Paul On The Computer Chronicles

As Troy McClure used to say on the Simpsons, “You may remember me such programs as Computer Chronicles, Jeopardy, Wheel Of Fortune, and Win Ben Stein’s Money.”

I was the weekly software reviewer for the late PBS program The Computer Chronicles (1984-1992), as well as a commentator (1987-88) and a regular on what was the Christmas show and became the Annual Buyers Guide show (1985-1999). The show went out of production during its 20th year, in December, 2002.

Paul Schindler Pans Mac
Supercut of my chronicle reviews
Software Piracy


The Death Of Newspapers

It is a business school cliché (one I was taught at MIT) that American railroads died because they thought they were in the railroad business. Wrong. They were in the transportation business.

Similarly, American newspapers thought they were in the business of applying ink to dead trees to deliver advertising to homes. In fact, they were in the advertising business. A less sclerotic newspaper business saw this truth and invested heavily in broadcast stations from 1920-1970. Then the Federal Communications Commission pulled in that lifeline, prohibiting cross-ownership and killing dozens of newspapers in the process. But as the Internet rose, newspapers lost the plot. They could have controlled the news side of the Internet by diverting some of their profitable cash flow to the new medium. They did not.

I agree with the late, great Texas journalist Molly Ivins: “I don't so much mind that newspapers are dying-it's watching them commit suicide that pisses me off.”

Check out my entire essay on the subject: Railroads Redux: The Impending Death of Newspapers


Twenty Four Years Later: PSACOT

 (A reprint of my annual anniversary item, with small adjustments).

As of Oct. 16, it's been 24 years since my online revival of this 52-year-old column. (As published, as a Typepad Entry) Twenty four years online! (with a small six-year gap in the middle). I’ve written 848 columns, successors to an idea born in MIT’s objectivist student newspaper, ERGO, on September 23, 1970, six days after my 18th birthday. (See entire first column here)

Psacot_ergo_1

When I started this column online, "W" was still the second-rate governor of Texas, Sara Palin was busy running Wasila, and John McCain was angry. W is still second rate, Palin isn't running anything, and John McCain is gone.

I was still working for CMP (computer journalism company), and had a weekly podcast, back before Ipods (which definitely cut into our audience). My heart beat by itself and I weighed 270 pounds. In short, things were different.

In 1998, during the Clinton impeachment, I either had to start a column or check into a mental institution. PSACOT gave me a forum in which to express, to an audience (no matter how small) my feelings about that political circus. [As a one-time U.S. history teacher, I am forced to note that Andrew Johnson's impeachment was a rabid partisan witch hunt, as was Clinton's. Only Nixon's near-impeachment was bipartisan--and only Nixon resigned. And only Trump was charged twice for crimes he actually committed.]

The column/blog has since evolved into a combination of diary for my family and me and bulletin board for my clever friends--in short, a personal column. Like, but not as good as, former San Francisco Chronicle columnists Adair Lara or Jon Carroll. Or Doug Baker of the Oregon Journal.  Or, to take a national example, former New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen, considered the mother of the personal column concept (even though Stanton Delaplane and Charles McCabe of the San Francisco Chronicle actually beat her to it--but of course, if it hasn't happened in New York, it hasn't happened).

PSACOT is also a revival of sorts. My MIT readers would remember the original P.S. A Column On Things, which ran in ERGO, MIT's objectivist newspaper from September 1970 to March 1971, and The Tech, MIT's semi-official student newspaper, six times from March 1971 to May 1971. Those were among my happiest days as a journalist. If I had truly understood the fulfillment a personal column gave me, perhaps I would have fought harder to keep it when Bob Fourer killed it, or I would have revived it when I became editor-in-chief two years later, or tried to practice the craft as an adult (and become the father of the personal column).

In any case, I expect to still be doing this next October; I'll meet you here.


Lousy Inverted Pyramid

Headline in the SF Chronicle: “Electric Cars Should Be Charged in Daytime.” Why on earth did I have to read to the 5th paragraph to find out the reason for the advice: because excess solar panel energy, currently wasted during the day, could do the job with less stress on the electric network than charging at night.

The lede was:

A new study from Stanford researchers suggests that electric-car drivers who plug in while they’re snoozing at night should eventually alter their charging behavior to protect California’s electrical grid.

It should have been: Electric-car drivers who plug in at night should charge during the day so California’s electrical grid can make better use of solar power, according to a Stanford study.

My lede is shorter and actually follows the standard of an inverted pyramid: most important information first, then less important information. Not to mention that a lede should include Who, What, When, Where and How, and sometimes Why.


The Internet Blows It Again: The Night Cronkite Stood Up

Today, all television network news anchors stand up to deliver the news to the small handful of old people still watching them. But in the 1970s, anchors sat behind a desk. Except this once.

OK, it isn’t fair to say the Internet is bad on history; it covers most of the big stuff. But, whereas every minute detail of every event in the 21st century is preserved in detail (admittedly, some of it only in the Internet Archive), I was astounded to find an epochal event, involving the Most Trusted Man in America, is, as far as Google knows, completely undocumented. So, it’s up to me.

Here’s how CBS describes the event: “CBS News presented a two-part, 22 minute, overview of the Watergate scandal in October 1972. The first segment was 14 minutes, the second was eight.”

No mention of the fact that Nixon persuaded CBS Chairman William Paley to cut the second segment down.  More importantly, the press release makes no mention of the broadcasting first that took place that night.

I remember it well. I was in Edwin Diamond’s Eastgate apartment with my then-fiancé  Sherry Grobstein. We were using the large, primitive videotape technology of the time to record the CBS Evening News for the MIT Network News Study Group (back in the days before you could just order a copy of network news shows from Vanderbilt).

We were news junkies in my childhood home; I had been watching NBC and CBS news since 1960. So, I gasped with surprise when Cronkite began the first Watergate segment. He stood up and walked across the studio to gesture at graphics. “Unprecedented,” I shouted. Edwin wasn’t there, so I tried to raise him on the phone. Sherry, not so much a news junkie, was unimpressed.

“What’s the big deal,” she asked? Many commentators then and now will say the big deal was that Cronkite devoted more than half of the program (the show was 22 minutes after commercials) to Watergate.

But to me, then and now, the big deal was that he took the never-before-seen step of standing to deliver the story, as if to say, “This is so important I’m going to do something I’ve never done, so you’ll sit up and notice.” No one, not Douglas Edwards, nor John Cameron Swayze nor Huntley nor Brinkley nor Harry Reasoner had ever come out from behind their desk on the air.

I am surprised and baffled that this move, much commented on at the time, is nowhere to be found on the open Internet. I assume it’s behind a paywall somewhere in a news organization’s expensive archives, but I’ve now laid it out for the researchers and essay-writing journalism students of the future; if they Google Cronkite and Watergate, and scroll down to the third or fourth page of results, they will end up here.


Right Column Redux:  Paul Schindler on TV

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.


Porn in Parliament

I was looking up British journalist and columnist Carol Midgley, when I ran across the article that appears first under her name on Google. It is behind a paywall, but I managed to scrape out the first two grafs. It sounds like a hoot.

Carol Midgley: How do men get any work done when they watch this much porn? (Times of London)

Good news — at last — from the Houses of Parliament. Only 24,473 attempts have been made to access porn via computers and devices connected to the parliamentary network since the general election. That is a mere 160 times a day. Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice

Wait, you don’t think this is good news, do you? You think that’s quite a lot. On the contrary, this is progress. In 2016 the parliamentary filtering system had to block 113,208 attempts to download pornography, a fall from 213,020 the previous year. And no, the rapid decline last year was not due to Damian Green resigning. Shame on you for even thinking that.


Hunter Thompson on Writing

In Songs of the Doomed, Hunter S. Thompson wrote: “I found out then that writing is a kind of therapy. One of the few ways I can almost be certain I'll understand something is by sitting down and writing about it. Because by forcing yourself to write about it and putting it down in words, you can't avoid having to come to grips with it. You might be wrong, but you have to think about it very intensely to write about it. So I use writing as a learning tool.”

I’d just add: me too. My slightly different formulation: since the age of 12, “I don’t know what I think about something until I write it out.”


Women in Journalism Redux

Daniel Dern apparently followed the link in Right Column Redux last week to Women in Journalism Movies, and had this to add:

On the recent/recent-ish TV side, there's:Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom series, with many women reporters (and management); The Expanse (particularly in the last several seasons) had an intrepid (woman) journalist. Over in comic-book-based land, off-hand, Lois Lane in the current Superman & Lois show; Iris West over on The Flash. (Both on The CW.)

On (PBS) Endeavor (prequel to Inspector Morse), there's a recurring woman journalist who's clearly doing serious investigation etc. (Likely lots more on other mysterial/detective/crime shows, but none come to mind immediately.)