Observations Along the Road

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

Category Archive: 'news-chum'

To Boldly Go

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

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.



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Musings on Sony, The Interview, and North Korea

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

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.



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Saturday News Chum Stew: It’s On The Radio

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 06, 2014 @ 2:58 pm PDT

userpic=masters-voiceToday’s weekly news chum stew leads off with a few items related to radio and items on the radio…. and goes rapidly downhill from there:

  • Living By The Clock. This is an article from a few weeks ago, but it’s still interesting: On November 18th, NPR changed their news magazine clocks. Now you probably have no idea what this means. The clocks are the second-by-second scheduling of what happens when during the newsmagazines, including newscasts, music beds and funding credits. They also affect when stations can insert their own local content. In announcing the date for implementing the clocks, NPR also said that it will not impose limits on stations’ ability to replace newsmagazine segments with programming from other producers. That proposal had prompted criticism from station programmers, who argued for control over programming choices, and producers, whose programs would be excluded under the rule. This directly relates to the next article: some of those producers are podcast producers, whose segments are often included in NPR news magazines (and thus, it brings them in money).
  • The Podcast Is The In-Thing. If you listen to podcasts (as I do), you know we’re in a new era of podcasts. The “This American Life” podcast has spun off a new #1 podcast, “Serial“. Roman Mars, of 99% Invisible (who was very concerned about the above clock change) used his Kickstarter success to create Radiotopia, and expanded it with this year’s Kickstarter to add new shows. Producer Alex Bloomberg left Planet Money to found a new podcast company, Gimlet Media, and is documenting the process in a new podcast. The Verge has an interesting article on this phenomena: “The New Radio Star: Welcome to the Podcast Age“. Never mind the fact that the “pod” has been discontinued, and no one really “casts” anymore. That’s like saying television is confined to networks over the air.
  • You Can Get Anything You Want. Traditions are funny thing. Who would think a TV show would span a tradition that revolves around a pole? Here’s another one for you: A tradition of listening to a particular song on Thanksgiving, simply because the event described in the song happened on Thanksgiving. This latter one, of course, is referring to Arlo Guthrie’s song “Alice’s Restaurant”. Here’s an interesting article about Arlo looking back on the song, which turned 50 this year.
  • Shaming and Discrimination is Never Acceptable. The events in Ferguson and in New York have finally started to make people aware about White Privilege, and being aware is the first step to doing something about the problem. But there’s another type of privilege people aren’t talking about: Thin Privilege. Our society is biased towards the thin — all it takes is one airplane ride or sitting at a booth in a restaurant to realize that. Thin Privilege can also be life threatening. Here’s an interesting article that explores that aspect of fat hatred: the particular fact that the auto industry refuses to make large-sized crash dummies, and so crashes are more likely to be fatal to the obese than the thin.
  • Fighting Antisemitism. Here’s an interesting Indiegogo project: Yaakov Kirschen of Dry Bones is fundraising to turn Dry Bones into an antisemitism fighting engine. If you’re not familiar with Dry Bones, look here. I haven’t yet decided if this is an effect tool in the fight, or an attempt by Yaakov to obtain steady funding (after the success of his Dry Bones Haggadah). Still, anything that fights is a good thing.
  • Your Username is Invalid. We’ve all been taught in security that you shouldn’t give away information in the login error message, and so you don’t indicate whether it was the user name or the password is bad. But here’s an article that points out that such care doesn’t buy you anything. It’s an interesting point of view.
  • Should I Upgrade? For years, I’ve been using Paint Shop Pro. I’m currently on the last JASC version, Paint Shop Pro 9. PCWorld has a very interesting review of the current Corel Paint Shop Pro X7,  and I’m debating upgrading. Thoughts?


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Stirring the Stew Pot

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Nov 29, 2014 @ 8:02 pm PDT

Observation StewIt’s Saturday, and we’re overdone for some stew. I’ve been on vacation last week, and I left some links at work when I left before vacation, so this is a short list:


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Stew for the Week: Lemurs and Lions and Iron, Oh My!

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Nov 16, 2014 @ 1:39 pm PDT

Observation StewAs you can see by my previous two posts, yesterday was a busy busy day. So today, while I eat lunch, let me share with you some news chum stew items for the week:

  • Public Media Losses. Last week, I had to report the sad news that Tom Magliozzi had past way. This week brings news of the loss of another public media personality — this time from the public television side. Yes, Jovian, the lemur better known as Zooboomafu, has passed away.
  • Cast In… Iron. Sometimes, the best thing is the simplest. Consider the cast iron pan. I have quite a few of them, inherited from my grandparents. You’ve probably heard bad things about cast iron, but here is the truth.
  • Irvine. When you hear the word “Irvine”, what do you think of? Robert Irvine of Restaurant Impossible? UC Irvine (one of the blander UCs out there, although it is a good school)? A very homogenized Orange County community? If you’re old enough, you will think of Lion Country Safari, which used to be in the Irvine hills. Here’s a look back at Lion Country Safari.


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News Chum Stew

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Nov 08, 2014 @ 10:17 am PDT

Observation StewIn contrast to previous weeks, I found lots of articles of interest this week. I was so busy I couldn’t assemble them into a themed post, so you get a kitchen sink of stew:

  • Numbnuts. Although it is old news by now, I do want to comment on the passing of Tom Magliozzi of “Car Talk”. I have memories of paying bills while listening to Car Talk in the late 1980s, and I would still listen to it, off and on, until they went to repeats. Car Talk opened up public radio to be more than music and news, and it was just great. Supposedly, Ray will be doing a tribute show to Tom today; I plan to download that podcast and listen to it.
  • 1980s Sitcoms Gone Warped. I happen to be a big fan of TV themes. Having been a teen in the 1970s, I grew up with the sitcom, and the particular type of sitcom opening where the characters were introduced with this odd look at the camera. Yesterday, I learned of a wonderful and warped parody of all those openings called “Too Many Cooks”. I found the video on YouTube and it was great. Here’s an article that discusses the parody and provides the video.
  • Like Sand in the Hourglass. You go to the beach, and you think the sand is endless. The truth, however, is much worse. We’re running out of beach sand.
  • Held Up By A String. This seems like a regular occurance: An article about the future of Bob Baker’s Marionette Theatre in Echo Park. This time, the concern isn’t the property. The property was sold and a new development is going up, but they are building around the theatre and incorporating the theatre. However, Baker himself is in hospice, and the concern has never made money. I have vague memories of going there when I was a child in the 1960s — this is an LA treasure.
  • Milk Chocolate. If you’re a chocolate lover, you tend towards the dark chocolate, and look down on milk chocolate. However, there can be great milk chocolate, and here’s an article on some awesome milk chocolate.


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Good Things That Are Bad

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Nov 08, 2014 @ 10:12 am PDT

userpic=don-martinHere’s a collection of articles and opinion pieces that all seem to fall within the theme of things that are good, while really being bad:

  • Dogs. We all love our dogs. Our friendly canine companions have been shown to be good for our mental health and well being. But are they good for the environment?
  • Fake Grass. Here in California, we’re in the midst of a bad bad drought. The DWP (Department of Water and Power) is offering incentives for people to rip out their lawns and replace them with less water-hungry alternatives. Some go with fake grass (the modern-day equivalent of Astro-Turf). But is fake grass good for the environment?
  • Anesthetics. One of the things that makes modern medicine possible are anesthetics. But — especially in the elderly — they have their drawbacks — memory-loss. Here’s why.
  • It Does a Body Good. We’ve been taught that “Milk Does a Body Good” and that you should drink cows milk every day to get Calcium. The problem? Too much milk doesn’t do a body good. In fact, a recent study found that, in both women and men, higher milk consumption correlated with higher rates of death. And in women, those who consumed more milk were also more likely to have fractured a bone, not less. The fault may lie with lactose. In fact, fermented dairy products may be better for you — yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream, and possibly cheese.


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It’s Something to Stew About

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Nov 01, 2014 @ 10:50 am PDT

Observation StewAs a reminder, I’m still trying to find the album title, album artist, and song titles for the album mentioned in my previous post. While you’re searching (I did find some stuff searching in Hebrew, but I couldn’t read it) and translating/transliterating, here’s some news chum to keep you busy:

  • It’s Back! It’s Back! The Empress Pavilion in Chinatown is back, under new owners, dispensing dim sum from carts in Chinatown. This is good news, as we were never able to find a place we really liked in Monterey Park (which was a schlep anyway). Sounds like a grand excuse for a dim sum run.
  • It’s Dead! It’s Dead! What happens to you when you die? I don’t mean meta-physically, I mean physically. There’s a body farm in Texas that is exploring the question, placing bodies out in fields and watching their decay. The article is a fascinating read — but be forewarned that it does include pictures of dead bodies in various stages of decay and decomposition. It isn’t as bad as you think (although you don’t get the smells), and it is comforting to think of your final act being to provide nutrients to other living things.
  • It’s Voting! It’s Voting! Of course, I shouldn’t need to remind you to vote on Tuesday (and if you need, here’s my ballot analysis: Part I (major offices); Part II (propositions); Part III (judges)). If you’re in LA County, you’re voting on the old Inka-Vote system. That may soon be going away: LA County has let a contract for a new electronic voting system. Based on what is described in the article, they may actually be doing it right: the County owns the code; the vendor that writes the code cannot operate the voting system; the voting machine prints a paper ballot to be tallied (hopefully legible to the voter).
  • It’s, umm, I forget. Recently, we’ve been dealing with the slow memory deterioration of my mother-in-law. It’s hard to deal with, and sad to see. This article — My Mom Has Dementia and Other Good News — was recently going around Facebook. It is an interesting take on the problem.
  • It’s Old! It’s Old! You know I like history, and that I like theatre. Here’s an interesting combination: the history of the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood. It was once a movie theatre, and recently has been the site of numerous rental productions. We saw Marvellous Wonderettes, Pump Boys and Dinettes, and at least one other show there.
  • It’s Pastrami! It’s Pastrami! We’re seeing fewer and fewer true Jewish delicatessens. Here’s an interesting article on how one deli, Katz’s in New York, stays in business. Quoth the article: “But with a throwback menu comes a throwback business model, the downsides of which are especially apparent in these days of astronomical beef prices. That’s one reason why Dell—whose grandfather purchased Katz’s in 1988 and who in recent years has taken over most day-to-day oversight from his father and uncle—is fretting. If you want to fully appreciate why a place like Katz’s is special, you have to appreciate its odd economics, which pretty much ensure there will never be another deli quite like it.”


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