Take Me For a Ride in Your Car, Car

Here’s a brief collection of new chum articles, all having to do (in some way) with automobiles:

  • The Emblem. Here’s an encyclopedia of automotive emblems and their meanings. If you find logo history interesting, this is for you. I still remember the old Mazda emblem and the emblem on my 1977 Toyota Corona. For example, did you know that, with respect to the Toyota logo: “The ovals overlap one another, symbolizing trust between the automaker and its loyal customers. The white space that occupies the emblem signifies Toyota’s future potential. And the three ovals together represent the collective hearts of the customer, the cars and the technological opportunities ahead.”
  • The Computer. Car security is a big risk. Here’s a good article looking at all the risks in your car from the internal computer systems. Hmmm, that old-school Corona is looking better and better. The key point is near the bottom of the article: “For end users, the first thing they can do to protect themselves is demand that manufacturers put in place the security requirements that’s been mentioned. If their customers stand up and demand something, you can be certain that manufacturers will listen or they could face losing revenue as people walk away from them.”
  • Parking. If you drive, nothing infuriates you more than how others park. Why can’t they park within the lines? Why do they insist on parking their SUV in a compact space? It turns out that Americans are very ugly parkers. The article notes: “Parking lots inspire a unique rage in Americans. They’re one of the few public spaces citizens feel emboldened to police themselves, and reprimand those who don’t follow an assumed set of etiquette. Americans spend an average of 17 hours a year parking, but rather than get used to it, drivers allow themselves to become entitled and aggressive — emotions that don’t bode well in communal spaces, but which Americans are very good at showing. A 2014 study found that 20 percent of men and 12 percent of women have had a verbal confrontation with another driver in a parking lot, and 8 percent of men and 2 percent of women have actually gotten physical over a parking incident.”
  • The Smell. Here’s one of those list articles on smells that are slowly disappearing. #3 and #8 are car related: the smell of diesel exhaust (those who grew up in the 1960s will remember the smell as the bus pulled out), and #8 is that new car smell. Of the latter, they write: “That aroma we smell today upon delivery of a brand new set of wheels is very different from the new car smell of 30 or so years ago. A lot of that smell comes from off-gassing synthetic materials, plastics and chemical additives that are used in modern vehicles. In 1960, the average American-made car contained 22 pounds of plastics; in 2012, that quantity had increased to 250 pounds. And there’s also matter of the flame retardants and antimicrobials that are now added to the carpeting and upholstery for additional “safety” (even though some of the fumes have been proven toxic).” Me, I still really miss #1: Spirit Duplicators.

The Importance of Visualizations

Visualizations and charts make our lives easier, and sometimes can give us insights we hadn’t considered before. Here are three examples:



Difficult Decisions

A few days ago, I wrote a post titled “Navigating the Minefield” where I discussed three interesting societal divides: (1) how do we deal with old, potentially problematic, music; (2) the divide about coats on the UW Madison campus; and (3) how autonomous automobiles may have a significant impact on privacy. WIth respect to the following news chum items, item (1) is particularly applicable. Titled “The Music I Love Is a Racial Minefield“, it explored the problem of music, and playing songs that had problematic history, origins, or words — such as the Star Spangled Banner, where the full version as written includes a verse in which slave owner Francis Scott Key, an outspoken white supremacist, rails against “the hireling and the slave.”  I recommend everyone read that piece, which includes the following paragraph by an artist I enjoy, Dom Flemons (the American Songster):

“People are trying to find modern sensibilities in stuff that was not built on modern sensibilities,” Flemons told me. In 2015, he performed an instrumental version of Stephen Foster’s “Ring, Ring de Banjo” at a Foster-themed event with the Cincinnati orchestra. Foster’s racist lyrics are “absolutely unacceptable” nowadays, and “I would never think to perform that song outside the context of that specific show,” Flemons says. But these once-popular songs “are a document of what happened,” and failing to acknowledge that history would “completely devalue the strength of how far we’ve come.”

The following three news chum pieces evoked in me similar feelings to the “Racial Minefield” article, and are worthy of your consideration:

  • Sexual Predators. How do we separate the art from the artist? That’s a big question in these days of #MeToo and TimesUpNow. In particular, how do we treat the art created by these individuals we now know were predators and harassers? Can I still enjoy Fat Albert and Bill Cosby’s routines, knowing his history? What about watching “Annie Hall”? Vox has a great opinion piece on the subject titled “How to think about consuming art made by sexual predators“. It’s conclusion is that the answer is not easy. The basic conclusion, according to a historian consulted in the article, is to put everything in context: “As a historian, I strongly believe that it’s important that we keep these men’s work accessible. Woody Allen films are a genuinely important part of American film history. The Cosby Show is key to understanding representation in media and tangled issues of race, class, and acceptance. But I also can’t imagine watching old episodes simply for entertainment.” But where do you fall on the subject? Can you listen to Bill Cosby, or watch the artwork of Gaugain, the same anymore?
  • Smoking. In a somewhat similar vein is an article by Peter Filchia in Masterworks Broadway about the context of musical plots or dialogue that centers on smoking. Many shows were written at the time that smoking was ingrained in American society. Certainly the classic musicals of the 1950s make jokes about smoking. Look at the lines in musicals that refer to smoking, and look at the musical writers that also penned cigarette jingles. Filchia doesn’t draw a particular conclusion, but does really demonstrate how musicals are a product of their times. (Which, I’ll note, is why shows like Showboat remain problematic, as does the behavior of Rosemary in How to Succeed — how would we view today a woman that predatory towards her male boss?)
  • Confederate Iconography. The last article of interest is from Religion News, and has to do with changing names of things named after Confederate Icons. It is one thing to take down a stature, or to rename an elementary school that has no connection to the person. What do you do if you need to rename a church where he actually worshipped or was memorialized? This article, titled “Our church was named for Robert E. Lee — here is how we changed it” explores just that issue. It talks about three churches : (1) St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Richmond, which is the church Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis attended during the Civil War; (2) Christ Church, in Alexandria, a 1773 Episcopal parish that claims George Washington and the Lee family as former worshippers; and (3) R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church in Lexington VA, where Robert E. Lee was senior warden after he joined the church in 1865.

All four of these articles, which are fascinating reads, demonstrate why reconciling the facts of history with the emotion of people and with common sensibilities is never easy.


Navigating the Minefield

One has to tread very carefully these days. Topics, words, and even clothing can trigger deep divides between people. Here are three examples:

  • Your Music. Some music is timeless. Other music, however, is more “of its time”. Every holiday season this is driven home to us as we listen to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in a whole new context. Now I tend to love both cast albums and folk/bluegrass, and both have the same problems: Some of the music, when heard in today’s light, is clearly racist and problematic. This is something discussed everytime “Showboat” or “Annie Get Your Gun” is remounted; it is even a larger issue with folk music. Many of our folk songs make use of stereotypes or motifs that are problems, starting with “Wish I was in the land of Cotton”. The author of our national anthem was a white supremacist. Here’s one fiddler that tackled the issue head on. I love his mention of Dom Flemons, the American Songster, who does great stuff.
  • What You Wear. My daughter goes to school in Madison WI, and she alerted me to this divide: The attitude towards the “Coasties” in the North Face jackets. Here’s the requisite background:A UW–Madison student wrote in 2008 that he could distinguish between coasties and sconnies—or, Wisconsin locals—by looking “at their distinctive clothing.” While focusing on the “female Coastie” appearance, the student argued that the “natives begin to resent these outsiders who are so different.” This student’s editorial in the Badger Herald,perhaps unknowingly, invoked a history of compounding stereotypes of “outsiders” wearing conspicuous or expensive clothing on campus that reaches back to the 1920s. His comments also highlight what is at stake in making assumptions about a Canada Goose owner in 2017. In 2007, two Wisconsin students recorded a song called “What’s a Coastie,” describing the Wisconsin-based label/slur as an “east coast Jewish honey” identifiable by her outfit: a North Face jacket, black leggings, and big sunglasses, among other attire. The song highlighted young Jewish women’s outdoorwear as linked to their outsider status on campus. According to the student songwriters, expensive consumer products, down to the Ugg boots and complicated Starbucks drinks, highlighted the wealth of these out-of-state students. “Coasties” effectively flaunted family wealth, their North Face jackets a stand-in for the high-priced out-of-state tuition their families were paying.
  • Your Car. My step-sister highlighted this divide, and the problem it will create. The thesis: With the growth of self-driving cars and naviation, personal driving will be outlawed as something dangerous to one’s health and the health of others. If that happens, what does that do to privacy? No more can you go someplace anonymously. You’ll be tracked: by your car, by your cellphone, by your navigation app? Who owns those records? Who can look at those records? More importantly, who can be prevented from looking at those records. All questions that in our rush to adopt a technology, we are likely not exploring.



It’s a Sign of the Times: The Spectre of a Security Meltdown

Perhaps it is telling that my first post of the year is one dealing with recent articles on cybersecurity. Perhaps it is a recognition that 2018 may be the year when cybersecurity come even more to the fore, both from the protection of our personal systems, to the protection of our voting systems, and to the tampering that occurs in our systems. But it may also be reflective of the fear, uncertainty, and distrust that is growing in our society today, where every risk is super scary. Part of the problem is that people either confuse or don’t understand the terms. So, let’s be clear (and these are from NIST SP 800-37 Rev 1):

  • Risk [FIPS 200, Adapted]. A measure of the extent to which an entity is threatened by a potential circumstance or event, and typically a function of: (i) the adverse impacts that would arise if the circumstance or event occurs; and (ii) the likelihood of occurrence.
  • Threat [CNSSI 4009, Adapted]. Any circumstance or event with the potential to adversely impact organizational operations (including mission, functions, image, or reputation), organizational assets, individuals, other organizations, or the Nation through an information system via unauthorized access, destruction, disclosure, modification of information, and/or denial of service.
  • Vulnerability [CNSSI 4009]. Weakness in an information system, system security procedures, internal controls, or implementation that could be exploited or triggered by a threat source.

There is no such thing as a “mega-vulnerability”. “Mega” is a risk assessment, and requires not only the weakness from the vulnerability, but a high likelihood of exploitation by a likely threat, and a likely adverse impact of that exploitation. You can have a vulnerability in a system that is easy to exploit, but doesn’t get you much information. You can have one that is hard to exploit, but can get you a lot of information. Risk depends not only on the vulnerability and the likelihood of exploitation, but the context of use and the likely attackers (threats), in order to determine the overall risk.

With that, let’s look at some news:

  • Meltdown and Spectre. You’ve heard about these (makes air quotes) mega-vulnerabilities (end air quotes). They can impact almost any processor that does predictive execution. That includes Intel, AMD, and ARM processors. They can look into memory and expose data. Fixing them will slow down your system. There are emergency Windows updates being issued for Windows 10. But beyond the fear, what do you know? What is the risk? Here are the gory details on the problem. If you read through this, you’ll see that these aren’t they easy to exploit. You need to get someone to run a specially crafted program, and it needs to be on a system that might have some information you need. For most people, the risk from this is low. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to patch it as soon as you can — the longer a vulnerability is out there, the more it will be exploited. But this isn’t the world coming to an end. It does, however, demonstrate a few key rules: (1) complexity is your enemy — the larger and more complex a system it, the more likely that there will be undiscovered vulnerabilities; (2) because it is hardware/on a chip, doesn’t mean it is secure — we make the assumption that because something isn’t obviously software, that it isn’t security. But today’s firmware can be equally complex, and the hardware circuit designs even more so, just being on a chip doesn’t make it secure.
  • Secure Your Router. Whereas Meltdown might be lower risk, here’s a greater risk — and one that you likely can’t do much about: Your router. You need to secure your home router. Absolutely, positively. This is the router that connects your ISP to your home systems. You need to (at minimum) change the administrator passwords, set up the appropriate NAT, and ideally use a DNS other than your ISP’s DNS. You also need to update the firmware regularly, although you might not be able to do that. If you can’t, you need to consider that router a compromise zone, and put something more secure behind it for your use. Let the guest’s you don’t care about use the ISP’s wireless.
  • Ransomware. An emerging trend (unfortunately) is ransomware. Ransomware doesn’t steal your data; rather, it demands money so you can access it. It is insidious and evil, and far too easy to run into with all the hidden drive-by-downloads. So bookmark the following site: No More Ransomware. It is a clearinghouse of information on how to remove ransomware infections.
  • Attacking Hard Disks. Meltdown and Spectre can only get to information in memory. What about your hard disk? What about an attack that could cause the disk to crash? What if that attack didn’t require you to get on the system at all? Scared? Such an attack exists: Gizmodo is reporting on attacks using sound to crash hard disks by exploiting resonant frequencies.
  • Voting Machines. Of course, it isn’t just home machines and businesses that get attacked. Our voting systems get attacked, as we saw in the 2016 elections. But just as a broken clock tells the right time twice a day, the GOP-led Congress actually has a reasonable bill proposal regarding secure voting. Learn about this bill, and if you agree with its approach, work to secure its passage. The bill creates earmarks to help states get rid of their paperless electronic voting machine in favor of voter-verified, machine-readable paper ballots, and institutes a system of randomized post-election audits that use good statistical techniques to spot systemic anomalies. This may become even more important as states move away from precincts and to voting centers.
    • Edited to add: I pointed out the above to a friend who is very concerned about cybersecurity and elections, and she had this response — which I think highlights something important: “The congressional initiative on secure voting does advance the use of paper, but it does nothing to end the imposition of vulnerable expensive private architecture on public record management. In fact it serves to continue it. “Trusting” states to hire impartial auditors and to conduct audits is a stretch. A sponsor, Kamala Harris’s lack of discernment has so far been a big disappointment. First Franken. Now this.”

News Chum: Of Local Interest

As I continue to clear out some news chum before starting work on the highway pages, here are some chum items of local-ish interest;

  • “This Land” Becomes Real – Gentrification in Watts. In the play “This Land” which we saw recently, a key aspect of the plot was the gentrification of the community of Watts. Turns out — they were right. As one real estate developer said, “There is cheap housing in L.A. … The American dream is still affordable in Watts, Compton and all the forgotten ghettos.” Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist at the online real estate site Trulia, took a quick look at the numbers and said home values in Watts and Compton are at post-recession highs, indicating “increased demand to live or invest” in these areas. And who gets pushed out, and where do they go to live….
  • Get Your Tacos Now – Music Center Renovation. Well, there goes Tito’s Tacos as a reliable low-cost dinner option before the Ahmanson. The Music Center will be renovating their plaza creating a stronger outdoor performance venue and redoing the restaurants in the process.  Note to self: Remember to get dinner in NoHo before you get on the Red Line to go to the Ahmanson or Taper for a while. Still, they need to do this — in particular, the escalators up to the plaza, because finding the elevators from the street is always a pain.
  • As if By Magic – Proposed Hilton Universal Expansion. The Hilton Universal City has announced a proposal to expand the hotel. Thank you, Harry Potter. There are still many hurdles to overcome, including the site plan for the studio itself (the hotel is not on studio land). What I’m trying to figure out is precisely where they plan to build this addition, given the layout of the space and the hotel towers. I’m guessing it is going over the meeting space, but I’ve only seen a drawing, not a map. Not many more details here.
  • Cutting the Cord — AT&T Removing Undersea Cable. Moving a bit further northwest, AT&T is planning to remove an undersea cable that runs from San Luis Obispo to China. The cable, part of the China-U.S. Cable Network, was retired from service in December 2016. In total, the 18,600-mile, $1.1 billion cable paid for by an international coalition of telecom companies connects the United States with China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Guam in a loop and had a capacity of 80 Gigabits, or 100 million phone calls at a time, according to a website that tracks submarine cable networks. The cables connect into a greater system at an AT&T terminal building about 10 miles inland on Los Osos Valley Road. Now it’s obsolete, and as Yoda says, pulled up it will be.
  • Why Mother, You’re Growing – Mothers Market Expansion. Lastly, in the expansion of yet another natural food chain, Mother’s Markets are expanding into Los Angeles. Founded in Orange County in 1978 by a group of yoga enthusiasts, the pioneering organic grocery store said it is adding stores next year in Signal Hill and Manhattan Beach. The Signal Hill store, at 2475 Cherry Ave., is an anchor at a new development called Heritage Square. The store is slated to open in early 2018. The Manhattan Beach store, at 1700 Rosecrans Ave., is slated to open in the summer of 2018.



News Chum: Myths and Legends

Before I get started on the year-end highway page updates, I wanted to clear out some accumulated news chum. This collection all are connected by the theme: Myths and Legends.

  • The First Jet. What was the first commercial jetliner? You probably are thinking the Boeing 707. But that would be incorrect. The first commercial jet was the DeHavilland Comet.  This was unveiled to grand acclaim in 1952, and all were grounded by 1954 by a simple design flaw. What lessons can be learned here, beyond the classic one: that the first to the market isn’t always the one who wins with a given product. Just ask Xerox PARC.
  • Crowdsourcing. If you were one of the few who watched “Wisdom of the Crowd”beyond the myth of Jeremy Piven, you were exposed to the myth that crowdsourcing is often the answer to make anything better. But guess what? Crowdsourcing doesn’t always give the right answer. The problem? The crowd is easy to sabotage. Don’t believe me? Look no further than the current occupant of the White House, elected through targeted sabotaging of the crowd.
  • New Media is Always Better. We have grown up on the myth that newer is better. But is it? We were told CDs are better than Cassettes and Vinyl. DIgital music is better than anything. But digital music is much harder to keep forever, especially as one moves from machine to machine, and format to format, recorded CDs degrade … while vinyl from around 100 years ago is still playable. Will your digital book be around in 100 years? Probably not readable, but that printed one is just fine. Now we are moving to streaming video — and guess what — that’s really bad news for our classic film and video history.
  • Art vs. the Artist. The continually unfurling world of sexual abuse claims is rapidly destroying the mythos of many artists. The great stand-up Bill Cosby has been felled, the director Woody Allen is tainted, the song and dance man Kevin Spacey is destroyed, the producer Harvey Weinstein… well, you get the idea. Just recently I learned about another one. Marion Zimmer Bradley. This article talks about the reconciling of the art of “The MIsts of Avalon” with the sins of the author. I wasn’t into that book, but I was a big Darkover fan, and now am curious whether it seeped into that mythos.
  • There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute. One of the holiday movies I wanted to see was The Greatest Showman, primarily for the Pasek and Paul music. But it has been savaged in the reviews (LA Times, Vox). The sin? Not bad performances, but not telling the reality of the story — about how Barnum himself was a sham and not the story he purported to be. Now, the musical Barnum whitewashed his story in the same way, and in many ways the story told of Barnum is clearly as much Humbug as the Humbug Barnum sold. But oh, we must destroy the myths these days.



I’ve Got a Little List…

One last news chum posts for today: just three little lists that caught my eye, so I can find them again:

  • Toe Socks: Best Toe Socks of 2017. Since I started wearing toe socks, I no longer get blisters on my toes — a big win. I can also wear socks with my Five Fingers.
  • Yiddishist Gifts. Gifts for the Yiddishist in your life. Oh, Erin, any of interest?
  • Folk Music. Top 17 folk albums of 2017. Tom’s newest is on here. Also on here is a Klezmatics album, which I’ll look for at tonight’s show. The Kweskin Unjugged looks interesting. I’m curious about what folks think of the others?