It’s Sunday again, and … what’s this? No stew on Saturday? We must remedy this, with this hastily thrown together pot of material collected during what was, again, a very busy week and an even busier weekend:
- It’s Too Big. Here’s a call from a congressional candidate in Los Angeles to break up LA Unified. What’s interesting here is how he wants to do it: His bill would make school districts with more than 100,000 students ineligible for federal aid. This would affect almost every major city school district, and result in lots of wasted money as many of the supporting school services — payroll, human resources, legal, and such… as well as school boards — get duplicated. The larger question, perhaps, is how much of LA Unified’s problem is LA Unified. After all, there are schools within the district that are excellent (many of them charters, such as Granada Hills or Pacific Palisades). There are lower performing schools, but these tend to be in lower performing neighborhoods. Often, the district’s hands are tied by state and federal requirements, as well as their own procedures. Breaking up the district doesn’t solve those problems. Decentralization (where appropriate) and local empowerment (when appropriate) does.
- It’s Everywhere. One little snippet in the latest from Donald Sterling was not emphasized in the news — where he repeated Jewish stereotypes. You might have thought or hoped antisemitism would be dead … but you would be wrong. A new ADL survey shows that pnly 54 percent of people polled globally are aware of the Holocaust — and an alarming 32 percent of them believe the mass genocide of Jews was a myth or has been greatly exaggerated. The survey found that 26 percent — more than one in four — of the 53,100 adults surveyed are “deeply infected” with anti-Semitic attitudes. Nine percent of Americans surveyed harbor at least six of the 11 anti-Semitic views. About 31 percent of respondents believe Jews “are more loyal to Israel” than the U.S.
- It’s Scary. Antisemitism is really scary. The Disney comedy Frozen, edited into a horror movie trailer, is less so. Still, it is a great example of how the Frozen mania is continuing unabated. I think the last Disney film that got this deep into the social context was The Lion King.
- It’s Dying. When they came out, CDs were touted as the perfect music medium. Crystal clear digital reproduction (as opposed to those scratchy vinyl records or tapes that wore out and broke), and they would last forever. Guess what? That was all a lie — CDs are degrading at an alarming rate. I have a large CD collection (and a large LP collection, and a large digital only collection … my iPod just crossed the 34,000 song mark). Of these, only the LPs have a long life — they degrade by scratches and stuff. All the tapes I made of records are long gone, and I rarely pull out the physical CDs anymore. Will they be there as backups, or will only the professionally made ones be readable. This, friends, is why people stick with analog data in the form of vinyl and paper.
- It’s Dead. The death of the Fountainbleu in Las Vegas is closer: the construction crane has been removed. It is now less likely that this 80% finished mega-hotel will ever be completed. More than likely, it will be an expensive scrap recovery project, with loads of material destined for landfills. What a waste. How much dead landfill space in Las Vegas is taken up by the remains of hotels?
- It’s, uhh, I forget. There might be some good news for those of you taking antidepressants. It turns out that certain antidepressants — particularly Celexa — is good a combatting memory loss. This may help combat Altzheimers Disease.
- It’s Back. Lastly, those in the Bay Area can rest assured in the safety of the Bay Bridge. Sure, the bridge might fall down in an earthquake due to newly discovered flaws. But the protective troll is back, protecting drivers from his barely visible perch.
You know you want to take your mother to dinner. But what will you talk about? Here’s a bunch of news chum stew items, accumulated over the last two weeks (I’ve been busy, what can I say) that might just do:
- Size Matters. Here’s a great discussion topic for your mom… or for “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me”. A recent study has shown that, the larger your penis, the greater the likelihood that your wife will cheat on you. In particular, according to this study, every one inch longer penis increased the likelihood of women being involved in extra-marital partnership by almost one-and-half times. I think I’ll leave the subject at that and go on to the next subject…
- Got Gas? Here’s some more useful information. Remember “Beans Beans They’re Good for the Heart”. Well, it turns out that lots of gas is a sign of a healthy biome in your gut. This reminds me of a joke from Jason Alexander. It seems there was this long married couple whose sex life was in the dumps (see item #1). The wife went to a sex counselor, who suggested they try 69. She came home and explained it to her husband. They got in bed and in the position…. and she ripped a good one. After the air had cleared, they tried it again… and she ripped another one. They were about to try it again when the husband said, “you think I’m going to do this 67 more times, you’re crazy”.
- It’s the Place To Be. Yup, that Farm Living is the life for me. If this makes you think of Green Acres, you’re not along. There are plans for a Broadway stage play adaptation of the hicksville TV show originally starring Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor. The rights to the property were acquired by director Richard L. Bare, who was one of the most prolific helmers on the original series, and by producer Phillip Goldfine through his production company Hollywood Media Bridge.
- Cramming It In. Sony is working on new technology that will cram 3,700 blue-rays into a single cassette tape. Actually, that’s a little misleading — we’re not talking here about a C-60 or a C-90, but a specially designed cartridge. Still, the technology is intriguing: a whopping 148 GB per square inch, meaning a cassette could hold 185 TB of data. Sony uses a vacuum-forming technique called sputter deposition to create a layer of magnetic crystals by shooting argon ions at a polymer film substrate. The crystals, measuring just 7.7 nanometers on average, pack together more densely than any other previous method. The result is that three Blu-Rays’ worth of data can fit on one square inch of Sony’s new wonder-tape.
- A Touching Story. Here’s a very touching story about a late night encounter in a supermarket, told by Mark Evanier.
- Anything But Starbucks. A touching obituary for Herman Hyman, founder of the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf chain. This chain, which roasts its beans in Ventura County, started in a small store on San Vicente Blvd in Brentwood in the 1970s. I think, in fact, that it started not far from my first condo.
- Buildings Up, Buildings Down. Two interesting buildings in the news. First, the plans have been announced for the former furniture store space across from the Pasadena Playhouse. Should be an interesting project; it will be interesting to see how it changes the character of that area. In Las Vegas news, approval has been given to finally take down the Harmon. If you aren’t familiar with the Harmon, it is the oval blue-glass coated skyscraper next to the Aria and Vdara, across from Planet Hollywood and the Cosmopolitan. It was built wrong and is unstable, but they can’t implode it because it is too close to other stuff. They have to take it down piece by piece. Now if only they could do something with the Fountainbleau, which is an even bigger eyesore on the N end of the strip (where the Thunderbird once was).
This has been an even busier week than usual — I’ve barely had time to keep up with my RSS feeds and skim the LA Times. So I’ve only got a few items for you this week:
- Not Tonight, Dear, I have a headache. In a scientific survey destined to end up on “Wait Wait”, scientists have shown that headaches impact a woman’s sexual desire much more than they impact the desire of men. Specifically, new research has shown that for female mice, bodily pain puts a serious damper on sexual desire, but pain-reduction can help restore libido squelched by physical discomfort. However, for men, the desire to have sex wasn’t dampened even if you kick them in the nuts. But is this really news?
- It’s your shul on line 1… Here’s an article that every synagogue (and probably church) board member should read: What if your synagogue called and didn’t ask for money? The answer, not surprisingly, is that people are much more receptive. This goes to what a number of URJ leaders are saying these days: focus on building the relationship, and not getting the donations. When the relationship is strong, the donations will show up. Will temple boards listen, however, and pay this more than lip service?
- Connections. Every week the Jewish Journal highlights a holocaust survivor (and I’ll note that this weekend is Yom Hashoah). This week, it was Frank Schiller. I’m not sure if I ever met Frank, but I did go to both camp and temple with Frank’s children, Gary and Vicky. Haven’t seen them in years, but I’d love to get back in touch.
- La Mirada Season. Lastly, the La Mirada Theatre has announced their 2014-2015 season. It consists of “Good People“, “Late Nite Catechism Las Vegas: Sister Rolls the Dice“, “Billy Elliot” (the musical), a musical version of “Pride and Prejudice“, “Mary Poppins” (the musical), two special events (“Dancing with a Twist” and an Amy Grant concert), and the musical “Carrie“. Of these, “Carrie” is unique enough to get me to travel down to La Mirada. Already blocking it off on my calendar.
This has been a busy busy week — even busier than my normal busy weeks. I’ve only had a little time to read the news, and even less time to comment on it. Further, nothing has completed a threefer or better theme. So let’s clear out the stack and make a little stew, shall we?
- It’ll Soon Be Over. According to reports, Metro and Caltrans plan to all-but-finish the 405 HOV lane project through the Sepulveda pass in May. “All-But” means that there will still be landscaping, and I’m guessing just a little retaining wall work to do — but all lanes will be open. I’ll believe it when I see it — the 405 has been under-construction since I started work at Aerospace — first completing the I-105 interchange, then adding the HOV lanes through west LA, then the HOV lanes in the valley, then the HOV lane southbound through the pass. Hopefully it will make the drive easier for the van.
- Los Angeles History. While we’re talking the 405 and history, let’s talk a little about places the freeways touch. From the 405 go N (W) on US 101, and you reach Woodland Hills. The history of that community, and the scoundrel that created it, is quite interesting. A true flim-flam man. While in Woodland Hills, you’ll see a number of LAUSD campuses that are closed and decaying. Luckily, not for much longer — LAUSD is finalizing plans to have long-closed campuses taken over by charter schools, including El Camino Charter HS.
- Food News. A couple of food items. The first looks at Tilapia, a white-fish that is growing in popularity. The problem is that it might not be that great for you (but it is still better than any red meat). The second notes that you might be able to get bigger muscles by eating green tomatoes. Not fried, of course.
- Shoeless Joe from Hannibal Mo. The LA Times had an interesting article on the backstory of Yasiel Puig, a star of the LA Dodgers (you know, the team you can’t watch on TV). There were rumors Puig was smuggled out of Cuba by members of a Mexican drug cartel. There were rumors he still owed the smugglers money, and that his life could be in jeopardy. There was talk about Puig being essentially owned by a Miami businessman with a criminal record who hired those smugglers in exchange for 20% of the ballplayer’s future earnings. I read this, and the story in the musical Damn Yankees popped into my head. Young Joe Hardy also just showed up from nowhere, and then all these rumors surfaced about his connection with criminals. I wonder if Puig will disappear after hitting the winning run when the Dodgers make the playoffs?
- Let’s Go Shopping. A few commerce related items. The woman’s retailer “Coldwater Creek” is going bankrupt, and is holding a major liquidation sale starting on Mothers Day. That may be of interest to those who can fit into Coldwater Creek’s stuff. Secondly, information on about 3 mln credit and debit cards have been stolen from the retailer Michaels. This is a big deal — much bigger on the consumer side than anything leaked by Heartbleed. Keep an eye on your statements folks, especially if you live with a person who loves crafting.
- Pasadena Playhouse, Sigh. The Pasadena Playhouse has announced their next season. In a word, “sigh”. I so want them to succeed, but Sheldon just doesn’t know how to pick a good season. They start with a rework of Kiss Me Kate (a musical that needs no rework) to put it in the context of the African-American theatre of the 1900-1925 period. Why? They also have Stop Kiss, Pygmalian, and Two for the Seesaw (the comic play that was the source of the musical Seesaw), plus a TBA play. Nothing that would attract me. This seems to be the year for long established companies to have completely uninteresting seasons.
In 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:
- What You Don’t See. This groupatwo has been sticking in my mind. I have a friend who is very sensitive to privilege and racism issues. She often sees subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) concerns where I (who arguably, have been raised with privilege) see none. A few weeks ago, she highlighted an issue that has stuck in my head as an example of this subtle issue — today I took the time to find the articles again. The concern is discussed well in this article about photography and brown skin, and that was driven somewhat by this article. The issue is that film sensitivity and color sensitivity was calibrated using particular white models, and the constrast designs work best for white skin. Photographing — at least in film days — black models (and especially, black and white models together) resulted in poor photographs. Hence, what did most fashion photographers use? Truly a fascinating example of subtle racism. Was it unintended? That’s probably a different debate.
- What You Wear. Two articles from last week about what people wear. The first talked about a defendent in a courtroom, who took the stand and attended the proceedings in sloppy untucked clothing. The message this sent the jury increased the odds of conviction. The second is also courtroom based — this time about a judge who admonished the female attorneys for wearing clothes that were too revealing (and in particular, they distracted him). So what is proper courtroom attire, and how much does freedom of expression come into play?
- Breaking Away. Two articles about countries breaking away. In the first, the concern is Quebec, and how the charge for Quebec separatism is nearly dead. In the second, the article is about England and the different reactions to independence movements in Scotland vs. Ireland. England would seemingly be happy if the two Irelands reunited and remained separate, but Scotland should stay part of Great Britain. The article explains why.
- Visitor Attractions. Two articles on visitor attractions. The first deals with Buellton California, and discusses a museum of Petroliana — old gas station stuff — that I must visit. The second deals with newly announced expansion plans for Universal Studios — hopefully, I can get ACSAC near there in 2015 and 2016, and these will draw in a bunch of attendees.
- Two Singlets. Two single stories a groupatwo makes. In the first, it looks like TNT is bringing back the Librarian franchise as a series — with Noah Wyle, Jane Curtain, and Bob Newhart! The second talks about a new minimally invasive procedure for chronic sinusitis that sounds very interesting.
Yesterday 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.
- Tunnel Under the Hills. I commute the Sepulveda Pass every day. Luckily I have podcasts, for the slog itself is a traffic-filled nightmare. That might change. Metro is exploring a new sales-tax measure (as if it isn’t high enough) that might result in a toll-tunnel under the Santa Monica mountains. There would also be a private rail line. I’m not sure I’d want to drive through a tunnel of that length, but depending on the wherefores of the rail line, that might entice me out of the van.
- An Empty Airport. If I was to ask you what the most eerily-empty airports was in Southern California, you would likely answer Ontario (which LAWA seems to want to kill). But that wouldn’t be the right answer. San Bernardino has turned the former George AFB into an airport, and it has an even emptier terminal.
- There Ain’t No Flies on Me. An interesting science article that I was hoping to form into a groupathree. It appears that zebras do not have stripes as camouflage, but to keep off the flies.
- Stop Staring. Here’s the second article in the incomplete groupathree: It appears that more cereal boxes are sold when the characters on the box stare directly at consumers. Further, children’s cereal boxes are places to stare at the kids.
- Bad Streets. You think your street is bad? Here’s a list of the 15 worst streets in Los Angeles, in terms of maintenance. It is interesting to note that most of them are in the Valley, with Sepulveda and Van Nuys at the top of the list.
- Getting Off. If you read the papers, you’re probably sick of being told to get off of Windows XP. As it stands, I have three XP machines at home, with only one still in regular use (it is my print server for an old HP Laserjet 4, and I only wake it up when I need to print on the attached printer). So it was with interest that I read that Best Buy will be offering $100 gift cards when you trade in an old XP system; the card is towards the purchase of a replacement system. That might entice me to replace one of the systems.
Today’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.
Today’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.