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 25, 2003

August 25, 2003 Vol. 5, No. 35

Table of Contents:

General News

  • The Nest Empties
  • Eight Hours Of Python
  • World's Best Cat Columns Here
  • Paid Content
  • About The Blackout
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • None


  • None


  • Uptown Girls


  • Craig Reynolds, Amy Tam's Lyme Disease, Richard Dalton, Dan Grobstein File

General News

The Nest Empties

Rae left for Brandeis on Friday with Vicki.

Talk about denial! All I wrote about Marlow's departure in August 1999 was:

As my mother always said when we were kids, your goal in raising children is to raise them strong and wise and self-confident so they can go out in the world on their own. And yet, when you succeed, it hurts like a son-of-a-bitch.

Still true, of course. Plus, over the last four years, I have cited two columns on separation:

You Have to Let Them Go
Adair Lara
San Francisco Chronicle
August 26, 1999

I WAS WATCHING at Glen Alpine Falls in Tahoe as two kids about 7 and 10 forded a steeply down-rushing waterfall. A single misstep and they would be hurtling down the falls, their tender bodies slamming onto the jagged rock below.

Or so it seemed to me as I watched from below, unable to chew my tuna sandwich. Above, their mother watched, barely visible in a red tank top. I could not see her expression, but I knew from her frozen stance what she was feeling: that she had to trust them, had to let them climb around the falls.

People think that being a parent is a way to express one's natural feelings. I've found that being a mother means getting up every single day and doing exactly the opposite of what comes naturally.

And I wrote in January of this year:

As I face the pendency of our daughters both being gone next fall, I find a special piquancy in this Anna Quindlen commentary, brought to my attention by Kevin Sullivan, printed in Newsweek in October, 2000. It begins:

If not for the photographs, I might have a hard time believing they ever existed. The pensive infant with the swipe of dark bangs and the black button eyes of a Raggedy Andy doll. The placid baby with the yellow ringlets and the high piping voice. The sturdy toddler with the lower lip that curled into an apostrophe above her chin. All my babies are gone now.

I first wrote one of my favorite metaphors for the process back in April 1999, four months before Marlow left for Columbia:

For months, I have been coping with the realization that, come September, Marlow will move out and go to college. I will go from being the leading man in the sitcom of her life to being a bit player. I'll make a "special guest appearance" each year on the Christmas show. Or, if I'm really lucky, I'll be helming the summer replacement program (anybody here old enough to remember when there were summer replacement TV shows? Or when Johnny Carson had guest hosts and fresh shows?)

Or Johnny Carson? Anyway, I've been fired as leading man for a second time. I'll haunt the parental unemployment office, hoping for a few days work at Christmas or in the summer.

I guess it must be obvious from the annual late-August flood of personal columns that empty nest syndrome is alive and well. After four years of pulling the scab off, again and again, with Marlow, I figured I was ready and over it. According to my mother, who has been doing it since August 1970, you never get over it. Your heart soars every time your children choose to spend a few weeks at what, increasingly, is no longer really their "home." Then it plummets as they fly off. You ask what they're doing, where they're going, when they'll be back, and if they're like Marlow, they point out, pointedly, that next week you won't have any idea what country they're in, nonetheless where they are and what they're doing. It's true. That doesn't make it any easier.

I can't decide if Mom had it worse or better. We had a four-year transition of just Rae at home. Mom lost my brother and I in the space of a year.

Well, there's no point in comparing pain. Vicki and I have done our job as parents. We have raised well-adjusted, competent, strong, wise and self-confident children. And now it is time to for them to leave and make their own lives.

Eight Hours Of Python

For her 22nd birthday last January, when Marlow was home from her senior year at Columbia, she and I had planned a 22-hour Monty Python marathon. That's how long it would take, roughly, to watch all 44 episodes in order. I had just received the complete set on DVD as a gift. Well, he friend Karl had other commitments, we ran out of time, and she went back to school. She came home for spring break and that didn't work either. Her ardor for the project had cooled by the time she came home in July this summer. Finally, I set last Friday as the day, and said I'd do it, with her or without her. She watched the first four hours with me.

I gave up after eight hours.

This might seem curious to those of you who know me, since you know I can and have watched as many as five movies in one day, a "marathon" of about 10 hours. But that's different, somehow. For one thing, it's in a theater. For another, the movies are different. And, in point of fact, it is wearing, tiring and disorienting to watch that many movies in one day.

But it is really wearing, tiring and disorienting to watch eight hours of a television series, even a great one like Monty Python's Flying Circus, which I have loved since I reviewed the movie for The Tech back in 1972 (I had to travel to NYC to see it; the film didn't play Boston). Perhaps a Python is best swallowed, not whole, but in pieces.

I must praise the DVD set. I own all 43 episodes on VHS videotape, where they were released back in the early 80s. For some reason, each tape had a random selection of episodes. And the technical quality (speaking as a former TV technician) was atrocious. By the way, when public TV showed these episodes, the quality was also sub-broadcast. I always assumed this was a result of lousy late 60s British TV transfer technology. Apparently not. The DVD is crystal clear, and organized in episode order. So, for the first time since 1969, you can see the entire series, in the same order the British public did, and the same (or better) level of video and audio quality. Why yes, it does enhance the experience.


World's Best Cat Columns Here

Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle, the world's best columnist, deals with the multiple personality disorder that afflicts one of his two cats:

The three faces of Bucket
Jon Carroll
San Francisco Chronicle
Tuesday, August 19, 2003

If cats could be tested the way humans are tested, the cats would probably be psychologically identical to serial killers. They are narcissistic and irrational. They believe the universe exists to serve them. They see patterns where there are no patterns. And, of course, they kill without mercy.

The only reason I have two in my house is that they are cute and fuzzy. If Ted Bundy had had fur, he'd still be sleeping on someone's sun porch. Also, he'd be named Mr. Fluffy.

Paid Content

As a former Internet content provider myself, I guess, in a way, I have to applaud the Los Angeles Times for walling off its Calendarlive content and charging for it (see another blog analysis). It will cost $34 a year tom read Calendar section articles online if you aren't a 7-day subscriber to the newspaper. Since I live up near San Francisco, and can barely get through the Chronicle and the Contra Costa Times every day (no, gasp, I don't read the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal), I am not likely to take out a subscription to the whale.

I have done the calculus, and although I used to enjoy perusing Calendarlive content on occasion when I had nothing better to do, that's a habit I'll drop like a hot potato now. My occasional visits are NOT worth $34 a year. Sigh.

Increasingly, content on the net is going to cost. Which means that, like everything else in our capitalist society, the Internet will continue to be a wonderful thing for the rich and an increasingly impoverished medium for the poor.

About The Blackout

At first, the whole blackout thing seemed quite clear: the free market will not reward power companies for maintaining sufficient capacity to handle emergencies. So, we have to regulate them and require that they build sufficient redundant transmission capacity to insure reliability. This, of course, could lead to the same kind of nimbyism that makes cellphone reception so terrible in so many parts of the country. Cellphone operators are not given the right of eminent domain, so they can't force their towers into the places they need to be. Apparently, there is something like the same problem for high-voltage power lines. That simply has to be changed. Sorry, but if you don't want blackouts, some of us are going to have to accept power lines. Let's just try to be sure they pass through rich neighborhoods as well as poor, shall we?

As to who should pay, most Republicans are talking about the ratepayers, and most Democrats are talking about the public. Let's not forget, please, the utility shareholders (conflict of interest note: that includes me). They ought to bear some of the pain too.

Of course, the free market could be used to insure sufficient capacity is built. At first glance, it might seem that you couldn't monetize the risk of blackouts. But, of course, you can. Remove the utilities' sovereign immunity against having to pay for the costs of outages. Reliability would improve a lot, real fast. Of course, you'd have to free the utilities to charge ratepayers appropriately, and then some would gouge the ratepayers to line their pockets and not build the transmission capacity (see all the Telcos, who stole our money and then didn't bring high-speed Internet to our doorsteps).

Oh dear. If you walk any of the free market scenarios out to the end, you find that lying, cheating, stealing, rapacious corporate managers will diddle the system, line their pockets, and leave the public holding a half-billion dollar bag (approximate cost of the most recent outage). Perhaps we need a mixed system, capitalism combined with regulation.

Am I still allowed to say that in public?

Political Notes

I said it before, but I'll say it again, in case you missed it: in California, if you pay to have signatures gathered, you can put a ham sandwich on the ballot. The gubernatorial recall that is needlessly wreaking havoc with my adopted state's credit rating and reputation is a GOP/right-wing cabal at work, start to finish. Since Republicans don't care if government works or not, this is a win-win situation for them. Whiny millionaire loser Darrell Issa, the front man for this train wreck, called the recall a popular revolt. It bears the same relation to popular revolt as a mob bears to a crowd of Hollywood extras pretending to be a mob. In the first case, you have an authentic representation of popular will. In the second case, you have hired some people to simulate the same thing. He, along with his GOP cronies, crow about gathering 1.7 million signatures to force the recall.

Here's my prediction. Within six months of the recall, if it succeeds, we'll have gathered another 1.7 million signatures for another recall. And this time, we won't need paid signature gatherers. I'll go out and gather signatures myself, along with thousands of other disgusted Californians. Tit for tat, revenge, mindless retaliation: GOP tactics, and also the only language the Republicans understand. And let's make sure to redistrict every state in which the state legislature flips Democratic, shall we?

* * *

Last week, Warren Buffett spoke the truth about Proposition 13. He said it was a bad idea and needed to be overturned. Arnold Schwarzenegger, quickly backpedaled when his financial advisor told the truth to power. Robert Scheer hit the nail on the head.

Yes, Prop 13 saved the homes of the elderly--in the stupidest possible way. If that is our goal, pass an initiative that does just that. (After all, as we've just proven, we can put a ham sandwich on the ballot). Instead, we have California business the biggest tax break in history. We took all the power out of local government and shipped it to Sacramento. There's a good Republican move. But Jarvis and Gann were disingenuous at best and liars at worst. They knew Proposition 13 was voodoo economics, and they supported it anyway because they loved big business and hated government, and Prop 13 helped the former and decimated the later.

Proposition 13, the property tax cut and cap, is a stupid, ill-conceived, pro-business, anti-grass roots measure that is destroying California like a next of fiscal termites. It will eventually make a third-world country of the nation's sixth-largest economy--a state full of whiny "I want services but I don't want to pay for them" elderly white crybabies.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Optics from unusual sources: first came news that a deep-sea sponge creates fiber-optic material which is superior in several respects to the best stuff used in optical telecommunication systems today. Apparently the glass-like fibers serve both as the animal's skeleton and perhaps as a distribution nework for bio-luminescence (see also Wired, picture 1 and picture 2). My friend Lance Williams reminded me of the TV Stone, another naturally-occurring fiber-optic "device." Then he mentioned the recent discovery that the brittlestar (another deep-sea creature, related to the starfish) is covered with tiny crystalline lenses, the animal's entire body is an eye. Even more startling to me was the amazing realization that both of these discoveries were made by the same Bell Labs researcher: Joanna Aizenberg. Both stories got play this week, but apparently the brittlestar story first broke in February. And since we are on the subject of optical devices from humble origins: a cellophane-and-laptop-based 3D display.

Picking on Microsoft: another week, another worm, plus some major browser security bugs, so it is business as usual for the Windows world. In this bottom-line-obsessed, total-cost-of-ownership-aware industry, I continue to be amazed that people are willing to put up with the huge productivity tax incurred by using Microsoft products. Remember that 99.8% of viruses, worms and other malware specifically target Microsoft software. Mac OS and Linux users are essentially immune. Richard Forno says Forget California, It's Time to Recall Microsoft. Slashdot notes that Microsoft's little oopsies can have major impacts in the real world: Microsoft Worms Crash Ohio Nuke Plant, MD Trains. As I mentioned last week, part of Microsoft's problem is its massive failure to keep their installed base patched. It looks like they may be moving on that front: Windows patches may become automatic. Otherwise their security bulletins may start looking like this parody.

Spam: Denise Howell writes about a private-sector approach to spam control. Whereas in the "pot calls kettle black" department: junk-mailers say they intend to join effort to fight spam.

Technobits: RIAA Methods Under Scrutiny and Individual challenges RIAA subpoena --- Tampa dumps face-recognition --- incredibly, the Bush Patent Office said open-source software runs counter to the mission of WIPO... --- clear thinking on energy policy --- 15 months later, Wolfram's New Kind of Science --- Zombie Infection Simulation --- fun, semi-interactive, marathon Egg animation, see others by the same artist.

Web Site of the Week





Uptown Girls

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

I guess I'm just not in the target demographic for this film, according to a puff piece in the SF Chronicle about MGM's marketing department. By the way, if you saw the story and didn't realize that's what it was, don't worry. It took a highly trained professional journalist, experienced in the ways of the "one-stopper" to divine the nature of the article.

Anyway, the article says this film is aimed strictly at women 18-34, although a few men might wander in. Both my daughters are in the target demo, and they rolled their eyes considerably at this poorly-written piece of fluff. I don't really think there is some dream logic or alternate reality in which this is a good movie. I mean, it has sets, and a plot, and dialog, and was shot to professional standards, but it's kind of a Frankenstein's monster of a movie, put together out of pieces of what might have been several interesting movies. It just doesn't go anywhere.

Marlow and I knew it would be stupid when we went. We were right. Actually, I was sure it had lowered my IQ so much I'd be unable to drive home. Or as Calculon said on a recent episode of Futurama, "that was so bad it gave me cancer."

Now, it isn't Gigli bad, or even Problem Child bad, but it is worth not seeing.


Craig Reynolds, Amy Tam's Lyme Disease, Richard Dalton, Dan Grobstein File

Craig Reynolds, this column's techno-whiz, is the only hybrid car owner I know personally:

I like the Civic Hybrid. It basically a Civic plus some other stuff going on under the hood that you can safely ignore. On my very short (5 mile?) commute the typical mileage is not great: low 30s mpg. On the highway it gets low 40s. I would call it peppy but certainly not a sports car. Also I switched from a manual transmission in my old Civic to the automatic continuously-variable transmission in the Hybrid, so it did feel a little "mushy" to me as I started driving it.

Lyme Disease is really scary. A friend of mine has it. So does Amy Tan.

Richard Dalton made an interesting find:

This is so obvious (see-through kayaks) that I can't understand why I haven't seen it before--unless I'm just more out of it than usual. Think of snorkeling for the same crowd that does wheelchair marathons.

Dan Grobstein File:

Success! In a strongly worded ruling, federal Judge Denny Chin denied Fox News Networks' motion for a preliminary injunction to block the publication of "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right," by Al Franken. Fox News had claimed that the title infringed its trademark in the phrase "fair and balanced."

The judge's decision, issued from the bench late this afternoon, held that Mr. Franken's First Amendment right in his book's title far outweighed any interest Fox News might have in the trademark. He also found it unlikely that "fair and balanced" is a valid trademark, given the phrase's prominence in "the marketplace of ideas."

  • The unanimous plea of the nation's governors for help with Medicare prescription costs falls on deaf ears in the Bush administration and congressional GOP environs--so what else is new? (Washington Post).
  • Molly Ivins: All-American Blame Game: It would be a refreshing change, would it not, if somebody just stood up and said, "My fault." (Alternet).
  • The tragic loss of the National Enquirer archives, caused by a mostly-forgotten anthrax attack two years ago. (New York Times).
  • Paul Kugrman asks: will Arnold be allowed to fake his way through the election? Well of course he will. To ask the question is to answer it. (New York Times)
  • Will the Baghdad truck bomb be a godsend for the U.S.? (Washington Post)
  • Yet more proof the liberals are better than conservatives
  • We eat 30 pounds of cheese a year, says the USDA. (Associated Press)

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