Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Standing Tall for What You Believe

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Apr 13, 2014 @ 8:26 am PDT

Tallest Tree in the Forest (Mark Taper Forum)userpic=ahmansonPaul Robeson. When most younger people hear that name today, they probably won’t recognize it. Older folks (like me) will probably think of the same thing: the musical Showboat and Paul Robeson’s powerful performance as Joe… and his singing of that show’s signature song, “Ol’ Man River”. But the story of Paul Robeson is much more than that… and telling that complex story is the goal of Daniel Beaty (FB)’s “The Tallest Tree in the Forest“, which just opened at the Mark Taper Forum (FB) last night. We were at that performance, and were moved not only by Beaty’s performance, but the whole Robeson story.

The play opens with an older Robeson telling his story, and looking at a subpoena from the House Un-American Activity Committee to testify about his activities. This prompts Robeson to look back over his life…

Paul Robeson was the son of a former slave, who (at least according to the play) learned at an early age to stand up for what you believe in — and to stand up particularly for the rights and dignity of Negros (I keep wanting to type the words “African Americans”, but in Robeson’s time the term used was Negro — and be forewarned, the “N-word” is used quite heavily in this play). Robeson attended Rutgers University (one of a handful of black students who did), and later went on to Columbia Law School. He paid his way through school by giving concerts of Negro spirituals; at one concert, he met Eslanda “Essie” Goode who encouraged him to use his singing gift and give up law for the stage. [I'll note that while reading the Wikipedia entry while writing this, it becomes clear that the play, written by Beaty, cuts out quite a lot of Robeson's youthful backstory and accomplishments, and introduces a triggering incident that may be dramatic license.]

Robeson’s success on the stage brings him international acclaim, and international tours expose him to countries where blacks are treated very different than they are in the US. The first is England, where Robeson becomes enamored of the struggles of the miners to organize (and, at least according to the play, he is taken by the fact that the fight is white and black working together for better economic standing — and not white vs. black). He also is exposed to Facism in the early days of Nazi Germany, and of the original Soviet experiment in the pre-WWII days of the Soviet Union. In particular, Robeson sees in the Soviet Union and Russia a nation where all races are equal by law — and all races are equal in their treatment by society and the government. In those early days, it also appears that the equality applies to religion as well, and Robeson befriends a number of powerful and successful Jews.

Let me digress for a moment in this story to share how the director, Moises Kaufman (FB) works with Daniel Beaty (FB) to tell this story. Throughout this play, Beaty does not just play Robeson, but he plays every other character in the story as well. Through changes and voices and mannerisms, he becomes them all — from his wife Essie to white punks taunting Robeson and his brother, to the 10-year old Robeson, to German border guards, Russian officials, and J. Edgar Hoover. Beaty does a wonderful job portraying them all. End digression.

As time goes on, Robeson moves away from the theatrical career and move onto the activism stage. This occurs mostly in Act II, which opens with a scene where a professor (again, played by Beaty) is talking in the present day about why Robeson is rarely remembered these days.  This scene takes the position that those who argued for racial equality are remembered well (Dr. King, Harriet Tubman), but those who argued for class equality are less fondly remembered (union organizers, labor organizers), and those who pushed for class equality of the lower classes were often reviled. Act II focuses on the downfall of Robeson in the public eye. Although Robeson campaigned strongly against Facism and for the war bond effort, he also grew in activism. Many of his speeches talked about how Negros should support the war to fight Facism, and how it was their responsibility to fight for equality in America. He strongly supported America’s ally in the war, the Soviet Union, because of the equality he had seen there. After the war, Negro soldiers returned to segregation and lynching. Robeson continued to speak about for equality, and continued to hold up the Soviet Union as an example. This was not accepted in Cold War, Post-WWII American, and he got on the radar of J. Edgar Hoover. Returning to the Soviet Union in the late 1940s, he saw how things had changed and the situation was no longer good for his Jewish friends. However, he continued to support the Soviet Union publically, because of their commitment to racial equality over what he was seeing in America. This position resulted in the US Government lifting his passport, his concert work drying up in the US, and his being brought up before the HUAC. A quick coda at the end notes that his passport was eventually returned, but by then Robeson’s career had been destroyed.

In typing this summary, a few parallels come to mind. The first is Jane Fonda, who also took political stances and activist positions in her younger days that led many to peg her as a Communist and revile her — and many of those still revile her to this day, even though she is strongly pro-America. The same is true with Robeson, except he never had that career resurgence. The second is with another character Beaty recently portrayed on a different stage: Roland Hayes. In “Breath and Imagination“, which we saw recently at the Colony Theatre, Beaty told a story of another singular black performer fighting the racism of his day.

In my summary above, I’ve probably given the impression that this play is all spoken word. It is far from that. Most scenes are punctuated with songs sung by Robeson. These include numerous renditions of “Ol’ Man River”, songs by Fats Waller, Negro spirituals, and popular songs that Robeson sung, such as “Ballad for Americans”. It even includes a Yiddish song, “Zog Nit Keynmol” — the song of the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance that Robeson sung in the post-WWII Soviet Union. Beaty does a reasonable job with the music, although he does not have the deepness of Robeson’s voice (but who does). More problematic — at least to me — was that he seemed to be slurring words together in the songs. My wife says that’s how Robeson sang, but on the sole Robeson song I have (a version of “Ol’ Man River” from the 1932 Showboat Revival), Robeson sings much clearer. I don’t think this is a significant detraction from the story being told.

Looking at the play as a whole, I think Beaty’s does a good job of telling a version of Robeson’s story. My concern — and my worry — is that it isn’t the whole story. Reading the Wikipedia entry on Robeson makes clear the story was greatly simplified for the stage. Robeson was a very complex man with many incidents shaping his journey, and Beaty’s hits selected highlights. It is a good start, however, and I hope it encourages audience members to research Robeson and his story — and learn about the time when people felt they could make a difference. This is a concern that is important to me — many of the folk music icons that I treasure are also social activists, and I believe social activism is important (especially in these days of closed minds and closed thinking).

Returning to the theatre itself: Beaty is supported on-stage by three musicians: Kenny J. Seymour (FB) on keyboard, Glen Berger on woodwinds, and Ginger Murphy on cello. Kenny J. Seymour (FB) also served as the musical director of the production.

The scenic design by Derek McLane was relatively simple: a few chairs and tables, a few props, microphones. This kept the focus on Robeson and his story, and emphasized that this wasn’t a realistic portrayal but a memory story. The scenic design was supported by projections designed by John Narun that established place and time and surroundings quite well. The lighting design of David Lander was novel,  using large old-ish Leikos on stage as well as numerous conventional lights throughout; it worked well to establish mood and memory. The sound design of Lindsay Jones was notable in its invisibility, but more so for the excellent sound effects that supported the story. Rounding out the technical and artistic team were Carlyn Aquiline (Dramaturg), Craig Campbell (Production Stage Manager), David S. Franklin (Stage Manager), Zach Kennedy (Stage Manager), and Don Gilmore (Technical Supervisor).

Tallest Tree in the Forest” continues at the Mark Taper Forum through May 25. Tickets are available online through the Center Theatre Group box office, and until word of mouth spreads, discount Hottix are likely available. Half-price tickets are also available on Goldstar, they don’t appear to be on LA Stage Tix.

[Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I've been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I've been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I'm a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.]

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  Next weekend is brings a benefit at REP East (FB): “A Night at the Rock Opera“. The last weekend of April will bring Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes, as well as the Southern California Renaissance Faire. May brings “The Lion in Winter” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at REP East (FB), as well as “Hairspray” at Nobel Middle School. I may also be scheduling “Porgy and Bess” at the Ahmanson. June is mostly open pending scheduling of an MRJ meeting, but I will try to fit in as much of the Hollywood Fringe Festival as I can. July will be busy: “Ghost” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/5, “Return to the Forbidden Planet” at REP East (FB) the weekend of 7/12, “Once” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/19, “Bye Bye Birdie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on 7/26, and “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.


Saturday Stew: Clearing out the Groupatwos before Pesach

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Apr 12, 2014 @ 9:18 am PDT

Observation StewIn the Talmud, there is a learned Rabbi who opines that groupatwos are to be considered Chametz during Passover. Luckily, this week was so busy I accumulated a bunch of groupatwos. So let’s get that feather and that candle and get them out of the links list before Passover starts Monday night:


Bleeding All Over The Place

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Apr 12, 2014 @ 8:52 am PDT

userpic=securityAll this week, I’ve been following the news of the Heartbleed Flaw. If you haven’t heard if it — or if you have heard and don’t understand it — XKCD gives a good explanation. Basically, the flaw was an “old-school” programming error: someone allocated a buffer without clearing it first. In Orange Book terms, this was an “Object Reuse” error; the Common Criteria called it “Residual Information Protection”. Problems like this were common in old MS-DOS, where you could create a file, move the file pointer to some far out place, write a single character, and close the file. What would be left in the middle was whatever was lying on the disk. Heartbleed was the same thing:

Heartbleed Explanation When Heartbleed was first reported, panic ensued. You probably remembered this. This was the “Death of Commerce on the Internet!!!” Bruce Schneier (who I normally respect) said, “”Catastrophic” is the right word. On the scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11.” I, however, felt that panic wasn’t warranted. I’m pleased to see that, as time goes on, others are realizing that as well.

Does that mean this isn’t a serious problem? Au Contraire! Rather, it is a problem on the system owners end, who need to change all potentially exposed certificates. It is a problem for all the hardware devices that embedded OpenSSL in firmware in an unchangable and un-updatable way. All those devices have to be trashed and replaced. It’s a problem for all those who depend on others to maintain their web site. For example, I’m on Westhost. Here are their instructions to site owners regarding Heartbleed.

Why was this problem so great? OpenSSL was free code, so everyone thought it was good and used it. Forbes thinks this is indicative of a big problem with open source and its funding — there were about 4 people who were charged with maintaining this, all volunteer. Again, I disagree. The problem is not the funding or the maintenance, but the fact that the authors were not thinking about security from the get-go. They hadn’t been inculcated with secure programming practices that would have eliminated any object reuse issue. Being aware of how to write secure code eliminates many problems: boundary errors, object reuse errors, mishandling of input errors. All showed up here, and all are techniques any secure programmer worth their salt would know.

So, again, should you worry about this? You certainly shouldn’t panic. If you have an account on an affected site, then you might change your password if you are really worried about your data (e.g., I don’t care about Yahoo; my mail account there is only for spam) or you use that password elsewhere. If, by rare chance, you have exposure on a financial website or a government website, then do change your password.

Most importantly, get a little perspective. Although this is a lot of work for site owners, this isn’t anywhere near the headache of a Target breach, or the breaches we hear about every day where this database or that database of credit card numbers is exposed, or major medical databases are exposed. Worry about those. Most importantly, continue to consciously think about cybersecurity in whatever you do, and whenever you authorized information. For example, does the Facebook android app really need all those permissions it asks for?



FUD vs. Realism

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Apr 09, 2014 @ 11:44 am PDT

userpic=cardboard-safeYou would have to be hiding under a very big rock if you missed the two cybersecurity stories that have hit the mass media this week. For those unaware, I’m talking about the “death of XP” and the “Heartbleed” vulnerability. The level of froth is approaching that of a Starbucks coffee, so I thought I would try to impart a little realistic thinking.

When thinking about these problems — indeed, about any security issue — the following XKCD cartoon comes to mind:

In other words, discovery of the flaw does not necessarily mean exploitation. This is particularly important to think about with Heartbleed. Here’s some specifics: Heartbleed allows attackers to exploit a critical programming flaw in particular versions of OpenSSL—an open source implementation of the SSL/TLS encryption protocol. When exploited, the flaw leaks data from a server’s memory, which could include SSL site keys, usernames and passwords, and even personal user data such as email, instant messages, and files, according to Finland-based Codenomicon, the security firm that first uncovered Heartbleed in concert with a Google researcher. What I haven’t seen stated is any evidence that the flaw was being exploited before it was announced — in other words, even if the vulnerability was there, was it being exploited? Also not stated is the ease to which crackers would obtain the leaked data. I think there is some confidence that now that flaw is announced, it is being exploited.

[UPDATE: Later information shows that there may have been exploits based on this attack going on for the last few months. That's the bad news. However, it looks like private keys may not have been exposed, except in a very short window. Further, what could be eavesdropped on with Heartbleed hacks is dynamic stuff, stuff that was allocated only moments ago. So, yes, it could be passwords, but those aren't retained in memory for long, so I would think the likelihood of being able to catch a window with a password, and then identifying it as a password would be low. The article here gave a good explanation of how the Heartbeat extension was exploited: «Heartbeat allows a connected Web client or application to send messages to keep a connection active during a transfer of data. When a Heartbeat message is received, the server usually simply echoes back what it got to the sender. However, starting with the initial implementation of Heartbeat in OpenSSL 1.01 (and in all subsequent releases up to OpenSSL 1.01f, including the OpenSSL 1.0.2 beta) the extension could be fooled into sending back the contents of its memory buffer by sending a request that advertised itself as 64 kilobytes long but in fact had no content—resulting in “Heartbleed.” Any information still in that buffer from a previous session, such as decrypted usernames and passwords, could be obtained by an attacker in the response message.» So, the odds of getting a password would depend if the buffer from a previous session had usernames and passwords (meaning that ultimately, this was an object reuse/residual information error where buffers were not always cleared when they are allocated). This, friends, is why you clear on both deallocation and allocation. [ETA2: Another good explanation of Heartbleed may be found here.]]

What does this mean? You likely don’t need to change all your passwords, although regularly changing them is a good practice. The primary concern should be those sites you have used recently (remember, this exposes current memory, not passwords on disk), and sites where you have actually entered the password (the “keep me logged in” doesn’t expose the password on each access). When worrying about this, you should also factor in the value of the site itself — does it really make a difference if your password to read a support bulletin board system is exposed?

What I’m doing is guarded watching. I’ll make sure that financially-significant sites that I use have fixed the bug before I enter the password [ETA: Visit here to test a site]; if they are susceptible and I’ve used them very recently, I’ll think about changing things. Otherwise, I’m going to watch and monitor for reports of data grabs — and of course I’ll keep a close eye on credit card statements. As always, you should never use debit cards online because of the lack of protections. Other than that, good site guidance applies: change your passwords somewhat regularly, with a frequency appropriate for the information protected; enable two-factor authentication if you can; connect securely if you can to thwart casual eavesdroppers.

The other big FUD in the news is the “death” of Windows XP. This really isn’t a death: basically, the last patch release was yesterday, meaning it really isn’t out of date until the Patch Tuesday in May. But Microsoft has a vested interest in getting you to switch now, and so they have been pushing the date with the media. Should you worry? Yes and no.

There is likely greater risk in this case: XP has been in the wild for years, and there are many zero-day attacks just waiting for the lack of maintenance. This is a big concern if you are an organization likely to be targeted by an adversary. I cringe everytime I walk into my local YMCA and see XP still being used. But for an individual?

If you are an individual on XP, I think you should start thinking about a transition plan to Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 update. There are some good financial incentives, and reports are that the new 8.1 update is much better for the desktop than the original 8 or 8.1. Panic isn’t warranted, however, if you practice good hygene: run multiple malware scanners and keep them updated; remove administrator rights from any accounts used to access the internet or that uses external USB media; shutdown, hiberate, or suspend the system when you are not actively using it; limit the activities you do on the system; and if possible, keep it behind a hardware firewall or NAT. I have an XP system that I’m using as a print server, and that’s what I’m doing.


A Bountiful Barrio in T.O.

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Apr 06, 2014 @ 8:03 am PDT

In The Heights (Cabrillo)Cabrillo UserpicBack in 2010, I made my first visit to Washington Heights. Although the touring production of “In The Heights” at the Pantages might have been good, I had so much trouble with the accents and the sound that I couldn’t understand anyone. As a result, it was a scenic mess. So I was pleased when I learned that Cabrillo Music Theatre was launching one of the first regional productions of “In The Heights“. We went there last night, and I’m pleased to say to say that this is one of the strong productions I’ve seen out of Cabrillo in over 10 years of shows there. Further, it had a spectacularly energized audience with a new demographic. That’s a win-win. If you have the opportunity to get out to Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) to see this afternoon’s final show, do it. It is well worth it.

In The Heights”  (book by Quiara Algría Hudes (FB), music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (FB)) is primarily the story of Usnavi, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who runs a bodega in Washington Heights, a barrio in New York. Usnavi is not the only character: it is the story of Usnavi’s assistant; the story of the Rosario family who run a taxi service, and whose daughter, Nina, has just dropped out of Stanford; and the story the salon next to the bodega: the owner Daniela, her friend Vanessa. It is also the story of Abuela Claudia, who immigrated from Cuba and has served as grandmother to Usnavi. When Abuela wins $96,000 in the lottery, we see how the money affects the life of this community. The website for the show describes this generally as follows: In the Heights tells the universal story of a vibrant community in Manhattan’s Washington Heights – a place where the coffee from the corner bodega is light and sweet, the windows are always open, and the breeze carries the rhythm of three generations of music. It’s a community on the brink of change, full of hopes, dreams and pressures, where the biggest struggles can be deciding which traditions you take with you, and which ones you leave behind. If you read the full synopsis, you’ll see this is a complicated interwoven story. This is a story where it truly helps if you can hear the words of the dialogue and songs. The Pantages blew it in 2010. Cabrillo, on the other hand, was spot-on.

It is important to note, however, that the success of the Cabrillo production is due to much more than the sound quality. It was a combination of the elements, from the lead players to the ensemble, from the direction to the choreographic team, from the quality of the (imported) set to some of the best spot usage I’ve ever seen at Cabrillo. Speaking of spots, let me highlight some of what I loved.

Let’s start with the background, for they are part of what makes this show. This is one of the strongest ensembles I’ve seen in any Cabrillo show. Under the strong direction of Morgan Marcell (FB), who also recreated the original Broadway choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler (FB) (with the help of José-Luis Lopez (FB) as Associate Choreographer), the ensemble was always moving. They were in the background, filling the barrio with people going about their daily business. They were dancing — spectacularly I might add — in a style that wasn’t your stereotypical musical. They were all shapes and sizes, because real life doesn’t look like the world portrayed in magazines. They were interacting with the main characters — not necessarily with words, but with movement. In short, they were a joy to watch. It is hard to pick favorites, but one that kept catching my eye was Natalie Iscovich (FB).  It wasn’t just her movement (which was great); it wasn’t just her look (which seemed unique to me). I think it was the joy of her interaction and the fun she was having that drew the eye too her; she just seemed to really be into it and that fun projected out. But my calling her out does not mean the rest of the ensemble were phoning it in. To the contrary, they all seemed to be inhabiting and enjoying these characters; this joy in the background just brought this musical to life. The remainder of the ensemble consisted of Marcos Aguirre (FB), Risa Baeza/FB, John Paul Batista (FB), Charlotte Chau-Pech/FB, Ariella Fiore (FB), Javier Garcia/FBAndrew Retland/FB, Tiago (FB), Shaun Tuazon (FB), and Elizabeth Maria Walsh (FB).

Now let’s turn to some of the lead players — again, all were very strong. In the lead position was Lano Medina (FB) as Usnavi. Lano handled the hip-hop dialogue very well — although at times a little fast for these ears to pick up. Good singing voice, and a wonderful performance. Perhaps even more impressive to me were some of the female leads — in particular, Ayme Olivo (FB) as Nina, who just blew me away with the beauty and power in her clear voice. Also strong was Rachae Thomas (FB) as Vanessa — yet again, another strong strong voice.

The supporting named characters were also equally strong, and each had their moment to shine. Again, you could see that they were all truly enjoying this show and having fun with these characters. That’s such an important thing — actors shouldn’t look like they are acting — they need to inhabit and become one with their characters, and then they just shine with that joy and their performance hits it home. This is why it is so hard to single out any of the supporting performances. I can easily think of moments where each just shone. The supporting characters were Frank Atuhello Andrus Jr./FB (Benny), Jonathan Arana (FB) (Piragua Guy), Tami Dahbura (FB) (Abuela Claudia), Anna Gabrielle Gonzalez/FB (Carla), Chala Savino (FB) (Daniela), Benjamin Perez (FB) (Kevin Rosario), Celina Clarich Polanco (FB) (Camila Rosario), and Robert Ramirez/FB (Sonny).

Musically, In The Heights has a wonderful Latin-flavored score with lots of energy.Under the musical direction and leadership of Brian Baker/FB, the 14 piece orchestra did a great job, although I wished at times for a bit more volume or energy (but, more like, I was spoiled by the cast recording). Darryl Archibald (FB) was the music supervisor, and Darryl Tanikawa (FB) was the music contractor. [ETA: Another review I read noted that the tour at the Pantages only had a 9-piece orchestra; this was the first time since the original Broadway production that the full score was used.]

Turning to the technical side. The sound design by Jonathan Burke (FB) was excellent — this show is so much better when you can actually hear what the actors are saying and singing. The Pantages needs some schooling on this, but they are getting better. The lighting design by Jean-Yves Tessier was excellent (and he has one of the best bios around), I was even more taken by the use of the spots (which for a change were neither overdone nor the standard white spots). The set was not developed by Cabrillo but came from Port City Equipment Rentals in Charleston SC (another review I read clarified these were the original Broadway sets). Props were by Alex Choate. The costumes were originally designed by Colleen Grady for the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelpha PA. This wardrobe was supervised by Christine Gibson, with Cassie Russek (FB) doing the hair and makeup design. Gary Mintz was the technical director. Brooke Baldwin/FB was the production stage manager, and Anthony Sierra/FB was the assistant stage manager. Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) is under the artistic direction of Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB).

Today is the last performance of In The Heights at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). You can likely get tickets through the Thousand Oaks Civic Plaza box office.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned the audience. This audience was the largest I’ve ever seen at a Cabrillo show. More importantly, it was younger than the typical theatre audience — this show — and its publicity — reached out and touched a nerve in Ventura County. This is a good thing, and I hope this brings in a lot of new subscribers to Cabrillo. The quality of the show certainly made me think about resubscribing. Alas, it wasn’t quite enough to overcome the hurdle of the mix of shows (all of which I’ve seen recently), and the fact that my wife and mother-in-law can no longer handle the stairs to our sets (so I usually sit apart from them — they’re in the last row, and I’m in our seats in row B).

[Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I've been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I've been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I'm a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.]

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  Next weekend is brings The Tallest Tree in the Forest” at the Mark Taper Forum on April 12. The following weekend brings a benefit at REP East (FB): “A Night at the Rock Opera“. The last weekend of April will bring Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes, as well as the Southern California Renaissance Faire. Current planning for May shows “The Lion in Winter” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at REP East (FB), as well as “Hairspray” at Nobel Middle School. I may also be scheduling “Porgy and Bess” at the Ahmanson. June is mostly open pending scheduling of an MRJ meeting, but I will try to fit in as much of the Hollywood Fringe Festival as I can. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

Saturday Stew (Belated): Transportation, Science, Streets, and XP

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Apr 06, 2014 @ 6:23 am PDT

Observation StewYesterday was a crazy day, and I didn’t get a chance to post my normal Saturday Stew. Luckily, stew can cook a little extra without going bad, so here’s something tasty for your morning. Note that I left a few ingredients at work — I’ll save them for next week, and you likely wont’ miss them here.


A Matter of Time: Mail, Mobile Phones, and Mainframes

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Apr 04, 2014 @ 12:23 pm PDT

userpic=anniversaryToday’s lunchtime news chum collection comes to you courtesy of Timex, for it is all about time and anniversaries. This is appropriate, as NIST is about to introduce a new, more-accurate atomic clock.

  • Mail. This week marks the 10-year anniversary of Gmail. Many of you may remember life before Gmail. I certainly remember the days of command-line email — /bin/mail, mailx, and numerous other mail readers (I was particularly fond of using email within emacs). Then we moved to nicer email clients, such as Pegasus, while the Corporate folks dealt with Outlook and Notes. Web-based email, at that time, was horrid — limited storage, limited interfaces, limited searching. Google changed all that with gigantic limits and great interfaces, all for the cost of your soul (no, that not right) your privacy (getting closer) the ability to search through your mail and sell you stuff based on it (that’s the ticket). Gmail isn’t perfect — there still isn’t the ability to work with digital certificates and encrypted mail. Hopefully we’ll get that. Otherwise, Gmail has become such a juggernaut (especially when combined with Android) that it is unstoppable.
  • Mobile Phones. Speaking of Android, this week is also the 41st anniversary of the first mobile phone call. Talk about life-changing devices. No longer can you hide anywhere — being incommunicado is now unthinkable. We’ve got from only a few having cellphones to everyone having them with them 24×7. In fact, you now no longer have just a phone, but an entire miniature computer with you. As evidence, I just added a page to my Passover Hagadah to remind people to turn off their cell phones; yet another form of escaping from slavery!
  • Mainframes. This week also is the 50th anniversary of the IBM 360 mainframe. Now, many of you youngsters (hey, you, get off my lawn) don’t even know what a mainframe is, so bear with me. Back in the 1950s, computers were one-shots — built for a specific purpose, for a specific task. Some smaller computers (such as the IBM 7090) started to come in, but they still often used plugboards and were unsuitable for the enterprise. In the 1960s, IBM introduced the 360 line — a range of computers, all running a common OS (at that time, OS/MFT) with common machine instructions that were extensible. Business could now afford computers. I programmed on a number of 360 systems: the 360/50 at LA Unified, the 360/91 and 360/75 at UCLA, and later, the 370/3033 at UCLA.


It’s the Littlest Things…

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Apr 03, 2014 @ 12:22 pm PDT

userpic=observationsToday’s collection of lunchtime news chum stories all have to do with the littlest things having big effects:

  • High-O Silver! Recently, my wife picked up a new antibiotic gel at the pharmacy — an over-the-counter colloidal silver creme. I thought nothing of it (other than to try it and see it worked well) — after all, there are people who use colloidal silver to fight infections, although it has the side effect of turning your skin blue. Additionally, according to numerous studies, consumers may benefit from the silver specks’ ability to inhibit the growth of bacteria, fungus and other microorganisms, including disease-causing Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus. So, I was intrigued by this Discover article about the new silver antibiotic gel — it seems that it contains silver nanoparticals that may harm humans and wildlife. The problem is that silver nanoparticles’ tiny size allows them to enter parts of living things bodies that other molecules can’t reach. This can damage the inner workings of cells and inhibit protein production.  And of course, being stupid humans, we’re just tossing this stuff into the environment, along with plastic nanoparticles, gold nanoparticles, and copper nanoparticles.
  • Battling the Bulge. Everyone has heard, by now, of the various bariatric surgical approaches for weight loss. Two of the best approaches are the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass operation and the vertical sleeve gastrectomy. One might think that these approaches work by reducing the size of the stomach, and thus reducing the amount of food one can eat and/or absorb. But if you think that, you would be wrong. There’s some new research on how obesity surgery really works, and it is astounding. It appears that these surgeries actually work by setting in motion a cascade of signaling changes in the gut and elsewhere. Those changes, in turn, reshape the mix of gut bacteria in ways that appear to turn up metabolic function, lipid metabolism and signals that tell the brain it’s time to stop eating. Researchers have already observed that certain bile acids circulate more copiously in the guts and blood of patients in the wake of bariatric surgery, but could only guess at why. They also have observed that the community of bacteria colonizing the guts of obese patients changes in the wake of bariatric surgery. Researchers just found that that one link between these two changes is a genetic “switch,” or transcription factor, called FXR. Increased bile acid unlocks FXR, which improves metabolic function directly. But improved FXR signaling also promotes the growth of gut bacteria that help regulate fat metabolism, and suppresses gut bacteria that is linked to weight gain and metabolic disturbance. The next step is to figure out how to create the FXR signalling through medicine, not surgery.
  • Concrete Isn’t Forever. Most of us see something made of concrete, and we think “permanence” (well, I also wonder about the water trapped in the structure). But all of our concrete isn’t permanent, and that’s creating a problem. Here’s the scary headline related to this that caught my eye: Concrete-Dissolving Bacteria Are Destroying Our Sewers. The problem is that, within the sewer system, one set of microbes emits hydrogen sulfide, the gas that is also responsible for raw sewage’s unpleasant smell. This gas fills the empty space between the top of the pipe and the water flow. Another set of microbes living in this headspace turns hydrogen sulfide to sulfuric acid, which eats away at concrete, leaving behind gypsum, the powdery stuff you find in drywall. This turns the sewer pipes into wet drywall. Yuk. That’s worse than Orangeberg piping. The current solution is to put plastic liners into the concrete pipes, a process that is almost as expensive as digging them up entirely. A better approach might be to embed anti-bacteria in the concrete (but that can build resistance). Microbiologists are instead thinking about how to tinker with the water systems and DNA sequencing to create probacteria — bacteria in the water pipes that are harmless to humans (so they say) but can manage the sewer bacteria.
  • [ETA] Bugs from Birth. Here’s a P.S. item from Andrew Ducker on how the birth process was designed to colonize us with beneficial microbes that help keep the bad ones out. The implication of this is that, as more and more women opt go to the Caesarian route for convenience, we are entering life less prepared with the good stuff we need to get us started. As the article notes, “the founding populations of microbes found on C-section infants are not those selected by hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution or even longer.” In other words — we are too safe for our own good.

Scientists like to say that this is a bacteria’s world, and we just live with it. After all, humans carry more bacteria cells than human ones, and without bacteria, we couldn’t live in the world. In fact, small microbes now are believed to be responsible for one of the greatest mass extinctions on earth! We need to think more about our indiscriminate use of antibiotics,  and the impacts of our growing use of nanotechnology that we don’t fully understand.