Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Warrant Canaries

I recently read a mystery by Dick Francis of horse mystery fame that had as a subplot a background story about breaking codes.  For some reason that got me thinking about hacking Passwords and the recent call-to-arms that if we ever bought anything online from Amazon or in a Target store we should change all our passwords.

I don’t believe I am alone in having password problems.  A firm I consult for, requires a change every three months and has common restrictions: Capital and lower case letters, numbers, symbols, and the dreaded “you cannot use a password used more recently than your last ten changes.” 

A recent count showed that I have more than fifty active passwords, many requiring similar restrictions.  For years I have had them stored on my desk (not a bad hiding place, since I seem to be the only one who can find anything on my desk), but some are in “housing groups like Quicken, where one password gets access to several others.  Mosby in the WSJ reviewed several Apps that can do that, but they all cost about $100 per year, and I was financially dissuaded.

Access to accounts by knowing a password, or clues to changing a password have recently been overtaken by concerns over maintaining privacy.  At the root of those concerns are companies engaged in data-brokering, where not only is online information collected, but it is analyzed and marketed to companies who value your interest profile and social position.  One of those companies that has interest as we gear up for a midterm election is called Politico.

In March of 2012, the FTC issued a Report expressing concern for protecting consumer privacy and setting forth restrictions designed to allow greater transparency in data collection.  There was one glaring omission: it did not control the Federal Government, a fact made obvious when the story broke about what, when and why the NSA was engaged in their own field of data collection.  Results from the two years since the FTC Report was published have recently been released.

In some fashion so have the policies of the NSA.

A response to concerns about the NSA has been for some companies to attempt to reassure their customers that information shared with their company will not be passed through to the Federal Government.  The means for this reassurance has been a novel approach, taking a lesson from the traditional Canary in the Coal Mine where, actually or not, canaries preceded the miners to detect poisonous gases in the mines. These companies would skirt the federal restriction to providing what information they passed on by posting a disclaimer that “The company has received no request from Federal authority to provide them any information from our records.”  This process has been termed a Warrant Canary Statement.

I heard on NPR recently a report on another data collection that is perhaps as frightening, if not more so than the NSA  One of the companies is called Knewton, which is engaged in a long-term collection and analysis of such information as: how much time is spent gaming and on what games, what grades are reported in school and what effect is there on them from such diverse causes as socio-economic status, parental composition, social networking, and perhaps time spent watching television.

The goal is admirable and financially significant, since these data are sold to educators to improve efficiency, but the very breadth of the project, currently encompassing more than 10 million children over a period from pre-school through graduation, scares me a little.

I am definitely going to be following this closer than before.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a little confused about a path to citizenship through joining the military.  I’m going to do a little research on that and will be sharing my findings on my next Post.  I hope you will find it interesting.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Vatican II

Pope Saint John XXIII
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Papal Conclave popularly termed Vatican II.  Actually the Council was called by recently canonized Pope John XXIII in 1963 and termed complete by his successor, Pope Paul VI in 1965.  At that time I was serving as a Navy Dentist, stationed in the Philippine Islands with Mary.  We were recently married and thoroughly enjoying our extended honeymoon in the tropics.

We made several new friends during the tour, among whom was a young Navy Chaplain who, it turned out, was in Rome when the council was convened.  Over dinner one night he told us of having met my uncle, a Bishop at the time, in Rome and being impressed by his understanding of Catholic issues in the United States and his candor at what approaches might be made to improve congregational involvement.

RADM John McNamara
His description of the man was pleasantly surprising to me, since I had grown up relatively close to my uncle, serving him at Mass with my cousin, often in one of the family member’s homes.  We thought him to be stuffy at best, and a strict disciplinarian, not that much different from my father.  To think of him as one of the more progressive Bishops at the conclave was a stretch, but it did personalize the Council for me.  That young chaplain went on to become the Chief Chaplain of the Navy, Father John McNamara.

One of the most evident changes to come out of the Council was the saying of Mass in the vernacular.  Mary and I were regular attendees at the Mass, and were impressed at the universality of the service, with the Mass in Latin wherever in the world we attended.  Only the homily or sermon as we termed them at the time, was in the local dialect.  We continue to attend Mass as we travel and have only had one weekend where this was impossible.  That was in Beijing, many years after the Conclave when the country was just beginning to loosen Communist restrictions on religion.  As we asked unsuccessfully where we might find a church, I was reminded of the joke where a Jewish traveler was similarly looking for a Seder.  The hotel clerk told him of a devout Jewish man who probably would be having a family gathering and gave him instructions.  When he knocked on the door and told of his intentions, the home owner said, “Funny, you don’t look Jewish.”

Mary and I travel most often in the U.S. now so mostly our Masses are in English.  Occasionally we find ourselves at a Spanish service and sometimes in San Francisco or the Chicago area the church we choose has a service is French, in deference to the ethnicity of the parish.

The other major changes made in Rome 50 years ago now seem routine: the priest facing the congregation, the host being separate from the main altar, the seasonality of the liturgy, the modern music and probably the most important, the ecumenism with other faiths.

It is interesting to note that Pope Francis is marking the celebration with a trip to the Middle East and a reprise of Pope Paul VI’s ecumenical visit to Jerusalem when he closed the Council.  It is comforting to note that fifty years has seen a continuation of at least the Christian and Jewish faiths finding common bonds.  Perhaps there is hope that Muslim, Hindu and other faiths will follow.

In my next post I’ll introduce those of you unfamiliar with the term, to what is a Warrant Canary and why is it now in the news.  Stop on by.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Land Lines

As I watch the current television ads for the various mobile carriers I find significant differences from ads only a few months ago.  Gone are familiar terms like: contracts, limits on minutes, free long-distance and phone features, replaced by “Framily” and family-plans, unlimited text, and automatic model upgrades.

Which explains why I found myself convincing Mary that she needed to accompany me to the AT&T store to change her carrier to come under the newly unfolded umbrella that Tim and I contracted for a few weeks ago.  The goal was to have one monthly bill for less than the four I had been paying before.

The secondary goal was for me to have a phone for Mary that was charged and in her car instead of in her bedside table, since she recently had three occasions when it would have saved us both aggravation had it been at her disposal and had she felt comfortable using it.

Her previous phone was a hand-me-down from me, or more accurately the replacement of an analog phone I had when I was working in the corporate world.  Her service was a “lifeline” contract that allowed her three calls a month, enough for someone who only used it on the rare occasions where she was travelling out of state by herself, in other words about three times in as many years.

I saw a recent statistic that claimed 40% of the American population now has no landline, which explains why I am now getting solicitation calls on my cellphone when the caller has no idea where I actually am (unless they are tracking my GPS).  At least one of those was fraudulent, (786-607-9000) informing me that I had been issued a government grant for $7,000, which I could use for any purpose I desired and did not have to repay (check Snopes: Government Grants Fraud).  Seemingly my “Do Not Call” registration is ineffective.  As is trying to return the identifiable Caller ID number, which either rings forever, rings to a disconnected number, r in some cases gives me a message that there is no such number.

I recently heard an FBI Agent discuss Fraud, albeit Dental Fraud, and asked him what could be done about such solicitations and he answered, “Not much!”

A local politician, apparently attempting to gain support from local Senior Citizens, held a Town Hall Forum on Senior Fraud that I unfortunately was not in town to attend.  Whether that degree of interest will translate into legislation is, in my mind unlikely, at least at the national level.

Today, Tim, Sean and I all have smart phones and Mary has a phone that, while not smart, has loud volume and large numbers as well as voice activation, so most of the barriers to her using it are now gone.

Let me close with  a smart phone true story that was quite humorous:

Mary and I were dining the other evening and I noticed our Server’s badge.  Her name appeared to be “Jaime”.  I asked her if that were her real name and she said, “Yes”. I then asked her how she felt about her name and she said she only had one problem, and that was because her last name was Gonzalez.  It turns out that you can program Siri to recognize you and actually call you by name. When she programmed Siri and asks, “Who am I?” Siri responds, “You’re Jaimie (JayMe) Gonzalez, but because we’re friends I’ll call you Jaimie (HighMe).  How do you terminate your friendship with Siri?  Does she have a Facebook account?

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the conclave called Vatican II.  In my next post I’ll share some personal experiences surrounding that monumental occasion.  I hope you will join me.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Elements

Recently, I received an emailed poster that showed a career woman and her wondering, “I’m trying to remember the last time I used algebra?”

While I could not fully agree with the proposed irony of the comment, I was struck by the fact that I spent a lot of time memorizing things with equally dubious utilitarian application.  The three I most remember, possibly because they were the hardest were:
The Periodic Table

·         The Periodic Table

·         The Krebs Cycle and

·         The components of the Trigeminal nerve


Interestingly, I was exposed to all of these at different times in my education, and for different reasons.  Surprisingly, none of them were taught to me by the nus of the BVM, who were masters of teaching rote.  I still can recite from sixth grade the copulative verbs, which are descriptive rather than action verbs.  Among which are: appear, become, continue, feel, grow, look remain, seem, shine, sound and taste.

My exposure to the Periodic Table came in high school, presumably to assist me in getting my arms around Chemistry.  The table of elements, which is generally credited to Dmitri Mendeleev, who came up with the system shortly after our Civil War.  My high school challenge was not to remember how many protons, or even neutrons the 88 then-known elements had, as to get a sense for their relationships with others in their group; thereby comprehending what properties they might have as well as what applications could be made from those properties.  We learned to group the heavy metals, the gases and the just-getting-interesting elemental isotopes.
Krebs Cycle

Learning the Krebs Cycle, I owe to my one year at the all-boy Christian Brother’s School in Winona, Minnesota, where my Uncle was the Bishop. My banishment to a place known then by only Garrison Keillor and the occupants of what would become Lake Wobegone, came as the result of two years of Fraternity living at the University of Iowa, which distressed my father who, at the time was my private Student Loan.

Brother I. Leo was my resident dorm monitor and saw fit to make me learn by heart all the mysteries of the Rosary, as well as the anatomy of some damn frog and, of course, the Krebs Cycle.  While this knowledge did in fact assist my entry into Dental School after one year, during which my grade average jumped more than a full point, I have found decreasing use or value as I have grown older.

Trigeminal Nerve
I did in fact find uses for knowledge of the Krebs Cycle as I made my way through the first two years of Marquette Dental School’s curriculum. Today I would be hard pressed to describe, as the poster above suggests, how I may find need for it recently or in the future.

Which brings us to the granddaddy of them all: the components of the Trigeminal Nerve.

While I would be the first to admit that a practicing dentist, particularly one who is administering local anesthesia should have a general idea of how the injections might affect the person he or she is injecting, and while I would similarly admit that a knowledge of the pathways the nerve takes might have value in diagnosing general medical conditions, I would be less inclined to think I need to fill my gray cells with this abundance of knowledge, particularly in this day and age where I have Google instruments at my beck and call.

Knowledge of the Fifth Cranial Nerve was hammered into my head at Marquette and again seven years later when the Navy sent me to the Naval Post-Graduate School at Bethesda. During that sabbatical year from combat, I joined some 30 other promising Naval Dental Officers, one of whom showed up for the Final Exam with his face painted the same colors as the Nerve’s Pathways.

I saw a cartoon recently that seemed to define how useful algebra could be.  True or not, the way we learn algebra is changing.
Seemingly, education has advanced past the learning-by-rote phase.  Technology, particularly computer technology has moved us into e-learning and more importantly e-assessment. The last few tests I have taken now require that the student demonstrate understanding of the lesson before completing or even moving forward in the lesson.  Memorizing 90% of the Periodic Table is not the goal.  Understanding the concept is.  My third-grade grandson can solve the math problem any way he wishes if he can demonstrate the method he used to reach his correct answer.

And I think that is just fine!  He doesn’t even need to show me the page he found the Periodic Table, the Krebs Cycle, or the pathway of the Trigeminal nerve.

In my next Post I’ll catch you up on the battle between mobile technology and Land Lines. Please stop on by.