Observations Along the Road

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

Category Archive: 'news-chum'

Saturday News Chum Stew, with Exotic Meat and Useful Chunks

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jan 10, 2015 @ 3:00 pm PDT

userpic=boredIt’s a rainy Saturday, and…. wait…. it’s Saturday. No need to be bored anymore! I can clean out my collection of links and let you know about some interesting things. That should kill, of, half an hour or so….

  • Bess Meyerson. Earlier this week, it was reported that Bess Meyerson passed away. Bess Meyerson, for those unaware, was the first (and only) Jewish Miss America. Here’s an interesting article discussing the significance of that fact; in particular, how she refused to change to meet the demands of the Miss America organization.
  • Privacy Policies. This is an interesting article written by my niece, who is a staff attorney with New Media Rights. It explores mistakes that startups — really, any company — can make with their privacy policies. I found this interesting enough that I forwarded it to the executive director of our synagogue — as I’m not sure if we have a privacy policy.
  • New Antibiotics. A growing concern in the medical world is antibiotic resistance. This week brought some good news: There may be a new antibiotic on the horizon. Using soil from a grassy field in Maine and a miniaturized diffusion chamber, scientists have cultivated a microbe that could help tame the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. When tricked into growing in a lab, the microbe makes a compound that kills strains of tuberculosis, MRSA and other deadly pathogens that are immune to even the most powerful drugs. Tests in mice showed that the newfound molecule is exquisitely active against some very hard-to-deal-with bugs. Specifically, a previously uncultured bacterium, Eleftheria terrae, is able to make teixobactin, a new antibiotic for which there is no detectable resistance. Experts said the discovery could lead to a new class of antibiotics for the first time in decades.
  • “Into the Woods” and AIDS. Here’s a take on “Into the Woods” I’ve never seen before: “Into the Woods” as an AIDS parable. I’m not 100% sure I buy it.
  • Exotic Animal Meat. Here’s an article about a Southern California man who raises and sells exotic animal meat. Nothing illegal or endangered; it’s all legal. But if you want some zebra, lion, alligator, alpaca, antelope, armadillo, bear, beaver, bison, bobcat, coyote, camel, suck, emu, elk, reindeer, rattlesnake, or raccoon meat, he’s your man.
  • Blacks and Jews. Blacks and Jews have long worked together for civil rights. However, recent movies have airbrushed out the Jewish contributions. Here’s an article on how that distortion affects the new movie “Selma”.
  • Depression and Inflammation. Love and Marriage. They go together, according to Sinatra. Something else that goes together is inflammation (especially in those dealing with RA). Here’s an interesting article that explores the connection between the two. What’s most interesting is the conclusion: treat the inflammation to help the depression.
  • Web Site Popularity. If I mentioned Lycos or Alta-Vista, would you know what I’m talking about. Possibly not. Here’s an article that looks at the changes in the most popular websites year by year since 1996.

There. That should keep you busy.

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Replacing the Old With, Well, Something Else

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Jan 08, 2015 @ 11:56 am PDT

userpic=old-shieldWhile eating my lunch today, I was looking at my collecting links when a theme popped out at me (with at least 3 items): Replacement. All of these items have to do with some entity passing away, and pondering the effect of its replacement. Let’s jump in….

  • Streit’s Matzah. When I was growing up and Pesach came around, we would buy these 5 lb bundles of matzah, usually Manaschevitz or Streits. Today, it is mostly Israeli matzah (at least in the markets I frequent). Our global economy has made it cheaper to make Matzah elsewhere and ship, I suppose. This week’s news brought the issue upfront, when the Forward reported on the closing of the last major matzah factory on the Lower East Side. Streit’s was faced with increased foreign competition, and the increased value of real estate in NYC. They’ve sold the land to a developer, and hope to reopen somewhere else. The Forward also has an analysis of why this closure is so significant: it reflects yet another nail in the coffin of the lower east side’s Jewish nature. Just as in Los Angeles, NYC is facing the movement of the Jews out of traditionally Jewish areas.
  • Los Angeles Times. It is not only New York that is seeing iconic structures facing redevelopment. Tribune Media just announced they will be redeveloping the historic Los Angeles Times building in downtown LA. They don’t give many details, other than “The Times Mirror Square master plan promises to deliver a compelling urban project that includes the restoration of important buildings and the construction of complementary new buildings around a new Metro rail station directly connected to four of the region’s major rail lines”. This seems to imply they will keep the historic buildings, but the form is unclear. One wonders if the Herald Examiner will outlive the LA Times, at least in terms of buildings. LA Observed has some interesting observations on the redevelopment.
  • Supermarket Transformations. A little article in the Simi Valley Acorn caught my eye: Supermarket Chain to acquire Vons, Albertsons. Investigating the article further, I discovered that Albertsons (which, if you follow these things, was the parent to Lucky (in Southern California)) and Safeway (parent to Vons) are merging. As part of the conditions of merger, they were required to divest a large number of stores; 146 of which are going to the Pacific Northwest chain Haggen. As a result, stores will be changing all over, with quite a few in Ventura County and Santa Clarita. Here’s a complete list of Vons/Safeway and Albertsons stores that are changing. Haggen will be a culture shock for Vons/Albertsons shoppers.  Vons, Safeway, and Albertsons are traditional supermarkets. Here are some descriptions of Haggens that I found: Haggen stores are similar to Whole Foods when it comes to products and are “small enough to be very nimble and responsive to each store’s customers”. Offering local products is at the heart of the company. The chain has been committed to local sourcing, investing in the communities we serve, and providing genuine service and homemade quality. Contrast this with the beheamoth that is Safeway, and you can see the culture shock. Regulatory approvals are pending, but things could change in the next 6 months. The only valley store that is changing looks to be the Vons in Woodland Hills and Albertsons in Tujunga and Burbank.
  • Dead Malls. Some things just die and linger on. A great example are dead malls. Retailing is changing, and the large indoor shopping space anchored by department stores is fading away, primarily because department stores are fading away. There are loads of these beached whales out there, and the NY Times did an article looking at the economics of dead malls. If you have one near you, given current trends, it will either become a big box destination, mixed use (residential/shops), an office building, or a parking lot.

 

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Start Your Year Off With Chum

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jan 03, 2015 @ 10:59 am PDT

userpic=lougrantIt’s the first Saturday of 2015, and you know what that means: It’s time for the first news chum of 2015. Here are some articles that I found of interest over the last week:

 

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End of the Year News Chum Stew

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 27, 2014 @ 11:05 am PDT

userpic=observationsIt’s the last Saturday of the year, and thus this is the last serving of News Chum Stew for 2014. Let’s hope it is somewhat tasty:

  • The Podcast Renaissance. I’ve written before about the rebirth of podcasts, exemplified by Serial. Here’s another article in the same vein. I like this article because it gives some insight as to why podcasts are seeing a rebirth, especially when you don’t see “pods” anymore. The answer is that the podcast is basically the radio version of VOD — you don’t have to listen to the talk radio stations with all their commercials — you can listen to well-produced material, streamed to your car either directly or from your phone (no downloading required), when you want. I think this should be a wake-up call to the previous generation podcasts, such as Born Ready (a Bay-Area theatre podcast) — you need to up your game and produce something that sounds better; two guys sitting around a microphone chatting on a subject doesn’t fly these days.
  • How Chicken Changed The World. Little things have big impacts. We often realize this, but then don’t think about the little things. Consider the humble chicken. According to one man, Chicken has powered human civilization. It has not only provided a cheap (cheep) and easy protein source, but had medicinal uses, and helped build communities.
  • The Death of Voice Mail. If you’re like me, you hate voice mail. You would rather send an email or a text than sit and listen to backed up voice mail. Slashdot has some interesting commentary on an article about Coca-Cola disconnecting the voicemail at its headquarters. It views this as yet another salvo in the war against voicemail, which is rapidly being won.
  • Pronounciation Errors that Shaped English. If you like history or language, you’ll enjoy this link (which I think came from Andrew Ducker): 8 ways that pronounciation errors shaped the English language.
  • Christmas Lights for Celiac Research. Slashdot recently reported that this year is the last year of Alex’s Internet Controlled Christmas Lights for Celiac Research. Now, to me, the interesting fact here is not the Internet control — in this era of computer-connected everything, Christmas lights aren’t that far fetched — but that this was for Celiac research and I never heard of it.

 

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Saturday News Chum Stew: From Shit to Teeth, with Jeb Bush Inbetween

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 20, 2014 @ 7:37 am PDT

Observation StewIf you haven’t figured it out yet, I like to do things in threes. So this is my third news chum post of the day; this one collecting all those articles from the week that didn’t theme into groups of three or more:

  • A Shitty Product. There is truth in advertising after all. On Black Friday, the folks behind Cards Against Humanity advertised bullshit for sale, and over 30,000 people bought it thinking it might be additional cards. Nope, 30,000 people really bought a box of shit. What’s even funnier is that it is selling for inflated prices on eBay. If that’s not a commentary on society, I’m not sure what is.
  • And Speaking of Shit, Here’s Annie. By now, hopefully you’re read the reviews and are staying away from that controversial movie that has killed a major character. I’m not talking about “The Interview“, but rather the remake of “Annie”. Almost every review I’ve read demonstrates why this remake and update is bad. Here’s one approach I liked: this article compares the soundtrack of the movie with the original cast album. Reminds me of that Fame remake of a few years ago, which also had a universally hated soundtrack. Some movies do not need to be remade.
  • Securing Your Home Router. During ACSAC, I posted an article related to security that gave good advice on what to do if you lost your 2nd-factor authentication device. Here’s another useful article: Seven Steps to Securing Your Home Router.
  • Things to Look At. Sometimes my links are interesting articles. Other times, they are reminders of things I want to look at. Here are two in that camp. The first is an interesting Chinese knockoff of the Parker 51 fountain pen. Like the ’51, this does not take cartridges. At just over $5, it is cheap enough to be worth trying, especially with all the bottle ink I have. The second article relates to UC Berkeley — they are changing the SHIP requirements yet again, and this time they should be easier to fit with most private insurance policies. This is a good thing — last year’s SHIP waiver was a royal pain. The new requirements are supposedly streamlined, less restrictive, and will be consistent across the UC system.
  • The Changing Face of Judaism. Here’s an interesting opinion piece about how Chabad is changing the face of American Judaism. I remember Chabad in the 1970s, where they were presenting a very positive face of Orthodoxy. Far from the original “cult of Schneerson”, the article notes how Chabad is changing the equation: One – the work Chabad does on campuses has an impact on the way Jewish youngsters think about the movement for the rest of their Jewish lives. Two – the younger generation of post denominational tendencies doesn’t have the instinctive organizational objection to Chabad (ultra-Orthodox, black hat, etc.), and hence is much more willing to participate in Chabad activities without thinking too much about ideological differences. An interesting thought piece.
  • Passings of Note. A few passings of note. The first is Rabbi Harold Schulweiss of Valley Beth Shalom, one of those seminal rabbis of Southern California who left a world-wide impact. The second is the Lanterman Center in Pomona, a place that did remarkable work with the developmentally disabled, providing with a home and stability. The article indicates it has outsurvived its purpose. I hope that is true.
  • Not Again. I snarfed this article intending to write a soapbox piece, but it never quite came together: Jeb Bush to explore a presidential run. One of the reasons I voted for Obama was that I wanted to break the “Clinton/Bush” cycle. We had gone from Bush to Clinton to Bush, and I felt that Clinton would prove to continue the cycle of divisiveness. Alas, President Obama didn’t solve the problem — much of the country wasn’t mature enough to accept a black president. Thus, this news about Jeb Bush disturbs me greatly — the country does not need another Bush/Clinton battle. We need a candidate that can calm things down and perhaps get the parties working together — and I don’t see such a candidate on either side. (and yes, alas, that does mean that we probably need at least 4 years under a white male — much of this country hasn’t reached the maturity to accept a woman in charge, much as we progressives may believe it)
  • That Bites. Here’s a question you likely haven’t thought about: Why is dental insurance so shitty when compared to medical insurance? Why do we treat our teeth different than other parts of our body? Why isn’t dentistry just another medical specialty? This article explores the question, and explains why dentistry is a 2nd class citizen.

 

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The Story Behind The Story

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 20, 2014 @ 7:09 am PDT

userpic=lougrantAs I keep looking at the accumulated News Chum articles for today, I keep discovering groupa-three themes. So here are three articles related to how familiar things came to be:

  • The Accuracy of Google Maps. We’ve all grown to depend on the accuracy of Google maps. I know that, for me, they’ve supplanted that trusted old Thomas Brothers mapbook, currently published by the venerable map maker,  Rand McNalley. But why are Google Maps so accurate. Here’s an article the looks at the operation beneath Google maps. The article explores how the Google Maps team assembles their maps and refines them with a combination of algorithms and meticulous manual labor—an effort they call Ground Truth. The project launched in 2008, but it was mostly kept under wraps until just a couple years ago. It continues to grow, now covering 51 countries, and algorithms are playing a bigger role in extracting information from satellite, aerial, and Street View imagery.
  • The Cubicle. One of my favorite podcasts is 99% Invisible, which looks at design aspects of things we never think about. For example, a recent episode looked at the design of those inflatable dancing men you see at oil change shops. Here’s an article I found that would be right up 99%’s alley: it looks at the history of the cubicle. Although we now see the cubicle as the representation of faceless office work, it was actually designed to give the worker freedom: it was supposed to be a flexible space that could adapt, and replace the endless desks of the bullpen. The article also looks at the origins of a number of other aspects of the office: the skyscraper, the filing cabinet, the open office, and the standing desk.
  • The Shitpic. Those of us who are, ahem, old, remember the viral article of generation: that photocopied cartoon that had grown fuzzy but kept being circulated. Viral images were always copies of copies, just as urban legends came from friends of friends. But digital copies were supposed to be perfect, an exact duplicate of the original. That’s changed. The degrading viral picture has returned — the shitpic — as people spread images by taking screenshots of low resolution items instead of copying from the source. Here’s the detailed story of the rise of the shitpic.

 

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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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