Tales from the Technoverse

Commentary on social networking, technology, movies, society, and random musings

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Cleopatra: A Life

March 10th, 2015 · books, history

Thanks to Ellen, I renewed, well, I got a new, library card. Now that I have an actual commute since my un-semi-retirement over to Largo MD where my offices at UMUC are, I download audio books from the Library onto my cell phone and play them over the bluetooth speakers in the car.

This morning I finished listening to a both interesting and entertaining biography of Cleopatra, Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff.

In addition to being really well read by Robin Miles, and for those who have not listened to audio books the reader can have a big impact on one’s enjoyment, the book, at least to me, brought to life not just Cleopatra but her historical surroundings.

Perhaps one of the most brilliant people of her time, Cleopatra was a Queen when generally Queens were secondary players, in a country with little military power at a time of the rise of Rome, and yet played a significant role for the 22 years she ruled. In the center of the transition between the Roman Republican and the resulting Empire, she had political and/or personal relationships with Pompey, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, Octavian (the future Augustus), and Herod.

The last relationship was of particular interest to me, both because I really unfamiliar with it and because I read a lot about Herod in the Biblical Archaeology magazines I glance at.

Herod was appointed King by Antony. Cleopatra asked Antony for control of all of Judea when they were involved with each other. While Antony turned Cleopatra down, she was given control of Jericho and received the rights for fees from the bitumen obtained from the Dead Sea. Cleopatra visited Herod to come to an agreement on how the tribute associated with her assets were to be transferred to her. During her visit, Herod evidently wanted to assassinate Cleopatra.

Later Herod volunteered to fight for Antony (and Cleopatra) against Octavian but was sent home to fight the Numedians instead. That probably saved his life by making it easier for Herod to change sides to support the victorious Octavian.

For those interested in learning more about Cleopatra, a truly fascinating figure, who as the author noted could be considered a bridge from the ancient world to the more modern one, this is a very good source.


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Departures – Worth Viewing

February 28th, 2015 · movies

The story concerns a young couple, the film begins with the husband, Daigo, a cellist whose orchestra goes out of business, needing a job. He answers an ad which says that applicants do not have to have a lot of experience, the position is high paying, and the work is with “departures”. Thinking it might have something to do with travel, Daigo goes to apply for the position. The boss asks him one question “Will he work hard”, when he answers yes, he is hired. He then finds out that the word departures is a typo, it should read “departed”. The job is to prepare dead bodies for funerals.

From this premise the film, albeit slowly, explores issues of life and death, the meaning and responsibilities of living a full existence, and the respect we show, or do not, show to those around us.

I was reminded while watching the film about the Jewish tradition of Chevra Kadisha, translated as holy society. Their role is to make sure that the bodies of Jews who died are prepared correctly for burial according to tradition, including the ritual cleaning and dressing. Like the film shows according to Japanese tradition the body is to be purified and cleaned and then covered by appropriate clothes (what is appropriate differs). Chevra Kadisha is perceived as a ‘good deed of truth’ since it is a favor that the recipient cannot return.

While I suppose the basic plot line was fairly predictable and for those who desire action films it will be a slow slog, I enjoyed the film a great deal, enjoyed the acting and emotional moments, and was happy to listen to the great cello playing that was interspersed. Learning more about the Japanese traditions associated with burial and seeing the overlap with other comparable traditions was also pretty interesting.


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Abortion and An Eye for an Eye

February 14th, 2015 · bible, judaism

This week in synagogue we read Parsha Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1 – 24:18.

God dit not just provide the Ten Commandments, but also a large number of more detailed laws. A number of these laws are covered in this weeks portion of the Torah. One part deals with laws covering penalties for crimes and laws relating to what should happen in return for damages. In particular, there is a section in Exodus 21: 18-19 and 22-25 which contains one of the two references, the other being in Leviticus, to the very famous eye for an eye phrases:

“And should men quarrel and hit a pregnant woman, and she miscarries but there is not a fatality. he shall surely be punished, when the woman’s husband makes demands of him, and he shall give according to the judges. But if there is a fatality, you shall give a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a bruise.”

The clauses relating to eye for an eye and so on are among the most understood in the Torah for at least two reasons.

First, based on the context and a variety of other verses, these refer to monetary restitution, not literally taking a body part for another body part. But even if one were to prefer the literally meaning, in fact these clauses are meant to limit what was done. In ancient times, people were put to death for many crimes including many which would seem to be relatively minor. The point of this wording was to indicate that monetary compensation (or punishment in general) should be comparable to what the crime or action was.

One aspect of the above mentioned versus which I had not noticed before was brought up by our Rabbi, Rabbi Fishman, who talked about the first part which discusses the example of a pregnant woman being hit during a quarrel between two other people – this was being used to illustrate what happened when third parties, non-participants in the immediate quarrel, were impacted.

One interesting aspect of the example used treats a miscarriage much differently than one would treat a murder, explicitly pointing out that the result would be compensation not capital punishment. This phrasing serves as one of the basis for the general rules regarding abortion within Jewish law. From conception until around thirty days, the fetus is treated as if it were water. From around thirty days until the fetuses head crowns, the fetus is treated as if it were a part of a woman’s body. In the same way that one would not needlessly sever a woman’s arm or leg, one is not to commit  an abortion unless there is a medical reason regarding a woman’s health.

One of the differences between the more observant/orthodox and more liberal/reform Jews regarding abortion is the different approaches to defining what protecting a woman’s health means. Whether this includes mental health and how flexible to define mental health varies greatly.

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Everything As A Service

January 28th, 2015 · CIO, cloud computing, technology

Recently I was on the DorobekINSIDER LIVE show along with Sean Herron, Product Lead and Developer at 18F; and Richard Beutel, Senior Advisor and Counsel for Acquisition Policy House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The link to the show is here.

The attitude to Cloud has changed dramatically since I was the CIO at the US Department of Transportation. Then, there was great reluctance from all stakeholders to even try moving applications to the Cloud. Now, there is general agreement that many applications are candidates for such a move, though there clearly are security and acquisition hurdles that need to be overcome.

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Firefly Is Everywhere

January 25th, 2015 · Firefly, Serenity, tv

Some blog posts I write are actually written hoping someone will read them, in particular when I discuss technology or sometimes political topics. Some blog posts are random musings on some aspect of entertainment and while I am unsure as to whether I add serious value to the public square they are least are comprehensible. Some blog posts are just self-indulgent, this one is self-indulgent.

As those of you who know me are aware, I really like(d) the TV show Firefly and its spin-off movie Serenity. Every year I go to the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse and, along with many other Browncoats (do not ask) or Browncoats-to-be, watch Serenity (again) as well as Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog and often live entertainment such as Marian Call singing Firefly inspired songs.

In addition to Firefly, one of the other long-canceled TV shows that I very much liked, was Dead Like Me. Dead Like Me, a Showtime carried show, followed the life, well death, of Georgia “George” Lass who died in the first show when she was hit by a toilet seat from the Space Station. She finds herself a part of a group of reapers led by Mandy Patinkin. The reapers job is to remove the souls of people before they die and then get them so they can move on to their destination.

That off-putting premise led to a creative dark-comedy with some pretty nice moments (at least in my opinion). Enough so that I added it to my Netflix queue to watch during my morning elliptical-walking sessions.

So, the reason I am mentioning all this is that I just finished Season 1, Episode 14, which focused on George’s family having a headstone made for the unveiling at her gravesite. During the course of the show however one of the fellow reapers meets a goth girl at a retail store. The girl was played by Jewell Stait who ALSO played the beloved Kaylee Frye in Firefly and Serenity. It made my day.

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It Turns Out You CAN Go Home Again – A New Job

January 1st, 2015 · education, technology, University of Maryland University College

Slightly over forty years ago, I received a B.S. in Information Systems Management from the University of Maryland College Park (the major had just been created). It started me off on a random walk through the continually changing Information Technology field.

When I first wrote a computer program to bid bridge in high school and later shortly after graduation used punched paper tape output from digitizers to merge census and election data, the modern-day impact of ubiquitous mobility on organizations and personal behavior was not even a glimmer as a possibility. Now my daughters Facetime with their grandparents while they travel in Europe and no one considers it particularly out-of-the-ordinary.

Starting January 12, I will start a full-time position at the University of Maryland University College as the Program Chair of The Undergraduate Schools’ (TUS) Major, in of all things, Information Systems Management.

I do not know whether to be more amazed at the circular nature of this career arc or at how much Information Systems Management as a major has changed. I do know that I am lucky to have been asked to serve in the role and thrilled to have the opportunity to continue to give back lessons from having made pretty much every possible mistake that any one individual can make (lately I have had the feeling that I have been reduced to repeating old mistakes in new ways).

In the mean-time, later today, New Year’s Day, I and the rest of the family will go to our second Winter Classic. The first was in Pittsburgh, this one will be at Nationals Park in Washington DC. I continue to live a lucky life, I wish everyone a Happy New Year and hope 2015 will bring the largest amount of joy and surmountable challenges as possible.

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Of All Things – Stamps

December 30th, 2014 · General

A while ago, I looked through the desk in my home/office and collected all of the stamps that I had laying around.

It turned out that I had two partial rolls of stamps, neither of which contained stamps equal in value to those I needed to mail envelops. I went to the post office to get some small denominated stamps to solve for that (I needed different stamps since each roll was for a different value).

It turns out I cannot count correctly so I had to go to the post office a few additional times to buy additional small denominated stamps. I have had the sense that I have been doing the functional stamp equivalent of sawing the legs of a chair one at a time to get them all to the same length (and failing).

Having said that, I use stamps sufficiently infrequently that I wonder if I will have to add one or both of the stamp rolls (and the other loose stamps) for my kids to inherit.

I mention all this to explain to anyone who receives something in the mail from me as to why there will likely be two (or three) stamps affixed.

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Next AFFIRM Lunch Focuses on IT Budget Priorities, December 18

December 11th, 2014 · General

The next AFFIRM lunch, and the last one of the 2014 calendar year, will include highlights from TechAmerica’s 50th Annual Federal Market Forecast relating to Budget, Acquisition and Technology and will include presentations from a number of invited speakers: Karen Britton, EOP, Sonny Hashmi, CIO, GSA, and Tom Sasala, CTO, US Army Information Technology Agency.

As usual the lunch will be held at Clyde’s of Gallery Place, 707 7th St NW and will start at 11:30am with networking opportunities.

AFFIRM will be supporting the Marine Corps’ TOys for Tots campaign, accepting donations of unwrapped toys at the lunch.

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The Beginnings of Information Technology 3.0

December 8th, 2014 · government 2.0, technology

In order to talk about Information Technology 3.0, it is necessary to explain what I mean by Information Technologies 1.0 and 2.0.

The first generation of Information Technology focused on replacing what was already in place by something more efficient and faster, but substantially the same in function. Thus computers initially, even though the beginnings of personnel computers effectively faster typewriters (word processing), faster calculators (spreadsheets) and bigger file cabinets (disk storage). The functions that were automated were in large part functions that were accomplished from combinations of those three things. While the result often, but not always, were improvements in the efficiency of performance of functions like payroll or accounting statements, and while the role of staff often were impacted by those changes, in general the new version of the functions looked a lot like the old version.

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My Interview on WFED Radio

December 6th, 2014 · cyber-security, government

Here is a link to my interview on WFED radio by Francis Rose, broadcast Friday during the In Depth radio show.

I provided some thoughts about the role of the Inspectors General relating to cybersecurity, and other IT, oversight.

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