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
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P.S. A Column On Things: May 12, 2003

May 12, 2003 Vol. 5, No.20

Table of Contents:

General News

  • George Morrow Dies
  • Dag Nabbies and Crikies
  • Political Thoughts

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • War Commentary, Honda Ad


  • The Top 16 Things That Can Get a Gal Banned From the Women's Union
  • The Top 15 Other Wacky Changes Proposed by PETA


  • X2: X-Men United
  • The Dancer Upstairs


  • Reynolds On Bad Policy, Grobstein on Top Gun Bush, Jayson Blair's Record

General News

George Morrow

Of all the computer industry pioneers I have known personally over the years, two of my favorites were people who co-hosted the Computer Chronicles, a public television program I appeared on regularly during the period 1986-1992. One of them was Gary Kildall, creator of the CP/M operating system, who died in 1994 (at age 52) after an accident. The other was George Morrow, of Morrow Design. He died last week at the age of 69, after years of declining health. For the last six years, we had lunch together quarterly, usually near his warehouse in Hayward. I made a point of staying in regular touch with George and several other retired friends and colleagues from the computer business--just as I hope my friends will stay in touch with me when I retire.

I can't add much to the obituary from the New York Times (it called him a computer visionary) that formed the basis for the Associated Press obituary that most newspapers used. (Gee, I hope I get a Times obit when I die. Fat chance). George was an intelligent, sweet, gentle soul, who, like Kildall, managed his life after financial reversal with equanimity. Kildall lost out to Microsoft when it came to supplying DOS to IBM. George's Morrow Design, a leading PC vendor in the pre-IBM PC days, was on the verge of going public when the late (he died in March 2003 at the age of 64) Adam Osborne's Osborne Computer Co. sank under the weight of Adam's mismanagement, destroying the marketability of PC vendor stock just long enough to prevent George from cashing in. Although he went from a mansion in Hillsboro to an apartment in San Mateo and faced more than a decade of health problems, George never lost his joie de vivre. He worked hard at his hobby/second career/obsession, digitally remastering some of his 70,000 78 rpm jazz records and reissuing them. He also taught electronics for several terms at San Jose State in recent years--but didn't care much for being a college professor. Before his health took at turn for the worse last year, he was working on the Ph.D. he never finished.

I enjoyed every one of the many hours I spent with George, especially the one-on-one time in recent years. He was a polymath, a man of strong opinions, and a joy. A light has gone out in the world with his departure from it. I shall miss him, as will all those who knew him, whether in person, from television, from his "Quotations from Chairman Morrow," or from the computer industry. I am proud to call him friend.

Dag Nabbies and Crikies

On a much lighter note, as a teacher, I have to be prepared with exclamations that are not indecent. For some time, I have been using a variation of the old Western movie standby, Dag nab it; I don't know how that became "dag nabbies," but I've used it some--at the risk of really irritating my wife. Also creeping into my vocabulary is the Crocodile Hunter's "crikies."

Why tell you this? Because I thought you'd want to know.

Political Thoughts

The rising risk of deflation so frightens the Federal Reserve that Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan can't even bear to say the word.

This past week, The Federal Open Market Committee left the benchmark fed funds rate unchanged. Reason: The Fed said it was worried about "the probability of an unwelcome substantial fall in inflation."

The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and virtually every major media outlet provided the translation: What the Fed's really talking about, they said, is the D-word -- DEFLATION!

Deflation is actually good news -- for anyone who's ready for it -- with no debt, a guaranteed income, and, ideally a stash of cash. The more prices fall, the more your money can buy.

But, alas, very few people or companies can boast being deflation-ready! Quite to the contrary ...

So many companies are so deep in debt, a new bout of deflation would cause another string of bankruptcies.

So many local and state governments are so deep into red ink, a new bout of deflation could cause massive shutdowns in their essential services.

So many individual households are so mired in credit cards and second mortgages, deflation could tear through their finances like a rip tide.

Worst of all, deflation feeds on deflation. As prices decline, it triggers a chain reaction: Corporate revenues shrink ... the burden of debts rise ... businesses stop spending and investing ... and tax revenues get wiped out.

This isn't theoretical -- it's exactly what's been going on in Japan for the last 13 years! Consumer prices are down over 4 years straight. Average land prices nationwide fell 6.4% over the past years -- the largest yearly drop since 1993 -- and it marked the twelfth consecutive year of decline. Residential land prices are at levels last seen in 1987, and commercial land prices hit 1979 levels.

That's why the Japanese economy has flopped in and out of recession three times in the last decade ... and why Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 Index has declined for 13 years.

Of course, there are differences between America and Japan -- the US isn't in the vice grip of deflation -- yet. But the danger is rising. While prices are up for things like health insurance, in March, the most recent month for which data are available, clothing, personal computers and phone service costs dropped.

Now, two factors could cause deflation to accelerate:


Unemployment is at 6% and poised to go higher. A stunning 525,000 jobs disappeared in the past three months, according to the recent payroll survey. And another report from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas shows that employers planned over 146,000 layoffs in April on top of more than 85,000 job cuts in March.

Since most of those layoffs have yet to hit the economy, that should send the unemployment rate higher.

Workers are not just losing jobs hand over fist -- they're also having a terrible time getting back to work. The average length of unemployment is almost 20 weeks, the longest in nearly a decade!


Crude oil prices plunged in the wake of the Iraq war. Gas prices dropped 6.44 cents per gallon on average over the past two weeks.

Energy costs are a big part of producer prices -- as those costs fall, producers struggling to draw customers in a weak economy will pass that cost savings along. In order to compete, other producers will have to match the price cuts.

Meanwhile, take a look at these other developments in the economy ...

Retail sales are crumbling. At first glance, monthly chain store sales growth is at its highest level since October. But take a closer look -- adjust the numbers for the Easter holiday -- and you'll see that chain store sales grew slower in April than in March. Is there really such a thing as a jobless recovery?

IPOs are vanishing! At the zenith of the tech bubble in 2000, 140 companies went public. In 2001, just 21 came to market. In 2002 and 2003, respectively, a measly 17 and five companies went public. For investment banks, the deal loss could easily amount to billions ... and the pain is far from over. Let's all cry for the investment bankers and securities broker/dealers who defrauded their customers of about $2 trillion and are still laughing all the way to their banks, yachts, and vacation homes after paying a parking ticket of $1.4 billion which caused less pain than the ceremonial slap on the wrist with a wet noodle.

The services sector picked up a bit -- but it's still dismal. The Institute for Supply Management's services index -- covering retail, financial services, construction, and other non-manufacturing businesses -- rose to 50.7 in April, up from 47.9 in March. But this is not the big post-war boom that the market was expecting although it may be the start of a recovery.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds surfs the net for you.

Sometimes when I write this column, the bits and pieces I've collected over the week seems to just fall into connected themes. This week I must be short on cohesion.

OK, there were a pair of times on nanotech that caught my eye: that the House approved $2.4 billion for nanotech research and this potentially important fabrication advance: Nanoscale Networks: Superlong nanotubes can form a grid. And I might toss in one of those only-Craig-could-think-this-was-relevant asides to say that my favorite nanotech-themed novel was Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age, although Crichton's Prey get points for mentioning me.

And yes, there were two AI-ish items: one about autonomous motor vehicles and the DARPA Grand Challenge, and another about avoiding artificial stupidity in the real world.

Other than that, it seems like a just bunch of unconnected Technobits: Fun with Fingerprint Readers, research paper: Impact of Artificial "Gummy" Fingers on Fingerprint Systems --- Daniel C. Dennett on freedom and free will in a deterministic world --- that pedal-powered wireless network for rural Laos is behind schedule but the villagers aren't annoyed: barbeque buffalo and beer for everyone! --- Interplanetary Internet --- massively parallel surveillance of sensitive locations --- Paul Graham compares programmers and painters --- Computer circuits made of genes may soon program bacteria --- Superformula redux --- anti-spam email tax --- EarthLink Wins $16 Mln Suit Against E-Mail Spammer --- The Register portrays the RIAA as bomber --- iPod used as backup for FM radio station, and iPod and an amp was the "sound system" at my last birthday party. --- the summary at Slashdot was good: "telemarketer calls victim in wee hours. Victim is lawyer. Victim sues telemarketer. Hilarity ensues."

Web Site of the Week

War Commentary, Honda Ad

Rhyming war commentary, in tribute to Dr. Seuss, discovered by Spike Grobstein.

Honda Accord salutes Rube Goldberg. Does anyone know for sure this hasn't been altered by computer? Here's what Craig Reynolds says:

I don't know. The film makers say it was real, obtained after 606 takes.

It's barely believable that it is real. I could also believe it is CGI and a clever campaign of deception. But would Honda want to do that?

See also: Lights! Camera! Retake! And TAKE 606


The Top 16 Things That Can Get a Gal Banned From the Women's Union

We're No. 10!

May 6, 2003

16> "Okay, I admit it: More than six cats may be a bit excessive."

15> You've had the faces of Moe and Larry tattooed on each breast -- and if a guy asks nicely, you'll show him where Curly resides.

14> You regularly clean your ears out with a screwdriver.

13> You put out a nice gingham tablecloth, then gut a freshly killed deer on it.

12> Although you'd never do the old pull-my-finger gag, you love to play "squeeze my boob" with similar sound effects.

11> Purchasing any greeting card featuring a chimp and a bikini.

10> The whoopee cushion seemed like a good idea when you brought it into the meeting.

9> You're already planning on lining up for tickets to the "Matrix" sequel.

8> Instead of brushing your teeth on a Saturday morning, you use leftover beer as a mouthwash.

7> Proposing that you take over as local precinct leader, then wussing out on the requisite knife fight to the death on the union hall roof.

6> "Whoa! How about a courtesy flush over there, Diane?!?"

5> You delay the decision to take your mom off life support until after the World Series.

4> "Doing your nails" requires an air compressor and a power sander.

3> Neglecting to pass on e-mails that are clearly marked: "Cute!! LOL!! Pass this on!"

2> The stack of "Maxim" magazines piled on your toilet tank is paperweighted by a tub of petroleum jelly.

and's Number 1 Thing That Can Get a Gal Banned From the Women's Union...

1> You loudly proclaim that if "Dumb and Dumber" isn't the best movie of all time, you'll give up chewing tobacco.

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2003 by Chris White ]
Selected from 99 submissions from 37 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Chuck Smith, Woodbridge, VA -- 1 (24th #1/Hall of Famer)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 10

The Top 15 Other Wacky Changes Proposed by PETA

A sizzling No. 2...

May 9, 2003


PETA has asked Hamburg, New York, to change its name to "Veggieburg." Yes, really. What other changes might they have in mind?

15> Second-term presidents should be referred to as "endangered waterfowl."

14> Sports teams asked to use only free-range mascots.

13> Fishnet stockings should now be called "catch-and-release hosiery."

12> Change Iran back to Persia, have Thailand revert to Siam, and change Canada back to Tabby.

11> Carnival Cruises? Now they're Herbival Cruises.

10> "Beating your meat" now to be known as "petting your hand-raised chinchilla."

9> "Ladies and gentlemen, here he is! Live by the dashboard light... Tofu Loaf!"

8> Spam luncheon meat? No changes necessary until DNA tests are completed.

7> Reintroduce Wolf Blitzer into the wild.

6> The popular movie-actor-association game shall heretofore be referred to as "Six Degrees of Kevin Tofurkey."

5> "Easter keg hunts" sound like more fun anyway.

4> As part of their ongoing efforts to stop women from wearing fur, free Brazilian waxes for all!

3> Pamplona, Spain, will now host the Running of the Noses.

2> Tim Russert should be hosting "Tomato the Press."

and's Number 1 Other Wacky Change Proposed by PETA...

1> Demands that other burger chains follow White Castle's lead in eliminating all meat from its products.

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2003 by Chris White ]
Selected from 90 submissions from 38 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Michael Cunningham, Woodridge, IL -- 1 (2nd #1)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 2


X2: X-Men United

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

What a bland blockbuster. First of all, it is way too long (2 hours 14 minutes). It felt kind of derascinated, like the middle episode of a trilogy; all loose ends and setup. It was better than X-Men, but that's not saying much.

Wolverine is not my cup of tea. You see, I was there for the original Stan Lee/Jack Kirby X-Men. I was lucky enough to be 10 years only in 1962, when the Silver Age of comics was kicked off by the Fantastic Four. My decade of comic reading was 1960-1970, ending when I left for college. So my taste runs to Scott, Jean, the Beast and Bobby Drake, the Iceman. Plus, Hugh Jackman doesn't do it for me anyway. Remarkably, I saw one critique of the movie that said there wasn't enough Wolverine! Considering that Jackman was billed second, above Sir Ian McKellen, and that billing can usually be correlated to screen time, and because I had enough of him 90 minutes into the film, I'd say there was plenty of Wolverine.

In fact, the way the A plot and the multiple B plots were interwoven did not remind me of the deftness we expect from motion picture writing, but rather the hamhandedness of the hour-long television drama, blow up to twice its natural size. But then, this movie was written by a committee, with three story credits and three screenwriting credits, not to mention all the uncredited work (listed on IMDB) by the original creators and the current writers of the comic book.

At least, this time, the top-drawer actors used in the film were not completely wasted. Halle Berry had enough screen time to make an impression. Ian McKellan came up for air, and spent a few minutes not chewing the scenery. Even Patrick Stewart as Professor X seemed less of an afterthought. As for Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, I assume she threw a party when she saw a final cut that did not render her character incomprehensible, as the first film did.

This film is OK. Not great. Nowhere near as good as the hype, or the best reviews. I hope this isn't a harbinger of this summer's blockbusters; if it is, we're in for a dull summer.

Don't rush to see it. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action/violence, some sexuality and brief language.

The Dancer Upstairs

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

OK, I admit it. I think John Malkovich is way cool. His decision to appear in Making John Malkovich was gutsy, as was his decision to live in France. But his statement in a recent interview that he refuses to participate in the Hollywood conspiracy that assumes that all American filmgoers are idiots who need everything explained to them is borne out by his movie directorial debut (he has directed many plays), The Dancer Upstairs.

A roman a clef of the capture of the leader of the Shining Path guerillas in Peru, this film is a stunning masterpiece, from its interesting visuals through the eerie atmosphere it creates, all the way through Nicholas Shakespeare's witty and intriguing adaptation of this own book. Crackling dialog. If you life in the SF Bay area, you saw a mixed review of the film that claimed the English of the multi-national cast was hard to understand. Must have been a bad sound system in the projection room where the local critic saw it. I didn't have a bit of trouble understanding anyone, and appreciate the lack of both dubbing and subtitles--either of which I will put up with for a good plot and a well-acted movie.

The Dancer Upstairs has a good plot and is a well-acted movie. If you're an art-house type that likes two hours with nary a car chase, lots of plot twists and your irony spooned out by the bucket, this is the film for you. First rate.


Reynolds On Bad Policy, Grobstein on Top Gun Bush, Jayson Blair's Record

Craig Reynolds found the government being smart again: U.S. Hires Christian Extremists to Produce Arabic News. There is no limit to our government's brilliance, apparently.

Dan Grobstein from the New York Times: Paul Krugman on the Bushian predilection to appear in public in costume, plus a snippy Maureen Dowd item (and Dan doesn't usually like Maureen) on the whole military Bush thing, an article on televisual news ethics, A Respected Face, but Is It News or an Ad?,

Speaking of The Times, there's a lot of buzz on the net around the resignation of Jayson Blair and the Times' massive mea culpa.

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