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 28, 2003

July 28, 2003 Vol. 5, No.31

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Teaching: Week Two
  • Oregon Journal
  • Night Watch
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • Exploding Dog, Blog Census


  • Letter TO the Bank


  • League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (guest review and concurrence)
  • Johnny English
  • Bad Boys II
  • Seabiscuit


  • Correction on a Correction, Nilsson on Blogs, More on Brights, an LA Times Cat Column, Reynolds Political Catches, Coquet with Iraq Irony, Dalton on Blogs, the Dan Grobstein File

General News

Teaching: Week Two

Since the summer school administration reminded us that every day of summer school equals nearly a week of the term, Rae has taken to asking me each day what week of the term it is. Monday was week six, Friday was week 10.

In an exchange about last week's log of my experiences, Kevin Sullivan wrote:

Teaching isn't about grades unless you're raising bureaucrats

He's right and I'm not trying to raise bureaucrats. Teaching is about reaching students and helping them want to learn.

In fact, as of Monday morning I hope to try two new things: a Why table (When did this happen? Why did this happen? Why should we care (the results, the lessons learned) and playing a RADIO documentary on Korea for the students--NPR played it last week and I recorded it off the Internet. I have a film as a backup if I need it.


Both the documentary and the why table went fairly well. One student said, "Monday may not be the best day for radio documentaries." I will try again Thursday. The Why table generated some discussion, so I'll try it again later in the week as well. Progress reports (AKA, warnings that your student is about to fail) go out to all C- students and below on Wednesday. I have four out of 22, but only 1 F.

The summer school principal observed me and said she liked what she saw. She also talked to one of my students in the parking lot and got a ringing endorsement. That makes me feel good.

Tuesday and Wednesday

Not much to report. No quizes, no special events, just what I call "heads down teaching." Read the unit, do the guided reading, go through the notes, have the discussion, move on. Tuesday, we went to the library. Wednesday we did one unit (pairs working together) outside in the courtyard. Oh, and Wednesday was the teacher's nightmare: no copier working in the morning. I had to make do without my "fill in the blank" notes and the students had to take complete notes, on their own. I guess we'll see how they do on the Vietnam portion of the test Thursday.

Thursday and Friday

And the answer is, they did fine. When I checked their notes at the end of the week, everyone had taken pretty good notes. In fact, out of 22 students, 20 take good notes, keep all the handouts and fill them in and write a decent academic journal every day recording new things they've learned. After the quizzes on Thursday and Friday, there's no one left in the class who's flunking. Huzzah! One more week to go.

Oregon Journal

The late, great Oregon Journal was the afternoon daily newspaper in Portland, Oregon, my home town, from 1902 until its death in 1982. It was my family's favorite newspaper, because it was liberal and Democratic and sprightly as opposed to the wheezy, staunchly Republican morning newspaper, The Oregonian. It had better funnies too. I delivered the Journal for about a year as a youth. I was a terrible newspaper boy. In the summer of my junior year in college, 1973, by dint of luck and connections, I got a job as an intern on the paper. A few years later, after a stint at AP and UPI (The Journal was a founding UPI client), I spent 14 months there as an adult in 1978-79, before moving to California to take up my career in computer journalism and to marry my wife and raise my family.

I mention it because whenever I Google the Journal, the pickings are slim; usually just listings in libraries, and reprinted articles now and then. The paper died too long before the Internet era--put to death by the Newhouse newspaper chain 20 years after it was acquired, in contravention of the founder's will--which said the staff should have first shot at the paper in case of a sale. C.S "Sam" Jackson founded the paper. His son, young Sam, served in WWII and learned to fly a helicopter, so the Journal bought one after the war which he piloted. He died in a crash (rumored to have been buzzing a lawn party at the time), and his son was way too young to step in. As a result, the paper passed from family hands to the hands of a trust, which sold out its heritage to the hated and hateful Newhouse carpetbaggers who had snared the morning Oregonian some years before. A carefully engineered union-busting strike in 1959 made the Journal unprofitable enough to give the trust some cover for a sale. The Journal's publisher was canned in 1972 and the paper was folded in 1982. Seems to pat to be a coincidence. It was probably in the stars from day one.

The Oregon Journal was a great underdog of a newspaper, with a terrific, hard-working staff, that served the City of Portland better than the Oregonian ever has or ever will. (As a statewide newspaper, its focus will always be more diffuse). I miss it to this day. If you knew it, you would too.

Night Watch

Terry Pratchett is the funniest man alive today in fantasy and science fiction. Three years ago, while Douglas Adams yet lived, one might be able to dispute that statement, but no more. Pratchett, after all, is the man who wrote, of a leader, "He never minced words. People yes, but never words." His Discworld series of books is fantastic and wonderful. His 2000 book The Truth is one of the funniest and truest books about journalism ever written. I have just completed his 2002 time travel tale, Night Watch, in which he offers the most original take on time travel I have yet read--and I am a fan of the genre.

Political Notes

In Britain, the government gives every child, at birth, a trust fund. This gives them a nest egg, and a stake in the country's future. What a damn good idea for America! Thank you, Peggy Coquet, for pointing out the New York Times op-ed piece which mentions the British plan and proposes bringing it to America.

* * *

If you're not from California, you may be baffled about the recall of our governor. Let me explain. You may have heard the saying, "a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich." This is a clever way of saying that once the DA is alone in the room with the grand jury, they are his.

Much the same is true of the initiative process in California, of which the recall is an offshoot. That is to say, with paid signature gatherers, you could put a ham sandwich on the ballot.

Now, I'm not saying Gray Davis isn't unpopular. But nothing, and I mean, nothing gets on the ballot in this state without paid signature gatherers. An obscure San Diego Republican congressman, a car alarm king who was arrested for car theft in his youth, put up the money that put Gray Davis in the frying pan, under the mistaken impression the people of California would elect him governor instead. We're dumb, but not that dumb. This is just another example of the GOP effort to topple our Democratic form of government by any means. Just like impeaching Clinton. Just like redistricting Texas because they took the legislature, rather than waiting for the next census, as every state legislature has done for two centuries.

They failed in the childish, irrational effort to off Clinton (and suffered a backlash). They succeeded in Texas and opened a Pandora's box. Like the elimination of filibusters on judicial nominees, redistricting-at-will will, if successful and unchallenged, come back and bite them on their partisan butts when, someday, as is inevitable, the American people wake up, smell the coffee, and start voting their actual self-interest. Which means voting the Republicans out.

The paid signature gatherers here in California walk up to people and tell them the truth: "I get a buck if you sign. Signing the petition doesn't mean you have to vote against the governor. Just scare him." Apparently, there are 1.3 million citizens that fell for this line of bilge.

Just another loss, coming up for the GOP. No one likes sour grapes and sour losers, and there are no do-overs in American politics (or, at least, there shouldn't be). Sorry Republicans, you lost. And unlike our loss in Florida, in California you lost fair and square. Get over it. Try and find some candidate who won't spend the whole campaign shooting him or herself in the foot and run them in 2004.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds surfs the net for you.

Noncompliance is good for business: despite the mounting evidence (mentioned here two weeks ago) that Microsoft has blatantly failed to comply with the settlement of its antitrust conviction, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is Satisfied on Microsoft Antitrust Compliance. I might be tempted to say "in other news, Judge Kollar-Kotelly Believes in Santa Claus" but the real headlines say it better: Microsoft Beefs Up Spending, Adds Jobs and Gates boosts R&D budget. Microsoft breaks the law, flaunts the settlement and proceeds full speed ahead to crush what is left of the competition. Isn't the free market great? Well at least with all that new R&D funding they can finally figure out how to make Windows passwords as secure as Unix passwords were 30 years ago: "Cracking windows passwords in 5 seconds" from BugTraq and CNET.

Music follies: I won't use the term "strange bedfellows" but I rarely find myself on the same side of anything with Michael Jackson, yet he has spoken out in opposition to the idiotic ACCOPS Act introduced by US Reps. Berman and Conyers which puts uploading music into the same criminal category as armed robbery. I was pleased to see that both Boston College and MIT told the RIAA to bugger off when served by subpoenas to invade the privacy of their students.

SCO v. Linux: like mobsters in bygone times, SCO has gotten into the protection racket, offering to accept money not to sue on bogus claims: Buy License, Avoid Suit. Worse, Microsoft is now offering insurance against SCO's protection racket: Microsoft Offers Improved Legal Protection. Well the Aussies aren't taking this lying down: Open source group files complaint against SCO, SCO not playing by Aussie Rules.

Cosmic news: could there be a cooler name for a scientific concept than "Dark Gravity"? The repulsive antigravitational force was proposed by Einstein in 1917 and seems to be confirmed by new observations. It would explain why the expansion of the universe surprisingly appears to be accelerating. Also this week Wired celebrated the renaissance of amateur astronomy. (This "return of the backyard astronomer" article reminded me somehow of my one-time boss Nicholas Negroponte's 1980 paper "The Return of the Sunday Painter" (mentioned in this article) wherein he imagined a future where anybody could own one of the then hideously expensive interactive computer graphic systems we used in his lab -- like that would ever happen!) And since this paragraph has gone from dark gravity to Sunday painters, I might as well segue via Douglas Adams to suggest that researchers at the Santa Fe Institute have concluded that the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is not 42 but 4!

Technobits: world travelers shouldn't buy from Apple's iTunes Music Store --- Amazon Plan Would Allow Searching Texts of Many Books

Note: Technobriefs will be on vacation next week while my family and I attend SIGGRAPH 2003, Legoland and the San Diego Zoo.

Web Site of the Week

Exploding Dog, Blog Census

Rae, my daughter, found the Exploding Dog site. Here is what the owner says about his site:

People suggest titles and i do drawings from some of them, then post them on this site. if some one likes the picture i drew, they email it to their friends and say "hey, look at this funny picture."

this site could be thought of as a long term semi-collaborative art project. nobody pays for anything. and when i draw a picture using someone's title it is added to the front page for anyone who is interested to look at.

After weeks of radio silence, we're back with two sites this week. The second one is the National Institute for Technology & Liberal Education blog census. Sign up, get crawled, get added to the database. I'm in.

Plus, also from Richard, The Cost of the Iraq War.


Letter TO the Bank

Below is what purports to be an actual letter sent to a bank.

Dear Sir:

I am writing to thank you for bouncing my check with which I endeavored to pay my plumber last month. By my calculations, three nanoseconds must have elapsed between his presenting the check and the arrival in my account of the funds needed to honor it. I refer, of course, to the automatic monthly deposit of my entire salary, an arrangement which, I admit, has been in place for only eight years.

You are to be commended for seizing that brief window of opportunity, and also for debiting my account $50 by way of penalty for the inconvenience caused to your bank. My thankfulness springs from the manner in which this incident has caused me to rethink my errant financial ways.

I noticed that whereas I personally attend to your telephone calls and letters, when I try to contact you, I am confronted by the impersonal, overcharging, pre-recorded faceless entity which your bank has become.

From now on, I, like you, choose only to deal with a flesh-and-blood person. My mortgage and loan repayments will, therefore and hereafter, no longer be automatic, but will arrive at your bank, by check, addressed personally and confidentially to an employee at your bank whom you must nominate.

Be aware that it is an offense under the Postal Act for any other person to open such an envelope. Please find attached an Application Contact Status Form which I require your chosen employee to complete. I am sorry it runs to eight pages, but in order that I know as much about him or her as your bank knows about me, there is no alternative. Please note that all copies of his or her medical history must be countersigned by a Notary Public, and the mandatory details of his/her financial situation (income, debts, assets and liabilities) must be accompanied by documented proof.

In due course, I will issue your employee with a PIN number that he/she must quote in dealings with me. I regret that it cannot be shorter than 28 digits but, again, I have modeled it on the number of button presses required to access my account balance on your phone bank service. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Let me level the playing field even further. Press buttons as follows:

    1. To make an appointment to see me.
    2. To query a missing payment.
    3. To transfer the call to my living room in case I am there.
    4. To transfer the call to my bedroom in case I am sleeping.
    5. To transfer the call to my toilet in case I am attending to nature.
    6. To transfer the call to my mobile phone if I am not at home.
    7. To leave a message on my computer, a password to access my computer is required. Password will be communicated at a later date to the authorized contact.
    8. To return to the main menu and to listen to options 1 through 7.
    9. To make a general complaint or inquiry. The contact will then be put on hold, pending the attention of my automated answering service. While this may, on occasion, involve a lengthy wait, uplifting music will play for the duration of the call. Regrettably, but again following your example, I must also levy an establishment fee to cover the setting up of this new arrangement.

May I wish you a happy, if ever-so-slightly less prosperous New Year?

Your Humble Client


Guest Review: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (LXG) and concurrence

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

Daniel Dern wrote:

The movie "The League..." is based on the graphic novel (series of comics books) by Alan Moore, well-known (among comic fans) as the author/creator of The Watchmen, V For Vendetta, MiracleMan, and author of many great issues of Swamp Thing, several issues of Superman, etc.

In the year 1899, danger threatens, requiring the services of extraordinary persons, who I won't list, to minimize spoilers, other than Sean Connery as Alan Quartermain (hero of H.Rider Haggard's book, King Solomon's Mines, if I recall correctly). The notion of bringing in and mixing other people's fictional characters isn't new -- Phil Jose Farmer did some interesting takes on Doc Savage meets Tarzan, for example -- but I've lost track whether a mix like this is new.

In any case, wonders and fighting ensue, with fisticuffs, shooting and explosions galore.

Having read only a few issues of this series -- and none in this story arc -- I didn't have many expectations. This movie's gotten a lot of hohum reviews. I enjoyed it enough -- at least as much as I did The Hulk, possibly as much (although differently) as Pirates of the Caribbean. I certainly liked it a lot better than the reviews I skimmed led me to expect.

If you were among the few watching the will-be-missed series The Incredible Secret Adventures Of Jules Verne on SciFi channel during the past years, you'll have a sense of familiarity, although this movie's on a bigger canvas, and louder.

Bobbi's main comment: "I'm getting tired of fight scenes too dark to see what's going on."

Dern sez: See Pirates, see League.

On this issue of dark CGI fight scenes, I asked my friend and former movie CGI creator Craig Reynolds whether I was correct to assume that dark scenes are easier to animate:

Right, first of all, think of the savings in electricity for the lights... :-}

Aside from a potential directorial preference (noir look, moodiness, adding the the audience's tension) unrelated to technical issues -- I think that dark CGI fight scenes may be easier than light ones. That is, it is harder to see mistakes, hence less refinement is required. (A typical high end effect shot gets revised/reshot on the order of 100 times.) This is clearly a situation where time is money, so it would follow that dark fight scenes are cheaper.

But I am just guessing; I am far from day-to-day reality of today's effects work

At week's end, I saw the film myself with Rae. Adequate. Real adequate. A few clever tropes, some nice acting by Sean Connery, a few good CGI effects and a few real phony ones, and a plot with more holes in it than Albert Hall. Entertaining. A real second-rate piece of work.

Johnny English

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

If you like Rowan Atkinson and his Mr. Bean schtick (or even his Blackadder schtick), you're going to love this movie, perfectly summed up by its tag line: "He Knows No Fear. He Knows No Danger. He Knows Nothing." Taking a character he apparently developed for a series of British television commercials and turning it into a feature-length movie (shades of Saturday Night Live), what we get is a series of familiar and predictable sketches, separated by long stretches of exposition and a plot that is more holes than plot.

I think the most you can say about this film is that it isn't quite as bad as it might be. If you like slapstick, and "I Love Lucy"-level embarrassment humor (even when I was a kid, I'd often have to turn down the volume or turn away during the worst moments), you'll find a few belly laughs along the way. In fact, watching John Malkovich as the villain do a bad French accent is almost worth the price of admission.

Overall, though it is funny in places, I'm just not sure it's $10 worth of funny. As with so many television comedians, I think Atkinson's persona is funny enough for free, but not quite funny enough to pay for (unlike, say, John Cleese, who is so funny it makes me smile just to type his name).

This is an OK movie. Not too long (88 minutes), not too smutty (rated PG); the kids might like it--they might not even see the jokes coming a mile away. And you won't fall asleep, but you won't be impressed either.

Bad Boys II

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

Two and one half hours of car chases, explosions and gun battles is too much. I'm sorry. Even with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, two of the most endearing actors in comedy today. Too long. Too gory. Too dumb.

At 90 minutes, it might have been sprightly. At two hours, it would merely have been leaden. At 2 1/2 hours, it was like the whale that washed up on the beach in San Francisco last week: dead, bloated and stinky. Another second-rate piece of work


You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

How do I know Bad Boys II and LXG are second-rate? Because I have seen Seabiscuit, which is first rate. A terrific, linear narrative that tells a ripping story. Top drawer acting by the ever-talented Jeff Bridges, the erratic Tobey Maguire and Oscar-winner Chris Cooper. Laura Hillenbrand wrote a great book (despite having to overcome some terrible personal medical problems to do it) and Gary Ross has written a sensitive and cinematic adaptation, which he also directed in a lush period visual style that carries you away. It's too long, but you can almost forgive the last half hour for the part of the story it tells. No spoilers from me today folks. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll cheer, you'll be on the edge of your seat. PG-13 for some sexual situations and violent sports-related images, but it reads like a G-rated movie to me. Small children won't sit still for 2 1/2-hours, but even pre-teens could enjoy this. Read the book. See the film. Five stars.

A quick technical note: despite Hollywood's extreme allergy to narration, the narration adds much to this film, and I congratulate the moviemakers for bucking the received wisdom.


Correction on a Correction, Nilsson on Blogs, More on Brights, an LA Times Cat Column, Reynolds Political Catches, Coquet with Iraq Irony, Dalton on Blogs, the Dan Grobstein File

And now for something completely different: a correction to a correction. Ross Snyder took especial delight in noting that last week's item about Bastille Day read "June 14" instead of July 14, and that my cheer for France should have read "Vive La France." [This is what happens when people who don't actually speak French persist in dropping French phrases into their speech and writing.]

Apropos of this correction, I have books of the collected corrections of the New York Times and the London Telegraph. The most delicious items in both books are those which involve correcting corrections. Sometimes this can go on for weeks. I hope I have nipped this one in the bud, and amused you as I have myself.

Bob Nilsson checks in:

I saw an interesting article entitled "Blog eats blog" by Bill Thompson. It is one person's report on O'Reilly's Emerging Technology Conference and introduces the terms "blogosphere" and "blogeoisie" (pronounced bloj-wah-zee). Are you an überblogger? What exactly is the "first duty of the press"?

Speaking of blogs, let me do a little blogrolling. After reprinting Craig's note about the "bright" movement [a pomo replacement for atheism/agnosticism] last week, I received this note from Robert McNally, whom I don't know:

I'm sending this to inform you that your commentary on the subject of "the Brights" has been excerpted and linked to from my site, "Tracking the Bright Idea". The purpose of TTBI is to collect commentary both supporting and criticizing the Brights movement. If you find the site interesting, please link back to it, inform others about it, and pass on any links that you feel contribute to the debate.

So, now he's linked to me and I'm linked to him and we can form an endless loop if we like. Seriously, his site is not a bad place to go if you want to read even more about the idea than the two links Craig mentioned last week. Interesting that a) Craig's comment is listed as a criticism (mildly, I guess it was), b) it was sort of credited to me (clearly, you'd find it was Craig's idea if you read it in context) and c) he actually linked to the correct URL, the permanent one, which unsophisticated bloggers aren't smart enough to do.

It isn't just Jon Carroll who writes cat columns; thanks to Jim Forbes (now living near San Diego), comes word that Los Angeles Times TV critic Howard Rosenberg can also write a darn good cat column. Not as clever, personal or funny as Jon's, but moving nonetheless.

Craig Reynolds:

Careful: The FB-Eye May Be Watching
Reading the wrong thing in public can
get you in trouble

He also wrote with this:

This rat hole seems to get deeper and deeper:

Oct. Report Said Defeated Hussein Would Be Threat

...The declassified sections of the NIE were offered by the White House to rebut allegations that the administration had twisted prewar intelligence on Iraq's nuclear weapons program. The result, however, could be to raise more questions about whether the administration misrepresented the judgments of the intelligence services on another basis for going to war: the threat posed by Hussein as a source of weapons for terrorists...

Making sure we don't suffer from irony deficiency anemia is Peggy Coquet, who forwards this from What's New, a weekly email newsletter from the American Physical Society.

Weapons of mass destruction are hard to find in Iraq, but in this country, contributions to methods of mass fatality are recognized with the Medal of Freedom. Recipients this week included: Edward Teller for the H-bomb, Charlton Heston for the Saturday-night special, and Dave Thomas for Wendy's square hamburger with fries.

Richard Dalton found an article, Blogging By The Numbers at Cyberatlas. Would you have guessed that, after English, the most popular blogging languages are Portugese, Polish and Farsi? It surprised Richard and me both.

Finally, the moment you've all been waiting for, a chock-full Dan Grobstein file:

(New York Times)

  • Amazon's at work on a deal to let you search the full text of books.
  • Dan mines gold even out of the Times' food section, such as this amusing and fascinating account of the fanatic loyalty people demonstrate towards regional brands of soda.
  • Yet another inventor with yet another method of paying cash on the Internet.
  • The poor man's Paul Krugman, Molly Ivins, talks sense about what it takes to fix education. (Alternet)

They couldn't send in delta force to capture these guys alive? Also how do we know that the dental records that they used to identify the bodies are genuine and not replaced with the records of one of the doubles?

  • It's probably been around a long time, but now that it's in the Times it must be official: students using instant messaging during class.
  • Controversy about the Hubble Space Telescope--again--as it nears the end of its life.

(Washington Post)

  • Richard Cohen, in a column entitled Bush the Believer asks, reviving an old phrase of Lenin's, "Is George Bush the Iraq war's 'useful idiot'?"

(Salt Lake Tribune)

To obtain a reminder when I post my weekly electronic column,
or to offer feedback, advice, praise, or criticism, email me. (pes-at-sign-schindler-dot-org)

New versions of my column are hosted here at Typepad.

Old versions of my column are hosted here at


Paul Schindler Home Page PS...ACOT BACK ISSUE archives
Journalism Movies Journalism Quotes
You COULD Pay For This Column Journalism Books
Archival Larry King: Letters From Europe
Current Larry King: Letters From Lesser Great Britain
Kevin Sullivan on Teaching
My Prarie Home Companion Script Groundhog Day: Best Film Ever
Women in Journalism Movies Larry King: British Journalists
Edwin Diamond: An Appreciation Tales of Teaching

Page forwarding code courtesy of:
BNB: HTML, free CGI Scripts, graphics, tutorials and more- for free!

FavIcon (displayed in browser address box) courtesy of:
Richard Sleegers

Blog-rolling (My Friends' Weblogs):

Jim Forbes' Forbes on Tech

Scot Finnie's Scot's Newsletter

Phil Albinus Blog

Dan Rosebaum's Blog

Mike Elgan's Blog

Fred Langa's Blog

Karen Kenworthy's Power Tools

Dave Methvin's PC Pitstop

You are visitor number

since Oct. 16, 1998.