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: February 3, 2003

February 3, 2003 Vol. 5, No.5

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Groundhog Day
  • First Week In Middle School
  • Nice To Be Remembered

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • Self-Esteem Central, Bush Salad


  • Shaggy Rooster Story


  • Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
  • Narc


  • Grobstein Finds Parody, Dalton Finds Anti-War Info

General News

Groundhog Day (The Movie) and Buddhism

Welcome to another perennial item. I am going to run this one every year in conjunction with Groundhog Day, since the Bill Murray movie of the same name is my favorite movie of all times.

I went to a showing of Groundhog Day sponsored by the San Francisco Zen Center on Friday, Aug. 10, 2001, held in the Trustees' Auditorium of the Asian Art Museum in Golden Gate Park (relocating in October 2002 to the old SF Main library in the civic center).

I have so much to say about this exciting, exhilarating, eye-opening experience that Rae, my younger daughter, convinced me to put it into a separate document, which I am calling Groundhog Day The Movie, Buddhism and Me. Judging from a quick Google search of the Internet, the connection between this movie and Buddhism is not particularly profound, but it was news to me, and the nuances were explored in a particularly exciting fashion during this presentation. Click over to the other page for my take on the movie and this event. You'll also find links and meta links which, if I do say so myself, are so brilliant in their scope that they will soon sweep all the other GHD links pages off the map. Please click over and look.

Tom Armstrong, who wrote two very well-received articles on this subject which are now no longer available on the Internet assures me that he will get me copies of his review and his article "The Ned Ryerson Conundrum." I will post them as soon as possible. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, no further news on the two new pictures by GHD writer Danny Rubin:

Variety July 11, 2001: Revolution Studios has picked up a pitch called "The Hanging Tale" from scribe Danny Rubin ("Groundhog Day") for low six figures to be produced with Jim Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment.

I won't of course, print the entire Variety article, but I did find a reference to it which adds another tantalizing detail:

The film, THE HANGING TALE, is described as being a PRINCESS BRIDE-esque tale about an Old West cowboy who spins yarns about his search for Spanish treasures before his scheduled public hanging.

The other film in the works:

Variety, July 19, 2001: Propaganda Films has optioned the romantic comedy spec "Martian Time" from "Groundhog Day" scribe Danny Rubin.

Go Danny!

First Week In Middle School

This was my first week student teaching social studies at the local middle school; my second placement, required before I can obtain my teaching credential. Social studies is SOOO different than English, my first placement. For one thing, there's a textbook, which gives you a lot of basic structure that English, as taught around here, lacks. That's a good thing and a bad thing. Bad because it limits your creativity, good because on a bad day, you can just go in and teach the book and still feel like you're making progress.

And is middle school different from high school? You might not think there's much difference between 13 years olds and 16 years olds. You'd be wrong. It's night and day, folks, I'm here to tell you. In middle school, they're still kids. In high school, they're really young adults.

Interestingly, the faculties are different too. Maybe it's whom they teach, maybe it's how hard they have to work, maybe it's the smaller size of the middle school. But while I had half-a-dozen friends and acquaintances on the high school staff, the middle school staff has embraced me like a long-lost brother. Frequently, they ask, "how are you doing," in a way that goes beyond "hi, how are you." The principal calls the faculty a family, and in many ways, that seems to be what they are.

Now the question is, "can I teach middle-school students?" I am trying to stay in the now and keep my head in the game, but when I run into middle school English teachers, our conversation turns to my version of the Holy Grail or the Silver Bullet--how can you teach students to write? As a more-experienced teacher once said to me, "Sure, after 30 years as a journalist you can write. Can you teach them to write?" I still can't answer that question yes, but someday I'd like to give that answer.

Nice To Be Remembered

In About Schmidt there's a poignant scene when Jack Nicholson returns to the company he just retired from and finds they've moved on, don't need his help and (he discovers by looking through the grate in the garage) are dumping his files.

That scene resonated with me (although I have not set foot on the old premises since the day I left), because my old firm hasn't had anything to say or any questions to ask since the day it laid me off (after 22 years) 18 months ago. That's how these things go, and of course you don't want to scare the people who stay by reminding them (through contact with "the departed") of their corporate mortality. And it's OK, really, because I moved on and started taking my teaching credential courses, slated for completion this April. I used to wonder what I'd do if I was asked back. I've been spared that dilemma; it hasn't happened.

I have kept in touch with a handful of the folks I left behind (one of whom has also now left). All of my former colleagues have been quite nice, and a couple of them, who consider me a mentor or a good boss, are so nice it is downright flattering. I'm trying hard to live in the future, not the past. I had a great job, and the last five years were spent in the position of my dreams. Yes, corporate only paid me half the severance I was expecting, but wonderful severance (as opposed to mind-boggling severance) is still better so much better than no severance at all.

Then, out of the blue, a manager I'd known for years (we'd had a tiff, then made up--you can do that over 22 years) got in touch with me last week. He asked me for an e-mail briefing on an issue I'd researched a half dozen times. I'll spare you the details; he's one of a handful of people on the planet who'd care about the answer. But I'll say this: no matter how far you move on, it is nice to be reminded that you once had a job you knew well, and that you possess expertise that is difficult (never impossible--sometimes expensive, but never impossible) to replace.

Speaking of nice, he was nice enough to ask about this column. He asked to be put on the notification list. He might even be reading this item.

Unlike Schmidt in About Schmidt, my memory lives on and my contribution was neither futile nor forgotten.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds surfs the net for you. But first, a quick follow-up; last week Craig mentioned Astroturfing; the creation of fake grass-roots feedback to elected officials. David Strom took up the issue in his newsletter in an article entitled Beware of Op-ed Astroturf campaigns. We now return you to our regularly scheduled Technobriefs.

On January 25th, as I was finishing last week's Technobriefs, the Slammer (MS-SQL Server) worm attack was in full force. Oh well, yet another operational and security disaster which exploited flaws in Microsoft products. So what else is new? Things got much more interesting as word spread that one of the victims of the attack was Microsoft's Redmond campus. See reports from, CNN and AP. Microsoft's vulnerable unpatched SQL servers prompted John Schwartz to write in the NYT: "...The paradox was not lost on computer security experts. 'Microsoft has been blaming the users, saying they have to keep their patches up to date,' said Bruce Schneier...of Counterpane Internet Security... 'On the other hand, their own actions demonstrate how unrealistic that position is.' "

A week ago the Senate said no to the Bush administration's intrusive plan for data-mining called TIA. A few days later in his State of the Union address, President Bush announced a new slightly-less-intrusive data-mining plan called TTIC. Assuming this plan gets closer to reality than the previous one, what are the chances that its scope (currently limited to "suspected terrorists") will expand to include (as TIA did) all residents of the US? Maybe we could borrow George Radwanski, Canada's clueful Privacy Commissioner. See the first few paragraphs of his report to Parliament.

Edinburgh law professor Andrés Guadamuz González wrote a thoughtful paper called Trouble with Prime Numbers: DeCSS, DVD and the Protection of Proprietary Encryption Tools about legal, technological and mathematical issues relating to accessing data on DVDs. What a sad state we have come to when watching a movie on lawfully purchased DVD can become a Federal crime if you happen to use "unsanctioned" software to view it.

Robert X. Cringely explains how SBC came to own a bogus patent on a basic web page design concept and is beginning to request licensing fees from "infringing" web sites, particularly small, poorly funded, lawyer-less ones. Cringely requests his readers to submit examples of prior art to refute the patent. In this case, that would be web sites existing before 1996 which contain fixed "buttons" as part of the common page layout. One Slashdot reader suggested Jakob Nielsen's Report From a 1994 Web Usability Study as a source for prior art.

As mentioned here last week, Apple's decision to base its Safari web browser on KHTML was seen as a blow to Mozilla, the dominate Open Source browser. Now reports that the open source Opera browser may be driven off the Mac Platform by Safari.

Technobits: jail time for song downloads? --- Military Faces Bandwidth Crunch --- spam is conduct, not speech --- more on Astroturfing from NYT --- an article about web-minimalist undesign--- How to be a Programmer --- --- motorwheels, monowheels --- teleportation update.

Web Site of the Week

Self-Esteem Central, Bush Salad

Kent Peterman has discovered what computers and the Internet are really good for: building self-esteem. Some people consider links from friends to be spam. I consider them to be eye-opening reminders of just how really huge, how mind-numbingly gigantic, the Internet really is. Thanks Kent!

Also, Funny Times has a recipe for George W.'s Caesar Salad that is pretty amusing. Take 1 rogue head of a foreign state, add 20 Chickenhawks...


Shaggy Rooster Story

A farmer goes out one day and buys a brand new stud rooster for his chicken coop. The new rooster struts over to the old rooster and says, "OK old fart, time for you to retire." The old rooster replies, "Come on, surely you cannot handle ALL of these chickens. Look what it has done to me. Can't you just let me have the two old hens over in the corner." The young rooster says, "Beat it: You are washed up and I am taking over."

The old rooster says, "I tell you what, young stud. I will race you around the farmhouse. Whoever wins gets the exclusive domain over the entire chicken coop." The young rooster laughs. "You know you don't stand a chance old man. So, just to be fair I will give you a head start." The old rooster takes off running.

About 15 seconds later the young rooster takes off running after him. They round the front porch of the farmhouse and the young rooster has closed the gap. He is already about 5 inches behind the old rooster and gaining fast.

The farmer, meanwhile, is sitting in his usual spot on the front porch when he sees the roosters running by. He grabs his shotgun and - BOOM - He blows the young rooster to bits.

The farmer sadly shakes his head and says, "Dammit... third gay rooster I bought this month." Moral of this story.... Don't mess with the OLD FARTS - age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill!


Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

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

According to the Internet Movie Database summary of film criticism, this film got decidedly mixed reviews. I am not surprised. It is a weird little pastiche with a first-time directory and another outstandingly bizarre script from Charlie "Being John Malkovich" Kaufman. I can see why some people wonder if George Clooney directed all of it--the movie seens awfully accomplished for a first effort. Kudos are deserved all around.

Apparently, Johnny Depp, Mike Myers, Ben Stiller and John Cusack were all under consideration at one time or another for the role of Barris, a man who clearly has a very rich fantasy life (if he was a CIA agent, then my mother's college buddy was and so was my college buddy). Sam Rockwell ended up with this off-beat role, and he took it to town. Drew Barrymore turns in what, for her, is a restrained performance, and Julia Roberts and George Clooney both have suporting actor roles that do just what they're supposed to: support.

In the first 20 minutes, you think you've wandered into a porno flick, with all the F-words and sheet rattling. But once Clooney and Kaufman clear that out of their systems, they settle down to make an entertaining, albeit eccentric and unusual light comedy biopic with overtones of violence and innuendo. This film is clearly going to polarize audiences just as it did reviewers. No telling how it will do at the box office or with Oscar. I wouldn't take anyone below college age to see it. Probably not much of a date picture, unless dissecting the unusual after watching it is your idea of a fun date. If it is--knock yourself out!


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

Thank you Neal Vitale, for putting this movie on my radar. I had no intention of seeing it until you suggested it.

Incredibly profane. Incredibly violent. Incredibly well-acted. Incredibly well-written. A real downer, about the slippery nature of reality, morality, ethics, life and death, murder, redemption and justice. All set in Detroit. If there were any justice in this world, Ray Liotta and Jason Patric would be going home with a little golden eunuch that gets awarded each spring.

Joe Carnahan, whose previous credits are a bunch of films I never heard of, wrote and directed this tour-de-force about a busted cop brought back to help break the case of a murdered cop. There is no plot in the world more trite than the good cop/bad cop team, but Carnahan manages to breath new life into the cliché. This is a person with a future as a writer and a director both. Keep an eye out for his work. And Ray Liotta, he of the up and down career: he's up, baby.

Best of all, a nice sleek 102 minutes. Discipline! Proper length!

Rated R for strong brutal violence, drug content and pervasive language. And that's putting it mildly. Adults only please, and don't expect a real happy ending.


Grobstein Finds Parody, Dalton Finds Anti-War Info

Dab Grobstein forwarded me an email: It was bound to happen: Bush-Iraq parody of Nigerian spam scam. This is just the first site on Google I found that has the full text.

Richard Dalton passed this along; it's a good idea. I called, to say I opposed war.

The president has said that he wants to know what the American people are thinking about the proposed War in Iraq. By all means, let's let him know. Call the White House and give your opinion, from 9-5 EST., Monday through Friday. The correct line is 202-456-1111. A machine will detain you for a moment and then a pleasant live operator will thank you for saying "I oppose" or "I approve." It will only take minutes. Note that the weekends are closed for calls.

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