Observations Along the Road

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

Building a Chain of Chum, Chum

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 04, 2017 @ 10:22 am PDT

Observation StewOver the past few weeks, I’ve accumulated quite a bit of news chum (that is, links and articles that I found interesting) that refuse to theme or create a longer post. So let’s just clear the chum, and for fun, let’s see if we can build a chain connecting one article to the other. To start the screw, so to speak, let’s begin with…

  • High Tech Condoms. I don’t know where I’m going on this, but I know what’s coming, excuse me, cumming. I mean, this brings the Internet of Things to its logical climax. I mean, it’s thrust — what it pounds into you — is that not everything needs to be connected. I’m talking, of course, about the i.Con — the First Internet Connected Condom. I’m sure that you, like me, is asking — but why? According to the article: The i.Con tracks speed, “average thrust velocity,” duration, skin temperature, girth, calories burned (no joke) and frequency of sessions. Most importantly for many, no doubt, will be how a wearer stacks up to the average and “best” performers — though a sexual partner will likely have an insight or two about that. Statistics are tracked via an i.Con app. The i.Con is also supposed to be able to sense sexually transmitted diseases [but what if the technology gets a virus?].  The ring will come with a one-year warranty and have a micro-USB charging port to provide up to eight hours of juice after a single hour of being plugged in. Supposedly “all data will be kept anonymous, but users will have the option to share their recent data with friends, or, indeed the world.”
  • Security of Medical Data. Of course, we all know our medical data is secure, right? Right? RIGHT? Well, not really. I found an interesting article this week on Medjack, a medical trojan. The problem is that the proliferation of literally insecurable medical systems running orphaned operating systems with thousands of know, unpatchable defects provides a soft target for identity thieves looked to pillage your health records. One trojan, Medjack, enters healthcare facilities by penetrating these badly secured diagnostic and administrative systems and then fans out across the network, cracking patient record systems. These records are used for tax fraud and identity theft, and to steal narcotics prescriptions that can be filled from online pharmacies and then resold on the black market.  Security firm Trapx says that “every time” they visit a healthcare facility, they find Medjack infections running rampant on the network, using exploits designed to take over Windows 2000 systems to seize control of the creaking, non-upgradeable systems that are inevitably found in these facilities.
  • Google Maps Data. Speaking of data, have you ever wondered how Google Maps gets its accurate traffic data. Of course, the answer is from you.  The Google Maps app on Android and iOS constantly send back real-time traffic data to Google. The data received from any particular smartphone is then compared to data received from other smartphones in the same area, and the higher the number of Google Maps users in an area, the more accurate the traffic prediction. Using the historical data it has compiled over the years and traffic data from mobile devices using the Google Maps app, the company is able to create models for traffic predictions for different periods. For example, the modelling techniques would be able to predict that certain roads would experience more traffic during rains than other times of the year. Google also takes traffic reports from transportation departments, road sensors, and private data providers to keep its information up to date. The accuracy of location data is unmatched only because of its users, since the billion Google Maps users on the road act as sensors for the app, which make the service as precise as possible.
  • Bus Disposal. One way to avoid traffic is to take the bus. But have you ever wondered what happens with buses when they die? Here’s an interesting article on what happens to Muni Buses in San Francisco when they are retired. Some, of course, are scrapped. Others are reincarnated as mobile showers for the homeless, airport shuttles and odd uses all across the Bay Area — even after accruing more than 400,000 miles on the road apiece. That’s due to the ingenuity of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s 300 or so mechanics. This all occurs in Muni’s Islais Creek Yard, a bus yard in San Francisco’s south side, that serves as a staging area for buses that are set to be sold, scrapped or otherwise discarded. One of the more interesting conversions, after the bus was stripped of useful parts, was for the nonprofit Lava Mae, which converted four old Muni buses into mobile showers for San Francisco’s homeless residents.
  • A Flight of Angels. Of course, talk of buses takes us to other forms of transit such as trains. One unique train that existed in Los Angeles is coming back to life, again. It appears that Angels Flight, a tiny funicular in downtown LA, will be running again by Labor Day. A nonprofit has been in charge of the attraction for more than a decade, but a new private operator, ACS Infrastructure Development, Inc., is taking over for the next 30 years.  The funicular is over 100 years old, and has been inoperative since 2013 due to an accident.
  • Clintons on Broadway. Of course, talk of trains takes us to subways, and no where are subways more popular than in New York. However, I doubt that either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton take the subway when they go to Broadway. Since losing the election, Hillary has been regularly attending Broadway shows, usually to a very receptive crowd. At least four times since November. At each theater appearance, Mrs. Clinton is greeted as a vanquished hero — standing ovations, selfies, shouted adulation. Mrs. Clinton has been attending Broadway shows for years, often when she has had a personal connection to an artist, a producer, or to a show’s subject matter. As for Obama, he was seen on Broadway taking his daughter, Malia, to “The Price”. The daddy-daughter duo headed backstage after the play — a new revival of the Arthur Miller classic — and met with the cast, including Mark Ruffalo, Danny DeVito, Tony Shalhoub and Jessica Hecht.  Contrast this with Trump and Pence. Since the election, only Pence has been to Broadway — to see Hamilton, and we all know what happened there.
  • Sushi. If you’re going to a show, naturally  you have dinner first? How about sushi? Here’s an interesting history of Sushi in the United States. Although there were a few restaurants experimenting with raw fish in 1963 in New York, Los Angeles was the first American home of authentic Japanese sushi. In 1966, a Japanese businessman named Noritoshi Kanai brought a sushi chef and his wife from Japan, and opened a nigiri sushi bar with them inside a Japanese restaurant known as Kawafuku in LA’s Little Tokyo. The restaurant was popular, but only with Japanese immigrants, not with American clientele. However, as more sushi spots opened in Little Tokyo, word got back to Japan that there was money to be made in America. Young chefs, tired of the rigorous and restrictive traditional culture of sushi making in Japan, struck out on their own in LA. The first sushi bar outside of the Little Tokyo neighborhood popped up in 1970, next to the 20th Century Fox studio. And then came Shōgun, … and you can predict the rest.
  • … and Beer. If you are having sushi, you are likely having beer, wine, or saki. These beverages come in bottles of colored glass, and have you wondered how glass gets its color? Here’s an infographic explaining how different chemicals result in different glass colors.
  • … on a Table. Additionally, you are likely sitting at a table to eat that sushi and drink your beverage. Speaking of tables, here’s a collection of interesting periodic tables.
  • Plus Size Fashions. To finish off the chain, if you eat too much at that table, you get fat. We know a lot about size acceptance for women, but what about men (and us CBGs — chubby bearded guys). Here’s an interesting article on plus-size fashion… for men.

 

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Needling (Anti)Vaxxers About Risk (or This Isn’t Your Father’s 11/780)

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Aug 29, 2016 @ 11:51 am PDT

userpic=mad-scientistWhat’s this I hear about people being anti-Vax? Don’t they realize that without the Vax, and its older sibling, the PDP 11, there might not have been the Internet as we know it? I mean, Unix was developed for the Vaxxen. Oh, wait, I wanted to write about a different Vax. Nevermind.

Seriously, now that we’re past that bad but obligatory pun, I’d like to talk to you about a different sort of “vax” — vaccines, and their well-publicized opposition, the “anti-vaxxers”. These folks have been in the news lately because of a recently enacted California law that requires parents to vaccinate their children except when medically-contraindicated (no exemption for belief or parent choice), and a Federal Judge upholding that law. Do a search on the Internet related to that law, and you are overwhelmed by the anti-vax opposition sites, such as this one, masquerading as an information site. Closer to home, the subject is on my mind because of a recent discussion with a relative who is in the anti-vax camp, where she asked if she was anti-science because she was skeptical of many things such as the planethood of Pluto, the accuracy of meteorologists, and science’s disbelief (until recently) about the value of the microbiome. This particular post was prompted by a “Fuck You Anti-Vaxxer” rant a different friend posted, which made me realize that a more reasoned screen was necessary.

Let’s work through this and some of the arguments together. The BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) is that being an anti-vaxxer is not necessarily being anti-science, but it is a clear demonstration of how humans want to blame something or someone when something goes wrong, how humans have difficulty separating correlation and causality, and how bad we are at judging and assessing risk. When properly assessed, the best way that a parent can reduce risk for their child is to ensure they are vaccinated.

(more…)

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Clearin’ of the Links: Science, Technology, and Medicine Chum

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Jun 30, 2016 @ 6:03 pm PDT

userpic=mad-scientistI’m still working on clearing out the links that accumulated during the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), with a goal of getting them all done before you take off for the Fourth of July weekend. I may already be too late. Here’s a chunk that are loosely related to science, medicine, and technology:

Medicine Chum

  • Understanding Migraines. One of the ills that plague me are migraines (which, luckily for me, are mild compared to what others get). No one knows precisely what triggers migraines, or how the various abortives work. Some think it is related to nerves in the head, and some think it is related to blood flow.  A new genome-wide association study published in Nature Genetics suggests that a migraine may primarily stem from problems with the blood supply system. This could lead to new ways to treat migraines.
  • More Than Human. We’re discovering more and more than the human organism is much more than the human organism — that is, much of what contributes to our health or lack thereof is our microbiome. Further, our overfocus on being “germ-free” has significantly hurt our biome, and may be the single largest contributor to our various health maladies — including obesity. Here’s another biome story — this time, the involvement of the biome with what has been called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Specifcally, researchers say they’ve found biological markers of the illness in the blood and gut bacteria of people with systemic exertional intolerance disease (SEID) (a/k/a CFS). Their results were published in the journal Microbiome. In this study, found clear differences between the blood and guts of healthy versus sick people. Compared to healthy controls, people with ME/CFS had weaker and less diverse bacterial ecosystems in their guts, as well as higher levels of immune inflammation in their blood. These differences were so clear that the researchers were able to spot nearly 83 percent of the time which participants had ME/CFS just by looking at their bacterial and immune response results.
  • Being Like Everyone Else. If everyone else did something with no proven medical benefit for medical reasons (like, for example, overusing bacterial soap), would you do it? A study that is unsurprisingly proving very viral on social networks is highlighting one such thing: most women these days are “preparing for the Olympics” for claimed medical benefit, when there is none (where “preparing for the Olympics” == “going Brazilian” == removing hair on their … == insert your own euphemism here). My attitude, for whatever it is worth, is that women are their most beautiful when they look like women — not airbrushed models or pre-pubescent girls — but women – with imperfections and hair and some parts large and some parts small and some parts inbetween. While we’re on that subject (and while we’re clearing links), here’s an article I found on two-piece suits for large chested ladies. What bothered me about that article is that the chest was the only part that was large. Why weren’t there two-pieces for ladies who happened to be large in other places as well? As it is, an article like that is just perpetuating body dismorphic ideas, just like shaving everywhere does.
  • How Old is Your Body? I’m 56. Recently, I’ve been wondering if there is any part of my body that has been with me all 56 years. So I was quite pleased to see an article come across my feeds that asked the same question: How old is your body? What component of your body has been around the longest time? For example: brand new fingernails every six months, 2-7 years for the hair on our heads, new skeletal muscles every 15 years. But those neurons in your brain? Never replaced.

Technology Chum

  • Automotive Security. We were having a discussion on our van this morning about car security, specifically how some thieves are collecting automotive RFID signals, and then going around parking lots broadcasting them, unlocking cars, and stealing stuff inside. I had noted how cars are generally better protected against theft, and how entertainment units are less likely to be stolen than radios of old. Another rider pointed out, however, that the keyless ignition cars are easier to steal. In general, our cars are weak in terms of security — so it is good at the Senator is pushing to increase cybersecurity protections in cars.
  • LED Streetlight Dangers. More and more cities are going to LED streetlights because they use less energy and are brighter. Now the AMA has come out with some cautions on LED lighting: cool it and dim it. The AMA’s statement recommends that outdoor lighting at night, particularly street lighting, should have a color temperature of no greater than 3000 Kelvin (K). Color temperature (CT) is a measure of the spectral content of light from a source; how much blue, green, yellow and red there is in it. A higher CT rating generally means greater blue content, and the whiter the light appears. The new “white” LED street lighting which is rapidly being retrofitted in cities throughout the country has two problems, according to the AMA. The first is discomfort and glare. Because LED light is so concentrated and has high blue content, it can cause severe glare, resulting in pupillary constriction in the eyes. Blue light scatters more in the human eye than the longer wavelengths of yellow and red, and sufficient levels can damage the retina. This can cause problems seeing clearly for safe driving or walking at night. It can also affect our sleep cycles and rhythms (which is why many people recommend using f.lux to turn down the blue on your screens in the evening).
  • Tweaking Your Facebook Feed. Many of us who came from LJ miss the days of a sequential feed, where you know you could catch up on your friends. Facebook has never been quite the same. But Facebook is now providing some details on how to tweak your feed. First, they’ve disclosed their news feed algorithm, which will now show posts from friends higher up in the feed than posts from Pages like news outlets. Based on these new values, there are now some specific tweaks that you can do to make your newsfeed what you want it to be.

Science Chum

Science People In the News

  • New Position: Steve Isakowitz. The Aerospace Corporation (my employer) has announced the selection of a new corporate President and soon-to-be CEO: Steve Isakowitz, former President of Virgin Galactic. Iskowitz is also a former CTO of Virgin Galactic. Previously, he held a wide variety of senior engineering, business, and management roles across the private and government sectors, including positions at NASA, the Office of Management and Budget, the Intelligence Community, and the Department of Energy. He replaces Wanda Austin, who has reached the corporate age limit for VPs and above.
  • Passing: Simon Ramo. Simon Ramo, the “R” in TRW, has passed away.  Ramo shaped California aerospace and the space industry through organizations like TRW, and I should note that he is responsible for the company I work at: The Aerospace Corporation is actually an FFRDC spin-off of STL, Space Technology Laboratories, which went on to become TRW.
  • Passing: Steve Walker. Word came to me Thursday morning of the passing of Steve Walker, one of the seminal people in the field of cybersecurity. The formal obituary and funeral arrangements haven’t been published; I found a bio here. We’ll get something up on the ACSA In Memorium page as soon as we can.

 

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Saturday Stew: A Little Bit of Everything

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Apr 30, 2016 @ 8:58 am PDT

Observation StewNote: In case you missed my posts earlier this week, I had one with a collection of articles related to why I decided to support Hillary Clinton; a collection of articles related to food and diet; and a summary of the shows that I’m planning to see at the upcoming Hollywood Fringe Festival. But now it is Saturday, and I’m staring at the list of links I’ve accumulated over the week… and realizing there’s not a coherent theme buried in there.  You know what that means — it is time to make News Chum Stew!

 

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Link Chum Stew: What’s In The Pot This Week, Johnny?

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Apr 17, 2016 @ 3:05 pm PDT

Observation StewThis afternoon, I’ve been spending some time cleaning up. What’s this? A list of links? Let’s write about them before they go stale and rotten (like the plums on the dining room table):

  • Dancing Around Politics. If you’ve been around LA at all of late, you’ve probably been handed a flyer for the Shen Yun dance troupe, who have been performing at halls across the city. You’ve probably never heard of them. The LA Times had an interesting article on who they really are and who is backing them: they are a touring dance troupe founded in New York by practitioners of Falun Gong, the spiritual practice banned by the Chinese Communist Party in 1999. The party calls it a cult; Falun Gong says the Chinese government is trying to eradicate thousands of years of culture and tradition and that its repression of Shen Yun shows an intolerance of freedom of expression and religion. Indisputably, the dance company — marking its 10th anniversary — has become a cultural phenomenon. That fits with what my wife called the show: religious indoctrination.  As the article noted: “Nonetheless, it’s safe to say that the bright costumes and spinning dancers are meant to convey a message. “The Falun Gong has a very well organized, managed and elaborate program of public relations, and Shen Yun is part of that,” said James Tong, a UCLA professor, expert in Chinese politics and author of a book about the Communist Party and Falun Gong. When audiences see Shen Yun, “people want to know more about the Falun Gong.””
  • Digital Last Wills. Here’s a good reminder article from LastPass about Digital Wills. As they note in the article: “When preparing a will, many of us focus on our monetary and physical assets. But what about social media accounts? Or email addresses? Or the myriad of online accounts we use to manage our lives, every day? Making a “digital will” that includes passwords and other important digital details will go a long way in helping those who need to settle your affairs, or in helping you if you need to settle the affairs of others.” It is an important concern: I know I do my banking via Quicken… would my wife be able to easy pick that up. To inform all those whom I’m friends with online of what is happening with me? To pass off my highway pages somewhere? To handle other online financial accounts?
  • Upgrading Your Smartphone the Smart Way. Here’s an interesting article on how cell phone companies get you yet again: the upgrade fees if you buy a phone through them. With some, it is cheaper to buy your phone elsewhere, and then just bring it in and have it activated. Useful information to know.
  • Fighting Blisters. One of the scourges of walking as exercise are blisters. They are the reason I’ve switched to Injinji Toe Socks and Vibram Five Fingers. Too bad I didn’t know about this: there is evidently an easy way to combat blisters: use of surgical paper tape. I’ll have to give it a try one day, especially when the plantars fasciitis is acting up and I need shoes with padding and arch support.
  • Women in Cybersecurity. As you know, I’m part of ACSA, the sponsoring group behind SWSIS — the schoarship for women studying information security. Here’s a profile about one of our first recipients. I met Jill when she came out to ACSAC; I wish I had known this about her.
  • High Fidelity. Yesterday was Record Store day, and alas I missed it. But then again, I have enough records for this month. The iPod is at just under 38,000 songs. But here’s a good guide, for Record Store Day, about getting the right equipment to play your records. As for me, I have two turntables (Technics and Sansui), a good JVC amplifier with a phono curve, which feeds into my soundcard and the Roxio tools for recording to MP3 or WAV.
  • Free, as in Free Gigs. How would you like 2GB of free days for a month or two? Evidently, Verizon has a promotion where if you use Android Pay at three retailers, they’ll give you and extra 2GB for two months. The giveaway is part of a promotion that encourages people to start using Android Pay, which is essentially the Android version of mobile payments. Any Verizon customer with a postpaid plan who has an Android Pay-compatible phone will get 1GB of free data the next time they use Google’s mobile payment platform. Use it another two times, for a total of three separate purchases, and Verizon will throw in another gigabyte of free data.Once you’ve got the data freebie, Verizon says you’ll be able to use it across two billing cycles. The offer ends on June 14.
  • Mulholland Drive. Lastly, here’s a fascinating history article on Mulholland Drive: its origins and first plans. If you happen to be inspired to drive all of Mulholland — including the dirt portion across the top of the Santa Monicas, keep your eye out for a watch. I lost it there sometime in high school :-).

 

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Weekend Chum Stew: Food, Fiddler, Fonts, &c

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jan 31, 2016 @ 2:39 pm PDT

Observation StewYesterday was a crazy day, and I didn’t get the news chum stew on the stove. Today is chilly and rainy, so I’ve made an extra big pot:

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Week End News Chum: Threading a Connection

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jan 16, 2016 @ 8:56 am PDT

Observation StewFor 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:

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.

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It’s What’s For Dinner: Mixed-Up News Chum Stew

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jan 10, 2016 @ 5:30 pm PDT

Observation StewFinally, it is time for the main dish: A hearty news chum stew made up of items that I just couldn’t form up into a coherent (or even incoherent) post. I’ll note the first three are roughly science related:

  • Things That Go Bump in the … Ouch. The title is worrisome enough on its own: “How A Simple Bump Can Cause An Insidious Brain Injury“. The concern here is a kind of brain injury that’s very insidious — a subdural hematoma. These don’t occur with falling off a ladder, slipping and bash your head on the ice, or playing football. Basically — and this can be a problem as you get older — you bump your head. You get a small brain bleed, but below the dura that lines the brain. The bleed creates a very low-pressure ribbon of blood that’s layering on top of the surface of the brain. As that blood starts to pool over days or weeks, it irritates the brain cells. And if the pool’s big enough, it presses on the brain and damages it, much like a tumor. Ouch.
  • It’s better than Progenitorivox. Asprin is indeed a miracle drug, when taken daily. Not only can it help your heart, but it can lower your risk of prostate disease. Men with prostate cancer had almost a 40% lower risk of dying of the disease if they were taking aspirin for cardiovascular protection, a large cohort study showed.
  • At Last My Row Is Complete Again. Those of you with real periodic tables of wood, time to get out your engraving router. The last row of the periodic table has been filled: the final four elements are confirmed. Needless to say, you won’t be able to keep the samples for long. That’s how it goes.
  • Clearing Out the Stash. Lots of useful info here for knitters and crocheters. Here is a list of 10 charities looking for yarn projects, and in that list are links to about 15 more. There’s also Operation Gratitude, which is looking for knitted scarfs for soldiers. Now, go forth and clean out that sewing room. Your non-crafting partners will thank you.
  • High Fashion Religious Scarfs. A couple of related items here. First, Dolce & Gabbana have launched a line of high-fashion hijabs and abaysas (Islamic head scarves). This is actually a big deal, as the purchasing power of this market is high, and this is an untapped area of fashion. In a different religious area, H&M has marketed a scarf that looks very much like a tallit.  This is a bit more in bad taste (although I must admit we once did find a fancy tallit in a thrift store — National Council of Jewish Women, in fact — that was labeled as a scarf). It is so problematic that they have pulled it from sale in Israel.  Just imagine the next conversation: Hey, boss: I’ve got this great idea for a new hat for women.
  • Tongue Tied. Moving from the Hebrew to the Yiddish: Here is a set of Yiddish Tongue Twisters. My favorite? “Schmoozing in the shtetl with a schmutzy sheitel is a shande.”
  • Ikea Games. Mental Floss had a neat article on secrets of Ikea. One is that there are multiple quick routes through the store, both for safety reasons and stocking reasons, and they’re open to the public. But they’re not advertised, so you’ll need a keen eye for secret passageways. Often they take the form of unmarked service doors. But they change them fairly frequently because customers get familiar with the shortcuts and know how to zip through. They change the shortcuts to force people to go around the long way again.
  • Getting a Lyft. I’ve been hearing more and more about Lyft and Uber. I’ve never used them. In LA, Lyft has just been authorized to pick up at LAX. Here’s a report on what it is like to use Lyft at LAX.
  • Ride the Red Cars. It is appropriate that I’m wearing an Orange Empire shirt as I type this. Here’s a retrospective on the decline of the Pacific Electric in Los Angeles. Alas, as usual, the comments go off the rail into conspiracy theories and partisan politics (yes, the removal of PE is Obama’s fault. Right.). Further, no one mentions they are still running at OERM.
  • There are Beans, and there are Beans. The inventor of Jelly Bellies is jonesing for a comeback. His next idea: caffeinated coffee jelly beans. Now that his non-compete has passed, the founder and his business partners have launched a Kickstarter campaign seeking $10,000 to launch their Original Coffee House Beans, which will come in flavors such as hot cocoa and peppermint, chai tea, coffee and doughnuts and caffe macchiato. Sounds interesting. Sugar and caffeine in one little pill. Who needs an energy drink.

 

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