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: December 9, 2002

December 9, 2002 Vol. 4, No. 49

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Survival
  • The Harvard-MIT Connection

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs
  • Byte Goes Paid

Web Site of the Week

  • Writing Salon, TV Footnotes


  • None


  • None


  • Dalton on AIDS, Sullivan on Mascots, Dern on Sports Night, Grobstein's Picks, Coquet's Memories

General News


This column has survived many things It is not clear it will survive my teacher training, at least not in its traditional form. Student teaching, along with the credential program, are soaking up so many cycles there is precious little left for this enterprise. For example, I went to my favorite party of the year Saturday night, Fran's singalong, and I don't have time to write anything intelligent about it. Monday will be a very big day, as I attempt to run a quiz show in class.

And all I can think of is the phrase, "he has terrorist ties," which just makes me want to look in the person's closet. I wonder if a bow tie can be a terrorist tie.

The Harvard-MIT Connection

The Harvard-MIT link is old and strong. For example, it was after a 98-0 drubbing by Harvard that MIT dropped football back in the 19th century. Most alumni are aware that Harvard almost absorbed MIT, but here are the details, forwarded by Daniel Dern:

From: Susan Cronin Ruderman

In 1904, Harvard, under the leadership of Charles Eliot, was ready to take over (as in acquire, merge into, dissolve, etc.) the financially unstable MIT. I know because I mounted a museum exhibit about this at MIT circa 1987.

There were two things that saved MIT from becoming the Harvard Institute of Technology: an infusion of cash from alarmed alumni, and the state supreme court's decision that MIT, as a land-grant university, could not sell its Back Bay campus, which would have given it the dowry necessary to move to Cambridge (which it did anyway in 1916).

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds cruises the net for you.

Last Thursday the US government wrapped up its DMCA case against ElcomSoft, the maker of non-copy-protected reader for Adobe's eBook format. ElcomSoft's Skylarov developed the eBook reader as part of his dissertation in college. He says it was a technical demonstration of the lame copy protection scheme Adobe used. But in the DMCA era, companies don't have to competently design effective "locks" on digital content, they can just sue anyone who notices the Emperor has no clothes. See background at The Economist.

Vigilante action in cyberspace: I'm more of a "due process" kind of guy, but one has to appreciate the rough justice when hacktivists team up to spam the spammer or data-mine the data-miner. Mike Wendland of the Detroit Freep wrote about spam king Alan Ralsky with hints about how to find him. That spawned several discussions on Slashdot, leading to someone posting Wendland's address from the county records. Wendland reported on the wacky hijinks which ensued. Independently, critics of OIA's TIA decided that the public deserved to have Total Information Awareness of John Poindexter's personal life: from SF Weekly's Matt Smith and John Gilmore.

Speaking of OIA TIA, see analysis from Wired, Washington Post and Mercury News.

Lawsuit over "deceptive" pop-up ads made to look like Windows alert-boxes. I'd never thought these were especially sly, they are completely ineffective for Mac or Linux users, and Mozilla users never see pop-ups at all. I guess these ads are just part of the "Windows tax" on user's productivity.

History of computing: Alan Kay invented the ubiquitous WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointing device) paradigm, first described laptop computers with wireless networking, co-invented the Smalltalk and Squeak programming languages, was a founding member of Xerox PARC, a veteran of Apple, Vivarium and Disney Imagineering. He has now joined HP's research lab. Also this week I was reminded of the wonderful video of Douglas Engelbart's 1968 demo of a prehistoric personal computer, available on the web as streaming video. Engelbart is best known for inventing the mouse. (OK I should stop here, or next I'd mention Vannevar Bush's 1945 As We May Think which presaged the Web, and then this would turn into a non-stop hit parade of computer and information science pioneers.)

Technobits: in 1997 Senator John Ashcroft was saying Keep Big Brother's Hands Off the Internet --- clueful Judge Motz considers forcing Windows to bundle Sun's Java --- conservative Judge Posner questions CTEA --- scary hospital cyberattack --- the end of unsolicited email?: whitelists and no more email to Congress --- collaborative mapmaking: Amsterdam Real Time --- Radioactive patients set off subway alarms --- a surreal psychedelic trip to the art history saloon: Kunstbar (a Hamburg Flash Award winner, see a short review) --- wind powered walking machines --- theoretical aspects of shoe lacing --- Despair's demotivational posters: I especially liked Procrastination and Motivation.

Byte Goes Paid, which I once edited, has moved from being a free service to being a subscription service. One of the writers there, Bill Nichols, sent me the note he posted on his own web site. I share the sentiment, and I wish the best, so I republish his words here:

My latest column, Digital Libraries for Everyone is now available on the Byte site. has recently moved to a subscription form at the inexpensive rate of $12/year until the end of 2002. After that it will be $20/year.

I encourage my readers to subscribe for two reasons: First, Byte will be able to continue to bring you lots of information and knowledgeable opinions; Second, I'll be able to continue exploring advanced technology as it appears, at Byte and on this site. Your support is greatly appreciated by all of the writers for Byte.

Web Site of the Week

Writing Salon, TV Footnotes

Writing Salon, a school of creative writing located in San Francisco's Bernal Heights, was brought to my attention by Richard Dalton. If I had time, I'd take a class. If you do, you should. They sound like good people.

Ever wonder about the real issues behind the issues you see covered in television shows? Daniel Dern suggests you take a look at Footnote TV.





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


Dalton on AIDS, Sullivan on Mascots, Dern on Sports Night, Grobstein's Picks, Coquet's Memories

From the "Too much time on their hands" department: How about a rewrite of Poe's The Raven that encodes many digits of Pi?

Richard Dalton dropped me this note, along with a link to the Boston Globe story, The AIDS crisis and human rights.

Mary Robinson is passionate and tough. Her candor cost her her job as UN Human Rights High Commissioner where she was even-handed about criticism of developing and industrialized nations' human rights failings. To call her admirable is, to me, inadequate.

Kevin Sullivan found an MSNBC article about a school whose Native Americans have picked The Fighting Whites as their mascots.

If you like SportsNight as much as Daniel Dern and I do, you can now own it on DVD for less than $50.

Dan Grobstein found Washington Post articles, including a review of inane remarks by fundamentalist Christian leaders written by Richard Cohen, and E.J. Dionne Jr.'s defense of campaign finance reform. In the New York Times, he found yet another brilliant Paul Krugman piece, exposing the GOP plan to make people hate government. Those darn Republicans! Also in that paper, Thomas Friedman says the Islamic Reformation may be at hand; he profiles the Muslim Martin Luther.

Regular contributor Peggy Coquet shared a tip and some memories:

It occurs to me that you may not know about, and you really should. They're these excellent little movies, well produced and acted in by some amazing people - the most recent stars James Brown and Gary Oldman. I've been a fan from about the second film.

Also, an anecdote for you from the old neighborhood (I was reminded of it by your mention of the White House):

When Steve and I first moved to Portland in 1972, we were beyond poor, living in a 4-plex at 20th & Alberta ($90/month, which we paid in weekly installments), on food stamps, no transportation except an aging BMW motorcycle. Several times a week, on our way from the unemployment office to our inner-city sty, we drove past a gracious home on the corner of 15th and NE Knott: white walls rising to the third floor ballroom, it had a porte-cochere, a vine-covered arbor over the driveway, miles of glass and a curving brick drive. I was ravished. It was an incredible house. One day I confessed my longing to Steve; oh, if only ... if only ...

He looked at me tenderly, and said, "One day perhaps, if we work hard and save our money, maybe we could afford to go to work in a house like that!"

The real punchline? Within 7 years, we were living 6 blocks away, at 18th & Siskiyou. No porte-cochere, no ballroom - but still, a substantial house in a good neighborhood.

Dreams can become reality, it seems, if you truly understand the dream. The "home" we have built together has stood for 30-plus years now, and means far more than four walls and a roof, however elegantly situated and ornamented. (It's currently residing in a post-war crackerbox in Camas, and doing quite well!)

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