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: February 16, 2004

February 16, 2004 Vol. 6, No. 7

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Anger and Revenge: Ignoble
  • News from Marlow
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • The Top 14 Signs Your Pet Has Been Doing Drugs
  • The Top 14 Things Overheard at an Animal Hotel (Part I) February 12, 2004
  • Hearing Test


  • Master and Commander
  • Guest Review: 50 First Dates


  • Crimson Porn, Grobstein File

General News

Sorry we're so early this week; I'm headed out of town on a trip until late Monday. If you're looking for the column of Feb. 9, just click that date.

Anger and Revenge: Ignoble

I dreamt last Saturday night that I was in my classroom, except it wasn't my classroom. There were students there who didn't belong. Not real, recognizable students from my school, but composite students. I was angry and tried to get them out of my room. I realized I was dreaming about anger and revenge, and awoke feeling quite badly. It is ignoble to think of my classroom and my students in this way. Am I too angry? I resolve to smile more, to be nicer, to be angry less. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. If I'm dreaming about being angry, I think I'm too angry.

News From Marlow

More details of Marlow's travels are here.

Lantern Festival Day

Shifen is just an area near Bangxiao in the mountains. There is a little town with train tracks running through the center near the top of a mountain with a couple of waterfalls and suspension bridges nearby. We got there at around 3. We walked to the waterfall but didn't go in because we would have had to pay, so we went to the free waterfalls instead. Then we walked back to the town and got all kinds of food at the stands. Since we'd gotten there people were releasing lanterns, of the same type I described releasing on New Years.

But as it got dark people started releasing more and more, then finally they started doing the official releases. Maybe 100 people at a time would pair up and go to the staging area where there were people already waiting with the balloons. You'd run in and have five minutes to write down your wishes on the lantern. Then you'd hold it up when at a given signal guys with blowtorches would come around and light everyone's lantern. As they filled up with hot hair you held them down until on yet another signal they were all released together.

It was very pretty. We went twice. The first time we got pink balloons. The second time orange. I was hoping we'd get red. All the colors have meanings, but I couldn't understand since it was all in Chinese. ...

After we'd been there for half an hour people started to gather and a lot of police showed up, we wondered what famous person was coming for the festival. I joked that it would probably be Mayor Ma, because he's the only famous Taiwanese guy I know besides Chen Shui Bian, and sure enough it was Mayor Ma. He got out of his car and was thronged by people, he worked his way through the crowd shaking hands.

His face lit up when he saw me and (in Chinese) he asked where I was from, I said I'd come from America, he welcomed me to Taipei, and I thanked him, then we said goodbye. Man, I could feel all the Chinese studying actually paying off right then and there. It was way cool. Me and Mayor Ma are tight. I saw him at the Confucius birthday thing a couple months ago too. He's considered a heart throb by Taiwanese women. He did look fit.

Political Notes

Mr. Bush says he's working hard to create new jobs in America, while his top economist says it's healthy for jobs to be shipped overseas." George Bush "told Tim Russert that if you order a country to disarm and it doesn't and you don't act, you lose face. But how does a country that goes to war to disarm a country without arms get back its face?" Read how it all makes sense through the Bush looking glass in The Khan Artist by Maureen Dowd in The New York Times, Feb. 12, 2004

My long-term goal of smacking Tim Russert in the face was reinforced Sunday as I watched him allow Bush to mischaracterize Democratic tax proposals. Tim could easily have said, "Actually, some Democrats, at least, would like to cancel your tax cuts for people who earn more than $300,000 a year, Mr. President," but he didn't because he's a... well, in the interests of civil discourse, I won't be precise. He tried, but it was softballs he pitched for the most part. Bush, as usual, was a weasel. We'll see if Lincoln was right: can you fool all the people all the time? The "president" certainly hopes so.

Craig Reynolds notes:

You Can Make It With Plato
Bush's difficult relationship with reality.
By William Saletan

A good blog analysis of Bush on Meet the Press. The Center for American Progress deconstructs his blather on the show point by point. Devastating. National Review Online's analysis, via Calpundit.

For years, the annual total U.S. spending for all intelligence agencies (military and civilian) had been estimated at about $30B. According to The New York Times ("An Inquiry That's Awash In Disputes at the Outset" by Douglas Jehl, Feb. 2, 2004, page A10), the intelligence budget is now "approaching $40 billion a year. . ."

Richard Dalton wrote:

I'm surprised this hasn't cropped up in your newsletter. It has obvious social justice import and it also may become a major presidential election issue, especially if Kerry is the Democratic nominee.

There has been every kind of purple prose written by people on both sides of this issue. The following is the most well-reasoned and non-inflammatory discussion I've seen. It's written by Peter J. Gomes who is the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard. He is an American Baptist minister.

To extend the civil right of marriage to homosexuals will neither solve nor complicate the problems already inherent in marriage, but what it will do is permit a whole class of persons, our fellow citizens under the law heretofore irrationally deprived of a civil right, both to benefit from and participate in a valuable yet vulnerable institution which in our changing society needs all the help it can get.

I'm surprised too, actually. I am a strong supporter of gay rights, and have numerous gay friends. I think straights have done enough damage to the venerable institution of marriage; gays can't do any worse. Besides, we also need to separate civil and religious marriage. We've played around with a fuzzy line between the two in this country for long enough. You got the license fee and the blood test? You're as qualified to get married as I was, regardless of the genders of the two partners.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Data "copyright": as mentioned here two weeks ago, despite the Supreme Court's finding that facts could not be copyrighted, the Database and Collections of Information Misappropriation Act of 2003 continues to grind its pointless way through the legislative process in yet another despicable attempt by corporate interests to pilfer information from the public domain. The Public Knowledge advocacy group urges you to Save your right to get the facts! by writing your legislators. ACM, the leading society of computer professionals, urges its members to register their opinion on this matter in an online poll, in which currently 91% of the membership oppose the legislation (they support the ACM's position against the bill).

More eVote debacle: from Wired E-Vote Machines Drop More Ballots and Pentagon Gives E-Voting the Boot. EFF: Judge to Rule on Consequences for Diebold's Misuse of Copyright Law. At Salon, a good in-depth summary, worth sitting through a commercial for a Day Pass: Will the election be hacked?.

Who knew? Long-lived NYT URLs: many newspapers put their content on line for a day or two, then move it to an archive behind a pay-per-view firewall. This is a source of constant frustration to bloggers and authors of other web pages who would like to make permanent links to the news stories. So imagine my glee to read in Lessig's blog to learn that Aaron Swartz provided a web-based tool (New York Times Link Generator) to magically translate a normal NYT link to one that does not expire. Paul found this explanation by Dave Winer: New York Times Archive and Weblogs, which says "the Times wishes to encourage people with weblogs to point to and comment on New York Times articles". (It is not crystal clear if Userland intends to share this "partnership" with everyone.)

Technobits: Intel's 1-GHz silicon-based optical modulator (Nature, EETimes, Wired) --- Cracks appear in Bluetooth security --- why Declan McCullagh opposes the Fraudulent Online Identity Sanctions Act --- Groklaw: legal eagles for open source --- masking file sharers --- backlash to "social nets" --- catapults and the engineers who made them.


The Top 14 Signs Your Pet Has Been Doing Drugs

Whoo-Hooo! A Three-Way Tie For Third!

February 11, 2004

14> Your parakeet's been whistling Pink Floyd and staring at the ceiling lately.

13> Mittens lets out a mellow-yet-plaintive mew when you channel-surf past "SpongeBob."

12> There's a trail of water and aquarium gravel leading from the fish bowl to the refrigerator.

11> Rover's constantly burying clean poodle urine samples in the back yard.

10> You thought he was purring like a normal cat until you discovered his pager was vibrating non-stop.

9> Your Dave Matthews CDs and Hacky Sacks keep turning up in the Habitrail.

8> The hamster wheel is suddenly providing electricity for the entire block.

7> Every time the doorbell rings, she starts flushing her dog toys down the toilet.

6> Local street punks have started smoking your cat's hairballs.

5> "Polly wanna cracker, man... and a big bag of Doritos, a box of Fruity Pebbles and a microwave burrito. Oh! And a jelly donut!"

4> When you ask him "Who's a good boy?" he sits and ponders the answer for an hour.

3> "Whoa... have you ever, like, looked at your paw? I mean, really LOOKED at your paw?!?"

2> He's so freaked out by the bubbling treasure chest that he hasn't been out of his castle in six days.

and's Number 1 Sign Your Pet Has Been Doing Drugs...

1> Rusty's not only stopped chasing his tail, now he's accusing it of following him home.

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2004 by Chris White ]
Reid Kerr, Carthage, TX -- 1 (9th #1)
Carl Knorr, Devo City, OH -- 3, 13, RU list name
Jeffrey Anbinder, New York, NY -- 3, 5
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 3

The Top 14 Things Overheard at an Animal Hotel (Part I) February 12, 2004

No. 8, that's me.

14> "Lost and Found? You don't happen to have any unclaimed testicles lying around, do you?"

13> "A double please. Mr. Cottontail and I always have more children by bedtime."

12> "Hello, front desk? Room service forgot to leave my room like a pig sty!"

11> "This place is exquisite! No wonder Michelin gave it a five-turd rating!"

10> "Don't touch the mini bar, Fluffy. $15 for catnip, my ass."

9> "Why on earth would they put a bidet right next to the drinking bowl?!"

8> "I tried to check out, but the clerk kept saying, 'Stay.'"

7> "Hey, concierge, there's a hundred in it for you if you can scare me up some poodle. Another hundred if she's French."

6> "Why, of course moths are welcome here! We'll leave the light on for ya."

5> "Every time I try to get a total of how many sheep have checked in, I fall asleep."

4> "Good morning, Mr. Bear! This is your springtime wakeup call."

3> "As for your room keys, sir, this one's for you, and THIS one's for the horse you rode in on!"

2> "No thanks, I'll carry the trunk myself."

and's Number 1 Thing Overheard at an Animal Hotel...

1> "... and then it hits me: He's just a Vegas dork with a microphone and *I'm* a Siberian tiger!"

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2004 by Chris White ]
Selected from 119 submissions from 38 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Gene Dieden, New Haven, CT -- 1 (8th #1)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 8

Hearing Test

An elderly gentleman of 85 feared his wife was getting hard of hearing. So one day he called her doctor to make an appointment to have her hearing checked. The doctor made an appointment for a hearing test in two weeks, and meanwhile, he said, there's a simple informal test the husband could do to give the doctor some idea of the state of her problem.

"Here's what you do," said the doctor, "start out about 40 feet away from her, and in a normal conversational speaking tone see if she hears you. If not, go to 30 feet, then 20 feet, and so on until you get a response."

That evening, the wife is in the kitchen cooking dinner, and he's in the living room. He says to himself, "I'm about 40 feet away, let's see what happens." Then in a normal tone he asks, "Honey, what's for supper?"

No response.

So the husband moves to the other end of the room, about 30 feet from his wife and repeats, "Honey, what's for supper?" Still no response.

Next he moves into the dining room where he is about 20 feet from his wife and asks, "Honey, what's for supper?" Again he gets no response so he walks up to the kitchen door, only 10 feet away. "Honey, what's for supper?"

Again there is no response, so he walks right up behind her. "Honey, what's for supper?"

"Damn it Earl, for the fifth time, CHICKEN!"


Master and Commander

Sometimes, you go into a movie with really low expectations and it surprises you. I was advised by two good friends to go and see this film. As a matter of fact, I usually loathe movies set at sea. I don't like pirate pictures. I never saw any of the ones that came out in the last few years, or Mutiny on the Bounty, or anything with Erroll Flynn in it when I was a boy. I have never read and will never read a Patrick O'Brien novel (like the ones on which this film was based). But from first moment to way, way, way overlong last moment, I was swept away by the sheer spectacle and the spectacular story telling. I was rooting, cheering, crying, all but booing. Russell Crowe was fantastic as Captain "Lucky Jack" Aubrey. Paul Bettany's performance as Dr. Stephen Maturin came a close second, and every one of the young men in the film was fantastic. I was, as I say, amazed, impressed and blown away. Rated PG-13 and too long at 138 minutes. It's up for best picture and best direction (and a bunch of other Oscars as well), with, remarkably, no nod for Crowe. I won't be rooting for it, but I won't be either surprised or disappointed if it wins, either.

50 First Dates

What a peculiar, mishmash of a film. There's the part that is amateurish, with a puerile screenplay full of sophomoric sex and body-part jokes and crude character stereotypes. Then we have the kid's movie, with children acting adorable and cute animal slapstick. There's lovely photography of scenic Hawaii. And, on top of all of this, a sweetly appealing love story between Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. 50 First Dates is a hard film to recommend - while there are comic moments that pry an occasional smile or giggle out of you, it's only the surprisingly charming chemistry between Sandler and Barrymore keeps you from bolting out of the theatre when the film becomes groan-inducing.

--Neal Vitale


Crimson Porn, Grobstein File

Dan Grobstein File:

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