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.
Well, it’s Saturday, and you know what that means — a tasty news chum stew of the leftovers that couldn’t make a coherent dish during the week:
OK, so it’s a skimpy stew.
This has been a busy week between work, headaches, our daughter being home, and planning for a new phone (acquired yesterday). Still, a few articles caught my eye, and some of them even themed. In particular, this set of items, all dealing with things we’ve seen in the past:
- School Troubles. Here are two articles about problems at high schools, both of which I don’t think we should be seeing these days, In the first article, parents are protesting (and school boards are thus nervous about) potential problems and stereotypes in high-school theatre productions, and thus they are cancelling them. The example given deals with Thoroughly Modern Millie, which does have a stereotypical 1920s plot line about about Asian white slavers. There are other examples given in the article, from Fiddler‘s portrayal of Orthodox Jews to West Side Story‘s portrayal of Puerto Ricans. I don’t understand why we must insist that every show from the past must be updated to meet today’s standards of correctness; I believe we should use the discussion of these shows to highlight how we mis-thought in the past. (The Smothers Brothers had a great routine on this called “Controversial Material” on the “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” album, which is, alas, out of print). The second article is an opinion piece in today’s LA Times that states that middle- and high-school girls shouldn’t wear leggings because it distracts the boys. Excuse me. This sounds like the attitude of many Orthodox religions that think we need to cover up the women to protect the men from themselves. I believe we need to teach people to behave properly to other people, no matter how they are dressed.
- 7 out of 7 Critics. Taco Bell has introduced a new breakfast menu, and to advertise it, they are getting men named Ronald McDonald to endorse it. But this isn’t anything new. Back in 1961, the musical “Subways are for Sleeping” opened to negative reviews. Before those reviews could be printed, David Merrick, the producer, rounded up 7 men in the New York area with the same names as the critics, wined and dined them and treated them to the show, and each gave a rave review. Merrick published (or attempted to publish) this in the papers, showing how the critics loved it (with a small picture of each). The show still failed, but the trick has gone down in advertising infamy. Looks like Taco Bell is trying to do the same thing.
- Nobody Expects The …. We all know that nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Would you expect it a second time? Spain hopes not. To bolster their standing in the EU and to “right the wrongs”, there is now a government proposal that would offer descendants of Spanish Jews citizenship and welcome them back to the land that drove out their ancestors. Up to 3.5 million Jews worldwide trace their lineage to Spain, although it’s not clear how or when their forebears made their way there in the first place. However, exactly what the Spanish government would consider sufficient proof of Spanish heritage — and what is producible so many centuries later — is not yet clear.
It’s Saturday, and that means it is time to clear out the links for the week. This has been a busy week, with a major recorganization (which was more of an org chart relocation) at work (means loads of “all-hands” meetings full of sound and fury, saying little), loads of documents to review, and loads of stuff to catch up on. As a result, I rarely got time to look at the news over lunch, and have only collected a few things that didn’t them. Let’s get to them:
- The Death of XP. My RSS feeds are full of dire warnings about continuing to use XP after support stops on April 8. As it is, I have three XP machines at home: two that are just sitting, turned off, and one that is used solely as a print server. Still, I am thinking about replacing it, and two articles caught my eye. The first looks at 3 Linux alternatives to upgrading Windows–I’d seriously think about upgrading at least one to Linux if it can work as a print server on a Windows network. The second talks about how Microsoft is offering special deals of $100 for those upgrading from XP. With some Windows 8 machines in the $200-$300 range, this brings systems to the noise level.
- Challenging Coins. Two interesting articles on coins this week. The first talks about the new £1 coin Britain is introducing. It will be 12-sided, and incorporate different-colored metals, for a faux gold and silver look, instead of the mostly copper blend now in circulation, and boast a high-tech anti-forgery feature used in paper money. It looks like it is complicated to make. Even more complicated is a new domed collectable coin being made by the US Mint: a domed coin commemorating baseball. Evidently, it was very hard for the mint to manufacture, and took a bit of experimenting to get right. What’s interesting here is reading the comments — there are a large number of people who do not understand that collectable coins and stamps make the government money.
- Training For It. About a week or so, I had set aside a story about a railroad club in Orange County that had their trackage stolen, intending to send them a little something. Turns out I wasn’t the only one: the club has received thousands of dollars in donations. A nice reminder that there are a lot of good people in the world.
- Bad Design. Here are two articles about some bad designs. The first is about a new device you can slap on a milk carton–it uses nanotechnology to indicate visually if the milk is good or bad. So what’s the problem? According to the article, “red” is good, “green” is bad. This is the opposite of how red and green are nomally used in interfaces, and I predict people will get sick from the “green is good” hardwiring. The second is about golfing: it appears that titanium clubs striking rocks can create sparks that start brush fires. Perhaps they should give golf clubs to people on Survivor.
- Out of This World. I’ve had this article sitting for a few weeks, but nothing seems to want to pair with it. Baker is a dying town — once home to the largest thermometer in the world, it is now slowly fading into the desert. But the owner of Alien Jerky wants to change that — and one way is to build a flying saucer shaped hotel.
- The Jewish Valley. I’m into history. I’m into Judaism. So naturally, I’m into the history of Jews in the San Fernando Valley. Many years ago, Rabbi John Sherwood and I even toyed with the idea of writing a book on the subject. So here’s an interesting article in that vein: it explores the early days of the Valley Jewish Community Center, which became the Conservative synagogue Adat Ari El. This is the synagogue that was the parent of most Conservative synagogues in the valley, just like Temple Beth Hillel was the first Reform congregation and was essentially the parent of most Reform congregations in the valley.
- Marital Success. What makes a successful marriage? Is it your partner? It is living together before you get married to work out the problems? Is it “murder frequently, divorce never?” According to this article from Atlantic, it is being mature when you get married. An exploration of the science of cohabitation shows that the older people are when they make their long-term commitment as a couple, the more likely that couple will stay together. The study found that individuals who committed to cohabitation or marriage at the age of 18 saw a 60 percent rate of divorce. Whereas individuals who waited until 23 to commit saw a divorce rate that hovered more around 30 percent. I got married when I was 25, and next year we will have been married for 30 years. As they say, you do the math.
Here’s another belated lunchtime post (can you tell I’m clearing out a backlog). This time, the subject is selling and marketing:
- Working In Retail. Have you ever thought that those folks selling you stuff at the retail level had it easy? Well, that’s not the case. Here are two exposes on the subject. The first was brought to my attention when we visited Portland OR and someone suggested Voodoo Donuts. Evidently, VD is not the nicest place to work. The second I discovered this week — it is the story of a former journalist who got caught in some downsizing, and ended up working retail. He discovered that life at the retail level was nasty, and a place where you were always under suspicion for theft of goods or time. This makes me very glad I’ve never worked retail.
- Working as a Telemarketer. We all get them — the calls from the telemarketer just as you’re sitting down to dinner or about to watch your favorite program. Ever wonder how to get rid of them. Here’s the answer — from a former telemarketer. Very interesting reading.
- Corporate Comings and Goings. Some interesting corporate changes of late. The battle between Jos A Banks and Mens Wearhouse has finally ended: Mens Wearhouse is purchasing Jos A Banks, and Banks is giving up purchasing Eddie Bauer. I’m not sure what to think about this. I liked Banks when I shopped there, but their stuff was expensive. Never shopped Mens Warehouse. In the supermarket arena, Vons / Safeway has been purchased by Albertsons. We no longer shop at the majors (give us TJs, Fresh & Easy, or an ethnic chain), but we were never impressed by Albertsons. It will be interesting to see what they do with Vons. Lastly, Quiznos has filed Chapter 11, and the franchisees are none too happy about it. I’ve never been a Quiznos fan — I’ve always gone to Togos first, with Subway as the distinct second choice (and I’ve never tried Jersey Mikes). However, it doesn’t surprise me — the few times I’ve tried Quiznos, I haven’t been impressed.
This belated lunchtime news chum post looks at some recent (or at least new to me) articles about solving problems:
- The Engineer Shortage. You hear everyone say there is a shortage of engineers, and we need fewer liberal arts majors and artists, and more technicians. Well that’s just wrong thinking. The world needs its artists as well.
- Migraines. Headaches are a pain. I know. I get them. So I read with interest how the FDA has approved a TENS-headband to reduce the frequency of migraines. The device uses a self-adhesive electrode to apply electrical current to the skin, which can be felt as a tingling sensation. The current stimulates the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for facial sensations and has been linked to migraines. I do know that, at least for my headaches, one measure is the sensitivity of that nerve — I can just lightly touch the area where the top of my nose meets my eye socket, and if I’m headachy, it is much more sensitive. I’d be willing to give this device a try.
- A Privilege to Pee. San Francisco is addressing a big problem at one of their parks with the pPod, which has no relation to the iPod. The pPod is a custom-made, open-air urinal that San Francisco is installing at Dolores Park to help deal with the hordes of male hipster inebriants that descend on the popular Mission spot on weekends. It is a 7-foot-tall, semi-cylinder mesh screen surrounding a concrete pad and drain that empties into the sewer system. The pPod will be open at the back for easy wheelchair access – with no doors or locks.