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: November 3, 2003

November 3, 2003 Vol. 5, No. 44

Table of Contents:

General News

  • The Nature of Phone and Mail
  • Gratitude
  • News from Marlow
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • None


  • The Matrix Revolutions
  • Station Agent
  • Countdown


  • George Rostky, Bob Nilsson, Kevin Sullivan, Dan Grobstein File

General News

The Nature Of Phone And Mail

I was just noticing the other night that Vicki and I tend to jump now when the phone rings. That didn't used to be true. Of course, when I was a work-at-home journalist, I had between 10 and 20 phone calls a day related to business, as well as a half-dozen personal calls. Now I am lucky if I get three calls a day.

Of course, that doesn't count telemarketing calls, but we're fortunate to have two phone numbers, one which we give to commercial organizations and one to friends. The commercial number does not ring, it just flashes a light, and all calls are answered by our voice mail. For years, that stopped all telemarketing, and if a legitimate commercial business called, we called them back. Now, some telemarketers are actually getting bold enough to leave messages. The gall is appalling. The personal number has leaked out a little, but so far, no more than a call or two a week. When the girls moved out, Vicki suggested we drop one phone line, but the advantage of nearly never having a telemarketing call, while still getting calls from friends and family won her over.

But as to the question of jumping when the phone rings; Marlow is in Taiwan, Rae is at college in Massachusetts, and while we hope every call brings good news of their joy and happiness, we don't know that for sure. Vicki's mom is getting older, as are my parents, and sometimes we worry about them. And frankly, we get called so seldom now that each call seems to be an event.

Then there's mail. I've never been much interested in the paper mail, because it brings me mostly bills and junk. Vicki likes mail order catalogs and often receives checks in the mail (something that has almost never happened to me at any point in my life), so she likes to get the mail each day as soon as possible. As for me, I could, like our daughters, just as easily go days without picking up my mail.


My conception of God is fuzzy; I am pretty sure that that he is not a personal God who listens to and answers individual prayer. But I do fear the deleterious side effects of hubris, and recently I have taken to pausing each morning on my way out to get the newspaper to thank God for another day of life, for my health and that of my family. I promise to do the best I can to honor and glorify her name by doing some good in the world, this day and every day. It seems like a good attitude to have, regardless of whether God exists or not.

News From Marlow

Marlow described a cut of pork here recently, but could not name it. A tip of the PSACOT hat to Jim Forbes, who knows almost everything; it was sidemeat (uncured bacon from the side of the swine).

Meanwhile, In Tapei:

A Vietnamese woman I know is not just studying law at Tai Da, she is studying "socialist constitutional law." That's what it sounded like, and of course her English needs work which is why I'm tutoring her. But it sounded like it's a survey of the laws of Vietnam, China and North Korea. I didn't even know North Korea had bothered to make specific laws. So, I'm thinking of emailing her a North Korea article or two from the Internet so she can improve on some of the related vocabulary discuss the topic more clearly. She is obviously plenty smart and her vocabulary is rather impressive, she just has problems expressing herself orally. It seems like everyone I've met who is going to Tai Da is studying something that I would find very interesting.


Saturday, unsurprisingly, I slept in. I woke up around noon and watched some television, but then when I got drowsy enough I went back to sleep until 4, gotta get those 12 hours on the weekend because I'm still not sleeping great on weekdays (stupid 8 am class). But in the evening I went out for sushi with G, L, and G's friend B from Beijing who is now taking language classes at Tai Da and living in our area. After sushi we ran into a community arts festival concert of a band with a "Latin flavor." They covered a couple Santana songs, sang a song in Taiwanese. I think they were just going to cover some other songs such as Pretty Woman, so we eventually took off.


Today we made hong zhao ji (red cooked chicken) in cooking class. It was mighty tasty, but my favorite part of the meal was probably actually the preparation of the potatoes which were thinly diced, lightly fried in oil with some chili peppers and scallions and then salt, sugar and vinegar were added. Yum. There was also a delicious cold cucumber/"pickle" preparation. I finally got to meet the roommate, K, of my cooking team member/hang out during the break friend J, who came with S, a girl who graduated from Columbia a year or two before me, to share our lunch since not too many people came to cooking class today.


I walked over to the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial because I wanted to see if there was anything up to commemorate the Mme.'s passing. There wasn't anything obvious from the square. They were erecting a stage, but that was just for a starlight concert. There were lots of children running around but no big pile of flowers or huge picture. There's a couple of possible explanations for this. One is that the KMT is no longer in power, for the first time since its exile to Taiwan, and that really was the Chiang Kai-shek party. The second explanation was that Mme. Soong was never really about Taiwan, she was about the mainland, even now as I understand it, her body is being kept in New York (Westchester County) to be re-unified with her husband not in Taiwan, but on the Mainland post-reunification (?). It seems like as a result most of the memorial events and what not are more New York focused than Taipei focused.

Political Notes

Why is Bush stonewalling the 9/11 Commission? The answer was provided by Philip Shenon in 9/11 Commission Could Subpoena Oval Office Files in The New York Times. He confirmed that last year Bush admitted that he received a written intelligence report in August 2001 (the month before the attacks of 9/11/01) that Al Qaeda might try to hijack American passenger planes. After receiving the report, Bush's apparent response was to spend the next month on vacation.


I mentioned that Runaway Jury was rated PG-13, at least in part because of a total lack of ethics displayed by most of the characters in the film. One wag responded,

Does the PG-13 rating for total lack of ethics mean that all of George W. Bush's speeches or advertisements (if he decides to run for election in 2004) will have to carry that warning or that the networks will have to refuse time before all the children are theoretically asleep?


You have to go to Canada to find it in a newspaper, but at last there is talk of impeachment from the publisher of Harper's Magazine. Thank you Richard Dalton.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Read The Digital Imprimatur: How big brother and big media can put the Internet genie back in the bottle by John Walker, founder of Autodesk.

Diebold voting machines: crooked or incompetent? as discussed here previously (1, 2, 3) Diebold's voting machines appear to be so insecure they legitimately raise the question: is the company simply ignorant of elementary computer security techniques, or was the machine intentionally designed to allow "back door" vote tampering? The latest installment in Scoop's series on this topic is out, alleging e-vote fraud in Florida in 2000. The manufactures are beginning to react to the raising tide of criticism but Stanford's David Dill says: "The voting machine industry doesn't have a PR problem. It has a technology problem." At the same time Diebold is trying to use the DMCA to suppress information about flaws in its products, but the online community is easily outmaneuvering them: E-Vote Protest Gains Momentum, Targeting Diebold with Electronic Civil Disobedience and Diebold documents now on Freenet, safe from censorship?.

DMCA: the U.S. Copyright Office and the Librarian of Congress updated the list of recognized exceptions to this overly-broad anti-consumer law. The good news it that they allowed some, the bad news is that they are pretty limp in the face of the damage done to the public interest by the DMCA. See coverage by Wired and However there was a little good news this week. In a particularly loathsome example of the kind of lame-brained abuse sanctioned by this nosebleed of a law--in this case, abuse of the free market--Lexmark has been trying to prevent competition for its ink cartridges by invoking the DMCA. Not so fast, says Copyright Office.

Broadcast flag roundup: Lessig commentary, Hollywood to the computer industry: We don't need no stinking Napsters!, Boob Tubes Going Digital By 2007 and A Case of Piracy Overkill?

Spam: on the one hand California Wins Its First Anti-Spam Judgment but is it already too late?: Spam 'turning people off e-mail'

Kids these days: amusing transcripts of 10-13 year old kids while playing classic video games for the first time. Playing 1978's Space Invaders one says, "I'm sure everyone who made this game is dead by now."

Technobits: the DNC blog Kicking Ass carried an item on the robots.txt, see more here and here. --- Cringely: How Microsoft's Misunderstanding of Open Source Hurts Us All --- Fortune: From Betamax to Kazaa: The Real War Over Piracy --- Lessig on an end-run around Digital Rights Management: the analog key --- like a scene from 2010 ("...something wonderful is going to happen...")




The Matrix Revolutions

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

It's been a while since Neal Vitale (my Arts Section editor from college days) has been a published critic. But since he got to see a preview showing, I'm sharing his opinion. I think this may become a regular feature; and, of course, I reserve the right to disagree from time to time.

With a sanctimonious thud, The Matrix Revolutions brings the Matrix trilogy to an overdue close. What was once an interesting, fresh, and original concept already has been reworked into a dull and flaccid sequel (Reloaded). Now, amidst CGI overload, plot (I use the term loosely) clichés and banality, and a turgid soup of religious-philosophical-mythological-who-knows-what mumbo jumbo, the Matrix series mercifully ends. Yes, there are spectacular visuals, as in the other two films, but increasingly it feels like been there, seen that. And overall, who cares? I'm left with two nagging questions - 1) would Keanu Reeve's dialogue across three films fill a single sheet of paper? and 2) in a society that can build impressively articulated robotic fighting machines and advanced (space?) craft, can't anyone knit a sweater that doesn't fall apart?

By the way, around our house, we use a line I stole from the Harvard Lampoon 30 years ago; this movie has to be licensed in most towns, and must be taken for a walk every night. In short, a dog. Rae made a reference to this last week when she wrote about a film.

Station Agent

You want the facts? Go to the Internet Movie Database

Neal Vitale recommended this film--the day after Rae and I had seen it in Cambridge. We were actually trying to see Sylvia, but Kendall Square has changed a lot in the 30 years since I hung out there as an MIT undergraduate, and we didn't get to the theater until 15 minutes after showtime. Remarkably, the theater has a policy of not seating latecomers. There's an idea I wish would catch on.

Neal's capsule review was:

Just wonderful. A real "Best" candidate for me.

Well, I'm ready to go as far as to put it on my "best indie" list, but I don't think Oscar will come calling for a film this eccentric. It is a slice of life film, with some plot and character development, but not much. Director/writer Thomas McCarthy (until now a second-tier tv and movie actor) has written a film that comprises a deft analysis of the life of a dwarf train spotter and the emotionally stunned (or stunted) people he meets when fate puts him in a small town in New Jersey. Excellent performances from Peter Dinklage as Finbar McBride (the dwarf), Patricia Clarkson as Olivia Harris the proto-divorcee and Bobby Cannavale as Joe Oramas (Rae would like to have a friend like him), the doofus who befriends Finbar and tries to play matchmaker. No tidy Hollywood ending here in indie film land. Just 88 minutes of R-rated elegy to the vagaries of the human condition. I liked it. Not loved it, but liked it. It is worth updating my countdown for.


Best Picture:
Seabiscuit, Lost in Translation

Best Animated Film:
Finding Nemo

Best Director:
Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation)

Best Actress:
Diane Lane (Under The Tuscan Sun)

Best Actor:
Bill Murray (Lost in Translation)
Nicolas Cage (Matchstick Men)

In other categories, my favorite films so far this year are:

Indie Film:
Whale Rider, The Hard Word, Station Agent

Spellbound, Winged Migration, Lost in La Mancha, Gigantic

Narration by a dead person:

Bend it like Beckham

A Mighty Wind


George Rostky, Bob Nilsson, Kevin Sullivan, Dan Grobstein File

The computer industry has lost a giant. Journalist and raconteur George Rostky died this week after a long illness.

Bob Nilsson writes:

How long have kids been told not to accept apples for fear of needles or razor blades? I always enjoy it when an urban (or other) myth is debunked. This research could not find a single case of Halloween treats being tainted. Seems like the nearest cases were cover-ups for other crimes. (From NPR, All Things Considered)

The paranoia surrounding tampered Halloween treats has been around longer than candy corn. But a recent media study of reports of children dying from poisoned Halloween candy found that none were genuine.

Apropos of several items in last week's column, Kevin Sullivan checks in with some thoughtful remarks. On lay and lie and teaching:

To simplify or not, that is the question. Some teachings bring you to a new state of knowledge by adding to what you already know. Some teachings do the same by subtracting.

My case in point regarding the use of lie and lay.

Lie (intransitive) - it doesn't take an object. "Lie over there, Sheila." Lay (transitive) - requires an object. "Lay down the gun, Luke."

I was amused by your later use of lie and lying in regard to the Republicans.

It amused me too, as I wrote it.

On my note that Vicki and I are ocean people:

We're ocean people too, and our distance of 20 miles from the Right Coast seems way too far. Our plan is to move after the girls finish high school. I find visits to the ocean are revitalizing, but they make me sad for the path not taken.

Living right at the ocean has never been in the cards for me (except after college when I lived for nearly a year in Winthrop, but even then I was two miles inland), but perhaps it will come someday for Vicki and I as well.

The Dan Grobstein File:

New York Times:

To put it more bluntly: it would be quite a trick to run the biggest budget deficit in the history of the planet, and still end a presidential term with fewer jobs than when you started. And despite yesterday's good news, that's a trick President Bush still seems likely to pull off.

  • The DOJ is too technically illiterate to properly black out the contents of a critical report, and comes off mealy mouthed in the news article on the subject. But we're talking John Ashcroft here, so I shouldn't be surprised.

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