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

June 7, 2004: P.S. A Column On Things

June 7, 2004 Vol. 6, No. 22

Table of Contents:

General News

  • As The Year Winds Down
  • Marlow from Mongolia
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs
  • About A Technobrief Item


  • None


  • Guest Review: Saved
  • The Day After Tomorrow


  • Marjorie Wolfe's new column, Dan Grobstein File, Ross Snyder on WWII Veterans, Kevin Sullivan on Life and Death

General News

As The Year Winds Down

No profound thoughts, no life-changing experiences, just a desperate hunger to finish the school year. How easily, as an adult, I can fall back into the old familiar 9 and 3 (only it's really 10 an 2) rhythm of the academic year.

Marlow from Mongolia

Marlow's in Mongolia. Here's what she's up to:

The girl next to me is using the videocamera to chat with a friend. Today I had to roll water in a big barrel maybe 300 feet because there was no hose, but this girl is holding up her tiny cellphone to prove some kind of point to some young man who could be anywhere (though I suspect he's somewhere in the city).

The Singapore group doesn't do much in the evenings because the teachers need to keep on eye on them, so to make their day more interesting we are going to stay at the work site until 6 instead of 4. It is all the same to me, and staying later actually seems like a good idea. The ger camp (a ger is what you might know by the Russian yert is the traditional style of house people here often still live in. It has the mobility of a tent but the solidity of a house, it is made of a fence formed in a circle with a support in the middle, a stove, and normally a lot of carpets for insulation. They are pretty easy to move when the season or mood strikes the owner.) The ger camp we went to was basically ten gers and a clubhouse of sorts. I stayed with our translators and one of the teachers, there were four students in each of the other gers. We actually had our best translator yet for this trip, a 24 year old named Tsegi. She went to the same English school as Bagi, and hopes to go to America some day. She wants to study "development studies" which is something I've heard from some of Bagi's other friends, but it is not a term I was familiar with before this trip. I'm at a loss when they ask me where the good development studies programs are in America, it is apparently a combination of economics, women studies, ecological preservation, and general bureaucracy building. Basically they just want to study how to help Mongolia achieve sustainable development. As I learned from talking to the director of habitat, Mongolians are still used to the idea of handouts, i.e. from the Russians, from the World Bank, from Americans (looking for support in Iraq), etc. And what they need to get used to is the idea of helping themselves. Teaching a man to fish, etc. It is great to hear these young, idealistic Mongolians talk about how they want to help their country, and I just wish I had more information to give them.

The gers we stayed in were pretty bare but comfortable. It wasn't a terribly remarkable experience since I've seen gers already in other parts of Mongolia, but now I can say that I slept in one. The herdsman was nice, but not much in the way of a tourist attraction, the best thing about the stay was probably the first day's hike up the mountain, after paying homage to the "mother tree" by walking around it threetimes clockwise, and leaving stones at another area after walking around three times, and also the ping pong in the basement of the clubhouse (which looked like a Swiss chalet as a result of the owner's training in masonry in Germany).

Tomorrow I'm going to go to the Peace Corps office to ask them what they are actually doing in Mongolia. It turns out their office is pretty much connected to my hotel. If they are doing something that I could participate in, maybe I'll just work with them my last couple of days in Mongolia rather than trying to go to a different city. My hotel, the Diplomat, is actually connected to a bunch of embassies. The EU flag was flying out front, but I thought that was just part of the hotel's theme, but no, the French, Polish, Czech, Canadian and Khazak embassies are all in the same compound as my hotel. Which would explain why the security guys are often hanging out with the employees from my hotel smoking cigarettes and what not.

Political Notes

Craig Reynolds ran across a report about a study that said that, when answering a current affairs questionnaire, only 23% of NPR listeners misperceive the news, compared to 80% for FOX News viewers. "We distort, you decide," as their motto should go. The press release. The full report.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Digital cinema projectors: Texas Instruments had been the primary source for high quality digital projectors. Now there is another player: Sony Projector May Speed Launch of Digital Cinemas, Competition Is Heating Up as Projectors Go Digital but TI Stands by Digital Cinema Strategy, Despite Sony.

Junk DNA (not!): since the discovery of DNA markers for start transcription and end transcription, it has been assumed that DNA outside of those brackets is inactive or "junk", something like old commented-out source code that just gets carried along with the active stuff. This view was shaken up by recent discoveries of ultraconserved elements in the junk, nearly identical across species, which turn out to be gene regulators. Prof. David Haussler said: "It absolutely knocked me off my chair".

Prius mods: my coworker Attila Vass owns a 2004 Toyota Prius Hybrid and just can't stop fiddling with it. Among his recent projects: adding a non-gas-using electric vehicle mode and a computer for real time performance monitoring and logging.

See Spot run: last Thursday I attended a lecture by Scott Draves (aka Spot) whose work I have followed since his 1992 dissertation on Fractal Flames. One of his more recent projects is an incredible distributed computation application masquerading as a screensaver (like SETI@home) called Electric Sheep . The ever changing imagery is really beautiful to watch, even if you are not interested in the underlying evolutionary computation model or other details. Consider running the screensaver (which makes you a contributor) or purchasing the related visual music SpotWorks DVD for $15.

Technobits: The Memory Hole Banned by Military in Iraq --- Complex Passwords Foil Hacks and speaking of really bad passwords: Keeping Presidents in the Nuclear Dark --- Memo to the good Google guys: Privacy would be a great move --- new largest prime: 7-million digits --- NASA Seeks Robots to Fix Hubble Telescope --- like Beatles said, dark matter has got to be good-looking 'cause he's so hard to see --- more on the decline of US science: Starving Science --- Codebreaking Colossus returns to Bletchley Park, Return of Colossus marks D-Day --- speculation on Sony's PlayStation-based plan to take over the world --- this ball-on-car reminded me of that car-as-ball.

About A Technobrief Item

Tom Hunt writes, re Craig's column of last week:

I found the piece by Usman Latif, Why Windows is a security nightmare to be exactly the thing I deal with on a day-to-day basis; inexperience and a lack of knowledge about computers and the Internet.

My point was that, rather than bashing Microsoft (which is always popular and acceptable), the responsibility rests with Mr. Latif, who made several errors that caused the problems he experienced. IOW, most of his trouble was self-induced and easily avoidable. Our small corner of the IT world refers to that as an EEOC error. (Equipment Exceeds Operator Capability).




Tom Armstrong asks, " Do you know anything about È già ieri [aka, Groundhog Day Italian Style]?" I don't, but any reader who hears or sees anything about this adaptation of my favorite movie is instructed to contact me post haste.


Guest Review: Saved

This is a frustrating film. Saved! starts great, but ends only good. A teen comedy set in a Christian high school, Saved! has a wonderfully clever and subversive script that breathes new life into an established genre. There is an excellent slate of young actors - Jena Malone (Stepmom, My Life As A House), Macaulay Culkin (Home Alone), Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous), Mandy Moore (A Walk To Remember), Heather Matarazzo (The Princess Diaries), and Eva Amurri (The Banger Sisters) - a well-chosen soundtrack, and a solid indie pedigree (it's a production of R.E.M. head Michael Stipe's Single Cell Pictures). But, just as you think you're watching the next Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club, Saved! goes all preachy and predictable. Thankfully, it is still a very watchable, diverting way to spend 90+ minutes, but the entire film falls short of delivering on the audacious promise of its first hour.

--Neal Vitale

The Day After Tomorrow

One of the problems of waiting to see a big film like this the second weekend is that all the feature articles have appeared by that time, so you know, for example, just how bad the science is in this film. Climatologists and meterologists have bemoaned the science, which ranges from sloppy to non-existent. It would have been so simple, and still quite dramatic, to make a disaster film that nodded, at least, towards reality. Instead, some scientists feel, director Roland "Independence Day" Emmerich has made a film that sets back the effort to prevent global warming, by making it seem like "just another disaster which humans cannot prevent." Now, I admit I loved the portrayal of a mutton-headed Vice President and a confused, not-too-bright, easily manipulated President as much as the next viewer. But really, the film was written (by Emmerich) with the equivalent of paint by number, alternating big picture scenes with the not very interesting or compelling personal scenes. I am almost inclined to agree with the people who suggest you just forget trying to have any plot in a film like this and concentrate on the scary CGI and natural disaster scenes; sort of a Mother Nature Gone Wild approach. Emmerich comes close to that approach with this movie.

My advice: go in with low expectations and you won't be disappointed. You will be impressed with the special effects. You will not be impressed with the story or the film as a whole.


Marjorie Wolfe's new column, Dan Grobstein File, Ross Snyder on WWII Veterans, Kevin Sullivan on Life and Death

I am proud to host Marjorie Wolfe's touching Fathers' Day memoir, The 25 Cent Memory Call:

As is true with so many young girls, I had something special with my dad when I was growing up in Rockaway Beach, New York. There was a magical bond that still cements an adult relationship between a "mature" mother of three, grandmother of four, and active senior citizen.


Dan Grobstein File:

10 ways we botched Iraq: Speech from retired Gen. Anthony Zinni gave rare glimpse of intelligent thought about our quagmire by Molly Ivins.

The Daily Kos blog contains a link to German TV's video of "President" Bush cutting up before a speech.

The blog quotes Frank Rich of the International Herald Tribune describing the footage:

In one of the several pieces of startling video exhibited for the first time in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," we catch a candid glimpse of President George Bush about 36 hours after his mother's breakfast TV interview - minutes before he makes his own prime-time TV address to take the nation to war in Iraq. He is sitting at his desk in the Oval Office. A makeup woman is doing his face. And Bush is having a high old time. He darts his eyes about and grins, as if he were playing a peek-a-boo game with someone just off-camera. He could be a teenager goofing with his buds to relieve the passing tedium of a haircut.


This thoughtful report from Ross Snyder:

Spent much of the weekend watching the goings-on at the WWII Monument dedication. Changed mind about grandeur. The 20th Century saw no other event that important. World history would be radically worse if its greatest single battle, Normandy, had failed.

And the monument HAS to be spacious -- there will be huge crowds there, always. It accommodated them well this weekend. They showed it more clearly than I had seen before, and I must applaud the measures they took, to lower it among other things, so the vast expanse from the Lincoln to the Washington remains one, symbolic of unity. My oldest friend, retired Air Force colonel now, veteran of WWII, Korea, the aerial Cold War and Vietnam, says it needs the space for 400,000 ghosts who have been without a home for sixty years.

I had feared gung-ho yahoos yelling "We're numbah ONE" to drown out all else, and it didn't happen. Hanks and Brokaw were thoughtful, not full of bravado. It was not a maudlin display of self-righteousness, as I had wrongly anticipated. Too much flag-waving, disrespectful of the symbol, yes. Too many repetitions of "God Bless America" and not enough of "America The Beautiful," sure. Imperial entry with trumpets, boots and banners for a president who intoned a well-written sermon. Denyce Graves especially beautiful and tasteful choice for The Anthem.

And wasn't it a television weekend, though? If you saw Andy Rooney's segment on "Sixty Minutes" last night, that alone would break you up. Eleven solemn minutes of pictures of every one of the fallen in Iraq.

The comic strip Doonesbury also ran a list of the war dead during the Memorial Day weekend.



A long closer this week, from Kevin Sullivan who calls this a letter to a friend about a cloudy vision of the experience we all share.

To a friend far away,

"Don't shave your head, Let me get the pliers", I can almost see/hear the words in my mind, reminiscent of Firesign Theater's album of the "almost" same title, but that was long ago and far away, but hey, "We're all bozos on this bus", and memories fade, but feelings don't. I think their rendition of Turkish Lessons was the first and clearly most memorable of their routines I ever heard. "Now for your first three words in Turkish, ....Towel ....Coffee ...Border ... "May I see your passport, please..."

And so it goes, as Kurt V. said, the first time listening to them was one of those things that you "just had to be there for". Which brings me to my latest feelings on the once again overall panorama-dama-ding-dong of life. Our window into lives of others expands the longer we know them. And I feel blessed, when I can look at a living thing, person, flower, bird, and see its life as it stretches ahead and behind this present moment. Y 2-day? Today, because once again, as so thankfully infrequently happens in my life, a friend died. Our next door neighbor of 10 years, died quietly after a brief battle with cancer -- at the point where he felt it was better to no longer be part of this world. His name is/was Bernie, and he viewed, interacted with, played, enjoyed 73 winters and summers. Bernie and Nancy lived very privately next door and I often wondered about the havoc we brought into their lives with the echoes of children, dogs, Halloweens, Christmas cakes, and rustly, bustly, comings and goings. Bernie and Nancy seemed to accept us, as they did all things, graciously and with a sense of benign enjoyment. As true New England neighbors, we shared a snow blower and early (I mean dark early!) mornings, of "you go first, no, you go first" and helping each other shovel before the arrival of the first city plows blocked us all in again. I didn't hear much about Bernie's life as a Harvard professor, or his children, grown up and far away, or the other enjoyments of his life. But we did share small meetings and a backyard without a fence between us.

That no-fence led to morning calls somedays from Bernie, to say that an eight point buck was ghosting through the place behind our houses we foolishly thought was ours, whatever that meant. Deer, raccoons, pheasants, turkeys (the kind with wings --not the kind with stuff to sell or who can manage a cell phone but not a life), and once a bear, shared the same space behind the places that we looked out on. And in other times, others walked the days of their lives on the same ground. Other people, other animals, other birds all moved through the woods without fences. In the big picture I wonder how the next ice age, or the one after that, or the one after that will scour and scrape away the houses and woods and what feeble attempts we will make to stem the tide of nature or time, before we move on. And I wonder what creature will stand here long from now and look out on their woods as Bernie and I have, marveling at the life around us, and what came before and what will come after and appreciating their time and their moment.

I like to think of these woods stretching and flowing like a green river from your house to mine and all of the places in between.

When I was one of those counselors in a summer camp full of small creatures just learning to listen to the woods, I would sometimes sit high in the trees and watch the little ones below as they learned to climb, as I learned to climb. Some of us climbed higher trees than others. The trees didn't seem to mind. And at the end of our time we climbed down and rested. The children, not so small would come to us for the briefest of weeks. We counselors would open our summer homes and hearts and lives to them and they would let us share again what it meant to climb a tree for the first time. In return we taught them to take care of the earth. We told them, because that was all they could understand outside themselves at that age, that taking care of the earth was a good thing. But we knew their reward was that it would be there on the day their children gave the gift of first seeing and doing back to them. Each week when the children went home, each counselor would find their own quiet spot to re-cupe and re-live the moments of the past week. Some weeks those hours were just spent meditating and watching the ocean. But being young and being a first time counselor I found a stack of albums, (records?, old-slow-oversized CDs?) of this far away comedy group who played with images in your mind as easily as a jazz harpist would twiddle and rhapsodize on the strings of her instrument, and I sat in my summer house place and looked out through my window on the world that day to where the ocean bordered on the woods and played stack over and over. (which in those days you did! by flipping the stack over and over). Touching in my mind the image and touch and sound of each person and creature and leaf and tree and bird I ever met. And each time through the voice would come along with the first words in the

Someday I'll cross a border to a land without fences
To a place where we all have enough and we need no more
Maybe I'll meet someone who has gone ahead
Maybe I'll be there when a buck I once knew appears ghosting
through the woods and he'll stop and stare at me with my
father's eye or my mother's laugh or Bernie's smile.

But because this is my first time, I don't know. I'm still learning how to see.

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