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

August 2, 2004: P.S. A Column On Things

August 2, 2004 Vol. 6, No. 30

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Whoops! I Missed One
  • Why God Invented Vacations
  • Marlow from China
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • None


  • I Robot
  • Guest Review: Maria Full of Grace
  • Guest Review: Bourne Supremacy


  • Dan Grobstein File (not), Jack Anderson

General News

Whoops! I Missed One!

Well, like public television, I tried voluntary contributions (see note at the top and bottom of the column) and didn't do so well. So now, like public television, I am going to try underwriting. I have applied to an online ad agency for blogs,, to see if anyone is interested in advertising to the 1000 or so of you who stop by here every week. If I try it (that is, if someone is interested in such a small audience) and you don't like it... well, I'm sure you'll let me know.

Why God Invented Vacations

It is late Sunday night, and all I really wanted to say here was that Vicki and I spent eight days in Bodega Bay, and they were among the best, most relaxing days of our lives. Alas, upon our return we had to quickly (in my case three days, in Vicki's case four days) and fly to Los Angeles for a long-planned visit to see Vicki's mom. The usual vacation routine, from a nice warm hot tub of relaxation into the chilling snowbank of regular life. Again. Let's hear it for vacations!

Marlow from China

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

So last night our weekend activity organized by CET was eating XinJiang food at a Xinjiang restaurant (the newest, farthest west province of China). A type of food you can't get in America, but its kind of related to Indian food. I went to the restaurant once before with Amy and Justin. This time, as the meal was wrapping up, J stood up to make an announcement. At these types of group events there is normally at least one announcement, someone's roommates birthday, something about an event someone wants to plan, etc. But this time J had decided it would be amusing to tell everyone it was my birthday. So, over my protests that it was not in fact my birthday, that my birthday was about 5 months away, 30 people, plus some others in the restaurant sang me happy birthday. When I got up to protest everyone just clapped for me. And the rest of the night everyone was wishing me a happy birthday.

By the way, does anyone know of a U.S. restaurant anywhere that serves this cuisine? I can't find one. It is apparently nearly Mongolian.

Political Notes

I heard Philip Rothstein on NPR last week during the convention, contending that Kerry's comment about a "back door draft" meant Kerry didn't understand the nature of the Reserve and the National Guard. This made me furious. Rothstein is (or holds himself out to be) an expert, which means he knew exactly what Kerry was talking about: the stop loss orders that prevent people from leaving the military and the tours of duty extended beyond reason or decency. You can stick your fingers in your ears and go "la la la" all you want (and Lord Knows, the GOP will be doing a lot of that this political season), but you can't ignore the facts on the ground. There is a back door draft, and I'm offended at an expert pretending there isn't.


Robert Malchman (REM) finds this interesting exchange on the fall election at Utopia With Cheese.


Muckraking columnist Jack Anderson retired this week, after decades of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. He is old and he has Parkinson's disease.

This assessment comes from an unimpeachable source who has plenty of experience dealing with both honest and dishonest world-class journalists: "Even in retirement Jack Anderson remains one of the most honest, if not the most honest, world-class journalists on the planet."


Keeping the 9/11 Commission, although not necessarily all of its recommendations, is a good idea. One proposal for an 18 month extension of the term of the Commission Bush and Cheny never wanted and tried (mostly successfully) to thwart.


Letting Judy Miller participate in misleading the country into an illegal, unnecessary, unconstitutional invasion was one thing for The New York Times. The paper has, in a back-handed way and without referring to Ms.Miller, more or less apologized for its (and her) conduct to which there may be a few weak defenses. For example, she and The Times believed in her conveniently anonymous sources and Santa Claus. But publishing Adam Nagourney's following flat out demonstrably false last half of the lead paragraph in the main story on the Kerry acceptance speech (to which there were probably 25,000,000 live witnesses and lots of videotape) went way over the line as Nagourney alleged that John Kerry accused George W. Bush of: ". . . misleading the nation into war and pursuing policies that he (Kerry) described as a threat to the economy, the Constitution and the nation's standing in the world."

What Kerry actually said was: "I will be a commander in chief who will never mislead us into war. I will have a vice president who will not conduct secret meetings with polluters to rewrite our environmental laws. I will have a secretary of defense who will listen to the advice of the military leaders. And I will appoint an attorney general who upholds the Constitution of the United States." Kerry did not accuse Bush of misleading the nation into war. Kerry did not say that anyone did that which Kerry said he and his colleagues would not do. If a person (or persons) actually did what Kerry said he would not do that does not mean that Kerry accused them of doing it. If Nagourney's canard (albeit under deadline pressure) remains uncorrected, all readers (who could hear and read for themselves what Kerry actually said) should seriously question the veracity of any anonymous source referred to by Nagourney or any other New York Times reporter in the future.

One wonders how long it will take for The Times to correct this glaring mistake of fact on the major story of the day by one of their leading political reporters. Note that Ms. Miller has disappeared from the airwaves. If his error is not corrected, Mr. Nagourney, with his credibility now in shreds, should not continue to be invited to appear as a sage impartial voice (or any other way) on the numerous television news and comment shows he frequents.


The 9/11 Commission report basically confirmed (without saying so explicitly) what any knowledgeable observer (of which there are very few and even fewer willing or able to make their views public) has known for many years, the Central Intelligence Agency is seriously broken.

Is the CIA irretrievably broken? The Washington Post on August 1, 2004, published a series of seven comments by people with experience in national security and intelligence matters.

One recommendation is that the one person should control the funds for all fifteen (15) intelligence agencies and should also set their priorities. It turns out that, according to Stansfield Turner, President Jimmy Carter gave Turner exactly that authority when Turner was Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) from 1977 to 1981. There was nothing except inertia, stupidity, laziness, or indifference stopping later presidents granting the same authority to their DCIs.

The best comment came from Bill Odom (Director of the National Security Agency from 1985 to 1988) who wrote: "The intelligence failures surrounding the 9/11 attacks and in Iraq are primarily political failures. Effective leaders do not tolerate inadequate intelligence performance or leave it to commissions to fix intelligence problems."

PSACOT, as its contribution to domestic tranquility and national security, advises all readers to sit down, put on a helmet, put all breakable objects out of reach. Then turn your TV set toward the wall so when the impulse strikes you will be unable to put your foot through the set.

PSACOT gives the LOL award to John J. Devine, former CIA associate director of operations (the covert part of the agency) who spent 32 years at the CIA. Devine, attributed the intelligence problems (like Lincoln had a theater problem) to a lack of resources at the CIA. He urged even more resources (read dollars) be given to the CIA, and wrote: "The politicization of information threatens to corrupt policy choices and violates intelligence tradecraft. The CIA's value rests on the integrity of its reporting. Resisting all forms of politicization is central to effective analysis and collection."

Right, that explains why then-DCI George "Slam Dunk" Tenet was sitting apolitically behind Colin Powell at the U.N. as Powell misled the nation and the world about the weapons Iraq did not have after Tenet and the CIA (whether deliberately or negligently) misled Powell.


The makers of South Park plan a new, highly political film called Team America, due out two weeks before the election. Check out the trailer.


Captured Qaeda Figure Led Way to Information Behind Warning by Douglas Jehl and David Rohde from The New York Times of Aug. 2, 2001. It provides some background on the threat alert announced Aug. 1, 2004 by Sec. Tom Ridge for financial institutions in New York, Northern New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Wasn't on vacation last week. The email between us simply had a brain fart.

First, this week's column:

I, Pod: Apple's iPod and iTunes, the one-two punch of Cupertino's music delivery juggernaut, were everywhere this week. First came the huge news that Apple partnered with Motorola bringing iTunes to cell phones. That prompted one Merrill Lynch analyst to suggest Apple would become the Microsoft of music, I think he meant that as a complement. Then Alpine announced the long awaited interface to connect iPod to its line of car stereos. Then RealNetworks announce they had reverse engineered the iTunes music format to allow their downloadable music to play on iPods. Apple screamed like a stuck pig (or perhaps like a stuck wannabe monopolist, maybe they are the "Microsoft of music") decrying Real's "hacker" tactics. Apple said they would fight back with the DMCA, putting themselves firmly in the league of the slimiest Big Media Barons. Rightfully Real shoots back at Apple, reaffirms commitment to Harmony. Besides, the DMCA is about circumventing copyright protection (DRM) of someone else's content. Clearly Real didn't do that. They built a DRM for their own licensed, copyrighted music files which licenses them to be played on other devices. Commentary: Apple's real problem, Are Real and Apple playing fair? and The Trouble with Tethering.

Backlash against website registration: more and more commercial websites require registration to view content. Many blogs require registration to participate in discussions (as if!). Despite often being free of charge, these registrations are costly. They require extra time and effort to register, then subsequently to store and look up passwords. Worse, they are an obvious privacy risk. Wired covered this issue in We Don't Need No Stinkin' Login which mentions previously known to readers of Technobriefs. Speaking of which, check out BugMeNot's hilarious registration page.

People who live in mud houses...should try foam: cheap, easy to build earthquake-safe houses for displaced people in Afghanistan: High Quality, Affordable Housing Technology for Afghanistan. A great example of science in the public interest by Federation of American Scientists. (Via NPR.)

Technobits: Downloading for Democracy about --- Group Warns DVRs Endangered --- EFF to Senate: P2P Solutions Should Pay Artists, Not Lawyers --- RIAA violates spirit, if not letter, of settlement --- Internet Attack Targets DoubleClick --- free URL redirection service, etc.: --- sand acting like water --- speaking of risks from Synthetic Biology, see Green Goo: The New Nano-Threat --- big disk --- I love "history of the future": Transportation Futuristics --- ACLU on risks of pizza (well, data mining and aggregation).

And now the column the e-mail system kept you from seeing two weeks ago:

Synthetic Biology: sometimes a news item just jumps out at me, Experts worry that synthetic biology may spawn biohackers had Technobriefs written all over it. Recent research is reducing genetic engineering to a set of programmable functional units, much like a computer's instruction set. While a huge leap forward for biotechnology, the concern is that creating synbio-malware, such as artificial human viruses, might soon be as easy as writing computer viruses. Its Real Science with the flavor of cyberpunk science fiction and artificial life. Awesome promise as a technology, but with a dark side of almost unlimited potential for harm. For more see the Synthetic Biology 1.0 conference web site.

IE, browser non grata: as mentioned here for the last couple of weeks, it has suddenly become hip to notice that Microsoft's Internet Explorer is one of the worst browsers around. Of course this issue is on the radar of technogeeks like me, but its noteworthy that it is being covered in USA Today and the BBC: Internet Explorer rivals celebrate gains, Rivals nibble at Microsoft's IE. A survey finds Mozilla Gains on IE but perhaps more significant, IE actually lost a percentage point of user base. It was big news when a security hole was found in Mozilla (Malware Authors Target Mozilla, Developers Respond with Enhanced Safeguards) and of course the same bug exists in IE. Mozilla Firefox Browser Set for September Debut, Wired: Cool Ways to Give IE the Boot, from InfoWorld: You know you've got a browser problem when… and Dropping Internet Explorer. Finally, it almost goes without saying, yet another critical flaw was identified in IE this week: Jaded Users Roll Their Eyes at IE's Latest Security Debacle ("...Some users questioned how Microsoft, with its massive development group, billions in cash and its 2.5-year-old Trustworthy Computing initiative, could still manage to get hit so hard and so often...").

Copyright issues: Content Protection Technology Working Group (CPTWG) currently consists of IBM, Intel, Sony, Microsoft, Warner Bros., Walt Disney and Panasonic. They are working toward an anti-piracy technology for next generation DVDs that may both prevent copyright infringement while allowing Fair Use sharing among a household's various digital devices. (See also stories by Reuters and Wired.) Meanwhile, Dan Gillmor sees a Glimmer of Hope from Copyright Front regarding opposition to the INDUCE Act and support for Boucher's DMCRA.

A Visual Search Engine for Music: I found Musicplasma via Search Engine Watch which describes it as a Kartoo-like interface to a database of musical similarity. Both of them are lots of fun and nice to look at.

Technobits: he was wrong: Hawking cracks black hole paradox --- just how un-web-savvy is the Times?: Searching for The New York Times --- Declan McCullagh suggests the Source Code Club is "eerily like a working implementation of cypherpunk co-founder Tim May's BlackNet" --- Brazil Internet Craze Angers English Speakers --- Dan Bricklin on Software That Lasts 200 Years --- Japan FTC: Microsoft is violating Antimonopoly Act --- CAPPS II RIP --- Senate Bill Targets Phishers --- HP Multi-User PC Sparks Debate --- Alan Kay: wins third recent prize, still grumpy --- PlayStation 3 to be shown off in May --- Excel ate my DNA --- superHDTV --- cool, well OK hot, radiators --- Bucky gets birthday stamp.




I Robot

Saw it with Rae. Not much to do with the original short stories, except for the three laws. Clever special effects, which, now and then, don't overwhelm the actors, the plot and the drive to and from the theater. OK, not great. Will Smith can actually do a role which is mostly serious!d

Guest Review: Maria Full of Grace

Haven't seen it. Probably agree with Neal.

This Colombian film has been enormously well-received by the critical community, and it is a very watchable debut for writer/director Joshua Marston. Maria tells the story of young women who become mules - smuggling drugs into the US by swallowing small packets of heroin or cocaine - to escape dead-end jobs and boring lives. The film has the feel of a documentary, and sustains a quiet, low-key intensity through its 100-minute length. I have no complaints about Maria Full Of Grace - it is a nicely done work - but at the same time feel that its impressiveness to many reviewers is a function of how little else of quality is in current release.

--Neal Vitale

Guest Review: The Bourne Supremacy

Seen it. Agree with Neal.

Robert Ludlum's amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne is back, and with him comes carnage and mayhem enough for three films. The Bourne Supremacy has some interesting plot twists, though it's pretty easy to see them coming, and the survival of humans and automobiles at times is implausible. The handheld camerawork is irritating beyond belief, as the viewer bounces and shakes along with the action. But, as with all these "renegade agent" stories, it's all about the chase. The Bourne Supremacy shows that hot pursuit can be equally impressive in Goa, Naples, Berlin, or Moscow, and makes for fabulous escapist entertainment. Damon - taciturn, introspective, always one step ahead - seems to have been tailor-made for this role, and one would expect the Bourne series to be his franchise for years to come.

--Neal Vitale


Dan Grobstein File (not), Jack Anderson

There have been a whole lot of neat articles found by Dan Grosbtein in the last two weeks, but I didn't have time to process any of them, so, alas, no Dan Grobstein File. My apologies, and we'll pick it up next time.

Daniel Dern passed on a Washington Post appreciation of Jack Anderson found by Bobbi Fox. Since the Post makes articles disappear after a week, see much the same material by the same author at Washington Monthly where he wrote an Appreciation of Jack Anderson.

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