Things in Valerian that reminded me of Star Wars and other movies

We saw “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was far better than the professional reviews; yes, the plot was a bit convoluted, and the yes, the romance between the major and the sergeant seemed forced and cheesy… but it was good fun. (And the romance was far less cheesy […]

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Women wait longer for a toilet — here’s how to fix it

People Queue Magazine has a fascinating new article, “No more queuing at the ladies’ room.” You’ll want to read the whole thing, because it has some fascinating mathematics (this is a scientific article, not a sociological one). Here’s a teaser:

Although it’s a well-documented fact that women have to wait longer at the bathroom stall, so far the mathematical perspective seems to be lacking in literature. This is in spite of the decennia-long existence of the field of queuing theory, which has traditionally been applied most to problems of technology and decent people, rather than to such inescapable habits as the act of excreting.

Nevertheless, mathematics is what you need to analyze queues because of the inherent random nature of queuing phenomena, turning simple lines of people into complex nonlinear systems with numerous parameters, whereby a small deviation can lead to excessive additional waiting. This is as opposed to good old linear systems, which see linear changes of parameters translated in proportional variations at their output.

Nonlinear systems are common in everyday life and nature. A virus for example will result in a pandemic much faster if it is just slightly more infectious. And just a few extra cars make for a traffic jam appearing out of thin air. Similarly, toilet queues, or any queue for that matter, pose nonlinear problems in which the fragile balance between capacity and demand can be disrupted by subtle tweaks.

A first factor explaining why women wait longer is that the net number of toilets for women is smaller than that for men. The toilet sections for men and women are often of equal size, as is the surface dedicated to each of them. What appears to be “fair” at first sight, is quite unreasonable knowing that a toilet cabin inevitably takes up more space than a urinal. Overall, an average toilet area can accommodate 20 to 30% more toilets for men (urinals + cabins) than for women.

The major impact of the number of toilets on the average waiting time can be understood from the Erlang-C queuing model. This model allows to calculate the average waiting time when the number of available toilets, the average time spent on the toilet and the average arrival intensity are known. Where λ stands for the average arrival intensity expressed in number of arrivals per minute, μ for the inverse of the average time spent on the toilet, and t for the number of toilets, the average waiting time is obtained from following formulas:

Read the whole article — and there’s no waiting, whether you are male or female.

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Say hello to Phoenix’s Gilded Flicker

We added a new friend to our back yard bird list, the Gilded Flicker, a type of woodpecker. We already knew about our Gila Woodpeckers, and also the more common Northern Flicker, but the Gilded Flicker really stood out. See those beautiful yellow/gold feathers? And the little patches of red on the cheeks? Gorgeous.

Here’s the current list of our backyard birds, in alphabetical order by scientific name, as of July 2017. (Cactus Wren wins the contest for best name.) We live in the Moon Valley neighborhood of Phoenix, in the north-central part of the city.

  • Accipiter cooperii – Cooper’s Hawk
  • Agapornis roseicollis – Rosy-Faced / Peach-Faced Lovebirds
  • Archilochus alexandri – Black-Chinned Hummingbird
  • Auriparus flaviceps) – Verdin
  • Bubo virginianus – Great Horned Owl
  • Buteo jamaicensis – Red-Tailed Hawk
  • Callipepla gambelii – Gambel’s Quail
  • Calypte anna – Anna’s Hummingbird
  • Calypte costae – Costa’s Hummingbird
  • Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus – Cactus Wren
  • Cardinalis cardinalis – Northern Cardinal
  • Colaptes auratus – Northern Flicker
  • Colaptes chrysoides – Gilded Flicker
  • Columbina inca – Inca Dove
  • Columba livia – Common Pigeon / Rock Dove
  • Geococcyx californianus – Greater Roadrunner
  • Haemorhous mexicanus – House Finch
  • Melanerpes uropygialis – Gila Woodpecker
  • Mimus polyglottos – Northern Mockingbird
  • Passer domesticus – House Sparrow
  • Pipilo aberti – Abert’s Towhee
  • Spinus psaltria – Lesser Goldfinch
  • Spinus tristis – American Goldfinch
  • Sturnus vulgaris – Common Starling
  • Toxostoma curvirostre – Curve-Billed Thrasher
  • Zenaida asiatica – White-Winged Dove
  • Zenaida macroura – Mourning Dove
  • Zonotrichia atricapilla – Gold-Crowned Sparrow
  • Zonotrichia leucophrys – White-Crowned Sparrow

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No more mansplaining: 10 commandments for male clergy – and all lay leaders

“Thou shalt not refer winkingly to my taking off my robe after worship as disrobing.” A powerful new essay by Pastor Melissa Florer-Bixler, “10 commandments for male clergy,” highlights the challenges that female clergy endure in a patriarchal tradition — and one in which they are still seen as interlopers to church/synagogue power.

In my life and volunteer work, I have the honor to work with many clergy. Many, but not all, are rabbis and cantors who come from the traditions of Reform Judaism. Many of them are women. I also work with female Conservative and Reconstructionist rabbis and cantors, as well as female pastors and ministers. And of course, there are lots of male clergy, from those traditions as well as the male-only Orthodox Jewish and Roman Catholic domains.

Congregations, schools, seminaries, communities, and non-profits enjoy abundant blessings when employing and engaging with female clergy. That doesn’t mean that women clergy are always seen as first-class clergy, and treated with the same respect as their male counterparts.

There are too many assumptions, writes Pastor Florer-Bixler, who ministers at the Raleigh Mennonite Church. Too many jokes. Too many subtle sexist put-downs. I’ve heard those myself. To be honest, there are some jokes and patronizing assumptions that I’ve made myself. While always meant kindly, my own words and attitude contributed to the problem.

In her essay, Pastor Florer-Bixler writes about mansplaining, stereotypes, and the unspoken notion that religious institutions are essentially masculine:

In her recent lecture-essay “Women in Power: From Medusa to Merkel,” Mary Beard describes the pervasiveness of the cultural stereotype that power — from the halls of ancient Greece to the modern parliament — is masculine.

She cites a January 2017 article in The London Times about women front-runners for the positions of bishop of London, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and chair of the BBC governing board. The headline read: “Women prepare for a power grab in church, police and BBC.”

Beard points out that “probably thousands upon thousands of readers didn’t bat an eyelid” at the suggestion that those seats of power were the property of men — possessions being “grabbed,” that is, taken away, by women.

Straight-forward sexism

Pastor Florer-Bixler writes about sexism, and I cringe at having seen all of these behaviors, and not speaking out.

Drawing attention to pregnancy, making sexualizing comments about “disrobing,” suggesting that a clergywoman should smile more, describing a female pastor’s voice as “shrill” — all expose the discomfort that men feel about women in “their” profession.

Masculine assumptions about gender were evident in the young clergywomen’s proposed commandments:

Thou shalt invite me into budget and financial conversations instead of assuming I won’t be interested.

Thou shalt not ask or expect me to take notes in a meeting, make copies or serve coffee.

Thou shalt not assume, based on my sex, that I’m better at working with children, youth or women than you are.

Thou shalt not call me “Sweetie,” “Kiddo” or “Girl.”

More than just ridiculous humiliations, these stereotypes affect the ministries and careers of women in church leadership. One colleague discovered that a pastor search committee was told that for the salary they were offering, they should expect only women to be willing to serve. The committee was livid — not at the pay gap but at the idea that they would have to consider only women.

We must do better

Pastor Florer-Bixler offers some suggestions for making systemic improvements in how we — male clergy, lay leaders, everyone — work with female clergy. The way forward will unquestioningly be slow, but we must do what we can to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem.

Men have all-male theological traditions and ministerial roles to which they can retreat. Not so female pastors.

If a woman stands up to this patriarchal tradition, she faces the accusation of intolerance. Women should not be expected to “get along” with sexist individuals, theologies, practices and institutions as if this were a price to be paid for church unity.

What is the way forward? For one, men must do better. When male pastors co-opt ideas that have come from female colleagues, they must reassign the insights. When they learn of pay gaps, they must address them.

When female clergy are outtalked or overtalked, male pastors must name the imbalance. They must read the sermons, theology and books of women. And decline to purchase books written by men who exclude women from the pulpit.

Women are addressing this as we always have: through constant negotiation between getting the job done and speaking out against what is intolerable. In the meantime, we create spaces where women can begin to speak the truth of our power to one another. For now, this is what we have.

Email exchanges about Russian involvement with Don Trump Jr. are despicable

This is what Daffy Duck would describe as “dethpicable.” Absolutely deplorable.

We can now read emails exchanged last year between Don Trump Jr. (the president’s son) and Rob Goldstein, an intermediary with Russia. According to Mr. Trump, who released the emails today, the point of the discussion was the Magnitsky Act, which related to sanctions placed on Russian officials by the U.S. Congress in 2012.

Repealing the act and lifting its sanctions is widely known to be a high priority for the Russian government. The only plausible reason why Russian agents would want to discuss the Magnitsky Act with the Trump campaign, during the election, would be to lobby for repeating the act.

You can read and download the whole email exchange here (released by Mr. Trump). The very earliest messages in the thread had Mr. Goldstein saying, quite explicitly, that the meeting’s purpose was to reveal allegedly incriminating information about Hillary Clinton, for the purposes for helping Donald Trump’s campaign. And, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Don Trump Jr. did not push back on or question Mr. Goldstein’s assertion that the Russian government was actively seeking to help his father. In fact, he said, “… if it’s what you say I love it.”

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump continues to insist that any connection between his campaign and the Russian government is “fake news.” Despicable.

Two degrees of separation from General Erich Ludendorff

General Erich Ludendorff, one of the top German generals during World War I, was a prominent character in the recent “Wonder Woman” movie. In the movie, General Ludendorff was killed by Diana Prince. In reality, the general survived the war, helped Adolf Hitler with his “Beer Hall Putsch,” ran for president of Germany in 1925, fell out of favor, and died in 1937.

I have a “2 degrees of separation” link to the general. My father-in-law, Joe, served in the Royal Navy during World War II. Quoting from Joe’s memoir, he wrote about early 1945:

… I joined a sloop HMS “Alacrity” at Dumbarton, where she was built at Denny’s yard. A Sloop was a small anti-submarine convoy escort vessel. We did our running-in trials in the Scottish Western Isles. At Mull, there were about 6 or 7 ships and we had an intership walking race, 10 miles, from Tobermory to Salen. I came in second, wearing out a pair of boots in the process. We were taken back to Tobermory in the yacht “Philante”, which had once belonged to a German general (von Ludendorff, I think). In the Atlantic we made contact with a U-Boat (U 764) and depth-charged it until it came to the surface. With our guns trained on it, we escorted it up to Loch Eriboll in the North of Scotland.

There’s my two degrees: Alan -> Joe -> Ludendorff’s yacht -> Ludendorff.

About that unterseeboot

According to the Wikipedia,

U-764 surrendered on 14 May 1945 at Loch Eriboll, Scotland. She was sunk as a target in position 56°06′N 09°00′W as part of Operation Deadlight on 2 February 1946.

Here’s my father-in-law’s picture of U-764:

 

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End of an era: BZ Media’s SD Times to be acquired by D2 Emerge LLC

It’s almost painful to see an issue of SD Times without my name printed in the masthead. From Editor-in-Chief to Editorial Director to Founding Editor to… nothing. However, it’s all good!

My company, BZ Media, is selling our flagship print publication, SD Times, to a startup, D2 Emerge LLC. The deal shall formally close in a few weeks. If you’ve been following SD Times, you’ll recognize the two principals of the startup, David Lyman and David Rubinstein. (Thus, the “D2” part of the name.)

BZ Media co-founder Ted Bahr and I wish David, and David, and SD Times, and its staff, readers, and advertisers, nothing but success. (I retired from BZ Media mid-2013, becoming a silent partner with no involvement in day-to-day operations.)

D2 Emerge is ready to roll. Here’s what David Rubinstein wrote in the July 2017 issue (download it here):

The Times, it is a-changin’

There’s a saying that goes ‘when one chapter closes, another one begins.’

This issue of SD Times marks the close of the BZ Media chapter of this publication’s history and opens the chapter on D2 Emerge LLC, a new-age publishing and marketing company founded by two long-time members of the SD Times team: the publisher, David Lyman, and the editor-in-chief … me!

We will work hard to maintain the quality of SD Times and build on the solid foundation that has been built over the past 17 years. Wherever we go, we hear from readers who tell us they look forward to each issue, and they say they’re learning about things they didn’t know they needed to know. And we’re proud of that.

The accolades are certainly nice — and always welcome. Yet, there is nothing more important to us than the stories we tell. Whether putting a spotlight on new trends in the industry and analyzing what they mean, profiling the amazing, brilliant people behind the innovation in our industry, or helping software providers tell their unique stories to the industry, our mission is to inform, enlighten and even entertain.

But, as much as things will stay the same, there will be some changes. We will look to introduce you to different voices and perspectives from the industry, inviting subject matter experts to share their knowledge and vision of changes in our industry. The exchange of ideas and free flow of information are the bedrock of our publishing philosophy.

We will somewhat broaden the scope of our coverage to include topics that might once have been thought of as ancillary to software development but are now important areas for you to follow as silos explode and walls come tumbling down in IT shops around the world.

We will work to improve our already excellent digital offerings by bettering the user experience and the way in which we deliver content to you. So, whether you’re reading SD Times on a desktop at work, or on a tablet at a coffee shop, or even on your cellphone at the beach, we want you have the same wonderful experience.

For our advertisers, we will help guide you toward the best way to reach our readers, whether through white papers, webinars, or strategic ad placement across our platforms. And, we will look

to add to an already robust list of services we can provide to help you tailor your messages in a way that best suits our readers.

BZ Media was a traditional publishing company, with a print-first attitude (only because there weren’t any viable digital platforms back in 2000). D2 Emerge offers an opportunity to strike the right balance between a digital-first posture and all that is good about print publishing.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge BZ Media founders Ted Bahr and Alan Zeichick, who took a cynical, grizzled daily newspaperman and turned him into a cynical, grizzled technology editor. But as I often say, covering this space is never dull. Years ago, I covered sports for a few newspapers, and after a while, I saw that I had basically seen every outcome there was: A walk-off home run, a last-second touchdown, a five-goal hockey game. The only thing that seemed to change were the players. Sure, once in a while a once-in-a-lifetime player comes along, and we all enjoy his feats. But mostly sports do not change.

Technology, on the other hand, changes at breakneck speed. As we worked to acquire SD Times, I had a chance to look back at the first issues we published, and realized just how far we’ve come. Who could have known in 2000, when we were writing about messaging middleware and Enterprise JavaBeans that one day we’d be writing about microservices architectures and augmented reality?

Back then, we covered companies such as Sun Microsystems, Metrowerks, IONA, Rational Software, BEA Systems, Allaire Corp, Bluestone Software and many more that were either acquired or couldn’t keep up with changes in the industry.

The big news at the JavaOne conference in 2000 was extreme clustering of multiple JVMs on a single server, while elsewhere, the creation of an XML Signature specification looked to unify authentication, and Corel Corp. was looking for cash to stay alive after a proposed merger with Borland Corp. (then Inprise) fell apart.

So now, we’re excited to begin the next chapter in the storied (pardon the pun) history of SD Times, and we’re glad you’re coming along with us as OUR story unfolds.

Get the time-wasting monkey off your back

Here are a few excerpts from one of the most important articles on leadership ever published.Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?,” from Harvard Business Review in 1974, equally applies to the business and non-profit worlds.

The premise of the article, by William Oncken Jr. and Donald L. Wass, is that leaders too often take over responsibility for tasks that should be owned by their employees or volunteers. The authors refer to this as “subordinate-imposed time.” This not only harms the organization, but overloads the leaders. The manager’s objective should be to guide, to mentor, to advise, to set objectives, to define success, to help secure resources – but not take on the work!

What’s essential to remember is that the task — the monkey — can only be on one person’s back at a time. Should it be on yours? (Or as I put it when doing management training, should the ball be in your court, or in someone else’s court?)

Excerpt 1: A common scenario

Let us imagine that a manager is walking down the hall and that he notices one of his subordinates, Jones, coming his way. When the two meet, Jones greets the manager with, “Good morning. By the way, we’ve got a problem. You see….” As Jones continues, the manager recognizes in this problem the two characteristics common to all the problems his subordinates gratuitously bring to his attention. Namely, the manager knows (a) enough to get involved, but (b) not enough to make the on-the-spot decision expected of him. Eventually, the manager says, “So glad you brought this up. I’m in a rush right now. Meanwhile, let me think about it, and I’ll let you know.” Then he and Jones part company.

Let us analyze what just happened. Before the two of them met, on whose back was the “monkey”? The subordinate’s. After they parted, on whose back was it? The manager’s. Subordinate-imposed time begins the moment a monkey successfully leaps from the back of a subordinate to the back of his or her superior and does not end until the monkey is returned to its proper owner for care and feeding. In accepting the monkey, the manager has voluntarily assumed a position subordinate to his subordinate. That is, he has allowed Jones to make him her subordinate by doing two things a subordinate is generally expected to do for a boss—the manager has accepted a responsibility from his subordinate, and the manager has promised her a progress report.

The subordinate, to make sure the manager does not miss this point, will later stick her head in the manager’s office and cheerily query, “How’s it coming?” (This is called supervision.)

Excerpt 2: Who owns the initiative?

What we have been driving at in this monkey-on-the-back analogy is that managers can transfer initiative back to their subordinates and keep it there. We have tried to highlight a truism as obvious as it is subtle: namely, before developing initiative in subordinates, the manager must see to it that they have the initiative. Once the manager takes it back, he will no longer have it and he can kiss his discretionary time good-bye. It will all revert to subordinate-imposed time.

It’s not a long article. Read it!

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Flat tire adventures with a Prius: Jacks and donuts spares

“The wheels on the Prius go flop flop flop….”

Sunday’s travels in our trusty 2005 Toyota Prius were marred only by a flat tire. I wish to share two hard-earned bits of wisdom with other Prius owners, and potentially with owners of other front-wheel drive vehicles.

1. Don’t trust the included tire-changing jack.

The crappy screw jack included with the Prius is useless. Literally. With the car on level ground, and with the parking brake set, the jack quickly tilted — and the car fell off the jack. Yes, the jack was set at the correct life point. On a second attempt, the car would have fallen again if we didn’t let it down quickly. In any case, the jack was extremely difficult to turn.

Fortunately, someone gave us a ride to an auto-parts store, where we purchased an inexpensive hydraulic floor jack. That made quick work of the task, and the new jack will live in back of the car from now on. If you have a flimsy screw jack with your car, you may wish to upgrade to something more solid.

2. Don’t put compact spares onto the front.

The flat was the front driver corner. Once the car was jacked up, it only took a few minutes to mount the compact donut spare. However, the car simply wouldn’t drive properly — the vehicle not only pulled to the left, but there were error lights flashing on the screen. Even with the pedal to the metal, the vehicle wouldn’t go over 30 mph, slowing to 15 mph going uphill. Uh oh!

Thinking the problem through, we realized that the donut was throwing off the traction control system (which can’t be switched off with that model year). So we pulled over, swapped the donut to the rear, and put the rear’s full-size wheel/tire on front. (Thank you, hydraulic jack!) The car immediately drove correctly, plenty of pep, no pulling, and no error lights. The lesson: On front-wheel drive cars, always put the donut on the rear, even if that makes the wheel-changing process a bit more complicated.

Note: There is nothing written about optimal placement of the compact spare in the car’s owners manual. So consider yourself advised on both fronts.

The good news is that we made it home just fine. The bad news is the tire has a cracked sidewall. Time to go tire shopping!

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Dragonfly, butterfly, bee

Everyone loves bugs — at least, everyone loves beautiful bugs. Right? Here are a few photographed in Phoenix over the past couple of days. The desert here is full of life, from insects to birds to reptiles to plants.

Sure, the temperatures may be hot. The forecast is for 117° F next week (47° C) but never forget, it’s a dry heat. I’d rather be in Phoenix at 117° than, say, Houston or Miami at 95°.

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A phone that takes pictures? Smartphone cameras turn 20 years old

Twenty years ago, my friend Philippe Kahn introduced the first camera-phone. You may know Philippe as the founder of Borland, and as an entrepreneur who has started many companies, and who has accomplished many things. He’s also a sailor, jazz musician, and, well, a fun guy to hang out with.

About camera phones: At first, I was a skeptic. Twenty years ago I was still shooting film, and then made the transition to digital SLR platforms. Today, I shoot with big Canon DSLRs for birding and general stuff, Leica digital rangefinders when want to be artistic, and with pocket-sized digital cameras when I travel. Yet most of my pictures, especially those posted to social media, come from the built-in camera in my smartphone.

Philippe has blogged about this special anniversary – which also marks the birth of his daughter Sophie. To excerpt from his post, The Creation of the Camera-Phone and Instant-Picture-Mail:

Twenty years ago on June 11th 1997, I shared instantly the first camera-phone photo of the birth of my daughter Sophie. Today she is a university student and over 2 trillion photos will be instantly shared this year alone. Every smartphone is a camera-phone. Here is how it all happened in 1997, when the web was only 4 years old and cellular phones were analog with ultra limited wireless bandwidth.

First step 1996/1997: Building the server service infrastructure: For a whole year before June 1997 I had been working on a web/notification system that was capable of uploading a picture and text annotations securely and reliably and sending link-backs through email notifications to a stored list on a server and allowing list members to comment.

Remember it was 1996/97, the web was very young and nothing like this existed. The server architecture that I had designed and deployed is in general the blueprint for all social media today: Store once, broadcast notifications and let people link back on demand and comment. That’s how Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and many others are function. In 1997 this architecture was key to scalability because bandwidth was limited and it was prohibitive, for example, to send the same picture to 500 friends. Today the same architecture is essential because while there is bandwidth, we are working with millions of views and potential viral phenomena. Therefore the same smart “frugal architecture” makes sense. I called this “Instant-Picture-Mail” at the time.

He adds:

What about other claims of inventions: Many companies put photo-sensors in phones or wireless modules in cameras, including Kodak, Polaroid, Motorola. None of them understood that the success of the camera-phone is all about instantly sharing pictures with the cloud-based Instant-Picture-Mail software/server/service-infrastructure. In fact, it’s even amusing to think that none of these projects was interesting enough that anyone has kept shared pictures. You’d think that if you’d created something new and exciting like the camera-phone you’d share a picture or two or at least keep some!

Read more about the fascinating story here — he goes into a lot of technical detail. Thank you, Philippe, for your amazing invention!

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Hacking can kill — and cyberattacks can lead to warfare

Two Indian Air Force pilots are dead, possibly because of a cyberattack on their Sukhoi 30 fighter jet. According to the Economic Times of India,

Squadron leader D Pankaj and Flight Lieutenant S Achudev, the pilots of the Su-30 aircraft, had sustained fatal injuries when the aircraft crashed approximately 60 km from Tezpur Airbase on May 23. A court of Inquiry has already been ordered to investigate the cause of the accident.

According to defence spokesperson S Ghosh, analysis of the Flight Data Recorder of the aircraft and certain other articles recovered from the crash site revealed that the pilots could not initiate ejection before crash. The wreckage of the aircraft was located on May 26.

What does that have to do with hackers? Well, the aircraft was flying close to India’s border with China, and according to reports, the Sukhoi’s two pilots were possibly victims of cyberwarfare. Says the Indian Defense News,

Analysts based in the vicinity of New York and St Petersburg warn that the loss, days ago, of an advanced and mechanically certified as safe, Sukhoi 30 fighter aircraft, close to the border with China may be the result of “cyber-interference with the onboard computers” in the cockpit. This may explain why even the pilots may have found it difficult to activate safety ejection mechanisms, once it became obvious that the aircraft was in serious trouble, as such mechanisms too could have been crippled by computer malfunctions induced from an outside source.

You’ve undoubtedly heard about the troubles going on with Qatar in the Middle East, and it might lead to a shooting war. In mid-May, stories were published on the Qatar News Agency that outraged its Arab neighbors. According to CNN,

The Qatari government has said a May 23 news report on its Qatar News Agency attributed false remarks to the nation’s ruler that appeared friendly to Iran and Israel and questioned whether President Donald Trump would last in office.

Soon thereafter, three Arab countries cut off ties and boycotted the country, which borders Saudi Arabia on the Persian Gulf. It’s now believed that those stories were “fake news” planted by hackers. Were they state-sponsored agents? It’s too soon to tell. However, given how quickly Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates reacted — and given how hard Saudi Arabia is fighting in Yemen — this is troubling. Could keystrokes from hackers lead to the drumbeat of war?

Read more in my latest piece for Zonic News, Cyberattacks Can Lead to Real Warfare, and to Real Deaths.

 

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My article on digital watermarks cited in a U.S. government paper

March 2003: The U.S. International Trade Commission released a 32-page paper called, “Protecting U.S. Intellectual Property Rights and the Challenge of Digital Piracy.” The authors, Christopher Johnson and Daniel J. Walworth, cited an article I wrote for the Red Herring in 1999.

Here’s the abstract of the ITC’s paper:

ABSTRACT: According to U.S. industry and government officials, intellectual property rights (IPR) infringement has reached critical levels in the United States as well as abroad. The speed and ease with which the duplication of products protected by IPR can occur has created an urgent need for industries and governments alike to address the protection of IPR in order to keep markets open to trade in the affected goods. Copyrighted products such as software, movies, music and video recordings, and other media products have been particularly affected by inadequate IPR protection. New tools, such as writable compact discs (CDs) and, of course, the Internet have made duplication not only effortless and low-cost, but anonymous as well. This paper discusses the merits of IPR protection and its importance to the U.S. economy. It then provides background on various technical, legal, and trade policy methods that have been employed to control the infringement of IPR domestically and internationally. This is followed by an analysis of current and future challenges facing U.S. industry with regard to IPR protection, particularly the challenges presented by the Internet and digital piracy.

Here’s where they cited yours truly:

To improve upon the basic encryption strategy, several methods have evolved that fall under the classification of “watermarks” and “digital fingerprints” (also known as steganography). Watermarks have been considered extensively by record labels in order to protect their content.44 However, some argue that “watermarking” is better suited to tracking content than it is to protecting against reproduction. This technology is based on a set of rules embedded in the content itself that define the conditions under which one can legally access the data. For example, a digital music file can be manipulated to have a secret pattern of noise, undetectable to the ear, but recorded such that different versions of the file distributed along different channels can be uniquely identified.45 Unlike encryption, which scrambles a file unless someone has a ‘key’ to unlock the process, watermarking does not intrinsically prevent use of a file. Instead it requires a player–a DVD machine or MP3 player, for example–to have instructions built in that can read watermarks and accept only correctly marked files.”46

Reference 45 goes to

Alan Zeichick, “Digital Watermarks Explained,” Red Herring, Dec. 1999

Another paper that referenced that Red Herring article is “Information Technology and the Increasing Efficacy of Non-Legal Sanctions in Financing Transactions.” It was written by Ronald J. Mann of the the University of Michigan Law School.

Sadly, my digital watermarks article is no longer available online.

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Female entrepreneurs are treated differently than male entrepreneurs

According to a depressing story in Harvard Business Review, venture capitalists consider female entrepreneurs to be quite different than males. The perceived difference is not good. According to the May 17, 2017, story, “We Recorded VCs’ Conversations and Analyzed How Differently They Talk About Female Entrepreneurs”:

Aside from a few exceptions, the financiers rhetorically produce stereotypical images of women as having qualities opposite to those considered important to being an entrepreneur, with VCs questioning their credibility, trustworthiness, experience, and knowledge.

This research was done in Sweden in 2009-2010, and used transcribed discussions by a diverse panel of VCs considering 125 venture applications. The story continues,

Men were characterized as having entrepreneurial potential, while the entrepreneurial potential for women was diminished. Many of the young men and women were described as being young, though youth for men was viewed as promising, while young women were considered inexperienced. Men were praised for being viewed as aggressive or arrogant, while women’s experience and excitement were tempered by discussions of their emotional shortcomings. Similarly, cautiousness was viewed very differently depending on the gender of the entrepreneur.

The results were what you would expect:

Women entrepreneurs were only awarded, on average, 25% of the applied-for amount, whereas men received, on average, 52% of what they asked for. Women were also denied financing to a greater extent than men, with close to 53% of women having their applications dismissed, compared with 38% of men.

Read the HBR paper, you’ll be unhappy with what you see. Credit for the research goes to Malin Malmstrom, professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Luleå University of Technology; Jeaneth Johansson, professor of Accounting and Control at Halmstad University and Luleå University of Technology; and Joakim Wincent, professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Luleå University of Technology and Hanken School of Economics.

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Proposed laptop travel ban is not good news

From eWeek’s story, “Proposed Laptop Travel Ban Would Wreak Havoc on Business Travelers,” by Wayne Rash:

A current proposal from the Department of Homeland Security to mandate that large electronic devices be relegated to checked luggage is facing stiff resistance from airlines and business travelers.

Under the proposal, travelers with electronic devices larger than a cell phone would be required to carry them as checked luggage. Depending on the airline, those devices may either be placed in each passenger’s luggage, or the airline may offer secure containers at the gate.

While the proposed ban is still in the proposal stage, it could go into effect at any time. U.S. officials have begun meeting with European Union representatives in Brussels on May 17, and will continue their meetings in Washington the following week.

The proposed ban is similar to one that began in March that prohibited laptops and other large electronics from passenger cabins between certain airports in the Middle East and North Africa.

That ban has resulted in a significant reduction in travel between those countries and the U.S., according to a report by Emirates Airlines. That airline has already cut back on its flights to the U.S. because of the laptop ban.

The new laptop ban would work like the current one from the Middle East, except that it would affect all flights from Europe to the U.S.

The ban raises a series of concerns that so far have not been addressed by the Department of Homeland Security, most notably large lithium-ion batteries that are currently not allowed in cargo holds by many airlines because of their propensity to catch fire.

The story continues going into detail about the pros and cons – and includes some thoughtful analysis by yours truly.

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Slow-motion lifecycle of our echinopsis flower

Our beautiful little echinopsis has a second flower. Here you can see it opening wide over a 22-hour period. Sad to think that it’s nearly finished. Thursday or Friday the closed-up blossom will drop off the cactus.

Tuesday, 5:20pm

Tuesday, 6:37pm

Wednesday, 7:10pm

Wednesday, noon.

Wednesday, 3:10pm

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The ongoing challenge for women in high-tech companies

In the United States, Sunday, May 14, is Mother’s Day. (Mothering Sunday was March 27 this year in the United Kingdom.) This is a good time to reflect on the status of women of all marital status and family situations in information technology. The results continue to disappoint.

According to the Unites States Department of Labor, 57.2% of all women participate in the labor force in the United States. 46.9% of the people employed in all occupations are women. So far, so good. Yet when it comes to information technology, women lag far, far behind. Based on 2014 stats:

  • Web developers – 35.2% women
  • Computer systems analysts – 34.2% women
  • Database administrators – 28.0%
  • Computer and information systems managers – 26.7%
  • Computer support specialists – 26.6%
  • Computer programmers – 21.4%
  • Software developers, applications and systems software – 19.8%
  • Network and computer systems administrators – 19.1%
  • Information security analysts – 18.1%
  • Computer network architects – 12.4%

The job area with the highest projected growth rate over the next few years will be information security analysts, says Labor. A question is, will women continue to be underrepresented in this high-paying, fast-growing field? Or will the demand for analysts provide new opportunities for women to enter into the security profession? Impossible to say, really.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shows that the biggest high tech companies lag behind in diversity. That’s something that anyone working in Silicon Valley can sense intuitively, in large part due to the bro culture (and brogrammer culture) there.

Read more about this in my essay for Zonic News, “Women in Tech – An Ongoing Diversity Challenge.”

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Your board members are a cybersecurity liability — here’s what to do

To those who run or serve on corporate, local government or non-profit boards:

Your board members are at risk, and this places your organizations at risk. Your board members could be targeted by spearphishing (that is, directed personalized attacks) or other hacking because

  • They are often not technologically sophisticated
  • They have access to valuable information
  • If they are breached, you may not know
  • Their email accounts and devices are not locked down using the enterprise-grade cybersecurity technology used to protect employees

In other words, they have a lot of the same information and access as executive employees, but don’t share in their protections. Even if you give them a corporate email address, their laptops, desktops, phone, and tablets are not covered by your IT cybersecurity systems.

Here’s an overview article I read today. It’s a bit vague but it does raise the alarm (and prompted this post). For the sake of the organization, it might be worth spending some small time at a board meeting on this topic, to raise the issue. But that’s not enough.

What can you do, beyond raising the issue?

  • Provide offline resources and training to board members about how to protect themselves from spearphishing
  • Teach them to use unique strong passwords on all their devices
  • Encourage them to use anti-malware solutions on their devices
  • Provide resources for them to call if they suspect they’ve been hacked

Perhaps your IT provider can prepare a presentation, and make themselves available to assist. Consider this issue in the same light as board liability insurance: Protecting your board members is the good for the organization.

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H-1B visa abuse: Blame it on the lottery

In 2016, Carnival Cruises was alleged to have laid off its entire 200-person IT department – and forced its workers to train foreign replacements. The same year, about 80 IT workers at the University of California San Francisco were laid off, and forced to trained replacements, lower-paid tech workers from an Indian outsourcing firm. And according to the Daily Mail:

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts is being sued by 30 former IT staff from its Florida offices who claim they were unfairly replaced by foreign workers— but only after being forced to train them up.

The suit, filed Monday in an Orlando court, alleges that Disney laid off 250 of its US IT staff because it wanted to replace them with staff from India, who were hired in on H-1B foreign employee visas.

On one hand, these organizations were presumably quite successful with hiring American tech workers… but such workers are expensive. Thanks to a type of U.S. visa, called the H-1B, outsource contractors can bring in foreign workers, place them with those same corporations, and pay them a lot less than American workers. The U.S. organization, like Carnival Cruises, saves money. The outsource contractor, which might be a high-profile organization like the Indian firm Infosys, makes money. The low-cost offshore talent gets decent jobs and a chance to live in the U.S. Everyone wins, right? Except the laid-off American tech workers.

This is not what the H-1B was designed for. It was intended to help companies bring in overseas experts when they can’t fill the job with local applicants. Clearly that’s not what’s happening here. And the U.S. government is trying to fight back by cracking down on fraud and abuse.

One of the problem is the way that H-1B visas are allocation, which is in a big lottery system. The more visas your company asks for, the more visas you receive. Read about the problems that causes, and what’s being done to try to address it, in my latest for Zonic News, “Retaining Local Tech Workers Vs Outsourcing to Foreign Replacements Using H-1B Visas.”

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Flame decals add 20-25 whp to your car’s performance

It has been proven, beyond any doubt whatsoever, that flame decals add 20-25 whp (wheel horsepower) to your vehicle, and of course even more bhp (brake horsepower). I know it’s proven because I read it on the Internet, and everything we read on the Internet is true, not #fakenews. Where did I read it? This incredibly informative blog entry here.

Not sure about the acronyms?

  • whp is wheel horsepower, measured at (duh!) the wheels. It takes into account power lost in the drive train, including the transmission and differential, as well as the alternator, air conditioning compressor, wheel mass, etc. It is measured by spinning the wheels on a dynamometer (dyno). In other words, whp is what matters.
  • bhp is brake horsepower, measured at the engine crankshaft (not at the brakes). The “brake” part of the term refers to the Prony brake, an early device used to measure power output. The bhp value is always higher than the whp value, because it is only measures gross engine output. These days, the bhp value is usually quoted as SAE net horsepower. Knowing bhp allows you to evaluate engines and engine modifications — not whole-vehicle upgrades like performance clutches, underdrive pulleys, light-weight wheels, huge spoilers, and of course, flame decals.

Get yourself some flame decals and feel the burn!

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Why am I being spammed by the American Bar Association?

IANAL — I am not an attorney. I’ve never studied law, or even been inside a law school. I have a cousin who is an attorney, and quite a few close friends. But IANAL.

So why am I on the American Bar Association’s email list? I am not a member of the ABA. Why are they sending me a credit-card offer? It boggles the mind. One would assume that the ABA is not so desperate for funds that it would have to rent mailing lists to spam with credit-card offers.

And it’s not like I could sue them, right? Sigh.

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No security plan? It’s like riding a bicycle in traffic in the rain without a helmet

Every company should have formal processes for implementing cybersecurity. That includes evaluating systems, describing activities, testing those policies, and authorizing action. After all, in this area, businesses can’t afford to wing it, thinking, “if something happens, we’ll figure out what to do.” In many cases, without the proper technology, a breach may not be discovered for months or years – or ever. At least not until the lawsuits begin.

Indeed, running without cybersecurity accreditations is like riding a bicycle in a rainstorm. Without a helmet. In heavy traffic. At night. A disaster is bound to happen sooner or later: That’s especially true when businesses are facing off against professional hackers. And when they are stumbled across as juicy victims by script-kiddies who can launch a thousand variations of Ransomware-as-a-Service with a single keystroke.

Yet, according to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), small and very small businesses are extremely deficient in terms of having cybersecurity plans. According to the BCC, in the U.K. only 10% of one-person businesses and 15% of those with 1-4 employees have any formal cybersecurity accreditations. Contrast that with businesses with more than 100 employees: 47% with more than 100 employees) have formal plans.

While a CEO may want to focus on his/her primary business, in reality, it’s irresponsible to neglect cybersecurity planning. Indeed, it’s also not good for long-term business success. According to the BCC study, 21% of businesses believe the threat of cyber-crime is preventing their company from growing. And of the businesses that do have cybersecurity accreditations, half (49%) believe it gives their business a competitive advantage over rival companies, and a third (33%) consider it important in creating a more secure environment when trading with other businesses.

Read more about this in my latest for Zonic News, “One In Five Businesses Were Successfully Cyber-Attacked Last Year — Here’s Why.

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Beautiful little flowers on our Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

We have two Red Yucca plants in our garden. Both are magnificent: The leaves, with curlicue strings, are about two feet high. The flower stalks are about five feet high. Currently, each plant has only a single flower stalk; we expect them to have more shortly. We’ve seen these plants with dozens of stalks. The flowers are about 3/4 inch long.

The Red Yucca, or Hesperaloe parviflora, is not a yucca, though it looks like one. As the Texas Native Plants Database says,

Red yucca (which is not a yucca) is a stalwart in the landscapes of Texas and the southwest. Its dark green rosette of long, thin leaves rising fountain-like from the base provides an unusual sculptural accent, its long spikes of pink to red to coral bell-shaped flowers last from May through October, and it is exceedingly tough, tolerating extreme heat and cold and needing no attention or supplemental irrigation once established, although many people remove the dried flower stalks in the fall. Unlike yucca, the leaves are not spine-tipped, and have fibrous threads along the edges. Red yucca is native to Central and Western Texas. A yellow-flowered form has recently become available in nurseries, and a larger, white-flowered species native to Mexico, giant hesperaloe (H. funifera), which has only been found in one location in the Trans-Pecos, is also available. Hummingbirds are attracted to the flowers.

Our Red Yucca trumpet flowers definitely attract hummingbirds, as well as a wealth of insects. The plants are excellent for desert landscaping, since they don’t need to be watered. In fact, we planted the first one three years ago in an area of our garden that was completely barren, and now it fills that space perfectly.

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Listen to Sir Tim Berners-Lee: Don’t weaken encryption!

It’s always a bad idea to intentionally weaken the security that protects hardware, software, and data. Why? Many reasons, including the basic right (in many societies) of individuals to engage in legal activities anonymously. An additional reason: Because knowledge about weakened encryption, back doors and secret keys could be leaked or stolen, leading to unintended consequences and breaches by bad actors.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, is worried. Some officials in the United States and the United Kingdom want to force technology companies to weaken encryption and/or provide back doors to government investigators.

In comments to the BBC, Sir Tim said that there could be serious consequences to giving keys to unlock coded messages and forcing carriers to help with espionage. The BBC story said:

“Now I know that if you’re trying to catch terrorists it’s really tempting to demand to be able to break all that encryption but if you break that encryption then guess what – so could other people and guess what – they may end up getting better at it than you are,” he said.

Sir Tim also criticized moves by legislators on both sides of the Atlantic, which he sees as an assault on the privacy of web users. He attacked the UK’s recent Investigatory Powers Act, which he had criticised when it went through Parliament: “The idea that all ISPs should be required to spy on citizens and hold the data for six months is appalling.”

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which became U.K. law last November, gives broad powers to the government to intercept communications. It requires telecommunications providers to cooperate with government requests for assistance with such interception.

Read more about this topic — including real-world examples of stolen encryption keys, and why the government wants those back doors. It’s all in my piece for Zonic News, “Don’t Weaken Encryption with Back Doors and Intentional Flaws.