clearly, so this week's website is his outline of a recent talk:

In case you didn't get the handout at my "Brush Up Your Handshake: Basic Efficient Networking Tips/Reminders" talk, I've posted them. I'm hoping to place a fleshed-out article version of this; when I do, I'll let the list know where/when it is.

Rae's friend Matt found this racy yet amusing furniture porn photo essay.


The Top 15 Worst Things to Say to a One-Night Stand the Next Morning

Kind of a racy list, but I ranked 14th, so here it is:

The Top 15 Worst Things to Say to a One-Night Stand the Next Morning

October 16, 2002

15> "My eggs? Over easy -- just like you."

14> "Wow! You look just like Ernest Borgnine, even in that dress!"

13> "And you are...?"

12> "Sorry, but I should probably get home before I sober up."

11> "Thanks, I had a great time. Can you just send me the bill for your replacement prosthetic?"

10> "Have you ever considered responding to one of those, um, 'male enlargement' ads?"

9> "Could I get you to sign this diary for my parole officer?"

8> "Is there any chance you could drop me off at the methadone clinic on your way back into town?"

7> "You look a lot, um, less sexy without the burqua."

6> "Remember last night when I said that I run TopFive? Well, I lied -- I'm just a contributor."

5> "For breakfast, I usually have some fava beans and a nice Chianti."

4> "Before you leave, would you like to see some sexually arousing video of me and a monkey?"

3> "Look over there at that houseplant and wave... you're on!"

2> "We're like two ships that just use each other to dump bilge in the night."

and's Number 1 Worst Thing to Say to a One-Night Stand the Next Morning...

1> "Hand me my penis, will ya?"

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2002 by Chris White ]
Selected from 124 submissions from 45 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Peter Bauer, Rochester, NY -- 1 (23rd #1 / Hall of Famer)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 14



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


Steve Coquet on Alexandria, Dan Grobstein on Many Things, Dalton and A Friend on Bush Whacking

Steve Coquet notes that there is, once again after 1600 years, a world library at Alexandria Egypt.

Among Daniel Grobstein's finds in the New York Times this week were Site for the Truly Geeky Makes a Few Bucks, a mainstream profile of Slashdot, the AP's update of California's ongoing north-south rivalry, World Series Shows Ca. Civil War, an article on vanity publishing, Books for the Asking, and a piece on how hard it is to find pilots for drones (because they aren't very exciting to fly): New Incentives for Pilots of Remote Plane. Finally, this great column:

Still Living Dangerously
October 15, 2002
Why does Bush want a war with Iraq instead of doing something to fight the terrorists? "I think it's like the man who looks for his keys on the sidewalk, even though he dropped them in a nearby alley, because he can see better under the streetlight."

Richard Dalton was inspired to write by my comments last week a out Iraq:

I thought your piece on Caesar Bush and the Holy American Empire was provocative. It caused to look up "lebensraum" and I found this chilling quote on The History Channel's Web site: Lebensraum

[W]ithout consideration of "traditions" and prejudices, it [Germany] must find the courage to gather our people and their strength for an advance along the road that will lead this people from its present restricted living space to new land and soil, and hence also free it from the danger of vanishing from the earth or of serving others as a slave nation. --- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

An anonymous correspondent offered this analysis:

1. "It's a terrible thing to say, but I don't believe the "President" of the United States."

Why is it terrible for an employer to speak the truth about a substandard "employee"? In particular, why is it terrible when massive and flagrant violations of Federal law (28 USC 455 - conflict of interest due to positions held by one wife and a few sons) by 60% of the voters (Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas) who gave the "employee" his "job" were required to get the "employee" his "job"?

2. "I'm afraid it's true."

The only thing you have to fear is fear itself. The more frequently you say it, the more people will realize the veracity of your statement and disseminate it themselves thereby further reducing your fear level due to the support of your fellow employers.

3. While there was full authorization for an immediate nuclear attack by the US as of early morning on Friday, Oct. 11, 2002, one should note that your "employee" was correct when he said passage of the resolution does not mean an immediate war. "Immediate" was Friday morning.

4. "Others get to pay for it"

Per the NYT on 10/15/02, those who have died in past wars fought by the US were mainly enlisted personnel. No current member of the House of Representatives has a son or daughter serving as an enlisted member of the US armed forces. That great patriot and well-known hawk from South Dakota (Democratic Senator Tim Johnson) who yields to no one in his zealous attention to the true national security interests of the United States (and who supported the war powers resolution) has a son who is enlisted. Rep Ike Skelton from Missouri has two sons who are officers. In short, most of those legislators (especially in the House) supporting the war are disconnected from the ultimate effects of any war.

5. "Bush wants war. I don't know why, and I refuse to speculate, because, as many wiser commentators have noted, speculation about motives is pointless and futile. We'll never know why."

Have a little confidence. Truth will out. In the meantime, you are absolutely correct. There is no need to speculate. It's about oil. If not (given the facts provided by your "employees"), both George and Dick are immediately certifiable seriatim as unable to discharge their duties (due to mental disease or defect) under Section 4 of the 25th Amendment. Now do you understand why George and Dick don't want to let Congress know what the oil industry and Dick said to each other last year? (Actually there was a tiny little hint in the policy as released which said something about developing energy (read oil) supplies in Central Asia. Things don't get much more central than a proposed pipeline (previously reported by PSACOT) from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan to Pakistan.)

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