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Some Thoughts On Gun Control

Believe it or not, even in this forum I risk some serious flaming by tacking the subject of gun control. I know there are a few serious second amendment types in my regular reader base. Nevertheless, I feel compelled by recent events to stake out my position, and perhaps open a dialog.

For starters, I believe you can read the second amendment to say that the right to bear arms is associated with the maintenance of a well-ordered militia. I know the Supreme Court has not agreed with this interpretation--yet. But the current crop of Supremes, and the right-wingers that baby Bush will pack onto the court with both hands the minute he is elected, claim to be principled. They claim to be channeling Jefferson and Madison. They claim their decisions on constitutional issues are based on original intent. I can't believe that rapid-firing large-clip lessons were what these lads had in mind at the nation's founding.

I think an intellectually honest Supreme Court of right wingers will, someday, tell us that we don't all have the right to own and carry all the guns we want.

(In much the same way the founding fathers' constant invocation of God, in the context of their own lightweight Deist beliefs, scarcely supports the extreme views of the fundamentalist Christian sects on many constitutional issues.)

What really frosts my butt (besides a four-foot snow cone) is the argument that "guns don't kill people, people kill people," that criminals will kill people with or without guns. Well, pardon me, but I have never heard of a drive-by knifing or a drive-by clubbing. I'd a whole hell of a lot rather take my chances with a knife-wielding assailant that I could conceivably outrun, then a bullet that I couldn't. The guy at 101 California could not have killed all those people with a knife, as he did with his multiple rapid-firing, large-clip weapons. (Thank you, I don't wish to be engaged in the semantic argument about the definition of semi-automatic and automatic, which gun backers like to use to obfuscate the issue of gun control)

Another argument I find vacuous is that all of life involves risks. I saw a great editorial cartoon lately, that riffed on a gun supporter's statement: "cars kill more people than guns." Well fine, then. The state requires drivers' education, licenses all drivers, and, in cases of misconduct, can remove your right to drive. I'd settle for the same set of rules with regard to guns.

The fact is, I've never fired a gun. I didn't hunt as a boy growing up in Oregon, because my family didn't hunt (or fish for that matter, except my maternal grandfather). I haven't served in the military. I live in a low-crime suburb. My opinion is simple: when there are no guns, criminals will not have guns. I don't ever expect this radical extreme to be adopted.

But maybe, in my lifetime, private gun ownership will be limited to guns that meet the size and firing speed specifications available in the 18th century when the constitution was adopted. Now THAT'S original intent.

By the way, don't tell me I can't have it both ways, that the founding fathers endorsed slavery, so I can't have the 18th amendment unless I agree to 10 handguns in every home. Amendment was a process the founding fathers wisely included. If you really think the U.S. Constitution supports private ownership of guns that fire a bullet a second, pass a constitutional amendment that so states. Otherwise, gun backers should admit that their ethics are situational and that original intent is a crock--two things I'll willingly admit.

Microsoft And The Lousy Help Files

In a forthcoming column, Jerry Pournelle will complain about Microsoft help files. I know this because I am his editor. He asked if it was just him, or if help files are getting worse. Since I have some insight on the subject, I wrote to him. I am sharing my thoughts with you as well:

In 1994-95, I got deeply involved in Windows Help. I took expensive classes to learn the minutia of the Windows 3.1 help engine (and used it as the display method for the first three editions of the WINDOWS Magazine CD-ROM--then Fred Langa forced me to convert to this stupid new medium called HTML.). It turns out it was a very powerful display mechanism, widely used to publish hypertext material.

Because Microsoft controlled the underlying technical standard, it had quite a bit of influence on the way help was written. In the early days of 3.1, the tendency was towards verbose help, which mixed explanations of what a feature did with how to use it.

First, Microsoft promulgated separation: separate feature explanations from "how to," which should be simple and explicit. In fact, the Windows 95 help engine added some new automation features so you could "click here" and ask the operating system to perform simple tasks for you. And this was good, and the third-party help industry started teaching in-house and freelance help writers to adopt these principles.

Up to this point, I'd characterize Microsoft's influence as benign or even positive.

But in mid-1996, just before I left the CD-ROM business for the Net, Microsoft's influence shifted to malign. Based on massive amounts of user research, they started promulgating a new theory of help: terse help. In my opinion, as yours, it is an unmitigated disaster. First of all, by cutting the length of feature descriptions, Microsoft reduced the chances that a full-word search would, in fact, turn up the feature you are looking for (the problem you had in finding out how to change the frequency of e-mail checking). Secondly, they reduced many help entries to the point of either tautology (save files using file/save) or incomprehensibility (supply your own example).

The gradually increasing uselessness of help files is no accident, no coincidence. It is a the result of people following Microsoft's deliberate new "terse" help file philosophy, on the assumption that a company which conducts that much user research must know what it is doing. The only useful files left are those written by people who have remained outside Microsoft's sphere of philosophical influence. Perhaps the blindingly obvious fact that this method of writing help files is unhelpful will eventually occur to someone at Microsoft. Perhaps not.

Will The Real Bill Gates Please Stand Up

I approvingly quoted from a New Yorker article on Bill Gates which described him as petulant and difficult. This drew a response from Jerry Pournelle, a friend and colleague, who actually knows Gates better than me:

I can't say I know him well. I first met him at a Southern California Computer Society meeting (back when SCCS published Interface Age and was one of the fastest growing organizations in the US - about 1976 or 77.) He was peddling paper tapes of Altair basic and I bought one, I believe for $20, although there were on the floor of the meeting copies offered for $5 by pirates. Bill was incensed about this. Rightly so, actually.
I didn't meet him again until I had my BYTE column. There used to be a series of parties in Las Vegas, paid for by Will Hearst and hosted by Jerry Pournelle and John Dvorak. You could come to the party if you could find it. They became known as "Dvorak's Party" but if you ask John he will acknowledge that so long as will Hearst paid they were jointly hosted by Pournelle and Dvorak. Major people came to them including Bill Gates, Phillipe Kahn, Gordon Eubanks, and many others; it was an informal place for everyone to get together and have off the record discussions. Gates in those days was a lot more approachable than now.
I spent a couple of evenings in his company in the early days of the CDROM conferences; people forget CDROM technology would not have advanced as quickly as it did had not Gates sponsored and paid for those conferences. Later they made money for him; another example of his ability to get in on the wave of the future before anyone else did. At the first CDROM conference Phillips and other major players tried to bully him into dropping CDROM for something they considered far more interesting and important, CDI. You remember CDI? At the time Microsoft was a fairly small company compared to giants like Polygram and Phillips. How times change.
Gates remains the most accessible billionaire in the world. He has been known to listen when others talk. He no longer calls me on the telephone (as he did about 5 times in the early days) but then no other billionaire ever called me at all. Arrogance is as arrogance does, and again, Bill Gates seems a bit less so than some we see in the news.
No this isn't a strong defence because I don't have enough information. But I have seen Gates be a great deal more patient with people who deserved short shrift than many people less successful and less provoked. As to interesting, I can truthfully say I never spent a dull moment in his company. Of course I haven't been that long or often in his company; but it is not something I would say about everyone in this industry even so.

It is possible, as several friends have pointed out, that Bill has treated me like shit every time we've met (except my 1979 interview with him for CSN) because I was a) a journalist and b) a not very important journalist. Or, it may be that, as a person, he's unpleasant and anti-social.

HP and the Glass Ceiling

Ross Snyder says this piece in the SF Sunday Examiner "greatly increases" his admiration for HP's Lewis Platt. Me too.

Ross was kind enough to add, "You might have considerable empathy with him. Both of you have long been surrounded by a family of beloved, talented women whose success you surely want to encourage."

Since the NY Times charges for articles, and the Examiner (which is free) does not include NYT articles on its web site, here's an abstract. You can find the entire article here, but you're on your honor not to copy and redistribute it, or even let people know it is available. I consider showing it to the 60 of you who read this column each week to be "fair use," but if you spread it around, it's copyright violation. So don't.

August 22, 1999, Sunday New York Times Business/Financial Desk

A Push From the Top Shatters a Glass Ceiling
Hewlett-Packard's elevation of Carly Fiorina to the post of chief executive last month solidified the company's reputation as a bastion of egalitarianism in a male-dominated corporate world. With more than a quarter of Hewlett-Packard's managers women -- including one who was a main rival of Ms. Fiorina for the top job -- it seemed incontestable that the glass ceiling that stops the rise of female executives at so many other companies had been shattered.

Silicon Graphics: News and Comment

Well, one thing's for sure, you readers aren't very passionate about the news. Here's a friend's news and comment. I should note this person has never worked for SGI.

Headline should read:
Executive puts company in crapper, offered job by partner

It's a new spin on the government revolving door: give big defense contracts to your favorite cronies, then leave government service for a lucrative job with one of them.

Then again, it's only rumored that this guy will go to MSFT. At a minimum, he's just a rat. [PS--The rumor was true, he DID go to Microsoft]

From the WSJ Online:

Tuesday's Market Activity

Elsewhere in the technology sector Tuesday, Silicon Graphics dropped 1 9/16, or 12%, to 10 7/8 on the New York Stock Exchange. Richard Belluzzo resigned abruptly as chairman and chief executive of the computer maker and is expected to be tapped to run Microsoft's high-profile Internet operations.

The Top 14 New Marketing Slogans for Hell (Part II)

Friday Sept. 3, I did it again.

14> 99 percent Osmond-free!

13> Welcome "Ye-Of-Little-Faith" Conventioneers!

12> Get in line now for the O.J. Simpson autograph booth!

11> You've come a wrong way, baby.

10> Wimps Wear Wings.

9> Your Blistered Ass: It's What's For Breakfast, For All Eternity.

8> "...but it's a dry heat!"

7> Playing now and forever in the Lucifer Lounge: Frank Sinatra!

6> Free ice skating after Al Gore's election.

5> Can 10,000 Nazi Stormtroopers Be Wrong?

4> As seen on the UPN Network!

3> Just did it.

2> There: World-Renowned Goody Two Shoes Mother Teresa

Here: World-Renowned Porn Star Busty McSleazy

Your choice, dude.

and's Number 1 New Marketing Slogan for Hell...

1> Butt. Fry. Er.

[ The Top 5 List ]

[ Copyright 1999 by Chris White ]

Selected from 150 submissions from 52 contributors.

Today's Top 5 List authors include:
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 6

Praise For My Journalism Page

First, this correction:

I enjoyed your column this week. I love the way in which you express a parent's feelings of the moving on transition of a child. Well done. I'm curious about "Chicago". Since Sandy Dennis died on March 3, 1992 of cancer at age 54, it may be more than stubbornness that is keeping her away from those matinees. Or perhaps it is a very special theatre. Was Rod Serling an usher?

Delivered with your usual style, Kent. Sandy Duncan is the correct actress. Many of you may not have seen this error, since I corrected it as soon as Kent pointed it out.

I got another nice letter about my Journalism Movies page:

Dear Mr. Schindler:
I am a high school English & Journalism teacher who is looking for a few new ideas to update and enliven my newspaper class. Today I was fortunate to find your page with all of the wonderful material you have collected about journalism and journalists! What a great site. I hope you don't mind if I pass you site on to some of my colleagues. I think they will be as impressed as I am. I am hoping to use clips from some of the movies to help my students understand the role of the modern journalist. I also hope to use some of the quotes you provided to launch a discussion of the role of journalists and editors. Once again, congratulations for putting together such an educational web site!
Dan Byrne

From Europe, my friend Larry King writes a chatty, discursive and quite readable summary of what's been going on across the pond. Find the full text here. Please do go and read it. I enjoyed it thoroughly. It starts like this:

Very little happens in Europe in August, except for the occasional German invasion of a neighbouring country. Nothing so interesting occurred this year.
Even less than usual was going on in the U.K., Monday being the final bank holiday of the summer, more or less analogous to Labor Day.
The main event in London was the Notting Hill Carnival on Monday, which contrary to what you might expect is not a celebration of the recent Hugh Grant film (as it's referred to locally; I would assume in the states it's called a Julia Roberts vehicle). Rather, Carnival is a massive festival-street party-amiable riot, imported from the Caribbean and enthusiastically embraced by the locals.

My favorite paragraph comes farther in:

I have never been able to decide whether the relatively low-key, unemotional approach to political campaigning in Europe is a sign of good sense or deep-seated cynicism. I suspect the latter. It's hard to credit good sense for the political situation in any continent that includes Italy. I've lost count of how many governments Italy has had since the end of World War II, but it's close to sixty. Of course, you could argue that a propensity to throw out the government on a moment's notice is the epitome of good sense. But if you start ascribing good sense to Italy, you have to come up with an explanation for opera, Venice, and the traffic in Rome, which are, reading from left to right, charmingly detached from reality, a breathtaking defiance of all the usual rules governing the best place to build a city -- few recommend the middle of a lagoon -- and downright deranged.

Craig Reynolds wrote a few weeks ago. I'm just getting around to printing it now:

I hope your week in New York went well and was was the rewarding sort of bittersweet family experience that such landmarks should be.
I was at SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles last week, just me and 40,000 of my closest friends. (It also marked the tenth anniversary of meeting my wife Lisa at SIGGRAPH 89.) It was a good conference with lots of cool stuff in the Technical Program and the Animation Festival. But one paper stood out and I think it might be of interest to the readers of PSACoT and the rest of the Paul Schindler media empire. The paper was by Takeo Igarashi (with his professors) and described "Teddy" a highly intuitive, sketch-based 3d modeler, for a certain class of "rotund" geometrical models. Because its written in Java, anyone can try it:
Also, after I read your column, I ran out to find the August 16, 1999 issue of The New Yorker for Auletta's piece about Bill Gates. But that issue was no longer available. Any idea how I can get a copy of the article?

Surely, someone reading this can help Craig (and me).