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: September 1, 2003

September 1, 2003 Vol. 5, No. 36

Table of Contents:

General News

  • A Deep Void
  • First Week Teaching
  • Marlow in Taiwan
  • Rae in Waltham
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Web Site of the Week

  • None


  • None


  • American Splendor


  • Dan Grobstein File

General News

A Deep Void

I've been a little weepy this week when I wasn't busy, which wasn't often. There's a deep void, a phantom limb, a pain much sharper, albeit less frequent, than I expected. It comes at odd moments. When I am parking the golf cart after getting the morning paper. When I was shopping. Anything that reminds me that there's no one home but Vicki and I, and, really, no one's going to be home, permanently, again.

First Week Teaching

I am exhausted. I am baffled. I am confused, tired, scared and exhilarated. I don't know if I have the respect and love of my classes or the fear and loathing. I teach the same thing six periods a day and, despite my well-known love for repetition, I am not sure period 7 gets the same level of energy as period 1. I am sure they don't get the same level of spontaneity. On the other hand, all the rough edges have been polished off. I've made every possible mistake by the last period of the day, and I don't make them again at the end of the day.

Can I teach my students anything about US History? Too early to tell.

Marlow in Taiwan

I won't print so much from either daughter, but I just find these early emails fascinating.

I'm in Taipei. My hotel is lovely. I have an apartment set up for the third of September, a couple days after class starts. Orientation is on Friday, in the mean time I'm going to try and buy a cell phone and buy some electrical adaptors, maybe by getting a hold of Ying-Ying or Elisa's sister or maybe solo. It seems every store here has one person who can speak english, even though there's not really that many white people around (I'm getting a lot of covert attention.) I took the subway for the first time today, very clean and efficient with a Bart like ticket system.


I have fond my Charming City Hotel to be charming indeed. I have a small suite with a sitting area, a full sized bed, and a huge bathroom. I had no problem getting here from the airport, or at least I didn't after I pointed to the name of my hotel on a big chart of all the hotels in Taipei set up for such language barrier problem cases. Since I got in so early the first day I just dropped my luggage at the front desk and went out for a walk. I only got one "good morning" and one "hello", but a lot of other people were obviously or subtly wondering what the white girl was doing. I walked to the university, which was only relatively close. I filled out all my registration papers when the place opened at 8:30, but when I couldn't take the placement test until I had paid my tuition, so I had to go find a bank. This wasn't as easy as I had hoped it would be, because although after 9 the ATMs were all accessible, they didn't seem to want to take my ATM card. Eventually through the wrong-directions of one bank I ended up across the street from an obviously Westerner-oriented hotel whose concierge went through some pains to find me the central Citibank branch. There, my ATM card finally worked, though after talking to Dad I know now of a couple other branches which will accept my card (I checked today and things are going to be fine). I paid my tuition and took my test, I think I may have tested slightly below my ability, but I guess that's where my Chinese is now, plus of course they didn't test exactly the vocabulary I learned at Columbia, they use a different book here. Oh well. I came back to the hotel around noon and was able to check in and take a long shower, and even play with the hot-tub like bathtub which felt good on my sore legs after all the walking.

Cabs here are relatively cheap, but I decided this morning to take my first crack at the subway system. It is delightfully easy and clean and smooth running. I got from my hotel to the school area easily and quickly. Everyone in Taiwan is pretty well dressed, maybe not in a suit, but still all the clothes are new looking, never shabby or ill-fitting. Most people here get by on scooters. A few people have regular bikes. There are several bus companies which makes bus directions too confusing for me, at least for now, especially given how cheap cabs are. There are cars too, but scooters really dominate. Anyway, today I stopped by the office of a woman who had given me apartment contact info yesterday and I happened to run into a 23 yr. old girl from Hawaii named J who also just got in yesterday and was looking for an apartment as well. I had tried calling the woman (Mrs. C) and hadn't gotten her, but when the woman at the university tried she was home, so we went right over and saw it, or rather I walked over and J waited at the university for a ride from a family friend who was supposed to pick her up. I thought it was nice (and only 5500 NT$), but J's family friend was emphatic about it being a great deal, so I decided not to bother looking further because I probably wasn't going to do better in terms of price, location, and roommate. It is a ten minute walk from campus on the third floor of a seven story building. Most of the people in the building are professors at Taipei University. They normally rent to families when they go to live in the city, but their younger daughter is going to Taipei U. so they wanted her to continue to have access to the apartment so it made more sense to just rent out the two rooms which had belonged to their daughters and let their daughter keep the master bedroom. There's cable and internet already set up. Laundry right there and air-conditioning. The whole place looks like it was recently re-done, clean white walls, new looking fixtures in the kitC and new looking tile floors. Full stove, oven, microwave, fridge all there for the sharing. One and a half bath. And I think I may even get the bigger bedroom since I showed up slightly before J, I guess we'll figure that out on the 3rd when we move in. Mrs. C even gave us two fruits I'd never seen before while she talked with J's family friend about the details. I wish I could remember what they were called, one tasted kind of like pear. J plays tennis so we'll see about renting racquets and stuff once we're moved in, though it sounds like she's actually good so I hope I don't embarrass myself if we do manage to get on a court somewhere. J spent a semester in Taiwan, so although she hasn't studied much more Chinese than me she's much better at it, ...

After the whole apartment thing I bought some fried pork, rice thing from a street lunch vendor. I've cracked open the Pocari Sweat, available right in my room's fridge (this one is for you dad), its not as good as it sounds. It's kind of like a weak grapefruit soda or something similar. Since then I've been marveling at how easy it was to set up my computer here in the hotel (I didn't have to buy a converter or anything, I'm not sure if that's just because they put me in an American-style room or if all electricity in Taiwan is set up like this, I'm guessing it has to be the former, but in case its the latter I'm not going to ask about buying converters so I don't look like a tool needlessly). And using the internet was as easy as plugging into the Ethernet ready box, surprise, surprise.

I get good cable so I've been watching TV while dealing with the time zone thing. I don't really feel jet-lagged, I just got lazy in my sleeping habits yesterday; today I'm going to try and go to sleep at a more reasonable local time.


I ... bought my first real street vendor food with her ordering. Hen hao chi.

On the way back to my hotel I stopped at a place called "cha for tea." I think dad printed me out an article about them once, well at least someone did because I recognized the chain name. I had some lovely jasmine tea and sweet buns with red bean paste. They were slow in serving me and sat me by a sink in a corner where no one would accidentally see me, but the food and tea was good, probably would have been better with company, but I'm sure once classes start up I'll have all the friends in the world.

I also placed an order for a name chop in the ancient style using only Chinese (because that was the only way to do it). I'll pick it up on Monday.


Elisa left this evening, but before she went she introduced me to a couple other good street-vendor foods such as shaved-ice (with such odd things as yams, oatmeal, those pearls from pearl tea, and kidney beans) a type of dessert, as well as In-du Q Bing (Indian Chewy Cake, kind of like a crepe with peanuts and some black stuff wrapped inside). She also showed me to one of the English language bookstores near her dad's apartment. There were few English books for an English language bookstore, but I guess more than in any other bookstore around here, after she had to go back to pack I went back to the department store under the bookstore and bought a journal, a camera that takes four pictures on one normal print, some postcards, a copy of "Goodnight moon" in chinese and a kickin' watch.

Rae in Waltham

I saw the author of "Confederates in the Attic" speak (required summer reading), and he autographed my book. He won the Pulitzer prize and he was as articulate and thoughtful in real life as he was in his book.

Also I think Marlow was right when we talked today on the phone when describing Orientation. It's forced socialization between me and a bunch of random people who I'll probably not talk to for the next four years. Ahhh well. It's almost over, and maybe all this busy-ness is distracting me from being overly homesick. I can't wait for classes to start this Thursday.

Political Notes

Got a good one from Craig Reynolds this week. I, too, by the way have the Franken book. I love it!

The other day I got my copy of Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them and we talked about the way Fox did such a good job making it into a best seller. FYI there is an excerpt combining the Forward and another part of the book: (Note that to read content at Salon you have to either pay or watch a commercial to get a "day pass")

In a similar vein I also just ordered a copy of Joe Conason's "Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth", which was partially serialized in Salon: I noticed that Paul Krugman, whose New York Times op-ed column is one of my favorites, has also written a book called The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century"

I know I won't read all these books in their entirety, but I feel there is social value just in pushing these flaming liberal tirades up the best seller lists. I am tired of public debate being dominated by right-wing bluster.

Me too Craig, me too.

Along the same lines, I note an interesting aspect of the decision of Judge Chin in the entirely meritless effort of Fox News to destroy the First Amendment. Fox, of course, also wanted to prevent fair and balanced coverage of Fox News by the respected commentator Al Franken. The judge made clear what any third year law student should have known: the position taken by Fox (and its lawyers from the formerly well respected law firm of Hogan and Hartson) was not supported by either the facts or the law. These are strong words coming from a federal district judge according to a currently unimpeachable source with extensive experience dealing successfully with federal district judges.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

I marvel at his finds every week:

RSS: a gentle introduction. As those buttons pop up on more blogs and news outlets, I was feeling increasingly unhip and clueless. Some recent articles (RSS Hitting Critical Mass, Aggregators Attack Info Overload and RSS Readers: Bringing the World to Your Desktop) prodded me to try using an RSS client. To back up a bit, RSS is an XML-based format for "syndicating" news/blog articles. An RSS client lets you subscribe to various blogs or news outlets, formats the RSS feed and keeps track of what you have already read. So basically RSS shows you at a glance that "Joe's Blog" or "NYTimes Headlines" has posted new content since you last checked. This is especially useful for blog that publish infrequently, since you don't have to keep manually polling the blog site. I looked at NetNewsWire (mentioned by Gillmor) and AmphetaDesk (free, open source, cross platform) but I wanted to get a feel for RSS before I committed to installing and running yet another application. I found what I was looking for in Bloglines, a web-based RSS client that you access through your web browser. While a customized RSS application could be more slick, Bloglines seems to provide 95% of the functionality. My initial impression is that RSS certainly provides some benefits. But mostly it just makes me more sad that the fantastic NewsSeer has gone away. ("On hiatus" it says without explanation. Perhaps legal problems? Maybe they want to commercialize it?) I first mentioned NewsSeer here in December 2001, then its demise in November 2002, see also this 2002 article about NewsSeer, and this snapshot from the Internet Archive. Not only did NewsSeer predate RSS clients, and do most of what they do, it did something much cooler. By watching which articles you read, it learned your interests and offered the new headlines sorted by its estimate of your interest. My experience was that it did a fine job of learning my interests. NewsSeer: please come back!

Is code speech? No said the the California Supreme Court: DVD-copying code loses free speech shield (AP story), but the decision left " for another legal about-face, asking a lower court to revisit the question of whether any industry trade secret rights actually were violated..." Jon Johansen was acquitted last January in Norway of stealing trade secrets. He simply reverse-engineering a pathetically weak encryption. Its a sad day when simply guessing at Coke's secret formula is a crime. Lawrence Lessig had some thoughts on Bunner.

Two blows against the empire: two items about the theme mentioned here last week, that Microsoft software come pre-bundled with systemic security flaws (Microsoft Windows: Insecure by Design) and with high maintenance costs built in (Good Times). Daring Fireball goes on to analyze why corporate IT departments prefer MS products despite (or because of?!) these problems.

The Gender Genie is a web based implementation of an algorithm intended to classify text by the author's gender. I dropped in a few lines of my own prose and it guessed male. I was impressed. It gloated when I told it it was correct. I tried text where I was talking about my family and it guessed female. When I told it no, it responded "Well, he writes like a girl"! I tried two passages from Virginia Wolf's The Voyage Out and both times it guessed wrong.

Technobits: MIT Everyware --- dissing iTunes Music Store as a facelift for a corrupt industry --- BlogPulse: Automated Trend Discovery for Weblogs --- No-Fuss Video Camera --- EarthLink Sues to Stop Spammers --- shifting video game demographics: women over 18 now outnumber boys under 18.

Web Site of the Week





American Splendor

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

From IMBD: the tagline: Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff. The plot outline: An original mix of fiction and reality illuminates the life of comic book hero everyman Harvey Pekar.

A semi-documentary, semi-entertainment film, this movie mixes staged scenes from Pekar's life with actual footage of Pekar and the characters around him, as well as panels from the American Splendor comic book. Entertaining, weird, and worth seeing. This one goes on the Oscar list, but I'm not sure what category, except independent, which isn't really an Oscar category.

Paul Giamatti is brilliant as Harvey Pekar (better, really, then Harvey as himself) and Hope Davis is as good as I've ever seen her, playing Harvey's wife Joyce Brabner. Rated R for language, and very comfortable at 100 minutes in length.


Dan Grobstein File

Dan found this at

"By not awarding a specific medal for Iraq, the Bush White House gets to fold that war into the GWOT [Global War on Terrorism] and point to it as a central campaign instead of the diversion it is. If they get away with this, any conflict in the future will be part of the GWOT and, thus, justified."

  • First came information, then opinion. The Internet's next step may be electing a president. (Boston Globe).

In the Washington Post this week:

  • Teachers do spend too much of their own money equipping classrooms.
  • The president's web site is a dog's breakfast of illegally posted speeches and post facto history rewrites.
  • Harold Myerson of the American Prospect asks if we really prefer Walmart America with its downward pressure on wages, to unionized America.
  • E.J. Dionne Jr. offers some meditations on labor in time for Labor Day.

From the New York Times this week:

Still, even the government of a superpower can't simultaneously offer tax cuts equal to 15 percent of revenue, provide all its retirees with prescription drugs and single-handedly take on the world's evildoers - single-handedly because we've alienated our allies. In fact, given the size of our budget deficit, it's not clear that we can afford to do even one of these things. Someday, when the grown-ups are back in charge, they'll have quite a mess to clean up.

  • The author of See Here, Private Hargrove has died.

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