Thursday, April 28, 2011

High Stakes Gaming

This month's PlayStation network hack job is being called one of the biggest data breaches in history. The personal information of a full 77 million PlayStation Network users has been exposed, and the Big Question, of course, is: BY WHOM? Who has absconded with this information?

The answer: No one yet knows. In an interesting article on, the authors walk us through an analysis of the possible culprits, from the hacktivist group that oh-so-ironically calls itself "Anonymous" (denied culpability and, in fact, probably not guilty) to China to the random recreational teen hacker to the (probably Ukrainian or Russian) for-profit cyberthief (probably guilty). Their M.O.s and motives are laid out and their potential culpability assessed.

Folks should not fear that this was done for their credit card numbers. No, no, no -- the CVV2 security codes aren't stored with the rest of the info, and the hackers would have known that. Passwords: that's what they're after. People tend to use the same passwords for multiple sites, and so one's password for the seemingly innocuous PlayStation network may well also yield one's password for online banking.

Seventy seven million people is a lot of passwords. If even a fraction of those are also used by their owners for their personal banking, this could actually wind up being the largest bank heist in history. Let this be a cautionary tale to you, 91282ILBOB.

-Jack Simony

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Medically Ready"

Since I've written about her in the past, I feel compelled to note that Representative Gabrielle Giffords has flown from Houston, where she is in hospital, to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to attend the Friday launch of the space shuttle Endeavour. The flight is to be commanded by her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly.

This is fantastic news, not just because Representative Giffords is happy to finally get some time away from the hospital that has been her home since she was shot in Tucson on January 8, but because of what it says of her current condition. Representative Giffords has been making a remarkable recovery.

This will be the final space mission for the Endeavour, and it will be delivering communication antennae and other equipment to the international space station.

President Obama and his family are also slated to attend the launch.

Representative Giffords has long wanted to attend this launch. She worked hard at her rehabilitation to be "medically ready" to do so. I am so pleased for her and her husband that she will be there on Friday.
-Jack Simony

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Back in Black

The Gulf of Mexico is once again back in black. Oil drilling is resuming in the Gulf, as eleven new deepwater and forty nine shallow water drilling permits have recently been issued.

Gulf oil workers are relieved – no surprise there. Most had retained their jobs, being assigned to maintenance work rather than drilling, but that was a tenuous stop-gap measure at best. Knowing that the government had stopped granting permits to drill new oil and gas wells pending regulatory revisions and reformation had these workers quite nervous.

Reform efforts are underway. Shallow water drilling was the first to be resumed, and now that the government believes that adequate protections are in place to handle another incident such as BP’s explosion of last summer, deepwater drilling is being allowed as well. These protections come in the form of an inverted funnel system such as that finally used by BP last summer. This system has now been made readily available.

Obviously the hope is that another such explosion does not even happen. If it does, I only hope that such a funnel system is adequate to contain the spill quickly and channel the oil that has spilled to the surfact.

Interestingly, oil production from existing wells in the Gulf has reached an all-time high despite the temporary moratorium. And this is just how most Americans would have it – Sixty nine percent of Americans support the expansion of off-shore drilling, despite the nationwide condemnation of BP not so very long ago.

I’d like to see a faster and more concerted move toward alternate sources of fuel. Meanwhile, though…we need our fuel. I’m glad to see the implementation of safety regulations so that we can access it while keeping our oil and gas workers and our planet safe.
-Jack Simony

Friday, April 15, 2011

Encouraging College Programs

The rate of children with autism spectrum disorders has skyrocketed in the last twenty years. We all know someone with a young child with developmental challenges...but more and more of these children are now growing up and entering college, where they may be able to handle the academic rigors -- particularly if they're studying a field of intense interest to them (though they may need to develop skills for organizing and sequencing assignments) -- but where they need help navigating the life-skills and social sides of college life.

In response to the growing numbers of students with high functioning autism and Asperger's Syndrome, more and more colleges are beginning to implement programs to help these students cope.

They offer faculty and staff to help students learn to manage their own studies and hand in assignments on time. They offer peer mentors to help the students learn the finer points of social interactions, and they strive to find work-study opportunities so that students on the autism spectrum can learn "soft skills" necessary to be desirable job candidates in the future.

Autism Spectrum Disorders are disabilities, though they are often invisible, and they manifest in ways the rest of the world does not readily recognize as the neurological disabilities they are. Daily life is markedly harder for people with ASDs. Their sensory systems are out of whack, and they often find normal sensory input to be assaultive. They have auditory and visual processing challenges that make it difficult to filter, process and make sense of what they see and hear around them. They have dyspraxia and verbal apraxia, and cannot motor plan or execute a sequence of motor tasks most of us do reflexively, or, for many of them, summon the spontaneous language they wish as quickly as the rest of us. And the list goes on...

Colleges are required by law to make provisions for students with disabilities. I am encouraged to learn that they are doing so for those courageous young people among us who struggle through each day with the complex and multiple challenges of their autism spectrum disorders.

-Jack Simony

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lying is Lying

Stephen Colbert has outdone himself. He’s been having a field day, both on his “Colbert Report” and via Twitter, ridiculing Senator Jon Kyl’s preposterous exaggeration on the Senate floor and even more preposterous attempt to justify the blatant lie. During last week’s debate about federal funding, Senator Kyl (R. Arizona) claimed that “well over 90 perent of what Planned Parenthood does” is perform abortions. Actually, that percentage is…drum roll, please…THREE percent. Three.

How did Senator Kyl’s office attempt to clarify the discrepancy (i.e., the lie that is now in the Senate’s permanent record thanks to Senator Kyl)? The office issued a statement that Kyl’s emphatic declaration “was not meant to be factual.”


Stephen Colbert grabbed that football and ran with it, to hilarious effect. He created the hashtag #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement and used it throughout the day to disseminate imagined “nonfacts” about Kyl…none actionable by Kyl because they all carry that hashtag.

* Jon Kyl is an accomplished nude hula dancer. He is not welcome in Hawaii.
* For the past 10 years, Jon Kyl has been two children in a very convincing Jon Kyl suit.
* Jon Kyl cheated on Sandra Bullock.
* Once a year, Jon Kyl retreats to the Arizona desert and deposits 2 million egg sacs under the sand.
* Citing religious reasons, Jon Kyl refuses to utter the number 8.
* Jon Kyl once ate a badger he hit with his car.
* Carly Simon wrote that song about Jon Kyl.
* Legally, Jon Kyl cannot be within 100 yards of Helen Mirren.
* Jon Kyl has a shrine to Scooter from the Muppet Show.
* Jon Kyl developed his own line of hair care products just so he could test them on bunnies.
* Jon Kyl was sent from the future to kill Sarah Conner.

Brilliant. Colbert’s followers on Twitter promptly followed suit, and Colbert shared some of their best on his program last night. You can see a clip from the show here:

This blog is NOT about whether Planned Parenthood should be federally funded. We can talk about that another time. It’s about blatant lying by Senators to further their agendas. I don't care whether I agree with a Senator's position or disagree -- s/he shouldn't lie about facts to garner support. I appreciate Colbert’s clever way of shining a light on the issue of lies on the Senate floor. If a Senator chooses to take a stand on a particular issue and wants to sway his or her colleagues to join him or her, it should be done on the merits. The actual merits. If the position has legs, it can be defended honestly. Citing a statistic of “ninety percent” when the actual statistic is “THREE” is unconscionable, regardless of what the statistic refers to. Claiming that your lie was “not intended to be factual”?!?! Even more so. Shame on Kyl — he deserves the ridicule being heaped on him.

Thanks, Colbert.
-Jack Simony

Friday, April 8, 2011

Safe Travels

I travel all the time, and while the following is a matter of common sense, I hadn’t thought about it all that much before. I just saw that the US Department of State has issued suggestions about the information to put on one’s luggage tags. The DOS recommends using tags with flaps that cover up your information and, if traveling in countries where anti-American sentiment exists, not putting anything on the luggage tag that identifies you as a US citizen.

Further, one should limit and be judicious about the contact info one puts on such tags. Use an office address rather than a home address, and create a free email account to list rather than one’s principle email account. Also, do not use a home phone number! Gleaning that you are traveling from home, a thief who sees your phone number could do a reverse phone search and find your home address. Use your cell phone number instead. The one thing the experts agree you do need and should put on the tag? Your full name. Seems ironic, somehow. If I’m being coy and careful about everything else, how can I write “Jack Simony” for the world to see? The tag, we should not forget, is there in case your luggage loses its way…and the airline can track you down and reunite you and your luggage far more quickly if they have your name, can match it to your ticket, and can find out where you’ve gone.

-Jack Simony