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

July 18, 2005: P.S. A Column On Things

July 18, 2005 Vol. 7, No. 28

Table of Contents:

General News

  • MIT in Fiction
  • Marlow in China
  • Rae in France
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • None


  • Guest Review: Fantastic Four


  • Coquet on Microsoft Stupidity, Dan Grobstein File

General News

MIT in Fiction

I was watching the Fantastic Four when I realized that Reed Richards, Susan Storm and Victor Von Doom are all depicted as MIT graduates. Earlier in the week, Dan Grobstein had sent me to a page on the Internet about "who's Jewish." I think I shall start such a page with regard to MIT (although Wikipedia has an excellent start on this subject). Here are my first few entries; please feel free to submit yours, and I'll print them in the column and eventually post a separate page.

MIT Faculty and Students in fiction

Crichton, Michael. State of Fear. Richard John Kenner, a scientist who heads the fictional MIT Center for Risk Analysis.

Fantastic Four (2006). Reed Richards, Susan Storm and Victor Von Doom are all shown to be MIT graduates.

Good Will Hunting (1997 ) Will Hunting (Matt Damon) and Professor Gerald Lambeau (played by Stellan Skarsgård)

Heinlein, Robert. Have Space Suit, Will Travel. Kip Russell is admitted to MIT at the end of the novel (I believe this may be why I applied to MIT)

Wallace, David Foster. Infinite Jest. The Madame Psychosis Radio Hour broadcast by a fictional MIT radio station.

Wikipedia MIT entry. See section "MIT in popular culture".


Rae in France

Rae is in Montpelier, France this summer, working on her French.

I am figuring out my place in this French study abroad program How much do I wanna practice and with who? Mais voila!

There are a bunch of "anamtrices" or tutors or in this case camp counselors. They could totally help me practice my French, but I'm embarrassed about approaching them with my broken French and heavy American accent. It is kinda their job to endure such tortures, so they may be amenable. I'll find more language practice when I buy stuff in "centre ville" (center of town) and eat places other than the school cafeteria or my room.

There are a lot of scheduled activities, but with getting up at 7:30 everyday for class 6 days a week I skipped out on some this week. I just couldn't take it. Needed some downtime, by myself, and it was oh-so-nice. With weekly beach trips, I will undoubtedly have at least a slight tan when I come back to the states.

Unlike the beach in Cassis [where we spent a week on a family vacation], the shore is sand not rocks, which makes walking to the waves easier. Also unlike Cassis, the water was very choppy. I'm hopping that that was just because the wind was exceptionally strong that week.

As far as classes go, I've decided to do half and half. I'm doing the harder section (D) during the morning oral lesson, and the easier section (C) for the afternoon grammar section. It's the same professor for both, and I really like her, so at least I'm waking up for classes I appreciate. Marlow lauded me in opting to go one level up from where I was placed, and said don't worry if you fall on your face. Yesterday, during my harder oral section, I mispronounced "baisser" with a "z" sound instead of a soft "s" sound and instead of saying "I will turn the music down" I said "I will have sex with the music." Now comes the time for Batman's father's advice "You know the reason we fall down?... To pick ourselves up."


Most of the Americans and Foreigners love to speak English, so the speaking and listening practice is not just falling into my lap. Live in a dorm for foreigners and we go to the college for foreigners. We are quarantined. I am going to try to spend time with the tutors (who are really like peers), and ask them to coffee or to go on a walk. I also plan to skip out on the scheduled trips they have for us here. I don't dig the whole I'm a tourist on a tourist bus deal. Walking around in large groups and following schedules after 6 days of class and often scheduled activities within the week itself does not make sense to me. I do not want or need constant structure. I live on the outskirts of Montpellier, but it's only a short tram ride from centre ville. This is a city I want to explore more. Also I want to see a bunch of movies. I'm very excited because that is what I am doing today. My first French movie in France!

Marlow in China

Marlow is in Shanghai this summer, working and working on her Chinese.

[Marlow shopped with a "friend of a friend"] I now know the lowest price to ask for for most of the basics I will be buying for presents. We went around the yuyuan bazaar and the fake market, stopped at a Starbucks so she could write down addresses of clubs and other shopping districts, and then went and had Mexican food with some of her classmates, most of whom are leaving this week. I'm glad our time overlapped even for a day.

Then today I had to get up early to go on a tour of Shanghai with a guy who is visiting the company I'm going to work for. I ended up acting as translator. And the guy was plenty interesting, has been coming to China for over a decade, imports beads and other small plastic things, and has a daughter about my age. I could switch back and forth between talking to him or to the three Chinese people, or I could be the bridge between them. And it struck me that this could potentially be the way in which I am most useful here this summer. I can't imagine I'll do better at filling orders for garments in Chinese than I will at schmoosing in English. Plus of course I get the perks of an air-conditioned car with driver to points of interest, and a big banquet style meal every time.

Political Notes

Talking Points Memo: George H. W. Bush confirmed Karl Rove is a traitor. when he dedicated the George Bush Center for Intelligence on April 26th, 1999:

Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, narco-trafficking, people killing each other, fundamentalists killing each other in the name of God. These and more. Many more. As our analysts know, as our collectors of intelligence know - these are our enemies. To combat them we need more intelligence, not less. We need more human intelligence. That means we need more protection for the methods we use to gather intelligence and more protection for our sources, particularly our human sources, people that are risking their lives for their country. Even though I'm a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious, of traitors."



  • Capitol Buzz: Sen. Santorum blames Catholic priest scandal on Boston and MIT.
  • Like the friend who forwarded this item, I too enjoyed seeing the Nixon-era term "stonewall" in this headline about yesterday's contentious press conference. Stonewalled In The West Wing.
  • Could Bush fire Rove? Could Charlie McCarthy fire Edgar Bergen.
  • The Big Lie About Valerie Plame. Apparently an intelligence officer writing in a left-wing blog.
  • Our president, you gotta love him. No, really, it's required by law and, more importantly, by Karl Rove: George W. Bush, discussing the decline of the French economy with British Prime Minister Tony Blair: "The problem with the French is that they don't have a word for 'entrepreneur'."

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

On the cheap: two items about the beauty of cheapness. Diarrhea kills a million children every year. Napo Pharmaceuticals is about to introduce its novel ethnobotanical based drug Crofelemer which (unlike other treatments) is safe for childern: A Drug to Eradicate Diarrhea. This is one of the first times a new drug has been introduced in the thrid world at low prices and high volume instead of in the first world at high prices and low volume. Similarly there is a huge untapped market for cell phones in the developing world, and companies are racing to develop models that can be sold for less than $20: Cheap Is New Cell-Phone Mantra: "...around 80 percent of the world's population lives within wireless coverage but only 25 percent use mobile services."

Lego Turing machine: if you aren't familiar with the concept of a Turing machine this will be Too Geeky For You: Lego Turing machine (via via). It is not purely mechanical, is is made of only Lego parts. Not only that but its been done before! I sent this around at work and my coworker Stewart sent me an image of a Turing machine constructed in Conway's Game of Life.

Technobits: Internet Archive sued for ... archiving? (equally stupid: Bus firm takes car sharers to court) --- Data Theft: How to Fix the Mess --- catalog of things people Can't Find On Google --- Making a Plug for Hybrids --- new evidence that the mind works with continuous not discrete quanities --- pretending to be a fluorescent red shrimp: Deep-sea animal hunts with light --- Triple Sunset: Planet Discovered in 3-Star System.




Guest Review: Fantastic Four

This film is a disappointment, even though there's nothing particularly bad about it. Perhaps it's that Batman Begins (and, to a lesser extent, the Spiderman series) have set the bar so high for comic-book- based film that a straight-forward adaptation like Fantastic Four comes off as silly and lightweight. Although I was a staunch Detective Comics fan growing up, my one crossover Marvel fave was Fantastic Four. I generally disliked the humor and vulnerability of Marvel characters, preferring the lofty perfection (or at least noble striving) of Superman and his DC cohorts. But this quartet of genetically-altered heroes was different for me, and I enjoyed their human bickering and competitiveness. In film, it is humanity and wit that saves a bit of the day for Fantastic Four. Michael Chiklis (from TV's The Shield) makes a wonderful, sympathetic Ben Grimm/The Thing, and relative newcomer Chris Evans is great fun as the brash young Johnny Storm/The Human Torch. But even these two notable performances aren't able to bring Fantastic Four above being merely adequate, mildly diverting, insubstantial summer fare.

--Neal Vitale

A couple of further notes: Neal and I would have been reading comics at about the same time, since we are roughly the same age. I started in 1960 or so, when I was 8. I remember my mother telling me I was making a wastebasket out of my mind by reading them. I caught the tail-end of the nadir of comic book history, the barren 1950s, but was there for the full flowering of the Silver Age of comics in the 1960s (the Golden Age had been the 1940s). I was reading DC when they introduced the new Flash, the new Green Lantern, and the Justice League of America. I watched as Superman loosened up a little, and saw Batman all over the map (dragged this way and that by the television show). Of course, this was also the era of the proliferation of multi-colored Kryptonites, but that's another story.

As Neal hints, the real action in the Silver Age was at Marvel, led by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (Fantastic Four, X-Men, The Hulk, The Avengers, Daredevil, The Mighty Thor), and Lee and Steve Ditko (The Amazing Spiderman, Doctor Strange) and Lee and Steranko (Nick Fury, Agent of Shield). I continued to read the comics from both companies, but my DC reading was sporadic; unlike Neal, I gave my heart to the troubled and confused characters in the House of Marvel I owned issues 1-100 of every title I just mentioned. Just from selling the duplicates, I raised enough money to pay my personal expenses during my freshman year at MIT. Years later, I sold the collection for about $1,000 (initial purchase price, about $100).

By the way, for the record, it turns out Ben Grimm is Jewish. Even the Forward agrees. Dan Grobstein adds Wikipedia: Who's Jewish.


Coquet on Microsoft Stupidity, Dan Grobstein File

Peggy Coquet sends along more proof that Microsoft Sucks, in this case, with the monitor-baffling, video-fuzzing content protection built into Longhorn. A good reason for me not to upgrade.

Dan Grobstein File

New York Times

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