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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.

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The peach-faced lovebirds are back in our Phoenix garden

When we moved to Arizona, we were surprised and delighted to see funny little parrots flying around our garden. Turns out that the rosy-faced lovebirds (which used to be called peach-faced lovebirds, but we can’t get used to the new name) are now resident in greater Phoenix.

These delightful birds are natives of Africa but were released into the Arizona desert either intentionally or accidentally. In any case, they are thriving. Says the Wikipedia,

It inhabits dry, open country in southwest Africa. Its range extends from southwest Angola across most of Namibia to the lower Orange River valley in northwest South Africa. It lives up to 1,600 metres above sea-level in broad-leaved woodland, semi-desert, and mountainous areas. It is dependent on the presence of water sources and gathers around pools to drink.

Escapes from captivity are frequent in many parts of the world and feral birds dwell in metropolitan PhoenixArizona, where they live in a variety of habitats, both urban and rural. Some dwell in cacti and others have been known to frequent feeders in decent sized flocks.

A 2013 story in the Arizona Republic goes farther about the Agapornis roseicollis:

Troy Corman of the Arizona Field Ornithologists, an organization of birders and professionals dedicated to public knowledge of the state’s avian inhabitants, was unsurprised by my fascination.

“These spunky and noisy, bright-green birds seem to attract a lot of attention,” he said.

Their unpredictable visits to city parks and backyard bird baths are said to be huge hits with residents, but the birds are not common sights. Most people I’ve spoken to immediately knew the birds I was talking about but had seen them just once or twice.

Corman co-wrote his organization’s status report on the lovebirds of Phoenix, explaining that they’ve been on the loose as feral flocks since at least the mid-1980s. Their breeding success here — and only here, among places the birds may have escaped within the United States — apparently owes to the comfortably dry and warm climate, ready availability of water and good supply of foods from native and exotic plants, including palm fruit, cactus fruit, apples and various seed pods, including the paloverde’s.

We had lovebirds in our garden in 2014 and 2015, but didn’t see any last year. However, now we are hosting them again on our feeders. This morning, we had six of those beautiful birds. Yay!

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Bring a friend to worship services with you

Judaism is a communal religion. We celebrate together, we mourn together, we worship together, we learn together, and we play together. The sages taught, for example, that you can’t study Torah on your own. We need 10 Jewish adults, a minyan, in order to have a full prayer service. Likewise, while we may observe Shabbat, Hanukkah, and Passover at home, it’s a lot more fulfilling to come together on Friday nights at the sanctuary, at the annual latke fry, or at the community seder.

When we love something, we want to share it. So why not be inspired to bring our Jewish friends into the kehilla kedosha (holy community), embracing them within a wonderful, sacred congregation? You’re not pushing membership on them, but rather inviting them into a loving community where they will be welcomed. Likewise, if they already are affiliated with a synagogue, that’s fine, too. This isn’t a zero-sum game; it’s an opportunity to build connections between and among communities. Our doors are wide enough for everyone who wishes to enter.

In my latest post on the Reform Judaism blog, I suggest five specific ways you can include your friends – from work, your yoga class, the dog park, or wherever you meet them – in synagogue activities.

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Congress votes against Internet customer privacy; nothing changes

It’s official: Internet service providers in the United States can continue to sell information about their customers’ Internet usage to marketers — and to anyone else who wants to use it. In 2016, during the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) tried to require ISPs to get customer permission before using or sharing information about their web browsing. According to the FCC, the rule change, entitled, “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services,” meant:

The rules implement the privacy requirements of Section 222 of the Communications Act for broadband ISPs, giving broadband customers the tools they need to make informed decisions about how their information is used and shared by their ISPs. To provide consumers more control over the use of their personal information, the rules establish a framework of customer consent required for ISPs to use and share their customers’ personal information that is calibrated to the sensitivity of the information. This approach is consistent with other privacy frameworks, including the Federal Trade Commission’s and the Administration’s Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

More specifically, the rules required that customers had to positively agree to have their information used in that fashion. Previously, customers had to opt-out. Again, according to the FCC,

Opt-in: ISPs are required to obtain affirmative “opt-in” consent from consumers to use and share sensitive information. The rules specify categories of information that are considered sensitive, which include precise geo-location, financial information, health information, children’s information, social security numbers, web browsing history, app usage history and the content of communications.

Opt-out: ISPs would be allowed to use and share non-sensitive information unless a customer “opts-out.” All other individually identifiable customer information – for example, email address or service tier information – would be considered non-sensitive and the use and sharing of that information would be subject to opt-out consent, consistent with consumer expectations.

Sounds good, but Congress voted in March 2017 to overture that rule. Read about what happened — and what consumers can do — in my story for Zonic News, “U.S. Internet Service Providers Don’t Need To Protect Customer Privacy.”

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Blue passion vines are ready for butterflies and caterpillars

To our delight this morning, our new Blue Passion vines had their first flowers. Passiflora caerulea is an amazing plant. It grows these colorful and complex flowers, which only last about one day, but there’s a long array of buds in various stages of development, so we’ll have blooms nearly every day for months.

The Gulf Fritillary butterfly common here in Phoenix (Agraulis vanillae) lays its egg on the passion vine. The colorful caterpillars munch on the leaves, and build their chrysalis there, becoming a new butterfly. The lifecycle continues.

We purchased two Blue Passion vines a few years ago. We totally enjoyed their gorgeous flowers, and hundreds of caterpillars and butterflies that created a beautiful ecosystem — every morning we’d go outside and check for new flowers and new caterpillars. Unfortunately both vines died last winter. In early March we purchased three replacements, and the first flowers opened today. The Gulf Fritillary caterpillars (which we nicknamed Fruities) are flitting around it, so I expect we’ll have eggs, and caterpillars, very soon.

Isn’t nature grand?

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Top Do’s and Don’ts for creating friendly calendar invites

“Call with Alan.” That’s what the calendar event says, with a bridge line as the meeting location. That’s it. For the individual who sent me that invitation, that’s a meaningful description, I guess. For me… worthless! This meeting was apparently sent out (and I agreed to attend) at least three weeks ago. I have no recollection about what this meeting is about. Well, it’ll be an adventure! (Also: If I had to cancel or reschedule, I wouldn’t even know who to contact.)

When I send out calendar invites, I try hard to make the event name descriptive to everyone, not just me. Like “ClientCorp and Camden call re keynote topics” or “Suzie Q and Alan Z — XYZ donations.” Something! Give a hint, at least! After all, people who receive invitations can’t edit the names to make them more meaningful.

And then there’s time-zone ambiguity. Some calendar programs (like Google Calendar) do a good job of tracking the event’s time zone, and mapping it to mine. Others, and I’m thinking of Outlook 365, do a terrible job there, and make it difficult to specify the event in a different time zone.

For example, I’m in Phoenix, and often set up calls with clients on the East Coast or in the U.K. As a courtesy, I like to set up meetings using the client’s time zone. Easy when I use Google Calendar to set up the event. Not easy in Outlook 365, which I must use for some projects.

Similarly, some calendar programs do a good job mapping the event to each recipient’s time zone. Others don’t. The standards are crappy, and the implementations of the standards are worse.)

There’s more than the bad time-zone mappings. Each Web-based, mobile, and desktop calendar app, even those that claim to conform to standards, has its own quirks, proprietary features, and incompatibilities. For example, repeating events aren’t handled consistently from calendar program to calendar program. It’s a real mess.

Here are a few simple do’s and don’ts for event creators. Or rather, don’ts and do’s.

  • DON’T just put the name of the person you are meeting with in the event name.
  • DO put your name and organization too, and include your contact information (phone, email, whatever) in the calendar invite itself. Having just a conference bridge or location of the coffee shop won’t do someone any good if they need to reach you before the meeting.
  • DON’T assume that everyone will remember what the meeting is about.
  • DO put the purpose of the meeting into the event title.
  • DON’T think that everyone’s calendar software works like yours or has the same features, vis-à-vis time zones, attachments, comments, and so-on.
  • DO consider putting the meeting time and time zone into the event name. It’s something I don’t do, but I have friends who do, like “ClientCorp and Camden call re keynote topics — 3pm Pacific.” Hmm, maybe I should do that?
  • DON’T expect that if you change the event time on your end, that change will percolate to all recipients. Again, this can be software-specific.
  • DO cancel the event if it’s necessary to reschedule, and set up a new one. Also send an email to all participants explaining what happened. I dislike getting calendar emails saying the meeting date/time has been changed — with no explanation.
  • DON’T assume that people will be able to process your software’s calendar invitations. Different calendar program don’t play well with each other.
  • DO send a separate email with all the details, including the event name, start time, time zone, and list of participants, in addition to the calendar invite. Include the meeting location, or conference-call dial-in codes, in that email.
  • DON’T trust that everyone will use the “accept” button to indicate that they are attending. Most will not.
  • DO follow up with people who don’t “accept” to ask if they are coming.
  • DON’T assume that just because it’s on their calendar, people will remember to show up. I had one guy miss an early-morning call he “accepted” because it was early and he hadn’t checked his calendar yet. D’oh!
  • DO send a meeting confirmation email, one day before, if the event was scheduled more than a week in advance.

Have more do’s and don’ts? Please add them using the comments.

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New phishing scam referencing a company called FrontStream

We received this realistic-looking email today claiming to be from a payment company called FrontStream. If you click the links, it tries to get you to active an account and provide bank details. However… We never requested an account from this company. Therefore, we label it phishing — and an attempt to defraud.

If you receive a message like this, delete it. Don’t click any of the links, and don’t reply to it either. You’ve been warned.

From: billing [email address at frontstream.com]
Sent: Wed, Mar 22, 2017 10:34 am
Subject: New Account Ready for Activation

Dear [redacted],

Your account is now available at our FrontStream Invoicing Website for you to view your existing outstanding invoices and make payment. You can directly activate your account here:

[link redacted]

Or you can go to the FrontStream Invoicing website [link redacted], select ‘REGISTER’ option and go through the activation process. Below is your detailed account information from our record. They’re required in order to complete your account activation.

Customer Number: [redacted]

Phone Number: [redacted]

Activation Code: [redacted]

Sincerely,

Accounts Receivable

UPDATE MARCH 22

I tweeted about this blog post, and @FrontStream replied:

@zeichick Sorry for the confusion! The email was sent in error from our customer invoicing system. We’ll be following up with more details.

Given that we aren’t a FrontStream customer, this is peculiar. Will update again if there are more details.

UPDATE MARCH 27

Nothing more from FrontStream.

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New ban on flying with a laptop or tablet means the terrorists win

The U.S. and U.K. are banning larger electronic items, like tablets, notebooks and DLSRs, from being carried onboard flights from a small number of countries. If that ban spreads to include more international or even domestic flights, this will result in several nasty consequences:

1. Business travelers may be unable to bring computers on trips at all. Some airlines ban checking luggage with lithium ion batteries into the cargo hold. Nearly all of these devices use LIB. If you can’t carry them onboard, and you can’t check them, they must stay home, or be overnighted to the destination. Shipping those devices may work for some people, but it’s a sucky solution.

2. Even if you can check them, there may be a surge of thefts of these costly electronic goodies from checked baggage. I always carry my expensive pro-grade DSLR and lenses onboard, and never check them. Why? I’m worried about theft and about breakage — that stuff is fragile. If I had to check my camera gear, they’d stay home. Same with my notebook and tablets. There is too much opportunity for stuff to disappear, especially when anyone can easily obtain a universal key for those silly TSA locks. Yes, a family member lost a DSLR from checked luggage.

3. This messes up the plans of airlines who are moving to a BYOD-centric entertainment model. Forget the drop-down TV screens playing one movie. Forget the individual seat-back TV screens offering a choice of movies, TV shows and video games. Airlines are saving money, saving weight, and making customers happy by ditching the electronics and using onboard WiFi to stream entertainment to the passengers’ phone, tablet or laptop. (And they get to charge for air-to-ground WiFi.) According to the Economist, 90% of passengers bring a suitable device. Everyone wins, unless devices are banned. No tablets? No laptops? No onboard entertainment.

The answer to terrorist threats isn’t security theater. Address the risks in an intelligent way, yes. Institute stupid rules that affect all travelers, no. One guy tries to light his shoe on fire, and now you have to take off your shoes to go through airport screening. And now there’s a “threat” and so here’s a new limitation on people making international flights.

That’s how the terrorists win and win and win.

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Having fun with a vintage HP-28S calculator

Today’s calculation device is this lovely vintage HP-28S “advanced scientific” calculator from the late 1980s.

As a working calculator, it’s not my favorite. HP gets points for creativity, but the clamshell design makes for an awkward user experience. I’m finding it frustrating to use because each line on the display is hard to read, there are too many keys, and the visual cues are subtle. It is also hard to pry the clamshell open.

The keys do have a nice clickiness to them. If you are doing basic math, you can fold the alphanumeric left part of the clamshell behind the right part.

Functionally, the HP-28 series is also innovative, as it’s where HP first exposed RPL to the user. RPL is Reverse Polish Lisp, a next-generation RPN, or Reverse Polish Notation, designed to handle complex algebraic expressions.

Were I doing that sort of equation-solving or scientific work this afternoon, the HP-28S would be ideal. Today’s project, though, is simple arithmetic related to tracking video editing timings. (Last time I did this, I used an HP-32S II, which has a simpler interface and much larger numbers on the one-line display.)

While I don’t use it often, the HP-28S is a prized member of my extensive collection of vintage calculators. My goal is to keep using all the devices (well, at least, the ones that still function) because it’s more fun than simply looking at them.

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The Russians are hacking! One if by phishing, two if by Twitter

Was the Russian government behind the 2004 theft of data on about 500 million Yahoo subscribers? The U.S. Justice Department thinks so: It accused two Russian intelligence officers of directing the hacking efforts, and also named two hackers as being part of the conspiracy to steal the data.

According to Mary B. McCord, Acting Assistant Attorney General,

The defendants include two officers of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), an intelligence and law enforcement agency of the Russian Federation and two criminal hackers with whom they conspired to accomplish these intrusions. Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, both FSB officers, protected, directed, facilitated and paid criminal hackers to collect information through computer intrusions in the United States and elsewhere.

Ms. McCord added that scheme targeted Yahoo accounts of Russian and U.S. government officials, including security staff, diplomats and military personnel. “They also targeted Russian journalists; numerous employees of other providers whose networks the conspirators sought to exploit; and employees of financial services and other commercial entities,” she said.

From a technological perspective, the hackers first broke into computers of American companies providing email and internet-related services. From there, they harvested information, including information about individual users and the private contents of their accounts.

The harm? The hackers, explained Ms. McCord, were hired to gather information for the FSB officers — classic espionage. However, they quietly went farther to steal financial information, such as gift card and credit card numbers, from users’ email accounts — and also use millions of stolen Yahoo accounts to set up an email spam scheme.

You can read more about this — and also about Twitter hacking in the escalating war-of-words between Turkey and the Netherlands. See my post for Zonic News, “State-Sponsored Hacking? Activists Who Support A Cause? Both? Neither?