In Which He Resembles a Broken Clock .. in Space

As you have probably figured out by now, I’m not a big fan of President Trump. I could easily list the reasons, but there is insufficient space in this post. But the President is like a broken clock, which does tell the right time occasionally. His recent “space force” proposal is almost one of those times, and doesn’t deserve the beatings that comedians are giving it. They are portraying the notion like Star Fleet, imaging battles in space and fights against space aliens. But that’s not what he is proposing.

This Vox article explains things very well. Think about how our military is structured. Originally, there was the Army and the Navy. Then battles began to be fought by naval groups on the ground, and a new organization was spun off: the Marine Corps. Aircraft were developed, and originally they were managed within the Army. But the segment grew to a point where it was working with Army, Navy, and Marines, and needed to be its own service. In 1947 (IIRC), the Air Force was spun off as its own service.

Now consider space. Our national dependence on space has grown: from GPS services to communications to imagery, it is vital to warfighting and defense. Space is primarily run by the Air Force, through the Space and Missile Command. SMC acquires space assets (satellites, launch systems, ground support) and provides the military and civilian support to operate these systems. There are also Army and Navy Space systems, and groups from other services that use space assets. Space is an increasingly contested area, both from commercial use, as well as other nations either putting assets in orbit, or attempting to attack or impede assets in orbit.

Trump’s call recognizes that. What he is suggesting is a new service, either at the Department level … or more likely analogous to the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy. This would give increased visibility to Space and Space assets, especially as the Air Force has to balance funding between aircraft and spacecraft. On the surface, the idea makes sense. When you look at it closer, it doesn’t — not because Space isn’t important, but because Space isn’t yet at the point where it requires a duplicative bureaucracy and all the extra costs and paperwork that would come with an additional corps or service. As with the Cyber battlespace, it can be addressed best at the Command level, utilizing structures currently existing within the USAF and other national security agencies.

[ETA: My friend Miriam, over on FB, commented with a good explanation of some of the problems that exist currently, that a proposal such as this might address: “The problem is that the Air Force is doing a terrible job of meeting the space-related needs of warfighters. We have satellites on orbit for decades before warfighters can use some of their capabilities. And that is largely because the AF won’t fund capabilities that are needed primarily by the Army (GPS M-code) or Navy (comm on the move, various weather capabilities).” Having an organization that can focus funding specifically on space, and can better balance the needs of the entire user base, is beneficial. The question is what is the right way to do this without overburdening the bureaucracy, which can mushroom quickly in the military.]

So, in short, not as silly an idea as it seems on the surface, but one we don’t really need yet. Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day.


Updates from the Pod People World

The following are some news items that have caught my eye over the past few weeks regarding the iPod, the larger iPod ecosystem, and the world of digital music:

  • Are Dedicated Music Players Useless? In today’s world of multifunction devices, such as your smartphone, is the dedicated MP3 player useless? The answer is a resounding “No!”, as this article shows. In addition to the 10 ways in the article, there are some even more important reasons. Dedicated MP3 players don’t use streaming bandwidth, and can be used in places where you have no Internet. They are also not visually based, so you can often operate them without looking. Being more narrow function, they are also usable in situations where phones are not (for example, MP3 players are not treated the same as phones with respect to moving vehicles). Lastly, if you upgrade storage, you can often have a much larger music library with you than you can even with services like the Amazon cloud or iTunes match, especially if you come in with a lot of preexisting music.
  • Upgrading an iPod. Stories about how one can upgrade a later generation (5G or later) iPod classic to use solid state memory come around periodically. The most recent iteration was The Verge and the Circuit Breaker Podcast having an article how to do so. However, they made one major error: they indicated you get the boards and supplies through eBay. Nonsense! I’ve had three iPods updated, and a 4th will eventually be upgraded as well, and in all cases I went straight to the source: the iFlash Adaptor site. I’ve used their iFlash Dual card for all three of my iPod Classics. They also have a useful blog with advice on batteries and memory cards. If you’re local to LA, I’ve found a good person to install the card, if you’re not a hardware person (and I’m not). Drop me an email or a comment and I’ll get you in touch with the person I used.
  • Digital vs. Physical Music . In the days before there was an iTunes store, how was digital audio and video shared? The answer is: via Usenet, and it was this new style of digital sharing — across a forum originally intended for textual messages — that led Usenet to its slow death, while spurring on the growth of the web and online music and video stores. Meanwhile, we’re seeing the death of the physical form for digitized media — CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays — in favor of streaming. This is a very bad trend, and we must all work to support physical media. There are a number of reasons. First, the physical media made available many rare shows and albums that were saved from obscurity. It also preserved additional information, such as directors cuts, audio tracks, bonus tracks, commentary. Those aren’t present for streaming media, and there is no assurance that rare material will be available for streaming. It is also much easier, with only streamed media, for the media content owner to make the content unavailable. You also can’t easily share streamed media with friends. It is a bad move for the consumer.
  • End of the Headphone Jack. The simple 3.5mm audio jack. It has been around for over 50 years, coming in with the transistor radio, replacing the large headphone jack. It is now starting to disappear, and we should mourn (if not protest) its demise. There are many advantages to this format. Being analog, it is not subject to restricted digital format or digital rights management. It works across all vendors, and you don’t need different products for different devices. Its analog signal is also adaptable, being used for not only sound but any electrical signal such as a card reader, health monitors, and such. By moving to proprietary digital connectors (as they did with streaming), vendors are tying you to using their product, and their enforcement of accessibility to your music. They are creating waste and making obsolete numerous devices, which often go to landfills.
  • Music Management Software. Those who use an iPod or Apple device have a love/hate relationship with iTunes. Often you must use it, but it could be so much better. Here’s a review of 7 iTunes alternatives. The problem is that none of them are iTunes replacements: it is unclear if they handle accumulated metadata, such as the number of plays; it is unclear if they can communicate with older Apple devices (such as the iPod Classic); and it is unclear if they support Smart Playlists. Often, these replacements aren’t too intelligent: they don’t understand synchronization, and they presume album-oriented play. That’s great for a college student with perhaps 50 albums; its bad when you have over 2000 albums and over 42000 songs.
  • Wither iTunes? Of course, the issue with iTunes may be forced. Apple has the ability to make your device obsolete. Just ask the people with first-generation Apple TVs, who are being disconnected from iTunes. Just ask those who use iTunes on Windows XP or Vista. Just ask those hoping to purchase iTunes LPs with additional album content. All have had, or will have, support discontinued by Apple. This is a big worry for me: Why does Apple have any reason to continue to support the ability to synchronize with discontinued iPods, such as the iPod Classic. It is one reason I will not buy an iPhone (requires the latest iTunes), and one reason why I haven’t upgraded from iTunes 11. I still worry that, one day, iTunes 11 will not work on Windows 10, or will no longer support podcasts. At that point, will I be forced to Rockbox, if it still exists? Their iPod Classic ports aren’t stable. Will I need to find a new media player, such as the Fiio Players? What will that mean for my metadata and smart playlists.

We’re going to a world where we may not have physical LPs or CDs for our music. As we age, what will guarantee we’ll be able to bring our music with us? Are we destined to copy our music from server to server (I hope you remembered that backup), or paying companies indefinitely to store it in the cloud? And when that cloud or drive goes “poof”, how will historians discover our music? Analog is essentially forever (or as long as the media lasts), but digital is remarkably ephemeral. Enjoy your music while you have it, for tomorrow it will be gone.


But Is News Chum Kosher?

Busy weeks mean the news chum gets pushed to the weekend, because I have no time at lunch. Here’s a collection of Jewish themed news items that caught my eye. As I say over on AAroads, ready, set, discuss.


Political Commentary: Guns, Antisemitism, Chain Migration … What Trumps What?

userpic=divided-nationHere’s one last collection of news chum this morning: all articles centering our our current political debates:

  • The NRA and Antisemitism. Here’s a real interesting article on the underlying Antisemitism of the NRA. It shows how many of the fears and tropes promoted by the organization align with antisemitic fears and tropes. WIthout mentioning Jews by name as a class, the examples that are always cited are Jewish or connected with Judaism. As the piece notes: “This McCarthyite vision of a cancer destroying America, what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics,” is classic populism. It posits a good, mostly rural, less educated, implicitly white Volk being undermined by a corrupt, mostly urban, over-educated, and foreign set of elites. Sometimes those elites are actual Jews controlling Hollywood, “the media,” banks, or political structures. Other times, they are “structural Jews” – foreigners, Communists, elites, or other outsider-insiders who don’t share the values of “the people.” ” It is yet another example, of implicit racism, often arising from privilege issues (or changes in perceived privilege) that often underlie these shootings. I’ll note I’ve seen this implicit attitude commonly from Conservative folks when they talk about “Globalism”, which is a thinly veiled reference to the notion of a Jewish elite class and the Protocols.
  • Mass Shooting Statistics. Here are a collection of statistics involving mass shootings. I invite you to tease out what is common in these shooting, and hence, what might be controlled. While doing that, note what isn’t there: understanding of the motives of the shooters, why they did it, and any common emotional or medical issues. If we don’t know the underlying cause, masking the symptoms solves nothing.
  • Donald Trump’s Faith. Here’s an interesting explanation of how Faith is behind Trump. Why are the evangelicals supporting him? What is the doctrine of prosperity and why is it, so to speak, Trumping Christian behavior. How do power dynamics play into the equation.
  • Chain Migration Here’s an interesting explanation of why Trump hates chain migration. Again, the real answer boils down to political power, and immigrants often supporting more liberal and progressive causes. The use of “chain migration”, by the way, is pure propaganda. Family reunification is a better term, and it takes much longer to do, results in better citizens, and has much different impacts than are portrayed. By the way, when thinking about “white” vs. “black”, remember that the terms were invented by those supporting slavery and racial superiority beliefs and are relatively modern terms. For most of human civilization, there was no such distinction.
  • Net Neutrality. Net neutrality has been in the news, yet most folks don’t know what it means. Burger King provides a great explaination. Think about it this way: How would you like to have to pay extra to get your burger faster, while your neighbor who didn’t pay as much had to wait. This about what this means in separating privileged classes who can pay from the classes who cannot.



Up for Discussion

Things have been busy, busy, busy, and the chum has been piling up. I’m spending this morning clearing out the backlog. Here are a few articles that didn’t categorize, but I found extremely interesting and worthy of discussion:

  • Employee Loyalty. At work, one of the big ongoing discussions relates to the company’s proposal to move from our long-standing defined benefit pension plan plus 403(B) to a 401(K). For some employees, it has been reported this could cost them up to $1 Milllion. For others, like me (I’ve been there almost 30 years, I’m on the original retirement pension plan, and have at least 10 years to retire), the impact is significant, but not that high. The proposal has raised questions on the commitment of the company to its employees, and thus this article on “Where Have All The Loyal Employees Gone?” is quite fascinating. It explores why more employees aren’t like me: at one company for 30 years. Employees today don’t find a company and stick with it, unlike our parents or parent’s parents era. The conclusion of the article: There isn’t employee loyalty because employer’s aren’t loyal to the employees — they are just in it for the profit. As the article writes: “Why should anyone be more loyal to you than you are loyal to them?”. It suggests five ways to get employee loyalty: (1) give them long term incentives like you give yourself; (2) give long term employment contracts; (3) pay them market rate or better; (4) give them visibility into the future of the business; and (5) Make your employees’ retirement plans as rich as your own retirement plan. This is great advice — something more companies should heed. Take care of your workers, and they will be there for you.
  • The Eviction Experience. We’ve all heard stories about people being evicted. But what is the process? This is especially true as folks get evicted as part of gentrification. Here is an interesting tale about someone who has been evicted, through a series of bad circumstances. In this particular case, it was bad circumstances created by Internet Conservatives who directed their political anger at a journalist who was just doing their job — and they destroyed his life. As he wrote: “The salacious news—the black guy who suggested Romney was a racist also beat his ex-wife—ricocheted around the internet, and my job prospects evaporated. I suddenly became unhireable, even for bottom-rung media jobs. The modest severance package I got from Politico drained away in a few months, along with my ability to pay my bills and child support.” (This seems especially interesting now that Romney has rentered the political fray as he campaigns for a senate seat). As for the process itself, it is dehumanizing: deputies show up, pack up belongings in black plastic trash bags, and dump them at the curb. Further, this process disproportionately affects minorities. All sorts of questions get raised, worthy of discussion.
  • Bodies Are Awesome. The extent to which people are judgmental about others is incredible — certainly, in the Internet echo chamber. This bullying is serious business. Look at many of the mass shooters, and you’ll find they’ve been the target of bullies at some point in their life. No where is this more visible in how people are bullied for their looks. This is an interesting article that celebrates all bodies, shapes, and sizes — by looking at photos of the wide variety of Olympic athletes — all shapes, sizes, and you name it — all making the best of what they were given. The photos alone are fascinating.  As the article says, “Bodies are awesome. Everyone should get one.”. I find, as I watch people, the bodies I find the most interesting are not the perfectly airbrushed, plastic surgery ideas; the ones with silicone everywhere. What makes people interesting is not their perfection, but their imperfections. That dimple. That unique look. We must celebrate our differences and stories.
  • Crafters and Hoarding. If you live with a fabric artist, you know hoarding and craft rooms. Here is an interesting blog post exploring the broader question of “artist as hoarder”. Just consider the opening paragraph: “As an artist, you’re bound to collect stuff. After all, how can you create art without lots of paint, paper, canvas, clay, stone, metal, fabric, thread, and yarn? But how much stuff? Has your textile stash migrated into every part of the house because one closet won’t hold it all? Is your garage so packed with recycled materials for assemblage that you can’t park your car in there? Do you have any space left for yet another bin of plastic pieces in the barn?” Oh, this sounds so familiar.
  • Comicsgate. If you’ve been on the internet at all, you’re likely well aware of the bullying that goes on — especially towards minorities and women — often coming from the Conservative, sometimes White Supremacist, side. To put it bluntly, the haters. You might recall the Sad Puppies incidents from the Hugos which worked against women and perceived “leftist” authors. You might recall Gamergate, which targeted women in the Video Gaming industry. Both were horrid incidents, reflecting the growth of hate in our society. [As an aside, you want a reason we have so many shooting incidents? The answer is simple: We let hate grow, and we allow weapons to be an outlet to express hate.] There’s a new campaign now: Comicsgate. A campaign by bigots to attack minority and women writers and themes in the comics industry. Recently, as the article notes, “Comicsgate proponents on social media released a public blacklist of names for their followers to boycott. The names are organized under inflammatory titles like the “Pravda Press” and the “SJW Vipers” (“SJW,” for social justice warrior, a derogatory title for progressives). Those attacked are major figures in comics like Larry Hama, Mark Waid, Alex de Campi, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and others. Nearly all of the people singled out are either women, people of color, or left-leaning.” Don’t let the haters win. Support minority and women artists. Fight against the growing intolerance in society: be it intolerance against the immigrant, the intolerance against women and minorities; the intolerance against non-Christians; the intolerance of the non-binary or non-heterosexual. We need to embrace and celebrate difference, what makes us unique, and our unique viewpoints.

As I say when I post my highway headlines: Ready, Set, Discuss.



At the end of last month, an interesting announcement crossed my RSS feeds: Xerox Cedes Control to Fujifilm, Ending Its Independence. This is a sad passing indeed, and reflects a transition of one of the seminal companies in the office automation field. Sure, the name might live on, but it won’t be the same. It will be a Kodak or a Polaroid — an echo of a company that once was great.

I have many varied memories of Xerox, from their facilities on Aviation Blvd where the ACM ’81 Conference Committee once met, to the Sex manuals around the UCLA Computer Club (which, before you put your mind in the gutter, were the manuals for the SDS Sigma 7, and SDS was later XDS, Xerox Data Systems), to (of course) all the stories about Xerox PARC.  But for most of us, the word Xerox is synonymous with one thing: copying and reproduction.

My first memory of a copier was at my parent’s office. I don’t remember the brand, but it was expensive, slow, and used rolls of special paper (plain paper copiers were a few years in the future). Nowadays, we have multifunction Xerox copiers at work that can not only copy, but scan and print. So in tribute to Xerox, here are two interesting articles:

  • How Photocopiers Work. This is an in-depth exploration of the photocopying process.
  • Why Paper Jams Persist. As long as there have been copiers, there have been paper jams. There will likely always be paper jams, because the problem of solving them is extremely hard. This article explains why.



CyberSecurity News of Note

Here’s the last of the news chum collections for this morning. This one has to do with safety and security.

  • Tiny Dots and Phish. Hopefully, you’ve been getting trained on how to recognize phishing threats, and how to distrust links in email or on websites. But it’s getting even trickier, as this article notes. Miscreants are using characters in other character sets that ļȯоķ like other characters. Hint: Always look at how addresses look when you hover over them, and even then be suspicious.
  • Complex Passwords Don’t Solve All Problems. So you’ve gotten smart: you are using complex passwords everywhere. But every solution contains a problem: reusing complex passwords can give your identity away. Research showed, the rarer your password is, the more it “uniquely identifies the person who uses it. If a person uses the same unique password with multiple accounts, then that password can be used as a digital fingerprint to link those accounts.” Although this is not something previously unknown, there seems to be a lack of awareness about the practice. Remember: complex passwords, never reused, and use a password manager.
  • Two Factor Authentication. Using 2FA can also help. Here’s a handy guide on how to set it up on most major websites. Here’s a list of all major websites, and whether they support 2FA.
  • Protecting Your Social Security. This article from Brian Krebs explores abuse of the social security system, and contains some advice I hadn’t known: go create your account at now to protect yourself.  That’s something I need to do; I tried to do it this morning but it wouldn’t accept the proof for the upgraded account, and I have to (a) find a previous year’s W2 and (b) wait 24 hours to try again.
  • Predicting Problems. A few articles on predictive algorithms. One explores whether predictive algorithms should be part of public policy.  Essentially, should they have a hand in shaping jail sentences and predicting public policies? Government agencies are now using algorithms and data mining to predict outcomes and behaviors in individuals, and to aid decision-making. In a cyber-vein, there are calls to add prediction to the NIST cyber-security framework. The argument: With AI and machine learning, companies should now be considering how to predict threats before they even appear. Speaking of the NIST Framework, Ron Ross tweets that it is being incorporated into FIPS 200 and the RMF.
  • Building It In. The NIST effort — especially with SP 800-160 — is to emphasize the importance of engineering in and designing in security from the very beginning, not bolting it on at the end. Good news: The government is finally coming around to that realization as well. The link is a summary of the recent updates to the NIST pub. It’s an area I’ve been exploring as well, and I’ve been working on some modifications to the process to make it even more accepted. The first report on the effort is under review right now; I hope to publish something soon.



Health and Medical News of Note

As I continue to clear out the links, here is a collection of articles with some interesting health and medicine news:

  • Colds and Flus. A few articles related to the cold and flu season. First, here’s a useful chart of how to pick the right medicines for that cold or flu that you have. The key tip: Know your ingredients, what they do, and go for single-ingredient generics. Next: If you haven’t gotten that flu shot yet, GO GET IT. Anything you read about the dangers is only fear-mongering. Perhaps you think you shouldn’t get it because it isn’t fully effective. Even less effective, it is important to get it.  Think about it this way: seatbelts and air bags aren’t fully effective — people still get into accidents and die. But if you get into an accident, seatbelts and airbags reduce the amount of damage you will incur. Flu shots are like that:  you might still get sick, but it will likely be less severe. Better to be in bed for a few days than in the hospital or dead.
  • Tide Pods. They won’t go away, will they? Here’s an interesting infographic on the chemistry behind laundry pods, demonstrating succinctly why should should never never never put one in your mouth. You shouldn’t even eat real foods made to look like Tide Pods, so you don’t confuse the gullible and stupid out there.
  • Better Medical Testing. You might have heard about the recent Ikea advertising for women: they would pee on the ad, and it would reveal a discount on baby furniture if they were pregnant.  But it turns out that’s just the beginning, and the Ikea technology could save your life if you where having a heart attack. How? The cited article explores the technology behind the ad, and notes that the developer of the ad is now working on developing a type of synthetic paper that could combine all of those characteristics, and be used to develop diagnostic tools to detect certain types of heart diseases. Heart attacks, for instance, are very hard to diagnose from symptoms alone, like chest pain. But if, say, paramedics in an ambulance had a tool that can pick up certain biomarkers from plasma, just like the ad picks up the pregnancy hormone from the urine, they could quickly determine whether someone is having a heart attack. That would allow patients to receive immediate treatment, which is key to survive a heart attack. Oh, and someone else is working on a quick and easy blood test to detect cancerThe test, detailed in the journal Science, could be a major advance for “liquid biopsy” technology, which aims to detect cancer in the blood before a person feels sick or notices a lump. That’s useful because early-stage cancer that hasn’t spread can often be cured.
  • The Alien. I have an odd problem. When I essentially do a sit up (i.e., lie on my back and curl up), I get a belly bulge. My internist thinks it is a form of hernia (muscles separating), and although it can be fixed surgically, such fixes aren’t all that effective. Reading an article the other day, I found an interesting explanation of what I’ve got — which is oddly a post-pregnancy belly problem called diastasis recti.  Doctors diagnose diastasis recti when the distance between the two sides of the rectus abdominis muscle gets to be two centimeters or more. DR can affect anyone — women, men, and children. “Coughing, laughing, pooping, breathing, birthing, and moving (i.e., your posture and exercise habits) are all things that can change the amount of pressure in your abdomen” and can, over time, cause DR. As the article notes: “DR can give the belly a soft, protruding appearance. It can push the bellybutton out, or look like a visible gulch at the midsection when a [person] bends or does an abdominal curl.” For me, it seems to only be there when I move like a sit-up; for others, it is much more common post pregnancy due to the pressure of the baby. Alas, the cited article notes there are no good solutions to the problem yet, and exercise done wrong can make it worse.