Observations Along the Road

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

Category Archive: 'rant'

Perpetuating Misconceptions

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jan 13, 2014 @ 11:23 am PST

userpic=schmuckRecently, a link has been going around the Interwebs that has been infuriating me. This link, likely based on this Slate article, purports to provide the basis for Jewish names. It provides a map and detailed explanations for many Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish names. The information on the name origins in the article is essentially correct, so why am I mad enough to write a post over lunch ranting about it? Here’s why.

There is no such thing as a Jewish Name.

Perhaps I should explain. There are people who are Jewish. They have names. But the name in isolation from the person is not Jewish. People with Eastern European names (such as those in the article) may or may not be Jewish — to view them as Jewish on the basis of their name alone is stereotyping. Further, there are people with names not covered in the article that are Jewish. People convert to Judiasm. People convert out of Judiasm. People change their names. People get married. It is wrong to assume that everyone named Cohen or Levy or Goldberg is Jewish. It is wrong to assume that someone with the last name of Davis or Smith or Jones isn’t. It is also wrong to assume that the person of color sitting next to you isn’t Jewish — two years ago the Southern California Regional Man of the Year (from the Men of Reform Judaism) was a Chinese fellow that had converted to Judaism and was very active in the community.

There are black Jews, there are Asian Jews, there are African Jews, there are Hispanic Jews, and there are Jews from almost every country and ethnicity in the world. This is because Judaism is, at its heart, a religion. It is a belief system that people can adopt; when they do, they are just as Jewish as someone from birth. People can also choose to leave Judaism and move to other belief systems. The point of this is: You can’t determine someone is Jewish by name alone; to do so is succumbing to a stereotype.

If you circulate the article, don’t refer to “Jewish names”. The article discusses names common to Jewish people of Eastern European origin.


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Setting the Example for Women in Engineering

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jan 08, 2014 @ 7:50 pm PST

userpic=boredSometimes, the stars align. Other times, it is the articles that come across my screen.

A few days ago, Gene Spafford wrote an excellent essay over at CERIAS on the need for more women in engineering, more particularly in Computer Science, and even more particularly in Computer Security. Even more importantly, he listed things in the article that both men and women should do to bring about this change. I’ll repeat the first five of his fourteen rules for men:

  1. Simple: be aware. Help others be aware. Don’t limit your involvement to this, but everything else flows from this.
  2. If you have children, encourage them and their friends to consider computing in school. Be supportive of anyone trying an IT profession. Be positive and not condescending.
  3. If you are a teacher/professor, don’t let the male students bully or harass the females. You are there to create a learning environment for everyone. Generally speaking, many women are less quick to respond to questions as they think about how to frame the answers, and they tend to let others speak without interruption; males generally are the opposite. Don’t let anyone be interrupted when speaking, and ensure that everyone gets a chance.
  4. At a conference or professional meeting? Don’t assume that the women are less important than then men there — especially if they look young! Address everyone equally. No one should be invisible. Would you want people to ignore you or trivialize what you had to say if you looked different than you do? Address the person, not the appearance.
  5. Don’t ever touch a woman, without her clear uncoerced permission, in any manner that you would not touch a male authority figure. That is, would you touch your boss/professor/policeman in the same manner — without getting slugged/fired/arrested? Thus, shaking hands, fine. Catching someone if they stumble, fine. A greeting hug? Let her initiate it. Grabbing their butts? Definitely no. Use the same rule of thumb for language. Would you proposition a male policeman you just met?

For the women, he gives specific pointers to resources (although he forgot the Scholarship for Women Studying Information Security sponsored by ACSA — contact me if you want information on that and I’ll get you to the right people). One thing that he surprisingly does not mention is the importance of role models. Many of the women I know in the field went in the field because a role model showed them it was possible. There are many such role models, from Sally Ride to Grace Hopper to Marilyn Jorgenson Reece, the engineer who designed the I-405/I-10 interchange. I’d like to mention two that were written up recently. The first is the President of my employer: Dr. Wanda Austin, who worked her way up as an engineer. The second I just read about: Mary Sherman Morgan, the first female rocket scientist.

The road isn’t easy. The LA Times just had an interesting article about the insidious effect of a sport on the climb: golf. It appears many female executives don’t feel at ease cutting out of work to do “business” on the golf course, and male executives (thinking they don’t play golf) aren’t inviting them. This is the same subtle segregation that occurred back in the old athletic clubs and fraternal societies, and served to exclude women from the business world. Battling the attitudes is part of the first step.

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Post-Holiday News Chum

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Nov 29, 2013 @ 6:05 am PST

userpic=chanukah-christmasOn this “Black Friday”, let me save you from shopping hell with a few news articles on recent and upcoming holidays:

  • Gettysburg Address 150th. Last week was the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Here’s what that address would have looked like had Lincoln used Powerpoint.
  • Black Friday Bargains are not Bargains. A few days ago, I wrote about the protest against stores opening on Thanksgiving. I tried to make the point that the issue wasn’t stores being open (after all, many business are open on Thanksgiving), but the encroachment of Christmas (and particularly Christmas shopping) onto Thanksgiving. But is “Black Friday” really the bargain people think it is? The answer is… no. “Black Friday” is a hoax; despite all the “savings”, retail profits are actually higher during the holiday period. That’s right: stores have hoodwinked you into thinking you need to cram your shopping into the last weeks of the year; they then cram their stores with higher profit items and a few loss leaders to bring you in. This all reflects the other point I made in my post: the actual observance and meaning of all the fall and winter holidays has been usurped and coopted by big business, who see in the holidays not “cheer and goodwill” but a chance to make a profit. Stan Freberg was right.
  • A Potlatch. An op-ed piece in the LA Times summarizes what has happened quite well: Christmas (and Chanukkah to a competing extent) have turned into a potlatch. A potlatch was a festival of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest during which the host distributed property and gifts as a way to demonstrate wealth, generosity and social standing. Guests would reciprocate at a later time with items that matched or exceeded the value of the original gifts, or risk being humiliated. The op-ed notes that the holidays have turned into times where “people continue to buy one another things just because they “have to get someone a gift,” even if it may be re-gifted, returned or never used. Our society’s barely restrained annual celebration of blatant commercialism approaches the seemingly needless exchanges and even destructiveness of the potlatch.” I particularly like the op-ed’s conclusion:

    Let’s stop buying and giving things people don’t want and don’t need. If you feel a need to give, give food to the hungry, clothes and toys to those in need, or donations to victims of storms, violence or conflict. A plate of homemade cookies or some other delicacy delivered personally is a much better way to remember friends and family than a meaningless generic gift, a “dustable” to sit on the shelf or yet another ill-fitting sweater in the wrong color. And most older people need even fewer things. Unfortunately, what they really want — youth, vigor, health — are things we can’t give them. But they, and I’m sure many others, would appreciate a call, a card or a visit from family, neighbors and friends. So will you.

In closing, and related to this, let me share the lyrics to my favorite Christmas song — a song that you never hear on the airwaves, perhaps because of its “subversive” message. It was written by Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary, in 1963:

And it came to pass on a Christmas evening / While all the doors were shuttered tight. Outside standing, lonely boy-child / Cold and shivering in the night.

On the street, every window / Save but one, was gleaming bright. And to this window walked the boy-child / Peeking in saw, candle light.

Through other windows he had looked at turkeys; Ducks and geese, cherry pies. But through this window saw a grey-haired lady / Table bare and tears in her eyes

Into his coat reached the boy-child, Knowing well there was little there. He took from his pocket / His own Christmas dinner / A bit of cheese, some bread to share

His outstretched hands / Held the food and they trembled / As the door, it opened wide. Said he, Would you share with me Christmas dinner / Gently said she, Come inside

The grey-haired lady brought forth to the table / Glasses two and her last drop of wine. Said she, Here’s a toast to everyone’s Christmas / And especially, yours and mine

And it came to pass on that Christmas evening / While all the doors were shuttered tight / That in that town, the happiest Christmas / Was shared by candle light


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Open on Thanksgiving

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Nov 27, 2013 @ 7:16 am PST

userpic=chanukah-christmasThis morning while getting ready for work, I was thinking about all the kerfluffle over stores being open on Thanksgiving. You know what? I have no problem with it. The stores being open are not the problem. They are the symptom.

First, let’s get the stores out of the way. Truthfully, most of us have no problem with businesses being open on Thanksgiving. We like to be able to go to the market if we forgot something. We like to be able to tank up our cars, or even order something in if we’re too tired to cook. Employees that have to work on Thanksgiving are typically well-paid (which is a bonus to them), and their employers often give them other perks to make up for their being away from their families.

Further, those who are so “offended” about stores being open on Thanksgiving are not doing it because Thanksgiving is a national holiday. They don’t demand that stores be closed on Veterans Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, or the 4th of July. Why Thanksgiving?

The answer is because this has nothing to do with Thanksgiving, and everything to do with Christmas. Their issue is not with the stores being open; their issue is with the fact that if the stores are open they will go out and go shopping. It is that quest for the bargain. It is yet another example of America’s worshipping of symbols — and in this case, the symbol is not the Christmas tree, but the wrapped present.

Now, I’m no Christian. I haven’t studied the New Testament. I’m not intimately familiar with Jesus’ teachings. But I’m pretty sure that he wouldn’t his followers to chasing the bargain, going out solely to give more and more of their money to businesses large and small. He would much rather see that money go and do good for those who cannot afford to do so. But, alas, doing good for the poor and needy doesn’t seem to be the “American Way”. Tom Lehrer said it best: “Angels we have heard on high / Tell us to go out and buy!”

So, when you see Christmas marketing creeping earlier and earlier, and merchants getting more and more aggressive, don’t blame the merchants. They are just trying to make a living in a tough economy. Blame the society that has turned the winter holidays — neither of which had anything to do with gift giving and shopping Shopping SHOPPING — into the major commerce point of the year. If you’re Christian, celebrate the birth of Christ by emulating what he taught. If you’re Jewish, celebrate Chanukkah and fight the urge to assimilate and be like the Greeks. But please, don’t celebrate the overindulgence culture so prevalent this time of year.

The stores may be open. That’s their choice, and we don’t need to blame them for it. They are gambling that people will shop. However, their being open doesn’t mean you have to shop. Actually, to be precise, it doesn’t mean you need to start shopping for Christmas. Shop for Thanksgiving, fine. Shop as you normally would, fine. But for material presents? Feh!

Maybe — just maybe — your money can be better spent this holiday season. Give to a charity. Give to a non-profit. Do good.

Oh, and have a happy Thanksgiving, and Chag Sameach! Chanukah starts tonight!

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Tacky, Tacky, Tacky

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Nov 26, 2013 @ 11:34 am PST

userpic=turkey,turkeys[A lunchtime musing…] As you know, we got to a lot of live theatre. For some of these shows, we bring along my mother-in-law. Last Saturday’s show was one such show. While eating dinner before the show, she shared with us a note that she received from the independent Senior Living facility she’s at. This note gave a variety of sandwich options — Roast Beef, Salami, and Tuna (IIRC) — and sides. My M-I-L said that these were box dinners for the residents staying in for Thanksgiving, as the dining staff was getting the night off to be with their families.

My first reaction was to be very thankful my M-I-L is joining us for Thanksgiving.

My second reaction — and my reason for writing this post — was how tacky this action by the facility was. I can understand wanting to let staff be with their families on the holiday. I can also understand the expectation that many residents will be with their families that day, and thus not utilizing the dining hall. But there are going to be a number of residents whose families are far away, or who do not have relatives that can host them, or who simply do not have relatives that care. For them, offering sandwiches is a slap in the face. At least the facility could have gone to Togos (there’s one in Granada Hills) and offered the #5 (Turkey and Cranberry) as a choice. But they could also have worked with a local restaurant to provide to-go turkey dinners to be delivered — Abes Deli, which is a block away, has a Roast Turkey dinner on the menu.

Why am I writing this? Primarily, to encourage people to think about the seniors near them that may be in such facilities. Check and make sure they are getting proper Thanksgiving dinners (if they want). Perhaps offer to invite such a senior to your dinner.

Thinking ahead: What are they going to do about Christmas — even more of a family holiday. For us, we’ve already invited my M-I-L to join us for our traditional celebration: a movie and Chinese food.

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What’s Missing in This Article?

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Nov 20, 2013 @ 11:44 am PST

userpic=verizonWhile eating my lunch and reading the news, news.google.com highlighted an interesting article (alas, from Fox News): “FCC announces plans to upgrade century-old phone system“. In short, currently 1/3 of people use cell phones, 1/3 use digital services from cable providers, and 1/3 use what is called POTS – Plain Old Telephone Service. This is the century-old copper wire switching network. Of course, eventually, both the cell phones and digital services end up on that copper as well.

What happened is that yesterday the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced plans to expedite the largest change to the nation’s phone system in decades — a move away from the circuit-switched system that sends those analog signals over copper cables to a digital, IP-based network that largely relies on fiber optics. Once tests prove that the new system works in localized trials, the system will be rolled out nationwide, and the copper wires that have been the basis of POSE for over a century will be turned off.

Be scared, be very very scared.

According to the article, the FCC is expected to begin in January “a diverse set of experiments” in order to figure out how to transition to the new IP-based system, a transition certain to take years. FoxNews was told that the initial experiments will likely include regional tests of an IP-based system to ascertain reliability, scalability and so on. The commission’s technological advisory committee set a goal of 2018, which is likely too ambitious, he said. But expect localized trials as soon as 2015. The upgrade may mean introducing the age of video calling to landlines. An IP landline network, unlike current copper wires can handle much larger amounts of data that could be used to make video calls.

What’s missing in the above? Security.

One of the facts I remember from studying for the CISSP is that Federal wiretap laws apply only to telephone (read: POTS) communication. It does not apply to VOIP (which is one reason I don’t do digital phone systems). Once our copper lines move to all digital…

Further, there is no mention of using encryption — or giving the provision for encryption. Ideally, if we’re going digital, it would great to be able to be able to use public-key encryption for the payloads of the messages (not routing), where the user controlled the key (for one thing, this would allow you to sign over the phone). Will it be there?

What about analog devices? Is this the death of the modem? What about all the technologies that depend on analog signals over copper (many medical devices do; fax machines may)? Does this mean (using an IP-based service) that a side-benefit is instant internet connectivity? What does that do to the ISPs?

One big advantage of copper is that it provided its own power infrastructure. If your electricity went down, often your phones would continue to work. That’s not true for VOIP, where you require additional power adapters. Further, the phone system was very simple — which also made it robust. Yes, the Internet was designed for robust switching, but I’m not sure it will have the resiliency we’ll need for nationwide telephone service in emergencies. One wonders, in fact, if they’ve actually figured out all the requirements properly.

Much as I can see the benefits to moving away from copper, I’ve got the increasing feeling that these benefits are not necessarily for the end users. They will lower costs for the telcos, and may make things easier for, umm, other parties, but the end consumer?

Your thoughts are welcome.

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Keeping Your Insurance

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Nov 14, 2013 @ 5:13 am PST

userpic=progenitorivoxA quick morning post before I get off to get ready for work… I’m seeing a number of people advocating that people should be able to keep their insurance, just as the President promised. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is working with Mary Landreau to get a bill passed to modify the ACA to let people keep their grandfathered policies as long as the companies choose to offer them. This worries me, and here’s why.

First, the finances of the ACA are a delicate balancing act. In order to be able to cover pre-existing conditions, preventative care, maternity needs, etc., the insurance companies need sufficient bodies in each pool. If people stay in their lower-cost policies that don’t cover those areas, the pools may not balance … and there may be financial problems in the long run.

Second, this provides no guarantee people can keep their policies. Insurance companies can still decide they don’t want to offer those low cost polices, and there’s nothing Congress can do about it. Congress cannot dictate what plans a company must offer, only the minimum coverage for new plans.

Thirdly, it does nothing for people who want those low-cost plans. Insurance companies will still not be allowed to enroll new people in the plans that don’t meet the minimums. Thus, slowly over time, the number of people in the grandfathered plans will diminish making them economically not-viable, resulting in the cancellation of those plans.

Just something to think about. Now off to the showers.

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Monday Rant: It’s All About Me | It Takes a Community

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Nov 04, 2013 @ 11:37 am PST

userpic=soapboxWhile reading my RSS feeds while eating my salad, one of the OCTA Headlines caught my eye. This article (actually, an opinion letter) was going on against the proposed toll lanes for I-405 in Orange County, and said:

The proposed I-405 toll lanes will only improve the drive times for those who pay to use them. The rest of us will see little improvement in traffic congestion or travel time for our massive investment. Tolls may make OCTA rich at taxpayer expense.
This was yet another example of something I’m seeing more and more, and as I chewed my salad, I fumed and thought: The “Me” generation has come back to bite us in the butt.
  • People are upset at toll lanes because they will “only improve the drive times for those who pay to use them” (translation: they won’t benefit me because I won’t pay). But these same folks refuse to let taxes increase to pay for more infrastructure.
  • People are upset at health insurance minimums and plan changes that will make them pay more because they will benefit someone else, not them (without understanding how insurance works, and that they can’t predict their medical needs in the future).
  • People are upset when some other state gets more, or some other community gets more, and it doesn’t go to them.

We used to view our Nation as a community, helping each other build a better life. Living in California, I had no problem helping the southern states because a stronger nation benefited, and I knew they would be there when I needed them. Sharing the risks reduced the exposure for all. This is the idea behind FEMA: I’ll pay for the hurricanes in the South, they pay for the Earthquakes out here.

We used to view our State as a community: the hinterlands would help the cities, and the cities would provide support to the hinterlands. We were all in this together.

Today, where has that attitude gone? People are only out for what they can get. Religious institutions are viewed as a balance sheet: do I get out in services more than I pay in. Same thing with government: we’re mad at taxes if we don’t get that much value in return. We forget that the view is a National view: over the average all benefit, but some will win, and some will lose, and the winners and losers will change over time. We also work, through our financial contributions, to make our National society strong: healthier, smarter, successful. Again: this is on the average.

But people don’t see that. They don’t see the average. It’s all me, me, me.


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