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 23, 2002

December 23, 2002 Vol. 4, No. 50

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Christmas Message
  • Pretty Busy For An Unemployed Guy
  • Teaching Tales
  • Carroll Cat Column

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • Coquet Finds A Clever Newsletter


  • The Top 20 Excerpts from Badly Written Holiday Stories
  • The Top 12 Signs Santa is Sick of Christmas (Part II)


  • Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers


  • Grammar, Hobbit Humor, Lots of Lott, Osama, RIAA, Refusing To Back The Patriot Act

General News

During 2002 I wrote 50 columns and rose to a cumulative total of 50,000 pageviews (a consistent 59 pageviews a day). I missed only one issue during the year, and you now "hold in your hands," as it were, the special gala holiday double year-end issue. No column on Dec. 30; I hope you can all get by. See you in the New Year!

Oh, and one other thing before we get started; Marlow comes home from Columbia Sunday night. Huzzah!

Christmas Message

First, a bit of housekeeping: no column next week, since I'll be on vacation in Los Angeles with the girls, with no PC. I hope you'll still be around to welcome the column back on Jan. 6, 2003.

In the fine old tradition of journalists who recycle their holiday messages year after year, here's my Christmas message, based on my Christmas message of Dec. 21, 1998 (with a few slight modifications).

Season's greetings to one and all. Apologies to those of you who feel oppressed by the season. I know Christians, atheists and Jews who feel the seasonal oppression in equal parts. Oppression and depression. I'm sorry. This message isn't going to cheer you up, much.

This is a time of year that has inspired some of the most brilliant writing in the English language, from Dickens' A Christmas Carol, to the sturdy newspaper editorial entitled "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus," to The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and the unforgettable Bill Murray vehicle, Scrooged.

Alas, like so many of us, the muse seems to have taken off early. I briefly considered throwing in some of Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas In Wales which Fr. Harrison West and I recited several times at Benson High School assemblies (long before he was Fr. West). But then I decided just to do a quick Christmas column, then leave you to your holiday vacation.

What is Christmas about? It can be about the birth of Jesus, but for most of us it isn't. It's about many things.

Christmas is about singing (or listening to) Christmas carols. My favorite annual Christmas party, bar none, is the Christmas Caroling party held annually by our best friends. They're Jewish, and so are many of the partygoers. Joyful voices raised together. Doesn't matter if they're not in tune. Doesn't matter if some of the lyrics are Christian claptrap. Jingle Bells, White Christmas and Jingle Bell Rock, along with the rest of the secular Christmas liturgy are just plain fun. I wince a little sometimes when we sing the later verses of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," or "Good King Wenceslas." (Question: why is it that the muse flees most lyricists somewhere between the first and second verses?) Besides, Norm Schlansky and I get to do "Five Golden Rings" every year. (This year, Jim Mellers joined us and Kent Peterman delivered a superb "partridge in a pear tree--12 times!).

Christmas is about family and friends. It is about Egg Nog and all the rest of the seasonal food. It is about the children--bless my wife for her decision a decade ago to limit gift giving to the kids (that is, adults give gifts to kids, not to each other). Since then, not another fruit basket has been sacrificed to the impossible task of thinking up presents for adults who already own everything they want.

It's about travelling, at the worst travel time of year, to be with your family. Marlow flying in from New York, for example. Or the girls and I driving to Los Angeles for New Years and Vicki flying down to be with her mom on Christmas Day.

Christmas is about family traditions when you're a kid, and the blending of family traditions when you marry. In childhood, my family stayed at home on Christmas, my wife was always a Christmas runaway. My lights went up the Saturday after Thanksgiving each year and came down the Saturday after New Years. Vicki's went up on Christmas Eve and came down on Boxing Day.

We've had artificial trees for years. Marlow asked for a big tree her freshman year at college, and we got a 14-footer. She was impressed. We're back to artificial trees this year, but I think there is at least one more tall real tree in our future, next year when Rae goes off to college.

Christmas is about giving thanks. Thanksgiving is the official holiday to give thanks for our good fortune, but nothing says you can't do that at Christmas as well. Every Christmas morning when I wake up with my health, my wife, my children and my parents as part of this world, I count my blessings. Mine are beyond counting. I hope yours are too. I am now diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes, but you know what, I'm grateful because there are lots of worse diseases in the world. Mine, at least, is under control.

Merry Christmas!

I still don't remember if it snowed seven days and seven nights when I was 12 or 12 days and 12 nights when I was seven...

Pretty Busy For An Unemployed Guy

Here's an update on my unemployment activities, as first reported last Christmas. Now, of course, I am swamped with student teaching (and papers to grade) as well as teaching credential night classes. As soon as the student teaching is over, it's back to substituting.

What did I do with my time? In part, I took a piece of advice from Jake Kirchner, ex of PC Magazine and my former boss at WINDOWS Magazine. What he told me to do was pick a long-simmering project and invest some time in it. Three years ago, Vicki bought a dollhouse for Rae, our younger daughter. She thought we could assemble it together as a family project. Last Christmas we tried. It took more talent, patience and tools then we had as a group. So, within days of being laid off last year, I went to Cooper's Dollhouse in Benicia, Calif., and rented a table. I spent 10-20 hours a week there. Jim Cooper, the proprietor, won't assemble a dollhouse for you (except under special circumstances and at great expense), but he'll show you how to do it, step by step. Even a 10-thumbser like myself can follow his crystal-clear instructions. I finished up in May. The house now sits on a turntable in the great room, with a Christmas Tree in the ballroom and lights on the eaves--yes, dollhouse Christmas lights. Next year it may even have furniture.

Then there's my memoirs. I have now completed them from 1952 (year of my birth) through 2001, the year of my layoff. I am too busy living the next chapter to write it just now.

I've also prepared bound volumes of this Internet column (the Internet could dry up and blow away; I want to preserve these writings of mine).

It remains true that I'm busier now than when I was working--and I was very busy when I was working!

Teaching Tales

I did a vocabulary exercise with my students this week, based on Huxley's Brave New World. I wanted to get them to pick words they might use in their own lives. One pair of students picked boskage, meaning the woods (from the Spanish word for forest). "Boskage!" I said "You'll never use that." My master teacher (who started out as a Spanish teacher), said, "I use boskage all the time." Well, needless to say, I had a dream last night in which the word boskage figured prominently, being used time and again to mean forest. Sigh.

Reader Marjorie Wolfe shared a teaching story that's so good it deserves to be this high in my column:

The year was 1958 and I was student teaching at Far Rockaway High School, located in Queens, New York. My professor from New York University took the train from Manhattan--a 45-minute ride--to watch me teach a Gregg Shorthand class. I knew that each lesson must contain a medial and final summary. One experienced teacher suggested that I use this final summary: Look around the classroom, note who is absent, and ask the class, "Oh, I see Sally is absent today. When she returns tomorrow, what shall we tell her we learned today?" (Hopefully, the selected student would summarize the lesson.) Well, I looked at my watch. It was 40 minutes into the period, with two minutes remaining. I carefully scrutinized the classroom and noted that Larry was absent. I proceed to ask the class, "When Larry returns tomorrow, what shall we tell him we learned today?" Several students raised their hands. I chose one of the brightest youngsters. His reply: "NOTHING!' I looked at Dr. Helen Reynolds, who was seated in the rear of the classroom, and just shrugged my shoulders. Who knew?

Another correspondent sent this story:

Here's one. I was intern teaching in Cupertino while I got my master's degree. 7th grade Spanish class from hell with 25 boys and 4 girls. They farted, they burped, they tormented me with every 7th grade device. Thank God the assistant principal was an ex-marine.

At the end of the year, after I had decided I was not going to let them kill me and turned the torture back on them, a Stanford supervisor came to see me for the final visit.

Those little boys were fantastic! They raised their hands; they participated; they tried to speak Spanish; they outdid themselves showing off for my professor. He left after 30 minutes. I heard a profound sigh of relief as they slumped down in their desks. One little boy, whose name I have forgotten, but who looked suspiciously like Dennis the Menace, sighed and said, "I'm glad he's gone because I couldn't have been good for another minute!"

I thanked them for holding out for 30.

Carroll Cat Column

Would it be Christmas without a Jon Carroll cat column? I think not.

Green eyes crying in the rain
San Francisco Chronicle
Wednesday, December 18, 2002
by Jon Carroll

...But we smell the same every day, and there is no part of our bodies that a cat can eat and later, decorously, regurgitate.

You'd think an animal that sleeps 18 hours a day would not be subject to boredom. A cat is bored whenever it can't do exactly what it wants when it wants to do it -- particularly if complaining does not change the situation. Meow at the rain all you want, big guys. It falleth upon the cat and the dog alike....

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds surfs the net for you.

ElcomSoft not guilty of violating DMCA: while it may not have been an ideal victory, the tech world rejoiced when the first criminal prosecution under the DMCA ended in an acquittal of the Russian software firm ElcomSoft. See Reuters coverage of the verdict, law professor Orin Kerr explains how the trial turned on whether this was a willful violation of the law, an explanation of how jury nullification could still play a role in defeating DMCA, and articles from BusinessWeek and Wired examining how this case has weakened the DMCA. Hear! Hear!

IAO TIA: see this newsgroup post from 1987. Yikes, that would have been scary! Well, thank goodness John Poindexter was discredited by his Irangate conviction and will never again hold a position of power in the U.S. government. And thank goodness our constitutional freedoms protect us from wholesale interception of telecommunication. Oh, wait... Declan McCullagh surveys how we could Poindexter-proof personal information. In the meantime, the IAO's own web site has been fading away like the Cheshire Cat: first the biographies of the principals were removed (see an archive of them here) then what was widely described as "the creepy logo" was removed.

Traditionally, when a scientific journal accepts a research paper for publication, the author assigns the copyright to the journal. Its ability to generate income from copyrighted content is seen as compensation for the journal's editorial and publication expenses. The "peer reviewers" that give a journal its academic authority are never paid. In today's world, researchers want to make their papers freely accessible on the web since this increases the odds of being cited, which is the "coin" of academic publication. That conflicts with the journal's desire to control access to the material, so it can charge for access. In contrast, an online journal has almost no production costs, so the scientific community is beginning to move away from printed copyrighted journals to online public domain journals. The New York Times profiles the Public Library of Science. (Note that I am involved in this world, as a consumer, reviewer and sometimes author of technical papers.) On slightly related topic, NewScientist reports on verbatim reproduction of typographical errors in citations of scientific papers. This suggests that authors frequently cite papers that they have not read. This can be quite innocent: A cites B as the authority on X, and B cites C as the authority on Y, so A follows B's lead. In any case I find the statistical technique use in this study quite interesting, rather like tracing genetic lineage by following the inheritance of DNA transcription errors. At least that is my impression from a quick skim. I didn't actually read this article, I just copied the citation from Daypop Top 40...

Technobits: the Creative Commons (mentioned here last May) has released its collection of licenses (article in Wired) --- RIAA's Statistics Don't Add Up to Piracy --- AOL Wins Legal Round Against Spammers --- the $200 PC: "Dropping Windows is part of the reason why manufacturers can sell the PCs so cheaply." --- Google vs. Evil --- Clouds on Titan --- DVD player with wireless network connection --- some proposed signage for libraries under the USA Patriot Act.

Also: Daniel Dern, a man who knows a thing or two about song parodies, likes these seasonal parodies in LinuxWorld.

Web Site of the Week

Coquet Finds A Clever Newsletter

Peggy Coquet writes:

Robert Park is such a cynic! He doesn't believe cellphones give you cancer or that you can have perpetual motion machines. The disclaimer reads: "Opinions are the author's and are not necessarily shared by the University or the American Physical Society, but they should be."


The Top 12 Signs Santa is Sick of Christmas (Part II)

Well, a tie for No. 11 beats not making the list at all...

December 19, 2002

12> Comet, Cupid and an assortment of elves pop up for sale on eBay.

11> "Ho, ho, oh, to hell with it."

10> Instead of "Naughty" and "Nice," this year's lists are titled "Who gives a crap?" and "Not me."

9> You don't remember a reindeer named "Beyotch."

8> Under the tree is the digital camera you asked for -- with a stored picture of a mooning Santa "posing" with your toothbrush.

7> Three lists this year: Naughty, Nice, Nice Ass

6> He goes straight down the chimney without bothering to change out of his motorcycle leathers first.

5> Joins the Nation of Islam and changes name to "Claus Shabazz."

4> Kids' e-mails to North Pole receive autoreply messages: "I'm out of the office FOREVER, you tubby little punk!"

3> Over the summer, he opened a sandwich shop called Donder Burgers.

2> Under the tree you find a half-eaten cookie and a glass full of urine.

and's Number 1 Sign Santa is Sick of Christmas...

1> Placed the entire Osmond family on the "Naughty" list just for the hell of it.

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2002 by Chris White ]
Selected from 119 submissions from 45 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Sue Prifogle Otte, Rushville, IN -- 1, 3 (7th #1)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 11
Carl Knorr, Devo City, OH -- 11

The Top 20 Excerpts from Badly Written Holiday Stories

OK, I didn't make this list, but it's seasonal and funny, so I'm violating my rules and printing it anyway.

December 16, 2002

20> The first of the Wise Men spoke: "Who is this most divine child?" "He must be the Son of God!" exclaimed the second. "And he shall be the King of Kings, as the Lord intended," said the third. But then the Supreme Court got involved.

19> Horrified, Dr. Noel watched helplessly as the child mannequin was ripped into shreds. If just the words "Chicken Dance Elmo" could send Santa-Bot into a killing rampage, then every mall in America was a ticking time bomb!

18> Suddenly Frosty's heart was so warm with love that he melted, screaming in agony as he was reduced to a tepid puddle.

17> The old toy maker saw the children's noses pressed against his store window that cold December evening, their faces lit with warmth and excitement. He smiled contentedly, knowing he'd learned the true meaning of Christmas -- price gouging.

16> "My-winter-holiday-of-choice-time is the happiest time of year!" the young boy of indeterminate heritage thought. "Family gatherings, illuminated outdoor displays, and the gifts, for those who exchange them. For everyone else, heartwarming cheer."

15> Mrs. Claus trembled at the sight of Binky's swelling elfhood. "I may be short, Mrs. C.," he said huskily, "But I stand tall where it matters most."

14> Mrs. Gore was pleased to show visitors her wooden nutcracker soldiers, each standing tall and stiff and formal, wood gleaming and paint shining. Still, they were always disappointed to learn that the life-sized one was, in fact, her husband Al.

13> The three wise men, Simon, Randy and Paula, followed a rising star to the West until they arrived at Tinseltown. There, they found the chosen one, Kelly, and bestowed up her great gifts of gold, confidence and a record contract.

12> Then laying a finger aside of his nose, he bent to the mirror and snorted three rows. Through tightly clenched teeth, Santa said in a groan, "To hell with the reindeer -- I'm flying alone!"

11> Although little Sheila could not deny that, yes, the reindeer had indeed flown over her room, its awkward headlong tumbling and her dad's cursing as he fumbled with the catapult somehow took the magic out of the moment.

10> "You sold your chocolate to buy me peanut butter!" he moaned. She responded with a shocked, "You sold your peanut butter to buy me chocolate!"

9> 'Neath his veined, bulbous nose and a gin-blossom'd cheek, Santa belched, "Bombs away! I'm taking a leak!"

8> When little Billy saw on his globe that there is no land at the North Pole, he knew that Santa couldn't possibly have a workshop there. It was then that Billy realized that everything good in a child's life is a hollow lie intended to curb curiosity, and adults are wretched vermin who thrive in their authority -- authority based only in the filth and squalor of empty falsehoods. Through a haze fraught with ennui, angst and unbridled umbrage, Billy finished his cookie and drifted off to sleep.

7> "I'm sorry, Reginald," Santa said sadly, "there's no place pulling my sleigh for a cross-dressing reindeer." A disappointed Reginald shuffled off, wondering if Santa knew the truth about Prancer.

6> Mark my words, the Lakers will be back or I'm not Larry King... Jesus Christ: class act... Eggnog tastes just as good in July... Remember this name: Jack Black... Last time I hung an ornament was '76... I finally saw Smallville, and it's one smart show....

5> Deborah enjoyed hot candle wax and games of chance. Hanukkah was her time.

4> Ginny's loneliness gnawed at her like a rabid animal as she lay naked before the fireplace in hopes Santa would tie her up, forcefully partake of her goodies, throw her in a sack and take her to the North Pole to be used at his pleasure.

3> Still woozy, Dasher landed in a dark alley in Amsterdam with 20 bucks and a need for a shoulder to cry on. The memory of that night would elude him until that fateful day when his past arrived at the stable door: "Hi, Dad. My name's Rudolph."

2> And he vowed on that cold Christmas Day that he would do everything in his power, given the limits of his impaired depth perception, to get even with the Daisy Air Rifle Company.

and's Number 1 Excerpt from a Badly Written Holiday Story...

1> It was a dark winter night at the North Pole. I was after a poacher with a big-bore gun and a taste for venison. Naughty or nice, it doesn't matter to me -- a criminal is a criminal, and it's my job to bring them in. The name is Boxie, and I'm the senior elf in homicide division.

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2002 by Chris White ]
Selected from 114 submissions from 36 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Dave Goudsward, Lake Worth, FL -- 1, 18 (11th #1)


Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers

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

It would appear that I allowed Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring to pass without notice, even though I did see the movie when it came out in December of 2001. It seemed to me at the time that it was close enough to the book (I have read it three times, but not memorized it) and very impressive as a piece of film making. I did not participate in the controversy over the minor subplot that was left out to shoehorn the movie into three hours. But I remember thinking it was too long.

The same goes for Part II, The Two Towers. This time, I don't even know what (if anything) has the fan base up in arms, but the film is still too darn long at three hours. Yes, the battle scene at Helm's Deep (a minor incident in the book that takes up about a third of the film) is impressive. Yes, I agree the enft (tree) people look and sound like ewoks with bark. At three hours, it's still too darn long. But if you loved the books, you have to go see it anyway. I found myself waxing nostalgic for my first reading, at about age 15 or 16, and was stunned by how close the films depictions were to the images I had in my mind when I read it. Of course, I'm still hobbled by thinking of Gandalf as Goodgulf, and Legolas as Legolamb, and all the other silly names from the Harvard Lampoon parody Bored of the Rings, which, if you've never read it, you really should.

Did I mention that it's three hours and that's too darn long?


Grammar, Hobbit Humor, Lots of Lott, Osama, RIAA, Refusing To Back The Patriot Act

From Peggy Coquet:

Now, from the Department of Education's "No Child Left Behind" Internet site. New visitors who need to "know the basics" of the program are sent to a PowerPoint chart showing education funding and reading scores. A pop-up explanation states: "Education funding has gone up" from 1966 to 2002 "while reading scores has remained steady."

Does this mean our children isn't learning?

The teacher's nightmare: a spelling or grammar error in a handout.

Daniel Dern pass on word of hobbit humor in USA Weekend. Craig Reynolds likes the biting humor of This Modern World. I do too.

Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote GOP and racists: thick as thieves, which popped up in the San Francisco Chronicle. Here's how it starts (I suggest you read the whole thing):

The spectacle of conservatives scurrying to denounce Trent Lott has provided comic relief in a Capitol otherwise obsessed with a dubious war. But it's hard to take Lott's GOP critics seriously. After all, he is not the only reactionary in their ranks.

The Washington Post ran a guest column about the days of Trent Lott's youth, When Integration Was a Crime. More good Trent Lott stuff in the New Democrat Daily, which I found through Joshua Micah Marshall's excellent Talking Points Memo plugged by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman (profiled in the Washington Monthly), a mutual fascination of mine and Dan Grobstein's. Speaking of the Times, Dan suggests a Thomas Friedman column suggesting rules for the Democrats as they select their next nominee.

You read it here first; Dan Grobstein's analysis of the war talk:

I was also thinking that considering the Bush administration's passion for secrecy and the fact that you can't make any troop movements without everybody knowing, that it would be interesting if the current buildup is not for Iraq, but to invade western Pakistan to try to get Osama bin Laden and his associates.

Speaking of Osama, Craig Reynolds found an Osama Wants You poster.

Dan also found the Washington Post article Not A Job For Kissinger, which lists a whole new bunch of reasons that Herr Doktor would have been hamstrung in his efforts to clean up the intelligence mess.

Dan's son Spike passes along this item:

I read an article showing the actual numbers for the RIAA's claim that they are losing money because of people pirating music, but the numbers show that it's the RIAA's fault and they are actually making more money now than used to.

Basically, they [the record companies] didn't release as many albums in the last two years as they had for years past, and had they released the same number, and they only turned half of the average profit, they would have had more $ in sales each year (rather than this 10% decrease they're crying about).

On a more concrete level, Richard Dalton passes along a URL which outlines a methodology for municipalities to refuse to collaborate with federal authorities on "Patriot Act" surveillance requests, adding "of course, visiting the Web site may attract federal surveillance."

To obtain a reminder when I post my weekly electronic column,
or to offer feedback, advice, praise, or criticism, email me. (pes-at-sign-schindler-dot-org)

New versions of my column are hosted here at Typepad.

Old versions of my column are hosted here at


Paul Schindler Home Page PS...ACOT BACK ISSUE archives
Journalism Movies Journalism Quotes
You COULD Pay For This Column Journalism Books
Archival Larry King: Letters From Europe
Current Larry King: Letters From Lesser Great Britain
Kevin Sullivan on Teaching
My Prarie Home Companion Script Groundhog Day: Best Film Ever
Women in Journalism Movies Larry King: British Journalists
Edwin Diamond: An Appreciation Tales of Teaching

Page forwarding code courtesy of:
BNB: HTML, free CGI Scripts, graphics, tutorials and more- for free!

FavIcon (displayed in browser address box) courtesy of:
Richard Sleegers

Blog-rolling (My Friends' Weblogs):

Jim Forbes' Forbes on Tech

Scot Finnie's Scot's Newsletter

Phil Albinus Blog

Dan Rosebaum's Blog

Mike Elgan's Blog

Fred Langa's Blog

Karen Kenworthy's Power Tools

Dave Methvin's PC Pitstop

You are visitor number

since Oct. 16, 1998.