Observations Along the Road

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

The Times, They are a Changin’

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Feb 18, 2017 @ 6:24 pm PST

I know, we’re all sick of Trump and news about Trump. So let’s take a breather. Here’s a collection of news chum that shows some other interesting ways that the times are a changin’:

  • Social Media Addiction. The New York Times is reporting that Generation X is more addicted to social media than Millenials. Again, read that headline: the younger kids (Millenials) are LESS addicated than the generation before them (GEN X, Adults 39-49). That, perhaps, explains the greying of Facebook. A Neilsen study found that adults 35 to 49 spend an average of 6 hours 58 minutes a week on social media networks, compared with 6 hours 19 minutes for the younger group. More predictably, adults 50 and over spent significantly less time on the networks: an average of 4 hours 9 minutes a week (and I’m part of this latter group). The report is based on smartphone and tablet use, and it found that in the United States, 97 percent of people 18 to 34, and 94 percent of people 35 to 49, had access to smartphones. Seventy-seven percent of those 50 and older used smartphones, the report found. The 29-page report was based on data from 9,000 smartphone users and 1,300 tablet users across the country from July through September. It also found that Facebook still dominated on mobile, with about 178.2 million unique users in September. It was followed by Instagram, with 91.5 million unique users; Twitter, with 82.2 million unique users; and Pinterest, with 69.6 million users.Snapchat, a favorite of younger users, was sixth on the list, behind the professional networking site LinkedIn.  This raises the next question: if Millenials are using their smartphones so much, and they aren’t on social media, what precisely are they doing? They aren’t making phone calls.
  • Screens on Airplanes. Another New York Times article has an interesting finding regarding screens: we are using our personal screens so much that airlines are phasing out seat-back screens (which saves them a hella-lot of money). With built-in screens, airliners provide passengers with a set menu of content through boxes that power the in-flight entertainment system. The screens appeared in their most primitive form in the late 1980s with a few movies played on a loop. By the early 2000s, they had advanced to allow passengers to make choices on demand. By streaming content over wireless systems, passengers will have a wider array of content and the carriers will not have to maintain screens because passengers will bring their own portable devices on board. For carriers that discontinue the screens, the savings can be significant. By one estimate, in-flight entertainment systems are the biggest expense in outfitting a new plane and can make up 10 percent of the entire cost of an aircraft. The screens and their wiring add weight to the plane, and when fuel prices are high, every pound makes a difference. Another financial incentive: Without the screens, carriers can install slimmer seats, which means they can accommodate more passengers and earn more money. The article makes one other very important comment regarding personal screens: Experts said that if airliners are going to rely on consumer electronics for in-flight entertainment, the carriers should be prepared to offer another amenity: outlets for passengers to charge their devices. Mr. Hoppe said it was “imperative” to have them available in all rows and seats, and “essential” to ensure that each one works.
  • Fashion Rules for Plus Size. Let’s break up the New York Times articles with a change of fashion. A bunch of editors at Buzzfeed decided to break the “fashion rules” for Plus Size women. You know what? They looked great.  This goes to show yet another change that is happening in society: people deciding not to follow arbitrary rules from someone else, and wearing and being what is right for them. More power to them!
  • Intel Dropping Out of Science Fairs. One last New York Times article: it appears that Intel is dropping its sponsorship of Science Fairs. As someone who judges at the California State Science Fair, this is bad news. I see the remarkable things kids do, and it restores my faith in our youth. I originally thought the reason might have to do with Trump — after all, Intel had been meeting with Trump and Trump hates science.  But the reason is due to a more fundamental change: [The traditional science fair’s] regimented routines can seem stodgy at a time when young people are flocking to more freewheeling forums for scientific creativity, like software hackathons and hardware engineering Maker Faires. That is apparently the thinking at Intel, the giant computer chip maker, which is retreating from its longtime sponsorship of science fairs for high school students. It has dropped its support of the National Science Talent Search, and is dropping support of the International Science and Engineering Fair. The article noted that this leads to broader questions about how a top technology company should handle the corporate sponsorship of science, and what is the best way to promote the education of the tech work force of the future. Intel’s move also raises the issue of the role of science fairs in education in the so-called STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. All I know, as a judge, is that these fairs have encouraged some remarkable research by Middle and High School Students.
  • The Cost of Solar. As we keep debating the real costs of hydro-carbon based power, the costs of solar on an industrial scale continue to drop. Eventually, it may be that clean power is so much cheaper that we’ll be able to reserve hydro-carbons for the real thing we need them for: plastics. [And, believe me: if you think about a society without gas for your car is bad, just imagine a world with no plastics — not only no plastic bags and storage containers, but circuit boards, enclosures, insulation for wires, sterile medical devices — we need to save our oil for plastic]. Quoting from the article: Solar has seen remarkable cost declines and is competing in more circumstances with every passing year. But it is not the world’s cheapest source of electricity. Yhe main reason is that there is, at least currently, no such thing as “the world’s cheapest source of electricity,” if that’s taken to mean cheapest, all costs considered, in all places, at all times. No such fairy dust exists; different sources perform differently in different economies and different electricity systems. What can be said about solar is that it is rapidly increasing the range of circumstances under which it can compete on costs, without subsidies. This is a good thing. Together, wind and utility-scale solar are now the cheapest available energy sources in the places that are building the most of them. Utility-scale solar now has a lower total cost of power than natural gas.

 

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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 PST

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.

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News Chum Stew: Onesies and Twosies

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Aug 20, 2016 @ 1:39 pm PST

Observation StewLast night, we had a Shabbabaque at Temple (“Shabbat” + “Barbeque”). There was a bunch of food leftover, and so I brought some home — the sliced tomatoes and roasted zucchini — and threw it into a crockpot. That’s a great thing to do with leftovers: make a stew (and I intend to suggest formalizing that next year*). Just like at the Shabbabaque, I’ve got loads of leftovers — onsies and twosies of news articles — that don’t make a coherent dish. Perhaps they’ll make a good stew. What do you think?

Jewish Summer Camp

Food and Eating

Local Returns and Departures

The Body

History

What’s Left

 

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Things You Probably Didn’t Think About

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Aug 07, 2016 @ 1:28 pm PST

userpic=don-martinAlthough you’re probably still wondering why an article written in Spring 1995 seems so eerily accurate about Donald Trump today, I’d like to give you some more things that you probably haven’t thought about:

  • Gases and the Body. You’ve probably become more and more aware of the microbiome in our bodies. You probably haven’t given a lot of thought to the gasses in our bodies, except when they escape from ends of the digestive track. However, a new study shows how the gases swirling inside our bodies can power our brains and affect the way we act. Some gaseous neurotransmitters (or gasotransmitters) are produced by your organs and tissues. Others—such as nitric oxide (NO), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), methane (CH4), hydrogen (H2), and ammonia (NH3)—are the products of fermentation in your gut by microscopic organisms like bacteria. These tiny molecules feed and help regulate your cells and those of the microbes living inside you—complex relationships that can have much larger consequences. An interesting addendum: biological processes can also be harnessed to turn Carbon Dioxide into a fuel.
  • Drywall. It know, it sounds like something out of Surprisingly Awesome: The exciting history of drywall (gypsum board). Gypsum is noncombustible, and compared to other wall materials, like solid wood and plaster, gypsum boards are much lighter and cheaper. As a result, drywall is popular in homes across the U.S.: According to the Gypsum Association, more than 20 billion square feet of drywall is manufactured each year in North America. It’s the staple of a billion-dollar construction industry that depends on quick demolition and building. It can also be deadly.
  • Architectural Security. Have you ever closely looked at the architectural characteristics when you are out and about. It turns out that many of them exist to enhance security. “The inside of a building in it of itself can be a security tool,” says Geoff Manaugh, an architecture writer and blogger of BLDGBLOG. “If you don’t think about buildings in terms of security and you don’t think of architecture in terms of burglary, you can really easily overlook these things.”
  • The Most Cost Effective Pizza. Due to the nature of geometric math, the larger pizza is almost always the most cost effective pizza. Just remember to refrigerate the leftovers. The math of why bigger pizzas are such a good deal is simple: A pizza is a circle, and the area of a circle increases with the square of the radius.
  • Embedded Links. Much as you try not to do it, a determined hacker can design a link such that almost anyone will likely click on it. Human traits like curiosity “cannot be patched” against these kinds of vulnerabilities, says one leading computer science researcher. And so, you can be the smartest security buff in the world, yet researchers could probably still trick you into clicking on a dangerous link.

 

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Something Different to Chew On

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jul 30, 2016 @ 6:25 pm PST

userpic=levysI know my last few posts have been political — it is just that my concerns over the Republican nominee have incited a passion in me that makes me want to ensure his defeat. So a last political note, and then we’ll move on to something different to chew: some news chum about food, medicine, and science.

But first

… to those of you who cannot bring yourself to vote for Hillary because of her character and the character flaws you think you see, please read this article. You’ll learn how you’ve been fed a diet of genetically modified truth, something empty of nutrition and value, and that has spoiled your appetite for something that is actually healthy. Then read this article, and learn why the Clinton that you see in the news is very different than the Clinton those that work with her see, and why those who do work with her are fiercely loyal to her.

… to those who are Republican who still can’t bring themselves to vote for Clinton after seeing the truth — those who deny the truth about Clinton just as you deny climate science and the value of vaccines — then read this post. Learn how, as the DNC and Trump’s behavior has shown, he spits in the face of traditional Republican values, and has in fact ceded the Republican values of patriotism, love of country, belief in the people of this country, belief in the quality of the American military and support for Veterans to the Democratic party. The man is clearly not a Democrat, and does not reflect Republican values, and is not deserving of your support. If you can’t vote for Clinton, then vote for Gary Johnson or abstain for voting for President. Don’t vote for a man that clearly does not deserve to be the leader of your Republican party. (I note I say this as a Democrat, but a Democrat who believes we need a sane and valid Republican party, because it is the diversity of sane political views that leads to the compromises that makes this country strong).

And now, on to something different to chew upon:

Hmmm, I guess I do have politics on my mind after all.

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

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

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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Week End News Chum: Threading a Connection

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

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 PST

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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