Feeds:
Posts
Comments

A Skirt for Moma

(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

Somewhat sullenly the little girl walked down the street, hugging her sweater tight around her. It wasn’t that she was cold, but the calendar read “December” so she needed a sweater. At least, that’s what Moma said. Her knobby knees stuck out below the hem of her full-skirted cotton dress as she shuffled along looking for leaves to kick. There weren’t very many as here most of the plants kept their leaves all year long. If only she walked slowly enough her girl friend might catch up with her before she arrived at the schoolyard. Victoria always had answers to questions that she didn’t even know enough to ask about.   That morning had been the usual rush to get out on time with Moma standing at the door holding her sweater and brown-bag lunch trying to make her hurry so that she wouldn’t be late. She’d run across the lawn to the house next door to collect her friend, but had been curtly informed that Victoria wasn’t ready as her hair had yet to be combed so there was no point in waiting.   Here was the final block before the schoolyard and Victoria was nowhere to be seen. She’d have to wait to ask until the walk home.

This school was pretty easy. Her father expected that she be one of the top five scorers in her class. She could do that just by listening, and they didn’t give real homework here. That bothered her parents, but not her. The last assignment had to been to bring in twigs to make a holiday scene to take home as a Christmas decoration. They had each been given a stiff piece of cardboard and a small mirror. She had glued hers to the near right corner of her cardboard.   Then Mrs. Wickford poured a white, slurry into a bowl between each pair of pupils at the shared desks. Each had a small wooden ice cream cup spoon to spread the white glop onto the cardboard and over the edges of the mirror. Then they were to quickly stick their twigs into the glop to create a winter scene with bare trees. Carefully she stuck her twigs toward the top of her project with a scattering closer to the mirror. The boy next to her placed his twigs evenly around his centered mirror. Mrs. Wickford told them to slide, not lift, their project to the upper center of their tables so the white stuff could set while everyone went to lunch. As soon as they had cleaned up they were dismissed. She grabbed her lunch bag and left her sweater. The morning haze was gone and the sun was warm. She and her friends sat at their usual picnic table far from the cafeteria door. The smells from the lunches they served in there were always yucky. She was supposed to buy a container of milk, but that would take time she didn’t want to waste. Getting to the playground was more important. She opened her bag to see what Moma had packed for her today: a wax paper wrapped sandwich, another packet with cookies, and a foil wrapped orange that was pressing on the sandwich. She took a couple of big bites of the dry and orange dented bologna sandwich then she squished the rest back into the waxed paper and moved on to the cookies. Moma never put much mustard on the bread so as to keep it from getting soggy. Moma never used mayonnaise, which could spoil, so the sandwich was dry and difficult to swallow. The cookies were good, but the others were almost done and she hadn’t begun her orange, so she swallowed one almost whole and threw the others back into the bag. There were no pockets in her dress so she couldn’t keep the cookies until the walk home from school. She ate a quarter of the orange, slurped the juice from the next quarter and threw the rest in the bag with the other food that was now trash. They each threw their bags into the trashcan and ran for the bars. You had to eat quickly to get out there and grab a space on the bar. As soon as a line formed it was time to go to the blacktop where foursquare courts were painted. Today she worked herself up to the server’s square and held it for a couple of turns. As always, the bell rang too soon and it was time to return to the classroom.

The girls behind her in line were talking about what they were going to get for Christmas. One said her mother had taken her to a store and they had picked out a couple of dresses, and she had asked for one of the new dolls that looked like grown up ladies. The other girl said she had gotten one of those dolls for her birthday and wanted clothes for it. Neither had visited with Santa.

After school she had walked up the hill with Jean. That was slow going because Jean had had polio and walked with a big limp. Her left leg was a lot shorter than her right. Jean had spent her summer vacation in the hospital where she had had surgery on her short leg. Jean never played foursquare or kick-ball or on the bars. Once in a while the little girl would sit with Jean at the edge of the playground and they would play jacks. She felt sorry that most of the other kids ignored Jean. She knew how it felt to watch the others and not be welcome to join them. By the time she got to the top of the hill most of the other kids had already disappeared. She looked at her watch. Time to run so Moma wouldn’t be upset that she had taken too long to come home from school.

After diner Daddy told Moma that he and the little girl were going out to take care of some business. An errand with Daddy? On a school night? And Moma didn’t protest, just nodded and scooped her little brother up to get him ready for bed. Daddy wouldn’t tell her anything, just kept shushing her and telling her to wait until they were in the car. He even let her ride in the front seat. Everything looked a little different from here so she was quiet for a bit. They drove past the street she walked down to go to school and started down the front of the mesa to the shopping center. As they parked and began walking to the stores, Daddy asked what she thought Moma would want for Christmas. Hadn’t Moma written her own letter to Santa? Daddy explained that they were to be Santa’s helpers and get something Moma would like. By then they were walking into a ladies store. The first thing she noticed was that the store smelled so good. Then there were two mannequins dressed in the New Look.   One of the shop ladies had come up and asked Daddy what she could help him with. He told her that he and his daughter were being Santa for his wife and that they wanted one of the skirts like the one on the mannequin. The lady asked if they knew what size they wanted and Daddy simply put his hands out and drew Moma in the air. The skirt the lady brought was the same style in a beautiful, shimmery emerald green. She put out a cream colored boat necked top with three-quarter length sleeves to go with the skirt. Daddy, looking down to the little girl, asked her if she thought Moma would like them. She gently reached her hand out to touch the cool silky quilted skirt. Oh, yes, it was perfect. The lady carefully wrapped each piece and put them in a box.

Christmas vacation began that Friday after school. She walked home carefully with her snow scene project. Moma put it on the top shelf of a bookcase explaining that her brother wouldn’t be able to reach it there.   Moma washed the dishes and she dried as they cleaned up after dinner. She worried about how to ask Moma her question. Victoria had laughed and told her that she was such a baby to still believe in Santa Claus. She really wanted Santa Claus to be real. Moma had taken her to see him at the store. She had noticed that his beard was tied on. When she asked Moma about it, Moma had explained that Santa was very busy at this time of year and that that person was an elf sent to take messages to Santa. But what about Victoria laughing at her? What about shopping with Daddy? Moma found a couple more things to wash up and the girl finally just blurted out her question: was Santa Claus real? Then she kept babbling about all the hints she had heard that year that led her to think he was just a made up story. Moma stopped, took the towel from her. While drying her hands, Moma gave her one of those slow, quizzical stares. Finally, she put the towel down, sat on a kitchen chair, and put her daughter on her lap. Very softly she said that Santa Claus was a spirit. The spirit of Christmas. Everyone could carry that spirit in their hearts. At this time of year, Santa Claus was a fun way of sharing and giving gifts. As we grew up we each were able to play Santa for those we loved and especially for little ones. Now, the girl could be part of the spirit of Santa Claus and help make things joyful for others and it was her turn to keep the secret.

Christmas Eve, after decorating the tree she and her brother were given their stockings to hang. She showed her little brother how to do it by hanging hers, then helping him to hang his own. She winked and smiled at Moma. The next morning she watched her brother tear into his gifts, and made sure Moma knew who had given her what gifts as she opened her own. Later Moma would supervise as she wrote thank-you notes to each person who had given a gift. Then she watched as Moma opened the gift she and Daddy had gotten. Moma’s eyes widened, and twinkled as she caressed the fabric. Then Moma ran to their bedroom and put on the new outfit.   She looked as beautiful as the ladies in the magazines as she twirled to show how the skirt moved. For the first time the little girl with braids and knobby knees knew what fun it was to embody the spirit of playing Santa Claus.

The last word:

We both wish you a Merry Christmas and the best for the New Year.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

The entire Health Care industry is impacted by existing legislation requiring the adoption of electronic medical records (EMR). This adoption is absolutely necessary in order to improve patient care, reduce medical accidents, and in the end reduce total cost to provide care. The Cloud is a key enabler, allowing insurance companies, pharmacies, doctors and hospitals to share information about a patient allowing for quicker and more accurate treatment. Getting there can be a very expensive pain, especially for those organizations with only paper-based patient records. These companies are not just moving their existing IT to the Cloud, they are moving to an automated computer-managed environment, actions that most older companies took decades ago, and a phase newer companies never went through at all. Most small rural medical practices fit into the “paper-based” category. In many rural areas, small medical practices with an aging physician are the norm. For them, the move to EMR to meet the current ObamaCare requirements can be a heavy and long-term burden.

These doctors are faced with four choices:

  1. Bite the bullet, and spend tens of thousands of dollars and at least a year to comply. While EMR is a federal mandate, the government provides no financial assistance in the conversation.
  2. Ignore the law and carry on as they have for, in some cases, several decades. In this case the government punishes the doctor by withholding part of their Medicare pay. Most small practices are running fairly close to the edge financially due to ever-increasing malpractice insurance rates, the need for more expensive equipment, and declining insurance payments to the practice.
  3. Merge into a larger regional organization. The larger organization probably has implemented a compliant EMR and will help the small practice migrate. The doctor loses a lot of control over the hours they work, possibly work location, and even patient selection. They become an employee of a large bureaucracy.
  4. Retire.

The Medicare reimbursement penalties are significant. Lose 1% for not having a qualified EMR. Lose another 1.5% for failing to enroll in PQRS, a federally mandated program the collects quality data.

For many doctors, especially those over 50, the last option is the one they are selecting, forcing many rural patients to find a new doctor, often many miles away from where they live and work.

To further complicate the migration to EMR, the government is changing, again, the classification codes used to identify diagnoses and diseases within an EMR and in exchanging data with insurers and government organizations. ICD-10 is required by every medical practice in the US by October 1, 2015. This changes how doctors and other medical staff code everything about patient care. Again, when the conversion is complete nationwide it should improve health care significantly, but the path is not easy and not free to the medical organizations. Several state medical associates and the National Physicians’ Council for Healthcare Policy have urged Congress to delay implementation of ICD-10 for two years. At the same time, other groups are pressing for no more delays citing the cost in time, effort and money as they try to meet disjointed deadlines for multiple federal mandates.

The last word:

The impact on you, your family and your business will depend on where you live and your financial situation. One impact we will all face is, at least over the next few years, is the increased cost of medical care and thus for medical insurance while everyone involved in the medical industry tries to keep up with constantly changing government regulations.

All of this confusion also negatively impacts the security of health care data, making us all more vulnerable.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality is a simple concept: the Internet should be a level playing field. Everyone and every company should get the same level of service. You should always be able to access any lawful content you want at any time. You do not expect to have to pay more for gasoline to drive to the mall than to drive to grandma’s house. You do not expect a policeman to stop you and, depending on your destination, inform you of a different speed limit, or prohibit you from even going there.

This might seem obvious to you, and you might think that competitive pressures on the companies providing the actual connection to the Internet to your home or company, the ISPs (Internet Service Providers), would make this not an issue. But you would be wrong.

There are just six telecommunication giants that control almost all Internet connections in the US: AT&T, Charter, Comcast, Cox, Time Warner, and Verizon. The few smaller local companies need to rely on one of these six to get outside their local area. In many areas, there is only one or two of these giants available, making them virtual if not actual monopolies. In my area, you have the choice of Comcast or Verizon.

These companies all have the technology to read your emails, social media messages, and anything else sent unencrypted over the Internet. And, in fact, they have done so, and taken action based on message content. AT&T jammed a rock star’s political protest, Comcast throttled online file-sharing through BitTorrent, and Verizon censored NARAL Pro-Choice America among a number of such actions.

On the surface, the giants claim to be all for Net Neutrality. Comcast has created a big ad campaign touting their commitment to “full net neutrality,” which they never define. What it seems to mean is their commitment to follow the 2010 FCC (Federal Communication Commission) rules, which include both no-blocking and anti-discrimination provisions. However, earlier this year a federal court overturned the FCC rule on a technicality. In any event, those rules expire in 2018. The reason for this ad campaign: so that regulators will not use Comcast’s anti-regulation attitude against them as they seek to merge with Time Warner Cable.

In my view, the solution is for the FCC to redefine broadband so it comes under the same rules of access and availability that cover traditional phones, which the federal court actually hinted they should do.

You might also check out the ACLU’s position.

The last word:

These giant ISPs need to be regulated. We have personally had really bad experiences with both Verizon and Comcast. We had a copper landline, which annoyed Verizon. They are trying to eliminate all copper connections, both to save money and to get out from under the FCC regulations they face with landlines, such as they must serve everyone. They offered all kinds of incentives to move us to FIOS. After our copper phone line was out for four days due to a FIOS failure, we abandoned our copper line and went to Comcast XFINITY. In the first 30 days with Comcast we have had two days with no phone, Internet or TV, plus numerous other “minor” outages with one or both TVs.

The merger of Comcast and Time Warner will bring a new level to customer service: both rank at the top of customer service complaints.

This is another occasion where I agree with President Obama.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

Security in the Cloud

I first posted about Cloud Security in a two consecutive postings four years ago here and here. I guess I was pretty optimistic about the future of security in the Cloud. I predicted that a number of cloud service providers would be offering comprehensive Security as a Service offerings providing a consistent cost-effective security solution for companies by 2012. While a number of companies do have offerings in this area, none have yet become a total security solution. Organizations are still responsible for a lot of their own planning and implementation. Solutions from companies like McAfee, CISCO, and Semantic are well worth looking at, but don’t expect to write one check and be done.

In the meantime, every organization is moving to the Cloud, often without knowing it. Every time they have a partner who performs some function for the organization where data is stored or moved outside of the control of your IT department, you are using the Cloud. You do this because it is less expensive and usually something you just don’t want to think about. If you use SalesForce, Google or Microsoft collaborative systems, let your Internet Service Provider handle your email, or use a third party to accept orders and payments, you are in the Cloud.

Over the past few weeks several people from different lines of business have asked me essentially the same question, “What’s different about security in the Cloud?” And they want the answer in less than two minutes.

So here goes.

Your security requirements in the Cloud are identical to those you had before. You still need to protect the same data to the same level. The Cloud can make meeting those requirements more difficult, or even impossible. Or it can make it easier and less expensive.

If you are not secure today, you will not be secure in the Cloud. You need to get secure in your current environment before you consider a move to the Cloud. This means you must have a security policy, and enforce it.

When you move to the Cloud you are adding new partners. Vet them the same way you would vet any other partner in terms of financial stability, reputation, past security problems, support capabilities, and general corporate vision.

You are often adding invisible partners. Your Cloud Service Provider (CSP) may, for example, use a company in Shanghai as their networks operation center. Find out who they use and how they vet and monitor them.

A good CSP will provide better security monitoring and keep your systems they control up to date on OS and attack protection software. Almost always their datacenter is more physically secure then yours is. Take advantage of every security capability they offer. Also consider utilizing their disaster recovery options. Because of their economy of scale, you will probably find a much better recovery environment then you have at a fraction of what it would cost you.

Make sure what your Cloud partners propose matches your security requirements and are consistent with your security policy. Get everything in writing. You may not find a single CSP that will meet all of your requirements for all of your workloads. Most of you will eventually end up with Hybrid Clouds, a mix of several different cloud models from very likely multiple CSPs.

The last word:

You also use the Cloud at home. If you store photos in the Cloud, buy music from iTunes, books from Amazon, pay with PayPal, access your bank and investments from your smart phone you are in the Cloud. Think about what you do where something of yours leaves your control. If that something has value to you, or could impact you if someone else had it, then you need to take the basic precautions.

  • Do not go to web sites you do not trust.
  • Do not click on a link in an email if you don’t really know who is it from. Check the sending email address to make sure it from the company it claims to represent.
  • Never give out passwords to someone in an email or phone call.
  • Use a different non-trivial password for each site.
  • Monitor often each financial account that you access online.
  • Consider an identity protection offering like LifeLock.

You don’t need anything like the same security for accounts that do not have your information. For example, if you have accounts at several news agencies, professional associations, other informational web sites it is fine to use the same user name and password across them.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

Password Managers

Over two years ago I wrote about The Password Conundrum. Unfortunately, things are getting worse, not better. The 2014 Data Breach Report includes weak passwords and the reuse of the same password for multiple purposes as among the reasons both companies and individuals get hacked.

Unless you have the memory of police detective Carrie Wells on the CBS TV Show “Unforgettable” or use some form of procedural memory mechanism, you need to write all of your passwords somewhere. Since you constantly refer to it, this list has to be close to you, especially when you travel. An alternative is to use one of the many password management programs that are out there. I recently reviewed two of these programs that take significantly different paths. I like each of them, and you will be well served by the programs and just as important the companies behind them.

I only deeply reviewed these two packages, so other packages may be suitable for you as well. At a minimum, the questions I asked and the reasons for selecting these two may help you make your own decision.

1Password

1Password from Agilebits makes it easy to manage all of you passwords across a variety of platforms (Macintosh, Windows, Android, and iOS). It will generate very strong unique passwords for each of your accounts. It can also securely store other critical and private information such as bank account and passport numbers, and those “sticky notes” of private information you stash around the office or home, and then never find when you need them. The information is stored on and automatically synchronized across all of your devices so everything is always with you. All you need to remember is the one password to get you into 1Password. If you forget it, Agilebits support will not ask you for something hundreds of people know like your favorite high school teacher or where you were married; they ask for information about the specific credit card you used when you purchased 1Password.

Your passwords and other information are never stored at Agilebits nor accessible by Agilebits support personnel. Agilebits is a Canadian company so it is significantly more difficult for the US National Security Agency to compel them to give any information such as your 1Password password.

Agilebits takes security seriously and have implemented 1Password to the current highest standards of encryption and best practices about what data they keep about you and the way it is stored and accessible. The weakest link in the whole process is the syncing of your data among your devices, which requires that the data pass through the Cloud. That data is, of course, strongly encrypted and these risks are insignificant. To protect against password guessing tools that can typically try hundreds of thousands of passwords a second, 1Password uses PBKDF2 to significantly slow down the password authentication process. You will not notice the additional fraction of a second as you enter your password, but it slows down the guessing process so that a guessing program may only be able to guess dozens of passwords a second making the process take a very long time (measured in centuries) to have a slim chance of guessing your password.

1Password allows you to create multiple vaults that can be shared with other individuals with automatic syncing.

1Password has a free option for iOS and Android. For the pro option with additional features, the license fee is less than US$10. A Macintosh or PC license runs about US$35. Agilebits licensing policy is very liberal: one Mac license can be shared across multiple Mac computers used by up to four family members, one Windows license works similarly for multiple Windows computers. One iOS or Android license can be shared across all of your iOS or Android devices.

SecureSafe

SecureSafe from DSwiss AG also makes it easy to manage all of your passwords across a variety of platforms with a browser, with apps for Android and iOS. Unlike 1Password, the information is not stored on your device – it is kept, literally, in a former military bunker in Switzerland. It uses several redundant data centers in Switzerland, each of which is compliant with the security standards of the Swiss banking commission. You can securely access your passwords from any device anywhere with an Internet connection. The interface either through a browser or the specific applications is easy to use. It also will generate very strong unique passwords for each of your accounts. It can securely store documents as well.

SecureSafe provides two mechanisms for two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication means that you need two things to get into your SecureSafe account: something you know and something you have. The something you know is your SecureSafe account password. The something you have is either a fingerprint or your cell phone. You can register a phone number, and when you try to sign in, DSwiss will within a couple of seconds send you a text message with a four character code. Enter that code in the logon screen and you are in.

If you forget your password and contact SecureSafe support, they can’t help you. They do not have the ability to recover your password or your data. However, when you set up the account, you receive an email with a 36-character recovery code that enables you to recover your account.

Secure Safe works well for the individual, but is also designed to support teams. It enables secure document storage and collaboration, and the easy management of access as people join and leave a team or as their role changes.

SecureSafe also provides inheritance, the ability for you to designate someone to receive some or all of the passwords and files in your account in the event of your death or incapacity. You designate someone as the activator, perhaps your lawyer. At the appropriate time, the activator uses a activation code. After a time frame you specified, SecureSafe sends information to each of your beneficiaries that describes how to access your information. At the time of activation, you will receive notification so you have time to cancel the activation if necessary.

DSwiss offers a free subscription to SecureSafe that supports up to 50 passwords, 100MB of storage, and one beneficiary. To use two-factor authentication or extend these limits they have three monthly rates starting at US$1.70 per month, although long-term contracts offer up to a 25% discount. All subscription rates are independent of the number of devices you have.

The last word:

I have been using SecureSafe for the past two months. I choose it over 1Password for four reasons:

  • Complete device independence.
  • Availability of two-factor authentication.
  • My data stored securely in Switzerland by a Swiss company.
  • The inheritance feature.

Of those, only the last was really critical in making my decision. I have long been concerned with Death in the Cloud. Can your loved ones or anyone cleaning up after you find where everything is on-line? I store my “Just in Case” document in SecureSafe so that my beneficiaries will have everything they need to find and access all of our financial and business accounts.

You choice could certainly be different.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

Mindset

(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

One of the “mind candies” I enjoy each year is the Mindset List issued by Ron Nief and Tom McBride from the small liberal arts Beloit College in Wisconsin. Originally established to help their own faculty be aware of out of date references, it has now become a touchstone for many of us. We are a youth oriented society, so it is always good to see what the influences are on the current generation of young people, or what influenced you for which they lack any reference.

The current group of rising freshmen was born when our youngest son was preparing to go to college so I found this year’s list particularly poignant. Some of the items on their lists are a bit jarring while others are just a little evocative of our own benchmarks in life.

This incoming class was in kindergarten for the attack that caused the World Trade Center Towers to fall. They binge watch their TV shows generally on a devise other than TV. “Press pound” on the phone is now “hashtag.” Celebrity “selfies” are better than autographs. The water cooler is no longer the workplace social center; it’s the place to fill your water bottle. Women have always attended the Virginia Military Institute and the Citadel. Hong Kong has always been part of China. Students have always been able to dance at Baylor University. Bill Gates has always been the richest man in the U.S. If you wish to see this year’s complete list, or those of previous years, go to https://www.beloit.edu/mindset/2018/

As you read through the various lists for different years you can watch our societal norms shift. Electronics and how we use and depend on them is ever changing. The bit about binge watching TV was one of those. When we first married we didn’t bother to purchase a TV. Today’s young folks often make the same decision for a very different reason. We just had neither the intent nor time to watch any shows as we adjusted to our first year of marriage and full time jobs and graduate school all at the same time. Eventually, we got a television. It was color, but used vacuum tubes not solid-state electronics to put the picture on a large cathode ray tube. That is the large CRT screen most people sort of remember. Ours was a big nineteen inches diagonally on a rounded corner, dark taupe colored square. It lasted us well over a dozen years and only needed one repair because of the helpfulness of our oldest son when he was about four. One afternoon our home phone rang and I turned off the iron and ran upstairs to answer it. We had two phones, one in the kitchen and one in our bedroom, but they were both upstairs and hard-wired into the wall. Our son was watching Sesame Street while I was ironing in the downstairs family room. When I walked back downstairs from the phone call I noticed that the TV was quiet so asked him how long the sound had been off. I received one of those vague looks that children are so very good at giving you when they have no intention of answering. I tried another tact: had he turned the volume down and got a “no.” I then changed channels to see if it was just that one station, but there was no sound anywhere. Becoming somewhat suspicious due to the looks I was getting with no accompanying verbiage from our usually very voluble son, I asked him to recount exactly what had happened just before the sound when out. Seems he had taken my spray-bottle of water from the ironing board and attempted to “clean the TV” by putting the nozzle of the bottle to the very small hole in the center of the channel-changing knob. The cold water had reached one of the hot vacuum tubes. When Walt got home he turned the set around and saw which tube was out, and drove into town, purchased the correct tube, came back and fixed our set.

Ah, the societal changes in that one paragraph. Yes, we only had all of two telephones, that received calls to the house number and they were owned by ATT, which was affectionately known as Ma Bell. It was still a couple of years away from that monopoly being broken up and when we would be permitted to purchase our own phones. Those old phones were workhorses that rarely if ever wore out. Ours were newer and had push buttons even if they had no caller ID. Actually the keypad was the only thing they had. Then again, that was all any phone had. Who would do anything except try to talk to someone a distance away with a phone? At one point it was a fad to play a musical riff by tapping the keys, but it paled quickly as a form of amusement. We were still repairing many of the household appliances in our homes often by ourselves, but sometimes taking them to repairmen. There was some planned obsolescence, mostly in the expected three-year life span of a car. The man who sold Walt the vacuum tube knew what sort of TV we had and that our problem was lack of sound just because of which vacuum tube that needed to be replaced. Walt built many of our first electronic machines from kits. We became very familiar with the component parts. One evening he made a wrong connection that caused spectacular arcing of electricity in our kitchen. Today’s electronic toys are built with tiny silicon chips that require special labs to manufacture. Most washable clothing still required ironing, especially men’s business shirts, which took a fair amount of time each week. I no longer had to sprinkle everyday shirts with water and allow them to sit before pressing, but deep wrinkles released better with a light misting of water, hence the spay bottle on the ironing board. And we watched the show that was on at the time. Ergo, PBS was showing Sesame Street in the late afternoon, after most children’s naptime, and I could iron the clothes while I supervised what was being watched on TV. We also had to gather in front of the TV, not play something on an electronic device that we carry with us or have available in the car. Some shows were still an event that we would watch together or at least discuss near that social center, the water cooler, the next morning. Much of our slang came from tag lines in these shows. Things such as: “Where’s the beef?” which has come and gone from our vernacular. It did have the advantage of suppressing spoiler alerts as you watched a show only when it was on. We couldn’t time shift it for convenience sake.

None of this is a value judgment. It’s just fun to take note of how the times, they are a changing.

The last word:

These mindset changes are important to your company, the government, and even each of us individually. These mindsets will drive the future   There are now more millennials than baby boomers in the US. The millennials are a much more diverse group than the boomers, and a lot more accustomed to a world where everything is changing at an ever faster rate.

The only constant is change.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

A few weeks ago my wife and I went to the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown in the northwest corner of Massachusetts. This is a fabulous, small art gallery with many of the paintings you learned about in your Art Appreciation or Art History course. But from September 6 through November 2 it also has one of the four original copies of the 1215 Magna Carta. For the first time, one of these original copies was in the US – the copy in the National Archive in Washington DC is from 1297.

The document was copied by hand with very small letters made with a quill pen and dipped ink. The letters have faded and the cotton “paper” has discolored, and while my Medieval Latin is rusty making my ability to comprehend the script limited, the document is readable 799 years later.

In another case of amazing longevity for saved data, a friend of mine was able to get data from computer tapes from the 1960s. The story of finding the tapes, finding a tape drive that would read them, and a company that had the technology and process to make it all work makes that data recovery remarkable. If you have data on floppy disks (remember them?), try to figure out how you would access it.

Is it even possible to save today’s data for 800 years? Maybe, but not easily.

You need four things in order to save data for the long term:

  1. A digital copy of the data.
    For digital data, that is fairly easy; just copy it. For analog data, like vinyl records, magnetic tape, or paper, you need to first get it into a digital electronic form. In the case of the 1215 Magna Carta, the four existing copies are not identical. Since it was copied by hand, sometimes by monks who could not read, there are accidental differences among the copies. The same thing happens with analog data – every time you read it you damage it, and any copy is modified from the original.
  2. A media that will last for the time period you want.
    CDs and DVDs are probably good for up to 20 years, thumb drives for probably longer. The more critical factor is how many times you write to the thumb drive, not how often you read it or even how you treat it while stored. Even an inexpensive thumb drive will support 3,000 to 5,000 erase / write cycles. Potentially the weakest part is the physical connector that you plug into your computer: they are only specified to withstand about 1,500 insert / removal cycles. For the purpose of archive, these limitations are not significant.
  3. A device to read the media later.
    The latest Macintosh desktop I have has no optical drive. While I could still purchase one, it is likely that ten years from now it will be difficult to find a drive to read CDs or DVDs. At some point, USB ports will also disappear, to be replaced by some newer better faster cheaper connection mechanism. For a while there will be gadgets that will still accept that thumb drive, but quicker than you can image it will be very difficult, and expensive, to read a thumb drive.
  4. A program to read the data.
    Perhaps the most significant long-term risk is having some program that can interpret the data on the media. With the 1215 Magna Carta, all I would need is my eyes, a magnifying glass, plus a refresher course in old Latin. Try to find a program that can read a Microsoft Word document created in 1982, or worse a document created by a program published by a company that does not exist. I lost some drawings I had created in an extinct Macintosh program that does not run on existing hardware and operating systems. Fortunately, I didn’t really care, but it was annoying. For long term storage, I suggest not using the native program format (e.g., .docx) but create PDF files. I expect that PDF, standard picture formats like .jpg, and using iTunes compatible formats for music will still be readable for decades, or at least give you time to convert the file formats. If you do need to keep the native formats, plan on running a test before you completely move to a new version of a program, a new platform (e.g., Macintosh to Windows or vice versa), or a new major operating system release. If it looks like it may be a problem, convert to a newer or different native format before you make the jump. A good rule of thumb is to update the native format files at least every five years anyway.

In general, you should not expect to successfully get data from stored electronic media after ten years, and you should plan to refresh your long-term data storage every five years or so. So you could endow an organization to do the refresh every five years and have some expectation that your data would still be accessible in 800 years.

Or you could print a dozen copies on cotton paper and give one to each of a dozen monasteries or cathedrals in England.

The last word:

That monk who copied the Magna Carta would, other than language, be pretty much at home in England for the first 600 years of the document’s existence. After that, with the changes including the indoor plumbing that first appeared in England around 1890 in London, he would be more and more lost. He would however have to find a different line of work, maybe typesetting, after about 225 years.

He, like many of us, would be baffled by a world where almost everything changes every 20 years.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 117 other followers