Taking A Bow

Taking A Bow
Wow–this is some awesome piece of art!



Aside from the beauty of it, what do I think about looking at this?



Something like this:



Some people take a bow in arrogance and self-aggrandizement, while others are bowed in humbleness and grace.



Those who see only their own greatness fail to see all those people, factors, and most importantly, G-d’s mercy that enabled them to achieve what they have. 



We are but agents of the heavenly maker above who endows us with creativity and the ability to capitalize on it. 



We should be bowed in thankfulness to G-d, but unfortunately all too often instead stare in the mirror admiring our own image that we imagine is so talented and successful because of who we are and what we ourselves have done–that we can’t even contain our bursting self-satisfaction in wonderful selves. 



Yes, it’s good to recognize when we do something good and when we make mistakes so that we can learn from them, but G-d is not only our one-time maker, but he gives us the knowledge, skills, abilities, and good fortune to succeed in what he wills. 



I remember being taught in Jewish day school that not a leaf falls from a tree without G-d wishing it–that G-d is not only the creator, but is intimately involved every moment with us and the world.  



Like the most brilliant computer that can calculate gazillions of calculations a second, G-d can orchestrate the fates of all his creations in a just and masterful way that takes everything we do and don’t do into account.



May it be G-d’s will to endow us with what we need to succeed and for us to be deserving of it, and to recognize from where it all comes and not be so in awe of ourselves that we fail to see our innate limitations and mortality that is us. 



(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

The Money Pit

The Money Pit

So I’m visiting this absolutely delectable Italian bakery in fancy-schmancy Las Olas.

The Sicilian pizza by the way is amazing.

We are there for a while enjoying the food, conversation, and ambiance.

My wife offers to take a picture of me in this great place.

The lady behind the counter is so nice and let’s me join her behind the counter for a moment.

In comes an obviously wealthy customer and as he sees me going to take a quick photo, he makes a big “Hmmmmm!”

The lady graciously says “Just one moment sir.”

And irritably waiting for just this brief moment, he blurts out, “I’m the customer and my money comes first!”

When he said this, another lady in line made a huge shocked face–as did we all.

It is incredible how some people’s money goes to their head and they don’t realize it all comes from G-d and can just as quickly be taken away.

Wealth, health, our loved ones, and happiness–they are ephemeral and we should be ever grateful for them for as long as we have them.

Being arrogant and thinking we are better than the next guy–that we are somehow more deserving or above it all–is a huge fallacy and G-d sees all.

Maybe this rich guy’s money comes first to him, but I imagined the Master Of The Universe hearing these words and having the last eternal laugh. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Plenty Of Food For All

Bread

I remember as a teenager visiting, on occasion, the Catskill Mountain hotels for the holidays and watching not only the enormous amounts that people seemed to order and eat, but also the huge amounts that simply went uneaten and was discarded.

Taste from this dish…don’t like it, throw it out. Try that food…but your not in love with it either, into the trash as well. Like a smorgasbord or food orgy to end all others. 

Honestly, the waste from such hubris is disgusting especially with world hunger unbelievably still topping 925 million people or 1 in 7 worldwide. 

Bloomberg BusinessWeek (21 December 2012) reports that in India alone villagers average only about 2,000 calories a day–when less than 2,400 qualifies for government food aid. And “half of all children younger than three years old in India weight too little for their age; [and] 8 in 10 are anemic” (i.e. do not have enough healthy red blood cells).

Despite the mass poverty and corruption hindering people getting enough healthy food around the world, BBC News (30 November 2012) cites incredible statistics that “the average American family throws away 40% of the food they purchase–which adds up to $165 billion annually.” 

However, not all the food being thrown out is because of people acting like–I’ll just say it–like pigs, but because if not eaten right away, food spoils.

Food spoliage affects the taste, smell, and appearance of food and the pathogens involved can make people sick. So some food–not fresh anymore–really needs to get discarded. 

Now Texas Tech University has invented MicroZap a microwave technology that functions to pasteurize food so it stays fresh longer.

For example, MicroZap can kill mold spores in bread in about 10 seconds. Thus, normal bread which goes moldy after 10 days, can stay fresh instead for 60 days–and at the “same mold content as it had when it came out of the oven.”

MicroZap can also be used on eggs and meat to improve food safety by killing E. Coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. 

An additional benefit to MicroZap is that food manufacturers may not need all the additives and preservatives that get mixed in, as well as the other chemicals used to mask the taste of them. 

 Further uses for MicroZap include the washing and drying of clothes in hospitals, nursing homes, day care centers, and fitness centers to sterilize them and even kill superbug MRSA (in excess of 99.999%).

The application of microwave technology to food safety and to sterilizing laundry is exciting not only from the perspective of reducing illness and infection, but also in terms of cutting waste and reducing hunger and malnutrition. 

If we can cost-effectively deploy this technology to improve safety and reduce waste, and then redistribute food to those in genuine need, we can feed the world with the food we already have at our fingertips–and there can be plenty of bread for everyone. 😉

(Source Photo: Minna Blumenthal) 

Mind Readers and The Psychology of Excess

Animal_house

Seeing a number of senior officials in the last year “ousted,” I find it sort of scary the risks and travails that executive leadership can entail.

There are so many good, hardworking people at GSA making progress for the Government in terms of property management, contract management, fleet management, and more, that it was a huge shock to many today, when GSA leadership including the Administrator, were ousted for what White House Chief of Staff called “excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors, and disregard for taxpayer dollars.”

This at a time when the nation is struggling to reduce the national deficit now at $15.6 trillion and avoid another debt ratings cut from the three credit report agencies that would potentially drive interest up and cause even more damage to the nation’s economy.

Of course, the GSA is not the only example, just last year, we had the unfortunate “muffin mini-scandal” as reported by Bloomberg BusinessWeek (29 September 2011), where the Government was alleged to have paid $16.80 apiece for muffins.

What causes this psychology of excess where taxpayers end up footing the bill for extravagant items and events?

1) Hubris–Are there people who feel they are so high and mighty, they just have all the trimmings of office coming to them and theirs?

2) Neglect–Do some executives rise too far and fast, and maybe things get out of control?

3) Misguided–Is it possible that some may actually really think that hiring a mind reader on the taxpayer dime is a good idea?

4) Accident–At times, oversights, mistakes, and accidents happen, and while we may prefer they didn’t, they are a learning opportunities.

5) All of the above–Perhaps it is some combination of all the prior four?

It reminds me of something my father taught me that “G-d does not let any flower grow into the sky.

This means that no matter how good we are or how far we go in our careers and in life, we remain mortal and infirm, and subject to human imperfections.

That’s why it’s never a good idea to tout your own infallibility.  Just Last Thursday, the GSA Administrator, as reported by Government Executive Magazine, told a conference “Why us? Because we’re the expert shoppers. We’re the folks you want on your team when budgets are tight, you’re making purchases, and there’s no room for error…”

Obviously, I assume there was no intent to brag, but we all say things like this at one time or another, and it’s good to reflect and stop ourselves from going too far.

This is not about the GSA or any other agency or organization in particular, but rather a lesson in humility for all of us.

This unfortunate incident should not obscure the good work, done every day, at all levels, by every Federal agency.

(Source Photo: here)

>How $26 Can Buy You A Billion-Dollar Surveillance System

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If $26 software can give our enemies on the ground access to our drone feeds and cyber warfare can inflict indefinite havoc on our critical infrastructure, we need to rethink what technological superiority means and how we keep it.

No defense system is foolproof. That’s why we build redundancy into the system and layer our defenses with “defense in depth,” so that just because the enemy infiltrates one layer, doesn’t mean that our defenses are laid bare.

When in fact, we become aware that our systems have been compromised, it is only responsible for us to re-secure them, bolster them with additional defenses, or take those systems out of commission.

It was shocking to learn this week in multiple reports in the Wall Street Journal that our UAV drones and their surveillance systems that have been so critical in our fight against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan were compromised, and the feeds intercepted by $25.95 software sold over the Internet. These feeds were found on the laptops of the very militants we were fighting against. Reportedly, we knew about this vulnerability ever since the war in Bosnia.

It is incredible to imagine our massive multi-billion dollar defense investments and technological know-how being upended by some commercial-off-the-shelf software bought online for the price of a family dinner at McDonalds. But what makes it even worse is that we knew for nearly two decades that the enemy had compromised our systems, yet we did not fix the problem.

A number of reasons have been circulated about why the necessary encryption was not added to the drones, as follows:

It would have resulted in an increase in cost to the development and deployment of the systems.

There would be a detriment to our being able to quickly share surveillance information within the U.S. military and with allies.

There was immediate battlefield need for the drones because of the immediate concern about roadside bombs and therefore there was apparently no time to address this issue.

Based on the above, one may possibly be able to understand why the Joint Chiefs “largely dismissed” the need to repair the drones’ security flaw. However, it also seems that they were overconfident. For any “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader” contestant can tell you that if the enemy can see and hear what we see and hear, then they can take action to subvert our military and intelligence resources, and the critical element of surprise is gone—the mission is compromised.

Of course as civilians we are not privy to all the information that our leaders have. And one can say that if all you have are compromised drones, then those are what you must use. Nevertheless, officials interviewed by the Journal point to the hubris that influenced the decision in this situation – as the report states:

“The Pentagon assumed that local adversaries [in Iraq and Afghanistan] wouldn’t know how to exploit” the vulnerability. So, the result was that we kept building and deploying the same vulnerable systems, over a long period of time!

This is not the first time that we have both been overconfident in our technological superiority and underestimated competitors and opponents in foreign countries—with disastrous results. There are the human tragedies of Pearl Harbor and 9/11, to name just two. And then there are the economic challenges of global competition, such as in the automobile industry and overseas manufacturing in general.

And if some terrorist cells on the run can so clearly compromise our technical know-how, shouldn’t we be even more concerned about established nations who are well financed and determined to undermine our security? For example, just this week, a group calling itself the “Iranian Cyber Army” hacked and defaced Twitter and we were helpless to prevent it. Also noteworthy is that this same week, it was reported that our defense plans with respect to South Korea, including operational details, were hacked into and stolen by North Korea.

Unfortunately, however, we do not even seem to take threats from other nations as seriously as we should: As the Journal reported, “senior U.S. military officers working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed the danger of Russia and China intercepting and doctoring video from the drone aircraft in 2004, but the Pentagon didn’t begin securing signals until this year.”

I am deeply respectful of our military and the men and women who put their lives on the line for our nation. It is because of that deep respect that I reach out with concern about our overconfidence that we are technologically superior, and about our dismissal and underestimation of the resolve of our enemies.