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

September 20, 2004 Vol. 6, No. 37

Table of Contents:

General News

  • The Advantages of a Cold, Dark Room
  • Happy Birthday to Me
  • Marlow in The Netherlands
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • The Top 13 Things Overheard at the Burning Man Festival
  • The Top 16 Amish Comedian Punchlines
  • The Top 20 Signs the Department of Homeland Security Is Getting Outdated Information


  • Guest: Sky Captain
  • The Story Of The Weeping Camel
  • Control Room


  • Two from Coquet, Dan Grobstein File

General News

The Advantages of a Cold, Dark Room

Another thing I changed in my classroom this year (forgive me if I am repeating myself) is the lighting. I think fluorescent lighting stinks (figuratively, not literally). The literature on how bad it is for you is as long as your arm. Besides, we're not doing brain surgery in the room. So I bought three up-facing lamps, and I light my room with indirect lighting now. Bright enough to see, but not so bright as to be stunning. Also, I keep the temperature down around 68; very effective to cool down the students and me during the heat wave that may have ended last week (we'll see; it rained Saturday night, but that may just have been freakish).

I think the cool and the dark have improved student behavior.

Happy Birthday To Me

When you get to be my ages, birthdays are usually not something you look forward too. And because there is a better than even chance that one or more of my students read my column (hi there!) I am not going to mention my specific age this year. Those of you who know me know what it is and those of you who do not will not be interested.

Anyway, I had an unusually terrific birthday this year. Lots of cards, a custom shirt from my wife, books from my parents and daughters, and a night at the Fairmont Hotel in SF from my wife. I love the Fairmont and I love SF. What a day we had! We walked the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral (and I bought a finger-meditation version in walnut I hope to use every day), walked in the Golden Gate Recreation Area by the old Sutro Baths site, then saw Control Room (see below) out at the Balboa Theater in SF (built in 1926) and topped it all off with dinner at the Washington Square Bar and Grill and a long walk through Chinatown.

It doesn't get any better than this.

Marlow in The Netherlands

Marlow is in The Netherlands right now, at Leiden University, working on her degree in International Relations. Here's what's new from her:

Well, today was my first day of classes, kind of. I went to a Chinese kou yu ke this morning to check it out. It might work for me, but I'm hoping the Wednesday version of the same class will be more energetic. This class only had six students in it, three who were Dutch students, me, and then two Dutch women who had lived in China or taught Chinese before themselves. Everyone seemed nice enough, but people weren't being very responsive to the teacher. I'm going to go get the book after this, since it's the same book whether I take it on Monday or Wednesday, the difference is just the pace.

I actually had a somewhat frustrating morning because I got to the class at 8:45, no one there, class starts at 9, I spend my free time talking to some Chinese students standing in the hall waiting to take a Dutch language class. 9 comes and their class starts, but still no one has come for mine. It turns out the Dutch student 9:00 is actually 9:15. No one told me. I panicked, biked to the nearby Chinese department building harassed some poor Chinese history teacher into looking up the information for me and then translating the Dutch, and it turns out the classroom and times were right, I just wasn't reading between the lines about what nine meant. Oh well, I joined the class while she was still doing the introduction.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Craig Reynolds writes:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon: PSACOT readers may recall that my son is autistic (High Functioning or maybe Asperger's) and that in leaning about the disorder I have come to realize that his parents, as well as most engineers and other technogeeks, are probably somewhere on the autistic spectrum. So perhaps it is predicable that I would be engrossed by Haddon's mystery, adventure, coming-of-age novel which is narrated by a 15-year old boy with Asperger's Syndrome. Beyond that, I found the book just incredibly touching and insightful and funny. It has been a long time since I enjoyed a book this much. My only complaint is that it is too short. Reviews: NYT, SF Chronicle,, others. Author interview: Perhaps a film version?

Political Notes

Cool: Conrad Black, of Hollinger International, is dragging down slimy Richard Perle: An unsavory character on Bush team, in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Craig Reynolds notes there is a GOP serial disrupter who keeps bringing GOP signs to Democratic rallies.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Firefox 1.0 burns brightly: on Tuesday the Mozilla Foundation released the 1.0 preview release of Firefox with a stated goal of 1,000,000 downloads in 10 days. As of Friday evening there had been 789,860 downloads (see current stats at the Firefox advocacy site Spread Firefox). One of the downloaders was me. While I depend on features in Mozilla 1.7 (Firefox's big brother) I installed Firefox on my laptop to give it a try. The install was painless and the browser works great. Really cool logo too. If you still use Internet Explorer: do yourself a favor and try Firefox.

P2P for you and me: research groups of two large corporations, Nokia and Earthlink, have released forward-looking prototype applications based on the concept of peer-to-peer file sharing. Other large corporations are known to have similar projects in development. The music and movie industry would have you believe that only anti-social deviants use P2P, and then always for illegal purposes. Yet crime syndicates like Nokia and Earthlink apparently feel otherwise: File-sharing leaps from internet to cellphones and Earthlink posts P2P app, manifesto (download at SIP Beyond Voice and Video: Standards-based Distributed Networking).

Disinduce: Copyright Proposal Induces Worry and Big Anti-Induce Campaign Planned.

Shockwave Rider: this headline: Philips Over the Counter Defibrillator Approved was a real John Brunner moment for me. How did our lives turn into science fiction stories?

Family connections: normally my wife keeps a pretty low profile on the web, but she has now been blogged regarding a short video she made with our kids called Snack Time. Lisa notes: "though Dana was happy to 'star' in our film, what she really wants to do is direct."

Technobits: Finding Truth on the Internet: --- lost H-bomb found, finally --- Linux standard gains big-name backers and Standard to keep Linux from becoming a forking mess --- Google's Gmail inspires imaginative 'hacks' --- universal emulator? --- Uncle Sam's white hats --- a map of the global sources of spam (2048 x 1085 jpg from Postini) --- from where dreams may come --- RFID for the whole family --- birth of a new language, a built in human facility? --- Moose decline: starvation not wolves --- Don't Mess With Librarians --- The Virtual


The Top 13 Things Overheard at the Burning Man Festival

No. 3; my best showing in ages.

September 15, 2004


The Burning Man Festival is "an annual art festival and temporary community based on radical self-expression and self-reliance in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada." In reality, though, it's pretty much a big, dusty rave.

Here's more info:

13> "You make the mud tacos and I'll inflate the walrus!"

12> "You can call it a Port-a-Potty if you like, but I call it performance art."

11> "Wait, you're a former dot-com programmer who lost his job and decided to drive around the country aimlessly? No way! Me, too!"

10> "No kidding? *I* like Nader, too!"

9> "So when you compare the avant-garde work of El Lissitzky with the 'transatlantic' paintings of Piet Mondrian, one is drawn to... Dude! Naked chicks in the mud pit! Woo-hoo!"

8> "Bummer, man. But then, that's the risk you take at a clothing-optional barbecue."

7> "All those in favor of changing the name to 'Burning Person,' please so signify."

6> "No, you want the Burning and Itching Man Festival. Just head toward Vegas -- you can't miss it."

5> "This thing is getting too cushy -- they even provided a hole to use as a toilet this year."

4> "Put that cigarette out! This is a no-smoking fire zone!"

3> "Does this exposed penis make me look fat?"

2> "I've reached my inner dung beetle this year!"

and's Number 1 Thing Overheard at the Burning Man Festival...

1> "We are here to service the physical, spiritual, emotional and psychic needs of our astro-travelling clientele -- and sell cold beer for three-fifty a can."

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2004 by Chris White ]
Selected from 102 submissions from 37 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
David G. Scott, Kansas City, MO -- 1, 9 (13th #1)
Scott Witmer, Hanover, PA -- 2
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 3

The Top 16 Amish Comedian Punchlines

Tied for 8th. What can I say but "woo-hoo"

September 14, 2004

16> "Pray, friend, taketh thee my goodwyfe... please."

15> "I just got in from New Paltz, and boy, is my horse-whipping arm tired!"

14> "Is this thing on? Oh, wait -- I'm Amish. I guess not."

13> "So I said, 'If I told thee that was a great shapeless outfit thou art wearing, wouldst thou hold it against me?'"

12> "Say, Ezekiel, art thou raising a silo on thy property, or be thou joyous to see me?"

11> "Two men a night. But seriously, folks...."

10> "Aren't thee rapturous I didn't sayeth 'orange' again? No, wait... scourge of Satan! Again I erred!"

9> "Don't you loathe it when you're stuck behind a buggy-driving elder who keeps his arm extended outside the buggy yet never turns left?"

8> "A guy walks into a bar... and gets shunned!"

7> "... and now that they're hitched, she's got a bearded Clem!"

6> "If you want those in black, you'll have to go to Brother Frederick's -- of Hollywood."

5> "Twenty mules, a sack of flour and a stout ox -- same as in Intercourse."

4> "'Twas not a pitchfork I used to ring thy doorbell, sister Rebecca."

3> "Thy mother is so stupid, she only has three sons named Samuel!"

2> "My magnificent erection? Why, thou art most welcome, dear Mary, but the whole town deserves thanks for thine new barn!"

and's Number 1 Amish Comedian Punchline...

1> "So dis is how I'd look vit a beard, Elder Daniel!"

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2004 by Chris White ]
Selected from 128 submissions from 46 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
Hank Weilevy, Fairless Hills, PA -- 1 (25th #1/Hall of Famer)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 8
John H. Spencer, San Carlos, CA -- 8

The Top 20 Signs the Department of Homeland Security Is Getting Outdated Information

Tied for 9th, and with a guy from Pleasant Hill, no less. On the other hand, a sort of hat trick; three lists in one week!

September 13, 2004


Some topics are much more important than others. This particular one concerns no less than the national security of all Americans.

Don't thank us, folks -- we're just doing our patriotic duty.

20> Tom Ridge warns of a plan to hijack a ship and sail it off the edge of the earth.

19> Morocco said to be aiding terrorists and all letters of transit issued there are suspect. Warrant issued for one Victor Laszlo.

18> The name "D. B. Cooper" just popped up on the no-fly list.

17> New York City is warned of a credible threat from Bronx bombers.

16> Latest report: Biological weapons are being smuggled down the Mississippi River by al-Qaeda operatives Ha-Kal-Berry and Jim.

15> The latest memo of an impending invasion of Iraq has everyone on edge.

14> Terrorism suspected in case of Hawaiian boat missing after a three-hour tour. A three-hour tour.

13> All-points-bulletin issued for anyone who's seen Texas Air National Guard Lieutenant George W. Bush.

12> Radio intercepts provide "credible evidence" of a foreign attack on Grovers Mill, NJ, on Halloween night.

11> Governor Schwarzenegger forcibly detained after intelligence indicates that a bad actor planned to shoot the president at a theater.

10> Source in Rome tells them to pencil in March 15 as a Red Alert day.

9> "The latest intercepted instructions are still being translated, but this much we know: 'One if by lamb, two if by seed.'"

8> Lots of concern about a recently intercepted missive from a mysterious agent Zoso regarding Kashmir.

7> Imminent worldwide biological attack reportedly involves a mysterious new virus known only as "Wyetookay."

6> President Bush announces that the impending threat of secession on the part of Southern states will be met with "shock and awe" campaign of musket fire.

5> We go to Orange Alert when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars.

4> Recently received video claiming responsibility for the killing of the radio star.

3> Tom Ridge keeps trying to TiVo the new "Friends" season.

2> Intelligence shows terrorist Fred bin Flintstone is planning to hijack a pterodactyl and fly it over key bowling alleys.

and's Number 1 Sign the Department of Homeland Security Is Getting Outdated Information...

1> "Be on the lookout for Egyptian terror leader Hassim el-Rashid Imhotep, a.k.a. Birdie Eye Leaf Leaf Squiggle Birdie Kneeling-Guy Bent-Stick Lion Squiggle."

[ The Top 5 List ]
[ Copyright 2004 by Chris White ]
Selected from 98 submissions from 34 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
-------------------------------------- Carl Knorr, Devo City, OH -- 1 (22nd #1)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 19
Dave Wesley, Pleasant Hill, CA -- 19 (Hall of Famer)


Guest: Sky Captain

Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow

Kerry Conran’s directing and writing debut is a staggering tour de force of imagination and technology. Sky Captain is unlike anything you have seen before, though it is replete with references to myriad classic films – from Metropolis to Star Wars, Raiders Of The Lost Ark to The Wizard Of Oz. The film was shot entirely with actors (Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Giovanni Ribisi, Angeline Jolie, even Laurence Olivier!) on blue screen sets, with all locations – from Manhattan to the Himalayas - added via computer. The resulting look and feel is sensational – a wonderful combination of film noir shadows, retro comic book science fiction, and pulp fiction imagery, all bathed in a monochromatic palette of steely blue-grey. The storyline – almost an afterthought - is less distinctive and captivating, despite a few cute, kitschy moments and over-the-top action sequences. Ultimately, though, I’m skeptical that Sky Captain will see much success at the box office. I expect it will join the ranks of cult films like Tron and The Abyss - little-seen upon release, but groundbreaking in retrospect.

--Neal Vitale

The Story of the Weeping Camel

Ninety minutes of a German film about a Mongolia tribe, the highlight of which is the acceptance of a camel colt by its weeping mother. Hardly sounds like compelling film-making, but it is. Apparently the spirit of Nanook of the North is not dead; here we have a docudrama on the lives of Mongolians in the Gobi Desert with the thinnest possible overlay of story. It is fascinating. If you care a fig for good foreign film making, and like your movies thoughtful rather than noisy, this is the film for you. Rated PG for mild thematic elements, but frankly, anyone under 30 would probably be bored to tears by it anyway.

It's supposed to be a metaphor, I've heard, but for what I don't know.

Control Room

It is too late on Sunday night to go into as much detail as I'd like, but if Control Room is still playing in your area, go and see it. Arab-American director Jehane Noujaim has made a first-rate documentary, filled with fascinating people, that takes a look at the way Al-Jazeera covered the invasion of Iraq. I was enthralled, as was Vicki.


Two from Coquet, Dan Grobstein File

Steve Coquet feels strongly about gun control:

You know from previous letters that I have a fine contempt for most Republican politics. I have that same contempt for specious reasoning from any direction. I am an unflinching liberal. A tax and spend liberal: tax the rich and spend it on the poor. You probably didn't know that I am also a gun owning, second amendment quoting, unflinching, tax and spend liberal.

The major problem with the assault weapons ban was that it dealt not with reality, but appearance. Here is an instructive anecdote from another arena; a letter a few years ago to National Geographic asked this question: "What is the difference between an archaeologist and a grave robber?" (There was controversy over their having unearthed the oldest mummies in the New World) Their one-word answer: "Intent." And that is the crux of the problem of defining the term. Imagine two items, A baseball bat and an AR-15 with an Afgani muzzle brake and a collapsible stock. Which is the assault weapon? The one used to kill Mulugeta Seraw -- the baseball bat. The owner of the rifle uses it in competitive, sanctioned matches on weekends.

The minor problem with the assault weapon ban was that it was redundant: it was already against the law to shoot people, or to rob them at gunpoint, or to commit any other crime with a weapon.

Don't get me wrong, I am in favor of having to prove you are not a criminal in order to buy a gun. Control of gun ownership is not necessarily a bad thing. The background check law has kept guns out of many criminals' hands. It probably didn't get many of them arrested. If you are a convicted felon, you don't go into a store and attempt to purchase a gun if you know the police will be notified that you did.

Also from Steve:

I am subscribed to a website called A.Word.A. Day, which you may have heard of. Each day I get a vocabulary word and a quote, not generally related to the word. For Sept 16 the quote seems to be particularly apropos the debacle at Abu Gahraib:

Everything secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity.
-Lord Acton, historian (1834-1902)

Dan Grobstein File:

New York Times:

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