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

April 25, 2005: P.S. A Column On Things

April 25, 2005 Vol. 7, No. 16

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Edwin Diamond, My Mentor
  • Hurray! Rae Is Home
  • Travel in the Internet Age
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • Too Crude


  • The Interpreter


  • Dalton on MIT Fake Paper, The Romensko Effect, Kevin Sullivan with 2 From Net Surfer, The Dan Grobstein File

General News

Edwin Diamond My Mentor

Edwin Diamond, my mentor, already has a tribute page on my website. Add to that a lovely and thoughtful appreciation by Mike McNamee, editor of Volume 95 of The Tech at MIT (I was editor of Volume 93).

Hurray, Rae is Home

How's this for dumb: spring break the last week of April and May 12 the last day of school. Well, it must make sense to someone at Brandeis University in Waltham, because that's the schedule for our daughter Rae. Not that I'm complaining; it means we'll see a lot of her between now and her departure for a two-month summer program

Travel in the Internet Age

This from Richard Dalton:

You know as well as anyone that the Internet has completely changed travel planning. I don't know anyone who calls up XYZ Airline and asks, "What's your best price to London?" anymore. It's great to have some Web site sort through thousands of airfares or car rentals deals and cough up a lowball booking, but I'm more intrigued these days by the depth of destination information that's readily available.

We're going to England in two weeks and plan on spending a couple of days in the North Yorkshire Moors, a place we've enjoyed before. Looking for something new, I Googled and found a Web site that provides a succinct, newsy page on more than one hundred of the most obscure hamlets in the U.K that are located in the Moors. Included are Fangdale Beck, Kirby Misperton, Low Dalby. and my personal favorite, Ugglebarnby. The site confidently tells me that this odd name is derived from the Scandinavian nickname of "Owlbeard." Who would have guessed?

I suspect that the U.K., with its reverence for history, is exceptional, but I've also found a low cost pensione in Florence around the corner from the Duomo and a motel in Aberdeen, Maryland that happily hosted us, including Bogie, our hundred-pound dog.

I'm very willing to agree with anyone who values the joy of unexpectedly beautiful scenery or a surprisingly interesting place to spend a couple of days. Over planning does have its drawbacks. But foreknowledge that the headless corpse of Oliver Cromwell may reside somewhere in the Moor's Newburgh Priory is hard to beat.

We are having the same experience as we plan for our France trip. The Internet has opened up a world of cool places to stay; alas, it is also telling us they're all booked for the last week of June. I thought the French went on holiday in August!

Political Notes


  • "Someone gave President Bush an iPod and President Bush asked, 'where can I get one for the other eye?'"
    --Craig Ferguson

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Ads in new media: as demographics shift, advertising dollars move from traditional media to newcomers like the web and in-game placements: Global TV Ad Spending Seen Losing Share to Web and Advertising in video games worth $1 billion by 2010.

Modern music: in Britain they have begun to include legal downloads in the traditional "Top 40" charts: 'Historic' singles chart welcomed. Lawrence Lessig on NIN's brilliance: the band Nine Inch Nails has released a song from their new CD in the multitrack recording file format of Apple's GarageBand home music studio software. This allows musicians to play with the track, remix, add new tracks and so on. Way to go NIN!

Sci-fi for teachers: I was going to send this link to Paul, but maybe others would be interested in it also. I've been a fan of (now retired) SDSU Professor Vernor Vinge ever since reading his 1984 story True Names which can be seen as the precursor of the "cyberpunk" movement in science fiction. Last July I made a hardcopy of his story Synthetic Serendipity which sat in my To Read folder until this month. The story is set in a high school and has a surprise ending what will warm the cockles of an educator's heart.

Technobits: U.S. Military's Elite Hacker Crew (see also) --- Bells' fiber plans spark political flame war --- hourly rentals: Re-thinking urban car journeys --- Intel ships wireless broadband chips --- Robot walks, balances like a human --- Model predicts hurricane activity (see this wind anomaly data) --- new work by Sophocles: Oxyrhynchus Papyri --- as previously noted here, its iceberg B-15A vs. Drygalski Ice Tongue redux --- Target Upgrades the Pill Bottle --- Experts Solve Mystery of Unpopped Popcorn. [See Also, from Dan Grobstein: Toronto Globe and Mail: That corn won't pop: Water content most important, but integrity of hull also critical]


Too Crude

I made it onto a Top 5 list this week, but it's too crude to reproduce here. And that's saying something.


The Interpreter

When I was young, I always used to wonder about films that were described as a "roller coast ride." Until now. I've been on a roller coaster ride, and I enjoyed it more than I do most such rides. The Interpreter is the story of a Nicole Kidman (a UN interpreter) and the Secret Service agent assigned to protect her, Sean Penn. Everything moves in fits and starts, the story is slowly and lovingly unveiled, there are red herrings, MacGuffins and surprises galore. The coda was a bit sappy, but otherwise the film was put together like a fine Swiss chronomtere.

Director Sydney Pollack, apparently, cannot make a bad movie. His list of hits is too long to include here. I like the fact that he appears in brief cameos in his own films (Tootsie was the best of these).


  • Nicole Kidman, for whose general screen personna I do not much care, gives another Meryl Streep-like performance. Depth, drama and a cool accent. As opposed to Penn, her forehead is perfectly smooth. Does this mean she's had work done? She's 38. You do the math. I guess what I mean is she impresses with good work.
  • Sean Penn--Great at converting the anger of his personal life into angry characters on screen. He does it here again. I love the fact that his forehead looks like a washboard. Some people have washboard abs, Penn has a washboard forehead!
  • Catherine Keener--only a bit part, but I love her. Great face.
  • Earl Cameron is like totally amazing at the corrupt (formerly noble) African leader.

I'd like to spend a little more time than usual on the writing because it was taut, clever and riveting. A tip of the PSACOT hat to my late friend Richard Parker, who taught me how to read screenwriting credits; an ampersand means screenwriters wrote as a team, the word "and" means they worked sequentiall. The writing team of Martin Stellman and Brian Ward (previously: a handful of small movies) wrote the first draft of the script, for which they get story credit. The version on the screen was polish separately by Charles Randolph, Scott Frank (45, a number of films, started as a writer for TV's The Wonder Years) and Steven "Schindler's List" Zaillian (my age), who also wrote Mission Impossible.

Great film. Everyone involved deserves kudos. Rated PG-13 for sex and violence.


Dalton on MIT Fake Paper, The Romensko Effect, Kevin Sullivan with 2 From Net Surfer, The Dan Grobstein File

Richard Dalton found the editorial Say What in the Boston Globe

THREE MIT graduate students invented a computer program that can spit out randomly selected words to create grammatically correct research reports that make absolutely no sense. Now they have had one of those papers accepted for presentation at a July scientific conference.

Anyone interested in the media should read Jack Shaefer's Press Box, including such gems as The Romensko Effect. Slate used to email me notification of his columns; they stopped and I didn't notice. Since I just got an RSS reader to check my own RSS feed, I guess now I'll have to add Press Box to my one-item list.

Kevin Sullivan checks in with two from NetSurfer:

  • Unitarian Jihad
    Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle recently wrote a funny column addressed to the "Imprisoned Citizens of the United States". He wrote it as if from the fictional Unitarian Jihad (UJ), and it was a satirical call for greater tolerance and moderation in the face of extremist thought. The Your Unitarian Jihad Name site and the First Reformed Unitarian Jihad Name Generator are boons to sig lovers everywhere.
    Your Unitarian Jihad Name:
    First Reformed Unitarian Jihad Name Generator:
  • The Kottke Micropatron Report on Making a Blog Pay
    Here's a useful discussion of what happened when Jason Kottke, a modestly successful blogger, tried to raise enough money to support himself for a year by asking readers to contribute.


Dan Grobstein File

  • Television has been taken over by an "idiot culture."
    That's what Carl Bernstein contends. "For the first time in our history, the weird, the stupid, the coarse, the sensational and the untrue are becoming our cultural norm -- even our cultural ideal," he says. "The gravest threat today to the best obtainable version of the truth comes from these lowered standards. And the consequences to a society that is misinformed and disinformed by the grotesque values of this idiot culture are truly perilous." From the Poynter Institute.
  • Dan writes: For the past week, I've been using IpodderX (for OSX). It lists 3548 podcasts to choose from. I'm currently automatically grabbing "On the Media", excerpts from 2 local public radio shows, Harry Shearer's Le Show, Randi Rhodes and Mike Malloy from Air America and a few non broadcast things about Macs and movies. Don't have time to listen to them all and they're clogging up the hard disk. But they're some interesting things there.

    I also got WireTap Pro from Ambrosia. I used it to capture the real player audio on Prairie Home Companion from the PHC archive page and put it onto my Ipod. I also captured an hour of BBC in Newcastle and listened to it on my Ipod. Pretty neat to hear local traffic and weather and the call in stuff.



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