A Day That Will Live in Infamy

Of course, I’m talking about December 7. Will 9/11 acquire a moniker like that? I don’t know; all I do know is that today is the 10th anniversary, and all the news sites are filled with remembrances. I could do that as well, but I’d like to, instead, ponder this question: what are the pluses and minuses since that day:

The Plus Side

Since 9/11, we’ve become aware we are vulnerable. That’s a good thing, in many ways, for it removes the complaicency that can be dangerous. How we address that vulnerability is the critical factor. More on that later.

We’ve become more appreciative of our first responders. They’ve gone from being “pigs” as they were in the 1970s, to being heroes. For many, this is deserved: Our firefighters, police, coast guard, and other civic personnel go out of the way, putting their lives at harm, to serve the public. They do deserve recognition. They also deserve better salaries and treatment, just like our teachers, but we can’t give them that. So we’ll just recognize them and say thank you.

We’ve learned to separate the troops from the battle. We can be appreciative of what our troops are doing for us even if we don’t agree with our leader’s objectives or priorities. This is a good thing. It is something we were unable to do in Vietnam, and a whole generations of veterans went unappreciated as a result of it.

The Minus Side

We’ve addressed the realization of our vulunerability with theatre and posturing, instead of actual protection. Oh, the theatre gives us some protection. But we still think that taking off shoes, frisking babies and grandmothers, and using technology will make us safe. We still haven’t learned we can’t depend only on the technology. To be successful we need to depend on the four “E”s: engineering, education, enforcement, and emergency services. Education is the approach done in Israel: watching people and looking at behaviors. Enforcement is having some rules, and being consistent on them. We aren’t now: we screen passengers, but not other traffic. We only screen some forms of transportation. Emergency services is recognizing that the determined will get through, and we need to be able to keep operating—and keep people alive—through whatever is thrown at us.

We’ve become more racially and religiously intolerant as a result of the attacks. In particular, look at the treatment of muslims or anyone suspected of being a muslim (cough Barack cough Obama) today. It’s abhorrent. We’ve lost the ability to separate the religious fanatics from the religious mainstream. Just as Christian fanatics don’t represent all Christians, the Muslim fanatics don’t represent the vast majority of muslims in the US. (ETA: In fact, here’s a nice piece about how the Muslim’s have actually protected us. H/T to mortuus for the link.)

We’ve become more divided. It was bad in the Clinton presidency, became worse in the Bush presidency, and has gotten ridiculous. Compromise is now seen as giving in to the enemy. This is the wrong attitude.

We’ve lost the notion of what war is. In the past, wars had a distinct goal: gain territory, or liberate territory from a maniacal government. But for our latest war, we lost sight of those simple objectives. Instead we fight a battle with no clear end point, and thus it goes on and on. We didn’t learn from Vietnam in this respect. Our initial motives were right (get the people who attacked us)… but we never clearly defined what that meant and when the war would be over. We don’t need a 100 years war.

Now Its Your Turn

These are just my quick thoughts. I’m curious about yours. Where do you think we’ve done the right things since 9/11? Where have we gone wrong (and thus, where do we need to improve)?


It’s OK to Look Back, as Long as You Don’t Stare

This morning, while taking a headache shower, I began musing on the past. Specifically, the urge I’ve had since I turned 50 to reconnect with people and places from my past. This has intensified thanks to Facebook and its groups, in particular the group Westchester California Memories 1960s-1970s and the group I survived Paul Revere Junior High School!. In some ways this is odd, for I was never socially active at those times; I never had a large circle of friends, nor was I ever in the “popular” groups.

I’m finding that as I get older, my outlook towards people in my past has changed. Perhaps this is because I’ve never been the type to hold grudges. What I’ve noticed is that the clique boundaries have broken down. I’m having fun discussions with folks whom I would probably never have talked to in my youth. I might look at my yearbook and see harsh, stereotypical, and even cruel writings of the children we were then, but I haven’t seen that behavior in the adults of today. I’ve tried to figure out why this might be the case. Part of it is survival: we’ve now got the common bond of just having survived to our AARP-years. Part of it is maturity: time has shown us that the idiotic things we teased over in our youth are meaningless in the overall scheme of things; further, often those professions and behaviors that were the focus of ridicule in our youth have proven themselves to be reasonable choices. For most of us, time has tempered our view of things; our glasses to the past are definately tinted.

For me, that’s only part of it. Another part is a simple rebuilding of memories. My youth can be divided into two parts: the part in Westchester before we moved in 1972, and the part in Brentwood and the Palisades post 1972. I have very few connections and sparse memories from the pre-1972 days. I’ve been blessed to be able to reconnect with a long-lost friend within the last two years (after we lost contact for over 30 years). I’ve also discovered that some high-school friends actually were in jr. high (Orville Wright) with me in 7th grade, although we never knew it at the time; even more recently I discovered that a very very dear current friend actually attended jr. high at the same time, although I don’t think we knew each other. Still, there are a few friends from that era I would still like to find (or at least learn where they are today); perhaps I’ll do a post on the appropriate group to see if anyone knows. I’m also hoping that, from the folks active from that era, someone will actually remember me or my brother. I think that’s an underlying desire for all of us: to be remembered, hopefully in a good light. Lastly, I hoping I can fill in some of the memories I’ve forgotten.

As for the post-1972 days (Revere Jr. High and Pali Hi): again, I have very few friends from those times whom I’m still in contact with. Here’s where I’ve seen the breakdown of the cliques a lot more; in the last three years (thanks primarily to the efforts of Greg and other FB folk creating reunions in the park), I’ve made some friends from groups I was never in during high school. There have been some interesting discussions about high school and jr. high incidents and stories, and the stroll down memory lane has been fun. There are a few folks from this era I’d still like to reconnect with, but they either aren’t on FB, aren’t active on FB, or aren’t active in the waters of the net I frequent.

One thing I’ve noticed, as I’ve participated in these groups, is the impact of teachers. To those of my friends who teach: you are doing something special, and don’t realize the impact you are having on children. We have folks out in the net-o-sphere who denegrate teachers as being out solely to abuse union rules, and make money off the system. I’m sorry, but teachers wouldn’t put themselves what they go through if they didn’t care about educating children. You read these groups, and you see how people enjoy sharing the stories of their teachers—from elementary school on. There are the teachers that touched lives. There are the teachers that created lifetime memories. There are the student crushes on teachers, and there are the teachers with their idiosyncrasies that live forever in memories. These teachers have made a difference, and don’t even realize it.

If you’ve gotten this far in this post, you’re likely in the group that is starting to look back (I’m finding younger folks put the longer essays in the “tl;dr” category). If you are looking back (even if you are not acting on it), I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you still hold on to the hurts and resentments from your youth; has age and time tempered them at all? Do you have the desire to reconnect with anyone specific, or anyone in general, from that era of your life? Tom Paxton once said, regarding nostalgia, that it’s OK to look back, as long as you don’t stare. What is your attitude towards nostalgia of your younger days; Are you averting your eyes, looking back, or staring?


A Remembrance of a Dear Friend

In the musical “The Story of My Life”, it is said that a eulogy is a collection of stories, with a tear-jerker at the end. This is a eulogy for a dear, dear, friend, Lauren Uroff (ixixlix), who died last night of complications related to cancer, at a bit over 50 years old.

Karen and Lauren, 1999

When I think of Lauren, I think of “large”. Yes, she was large in body, but that’s not what I mean. She was large in spirit. She loved things and people with a passion, and when you were cared about, you knew you were cared about. I met Lauren when my wife rediscovered her at Gymboree with her son, who was born two weeks before my daughter. Karen and Lauren had been college friends, and the friendship reestablished. From that point on, our families were intertwined, and we care about them as part of us. Here are some recollections and thoughts that just keep pouring through my head.

Lauren loved books, especially science fiction and Jane Austin. Lauren and Scott’s house is loaded with bookshelves and paperbacks, multiple levels deep. I know at one time she was active in LASFS, and she was very active on science fiction writing boards such as sff.net. Books were to be treated with care, and were precious things.

Lauren loved games. Before she started dealing with her cancer, we were regularly over at their house playing all sorts of board games. We introduced her to “Ticket to Ride”; she introduced us to “Set”. We brought in “Power Grid”; she introduced “Munchkin”. We played all sorts of games, and she was a regularly at our New Years Eve gaming parties.

Lauren was a closet roadgeek. She loved exploring my highways site, and asking me questions. She indicated that she loved to just find a state highway and explore it—for example, I remember she once talked about taking Route 166 in Ventura County to see where it went.

Lauren was a cook, something she shared with my wife, and our dear friend Nicole (ellipticcurve). They did cooking classes at the Huntington together. They went to the cheese shop in Beverly HIlls (well, they did, Nicole didn’t :-)). They loved Penzey’s spices. On gaming evenings we would often be cooking together (together with Scott, Lauren’s husband), and enjoy shared dinners.

Lauren enjoyed gardening, both of flowers and vegetables. She had a raised vegetable bed in her backyard, and often contributed fresh herbs to dinner.

Lauren loved dogs, especially Newfoundlands. Now, these aren’t small dogs, mind you. I never met their first Newfie, but I do remember Rocky, who died a little over a year ago. I remember Lauren told me she loved to talk to Rocky; he always provided a good ear for her, and rarely spoke back.

Lauren loved children. Two in particular: her son, Jim, and our daughter, Erin. In their younger days, the two were inseperable (as were their moms). Although we never went on trips together (as my folks did with the extended family of their generation), we went on numerous outings: museums, amusement parks, explorations. We had shared birthday parties at their house, and Lauren just enjoyed it.

Although she didn’t go that often, Lauren loved the arts. We went together numerous times to the Hollywood Bowl, and she came with us occasionally to the Ahmanson. She regularly commented on my theatre reviews. She also loved going to art museums with Karen and Erin.

Mentioning the Ahmanson reminded me of another memory: dim sum. Lauren loved to go out for dim sim to Empress Pavillion in Chinatown. We would always go to the store downstairs and pay homage to the ugly fountain. It was a regular, fun, Sunday morning. The last dim sum run I remember was in December, when we were going to go see “Mary Poppins.”

Lauren was a crafter. She wove, and her living room was filled with a gigantic loom. She loved knittingand crocheting. I think a favorite pastime of hers was sitting with Karen, each working on a project, chatting away the afternoon.

Lauren loved her music. We introduced her to artists, but she would never rip my music and return the CD. She was scrupulously honest, and believed fiercely that artists should be paid for their artistic work. We would buy albums copies for her. If she wanted my music, she’d borrow the CDs and listen to them for a while, and then return them.

Lauren was a fellow computer security expert. For many years she reviewed tutorials for me for ACSAC, and regretted she could never attend a conference. Before she got sick, she was thinking about getting her CISSP, but the big C got in the way.

Lauren was a true and dear friend. We could always count on her to be there for us, whatever the problem. Be it lending an ear, attending one of Erin’s performances, picking someone up, helping us through a catastrophe—Lauren was there. As she was battling the cancer, we did our best to be there for her. Even though she is physically gone, the relationship hasn’t changed. Her family and our family are connected at the hip—anything that Scott or Jim needs, we’re there for them. We will never forget her.

Coda: Before I could post this, I had to run off to go help my daughter, and then to a temple event. While talking to my daughter over dinner, she indicated that Lauren always made her think of a butterfly. As I drove home from temple, my iPod (having the mind that it does) played the song “Butterfly” from “The Story of My Life”. This song tells the story of a tiny butterfly, talking to the water and the wind. From these discussions, the butterfly learns that the flapping of her wings changes the world. This is how life works: the little things you do and the people you touch change the world. At the end of the song, the butterfly flys free, confident in the knowledge that she has changed the world. Lauren: You can rest easy. You have left lots and lots and lots and lots of good behind, and you will continue to give good from the people that you have touched.


Talking ’bout My Generation

We often talk about generations. There’s a generation gap. There’s your parent’s generation, or “the younger generation”. But what do we really mean when we use the word?

As folks know, I’ve started up again working on my family tree. In doing this, I noticed a pattern. “My” generation consisted mostly of people born in the 1955-1965 timeframe; our kids were all born in the 1985-2000 timeframe. My parent’s generation? Born in the 1920s-1930s. Grandparents? All around 1890-1910. Great-grandparents? Around 1860-1870?

See the pattern here? A generation appears to be around 25-35 years, or about 3 generations per century. Your years may differ, but the timespam, I’ll bet, will be about the same. So, putting this in perspective, ellipticcurve (although she thinks I’m old) and I are only about ½ generation apart: our difference in years is only about 15 years. zarchasmpgmr and I are the same generation; we have the same cultural touchstone such as Dr. George and Sheriff John. I’m not sure there is anyone on LJ of my parent’s generation, whose cultural touchstones are WWII and the depression.

So, although a generation gap may be large in terms of culture and references and styles… it isn’t that large in terms of time.


Today, I’m All Thumbs

This morning, I couldn’t find my badge for work. This was extremely annoying, as it would have meant that I not only lost my badge (easy to replace), but my DoD Common Access Card (CAC). My CAC contains (on a smart card) the keys I need to decrypt encrypted mail sent to me; it is unlocked by a PIN that presumably only I know. If you think about this a bit, this is a way of strengthening security by adding “something you have” (the card) to “something you know” (the password).

The problem with “something you have” is that sometimes you don’t have it. Things get lost or misplaced. So how do we get the “something you have” without the use of cards to store keys. The answer in some sense is easy: biometrics. Equip all computers with a reader that reads biometric information (say, a thumbprint); this ties to a database that provides the requisite information. Combine the biometrics with the password, and you’ve got something pretty strong.

So, while sitting on the van this morning, I continued to think along this vein. What if the biometric became your universal ID. Need to charge something? Give a thumbprint, the terminal asks you back “which account?”, and you indicate the account and the passphase for that account. Need to login? Thumbprint and passphrase. Need your medical records? Thumbprint and passphrase. Identify theft should be reduced, unless you lose your thumbs. They won’t have the biometrics. Your phones could even be equipped with a device to send it. Worried about replay? I think we have the technology to address that as well, in particular, if you could change your account passphrases monthly.

Aye, so where’s the rub. Aisle 4, near meat tenderizers. No, the other rub.

This would become a universal ID. Although (as I pointed out above) this has a number of advantages, it could also be used by “the government” in bad ways. Spending profiles could be tracked: the government or corporations would know what you bought, when, and the frequency. Movements could be tracked. If everyone’s prints were one file, law enforcement could find bad folks easy, but they might also turn the innocuous into the bad.

So, I’d like your opinion. Are we moving in the direction of a universal ID? If so, what can we do to ensure that good use happens, and the bad use is prevented? What legislation might we need to have in place?

Well, my tea is now cool enough to drink, I’ve found my badge (it was in my briefcase), and so it is back to productive endeavors.



Today, we’re going to be bombarded with 9/11 remembrances. Me? I remember getting up that morning, turning on the morning news for 5 minutes and learning about the first plane… and then the second plane, and thinking it must have been terrorism. Listening to the news on the van into work. In relatively short order, turning around and going home, as we closed for the day not knowing what else would happen.

It has now been 5 years. I think it is time to ask ourselves, as part of honoring the memory of those who died just for going to work or boarding a plane, and for those who died trying to save those who went to work/boarded a plane, and for those who made it out alive:

  • Have the actions we have taken in response to this event made the world, and this country, a safer place?
  • Have the actions we have taken in response to this event been true to what makes America the noble experiment in freedom and democracy that it is?
  • Have the actions we have taken in response to this event served to help the survivors, and are we prepared to better help the survivors of future natural and man-made disasters?
  • Have the actions we have taken in response to this event demonstrated that we have learned from past mismanagement and past mistakes so as to reduce the likelihood of future similar incidents?
  • Have the actions we have taken in response to this event led us to adequately protect other similar targets, i.e., those with high symbolic or publicity value?
  • Have the actions we have taken in response to this event led us to rethink our mindset of complacency, our mindset that was mired in the thought process of conventional warfare with professional armies fighting with a national agenda and accepted rules of warfare?

If the answer to any of these questions is “No”, then what do we need to do to address the problems that still remain? How do we improve and move along the line towards safety and security, towards the correct balance of freedom and firmness, towards protection and peace?

A moment of silence for those who did not deserve what has happened to them, as a result of the tragedy five years ago today, and as a result of its aftermath and ripples.


What a Difference a Year Makes… Or Does It?

I took a minute to look back on what I was writing on LiveJournal a year ago. What a difference a year makes… or does it:

  • Last year at this time, we were starting to look at houses, and I was doing a lot of posts on housing. ellipticcurve had just opened escrow on her place, and the bug had bit us. So what’s happened? We did get the new place, and we’re now in the middle of refinancing it to get rid of the option ARM. Given how interest rates have gone (we didn’t predict that right), we’re looking at a 5-yr fixed, as the rates on 30-year jumbos just make the payments untenable. So we’re doing the closing cost upfront/later dance.
  • Last year at this time, I was scheduling my sinus surgery. I’ve since had it, with mixed results. Slightly less migraines, but I’m much more sensitive to pressure changes and incoming weather systems (for example, I have a headache today). I still have medical stuff on my mind, as I fell in the tub on a business trip about a month ago, and my shoulder and ankle are still sore. A week from today starts two days of medical stuff: annual checkup, dental checkup, eye checkup. I hope they pronounce me alive.
  • Last year I was figuring out when I would to go the So Cal Ren Faire. This year we know: April 29. If you’re in So Cal that day, join us. Other April weekends are full as well: Forever Plaid tomorrow at Cabrillo Music Theatre, Camp Visit Day on Sunday, As You Like It at the Pasadena Playhouse on the 8th, the spring Rail Festival at Orange Empire the weekend of the 22nd/23rd.

So what was happening with you a year ago?