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: August 18, 2003

August 18, 2003 Vol. 5, No.34

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Teaching
  • Nephew Paul Visits
  • Top Of The Blog To You
  • Groundhog Day: The Movie
  • The Day The Lights Went Out
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • None


  • The Top 16 Snippets of Bad Film Noir Dialogue (Part I)


  • Le Divorce
  • Gigantic
  • The Countdown


  • Grumpy Martha, Dan Grobstein

General News


One of the reasons I got into teaching was friends who teach. Among them is Kent Peterman:

Congratulations! I'm thrilled and ecstatic. Welcome to the profession. You're now an official teacher type dude.

Of course you can talk and entertain and amuse. Vital skills in the profession. But you can also listen, guide, and inspire. One of my basic tenets of teaching is: sometimes you have to push, sometimes you have to pull, and sometimes you have to just get the hell out of the way. At any rate enjoy the ride.

There is nothing more wonderful, exciting, difficult, rewarding, frustrating, exhausting, and fun as teacher. Take a tip from this veteran...keep your social schedule very light for the first month or so. You will be more exhausted than you've ever been in your life.

I was a mentor to a second grade teacher whose husband is a middle school teacher. After the first week of school she told me that she was a rotten wife. I asked her why. She said that all of those years when she was in the corporate world and her husband was teaching she had no idea how exhausting the beginning of school was. You will do swell. Enjoy the ride. It's an "E" ticket.

Nephew Paul Visits

As Marlow prepares to head for Taiwan and Rae for Brandeis, their cousin Paul came down from Sacramento for a quick visit this weekend. He arrived Saturday morning and spent the day on a paddle boat in the reservoir with Rae and her friends while I made sandwiches at the soup kitchen. In the evening, Marlow and I took him to Gigantic, a documentary about the musical group They Might Be Giants. Sunday, he went with Vicki and Marlow to an Oakland A's game. Rae and I went to a reception for bay-area admitted Brandeis freshmen (seven girls, one boy and a handful of parents in a lovely home high atop the hills in Los Gatos). Then we got home and put Paul on a Capitol Corridor Amtrak train back to Sacramento. Brief but satisfying. And I know what to get him for his birthday now too.

Top Of The Blog To You

Most of you have rarely, if ever, read the boilerplate at the top of my column. I know John Taylor has, because he lives in Wisconsin and was amused by my reference to "offer NOT void in Wisconsin," a riff on a common tagline of my youth. Wisconsin's draconian consumer protection laws were passed during the La Follette progressive era. They outlawed most of the incredibly deceptive sweepstakes common in the 50s and 60s, or required special versions for Wisconsin residents only they had an actual chance to win. Thus, "offer void in Wisconsin."

Anyway, Richard Dalton has apparently read the motto of the column, "There are some things which are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things." I picked that line in 1971, when I started this column in the second-tier MIT student newspaper ERGO (it later moved to the main student newspaper, The Tech for a few months, then lapsed for 25 years). ERGO was an objectivist newspaper, and I thought I was an objectivist at the time. Objectivists are very big on epistemology (the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity.) Some objectivist philosopher had actually made the statement that leads my column, and I was taken by it, despite its tautology.

Well, to prevent my making a long story longer, here is Richard's comment:

Unknown unknowns (as in the lead of your newsletter) have been cannon fodder for the intelligence community for decades. It's appropriate that this venerable obfuscation should be perpetuated by a current doublespeak practitioner.

"As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know." - Donald Rumsfeld, Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Groundhog Day The Movie

My Groundhog Day tribute page, devoted to my favorite movie, had become unwieldy with the addition of excerpts from the Boston Globe's 5th anniversary appreciation back in 1998, so I had to break it up in chunks. If you've never been, now's the time to go; it is better organized and easier to read than ever! And, of course, it is still the best film ever made.

Tom Armstrong was nice enough to send me an article from the Dharma Talk column of the Buddhist magazine Tricycle that appeared in the Summer 2003 issue. It is by Ezra Bayda, and is excerpted from his book, At Home In The Muddy Water. The article is a very interesting analysis, but it is opening anecdote that concerns us here:

In the movie Groundhog Day, the main character wakes up every morning in the exact same place, at the exact same time, always having to repeat the same day--Groundhog Day. No matter what he experiences, he still wakes up having to repeat the day. No matter what he does, he can't get what he wants, which in this case is the sexual conquest of his female colleague. Although he tries all of the other classic strategies of escape, nothing works; he still wakes up the next day to the same mess.

In the meantime, another part of him is growing. He starts moving from just trying to fulfill his own desires to doing things for other people. For example, every day he saves the same child from falling out of the same tree at the same time. He even starts using his once ego-driven accomplishments, such as playing the piano, to entertain others, not just to serve himself. Finally, not through purposeful effort or even awareness, he becomes more and more life-centered, less and less self-centered. And in typical Hollywood fashion, he gets the girl. However, his real success lies in breaking free from the repeating patterns of his personality."

Actually, when you describe it like that, Groundhog Day sounds like teaching.

But seriously, Bayda goes on to make some excellent points about Buddhist practice. I recommend his book.

The Day The Lights Went Out

Blame the blackout on Bush? You Bet!

Exclusive first hand reporting from ex-Unipresser Dan Rosenbaum:

I'm writing this from a backup account because my main e-mail server is still down.

NX is very much still here. Power sagged badly and then quit at a couple of minutes past 4PED yesterday. It came back on in Brooklyn Heights at the stroke of 8AED today. We couldn't have left town if we'd wanted to: our car is garaged (and the elevator uses electricity), and I need gas (and pumps require electricity, too.)

In '65, I lived in the only village in the Northeast that had (and still has) municipal power, so our lights went out then for only a few minutes. In '77, my family was just leaving a restaurant near Columbia U., and we drove home along 125th Street. Big mistake; we were in our car as riots and looting broke out all around us. We got out OK, if a bit scared.

This year, despite a hot day, the city stayed positively mellow. I don't think there's been a single report of significantly antisocial behavior much beyond the NYC norm. My local deli charged me $5 for a half-gallon of milk and a liter of water, which is a bit high but doesn't quite rise to the level of gouging -- especially since they were guessing on prices and couldn't even make change.

There was a big crowd at the Promenade last night. Many buildings at the tip of Manhattan had power, at least for lights. The Statue of Liberty remained lit. The Staten Island Ferry continued to run. Land-line phones didn't miss a beat, and the only problem with cell phones is that the networks got overloaded; the networks themselves were fine. But a lot of people now use cordless phones as their only telephones, and they don't work so well without electric. I'm sticking with wired phones, thanks.

And now I'm getting in the aforementioned car, putting some aforementioned gas in it, packing the family and the lapto, and driving to a friend's place on a lake in Connecticut.

Political Notes

Craig Reynolds saw the item about my college opinions of Nixon last week and notes:

Apropos the Nixon item, I saw Lawrence Lessig bemoaning the fact that politicians these days don't measure up to even Nixon's moral standards: Loophole Executives

Craig also notes:

This story is enjoyable even if Franken never really planned to use that title. All he has to do is put out a prank press release mentioning the "title" of his upcoming book. That provokes lawsuits and a story by the AP mentioning both "Fox" the phrase "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." You can't buy that kind of publicity.

He's right. I loved the story.


Don't Call It a Circus. Jon Carroll, the world's greatest newspaper columnist, asks that you not refer to the California Gubernatorial Recall as a circus. To do so, he says, is to insult the hardworking professionals of the circus business, of which his daughter is a part.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

(Your source for Fair and Balanced mockery of high tech stupidity.)

Once again Microsoft is having a hard time because it can't manage to push patches to all of its user's machine. It is a classic case of Sales outstripping Support. Grandma's PC is being hijacked for cyberwarfare because it was shipped insecure, and she certainly hasn't applied the subsequent patches. I have been encouraged by how many news reports mention that the MSblaster/LoveSan worm is specific to Microsoft systems. Some go on to mention that Mac and Linux users were unaffected. Coverage of previous worms and viruses often failed to mention the Microsoft connection, implying that it was a problem with all computers. It would be great if more people come to understand how much time and money they lose due to Microsoft. My favorite quote from Worm should make Microsoft squirm was "If Microsoft was not in the monopoly position that it is in, the increasing frequency of security concerns would cause more anxiety in the marketplace."

I'm torn. On the on hand I am happy to hear
Jury Rules Against Microsoft in Patent Case so UC and Eolas may get $521 million from Microsoft. But annoyingly, MS happens to be right in this case, software patents are overly broad and are frequently granted despite well-known prior art. Now if we could just get Microsoft to acknowledge that when it is trying to use acquired bogus software patents to drive competitors out of business.

Speaking of legal victories by schools: MIT and Boston College beat back the improper invasion of privacy attempted by the RIAA.

Its not quite Lindbergh's 1927 flight, but there was a successful transatlantic flight by a 5-foot model airplane built by 77-year-old Maynard Hill. It made the crossing on autopilot and then was landed by remote control. (While cool, this also implies a technique for intercontinental delivery of small amounts of biowarfare agents.)

Technobits: Stop the DirecTV Dragnet! --- artificial diamonds: today gems, tomorrow ICs --- follow-up to my earlier item about world travelers and Apple's iTunes Music Store --- Comparison of Bayesian spam filters --- anti-piracy group pirates web graphics --- Google calculator (MIT alum see this) --- Wired lauds advances in plot and characterization in games.

Web Site of the Week



The Top 16 Snippets of Bad Film Noir Dialogue (Part I)

Check out No. 7, please.

August 14, 2003

16> "He had the look of an ornery cuss who would shoot a man for snoring. I began to suspect that my night at the sleep disorder clinic was going to be a bumpy one."

15> "You ain't allowed back here, gumshoe." "Easy, Sarge, I work part time as a freelance feng shui coordinator."

14> "As I closed the blinds in my office, I could feel her steely gaze upon me even before I wheeled around. Her fiery eyes sparkled like rubies. I knew what she was after. So I handed her my separate bins for trash and recyclables."

13> "The dame pinched my wallet, Johnny. Follow that car, and step on it!" "Who do I look like, King Kong?"

12> "She had the kind of knobs that an old-time radio would be proud of and you wouldn't mind fiddling with to get better reception."

11> "Her perfume lingered in my memory, like that goddamned 'It's a Small World' song."

10> "Midnight. The convention was in full swing. The sound of Klingon filled the room. The dame was nowhere in sight. For that matter, there were no dames in sight."

9> "One flick of my wrist, and her bra unhinged like the gates before a Wembley Stadium soccer match."

8> "She was woman and I was man. Nothing stood between her and me except for a flimsy negligee. I let it slide off me to the floor and stepped toward her."

7> "Thanks."
"Don't thank me yet."
"Too late -- I already have."

6> "The dame standing at the end of the dimly-lit bar wasn't very hot, but she wasn't exactly cold, either. She was lukewarm, like a turkey pot pie in an Easy-Bake oven."

5> "She ate dinner like old people hump -- slow and sloppy."

4> "She was trouble with a capital 'T.' No, more than that -- trouble in all caps. Well, that's maybe a bit excessive. She was lots of trouble, with a capital 'T' and an exclamation point. Maybe two exclamation points."

3> "I ventured into the dark alley with a pounding heart and a spastic colon, hoping neither would give me away."

2> "I've got five bucks that says you won't pull that trigger." "Good. I need that dough to buy bullets."

and's Number 1 Snippet of Bad Film Noir Dialogue...

1> "I checked into the hotel across the street from the dame. My room was musty and dingy, and a Chuck E. Cheese sign blinked intermittently in the window, bathing everything in its cheery orange light. But I smelled a rat."

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2003 by Chris White ]
Selected from 118 submissions from 43 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Daniel Weckerly, Limerick, PA -- 1 (19th #1 / Hall of Famer)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 7


Le Divorce

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

OK, we knew Naomi Watts could act, and Glen Close and Stockard Channing and Sam Waterston and Matthew Modine and Stephen Fry and Bebe Neuwirth, and Leslie Caron goes without saying, but Kate Hudson? Goldie Hawn's little girl? I mean, she's had some gritty roles and some silly ones, but none, in my opinion, that required sustained acting. Until now. OK, we knew Merchant/Ivory could do great films, but for an American studio with recognizable American stars? Well, yes.

Apparently the eponymous book upon which the film was based is also great. It's a moving, clever and well-told story of two American sisters in Paris, one abandoned without explanation by her French husband while pregnant with their second child (even the French in the film found his behavior boorish), the other invited by her sister's brother-in-law to be his mistress. Apparently, even Merchant/Ivory can't resist teaming a 20-something woman with a 50-something man, although at least they acknowledge the disparity in the script, which is more than any recent Sean Connery or Michael Douglas film has done.

First-rate adult entertainment that stick to your ribs. And by adult, I don't mean porno. I mean, not aimed at 13-year-old boys, who would hate this film. It has dialog, plot and character development. How it got green-lighted in Hollywood, I'll never know.

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements and sexual content. And--wonder of wonders--only 117 minutes long!

Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

OK. This is really simple. It reminds me of something we used to say in the newspaper business: every story in the paper you aren't interested in is too long; every story in the paper you are interested in is too short. We thought the Internet would fix that. We were wrong.

Well, the deal here is, if you have heard of They Might Be Giants, and either enjoyed their music or thought you might enjoy their music (do you like obscure Indie bands?), you should see this documentary. Seeing it on a big screen at this point will be very difficult outside of New York and LA; you'll probably have to wait for the DVD. If you hate indie music, or have never heard of the band, or would grow weary of looking at Manhattan and hearing people talk about Manhattan, this would be the worst 102 minutes of your life.

You pay your money and you take your chances. Por moi, anyone who can write a three-minute song about James K. Polk, the Napoleon of the Swamp (and our 11th president), has my interest, now and forever.

The Countdown

The countdown will return when something changes... Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts were great in Le Divorce, but I'll eat my hat if Oscar comes to call on either of them.

Great line from a Boston Globe appreciation of Groundhog Day I just read; "The only way Andie McDowell will ever get an Oscar is if she sneaks into Meryl Streep's house and steals one."


Grumpy Martha, Dan Grobstein

Don Hawthorne, whom I don't know and have never heard of before, was kind enough to share the URL for an Encarta column Grumpy Martha's Guide to Grammar and Usage. She's right, you know.

The Dan Grobstein File

  • The president lied about Iraq's nuclear threat, and hired other people to lie for his as well. What a shock! (Washington Post).
  • Right-wing commentator Kevin Phillips says Dean can't win, but can hurt Bush. (Los Angeles Times).
  • More lie analysis in The Bush Deceit by Peter D. Zimmerman, a physicist who was chief scientist of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and science adviser for arms control at the State Department during the Clinton administration. (Washington Post)
  • No disaster, even the great Northeast Power Outage of 2003, is so awful that someone can't make fun of it. (

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