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: July 21, 2003

July 21, 2003 Vol. 5, No.30

Table of Contents:

General News

  • My First Week Teaching
  • Groundhog Day Addendum
  • Political Notes
  • Computer Industry News

    • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs
    • Google Your Phone Number

    Web Site of the Week

    • None


    • The Importance of Good Grammar


    • Northfork
    • Kilometer 0


    • Grobstein File, Craig Reynolds on Politics

    General News

    My First Week Teaching

    Sunday night:

    I have completed all preparation except my planned videos. They fell through because of technical problems (after two sweaty, cursing hours which tired me and scared my family).

    Lesson one: things will go wrong. Deal with it. Deal with it in a reasonable amount of time (be flexible) and don't EVER take it out on your family.

    Lesson two: prepare before the night before.

    I do, however, now believe I am ready. We'll see.


    The prep has been overwhelming--and that's without a single paper to grade! Sunday night, I was up until 2am, Monday night 1am, and last night was a real triumph: in bed by 11pm. Since I have to be up by 6 to be at school by 7:15 to teach by 8, I am on short rations of sleep.

    I hardly see my family. I am out before anyone wakes up and in desperate need of a nap when I get home (Monday it wasn't until 4 as I hit the county office of education to borrow some videos to show). Vicki works nights, so I see her for 10 or 15 minutes. I see the girls at dinner; the rest of the time is prep.

    The pace is torrid. Summer school involves, as you know (have you ever taught it?) a week of material every day. It's like that old joke about MIT: it's like trying to get a drink of water from a fire hose.

    I was worried about classroom management, but my problem, it turns out, is generating some enthusiasm when I am forcing masses of material into the students in a short amount of time; they are either stunned, tired or scared, but so far they've mostly been docile. Classroom discussions are desultory, despite my admonition that participation is part of the grade. Admittedly, this is remediation, but still.

    The rubber begins to meet the road Wednesday with the first quiz. This is where I find out if any learning has been going on during my teaching.


    Well, I had some 100% quiz scores and I had some 50% quiz scores. They distributed about the way I expected, with a few surprises. The essays were generally pretty good, but their organization was abysmal. Answers that should have been two and three parts weren't. I mean, if the question says, "list two reasons Roosevelt could reassure people after he took office" or "describe the effects of New Deal public works on people personally, the economy and the environment," on an open note test, wouldn't you expect the first answer to have two parts and the second three? How can you give full marks to someone who just skips a whole section of the answer? Well, you can't. And as for grammar and spelling... well, this ain't English class.


    Could have been a disaster today. I thought Chapter 16 had five sections; turns out it had four. One hour into a four-hour teaching day, with no break and almost no time to myself, I had to figure out what to do to fill a half hour. The obvious thing would have been to extend the discussion, but the discussion has been desultory, and I didn't want to do all the talking. So, I slowed everything else down by 25-50%. Then, remarkably, the segment on Roosevelt's Four Freedom's speech, which I had been afraid wouldn't even fill half and hour stretched to 45 minutes and covered my gap. My class full of second-time students got into an actual back and forth, fairly involved discussion, based on my question, "Do we have freedom of speech, freedom from want, freedom from fear, and freedom of religion? In this country? In the world?" Thoughtful, interesting, not-out-of-the-book answers. Just another reminder: the most important thing for a teacher to be is flexible, because it is hardly EVER going to work out the way you expect.


    A quiet end to the week. I checked everyone's work--any every student, without exception, is actually filling in their work sheets and taking notes. I choose to swell with pride at this accomplishment. I'd like to help all of them pass.

    Groundhog Day Addendum

    A correspondent who found my Groundhog Day page last week asked me a question I never considered before; when Bill Murray starts spouting French to Andy McDowell in the restaurant, what is he saying? It took a good deal of effort, but with help from my French speaking wife and daughter, I found this page which includes the words Murray uses. Still can't find the name of the poem though.

    La fille qui j'aimerais sera comme mon frére
    c'est an assez bon frére et
    c'est un bon frére et
    c'est un peu chaque matin.


    The girl that I will love will be as my brother, a good brother, a little more each day.

    Political Notes

    Just when economists were beginning to think it was safe to bet on a recovery again, they've been slapped down by a series of new unemployment shocks:

    • the unexpected surge in the jobless rate to the highest level in 9 years
    • the most workers suffering long-term unemployment in over 10 years
    • and most shocking of all ... the most people receiving unemployment benefits in over 20 years.

    Wall Street will make every attempt to portray a business as usual attitude. Expect recycled cliches such as the "recovery-is-around-the-corner," "jobless-recovery," and "productivity-is-improving-so-don't-worry."

    All the smooth talk changes nothing. The unemployment numbers are shocking.

    A healthy labor market is absolutely essential for a true recovery. When people stop working, they don't have as much money to spend. When they don't spend, sales and profits must suffer. There's no way around this.

    The unemployment rate itself is at a nine-year high!

    The unemployment rate has been generally rising for months, soaring to 6.4% in June from 5.7% in January. In fact, since February, over 390,000 jobs have been lost.

    Job losses are broad based. It's not just a single industry.

    Retail trade lost 13,000 jobs in June, professional and technical services shed 33,000 jobs, and manufacturing gave up an enormous 56,000 jobs. In May, the manufacturing sector lost 44,000 jobs.

    The unemployment rate in some industries is much higher than the 6.4% overall rate. Unemployment in the wholesale and retail trades is 6.9%, in professional and business services, it's 8.5%, and leisure and hospitality unemployment is a whopping 8.6%!

    Unemployment claims are at record highs. Weekly new claims for unemployment insurance benefits rose to a whopping 439,000, according to the latest data from the Labor Department. Levels above 400,000 are indicative of a deteriorating labor market.

    But this isn't just a passing phase. New unemployment claims have now been above the important 400,000 level for an astonishing 21 consecutive weeks.

    There are other fundamentals that could harm the economy.

    Soaring natural gas prices could be the next energy crisis. Natural gas prices are projected to soar to more than $9 per million BTU by January 2004, according to Department of Energy estimates. Keep in mind that natural gas spot prices were a mere $2.64 per million BTU back in August 2002. That means natural gas prices could triple in just one and a half years. This is significant because many consumers and businesses made the switch to natural gas when prices were low. Now, they're getting caught.

    Consumers keep adding debt. With rising unemployment, many consumers are borrowing to pay their bills. But consumer debt is rising at a 5.1% annual rate -- and the economy is growing at just 1.4%. That means debt is rising much faster than overall growth. That's a dangerous combination.

    The vaunted second-half tech recovery maybe illusory. Wall Street lauded Goldman Sachs' latest report on the tech industry: Goldman anticipates "moderate growth in 2004" for the industry. That's a far cry from the second-half recovery we've all been promised. And it's also far-fetched. Goldman even admitted that the industry's "spending intentions remain guarded."


    Despite the efforts of some to end all discussion of certain false statements made about Iraqi capabilities and actions before United States citizens were sent into battle and died in Iraq, inconvenient issues keep appearing. For example, Walter Pincus in CIA Got Uranium Reference Cut in Oct.; Why Bush Cited It in Jan. Is Unclear reports that Bush knew enough in October 2002 not to refer to a false allegation that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. Why did he then just three months later refer to the same spurious allegation in a speech? Is his short-term memory so poor that he forgot? Was he attempting to deliberately deceive his audience? Or is he merely manifesting grossly negligent incompetence?

    Computer Industry News

    Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

    Craig Reynolds surfs the net for you.

    Double witching week: First there was more proof that "Trustworthy Computing" is a marketing slogan, not a technical methodology: Microsoft admits critical flaw in nearly all Windows software. Then Cisco Warns of Software Flaw That May Allow Attacks. In Internet Security Experts Escalate Warnings, Counterpane's Schneier is quoted as saying the Cisco flaw would "allow any moron to point and click and use the exploit." This confluence of vulnerabilities suggests that the Internet may be hard hit in the next week.

    The RIAA dickheads and their pet congressmen: as promised, the RIAA has filed a Flurry of Subpoenas in their ongoing scheme to send all their potential customers to jail. Meanwhile US Reps. Conyers and Berman have introduced their Upload a File, Go to Prison bill. (Berman was the one who last year introduced a bill legalizing vigilante hacking by copyright holders.) Under this bill I suppose I would be breaking the law every time I did a backup of my laptop to my server.

    The new information ecosystem, cultures of anarchy and closure: so far I have only read bits of it myself, but I wanted to pass on links to the first two of a planned five part essay by Siva Vaidhyanathan at openDemocracy on the social implications of P2P networks: It's a peer-to-peer world and 'Pro-gumbo': culture as anarchy.

    PDF: pro and con. I was perplexed when I first saw a TV ad about white gift boxes with red ribbons. Turns out it is promoting the joys of creating PDF files, asking "Is it better to give a PDF--or to receive one?" I don't know if it is coincidental but at about the same time usability guru Jakob Nielsen railed against PDF as web site content. I agree: PDF is for previewing and transmitting hardcopy, it is no substitute for HTML.

    Mozilla v. IE: "Although Netscape's decision in 1998 to...give away its browser code for free [was seen as an] admission that Microsoft had won the battle for the prized browser market, Mozilla has since surpassed IE in terms of features and standards compliance. For example, the latest versions of Mozilla support tabbed browsing, pop-up blocking and junk-mail filtering -- none of which is provided by IE." Hear, hear!

    Life is a game, or vice versa: Real Life: The Full Review is a description of "real life" written in the style of a comprehensive game review. As with many parodies, its funnier if you are familiar with the genre. There is an amusing subtext that hardcore gaming geeks wouldn't know about real life unless they read about it at a game site. As some sort of an antipode, Slate's Escape From SimCity gives a thumbs-up to Second Life a real-life-themed massively-multiplayer game. Notably it praises Second Life by dumping on the Sims Online, citing the "'bizarre, high-school-like quality' of its compulsory social interactions..." Also worth mentioning in this area of next-generation massively-multiplayer quasi-real-life games is There.

    Technobits: TIA DOA? --- LXR: Copyrights and Wrongs --- two from Lessig's blog: Disposable Email and a 1937 radio show leaving the copyright lane for the public domain:[on that same page The Boston Globe has copyrighted the Declaration of Independence--pes] --- NYT editorial on Microsoft dropping options --- TeraScale SneakerNet and other musings from Jim Gray --- "Freedom to Innovate" swag.

    Google Your Phone Number

    I am not sure this really differs from looking someone up in the phone book and then finding them on a map. Am I wrong? Are you worried? Kevin Sullivan passed this along:

    Take a look at the note below - if you go to and type in your telephone number in the address bar it will actually pull up directions to your house. There is a way to have your number removed. Please read below. Many people are unaware of this danger. I was, in fact! Go to then type in your phone number (separated by hyphens, including area code) and click on Google Search. If your phone number is listed, it will show your name and address and give you two map options: Yahoo and MapQuest. See how accurate the map is to your home. VERY SCARY!!! Any person wishing to discover the physical location of a phone number, be it a home or business address, could use this feature to locate a physical street address, and receive directions on how to get there from anywhere in the country. In the age of the internet communication we all know the dangers of this - for adults and CHILDREN! People you do not even know will not only have your name and phone number but they will also have complete and accurate directions to your home.

    Google has made available an option that will allow anyone to REMOVE their telephone number from the database that is linked to the mapping feature.

    You will first need to check if your number is listed in this manner by attempting a search-entering your full telephone number separated by dashes (e.g. 555-555-5555). If the number appears in the mapping database, an icon resembling a telephone will appear next to the first or second entry on the results page. Clicking on this icon will take you to a page containing a description of the service, and a link to request your number be removed from the database.

    So far unlisted numbers and cell phone numbers do not show up.

    Web Site of the Week


    What can I say? When Daniel Dern isn't finding any, I'm not finding any.


    The Importance of Good Grammar

    Bobbi Fox wrote:

    One of the mailing lists I'm on is for the electronic fanzine, "MT VOID".

    Last week's issue featured this:

    The Importance of Good Grammar (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

    True story. I was talking to a friend of my father-in-law. He works in some sort of executive capacity in a prison. He basically determines the punishment that prisoners get. When a convict gets eight to twenty years, he determines if it is eight or twenty or something in between. He was describing how he get reports on the prisoner and he determines punishment from those. How does he determine? He says he takes several things into account. Behavior is one. Sentence structure is another. I did a triple take on that one. Okay, sentence structure. Wait, grammar is that important? Then I realized he wasn't talking about grammar.



    You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

    There is a saying in journalism: you have a lifetime limit of three question leads. I don't know if they tell students the same thing in film school, but if they don't they should. Among other things, you should only do three "reflected" shots, in either a mirror or a shiny bauble on a tombstone. Which means the Polish brothers, who wrote and directed this film, have used up their entire lifetime allotment.

    Self-consciously artsy barely begins to describe this film. The plot... wait, there is no plot. I have read the rave reviews by the Times (both LA and New York), and frankly, I am baffled. Either they saw a different version than I did, or they really need to get out more. Obscurity does not always equal art. Sometimes it's just pretentious. This is one of those rare cases when the San Francisco Chronicle got it right. This film is, more or less, a beautifully photographed, artfully assembled series of vignettes featuring famous actors (male and female) behaving oddly in a spectacular landscape, with a color palette so limited (brown and gray, mostly) that some scenes could be mistaken for black and white if not for the faces.

    James Woods. Nick Nolte. If you really love them, or you have seen other Polish brothers work and you like that, then see this film. Or if you like cinematic art qua art and aren't concerned about being entertained. Otherwise, give it a pass.

    Kilometer 0

    You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

    Well, yes, it is sexy, and it is not rated, which means it would have been rated NC-17 if it had been submitted. Which, once again, says more about the rating system than the movie itself. There is less visible sex in this film than in the first 20 pages of advertisements in any issue of Vanity Fair. But it does feature one gay couple and one sexually confused guy, and everyone talks about sex all the time, and an older woman is shown hiring a gigolo, so it's unAmerican. Well, of course, Duh. It is Spanish.

    It's also unsexy, unexciting and unentertaining. Yes, believe it or not, I do not worship all foreign films, even when they are subtitled. It has a plot of sorts (more so than Northfork), but really, there are times when I miss the studio system, which at least required that screenwriters make an attempt at linear story telling, including a believable plot and dialog that actual people might speak. Neither of the films I saw this week had either (nor do most summer action films, for that matter). I know, I know, commercial movies are not reality, but heightened, airbrushed reality, sort of reality in a cage, designed for our entertainment. But it really does seem sometimes as if everyone has stopped trying.


    Grobstein File, Craig Reynolds on Politics

    Ross Snyder caught me; my June 14 column did not mention Bastille Day. Vive Le France!

    The Dan Grobstein File:

    • Beware! Hackers can hitchhike on your wireless network just by walking by. (New York Times)
    • 16 Words, and Counting by Nicholas D. Kristof, about George's misleading use of false information to lead us into war is burning up the Internet. Dan was the first of six people to forward the link to me. (New York Times)
    • The AP notes that former arms inspect Scott Ritter, now an administration critic, has a book out, Frontier Justice, Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Bushwacking of America. (New York Times)
    • The AP reports an Alabama woman won this year's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a parody honoring the writerof the worst beginning to an imaginary novel. (New York Times)
    • GOP state attorneys general advised to solicit campaign contributions from companies subject to lawsuits or regulation. "Incredibly tawdry" is one reaction. (Washington Post).
    • Cleaning up after ourselves in Iraq is costing $1 billion a week. (MSNBC)
    • Slate's Chatterbox column offers a well-documented list of George Bush lies (with a little help from Ari "Anti-nation building? What anti-nation building?" Fleischer, all within the last calendar year. (Slate).
    • The White House web site says Bush personally reviews "the State of the Union address line-by-line and word-by-word." The buck stops here indeed! (Washington Post).
    • Many shredded documents can be reconstructed, as Germany is proving in its efforts to re-constitute the records of the East German Stasi secret police; similar work was done with Enron's shredded documents. (New York Times)
    • Via a friend, via a friend, errorwear, tee-shirts with computer error messages.
    • Technology writer John Markoff notes that the White House has deliberately made it more difficult to write to the president. (New York Times)
    • Nicholas D. Kristof puts a human face on federal budgetary fecklessness via a visit to his hometown of Yamhill, Ore. Oregon is also my home state, but the same story could be written about any small town in California. (New York Times)

    This note from Craig Reynolds:

    I enjoyed this NYT Opinion piece by philosopher Daniel Dennett (whose work sometimes overlaps with AI) [about brights, those who believe in the natural, not the supernatural: agnostics and atheists]

    The site he mentions links to a similar trans-Atlantic essay by Richard Dawkins.

    I really think using "bright as a noun" to describe these people is a poor choice. It seems naive to suggest that it should not be taken as self-congratulatory. While I might try to convince people that "tall-and-good-looking" was the new term for short, geeky researchers in behavioral modeling -- I can't imagine anyone else buying into it.

    Dawkins suggests there are precedents to the contrary.

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