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 24, 2003

February 24, 2003 Vol. 5, No.8

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Give Peace A Chance
  • Understanding Bush

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • Spiderman Will Make You Gay, Peanut Butter Jelly Time, Spacewander


  • Administratium/Managementium by William DeBuvitz: The Author Revealed!


  • Lost In La Mancha
  • He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not


  • Reynolds, Grobstein, Yulke and Hanzel Plus Rumsfeld Clarifies

General News

Give Peace A Chance

In general, I don't think much of Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. He grabs all the pork he can, and he started his career as a segregationist. Nevertheless, even a blind pig can find truffles. If you haven't seen his speech to the Senate in opposition to the rush to war, then please read: Reckless Administration May Reap Disastrous Consequences. Thanks to Craig Reynolds.

Byrd is frequently described as a jealous protector of the prerogatives of the U.S. Senate. That he is. Frequently, that's a code phrase for obstructionism. And I suppose George Bush thinks Byrd is being an obstructionist now. Maybe so--but in a good way.

Understanding Bush

Kevin Phillips of the LA Times (my mother and I spotted it in the Seattle Times) has said all that needs to be said about President' Bush's economic policies.

Bushonomics: One family's lifelong legacy to America's investment class

For those who ever believed in it, Washington "compassionate conservatism" just took off its mask. Federal deficits are soaring. State finances are sinking into their biggest crisis since the Great Depression. So, what does the Bush White House propose?

No serious help for the states. Nor is there relief from payroll taxes to encourage job creation....

The predominant history of the Bush family for 100 years has been to work in the investment business (sometimes with an oil tilt); interpret the economy through the lens of investment; and tailor economic policies to favor friends, neighbors and relatives in the investment business....

... both George H.W. and George W. Bush have been in the kind of oil business that is largely driven by tax shelters and financing from friends and relatives.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds surfs the net for you.

Crypto: Citibank may be using the courts to gag academic cryptography researchers who discovered "really horrendous vulnerabilities" in the crypto used to secure ATM PINs. Ross Anderson, a University of Cambridge researcher says: "Our courts and regulators should make the banks fix their systems, rather than just lying about security and dumping the costs on the customers." In other crypto news: Swiss researchers have found a vulnerability in some implementations of SSL, a basic component of secure web transactions. See more at BBC, Reuters and Slashdot. Meanwhile 8 million credit card accounts were exposed by a cracker.

Patriot II / DSEA: the disturbing sequel to the Patriot Act is being drafted, perhaps to be introduced in congress during the upcoming war with Iraq. Read this careful analysis by FindLaw's Anita Ramasastry. See also coverage by and CBS. Orin Kerr thinks "the proposed crime of 'Unlawful Use of Encryption' is all bark and no bite."

Redmond: good news, bad news. Microsoft is being soundly criticized on Wall Street for its lack of innovation and difficulty competing with free Open Source software. On the other hand, threedegrees their new kid-oriented "anti-productivity tool," seems to be getting rave reviews all around.

Spam, spam, spam, spam: James Gleick's NYT piece Tangled Up in Spam examines the difficulties of controlling this vexation. Mike Masnick describes getting spam-tangled in My Short Life As An Unintentional Spammer. Then there was the spectacle of SpamArrest, a spam filtering service, who decided to advertise by--you guessed it--spamming. First they claimed they had done nothing wrong, were widely vilified, then eventually "apologized".

Online culture: Shirky wrote an essay on the non-homogeneity of blog influence: Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality. This tool: Top 100 Interesting Newcomers helps you find new bloggers that seem to be raising stars (the "off-white" of fame's titanium). We must keep up appearances: The Realities of Online Reputation Management.

Paul Graham wrote a long, impassioned and long discussion of being a nerdy social outcast in high school: Why Nerds are Unpopular. Wow: been there, done that! From the popularity of this item at Daypop Top 40 and other hang-outs of us nerds and former nerds, it really struck a chord. Fortunately I happened to live during the first period in human history when nerds and geeks were seen as valuable, to build the computer and networks of today's information society. In Graham's follow-up I think he may be too quick to dismiss the link between the nerd/geek personality and Autism Spectrum Disorders. I suspect all us geeks lie somewhere along that spectrum.

Technobits: Google acquires pioneering blog-infrastructure provider Pyra Labs: NYT, Wired --- House Approves Anti-Telemarketing Bill: The National "Do Not Call" Registry --- NewsMonster is a Mozilla-based news aggregator and RSS client --- inspired by Safari: Nice titles (requires relatively hip browser) --- smart bra --- fun balls-on-springs toy/art thing, its source code and more --- The Software Developer as Movie Icon --- pictures of retro-future spacecraft from sci-fi movies and TV --- Nigerian scam reply generator (push the Generate button).

Web Site of the Week

Spiderman Will Make You Gay

Too silly for very many words: my daughter Marlow says the Spiderman Will May You Gay site is hot among college students. She also sends along Peanut Butter Jelly Time. More proof, if more was needed, that some people have way too much time on their hands.

John Ruley found SpaceWander, a Flash presentation that's worth 10 minutes.


Administratium/Managementium by William DeBuvitz: The Author Revealed!

How many times have you seen variations of this? I mean, it's still funny, of course, but wouldn't you like to know who wrote it? There are more than 2,000 sites on the web that list it "author unknown," or just don't say anything about authorship.

A major research institution has recently announced the discovery of the heaviest chemical element yet known to science. The new element has been tentatively named "Managementium." Managementium has 1 neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 11 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.

Since managementium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected as it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of managementium causes one reaction to take over 4 days to complete when it would normally take less than a second.

Managementium has a normal half-life of 3 years; it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, managementium's mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause some morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes. This characteristic of moron-promotion leads some scientists to speculate that managementium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as "Critical Morass." You will know it when you see it.

It is also known as Administratium. Research at other laboratories indicates that Administratium occurs naturally in the atmosphere. It tends to concentrate at certain points, such as governmental agencies, corporations, colleges, and universities.

Scientists point out that Administratium is know to be toxic at any level of concentration and can easily destroy any productive reaction if it is allowed to accumulate. Attempts are being made to determine how Administration can be controlled to prevent irreversible damage, but results to date are not promising.

Well, if you search the Internet long enough you can find THE ACTUAL AUTHOR

I thought you might like to know who the original author of the Administratium story is. I originally came up with the idea while teaching physics at a county college in New Jersey (USA) in April of 1988 and I submitted it to THE PHYSICS TEACHER magazine. They published it in their January 1989 issue (P.47). I was concerned that I might embarrass the college I was teaching at, so I asked that my name be omitted. Apparently, this gave a lot of people the right to copy it, take credit for it, and even copyright it. I have dated records showing that I originated it and I assume THE PHYSICS TEACHER has records also, but I don't think this is of any importance after 12 years and over 2,000 copies on the web. I just thought you might like to know who wrote the original story.

Yours truly, William DeBuvitz


Lost In La Mancha

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

If you like Terry "Brazil, Fisher King, 12 Monkeys, Monty Python" Gilliam, see this film. If you like Don Quixote, see this film. If you like the French actor Jean Rochefort, see this film. If the process of movie making fascinates you, see this film. If you enjoy train wrecks and you rubberneck auto accidents on the freeway, see this film. If you find Schadenfreude to be an indispensable emotion, see this film.

It is a first-rate documentary film about probably the most jinxed $30 million movie shoot since Cleopatra or Apocolypse Now. The difference being, of course, that those films got made. They got made because they were Hollywood films and the directors thought making some kind of film was more important than just making the film in their head. Gilliam is an artist, and in this case, an artist with European money behind him. European money is smaller and more skittish than great big, robust American money. So when the weather and the stars went bad on poor Terry, the plug was pulled. Is there a Don Quixote curse? First Orson Welles, then Terry Gilliam? Well, maybe.

Rated R for a number of uses of the F word. Strictly for the art house crowd.

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

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

Talk about an Art House movie. If you live outside of New York, LA or San Francisco you're probably going to have to wait to see this one on Bravo or Cinemax. It is a subtitled French effort, and its as weird as all get out. If you loved Audrey Tautou in Amelie, you'll be baffled by here in this film. Same wide-eyed innocence (same remarkable large black eyes), but harnessed, this time, into the service of erotomaniac obsession. First, we see the film from her point of view. Then we see the film from the point of view of the doctor she's stalking. Then we are treated to a nasty little coda. This film is amusing in places and well-acted throughout, with fiendishly clever writing and falling-in-love-with Bordeaux cinematography. But it is weird, weird, weird. I wouldn't call it entertaining. Disturbing, yes, possibly thought provoking (everything is always about your point of view, isn't it?) but not particularly entertaining. European censors rate it the equivalent of PG13, and I guess that's right: no sex, no swearing, no breasts. Wow, when's the last time you could say that about a French film?


Reynolds, Grobstein, Yulke and Hanzel Plus Rumsfeld Clarifies

I've seen and heard about this in several places, but Craig Reynolds is the first person to send me a link: Liberal Radio Is Planned by Rich Group of Democrats. One of their first hosts may be an old favorite of mine, Harvard-educated (although I try not to hold that against him) Al Franken.

Dan Grobstein thinks Paul Krugman may be right in the New York Times when he says our disputes with Europe stem from the very different slant on the news we get here. Also in the Times: Mr. Bush's Liberal Problem, as well as The Trouble With Corporate Radio: The Day the Protest Music Died. If you're not angry about the fact that the FCC has rolled over and played dead as a handful of companies have snapped up virtually all of America's radio stations, you should be. Over at MSNBC, Dan found blogger Eric Alterman asking, Will History Forgive George Bush? Dan and I agree Molly Ivins is the Cat's Meow: read The Salon Interview: Molly Ivins. (Salon now requires registration). In the Los Angeles Times he found a Timely Feat of Science, allowing us to look back at the dawn of time.

Also from Dan: apropos of a comment last week about SecDef Donald Rumsfeld disparaging draftees, Rumsfeld has issued a clarification. I'd like to believe he means what he says now, and not what he was interpreted to have meant earlier, but his acquaintance with the truth has always struck me as casual at best, so I'm just not sure what to believe. Still, he deserves a chance to explain himself. He just got that chance.

Not everyone agrees he deserve the chance, however; I note that when you make it to the majors you usually get one swing at each pitch. True enough, Rumsfeld did say "over any sustained period of time." Of course, for those killed in action the period of time from their enlistment date to the end of their military career is the only time they had.

My college buddy Sandra Yulke sends this note along:

Just wanted you to know that Mon, February 24, PBS will air a show on "The American Experience" entitled "The Pill". Katherine Dexter McCormick '04, the MIT alumna on whom I have been doing research is featured. There are inaccuracies on the Web page (she was by no means the 2nd woman to receive a science degree from MIT) and her role is not well described. But it is an important topic, and recognition of her has been a long time in coming. I hope you will be able to watch it, and see just one aspect of her amazing life.

Another college chum, John Hanzel, found the U.S. Government's official Duct Tape and Plastic Sheeting site. Just between us, I wish they'd work half as hard on peace and anti-terrorism as they do on scaring us with pointless and largely useless preparations.

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