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Moss-Backed Apple Knocker II

(Continued from last week)

So, third-generation Oregonian, comfortable working class/lower middle class, white cisgender male in the middle of the 20th century. What’s not to like?

I left Oregon because I knew, even at the age of 12, when I had never been more than 200 miles east of the Pacific Ocean, that Oregon was too parochial for me.

In my teens, as I began to meet adult professionals, I quickly found they could be sorted into two groups.

The parochial: born and raised, second- or third-generation Oregonian, went to the U, proud to say, “I’ve never been to New York. Why would I want to go?”

The cosmopolitan: Went to Stanford (that was as far away as I ever met; no East Coasters in Northeast Portland at the time), or served overseas in World War II, or even just traveled to the East Coast now and then.

It was a member of the second group, Joseph Olsen, CPA, who memorably told me when I was in eighth grade, “Pauli, you talk too fast, walk too fast, and think too fast for this one-horse town. You gotta get out of here.”

I decided then and there: cosmopolitan, not parochial. Anywhere but Portland State or the U.

My close-up examples were similar but not identical. Except for attending my graduation in Cambridge, Mass., my dad had only ever been in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, California (two weeks) and British Columbia (one week). Mom dreamed of going to Europe regularly, but only went once. She encouraged me to get out.

MIT in Popular Culture


(While researching what I’d written about being a diversity admit to MIT, I ran across this item from July 18, 2005, which I thought was worth repeating. And, I might add, Dilbert and Doonesbury’s daughter are both MIT grads as well))

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.

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)

Right Column Redux:  Paul Plays Sax

The column to the right on this blog contains permanent content, most of which has appeared at one time or another in the main body. I’ve decided to include a reminder.

Since fall 2006, I have played tenor saxophone with the Danville Community Band, for which I have announced since its founding in 2001. From 1992-2006 I played with the Contra Costa Wind Symphony (aka the Lamorinda Town Band).

Come to our next concert on June 11 at 4pm at the Community Presbyterian Church in Danville.

Humor: Computers: Male or Female

Are computers masculine or feminine?

A class learning French and trying to get to grips with gender wondered if the word "computer" should be masculine or feminine. Split into  two groups, men and  women, they were asked to say which they considered a computer to be, and to give four reasons for their decision.

The women decided that computers are masculine because:

  • In order to gain their attention, you have to turn them on.
  • They are full of data, but are still clueless.
  • They are supposed to help you solve your problems, but most of the time they are the problem.
  • As soon as you commit to one, you realise that if you had waited a little longer, you could have had a better one.

The men decided that computers are feminine because:

  • No one but their creator understands their internal logic.
  • The language they use to communicate with each other  is totally incomprehensible.
  • Even your smallest mistakes are stored in long-term memory  for later retrieval.
  • As soon as you commit to them, you spend half your disposable income on buying accessories for them.


Moss-Backed Apple Knocker I

We are where we came from. Some of us have a rich background, a stew of the many places we lived growing up. I was raised in a monoculture. It has its upsides and downsides.

I am from Oregon, whose residents in the 60s proudly referred to themselves as moss-backed apple-knockers. Not just anywhere in Oregon, of course, a state which encompasses rain forest on the coast, Mediterranean climate in The Valley (Willamette) and desert in the east. I was raised on a single block in the state’s only city, Portland.

I might be forgiven for thinking the world all looks a lot like me, a Swiss-Irish Protestant working-class white kid. Of the 120 students in Beaumont grade school’s class of 1966, there were two Jews, one Catholic, one black student, a chiropractor’s son and a CPA’s son. Otherwise, no professionals: all white, Northern European working class.

Portland was a minor-league town in every sense of the word. Until I was 7, major league baseball was 2,000 miles away (the same distance my great-grandmother covered on foot when she emigrated to Oregon in the 19th century). The Giants brought it within 600 miles; the Blazers didn’t arrive until I’d left for college.

The Portland Beavers were a Cleveland farm club. Portland had a farm club mentality in all things, not just baseball. In entertainment or the professions, the sometimes unspoken question was, “If you were any good, wouldn’t you be in the majors? (San Francisco, LA, New York). When people from the “big leagues” moved in, they were instantly accorded superior status. We were wowed by those who were “sent down.”

I was raised in a colonial state―from its admission in 1859 until the arrival of Tektronix and Intel, Oregon was a colony of the financial capital in the East, valued only for its natural resources, first beavers, then lumber and eventually filberts/hazelnuts.

That brings up one upside: residents of the Imperial capital are raised with the hubris of assumed superiority, while colonials are humble and feel they must earn their status. That’s worked out well.

I was third-generation Oregonian. No one my age could be more than fifth-generation.

(Next Week: Part II: So Why Did I Leave ?)


Reprinted from July 7, 2003. Inspired by Kevin Sullivan.

Genius, to me, is the effortless exercise of truly, visibly, obviously extraordinary talent in an endeavor, in a fashion which seems inborn. It is not generic--in fact, as you know from our overlapping time at MIT, scientific geniuses are often social idiots. We knew a few at school. I have met a few in my years as a computer journalist. Bill Gates is a genius at business, more so than at programming, although he was an excellent programmer in his day. Socially, he's inept. So, apparently, is Larry Ellison, a genius whom I've never met. I'd have to say that Bill Clinton is a political genius and a moral idiot.

Those geniuses are all successes. I don't want to name the genius failures I know, because I don't believe any of them would define themselves as failures, despite the lack of financial or personal relationship success in their lives. Genius and success, in my experience, may evince themselves in a single life, but genius is no guarantee of success, and not all successes are geniuses.

Can I recognize genius in my students? Too soon to tell. As a student teacher, I quickly found that I could pretty much stretch the class out on a bell-shaped curve after a week, without reference to the grade book. I don't prejudge. I don't slot students. I fervently believe that anyone can change at any time, as long as they want to change. Alas, so few do. Finely calculating the line between a C and a D and skating on it would not be my idea of a good time, but for many students it appears to be a rousing pastime.

After your note, I reconsidered my coincidental use of the term twice in a column. I stand by it. Amma is a spiritual genius. Jon Carroll is one of the best newspaper writers ever to appear in print in this country. If he worked in the East, he'd have several Pulitzers by now. I hope that, unlike Herb Caen, the committee doesn't wait until he's 80, or, worse yet, that they ignore him forever like Art Hoppe (who he? Great overlooked Chronicle columnist).

[2020 editor’s note: still no Pulitzer for Carroll]

Feel Free to Share

In the early days of this column, and, for that matter, the early days of the Internet, there was a lot more sharing. In the first two years of the online version of PSACOT, not a week went by without a few hundred words from several regular contributors. At the minimum, people were constantly sharing websites, words and pictures. A few of those people are dead, a few became angry at me and disappeared, while the rest have simple become lurkers.

I know you are an intelligent and curious group of people; after all, you read this column. So, feel free to shower down (as we used to say at UPI) jokes, websites, essays, videos and art of interest, in exchange for which I promise you boldface credit (pixels are cheap)