Observations Along the Road

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

When Restraining Orders Expire

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Dec 21, 2014 @ 12:24 pm PST

Austin Lounge Lizards (Boulevard Music)userpic=folk-artistsAs I said in my last post, yesterday was a day of running. She Loves Me ended right around 5:45 PM (it started at 3:00 PM), and we had tickets for an 8:00 PM concert in Culver City. So rush off we did, grabbing dinner at Togos and flying the 51 miles between Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim and Boulevard Music (FB) in Culver City. Yes, Boulevard Music — there are now two small folk music venues on the westside of Los Angeles: the venerable McCabes and Boulevard, right near Culver and Sepulveda. We were running to Boulevard Music to see the Austin Lounge Lizards (FB), who were doing their first show in Southern California since 2001 in Encino. As they noted, they were able to come back because the restraining order ended. Note: We made it there in just about an hour, thanks to Google’s alternate routing.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Austin Lounge Lizards — shame on you. They are one of the best satirical bluegrass bands around (although right now, they are down a banjo player — which, depending on your view of the banjo, might be an improvement). If you like Weird Al; if you like the Arrogant Worms; if you like Tom Paxton’s short shelf life songs — you’ll like the Lizards. They combine humor with great musicality to create a very entertaining show.

A word on the venue, as it was new to us. Boulevard Music is much smaller than McCabes — they set up the folding chairs in the main showroom (instead of the room in back) and they can’t handle online ticket sales. But they are super friendly, and seem to be well connected folk-wise, given some of the other folks there for the show. Further, the parking is much much easier. I recommend you check out their concert list and sign up for their mailing list — you might learn about some interesting concerts.

As for the show itself — the show featured two original Lizards (Hank Card, Conrad Diesler) and two newer members (Darcie Deaville, and Bruce Jones). Former lizard Korey Simeone (FB), who was local, joined the group on quite a few songs. The show playlist was as follows (♦=New Song):

Act I

  1. The Highway Café Of The Damned
  2. I Lied
  3. If I Saw You All The Time
  4. Buenos Dias, Budweiser
  5. La Cacahuate
  6. One True God
  7. We’ve Been Through Some Crappy Times Before
  8. Thank You For Touching Me There
  9. The Drugs I Need
  10. Strange Noises In The Dark
  11. The Car Hank Died In
  12. Stupid Texas Song
  13. Xmas Time for VISA
  14. Would You Like To Start A Band

Act II

  1. The Golden Triangle
  2. That Godforsaken Hellhole I Call Home
  3. ♦ I Confess To You
  4. Jesus Loves Me (But He Can’t Stand You)
  5. Paint Me on Velvet
  6. The Dogs, They Really Miss You
  7. My Bonnie Johnson
  8. Old Blevins
  9. Wer Ist Da
  10. Who Needs You
  11. Teenage Immigrant Welfare Mothers on Drugs
  12. Pflugerville

In short, the show was a mix of songs from throughout the Lizard’s performing career, with one new songs. A number of songs just can’t be done well without a banjo (how many times do you hear that!), and some really require Tom Pittman to work.

All in all, a good show…. and hopefully it won’t be 13 years before the Lizards are back in Southern California.

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 Shows: There is one more show in December for me: A Christmas Carol, as interpreted by Zombie Joe’s Underground (FB) on December 28  (my wife is seeing The Klezmatics at Disney Hall on December 22). January is slowly filling up:  “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente at American Jewish University on Sun January 11; “Avenue Q” at REP East (FB) on Sat Sanuary 17; and possibly the Cantors Concert on Sat January 31 at Temple Ahavat Shalom. February and March pick up even more, with “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB) on February 15, a hold for “Loch Ness” at the Chance Theatre (FB)  on February 21, “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28, the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7, “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a hold for “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. 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.


A Timeless Love Story

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Dec 21, 2014 @ 11:26 am PST

She Loves Me (Chance Theatre)userpic=dramamasksI’ve written before about how I’m always up to see musicals I’ve only heard, but never seen. So back in January, when we were at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim to see Lysistrata Jones, I noticed that they were planning to do She Loves Me at one of their holiday plays. I’m familiar with She Loves Me — I’ve got two cast album versions, and have always enjoyed the music from the show. From what I had heard, it was Bock/Harnick’s best crafted show, but never achieved the measure of success they later had with Fiddler on the Roof. So it went on my RADAR for future ticketing. Now it is December, and the Chance is performing She Loves Me. So guess what part of our mad dash was yesterday: that’s right: a 61 mile (one-way) jaunt to the Anaheim Hills for She Loves Me (after which we rushed to Culver City for an 8 PM concert, but that’s another writeup).

For those unfamiliar with She Loves Me, you probably know the story but by another name. The story started out as the play Parfumerie by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo. This was later made into the movie The Shop around the Corner with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan in 1940. It was then re-made into the movie In The Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland and Van Johnson in 1949. Most recently, it was re-made into the movie You’ve Got Mail in 1998 with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. On the stage, however, in 1963 Parfumerie was turned into the musical She Loves Me by Joe Masteroff (book — he later went on to do the book of Caberet), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics — he next went on to Fiddler on the Roof), and Jerry Bock (music — and again Fidder).

The basic bones of the story are simple: Single man has a pen pal with whom he is falling in love. Single gal has a pen pal with whom she is falling in love. Single man and single gal work at the same place and hate each other’s guts, without knowing that each is the other’s pen pal. Now, bring them together with some catalyst, turn the gears, and enjoy the show.

In the case of She Loves Me, the story sticks pretty close to the original source. Georg is a clerk at Maraczek’s Parfumerie in Budapest in 1937 (although there are no hints of war — evidently, the real world doesn’t intrude on this story). He works together with the other clerks: Ilona, Sipos, and Kodaly, and the delivery boy Arpad, for Mr. Maraczek. When the competing parfumerie closes, one of their clerks, Amalia, talks her way into a clerk job (which upsets Georg, who starts getting on her case). While all this is happening, Kodaly is busy persuing anything in a skirt — in particular, Ilona. When Mr. Maraczek suspects his wife of cheating, he starts bearing down on Georg, who passes the pressure on to the rest of the staff — making things even testier with Amalia. His only consolation is his pen-pal, who he has never met or seen, but loves anyway. He schedules a rendezvous with her, without knowing she is really Amalia. They day they are to meet, Georg gets fired and send Sipos to tell his unknown date he won’t be there. Sipos sees it is Amalia, and gets Georg to go talk to her. Thinking he is spying on her, they have a gigantic fight. End Act I. In Act II, of course, all things predictably come together in predictable fashion, which I, predictably, won’t spoil :-).

The music in this story is just a delight. From the initial “Good Morning, Good Day” to “Days Gone By” to “Tonight at Eight” to “Try Me” to “Ice Cream” to “She Loves Me” to “A Trip to the Library” — it is just a joy. If you haven’t heard the score, I strongly suggest you pick up one of the cast albums out there. You’ll fall in love with it.

So, we’ve established that we have a classic love story with a winning score. Why isn’t this musical done more? In 1963, there were the big song and dance numbers that people expected, and it was booked into the wrong theatre at the wrong time — and thus lost money. This led to a perception that it was a failed show. Remember , however, that Chicago was a failure when it first hit Broadway. Often great shows aren’t always profitable or recognized as such. You can learn more about the show and the details of the synopsis at Wikipedia.

The execution of the show at the Chance was (as with every Chance show), perfect. The instrumentation was kept simple: a single pianist (Ryan O’Connell (FB)) and an occasional Romani Woman (Tina Nguyen (FB)) on violin. I’m a big fan of simple orchestrations — one of my favorite versions of I Do! I Do! is instrumented with just two pianos. Do it simple, or do it lush. What the Chance Theatre did here worked very very well. Note that the actor playing Kodaly, Taylor Stephenson, also served as musical director.

The performances were equally strong. In the lead positions were Stanton Kane Morales (FB) as Georg Nowack and Laura M. Hathaway (FB) as Amalia Balash (normally Erika C. Miller (FB) performs the role, but she was out this weekend). Both brought a wonderful joy and enthusiasm to the role (clearly evident in Georg’s wonderful numbers “Tonight at Eight” and “She Loves Me”, and Amalia in “Ice Cream”), and both sang and danced beautifully. In the first act, it was totally believable that they didn’t like each other, yet in the second act, they were able to turn that into a playful spark that made them a believable couple. This chemistry was more remarkable when you realize that we were watching the understudy, who hasn’t had the time to build the chemistry. Credit here goes to the actors, as well as the director, Sarah Figoten Wilson (FB).

In the second tier we had the remaining Maraczek employees: Ilona Ritter (Camryn Zelinger (FB)), Ladisov Sipos (Corky Loupe (FB)), Steven Kodaly (Taylor Stephenson), the shop owner Mr. Maraczek (Beach Vickers (FB)), and the delivery boy, Arpad Laszlo (Daniel Jared Hersh (FB)). All were excellent. In particular, Zelinger gave a spot-on performance in her number “A Trip to the Library” (which now I finally understand), and Vickers was wonderful in “Days Gone By”. Hersh had the appropriate youthful enthusiasm in “Try Me”, and both Loupe and Stephenson were great in their solo numbers “Perspective” and “Ilona”.

Rounding out the cast in the ensemble and smaller roles were Matt Takahashi (FB) (Waiter, Ensemble), Eric T. Anderson (FB) (Busboy, Ensemble), Shafik Wahhab (FB) (Keller, Ensemble), Elizabeth Adabale (FB) (Ensemble), Erica Schaeffer (FB) (Ensemble, Dance Captain), and Katelyn Spurgin (FB) (Ensemble). A few things about the ensemble that stick in my mind: A few of the male ensemble members doubled as women customers during Act I; this is not a surprise in an intimate theatre setting, and was actually quite fun to watch. What was even more fun to watch was the shop interaction of all the ensemble members — and particularly Adabale, Schaeffer, and Spurgin — as they tried products and silently worked with the clerks. Schaeffer and Spurgin were also fun to watch as the patrons in the Cafe scene, and Adabale handled her Fats Waller number quite well. Takahashi was quite good in “A Romantic Atmosphere”, and all of the ensemble was just delightful in “Twelve Days to Christmas”. Lastly, and most superficially :-), Adabale has one of the cutest faces I’ve seen in a while :-).

She Loves Me doesn’t have the big splashy production numbers one expects in shows from the 1960s; this was one of its original problems. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have dancing, choreography, and movement. There were scenes that were particularly movement-beautiful — in particular the movement of the opening number (“Good Morning, Good Day”, the simple dancing of “Days Gone By”, all the movement in the Cafe, Ilona’s movement in “A Trip to the Library”, and the overall chaos and movement in “Twelve Days to Christmas”.  She Loves Me was choreographed by Christopher M. Albrecht (FB), and Erica Schaeffer (FB) served as dance captain.

Turning to the technical: Again, the execution of She Loves Me was spot-on. The sound design of Ryan Brodkin (FB) was clear and worked well. When the show started I was a bit concerned that the actors might be over-amplified for the space, but the sound ended up being great. The lighting by Jonathan Daroca (FB) worked well to establish the mood, and didn’t seem to depend on the spotlights so many stage shows of this era seem to depend upon. The scenic and costume design by Bruce Goodrich (FB), together with the prop design of Amy Ramirez (FB), worked reasonably well to establish the mood and setting. I say reasonably, because I did have trouble recognizing it as Budapest; I was thinking more French or English given the barets, the backgrounds, the pricing, and the place names. However, the open and close set for the parfumerie worked particularly well. The clothing otherwise seemed period appropriate. Rounding out the technical credits were Michael Martinez-Hamilton (FB) as Assistant Director/Dramaturg, Chauna Goldberg/FB providing hair and make-up, Michelle Kincaid assisting with costume design, and Jonathan Castanien/FB as stage manager.

She Loves Me” continues at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim until December 28. If you can fit it into your schedule, you’ll enjoy it — it is a thoroughly delightful show. Tickets are available through the Chance Box Office. Goldstar is sold out, and discount tickets are not available through LA Stage Tix. Chance has announced their 2015, which consists of 11(!) shows over two stages (they are currently fundraising for the second stage). The shows are (♦ = main stage; ◊ = second stage): ♦ Loch Ness (a new musical with book and music by Marshall Pailet of Triassic Parq, lyrics & book by A. D. Penedo; January 30 – March 1); ♦ After the Revolution (by Amy Herzog; April 10 – May 10); ◊ Samsara (by Lauren Yee; April 30 – May 31); ♦ Hairspray (Book by Mark O’Donnell & Thomas Meehan, Music by Marc Shaiman, Lyrics by Scott Whitman & Marc Shaiman; July 10 – August 9); ◊ The Dragon Play (by Jenny Connell Davis, July 23 – August 23); ♦ A Bright New Boise (by Sam Hunter; September 25 – October 25); ♦ Anne of Green Gables (Book by Joseph Robinette, Music and Lyrics by Evelyn D. Swensson; Holiday Series: November 27 – December 27); ◊ The Eight: Reindeer Monologues (by Jeff Goode; Holiday Series: December 8 – December 23); ◊ Alice in Wonderland (by Randy Wyatt; Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA): February 28 – March 8); ♦ Fancy Nancy – The Musical (Book and lyrics by Susan DiLallo, Music by Sam Viverito; TYA – May 29 – June 7); and ◊ The Legend(s) of Sleepy Hollow (by Jonathan Josephson, TYA: October 8 – October 18). [As an aside, for the TYA shows, I’m impressed that Chance does a special performance for Autism Spectrum kids.] Of these, I’m interested in Loch Ness and Fancy Nancy.

Dining Notes: Prior to the show, we found a spectacular restaurant that is almost worth the drive on its own: True Shabu (FB). It is basically across the street from the Chance, next to the cinemas. It is an upscale Shabu Shabu restaurant where you cook your food at the table. Meats are organic, vegetables are organic and from local farmer’s markets where possible, the sauces are hand-made, the place is gluten-free friendly. Prices are not outrageous, especially for lunch. You can see the menu here. Note: The chef indicated they may be changing names to help people find it better, but whatever the name: go before or after the show. You’ll love it.

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 Shows: Right after this show we ran to Culver City for the  Austin Lounge Lizards concert at Boulevard Music in Culver City (that’s the next writeup). There is one more show in December for me: A Christmas Carol, as interpreted by Zombie Joe’s Underground (FB) on December 28  (my wife is seeing The Klezmatics at Disney Hall on December 22). January is slowly filling up:  “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente at American Jewish University on Sun January 11; “Avenue Q” at REP East (FB) on Sat Sanuary 17; and possibly the Cantors Concert on Sat January 31 at Temple Ahavat Shalom. February and March pick up even more, with “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB) on February 15, a hold for “Loch Ness” at the Chance Theatre (FB)  on February 21, “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28, the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7, “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a hold for “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. 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 News Chum Stew: From Shit to Teeth, with Jeb Bush Inbetween

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 20, 2014 @ 7:37 am PST

Observation StewIf you haven’t figured it out yet, I like to do things in threes. So this is my third news chum post of the day; this one collecting all those articles from the week that didn’t theme into groups of three or more:

  • A Shitty Product. There is truth in advertising after all. On Black Friday, the folks behind Cards Against Humanity advertised bullshit for sale, and over 30,000 people bought it thinking it might be additional cards. Nope, 30,000 people really bought a box of shit. What’s even funnier is that it is selling for inflated prices on eBay. If that’s not a commentary on society, I’m not sure what is.
  • And Speaking of Shit, Here’s Annie. By now, hopefully you’re read the reviews and are staying away from that controversial movie that has killed a major character. I’m not talking about “The Interview“, but rather the remake of “Annie”. Almost every review I’ve read demonstrates why this remake and update is bad. Here’s one approach I liked: this article compares the soundtrack of the movie with the original cast album. Reminds me of that Fame remake of a few years ago, which also had a universally hated soundtrack. Some movies do not need to be remade.
  • Securing Your Home Router. During ACSAC, I posted an article related to security that gave good advice on what to do if you lost your 2nd-factor authentication device. Here’s another useful article: Seven Steps to Securing Your Home Router.
  • Things to Look At. Sometimes my links are interesting articles. Other times, they are reminders of things I want to look at. Here are two in that camp. The first is an interesting Chinese knockoff of the Parker 51 fountain pen. Like the ’51, this does not take cartridges. At just over $5, it is cheap enough to be worth trying, especially with all the bottle ink I have. The second article relates to UC Berkeley — they are changing the SHIP requirements yet again, and this time they should be easier to fit with most private insurance policies. This is a good thing — last year’s SHIP waiver was a royal pain. The new requirements are supposedly streamlined, less restrictive, and will be consistent across the UC system.
  • The Changing Face of Judaism. Here’s an interesting opinion piece about how Chabad is changing the face of American Judaism. I remember Chabad in the 1970s, where they were presenting a very positive face of Orthodoxy. Far from the original “cult of Schneerson”, the article notes how Chabad is changing the equation: One – the work Chabad does on campuses has an impact on the way Jewish youngsters think about the movement for the rest of their Jewish lives. Two – the younger generation of post denominational tendencies doesn’t have the instinctive organizational objection to Chabad (ultra-Orthodox, black hat, etc.), and hence is much more willing to participate in Chabad activities without thinking too much about ideological differences. An interesting thought piece.
  • Passings of Note. A few passings of note. The first is Rabbi Harold Schulweiss of Valley Beth Shalom, one of those seminal rabbis of Southern California who left a world-wide impact. The second is the Lanterman Center in Pomona, a place that did remarkable work with the developmentally disabled, providing with a home and stability. The article indicates it has outsurvived its purpose. I hope that is true.
  • Not Again. I snarfed this article intending to write a soapbox piece, but it never quite came together: Jeb Bush to explore a presidential run. One of the reasons I voted for Obama was that I wanted to break the “Clinton/Bush” cycle. We had gone from Bush to Clinton to Bush, and I felt that Clinton would prove to continue the cycle of divisiveness. Alas, President Obama didn’t solve the problem — much of the country wasn’t mature enough to accept a black president. Thus, this news about Jeb Bush disturbs me greatly — the country does not need another Bush/Clinton battle. We need a candidate that can calm things down and perhaps get the parties working together — and I don’t see such a candidate on either side. (and yes, alas, that does mean that we probably need at least 4 years under a white male — much of this country hasn’t reached the maturity to accept a woman in charge, much as we progressives may believe it)
  • That Bites. Here’s a question you likely haven’t thought about: Why is dental insurance so shitty when compared to medical insurance? Why do we treat our teeth different than other parts of our body? Why isn’t dentistry just another medical specialty? This article explores the question, and explains why dentistry is a 2nd class citizen.


The Story Behind The Story

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 20, 2014 @ 7:09 am PST

userpic=lougrantAs I keep looking at the accumulated News Chum articles for today, I keep discovering groupa-three themes. So here are three articles related to how familiar things came to be:

  • The Accuracy of Google Maps. We’ve all grown to depend on the accuracy of Google maps. I know that, for me, they’ve supplanted that trusted old Thomas Brothers mapbook, currently published by the venerable map maker,  Rand McNalley. But why are Google Maps so accurate. Here’s an article the looks at the operation beneath Google maps. The article explores how the Google Maps team assembles their maps and refines them with a combination of algorithms and meticulous manual labor—an effort they call Ground Truth. The project launched in 2008, but it was mostly kept under wraps until just a couple years ago. It continues to grow, now covering 51 countries, and algorithms are playing a bigger role in extracting information from satellite, aerial, and Street View imagery.
  • The Cubicle. One of my favorite podcasts is 99% Invisible, which looks at design aspects of things we never think about. For example, a recent episode looked at the design of those inflatable dancing men you see at oil change shops. Here’s an article I found that would be right up 99%’s alley: it looks at the history of the cubicle. Although we now see the cubicle as the representation of faceless office work, it was actually designed to give the worker freedom: it was supposed to be a flexible space that could adapt, and replace the endless desks of the bullpen. The article also looks at the origins of a number of other aspects of the office: the skyscraper, the filing cabinet, the open office, and the standing desk.
  • The Shitpic. Those of us who are, ahem, old, remember the viral article of generation: that photocopied cartoon that had grown fuzzy but kept being circulated. Viral images were always copies of copies, just as urban legends came from friends of friends. But digital copies were supposed to be perfect, an exact duplicate of the original. That’s changed. The degrading viral picture has returned — the shitpic — as people spread images by taking screenshots of low resolution items instead of copying from the source. Here’s the detailed story of the rise of the shitpic.


To Boldly Go

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 20, 2014 @ 6:49 am PST

userpic=star_trekSpace, the final frontier. Here are three articles related to exploration of space, and those that boldly go…

  • No, The One That Isn’t A Witch. When I read the headline of this article, I did a double take. Margret Hamilton — the actress who played the Wicked Witch of the West in 1939’s Wizard of OZ — worked on the Apollo project? But no, that wasn’t the case. This Margaret Hamilton was much more important — she was the lead software engineer on Project Apollo. Hamilton was 31 when the Apollo 11 lunar module landed on the moon, running her code; in fact, it was able to land at all only because she designed the software robustly enough to handle buffer overflows and cycle-stealing. We need to remember these unsung women who have been out in the forefront, and keep reminding the students of the day that women can succeed in engineering and scientific fields.
  • Keep Coming Back. When I was a teen, we were regularly going to the moon. That stopped with Apollo 17. Here’s an article that presents the real story of Apollo 17, and why we didn’t go back to the moon. What changed? A public that was increasingly fiscally wary. Spending in space was something that could be done, but with far more fiscal constraints than ever before, limiting NASA to research and scientific missions in the coming years. Such programs included the development of the Skylab program in 1973, and the Space Shuttle program, as well as a number of robotic probes and satellites.
  • Looking Inward. NASA, at least from what you normally hear from the news, has been outwardly focused — that is, we’ve been paying lots of attention to Mars. But there’s another planet that is close to us: Venus. There hasn’t been much exploration of Venus due to the heat and pressure — unlike Mars, there’s no change of landing people and exploring. But why land? A new NASA study has proposed an approach to investigating Venus, including inflatable airships, that could serve as good experimentation for future Mars missions. This would be really neat to see.


Musings on Sony, The Interview, and North Korea

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Dec 19, 2014 @ 11:53 am PST

userpic=securityAs I sit here eating my lunch, I’m thinking about all the articles I’ve read over the last week concerning the Sony cybersecurity attack, the movie “The Interview”, and the reaction thereto. Thoughts are starting to gel together, so I thought I’d share them:

  • How Could America Give In Like This? This is a question I’ve seen throughout Facebook, with an appropriate share blaming Obama for all these troubles. The response, however, shows a lack of critical thinking — for it is asking the wrong question. America — at least the government — has no connection to the capitulation to the hacker’s threats. That’s squarely on Sony’s shoulders. Further, Sony isn’t necessarily completely wrong. Put yourself in Sony’s shoes. A hacking group — which you believe to be connected to an unstable government — makes threats intimating mass casualties at theatres showing this movie. Further, a number of your exhibitors are publicly deciding not to show the film.  So which is better: Show the film, and if god forfend an attack occurs, deal with all the lawsuits… or take the economic hit for pulling it now (and possibly have insurance cover the loss). Sony made the correct business decision. Where they erred was stating the film would never be released, in any form. That’s stupid. Release it on video-on-demand across multiple platforms — there’s no way the adversary can attack all those individual homes, or all the individual servers serving the media (ETA: of course, after Obama’s statement, now Sony says they may do that). Put CDs in every Target and Walmart and Costco. Pulling it 100% is giving in to FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). I’m not only looking at Sony here — Paramount pulling Team America has given into the same FUD. Want another perspective? Read Ken Davenport. Oh, and by the way, Obama says Sony shouldn’t have pulled it.
  • But this permits (name your county) to censor our movies! Oh, and you think your movies aren’t censored now? The government may not censor them, but studio executives do every day when they decide which projects to green light and which to stop. The MPAA does it when they rate movies and amp violence over sex. What happened here will not stop such movies from being made. What it will curtail is major studio distribution of such movies, making them harder to find. That, by the way, is where studios really “censor” — in what they agree to distribute or not. There are many movies that remain unseen for lack of a distribution partner.
  • But how could this happen? Isn’t the government supposed to protect us? The government’s job is to protect government systems. There have been repeated attempts to strengthen overall cybersecurity, but they have never made it through Congress as they would involve private corporations working closer with government, and sharing information. This also appears not to be the result of a simple cracker; this seems to be a targeted attack by a determined nation state. Bruce Schneier has a good analysis of this. He also has some very good conclusions:

For those worried that what happened to Sony could happen to you, I have two pieces of advice. The first is for organizations: take this stuff seriously. Security is a combination of protection, detection and response. You need prevention to defend against low-focus attacks and to make targeted attacks harder. You need detection to spot the attackers who inevitably get through. And you need response to minimize the damage, restore security and manage the fallout.

The time to start is before the attack hits: Sony would have fared much better if its executives simply hadn’t made racist jokes about Mr. Obama or insulted its stars­or if their response systems had been agile enough to kick the hackers out before they grabbed everything.

My second piece of advice is for individuals. The worst invasion of privacy from the Sony hack didn’t happen to the executives or the stars; it happened to the blameless random employees who were just using their company’s email system. Because of that, they’ve had their most personal conversations­, gossip, medical conditions, love lives­ exposed. The press may not have divulged this information, but their friends and relatives peeked at it. Hundreds of personal tragedies must be unfolding right now.

This could be any of us. We have no choice but to entrust companies with our intimate conversations: on email, on Facebook, by text and so on. We have no choice but to entrust the retailers that we use with our financial details. And we have little choice but to use cloud services such as iCloud and Google Docs.

So be smart: Understand the risks. Know that your data are vulnerable. Opt out when you can. And agitate for government intervention to ensure that organizations protect your data as well as you would. Like many areas of our hyper-technical world, this isn’t something markets can fix.

  • But why would they do this? A good question. This isn’t just because the movie makes fun of the leader of North Korea. That’s been done before. Vox has a good analysis of the reasons behind this. The short summary is: To show they can. North Korea gains much of its power through its military, and by presenting the appearance of that power outwardly and inwardly. Outwardly it does it through threats and intimidation; inwardly it does it to justify spending on military rather than the people. Vox summarizes it thusly:

This is belligerence meant to deter the much stronger South Korea and US, and to draw international attention that North Korea can use to bolster domestic propaganda portraying Kim Jong Un as a fearless leader showing up the evil foreign imperialists. It is meant to foment the isolation and tension that has allowed the Kim family to hold onto rule, impossibly, for decades. It has nothing to do with Sony’s film, however offensive it may be, with the film’s portrayal of Kim, or with free speech in America. In believing North Korea’s rhetoric strongly implying a connection, we are buying into the country’s strategy and helping Kim succeed.


This strategy of portraying itself as crazy is remarkably effective at securing North Korea’s strategic goals. But it is also quite dangerous. By design, the risk of escalation is high, so as to make the situation just dangerous enough that foreign leaders will want to deescalate. And it puts pressure on American, South Korean, and Japanese leaders to decide how to respond — knowing that any punishment will only serve to bolster North Korean propaganda and encourage further belligerence. In this sense, the attacks are calibrated to be just severe enough to demand our attention, but not so bad as to lead to all-out war.

Over on the Kapersky blog, they put it this way:

“It’s not about a movie or even Sony, at all,” wrote Immunity CEO and former NSA scientist Dave Aitel on the Daily Dave mailing list. “When you build a nuclear program, you have to explode at least one warhead so that other countries see that you can do it. The same is true with Cyber.”

  • So what is the long term impact? As with anything, I believe there will be both good and bad impacts. On the bad side, we may see artists reluctant to tackle hard subjects in major films, knowing they will have difficulty getting them through the studio system. We may also see studios much more reluctant to distribute controversial films (for example, film studio New Regency has cancelled its planned movie adaptation of acclaimed graphic novel Pyongyang). This may end up being a boon for Science Fiction films, as they can often make the same point using metaphors without naming real countries and real people. More significantly, on the bad side, is the message this sends: For the controversial stuff that gets through, are we going to see more threats and intimidation? If some fundamentalist group doesn’t like the subject of a movie, can they just threaten a 9/11-type attack and have it pulled? This is bad, very bad — and it might even lead to the death of large-screen cinema (as you can’t attack video-on-demand with such threats — only large groups of people). On the good side, it may make corporations much more aware of the need for Cybersecurity, and it may help government efforts related to cybersecurity. In fact, the senate and house just passed a new cybersecurity bill that will bolster cyber research and development, the cyber workforce through training and education and technical standards for cybersecurity through NIST. It’s a start. It may also move controversial subjects back onto the live stage, as such performances often attract much less attention.



The Good, The Ugly, and the Bad

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 13, 2014 @ 12:04 pm PST

userpic=rough-roadI’m back home from ACSAC, so I thought I would share with you one good (which is thanks to the ugly), and one bad.

The Good. Normally, when I come home from ACSAC, I come home with an additional present – blisters. I do a lot of walking with the conference, and I have a tendency to get blisters on my little toes with conventional shoes and socks. I’ve tried everything — moleskin, double socks, specialized shoes — nothing worked. Until now. This trip, no blisters.

What was my secret? Listening to my wife, who recommended I pick up some toe socks and get a pair of Vibram Five-Fingers. This I did — we had picked up the socks earlier, and while we were down in Escondido this summer we picked up the ugly: A pair of Trek LS Five-Fingers in Kangaroo Suede. I wore them all week with nary a comment, and more importantly, nary a blister.

I’m so impressed, I think I’m going to go out (after the first of the year) and get more socks and another pair, likely in brown. If I can find them that is (possibly here or here, but they are out of stock everywhere else, so I’m suspicious)– I’m not sure the Trek’s are made anymore; they aren’t on Vibram’s current page. I might have to do something like the V-Classic in black, the Speed XC (although I don’t like the yellow accents), or the non-lacing KSO. Alas, the biggest problem with the Vibrams are looks — they are ugly (gee, just like the Birkenstocks of old).

The Bad. We came home from the conference to find a dead DirecTivo. We have a Samsung DirecTivo SIR S4080R dating back to 2005. When we got home, it was passing through no signal; just snow. We rebooted the unit. We get the grey “Initializing…” screen, and then the “DirecTV is starting up, just a few minutes more…” and then…. nothing. It goes back to the black no signal condition. My guess is that we got a power hit that fried something (possibly the disk). We’re sending it in to Weaknees for diagnosis, but if it is gone, we lose loads of recorded programs (including everything from last week while we were away at the conference), plus the ability to record this week and likely next. In that case, we’ll contact DirecTV for a newer replacement unit. We’ll also see what we can recover from CBS Online (we might have to subscribe) and Hulu.


A Week of Security

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Dec 11, 2014 @ 5:25 pm PST

userpic=securityI’ve been at ACSAC all week, and it has been a great conference. The committee and the Universal Hilton have a lot of work to do to top this year’s conference at the Hyatt French Quarter. But I’m confident they/we will. So what is more appropriate than some security-related articles:

  • Remember Benford’s Law. Here’s an interesting summary of an article about how accountants are using Benford’s Law to fight fraud. Benford’s Law, for those that don’t recall it, refers to the frequency distribution of digits in many (but not all) real-life sources of data. In this distribution, 1 occurs as the leading digit about 30% of the time, while larger digits occur in that position less frequently: 9 as the first digit less than 5% of the time. Benford’s Law also concerns the expected distribution for digits beyond the first, which approach a uniform distribution. The accountants looked at a log of financial ATM transactions for an ATM with a limit of $50, and saw an abnormal number of first digits that were 4. This led them to find financial fraud. Think about this for analysis of audit trails…
  • Two-Factor Authentication. One point that has been continually made this conference relates to the value of two-factor authentication. We even heard from Avi Rubin on how to use two-factor in online poker. However, there is a major problem with two factor: what happens if you lose the second factor. Here’s an article that explains what to do. Now that you know what to do, you have no excuse. Enable two factor authentication.
  • Cyberphysical Attacks. One major theme of the conference has been cyberphysical security. You probably think it was Stuxnet. Wrong. A recent article points to a 2008 Turkish pipeline explosion, which was caused by a cyberattack that overloaded the pressure on the pipe. As Avi pointed out, as we get more and more devices in our houses and lives that are network connected, how susceptible will we be to cyberattacks.

Want to learn more about these problems? Come to the 2015 ACSAC, December 7-11 2015 at the Universal Hilton. Paper submissions, training submissions, workshop submissions, and similar stuff are all due around June 1, 2015. As Local Arrangements and Tutorial Chair, I look forward to seeing you for what will be my 25th ACSAC on the Conference Committee!