These musings—blog entries—are for the year 2016. Other years can be accessed from the blog's home page, use the link in the upper right.
America loves a bogeyman. And who better than the Russian bear?
The CIA and FBI have yet to go on public record stating definitely that unauthorized Russians accessed American political networks and computers, let alone used what they found to interfere in the American elections. Clearly Brazile was grandstanding, looking to blame others for her own failure to get her candidate elected.
And shame on us for not understanding the lies in her claim. Many Americans use computers every day, from smart phones to tablets to laptops and desktop computers. Most users do not understand computer networks and access protocols. They love to pretend that a computer that lets them send messages cannot receive messages from unauthorized senders (commonly referred to as "hackers") which all too often have malicious purposes. These people willfully ignore admissions by the likes of Yahoo that more than one billion of their customers' user ids and passwords were accessed by unauthorized persons in 2013, and 500 million user accounts were so accessed in 2014. (And who is asking why it took them so long to tell us?) I routinely ask employees in medical offices, who do not want to send me an electronic file of my medical information, if they know who Edward Snowden is, none do.
Using words like "hacking" may seem cool, but it does not explain the underlying technical truth — that computer networks were accessed by unauthorized people, and that uninvited visitors can not only read data, they can copy, change, and delete it. The only real safety is no network connection. Something we can no longer imagine. (12-21-2016)
I guess Trump has already changed the playing field. He has accustomed us to drama over sensibility.
However, Obama was ever the low-key guy.
He must be discouraged knowing that all he committed himself to over the eight years of his presidency will likely be wiped out in the first 100 days of Trump's presidency. (12-19-2016)
Certainly the English colonists had grounds to be thankful. Without Indian help they certainly would have perished.
And yet, within 60 years the English has slaughtered all the local tribes.
It's hard not to see the modern holiday as a memorial to genocide.
Don't we have to acknowledge what we did?
Clearly, Thanksgiving is a celebration for and by the visitors — the English colonists who vanquished the indigenous peoples in their takeover of North America. Why do we need to continue this celebration? Is there nothing else that can tie the European Americans together?
Do the descendants of black African slaves celebrate Turkey Day? Do the Hispanic immigrants? If so, why? Certainly the Native Americans (Indians) do not — they are the butt of the joke.
Like Columbus Day, Thanksgiving is an outdated federal holiday that is totally inappropriate in a multi-cultural nation. (11-24-2016)
Business, politicians, and citizens have amnesia about what happened 40 years ago. This is not a good strategy for success. (11-22-2016)
Such devices are miniature computers, as are, of course, our smart phones. They run software to do the tasks you bought them for. They can also run software to do other things, and things without your awareness. The network connectivity that lets your smart phone connect, wirelessly, with them can also let them connect with other network places, like websites. (This is helpful when the manufacturer wants to "download" updates.)
On Friday, October 21, 2016 thousands of such devices sent network messages at the same time to a company named Dyn, a company that provides DNS services for many commercial websites. The result of this was that those websites became inaccessible.
How did this happen? First, those devices contained a program that, at predetermined times, would "call" Dyn. And second, those devices had access to an active wireless network. Clearly, the program was installed by the device manufacturer—and at this moment we do not have a way to examine devices for unauthorized software. But we can control their access to an active wireless network: turn off your smart phone and turn off your home computer wireless internet connection when you are not using it.
So far, news stories have tried to explain DNS servers to their non-technical readers. I have yet to read a coherent one. Some stories address "who owns the internet" and who might be responsible for preventing these "denial of service" attacks (for that is what they are called). No stories are addressing the network connectivity issue, which is the elephant in the room. (10-24-2016)
All my career, many IT professionals (in particular programmers) have not been paid for overtime. These people are classified as "exempt", meaning they are exempt from the paid overtime requirements.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) established paid overtime requirements. The original FLSA was passed in 1938. There is also a Code of Federal Regulations, Title 29, Part 541 — defining and delimiting the exemptions for executive, administrative, professional, computer, and outside sales employees. In particular, SubPart E elaborates the exemptions for "computer employees." I have not been able to determine when this exemption came into being, but it has been in effect my entire career.
The reality of unpaid overtime for programmers is even worse: we are not paid at all for hours worked beyond 40. Companies rely on this, promising time off (rarely given).
Ironically, when you work as a temp worker on a contract basis, you must be paid overtime. So, of course, you are seldom required to work more than 40 hours a week. (9-13-2016)
The bees are dead. It's an easy bet that the government will not be recompensing their "owners." And all because of a story that is likely more fabrication than truth: that (1) the Zika virus causes birth defects, (2) mosquitoes carry Zika, and (3) the only good mosquito is a dead mosquito.
It's also an easy bet that no testing was conducted prior to the spraying of the insecticide. No notice was given to people who might be expected to be contacted by the insecticide. There is so much panic with regards to birth defects that people who-should-know-better are violating all protocols of public health and science.
The only humor I can find in this is a reminder of Flip Wilson's claim (made about 1973) that "the devil made me do it."
Perhaps Silicon Valley's determination to act in disregard of all the established business "rules" — disruption — has contaminated the federal government. Are you amused? (9-7-2016)
The first European to see the Pacific Ocean was Vasco Núñez de Balboa in 1513. He had crossed the Isthmus of Panama, determined to find gold-rich kingdoms to plunder. Six years later he was decapitated in a power conflict, apparently not particularly well-liked.
Spain was determined to claim as much territory along the northwest coast of North America as it could be legally entitled to. It was also determined to protect its gold and silver mines in Mexico proper with as big a buffer as possible. To those ends it sent maritime expeditions north.
In particular, Spain was fearful of Russian invaders. Throughout years of English and French action in the area, Spain was most concerned about the Russians.
It was the desire to know where the Russians were and weren't that prompted several maritime explorations from San Blas, Mexico to Alaska, beginning in 1774 and throughout the next 19 years. In 1775 a Spanish explorer reached Alaska at the 58 degrees latitude (about Kodiak Island). A 1779 expedition entered Prince William Sound at 61 degrees latitude. A 1788 expedition returned to Prince William Sound before sailing west to Kodiak Island. Expeditions as early as 1790 explored Nootka Sound (on the west coast of Vancouver Island) and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In 1792 two ships circumnavigated Vancouver Island. Similar voyages continued until 1793. At most of their landfalls the Spanish performed ritual acts of sovereignty; their focus was establishing possession and control, not colonies, and blocking the same by other nations.
The Nootka Conventions of the 1790s, designed to avert a war between Spain and Great Britain over conflicting claims to the Pacific Northwest, eventually reduced Spain's claims to only those territories below the Strait of Juan de Fuca—the current border between Canada and America. That border was finally resolved by the 1846 Oregon Treaty—at the 49th parallel.
The Spanish stopped sailing to Alaska in search of Russian settlements around 1793. In 1812 a group of Russians built a settlement at Ross, on the Pacific Coast in modern Sonoma County, about 65 miles north of San Francisco. And there they stayed until 1842 when they departed of their own accord—after having depleted the local population of sea otters and failing to succeed at various agricultural efforts. The Spanish had successfully dissuaded them from expanding their efforts in California. (8-18-2016)
This is an error on our part.
Look at this as a problem in logic. Two choices are A and B. They are different, so we think that B is NOT A. Our error is that in this instance NOT is not a logical operator.
Because the candidates look different, we pretend their values and intentions are different. And not just different, but opposite.
This mental contortion suggests that we humans are hard-wired for logic (although logic without discipline). We must have been thinking in logical patterns long before logic was codified by Aristotle in ancient Greece—and what a relief that must have been.
Our challenge is to look at A and B and see their differences and similarities without seeing them as opposites. (8-3-2016)
Frankly, I was never impressed with the notion of "terror." We cannot blame Muslims for all the violence, but we try. All we need is a culprit with a foreign name, like Ali David Sonboly, for us to label their violence as "terror." In our multicultural world, there are always people living down the street with names different than ours.
How can we think about violence that kills and maims many people who are personally unknown to the perpetrators? How about "hate crime"? The motivation of the killer(s) is largely irrelevant to the survivors. We have been unable to answer questions about motivation for centuries. I do think it worthwhile to consider motivation, but we should not get stuck there. The actual act is the thing to focus on. Our response should not vary by our perception of the killers' motivation. Murder is murder, period.
It is important to consider the possibility of protections. After all, I do not want to learn that my neighbors died in a hate crime that could have easily been prevented. If there is something that can realistically be done to minimize the risk of being killed by a crazy person — and I do think we can label the perpetrators of hate crimes as "crazy" — should we not do it?
On the other hand, it is important to realize that there have always been, and will likely always be, one-offs — violent acts for which the perpetrator(s) evidenced no warning. As much as we would like to see patterns in the violence, it doesn't always exist.
Frankly, I don't know where to go from here. I think the notion that we can prevent all hate crimes is optimistic. Pre-emptive action violates our personal liberty and has no guarantees, so I do not favor it. The indignities imposed by the "security screening" of departing passengers at airports is largely ineffective (and has turned into just another jobs program).
Sociologists can analyze why people are violent. And sometimes we as a society can act to minimize the factors that inspire others to violence. That is a worthwhile effort. But it will not be enough to stop future violence.
The fact is that humans are violent. Consider that most of the blockbuster summer films and the year-round television programs feature violence. We like it. At least we find it entertaining when confined to our television set. We most certainly do not want to find it around the corner from our homes.
Violence is good for the news media. Gives them something to shove in our faces and generate alarm. Always good for sales.
At least we can start by abandoning the word "terror." Let's just call it "hate crime" and move on. (7-23-2016)
There is, of course, a limit to how far self-marketing can go should anyone investigate the actual utility of the reinvented systems. I remain skeptical. (7-16-2016)
Such a situation never happened in ancient Greece and will not happen in modern America. Our poor and working class are too busy distracting themselves with consumerism and the basics of survival to participate in local politics, let alone vote.
If elections actually result in serving the best interests of the poor and working class, it will be because of efforts of the educated middle class to further true democracy. This too is an unlikely scenario, as the educated middle class distract themselves with consumerism and the likes of the Amazon rain forest. (7-16-2016)
This story comes to me a lot these days. I have begun to suspect the Brexit vote was a bit of misdirection much like Bre'r Rabbit's plea to not be thrown into the briar patch.
In October 2015 China's president Xi visited Britain where he met with a number of people in the government and ended up declaring the two countries would build a global comprehensive strategic partnership. This partnership is believed to involve promoting the Chinese currency as a world currency which will eventually push out the US dollar from that position. Such a partnership cannot be conducted within the confines of the EU. For that, Britain needs to leave the EU. Voila! Brexit. (7-16-2016)
Remember the effects of the Spanish on the native peoples of Central America. The native peoples lost their governments, their population, their ways of life. In a very short time period. The Europeans wrecked that damage. They were motivated by resource extraction, gold and silver in particular.
The shoe may be on the other foot now. Not retribution. Just a new kind of invasion. Labeling this as "terrorism" serves no good. The deaths in Nice do qualify as a hate crime. We need to look for the bigger picture. "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more" may be applied to more than just television sets.
Do we think we can preserve our way of life with laws and police? That seems short-sighted. Turning our backs on other cultures, including other cultures within our national boundaries, may prove counter-productive. Perhaps we should turn around and look outwards, reach outwards, establish dialogues and adopt a willingness to change our ways and attitudes that better accommodates our foreign neighbors.
I have no answers. Just a lot of questions. How about you? (7-16-2016)
At some point the disasters, which the leaders will not and cannot avoid, will happen. I expect doubling down. This is all the so-called leaders really know. They completely misunderstand the causes of the disasters, and will undoubtedly think their own ideas are correct. And thus more of the same will eventually succeed.
At what point do we jettison these leaders? And how?
Can, and should, the USA of 52 states continue? It's a poor union these days. Perhaps we have exceeded the ability to govern to the benefit of all. If we ever had it. I suspect the headiness of a country that consumed its way from the Atlantic to the Pacific thought of all that territory as their just desserts. The expansion was but slowed by the Civil War, which was fanned by the complexities of adding states while maintaing a balance of slave and non-slave. Yes, slavery has been an issue from the beginning. Easy for us on the West Coast to ignore that, but Texas statehood was originally desired as a weight in favor of slavery. The issue kept moving west, and infected Arizona and New Mexico. The Mexican-American War, initiated by America in order to wrest Texas from Mexico, ultimately liberated California so that it too could be annexed as a state.
I repeat: where do we go from here?
The UK today shocked the world by voting to leave the European Union. This act could very well inspire others to regain their sovereignty. Globalism has lost its appeal to the masses. (5-24-2016)
Nevertheless, once again the media never presented a different perspective on the Bundy's claims. So let me.
It is a historical truth that kings own land. The Europeans that visited the Americas beginning in the 1400s did so in the name of their sovereign; in many cases he funded their voyages of discovery. When the travelers set foot on American land, they claimed it in the name of their king. Remember New England, New France, New Spain? The Americas began European colonization as the possessions of European kings. The kings quickly granted lands to their best supporters and tasked them with extending ownership, extracting wealth, and sending it back to the king.
Those of us who were awake in school may remember that eventually the area that came to be the USA was originally a group of English colonies. The English made treaties with the indigenous Indians to acquire land ownership, treaties which they quickly ignored while killing the Indians. And in the 1770s the colonists (ungrateful wretches) decided they wanted independence from the English king and here we are. The American government expanded its borders through treaties and slaughter, granted some land to individuals and businesses that were in a position to accomplish something useful with it (like the railroads). And was left owning vast unoccupied lands in the West, lands that the Bundys think should be theirs.
As if America had got this far just for them. And are they planning to pay . . . property taxes on that land, when it passes into their private ownership? The protestation of property taxes seems like the next complaint we can expect to hear from them. (5-14-2016)
And then, starting in March perhaps, appeared op ed pieces about the fracturing of the Republican Party. It's a sad state of affairs that none of these stories hearkened back to 2008 and 2012 when that same party seemed poised to rule the world. I am fascinated with the current state of the party, one because of the contrast with the last election and two because my personal values incline towards a progressive, even socialist form of government, unfortunately a form that the Democratic Party has difficulty embracing.
Back to Trump. What a thing it would be if his candidacy proved the means by which the Republican Party implodes. (5-14-2016)
Computers have also shown themselves to be undiscriminating in their willingness to share their information with whomever asks.
This means that you would be a fool to assume no one can access the information you keep on your computer. The better bet is to assume someone can—and will—access your data.
If a computer is connected to a network, it is vulnerable to access by people other than you.
Unauthorized access can take many forms and can interfere with your use of the computer and/or the data you store on it — in different ways.
For example, some medical institutions that have embraced "electronic records" have been forced to pay a ransom to regain access to those records—to a hijacker who accessed them without authorization. (This is called extortion.)
Lately, I've asked medical workers, who hesitate to send me my records as email attachments, if they ever heard of Edward Snowden. None had. Little do they realize that an email attachment is probably safer than their electronic records. (4-9-2016)
So how to wash your hands in order to avoid gastrointestinal distress? Is there a special technique? A special soap?
The advice I found from the CDC:
Food Safety Magazine adds: Touching food with contaminated hands spreads foodborne illness.
For all personnel in food processing and service environments:
I now realize that home towels used for hand-drying should not be used for anything else and should be laundered frequently. (3-25-2016)
You want America back? Which part of America? Which date in history do you want to go back to? Are you sure you are not just pining for the "good old days" that were not really as good as they seem from here? As my family's genealogist, I can tell you about all the immigrants in my family tree. All my ancestors came from northern Europe. With two college degrees, I am the best educated person in my family. My standard of living has been good, but my retirement is unlikely to be as comfortable as that of my parents'. I like the internet. I like my German car. I do wish I did not live downwind of Fukushima. But I could move. I have fond memories of driving for hours without seeing a freeway. I think it a mistake that our country signed away its sovereignty when it signed "free trade agreements." As an independent woman, I have no interest in life in America before . . . 1970? Women had few career options before then and little actual independence. It is an embarrassment that this country could not pass the Equal Rights Amendment, which sought to constitutionally guarantee women equality. What a concept.
Perhaps you are just tired of change. In your study of history, what periods did you find that did not have change?
I want America to go forward, forward into a society of equal opportunity for all, forward into an economic ideology that does not require poverty and constrained lives, that is not defined by a 1% and a 99% divide, forward into a place where we can easily choose food that is nutritious and healthy (and not merely a way to make a profit for Monsanto). (3-18-2016)
Hillary Clinton criticizes Bernie Sanders for a lack of "practical" steps to achieve the goals he advocates. None of the other candidates are offering practical steps to achieving their agendas. Surely Clinton is using Sanders to illustrate her own experience and practicality. Frankly, observing the last seven years of Congressional stonewalling of President Obama's ideas simply because of his skin color, I would prefer Sanders over Clinton because he is a white man, and one who has been employed in politics and government for many years. Who knows if Congress wouldn't stonewall a female President simply because of her sex.
I admit to a great appreciation of the issues that Sanders raises fearlessly. (1-31-2016)
Their choice of Malheur was an insult to the Indians whose land it had been before the federal government rounded them up and forcibly removed them.
Cliven Bundy stated he was "tired of the abuse." Well, as a citizen, I'm tired of the militia's abuse of Malheur.
I do regret the Jan. 27 fatality. But . . . these guys got off easy. The feds like to kill everybody in similar situations. I'm reminded of the 1993 confrontation in Waco, Texas between the BATF and the Branch Dividians on the Mount Carmel Ranch. Eighty members of the latter were killed. (1-27-2016)
Decades later the public is assailed by false versions of the facts, as mis-information and/or dis-information. The hucksters are persuasive.
How can we—you and I—ever learn the truth? (1-23-2016)
The speakers credited their success to a process that involved Agile, user-centered design, and data-driven design—which they contrasted with "waterfall." One speaker characterized the failure of the waterfall approach with five-year projects that fail. (You may or may not know that "waterfall" is the derogatory name given by the inventors of the Agile process to the SDLC, or system development life cycle. SDLC is a phased approach to software development that relies on thoughtful analysis, proven design, and . . . written documentation.)
My rebuttal: Project failures involving waterfall are NOT an inherent result of the process. Instead, they are the result of non-strategic project leadership and a funding model where all the money has to be earmarked at the outset.
There was an acknowledgement of the healthcare.gov rollout debacle, but the speakers thought it a success! They never explained why, but did say programmers worked 20-hour days to fix it. My theory at the time was that the design completely overlooked the possible transaction volumes. In other words, they dropped the ball in the requirements statement. Would that have happened with waterfall? Maybe, but unlikely. Volumes—data-driven volumes—and performance criteria are critical to waterfall.
Oh, and before I leave this observation, user-centered design and data-driven design have been a part of waterfall since before I began programming in 1973. (1-19-2016)
Architectural Digest offers us, many of whom cannot afford a $10,000 chair, views of the architectural and interior design arts created by artists and commissioned by the wealthy. It is more than a voyeuristic view of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. It is a record of the arts. Since rooms and buildings are hard to put into museums, photographs are an excellent way of sharing them with the world. They are to be enjoyed without guilt or embarrassment. (1-17-2016)
I really like the mandarins with a thick, loose skin. Once I pull the stem end free, I can easily push the skin off with the side of my thumb. It is a marvelously tactile experience. The skin has some thickness that is not sticky, yet easily separates from the fruit.
Small orangey fruits appear in the groceries over the winter with a variety of names—mandarins, mandarin oranges, Satsuma mandarins, tangerines, clementines. The last two are actually different fruits than the mandarins. Satsuma mandarins are a particular variety of mandarins.
The citrus taxonomy is fascinating for its surprises and controversies. Most citrus are native to southeastern Asia, in particular Australia, New Caledonia, and New Guinea. However mandarins, Citrus reticulata, are believed to have originated in China. Satsuma mandarin (Citrus unshiu) is a seedless variety with more than 200 cultivars; it also is a Chinese variety; its thick, loose easy-to-peel skin makes it my favorite.
Mandarins, along with pummelo and citron, are the three original species in the citrus genus that have been hybridized into most modern commercial citrus fruit. Within the last few thousand years, all common citrus fruits (sweet oranges, lemons, grapefruit, limes, and so on) all were created by crossing those original species. (1-17-2016)
Technology is separating me from people, not bringing me closer. No one in my employer's office notices when I get paid. The "system" of my filing timecards and getting paid is done with software with almost no human intervention or participation. Only exceptions warrant human action. And thus are viewed as "problems," not opportunities. Having said all that, I want to go on record that this behavior does not apply to my current employer. (1-1-2016)