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 28, 2002

October 28, 2002 Vol. 4, No. 43

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Chicago and Boston
  • Three From Paul Krugman
  • Paul Krugman And The MIT Connection
  • Big News From The Tech

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • Malchman, Marlow and Dern


  • Mildly Sick Joke


  • Naqoyqatsi


  • Regime Change, Amusing Spam, Enron on the Potomac, Doonesbury on Blogs, Ig Nobel Prizes

General News

Chicago and Boston

Rae and I spent most of last week touring colleges in Chicago and Boston. We started out at Northwestern, where she knows the fencing coach and wanted to fence in a tournament. Here's her report:

The women's epée was probably the weakest event at the Remenyik Open. For all of my pool bouts, I was able to get touches just by waiting for my opponents to get their arm out of position or make other obvious errors. My first two direct elimination's were like that.

My third direct elimination looked like it was going to be like that. I was ahead 10-4, and I was feeling very confident, but very confused. I had no idea what I was doing against her, but I knew it was working. I tried to figure out what I was doing, but started losing points. She caught up. I scrambled futilely to suddenly start using strategy for the first time all day. I somehow managed to get two more points, and she somehow managed to tie me. With one minute left she started moving at hyperspeed and got two more points. With six seconds remaining, I should have flèched at her for the point, but I didn't feel confident enough in my flèche.

I made top 8 (ranking 6th out of 36 women). Every year for the Remenyik Open, the Northwestern coach orders a batch of 8 daggers and swords as trophies, so I got a cool dagger handmade in Toledo, Spain.

Northwestern is an NCAA Division I women's fencing powerhouse, and Rae is applying. We also looked at University of Chicago, where she decided not to apply. Off to Boston, where we saw Brandeis with an alumna who is a friend of a friend, and Wellesley, which we also toured with a friend of a friend. What a contrast! Brandeis is all post World War II modern. Wellesley is mostly gothic and much of it predates World War I. We had a lovely take-out Chinese dinner with Barb, Jack and Caroline. Then another busy day touring Boston University (with a stop at my old housing cooperative, MIT Student House), and Simmons (over on the Fenway, not too far from Fenway Park).

Exhausting, but it helped Rae make up her mind about what colleges she wants to apply to, so it was worth it.

Three From Paul Krugman

Sometimes, a person just explodes into your consciousness. I got Paul Krugman columns mailed to me three times this week, and all of them were bell-ringing, first-class, well-reasoned and important articles.

Dan Grobstein sent me this column, which "outs" the big lie propaganda of the right..

For Richer
New York Times
October 20, 2002

The middle-class America of my youth was another country. We are now living in a new Gilded Age, as extravagant as the original...

Yet glimpses of the lifestyles of the rich and tasteless don't necessarily add up in people's minds to a clear picture of the tectonic shifts that have taken place in the distribution of income and wealth in this country. My sense is that few people are aware of just how much the gap between the very rich and the rest has widened over a relatively short period of time. In fact, even bringing up the subject exposes you to charges of ''class warfare,'' the ''politics of envy'' and so on. And very few people indeed are willing to talk about the profound effects -- economic, social and political -- of that widening gap. Yet you can't understand what's happening in America today without understanding the extent, causes and consequences of the vast increase in inequality that has taken place over the last three decades, and in particular the astonishing concentration of income and wealth in just a few hands.

Craig Reynolds' headline for this Krugman column was "Bush Seeks More Enrons."

Business as Usual
New York Times
October 22, 2002
The mood among business lobbyists, according to a jubilant official at the Heritage Foundation, is one of "optimism, bordering on giddiness." They expect the elections on Nov. 5 to put Republicans in control of all three branches of government, and have their wish lists ready. "It's the domestic equivalent of planning for postwar Iraq," says the official.

Neal Vitale forwarded a column that a friend of his slugged, "Do you need more impetus to get out and vote?"

Dead Parrot Society
New York Times
October 25, 2002
A few days ago The Washington Post's Dana Milbank wrote an article explaining that for George W. Bush, "facts are malleable." Documenting "dubious, if not wrong" statements on a variety of subjects, from Iraq's military capability to the federal budget, the White House correspondent declared that Mr. Bush's "rhetoric has taken some flights of fancy."

...Reading all these euphemisms, I was reminded of Monty Python's parrot: he's pushing up the daisies, his metabolic processes are history, he's joined the choir invisible. That is, he's dead. And the Bush administration lies a lot.

Paul Krugman And The MIT Connection

Krugman, cited above, has an MIT connection. He was only a graduate student, so it was weaker than my strong bond:

Paul Krugman joined The New York Times in 1999 as a columnist on the Op-Ed Page and continues as Professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University. Krugman received his B.A. from Yale University in 1974 and his Ph.D. from MIT in 1977. He has taught at Yale, MIT and Stanford. At MIT he became the Ford International Professor of Economics.

Other famous MIT alumni of my vintage whom I did not know personally:

  • Actor James Woods, '69 (didn't graduate), lived at Theta Delta Chi, performed in MIT's Dramashop, was a political science major.
  • Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, '75, got a bachelor's degree in architecture, then an MBA.
  • Harvard President Lawrence Summers, '75, lived in Senior House, was a debater, majored in economics.
  • Click and Clack the Tappet brothers. Well, Ray Magliozzi ('72, Humanities) more my era than his brother Tom, '58, an economics major.

Big News From The Tech

Item 1: On Oct. 1, 2002, The Tech (America's foremost college newspaper) reported on page 1 that the Defense Department unattributably engaged in what is reasonably characterized by the victim as "character assassination" with respect to Scott Ritter, former chief weapons inspector for the U.N. Special Commission in Iraq by claiming Ritter had relinquished his U.S. citizenship and was now a Russian citizen. One wonders why The Tech was able to beat The New York Times (and every other journalist in the world) and why no one else reported the matter.

Item 2: On Oct. 4, 2002, The Tech reported on its front page that the MIT Administration missed a great opportunity to highlight the overwhelming superiority of its faculty by asking the school bookstore to remove from a prominent location T-shirts clearly praising the faculty by observing that the Institute Has The Finest Professors through use of the acronym "IHTFP." Given the number of Nobel laureates on the faculty one would think the Administration would be a little prouder of that fact.

IHTFP, for you non-MIT people, can stand for either "Institute Has The Finest Professors," or "Iron Has Three Fascinating Properties," or "I Hate This F******* Place."

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds cruises the net for you:

Palladium anti-patent: at a USENIX Security Symposium panel discussion chaired by cypherpunk Lucky Green, Palladium product manager Peter Biddle glibly claimed Microsoft had no intention of using Palladium/TCPA to enforce software licenses. As soon as he returned home, Incredulous Green filed two patents on precisely that topic; a third is on the way. Of course he has no plans to license the patents, but hopes to publicize Microsoft's inability to tell the truth, and perhaps gum up their plans with a patent infringement lawsuit (see this FAQ). Also read Richard Stallman (Free Software Foundation, Gnu) on the dangers of TCPA: Can you trust your computer? And from Technology Review: The Palladium Paradox.

US cyber-rights, bad/good news: see the warning to US citizens on this page of online texts of old books. In most of the world they are in the public domain, but not in the US (or the EU?). Ironically the site is hosted on a US server. On the other hand, search results for Google users outside the US are being censored by Google to comply with foreign anti-hate-speech laws, coverage by: BBC and AP.

Outlook killer?: Mitch Kapor and the Open Source Applications Foundation announce an ambitious plan to create a new Personal Information Manager. Dan Gillmor says Software Idea+ May Be Just Crazy Enough To Work.

Spam news: a victory against a spammer in court, Jason Heckel was ordered to pay $98,000 ($2000 plus costs) for a single violation of the Washington state anti-spam law. And the Direct Marketing Association (the folks who claim junk mail and telemarketing are Good Things) has finally decided that spam email is a Bad Thing, see coverage by and Wired.

Massively distributed computation is credited with powering the first simulation of a protein fold, with results that agree well with experimental observations. Like SETI@Home, Folding@Home uses idle time on PCs by posing as a screen saver. See Stanford's press release and coverage by UPI.

New celestial body of the week: I've been covering more space news recently, so this aside: as a little child, influenced by the illustrated Time-Life book on astronomy, I wanted to be a planetary astronomer. As I got a little older I realized how naive this was: all nine planets had already been discovered. I moved on to other interests, just as we entered the Golden Era of planetary astronomy: the dawn of manned space flight and the advent of unmanned planetary probes. This week we have 2002 AA29 "in the same class as 3753 Cruithne, a similar rocky body..." and from Loony Moons.

Technobits: really small but really slow molecular circuits from IBM --- LawMeme on SearchKing's unmitigated gall (like a hemorrhoid suing Preparation H) --- Senator from Microsoft claims free software is bad --- transcript of Eldred v. Ashcroft --- series A Mortal Microsoft --- Computer Trash Is His Treasure --- Tom Lehrer's The Elements with Flash animation.


Web Site of the Week

Malchman, Marlow and Dern

Robert Malchman found The Chart of European Bigotry (as a person of Swiss extraction, I can say the chart is right about the Swiss).

My daughter Marlow found the New York Times rumination A Good World Series for California, and Maybe for Wall Street.

Daniel Dern asks "What do Led Zepplin and Kittens have in common?"


Mildly Sick Joke

Dan Grobstein forwarded this one:

Doctor Bob had slept with one of his patients and had felt guilty all day long. No matter how much he tried to forget about it, he couldn't. The guilt and sense of betrayal was overwhelming.

Every once in a while he'd hear that soothing voice within himself, trying to reassure him: "Bob, don't worry about it. You aren't the first doctor to sleep with one of their patients and you won't be the last. And you're single. Let it go...."

But invariably the other voice would bring him back to reality: "Bob, you're a vet."



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

I would have missed this if not for an e-mail from Craig Reynolds. Unusually for this section, I haven't seen the film, but I think I should and I think you should. Here's Wired's take on it:

Filmmaker Godfrey Reggio is no great fan of technology.

In his early films Koyaanisqatsi (Life Out of Balance) and Powaqqatsi (Life in Transition), machines were at the center of what he saw as an increasingly self-destructive, dehumanizing world. With his new movie, Naqoyqatsi, Reggio takes his mission a step further.


Regime Change, Amusing Spam, Enron on the Potomac, Doonesbury on Blogs, Ig Nobel Prizes

Richard Dalton passed along this sign for your car window about regime change.

Dan Grobstein forwarded this. What can I say? If you can help this man (I have withheld his name, to protect either the guilty or the innocent, I'm not sure which), let me know and I will forward your message.

Maybe you can help.

If you are a Time Traveler from Dimension D1263GT10, year 2008 or Dimension D2044GT5, year 2432 AND/OR in possession of the Dimensional Warp Generator #52 4350a wrist watch, the Carbon Copy Replica model #52 4350 2 or similar technology I need a RELIABLE SOURCE! I will also need a carbon based time transducing capacitor or temporal displacement unit. ... I prefer someone with access to teleportation.

A quick check of the Internet reveals I have joined a confederacy of dunces (several score of them) who have also posted this message. When I was a youth, one of my favorite sayings was, "I'm surrounded by idiots," until the day my mother asked, "What's that make you?" Determining the relevance of that recollection to this posting is left as an exercise to the reader, except to say I mean me and not Dan.

Dan also found this in the Washington Post. His proposed title was "Enron on the Potomac." By any name, it's good reading. The analogy is a good one.

Their Little Secret
By Richard Cohen
The smug spirit of Enron pervades the Bush administration. When it learned that North Korea had a secret nuclear arms program, it moved the disclosure off the books lest it complicate the confrontation with Iraq. The information that Congress needed as it held another one of its self-proclaimed "historic" debates was withheld -- a footnote known to only a few key members who, as with Enron's board, passively kept their mouths shut.

Both Dan and Craig Reynolds noticed that Doonesbury is poking fun at blog writers this week.

Peggy Coquet forwarded the Ig Nobel Prize winners. Here's a summary; you can find links to the winners' home pages and/or supporting documentation.

2002-10-03 The 2002 Ig Nobel Prize Winners

All the new winners, like all their predecessors, have done things that first make people LAUGH, then make them THINK. Here are the 2002 Ig Nobellians:

"Courtship Behaviour of Ostriches Towards Humans Under Farming Conditions in Britain."

for demonstrating that beer froth obeys the mathematical Law of Exponential Decay.

...for performing a comprehensive survey of human belly button lint -- who gets it, when, what color, and how much.

for gathering many elements of the periodic table, and assembling them into the form of a four-legged periodic table table.

"Estimation of the Total Surface Area in Indian Elephants."

The Effects of Pre-Existing Inappropriate Highlighting on Reading Comprehension."

for promoting peace and harmony between the species by inventing Bow-Lingual, a computer-based automatic dog-to-human language translation device.

for inventing a washing machine for cats and dogs.

The executives, corporate directors, and auditors of Enron, Tyco, WorldCom... [you get the idea] for adapting the mathematical concept of imaginary numbers for use in the business world.

"Scrotal Asymmetry in Man and in Ancient Sculpture."

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