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: March 8, 2004

March 8, 2004 Vol. 6, No. 10

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Marlow's Home!
  • How It Is With Me
  • BTSA
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • None


  • The Dreamers
  • Guest Note: Academy Award Followup


  • Wolfe Whispers, The Onion, The Simpsons, Never Cough CPR, the Dan Grobstein File

General News

Marlow's Home!

Marlow left for Taiwan last August, and didn't come home for Christmas (they really don't have a Christmas break in Taiwanese schools, although they do get a week off for Chinese New Years). It's the longest she's been gone from home ever. That made the anticipation all the more sweet when she came winging back to America last Monday. She's not staying long, only a month, but she brings extra joy, energy and life into our home that is palpable. Then she's off to NYC for a month, then back to Asia.

In the meantime: Joy joy joy. A very special episode of the sitcom of her life, with special guest stars Vicki and me.

How It Is With Me

Relax. It's not that bad.

I always wanted to use that Herb Caen headline. But for those of you who remember when he used it--to tell us all he had fatal inoperable lung cancer--rest assured, I'm announcing a much more minor health problem. I struggled whether to say anything about it at all, as I often do when writing about the intensely personal in this column. But I enjoy the feedback from my myriad readers, and besides, it removes an awkward subject when I see people I haven't seen in a while. Part of my hesitation stems from the fact that a small handful of my students read my column. I don't think they read it regularly or carefully; the life of a man my age can't be of that much interest to 8th graders, even when it is their history teacher. In any case, I never give out the URL and have a strict policy against discussing any content from the column in class.

I always knew my 52nd year would be difficult. Both of my grandfathers died when they were 52 (my maternal grandfather of a sudden, massive heart attack) and my father had a minor stroke at the same age.

The problem I have is relatively minor, I know. I have adult male friends who have faced or are facing worse, including cancer, alcoholism and serious diabetes (as opposed to me trivial and well controlled Type II diabetes). I have no room to whine, or to complain about the injustice of the universe. I am asymptomatic and quite unlikely to suffer any ill effects.

A friend of mine recently went in for a treadmill EKG test. The doctor checked him into the hospital immediately. He wouldn't even let him go home to get his toothbrush. The next day, he had a quintuple heart bypass that probably saved his life. He's recuperating just fine. When we had cup of tea at his house with him recently, he advised me to get a treadmill. I had one four years ago, but figured "what the heck," and scheduled another. When I arrived, they hooked me up, and the nurse said, "Wait a minute." She went to get the doctor. Ten minutes later, I was told I could not take the stress test. "The top half of your heart is beating at 140 beats a minute, the bottom half at 80." I was allowed to go home--with a blood thinner and a heart slower, and my doctor's slightly melodramatic warning that I was a "stroke looking for a place to happen."

What I have is called atrial fibrillation, when the two halves of your heart get out of sync with one another. About two million people in the U.S. have this condition. Sometimes, your heart will get back in sync with medication. Most often, you get a local anesthetic and they fibrillate you (you know, like on TV, with the gel and the paddles and someone shouting "clear." In rare cases, surgery is called for. There is no way to know the cause. My brother has the same thing.

Probably, if I can lose the 100 pounds I've been trying to lose for years, and if I comply precisely with the drug regimen, everything will be fine.

I have become, perhaps, more fatalistic since my diabetes diagnosis of four years ago. If my number's up, I'll be hit by a bus, or have a stroke. If it is not up, I'll live to a happy, ripe old age, see my daughters married (if they so chose) and spoil my grandchildren. It is not my privilege to know how things will end up, or influence (very greatly) how they turn out. I will just live the best life I can, honor God, and do good work for the number of days/years/decades left to me.


First-year teachers in California now participate in a program called BTSA. It could be a paperwork nightmare, but I have the best advisor in the world, who spent two hours Friday night helping me complete my mid-year evaluation paperwork. I don't name people in my column without their permission. He knows who he is. And he's a lifesaver.

Political Notes

Nukes 'R'Us by Gary Milhollin and Kelly Motz in The New York Times, March 4, 2004 (whose side is Dubai on?)

Cheney's Core Principles by Richard Cohen in The Washington Post, March 4, 2004 (Dick Cheney knows as much about family values as he does about WMD).


Don Davis notes: This week, John Kerry will campaign with a man whose life he saved in Vietnam. Meanwhile, Bush will be campaigning with a dentist whose cleaned his teeth while in the Alabama Air National Guard.


If George W. Bush is so interested in defending marriage, when does he plan to propose stoning adulterers? Given the well publicized divorce of his brother... and the alleged involvement of a third party. Given the long-time service (according to The New York Times) of Jennifer Fitzgerald in "various positions" under his father, George H. W. Bush, can we as conservatives interested in protecting family values count on George W. Bush to cast the first stone?

If George W. Bush is so interested in defending marriage, when does he plan to propose making divorce illegal?


With regard to the question of whether Bush already has Osama in custody: every time you hear or read of someone (whether Mort Kondracke who covered [or failed to cover] Nixon or others) disparaging alleged "conspiracy theorists" merely state: "United States District Judge (for the District of Columbia) John Sirica was a conspiracy theorist."


Was it false modesty or the truth when Howard Dean, at the height of his popularity in late 2003 said he just wanted to make a difference and "I don't care about being president." See "Divide and Bicker, The Dean Campaign's Hip, High-Tech Image Hid a Nasty Civil War by Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post.



What precisely is happening at the FBI? J. Edgar Hoover has been dead for almost 32 years so it's no longer his fault. Recently, it was made clear that:
1. the FBI allowed an innocent man to stay in prison for about 30 years to protect a murder in Massachusetts with the complicity of one of its agents
2. 13 FBI agents stole material from the site of the collapsed World Trade Center in New York
3. The FBI was unable to find a Soviet (and later Russian) spy in its midst (Robert Hansen) despite abundant clues over 10 or 15 years
4. Evidence in the anthrax murders was destroyed with the approval of the FBI
5. Evidence of the involvement of an group entirely different than the people charged in the Oklahoma City bombing was not pursued
6. The vaunted FBI crime lab has not performed well and has provided false or misleading testimony resulting in convictions
7. Despite being provided with sufficient information and resources, the FBI failed to stop the events of 9/11/01.
8. To top it all off, it now appears that the FBI's managers are treated much more leniently than regular street agents. FBI's Discipline Practices Flawed, New Report Says by the Associated Press in The Washington Post.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Eolas patent invalidated: as I write this Friday evening there is breaking news that the US Patent and Trademark Office has tossed out Eolas' lame, overly-broad patent on web browser plug-ins -- granted despite well-known prior art. As mentioned here in August of 2003, as much as I enjoy seeing Microsoft hit with a $521 million judgment, my first choice was to see the patent overturned. Yay!

Other news on intellectual property: more good news about DeCSS, the right to distribute the source code was cast by hacktivists as a freedom of speech issue, and now the courts agree, ruling DeCSS was not a trade secret. Can the US government stop academic journals from reviewing scientific papers from rogue nations, under the banner of "trading with the enemy"?! (More discussion at Politech: 1, 2, 3.) SCO v Linux: SCO suits target two big Linux users Court orders SCO to show more code Survey: Linux programmers yawn at SCO, SCO: Leaked e-mail a 'misunderstanding'. Creative Commons sponsored a contest to develop videos explaining the concept, the winning videos are online.

Super Tuesday eVote wrap-up: Snafus Aplenty in E-Voting and eVote critic Avi Rubin's My Day as an Election Judge. From Politech: First-hand report of problems with "secure" e-voting, An election judge replies... and IEEE, NYTimes, & CRS on election integrity. Meanwhile: Gearing up for India's electronic election.

Countdown to Grand Challenge: on March 13, DARPA will hold its 200 mile off-road race for autonomous vehicles. I am keenly interested in steering such vehicles and ended up working with one of the entrants in the race. Unfortunately we got too far behind schedule and had to drop out. I normally work in computer simulation, so the thought of controlling a real vehicle was a bit scary. My nightmare scenario was saying something like "I think we could reduce the safety margin parameter a bit..." just before the vehicle crashed into a boulder and burst into flames. From bad dream to reality: after tweaking a parameter, Red Team's Sandstorm vehicle rolled over and damaged itself last Thursday.

Ying, Yang and Pew: on one hand The Pew Internet and American Life Project says there are very few active bloggers yet 44% of US net users have contributed content to the web.

Hitachi microdrive: 50 percent off, AND a free pair of headphones... It seems Hitachi chose an unrealistic differential between retail and OEM pricing leading to some innovative retail acquisition strategies. The device in question is a tiny hard drive which can be used in place of flash memory.

Technobits: thoughtful copyright ruling by Canadian Supreme Court balances user rights with creators rights --- more on database "copyright" --- Lessig: OK, P2P is "piracy." But so was the birth of Hollywood, radio, cable TV, and (yes) the music industry --- Philips' fluid lens --- Caveat MPAA - Meet BitTorrent --- Technology Lets Garage Studios Challenge Hollywood --- Church of England's i-church --- a fun, real-life hacker mystery story: R Klemm and Hackers of Mars --- cool color scheme visualizer --- Calvin and Hobbes Extensive Strip Search: C.H.E.S.S.




The Dreamers

I haven't seen much of Bernardo Bertolucci's work. For example, I missed Last Tango in Paris and have never gotten around to renting it. I loved The Last Emperor. But this film, about a mènage á trois of film lovers set against the Paris student riots of May 1968, is like a bad European film. All talk and 90 seconds of action. I proposed to Marlow (who, thank goodness, saw it but NOT with me) that the NC-17 film could have gotten an R rating with 90 seconds of cuts, out of a 115 minute running time (it seemed like so much longer). Her response: "Then it would have been really pointless.

Don't take the kids. Don't go yourself. Read a book about the Paris riots or see a documentary (if there is one). I couldn't find one. Does anybody know of one?

Guest Note: Academy Award Followup

76th Annual Academy Awards

A startlingly boring evening, singularly lacking in drama or surprise. The Academy's lockstep anointing of The Lord of the Rings in all eleven categories in which it was nominated was at the root of the problem, though the structure of the event and telecast didn't help matters. Thankfully, a few presenters (Jack Black, Will Ferrell, Owen Wilson) and an occasional winner, er, recipient (Erroll Morris, The Barbarian Invasions crew) managed to distinguish themselves with a choice quip or comment . My own performance as Awards prognosticator also suffered at the hands of Lords. I missed eight of the twenty-four categories, and five of those eight misses were ones where Lords beat my pick. Perhaps most irritating was for Original Song - I'm a big Annie Lennox fan, but "Into The West" is not among her best work. It was yet another instance where the Academy seems to go out of its way to pick the dreariest, least tuneful song of the year - in this case, with the four other nominees all being superior. I also learned my lesson in going with dark horse candidates for Best Supporting Actor (Alec Baldwin) and Actress (Shohreh Aghdashloo) - two categories with a history of upsets - in a year when daring and imagination were apparently limited to Peter Jackson.

--Neal Vitale


Wolfe Whispers, The Onion, The Simpsons, Never Cough CPR, the Dan Grobstein File

Marjorie Wolfe's Wolfe Whispers dated March 3 is about Cursing in Yiddish.

The Onion, always funny, has outdone itself with Jesus Demands Creative Control Over Next Movie. It's in the 3 March issue, in case you have to go looking for it.

If you're a Simpsons fan like Craig Reynolds and myself, you'll enjoy Subtly Simpsons.

I you're alone and think you're having a heart attack, chew an aspirin and call a doctor. Whatever you do, don't try cough cpr.

Dan Grobstein File:

Real-time electronic translation in Japanese airports (from the BBC).

Print newspapers are not always the same as the online version, says the Columbia Journalism Review.

Exploding 20-dollar bills? [Ed: I can't believe it myself. Experts say it isn't an RFID chip. Possible explanation? Microwaves dry out paper, reducing its ignition temperature until it catches fire.]

New York Times

  • As Maureen Dowd tellingly deconstructs Bush TV ads, maybe I have to change my mind about her being not so good a writer. Well, for sure she's no Krugman.

Washington Post: Serving on a presidental panel? Not if the "president" doesn't like your science.

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