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: January 13, 2003

January 13, 2003 Vol. 5, No. 2

Table of Contents:

General News

  • A Great Holiday (cont.)
  • Impending Empty Nest
  • This Just In: A Kirchner Correction
  • The Mistake I Didn't Make
  • Political Thoughts

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • 1660 Diary Becomes 2003 Blog, How Radio Works (Worked), Fresh Firesign


  • Buzzwords


  • Chicago
  • Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (a second opinion)


  • Link-o-Rama

General News

A Great Holiday (cont.)

The terrific holiday continues. Marlow is here until January 17, and I for one, couldn't be happier. The joy I get from spending time with my children continues to be beyond my meager powers to describe. However, it is tempered with the sobering realization that Marlow is a senior in college; so this may be the last time in her life she'll have this much time off at Christmas to spend with us. We were headed for a wedding in Seattle this weekend, but as that was postponed. Instead, we celebrated Marlow's 22nd birthday at a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. The meal was accompanied by a bottle of her birth wine: wine bottled in 1981 and given to her last year when she reached her majority. Thank you winemaker Clark Smith for picking wines that aged this well and wine-lover Ross Snyder for keeping them in a temperature-controlled wine cellar for much of the last two decades). One of my minor gifts to her this year is a Monty Python marathon. I own all 43 episodes of the original series on VHS; we will watch about 10 or 12 hours of them (down from the original plan to watch all of then in 24 hours straight).

By the way, I am proud to say that Marlow passed the written Foreign Service Office exam (which has a bar-exam-like failure rate of 66%) and will be taking the oral assessment in the spring. It, too, washes out 2/3 of those who take it, but my hopes (and hers) are high. Go Marlow!

Rae, meanwhile, has finished her college applications, which makes her more available for the occasional frolic--although she, like all good high-school seniors is already pulling away, investing her time in the future (friends, fencing and drama) rather than the past (her parents).

I began teaching Jekyll and Hyde to Mrs. S's sophomore English class as part of my student teaching. I showed them the 1941 Victor Fleming version starring Spencer Tracy, Lana Turner and Ingrid Bergman. Or rather, showed them parts of it, as is the new trend in showing movies to high school students. And you can't just show it to them, you must give them specific things to look for. And you can't show the movie every time. And you mustn't show it before they have read the book. And you must stress the differences between the movie and the book--and ask WHY the changes were made.

I sense an undercurrent of excitement about the upcoming "quiz show" next Friday, when four teams in each class will compete to answer questions about the book. But I might just be projecting...

Impending Empty Nest

As I face the pendency of our daughters both being gone next fall, I find a special piquancy in this Anna Quindlen commentary, brought to my attention by Kevin Sullivan, printed in Newsweek in October, 2000. It begins:

If not for the photographs, I might have a hard time believing they ever existed. The pensive infant with the swipe of dark bangs and the black button eyes of a Raggedy Andy doll. The placid baby with the yellow ringlets and the high piping voice. The sturdy toddler with the lower lip that curled into an apostrophe above her chin. All my babies are gone now.

This Just In: A Kirchner Correction

Because I didn't spent much time on the column last week, this correction is a bit late. Sorry about that.

At Christmas time, I wrote:

What did I do with my time? In part, I took a piece of advice from Jake Kirchner, ex of PC World 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.

This graf was a pickup from my 2001 Christmas column. I heard from Jake:

I enjoyed the mention of my name in your most recent column, although I have to confess I don't remember offering the sage advice you generously credited to me. I guess I'm just full of good advice. One note, however: I'm sure the hard-working staff and executives of PC World would have been happier if you had noted that for five years I was actually editor of their competitor, PC Magazine, and can take no credit for the fine work they do at PC World.

Ironically, since I have both the attention span and the long-term memory of a mayfly, I am quite likely to pick up the same error and repeat it again next year!

The Mistake I Didn't Make

Even the most skeptical among us can fall, now and then, for a well-polished urban legend. Over the holidays, I regaled friends with the "fact" that the 12 Days of Christmas is a coded Catholic catechism, a "fact" which I picked up from the Internet. Well, according to Divining Secrets in Twelve Days of Christmas by Peter Steinfels of the New York Times as well as that vital urban-legend bashing site, that's just an urban-legend cooked up by a well-meaning priest who seems to have lost all the notes containing his evidence. Amazing how often that happens under these circumstances. Well, at least I didn't print it in the column; instead, I printed this warning. Don't believe it. It is a bogus story.

Political Thoughts

If George Bush so detests politicians who starve their own people (per his comments about North Korea), why did he campaign for Republican candidates who were willing to starve their fellow citizens (the ones who ran out of unemployment benefits just after Christmas because the Republicans were unwilling to extend the benefits in time)? Is this merely an instance of self-loathing and self doubt for which he is trying to compensate by picking a fight with anyone handy and weaker?

In a Washington Post editorial ("Mr. Lott Steps Down") on p. A22 on December 21, 2002, one finds the following:

"It should be possible to hold views and positions that are at variance with those civil rights groups propound and still avoid being branded anti-equal-opportunity or an opponent of civil rights protections." Duh! Hello!

By definition, civil rights groups generally propound views in favor of civil rights protections. One is either in favor of those protections for all Americans or against them. But when the editors of The Washington Post figure out how one can oppose civil rights protections while being in favor of civil rights protections maybe they'll let the rest of us know.

In an op-ed item in The New York Times, p. A35, December 21, 2002 ("Justice for Cambodia"), David J. Sheffer (identified as ambassador at large for war crimes issues from 1997 to 2001 and now Senior Vice President of the United Nations Association of the United States) expressed his approval of the resumption of negotiations by the UN with Cambodia to arrange trials for "surviving Khmer Rouge leaders." He criticizes "intense pressure from human rights advocates who sought, unrealistically, to impose their ideal set of legal standards on the process..." He's happy because an agreement almost was not reached and then comes to the heart of the matter:

"Mindful of concerns about the Nixon administration's secret aerial bombings of Cambodia during the Vietnam War and Cambodia's own human rights record of the last two decades, negotiators had reached a firm agreement that the court's focus would be limited to senior Khmer Rouge leaders and those who were most responsible for the crimes of the Pol Pot regime from 1975 to 1979. . . . Every judicial action would require the approval of at least one international judge."

One wonders why there will be no inquiry into and trial for those responsible for the bombing of Cambodia and murder of Cambodians (without a declaration of war) prior to 1975? As for the so-called "human rights advocates," it seems far from an ideal legal standard for them to argue for the prosecution almost 30 years later of war crimes committed prior to 1975. What kind of standard is the UN setting if it declares war crimes against Cambodians to be prosecutable only if they occurred from 1975 to 1979 but not before? Were the Cambodians bombed to death prior to 1975 any less dead than the ones executed by Pol Pot?

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds surfs the net for you.

I'd like to start on a personal note this week: my family and I were on vacation recently. Before we left, I'd half heard an interview with Michael Crichton on the CBS morning show about his new novel Prey and absorbed only that it was about nanotechnology. I saw the book at the airport bookstore and decided to pick it up. I often find his setups more compelling than his resolutions, I like the techno- more than the -thriller. Turns out Prey is about the convergence of nanotechnology, emergent computation and biology. Emergent behavior and evolutionary computation have been themes of my work for the last 15 years so I was immediately sucked in. I got to page 125 and found a description of my boids three-rule model of bird flocking. Later (on page 216) a group of technicians find themselves being stalked as prey by an artificial life form. The protagonist decides they can best avoid attack if they form a flock. He calls out "Reynolds rules!" Henceforth that will be my slogan.

Xbox news: in the view of many of us Microsoft-haters, they attained dominance of the desktop not by technical excellence or innovation, but by nefarious, perhaps illegal, manipulation of the market. It is gratifying then to note that in a marketplace not under their control, such as the game console world, Microsoft's Xbox is a distant third place also-ran. For some time there has been a $200,000 prize offered to anyone who could run unsigned code on an Xbox. Last week it was revealed that the donor of the prize is Michael Robertson CEO of For more about Xbox and Linux, see this and this from Politech.

I'm not shy about complaining when Microsoft uses its desktop monopoly to illegally leverage into other markets, or uses its deep pockets to undercut software prices and so drive the competition out of business. But the MPEG-4 pot is calling the WMP9 kettle black. MPEG-4 is not an "open standard" in the typical meaning of the term, since users must pay a license fee. The MPEG-LA almost caused Apple to drop QuickTime 5 support of MPEG-4 because of its original greedy "the sky is the limit" licensing terms, which it was forced to cap.

Unfortunately I missed the presentation given last week at Stanford about it, but the Jhai Foundation is doing some amazingly innovative work in rural Laos, setting up pedal-powered computers with wireless networks to establish VoIP phone service and other remote information services.

Technobits: After laboring in stealth mode for four years, There has gone public beta with their virtual social universe --- MS bids for lucrative wristwatch, fridge magnet markets --- Microsoft eBook Reader format cracked --- "...Dictionary attacks are not new, and many e-mail servers are protected against them, but Hotmail and MSN servers are not..." --- Lexmark doesn't like competition, so sues under the DMCA --- Declan McCullagh, the TSA, and the DMCA --- DVD-Cracking Teen Acquitted --- IAO site continues to shrink --- Why RIAA Keeps Getting Hacked (answer: cluelessness, for more evidence see this) --- Pathe newsreels: A Peek at History, Piracy-Free --- Handmade Pinhole Paper Cameras --- The 3D gadget printer.

Web Site of the Week

1660 Diary Becomes 2003 Blog, How Radio Work(Worked), Fresh Firesign

Dan Grobstein found a reference on Slashdot to The Diary of Samuel Pepys, a noble effort to convert the great diarist's work into a more accessible modern format.

If you share my interest in Golden Age Radio to any significant extent, Kevin Mostyn's recommendation of these industrial films about the medium will thrill you as they thrilled me.

And speaking of sharing both my predilections and my excitement, allow me to be among the first to tell you that the Firesign Theater is back on NPR. Back, I say, because I am among the hardy handful who own the audio cassette version of the Campoon Chronicles, their hilarious coverage of the 1980 presidential campaign. Check out their "Night Before Christmas," for example, aired Christmas Eve. Thank you, Daniel Dern.



A big tip of the PSACOT hat to anyone who can tell me who actually wrote this, for money, for what media outlet, in the first place. I have scoured the Internet (well, OK, I did a Google search) and the best I can tell you is that more people point to this version than any other (that's what being the first site listed in a Google search means). It would probably require a Nexus/Lexus search, which I am too cheap to do. To salve my conscience, I only reprint part of it here.

Subject: Interview with Frank Lingua, Pres/CEO of Dissembling Associates

Frank Lingua, president and CEO of Dissembling Associates, is the nation's leading purveyor of buzzwords, catch phrases, and clichés for people too busy to speak in plain English. "Business Finance" Contributing editor Dan Danbom interviewed Lingua in his New York City office.

Danbom: Is being a cliché expert a full-time job?

Lingua: Bottom line is I have a full plate 24/7.

D: Is it hard to keep up with the seemingly endless supply of clichés that spew from business?

L: Some days, I don't have the bandwidth. It's like drinking from a fire hydrant.

D: So it's difficult?

L: Harder than nailing Jell-O to the wall.



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

OK, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly. Sure. I mean, I saw both the original Chicago on Broadway in 1975 with Chita Rivera and the stripped-down revival a couple of years ago with Bebe Neuwirth, and they were both better, but Zeta-Jones is good. And Renée Zellweger as Roxie Hart; that was inspired casting. Who knew she could sing and dance? But Richard Gere as a singing, dancing--tap dancing even--Billy Flynn? Yet it works. He's getting old enough to play these parts. And, in fact, the man can dance. We knew he could act. On top of his terpsichorean skills he can also play comedy--almost (the best comedy is played straight).

OK, all the Kander and Ebb music is there, without the artifice of the stage version--which is replaced with the artifice of the movie version. I loved movie musicals, even the recent ones that were considered failures. As for the successes, Moulin Rouge actually gave me a headache during the first 10 minutes, before the love-song medley won me over. Is the movie musical about to stage a comeback as a result of the movie version of Chicago, in which most of the musical numbers take place inside Roxie Hart's head? If 1979's All That Jazz couldn't revive the genre, I don't think this movie will, anymore than Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven brought back the western. Sorry, musical lovers. The most we can hope for is an occasional bold experiment. The days of regular movie musicals are gone.

Rated PG-13 for sexual content and dialogue, violence and thematic elements, but go ahead and take the whole family if they like singing and dancing. I did.

Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (a second opinion)

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

As is my wont, I bitched about what I considered the excessive length of Lord Of The Rings. Since I seldom receive thoughtful feedback on my movie commentaries, I decided to print the entire feedback I received from my college buddy Joe Edwards. I subscribe to much of what he says, and find his analysis cogent. Too late, of course, and unheedable, but nevertheless cogent.

Your comments about LOTR II created a bit of conflict for me. I generally agree that movies should be shorter rather than longer, but LOTR was my antidote to law school, and I read it so many times I knew it almost by heart.

LOTR I was not only a good movie, but it was very faithful to the books. LOTR II was a better movie but much less faithful. There was no excuse for what was done to the Ents and the omission of Fangorn's role at Helm's Deep was unnecessary abuse. I disagree that Helm's Deep was a secondary activity, and overall, as a fan of the books, I think the movie is much too short! Of course at three hours it is too long to watch!

The mistake, I think, was to believe that three books meant three movies. If only the moviemakers had the faith in their vision and commercial prospects, they could have done better with 3 or perhaps even 4 movies to this point rather than just two. They could have made more money, been more faithful to the books, and kept us all enthralled with 5 or 6 movies coming out one every six months instead of just three coming one per year.



Dan Grobstein checks in, copiously. Two from the National Review Online (I normally don't cotton much to NR--too right wing for me--but even a blind pig finds a truffle now and then): Saudis Behaving Badly and (hold my nose) The GOP's Race Problem... by that blustery hypocrite Willam J. Bennett. Bill's problem is either that he can't tell the truth to power or has been lying to himself so long that he no longer recognizes the truth. Wake up and smell the coffee Bill: the southern GOP membership over age 50 are almost entirely comprised of segregationists invited into the party by Dick Nixon's nudge and wink routine, and they agree with Trent (even if most of them are too smart to say it in public): we wouldn't have had these problems if only we'd elected Strom back in 1948. Yes, these people are former Democrats; the GOP is welcome to them.

Also from Dan: In U.S., Terrorism's Peril Undiminished, A Lost Eloquence (about memorizing poems in school), '97 Enron tape parallels scandal, To Study Disease, Britain Plans a Genetic Census, Molly Ivins thoughts for the new year (I love Molly Ivins), and a space quiz.

Craig Reynolds notes:

Here we are, on the verge of igniting World War III fighting bin Laden and Hussein, both of whom were brought to their current state of threat by the previous Bush administration (according to the Washington Post: U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup).

He also notes that Professor Poopypants has a way of converting your name into a silly name. I, for example, am Doofus Pizzabuns. And he wants us to know that Lott and Frist have decided the goodies buried in the Homeland Security bill are too blatant, so they're coming out.

Daniel Dern stuff: Jar-Jar and LOTR parody, a cautionary tale about toy technology.

Kevin Sullivan stuff from MSNBC: The Speed of Gravity, Space Technologies

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