For some, this is the start of a 3 day weekend; for others, just the normal weekend craziness. Whichever it is, it’s been a busy week. I’ve been accumulating a lot of articles of interest, but none of them have themed into groups of three, or proved to be the start of a single-subject rant. So let’s toss them into the crock-pot of discussion, and see if we can at least come up with a thread to connect each to the next:
- CSI: Cyber Under the Microscope. I miss the mothership of CSI:, although it had gotten a bit predictable towards the end. It’s current lovechild, CSI: Cyber, is just wrong. For someone who works in cyber, however, I can’t keep my eyes off of it. On one hand, it does do a good job of educating the public of some of the threats that are out there. This is a good thing. What’s bad is how they do it: usually by amping the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Distrust) and using techniques that aren’t to the level they show. Last week’s show with the air traffic control system is a great example, and Ars Technica rips it to shreds.
- Ripping Apart Los Angeles. Speaking of ripping things to shreds, let’s look at how Los Angeles has been rippped apart. I love Los Angeles history, and so a recent article from KCET caught my eye. It explored how Orange County split off from Los Angeles. The southern part of the state used to be divided into just a few very large counties: San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Mariposa. Over time the split, with Los Angeles giving birth to Kern, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Orange. This article explores the last split, which created the “orange curtain”.
- Los Angeles History Podcast. Speaking of Los Angeles: By the way, if you like Los Angeles, Boing Boing just highlighted a really interesting podcast on LA History. I’ve listened to a few episodes, and it is really good.
- History of the 3.5mm Plug. Speaking of History: History is fascinating. Sometimes you use something every day, and you don’t realize how old it is. Take, for example, the 3.5mm plug you use for your headphones. The history of that plug goes back to 1878 and the quarter-inch plug (6.35mm). It was originally designed for use by operators in old-fashioned telephone switchboards, plugging and unplugging connections. They needed secure connections that could be easily inserted and removed.
- iPhone 7 Rumors. Speaking of 3.5mm connectors: The interest in the 3.5mm connectors comes from the fact that Apple now wants to get rid of the plug in the iPhone 7. PS: There’s also a rumor they will take the iPhone 7 to 256GB, but I’m not sure that’s much greater than the 160GB classic, given the requisite app storage, photos, and other crap that memory shares space with. Still, it might entice the remaining classic audience.
- Unlocking the Moto X. Speaking of phones, news came out this week that Lenovo was dropping the Motorola name and moving to using just Moto and Lenovo. Moto used to be a great phone to have, because they kept is updated. That promise isn’t always kept, and so Motorola is offering a bootloader so you can unlock your Verizon Moto X 2014-generation, and update the OS. I’m not sure I’m going to do it.
- Name Changes. Speaking of name changes, here are two more of interest. GE is selling their appliance business to the Chinese company Haier. Supposedly, they will still market under the GM name. Also in the news is Yosemite National Park, which is proposing changing the name of many historic lodges and areas because of a trademark dispute with a prior concessionaire. This one is really exciting the public, who are up in arms about a private company claiming they own the rights to “Curry Village” or “Ahwanee”. The trademark dispute is an example of ancillary damage: the result of a contract that included intellectual property.
- Ancillary Damage. Speaking of ancillary damage: In all these well publicized crimes on the internet, we think a lot about the victims and the people that committed the crime. We don’t think about the ancillary damage: the damage to the family of the criminal. Here’s a great example of that: a woman whose husband (unbeknowst to her) went out and raped two other women. He was convicted, but her life was destroyed.
- Fighting Back. The author in the previous link fought back, and speaking of fighting back, let’s look at a new honeybee technique: biting back. Keeping honeybees healthy has become a challenge for beekeepers. One main reason is a threat that has been wiping out bees since the late 1980s: the varroa mite: a new breed of honeybee that bites the legs off of the mites. This is part of a larger breeding technique to create bees that will survive.
- Broccoli and Dogs. Speaking of breeding programs, have you ever realized that broccoli is a dog? I learned this listening to the latest Surprisingly Awesome podcast, which was about broccoli. I learned that broccoli, cauliflower, all the kales, all the collard greens, brussel sprouts, all the cabbages, and kohlrabi are actually the same species of plant, just bred for different characteristics.
- Viewing Fat Differently. Speaking of science and food, this weeks Science Friday had an interesting discussion about why we need body fat. It talked about how fat is an organ, the purposes that it serves, and most importantly, how we might just need to retrain our body so it doesn’t think it needs to store the energy in fat.
- The Gut Microbiome. Speaking of diets, more and more information is coming out about the gut microbiome. New research is showing how our western diets (with all our junk and processed foods) are destroying our gut microbiomes, potentially in non-recoverable ways.
- Science Games. Speaking of destroying things and science, here’s an interesting quickie (and read the comments for more): using the periodic table to play battleship.
- The Dragon Cancer. Speaking of games, I’ve been reading a lot of reviews of a new videogame: That Dragon Cancer. The Reply All podcast recently had a fascinating episode on the origins of that game.
- Science Themes Stamps. The game That Dragon Cancer serves as a memorial to a lost child, and speaking of memories: commemorative stamps serve to memorialize and celebrate things. This year is seeing the release of lots of stamp remembering the successes of the space exploration program. Cool.
- Weather Apps. Speaking of cool (I didn’t say these would always be strong connections 😏 ), here’s a list of some good Android weather applications.
- Windows 10 Nagware. Speaking of weather, I’m sure some of you are debating whether to move to Windows 10. Perhaps you think it is all wet. Perhaps you’re just tired of the nagware. Although Microsoft is pushing Windows 10 on more and more users, this week brought information on how to finally turn off the Windows 10 nagware window (and also here).
Lastly, I’m sure you think I’m crazy in the head for trying to thread all these disparate articles together. Speaking of crazy in the head: how’s this for a headline: “Doctors dismissed his pain as migraines. Then they said he had 24 hours to live.” Did that get your attention? It got mine. The connected article was about something I mentioned last week: undetected subdural hematomas. Scary.
Aye, Mateys, we’re getting closer. The foredeck has been cleaned and swabbed. Now to swap the aft deck. The next bilgewater we’re going to throw over the deck concerns some questionable ideas:
Music: Piano Ragtime with The Dukes of Dixieland: “Bugle Call Rag” (The Dukes of Dixieland)
Finally, it’s Saturday. This has been a busy week — I’ve been accumulating articles, but haven’t had time during the week to post them. Before we jump into the stew, Happy Valentine’s Day to those that observe. What are we doing? We’re going to a wonderful organic Shabu Shabu restaurant we’ve discovered, and then seeing a musical story about the Loch Ness monster. And you?
- Deaths in the News. A few major deaths have happened in the last couple of days that are quite noteworthy — primarily because these are people about which no one says anything bad. Really good people are rare to come by, and we’ve lost three. The first is Stan Chambers, long-time newscaster at KTLA — and by long, I mean 63 years! This is someone beloved in the news industry, a fixture in Los Angeles, who just reported the story and the facts. Forget your Brian Williams and Dan Rathers — this was the real deal, a reporter to look up to. The second is Gary Owens, a long-time radio and TV personality in Los Angeles. Again, this is someone who everyone looked up to, who helped loads of people with their careers, and of whom no one said anything bad. The third is Florence Sackheim, a long time member at Temple Beth Torah — again, this is someone who was there for everyone else, and whom no one had anything bad to say about.
- Corporate Mergers. There are a number of corporate mergers of interest. Two weeks ago. Staples made an offer to buy Office Depot Office Max. This is a major consolidation in the office supply industry, and I think it is a bad thing. Loads of stores will close, loads of employees will lose jobs, and prices will rise without two equivalent competitors. Where are the regulators. In a similar consolidation, this week Expedia made an offer to by Orbitz. Expedia already owns Travelocity, so this is a major consolidation in the online travel booking industry. Again, I think this is a bad idea, although there’s a little less of a problem here in that the two services were about the same on price.
- Going Away. Last week, the news was focused on Radio Shack going away. This week brings news of some other going-aways. First, Costco is celebrating Valentine’s Day by breaking up with American Express. Well, the breakup will happen in 2016. AmEx has already been hammered as this brings them a lot of business; I know it is the only reason we have a non-corporate Amex card. Costco is reportedly near a deal with a new issuer; it is unclear whether accounts will be transferred, or reapplication will be necessary. In another going-away, the rumors are increasing that the Riviera Hotel may soon be closed and demolished. This makes me sad — there’s not much of 1950’s Vegas left on the strip — some two-story wings at the Tropicana and the original 9-story 1955 Riviera are about it. When the Riviera goes, so goes the history. However, the plan makes sense: the place has become a dump and cannot compete with the newer hotels; it is on the slow end of the strip next to a dead partially completed hotel, across the street from Circus-Circus and… not much else, as Echelon/Genting World is still under construction as well. Supposedly, the Riv is being bought by the Las Vegas Convention Bureau, who want to extend the Convention Center’s reach up from Paradise Blvd to LV Blvd, between Convention Center and Riveria Blvd. Not much is there — the parking lot that was the Landmark, a Dennys, a Walgreens, the Riv, and a 3-story apartment complex and some small businesses. I think we can kiss the Riv — and it’s history — goodbye.
- Nose and Throat. A week or so ago, on This American Life, I heard a segment on a annoying condition (for some) called Vocal Fry. I’d never heard of it, or could even notice it — so luckily, Mental Floss had a nice article on Vocal Fry. Now that I know what it is… I still don’t get why people are annoyed. People’s voices are their voices. Get over it. In another interesting article, Vox had a nice exploration of mucus. I actually found this interesting, as I have continual sinus trouble (and I’m also one of those addicted to Afrin).
- You Know How Foolishly Generous Those Americans Are. So said Stan Freberg in United States of America, and many people believe America gives too much Foreign Aid. However, those beliefs don’t correspond with the facts — and American really doesn’t give that much foreign aid. In fact, less than 1 percent of the $4 trillion federal budget goes to foreign aid. The largest portion of the money goes to health: a third of the U.S. foreign aid budget in 2014, or more than $5.3 billion. The next two biggest portions go toward economic development and humanitarian assistance. Small sums of aid support democratic elections in other countries. A tiny portion goes to protect forests in countries where logging is destroying natural habitats. Some aid funds programs that train local law enforcement to combat drug trafficking. (But no foreign aid goes directly toward another country’s military.) Proof again that most people wouldn’t know the facts if they bit them in the …
- Dealing with Death. One problem when you die is that you can’t update your Facebook anymore. Fear not. Facebook will soon let you appoint a digital heir. This is actually a good thing, as there are more and more memorial Facebook pages, and it would be nice to know they are memorials (so you don’t keep wishing them a happy birthday).
- Used Bookstores in LA. LAist attempted to do a list of the 10 best used bookstores in LA. Used bookstores are great, and we have lost some significant ones in the last year — both Cliffs and Brand Bookstore are gone. But LAist missed some great ones — in particular, Bargain Books in Van Nuys, and Books 5150 in Chatsworth. But this is no surprise — all those Los Angeles lists are done by westsiders who forget that the valley exists.
- Women and Work. Last week’s Backstory was on women and work. As part of this, they did a special segment on women in computing. Well worth listening to, and something we should encourage. The segment gives me the opportunity to pimp for a project of ACSA: the Scholarship for Women Studying Information Security.
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.
Just because I’m in Portland doesn’t mean I can’t prepare you some tasty news chum stew for breakfast. Let’s dig in, before you all decide to abandon me for Voodoo Donuts… luckily, I’ve been able to come up with a thread for this — no overall theme, only a connection between each article and the next…
- Twisted in a Pretzel. Before NPR wrote about it on Friday, the LA Business Journal was writing about the invention of the Peanut Butter filled pretzel (which is where I saw it), how a company named Maxim’s pioneered the product 26 years ago, and how TJs picked it up and sold it. The crunchy snack became a major part of Maxim’s business, and Maxim oversaw the production by companies such as ConAgra. Then TJs decided to cut out the middleman… The point of the article being that even companies we perceive as “nice and good” are, at their heart, businesses.
- Put a Ring on It. Perhaps you saw, a few weeks ago, the video showing how the entire engagement ring custom was designed by DeBeers to sell diamonds. Here’s another bit of news from the jewelry industry. Kay Jewelers is being bought by Signet, the owner of Zales. Signet operates 1,400 U.S. stores, including its higher end Jared chain. Zale has about 800 Zales and Gordon’s Jewelers stores, as well as 630 Piercing Pagoda mall kiosks. In Canada, Zale operates the successful Peoples Jewellers chain. The net translation of this: most of the jewelers you see in malls are all owned by the same parent company. As always: support local business; buy from a local jeweler.
- All Generics Are Not Equal. Knowing from where you buy is important. In the US, when you buy brand name medicine, you know what you are getting and who made it, but you pay a big price for that knowledge. If you buy generic, you save money — but are you getting the equivalent? The answer… not always. In particular, it appears that medicines manufactured in India are creating safety concerns. This one actually hit home: my wife has one medicine that used to be brand-name only that has finally gone generic. Our 90-supplier recently sent us the generic. My wife checked with her doctor, and the first batch was fine — it was made in England. He told her he only wanted her to take medicines made in first-world countries. The second batch — from India. We had to coordinate getting it returned and replaced.
- How We Look at the World. The mention of first-world and third-world makes one think about how we view the world. Here’s a question for you: Have you ever thought about why North is always at the top of a map? Al-Jazeera America did. What’s interesting is looking at the alternate maps — your bearings are totally off. By the way, having N at the top is a recent invention; N has been at the top only for about the last 500 years.
- Whose on Top. It’s always a battle to determine who should be at the top of the heap. Alas, such a battle is happening over Casey Kasem — the DJ who used to be ubiquitous on the radio. Kasem’s children from his first marriage are battling over the right to visit their father. Who are they battling? Jean Kasem, his current wife. Jean, if you recall, played Nick Tortelli’s wife on Cheers. Note that this isn’t a battle over money — only the right to visit their father.
- Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah. Speaking of mothers and fathers, Mark Evanier writes of a recently released collection of Allan Sherman’s early parody material. For those of us who remember who Allan Sherman was, this is of great interest. Mark notes: “But let me warn you of two things. One is that some of the 13 songs on this CD are kinda short. The whole thing runs around 34 minutes. And the other thing is that the audio quality is not wonderful. If you go to this page to order (and I’m not suggesting you not, especially if you’re a big Sherman fan), play a few samples so you can hear the quality of the recordings you’ll be getting.” Still, new Sherman music is quite tempting.
Today’s News Chum post brings together a number of articles dealing with corporate America and food. Tomorrow will look more at corporations, and what works and what doesn’t.
- They’re Everywhere. This post has loads of interesting infographics about how just a few corporations controls almost everything. Nearly every product we consume is controlled by 10 corporations. Our media? Try six conglomerates. Money? 10 large financial corps control 54% of America. How do they get to us? Emotionally, through their color schemes. But things do change. After all, Nestle is selling Jenny Craig… to the conglomerate that owns Curves.
- Why Does Your Drink Cost So Much? Corporations are enough to drive a man or woman to drink. But they get you there too. Here’s an interesting explanation of why your drinks in the bar cost so much, and how much profit they make on that draft beer. Of course, it’s not just drinks in the bar. That $2 soft drink is probably about 10c of syrup in seltzer water. Never mind, of course, the chemicals therein. [This is why I drink plain black tea.]
- Marketing the Food. Of course, the mechanism behind food marking is another story. Here’s an interesting article on the 20th anniversary of the Food Network… and how it has changed over the years. Yup, just like MTV no longer promotes music videos but is a reality channel, so it is with the Food Network, which is no longer about cooking.
Of course, there is some good food news. Steak and Shake is coming to Santa Monica.
Continuing our design theme of yesterday, here are a few more lunch-time articles related to some more artful designs:
Back in 2005, I quoted some words from Alton Brown that he had posted on a previous incarnation of his blog:
Ronald McDonald doesn’t give a damn about you. Neither does that little minx Wendy or any of the other icons of drivethroughdom. And you know what, they’re not supposed to. They’re businesses doing what businesses do. They don’t love you.
Remember these words. Burn them on your mind. They capture an essential truth in the world today — corporations are not working in the interest of their customers; they are working to maximize profits for their shareholders, and increase the wealth of the corporation. This is key to understanding much of what is happening in the world today: why laws are as they are, why protectionism occurs, and why many rally against “big business” (and why I think corporate privacy issues are much worse than government privacy issues, for at least government has laws to answer to). Here are a number of news articles I’ve noticed this week that touch upon this notion of business being only in business for themselves:
- Wired vs. Wireless. An interesting battle is taking place in New Jersey. Verizon, operator of the telephone system there, doesn’t want to replace the traditional land-line (copper or fiber) service destroyed in Hurricane Sandy; instead, they want to replace it with “equivalent” wireless service. They want to do this primarily because of the cost of maintaining the wired infrastructure. They claim the wireless service is equivalent — but it isn’t. It doesn’t support medical device monitoring (polled calling); it doesn’t support DSL or internet services; it doesn’t support facsimile technology; it doesn’t support credit card processing. In other words — it doesn’t provide what some customers need. Still, Verizon is pushing ahead. Look to other telcos to do the same, especially in rural areas where there is no profit in running fiber.
- Dealing with Debt Collectors. Debt collectors are often slimy, doing whatever it takes to get their money… even if what it takes is illegal. This article discusses a good example of that. Basically, debt collectors are stating that it is the burden of the person that supposedly owes the money to provide they do not owe the money. This is a false claim; it is the burden of the debt collector to prove the debt is currently owed — and by citing original documents, not an entry in a database. If you have received such calls, the article provides chapter and verse of the Federal law you can cite.
- What You Eat. You think when you order a particular food, you’re getting that food. Alas, that’s not always true. National Geographic has a nice article on Food Fraud, and how labeling isn’t always correct. Why does this fraud occur? Again, the answer is simple. The labeled food is too expensive, so they foff off something cheaper on the consumer and pocket the profit. This is one reason why many have gone to local eating, and knowing the source for your food.
- Banks Should Be Boring. Elizabeth Warren, together with John McCain, are working to make banks boring. Basically, they are trying to bring back Glass-Steagall and get banks out of the investment banking business. Of course, the big banks are fighting them in order to preserve their profits. These are the same big banks that are fighting against the non-profit tax exempt status of credit unions.