Wild Duck Adds Quora Answers

I have posted as AWildDuck for 4½ years. I have also written for Lifeboat, Yahoo, Engadget & Sophos NakedSecurity. But in just the past 3 months, Quora.com has published more of my answers than all other venues combined. More than half of Quora posts were solicited by editors or members.

This month, I became Most Viewed Writer for 7 Quora topics, and among the top 50 writers in many others.                   [Continue below]…Quora_Most_Viewed_splashWriting as “Ellery Davies”, I am a top contributor for Bitcoin, Virtual Currency, Cryptocurrencies, Routers, Local Area Networks, Gravity and Digital Currency. Since these are topics discussed here, my Quora posts are now linked at top right   »
—with the latest post on top.

Gifts: Which of these things is not like the other?

Time for a pop quiz: Which of these things does not belong?

not_these_gifts-s

wristwatch      • wallet      • pen      • chocolates     • eyeglasses

Actually, it’s a trick question. If your giving to a man, four of these five gifts do not belong on your list—Not, unless you want smiles and gratitude as fake as a $3 bill.

I am a frequent contributor to Quora. For the most part, I write about Bitcoin and economics, but occasionally, I answer reader queries about physics and math. Sometimes, my answers are voted to the top of the heap.

Today, I was asked to describe what would qualify as the world’s worst gift. The topic is fluff, of course—but now and then, fluff can lead to a good thought experiment.

Of course, the concept of a good gift or a bad gift is highly personal. If you are allergic to flowers, then a bouquet of roses may be a very bad gift. Likewise, giving a bra may mean one thing to your lover, something different thing to your neighbor’s daughter, and with a completely different meaning when presented to your heavy set, male boss.

This may be my own emotional boil, but I have always told my family to avoid gifting me a wallet, watch, personal jewelry or a fountain pen. Today, I would add a mobile phone. (That is, unless my preferences have been published in a registry or gift list). For me, any of these gifts is very likely to qualify as a “worst gift”.

Why?! It’s not that I don’t like these things. In fact, it is the opposite. But I would rather make the choice for myself. To illustrate, think of the old standby for any businessman: The neck tie. Imagine how the giver feels when they realize that you never wear it. Imagine how you feel, when you realize that your little girl has never seen you wear it to work.

Some of these things shown above are functional and some are just ornamental, but each combines personal taste with identity and an individual’s unique sense of aesthetics. The choice of an accessory projects a unique style and taste. Unlike a box of chocolates or a dozen roses, the other gifts are not fresh or consumed and the giver expects these durable and personal items to be worn or used at some point down the road.

Without close consultation, you wouldn’t buy your friend eyeglasses or an expensive ring—even if you knew the prescription. For most men, a lot of thinking goes into the purchase of a cell phone, a wallet, a special pen or a watch.

Here’s a better idea: Skip the material gift altogether. It simply compels them to reciprocate, potentially leading to further stress. Instead, tell that special person how much he/she means to you. Offer to clean the house, take them to the doctor’s office, or sit with them in the aftermath of a personal tragedy.

Leather-iPhone-Wallet-by-PortelMost important, show your friendship and understanding when they are at their lowest. To help someone less fortunate, bring them on your next family vacation. These gestures demonstrate friendship, empathy and a sense of importance in your life. They mean more than a big screen television.

In case some generous reader disagrees—insisting on a culture of giving material things—consider getting me a wallet this holiday season. But not just any wallet. Get this one by Portel. I don’t use an iPhone, but I dig the slim fit and weathered style!

Ellery Davies is co-chair of The Cryptocurrency Standards Association and former
CEO of Vanquish Labs. He writes for Lifeboat Foundation and Naked Security.

Planned Parenthood: Undercover Video Kicks Up Firestorm

When I started this Blog, I committed to publish clear and blunt Wild Duck opinions on even the most controversial issues. But I also made a promise to myself to refrain from commenting on a few things, simply because I didn’t want to use my Blog for these issues, nor defend my belief system:

  • Personal vendettas against vendors, no matter how egregious the practice
  • Religious beliefs of any public figure
  • gagThe abortion debate

Two Down; One to Go

Despite pure intentions, the gag rule had to go. I have already violiated the first two prohibitions…

a) Personal Vendettas

First, there was my interminable frustration over a ludicrous string of billing errors by Verizon (it was resolved only after 3 years, 150 phone calls and 120 statement credits). Incompetence and disrespect for customers of this magnitude begs to be shared.

Rent-a-Terstappen desk-s2Then, there was the unforgivable lies, deceipt and theft by Rent a Terstappen—the Dollar / Thrifty car rental franchise at the Frankfurt airport. If they tried these tricks in the US or anywhere else in Europe, the franchise owners would be in jail and the corporate office would be decimated by a class action suit.

Finally, Keurig/Green Mountain has finally removed restrictions from their Keurig 2.0 brewer,due, in part, to this scathing review of their haughty business practices.

b) Religious Beliefs

Religion keeps popping up, just like Whack-A-Mole. I have finally come to realize that it was an unrealistic and unnecessary editorial restriction. I don’t really care to debate your faith or my background—I just don’t feel that any reasonable and representative government should recognize, support, defend or lie in bed with any religions, period.

First, there was the town that wanted to balance the display of a public Christmas tree with a public Hanukkah menorah (Editor’s Tip: Get rid of both. Neither belong on public property). Then, there was the US congressman who believes that the universe is 6,000 years old and the New Testament is his working job manual. He is a member of the Space Sciences committee and makes decisions that affect NASA.

Finally, I wrote a popular piece that justifies an agnostic belief (or is it a lack of belief?). And, of course, I have frequently published stories about Islamic extremism and Daesh (aka ISIS OR ISIL). Anyone who participates, contributes or sympathizes with the so-called Islamic Caliphate SO-oo-o needs to be dragged out and shot.

…And so, now there is but one frontier to cross. That is, my self-imposed prohibition on treading into the topic of abortion and public policy.

c) Abortion

Looking over the first three years of this Blog, I find that abortion has rarely been mentioned; only referenced in two political articles.

The problem isn’t that abortion is a contentious issue. A Wild Duck thrives on contention. In case you hadn’t noticed, I love to justify my opinions. fetusBut, the ethics and legal recourse are difficult to debate, because the Pro-Life camp believes that abortion is murder. If one party to a debate believes that the other side is engaged in unjustifiable homicide, the two will forever be locked in a stalemate. Sure, abortions will go on. But, depending upon prevailing winds—religion, ethics & politics—they will either be legal or illegal.

FWIW: Wild Duck is Pro-Choice

I am staunchly Pro-Choice. There! I have said it. But, beyond the next few paragraphs, I don’t care to justify my opinion on the issue. It could not possibly serve any point.

A women’s right to choose the disposition of her body, her womb and her unborn baby (or ‘fetal parts’, depending on your ilk) should be supreme and inviolate—until a child is born and is breathing apart from the mother. Pro-choice is not a nihilistic philosophy. Advocates do not set out to end the life of a fetus. We simply believe that incredibly difficult and personal medical decisions belong with family and physicians rather than government.

Pro-choice advocates believe in family and their capacity to make tough personal choices. We don’t survey the ethics and religious doctrine of neighbors and we don’t bring a community of pundits, analysts, and our neighbor’s clergy into the bedroom or our doctor’s office. Callout-abortionThere must be a clear delineation between an individual’s medical and ethical decisions and the rights granted to a new life—even if a fetus could survive apart from the mother. I feel strongly that government should stay uninvolved. The dividing line (the point at which society should forcibly intervene or punish) should be the birth of a child.

Sure, a fetus is viable and every bit as human just before birth, but a mother doesn’t abort at a late stage with callous recklessness. It is a very tough choice. One must ask if this difficult choice should be made by family with their doctor, or by a government, reigid rules and popular consent. The decision demarcation cannot be conception or anytime before birth.

I have often hoped that, someday, a simple, easily obtained medication (like Plan B) would make this entire debate moot. But nothing is that easy. Abortion options that are too quick, too simple and too easily concealed raise other serious questions… Has the family weighed all options? What if someone slips an abortion pill into a woman’s drink? I will not address these questions. This article is about a current news event.

Planned Parenthood: Signs of Trouble

One issue that is squarely in the spotlight this week is the sale of fetal body parts. When there is a potential for money to exchange hands, the incentive can drive the decision to abort or even influence a doctor’s methods and practices. For this reason, federal law prohibits the sale of human body parts. But it allows for the the donation of tissue and organs and it allows for the use of human tissue in medical research.

This video, released two days ago, has sparked a firestorm. It has also sparked the fury of Republican presidential candidates, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. They promise congressional investigations and a push to defund Planned Parenthood.

In the video, Deborah Nucatola, a senior director of medical services for planned parenthood, casually discusses abortion procedures and organ harvesting with an undercover investigator for a right wing group. Clearly, the investigator is after a smoking gun and he wants to generate media hysteria and a congressional backlash. He succeeds in spades. But what exactly does the smoke point to?

One day after the story broke, defenders of Planned Parenthood argued that although the discussion was in a shockingly cavalier, nothing illegal was offered or discussed. Dr. Nucatola mentioned a paltry $30 or $100 dollars to cover the added cost of having the doctor save and preserve specimens. Although details are gruesome, the fee clearly does not constitute “selling body parts” including some that may be illegal. Yesterday, The New York Times, defended Planned Parenthood in this article. Factcheck.org (admittedly, a democratic web project) makes the same point here.

But Is The Video Damning? You Bet.

I support Planned Parenthood. For nearly 100 years, they have been a beacon of truthful information, respect and victim empowerment. They balance fanatic zealots who seek to undermine a woman’s natural right to have providence over her own body.

The tangible issue raised by the undercover video is whether the incentive to sell or even donate fetal tissue and organs influences the choices made by pregnant women or the methods employed by abortion providers. And, of course, whether it influences the motives and actions of Planned Parenthood. But no one is selling body parts. This was not the 600 pound gorilla—the intangible issue hit home by the video. It is the tone with which life-terminating procedures are discussed. It comes across as cavalier and disrespectful…

I stand with Planned Parenthood, but I do not stand with supporters who feel that the video is anything less than destructive. Callout-Planned_ParenthoodIt points to a problem with attitude, ethos and consistent signaling. The video reflects poorly on Planned Parenthood and their mission.

Likewise, another undercover video from Inhuman, captures Planned Parenthood CEO, Cecile Richards, in a wink-and-nod at the very end of the video. This, too, reflects poorly on Planned Parenthood. While it is likely that Ms. Richards was simply patronizing a visitor that she wanted to get rid of, it doesn’t reflect well on the organization or it’s mission.

Perception & Reputation

The survival of every organization—even churches, governments and non-profits—relies, in part, on a marketing component. I am less concerned with how the enemies of Planned Parent spin this video than I am with how it perceived by it’s supporters.

The bottom line is that the brand has been tarnished. Recovery will be arduous and, perhaps, long in coming. It is not a forgone conclusion that Planned Parenthood will recover. But it is also a fact that Planned Parenthood stands for freedom, privacy, woman’s rights, and the sanctity of family. Even if the organization is damaged or destroyed, we must never forget the noble mission for which they stand.

Related

Fool’s Mission: Asserting Open Carry Rights

There is a cottage industry afoot that entails making an amateur video of yourself or a friend asserting the right to walk down the street with a gun, but without a badge. After all, we live in a country with a 2nd amendment (the right of citizens to bear arms) and some communities drive this point home by having explicit open carry laws.

LiveLeak.com has recently staked their fame on videos submitted by yahoos, often featuring gang members or reckless youth brazenly taunting police. (“I was just walking down the street officer…minding my own business!)”. In one particularly troubling video, a guy walks into a police station wearing full body armor and carrying an AR15 assault rifle. He calls this behavior a “2nd amendment audit”. Yeah, right! By the same logic, you could test your right of peaceful assembly by surrounding a midnight girl scout campfire with gang members carrying grenade launchers, hand cuffs and duck tape.

There is no confrontation in the police station audit, but check out this video, instead…

Drop to the ground!

This is not a video about race, guns or constitutional rights. It is a video about two individuals and their girlfriends making an a*s of themselves.

It’s not the message about race that bothers me…

In this video, one protagonist is white and the other is black. But before we get into the sub-plot, let’s address the main premise… Do these guys have a constitutional right to bear arms?

Yes they do! But there is no national consensus on what it means to “bear arms”. Do they have a constitutional right to display automatic weapons as they walk down a street? That’s certainly in doubt. If so, then you could extrapolate this to a right to carry grenades and chemical bombs. Do they have a right to openly carry weapons down the streets of this particular community? Perhaps. Maybe. I don’t know.

But even if their actions are intended to assert their rights or demonstrate a bias toward black males, they are still idiots. Regardless of laws and rights, a society lives on norms of conduct, safety and behavior. Quote me all the rights that you wish; we still can’t have citizens walking down the street with assault rifles or Uzis. Unlike the police, there is no way to know if they have been adequately trained, screened for mental health, enraged by a recent incident, or simply looking for trouble.

These guys are clearly jerks. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t understand their motives. I was once young, arrogant, with a chip on my shoulder, and also an idiot. Too bad that there isn’t a better way to communicate across generations and save these dolts from making the same mistakes in an effort to assert their ‘rights’.

The Narrator’s Other Message

To be fair, the accompanying article explains: “The white guy did not have a gun pulled on him, the black guy never got a chance to say anything before a gun was pulled on him.” The video shows two separate events. One in which a white man is challenged without apparent fear or violence and the other in which an officer draws a gun on a younger black man and yells for him to drop to the ground before engaging in any discussion. Is there a point here about race, balanced law enforcement and prejudice? Sure! But that doesn’t change the fact that both men are idiots.

Let’s be clear. Race is not a main point of the video. In the opening scene, a lunkhead states that he will stage a provocative exercise for “educational purposes” and to ensure that the state of Oregon does not trample on his rights. As to the race angle, there are certainly other ways to research and present sociological data. In fact, it can be done in a manner that solicits the viewer to reflect on their own bias and perhaps take action in changing perceptions and practices. But this certainly wasn’t a primary motive for the white guy wanting to demonstrate his rights. He just wanted to poke a bobcat with a sharp, flaming stick. In his book, it makes him hot stuff; a really big cheese. In my book, he demonstrates about as much sense as a soft boiled egg.

What do you think? I would particularly like to hear from some gun rights supporters. Is it reasonable to demonstrate your rights by walking down a busy street with an assault weapon?

Bad for business: Laws that bully LGBT

I really tried to ignore the brouhaha over Indiana’s thinly veiled discriminatory law. There is little I can add to the public discourse. In my circles, it seems kind of obvious that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) will be short lived. After all, even with a public demonstration of a narrow mind and intolerance, no governor can stand against business for long.

For those who have lived under a rock these past few weeks, a quick study might ask What’s the big deal? After all, we have a federal law with the same name. But there is a big difference!  The federal law protects individuals from government intrusion or coercion, while the Indiana law was crafted with the opposite intent! It allows individuals (business owners or employees) to claim a legal basis for their interaction with others. It sets the stage for commercial discrimination and goofy legal defenses…

Saturday Night Live suggests giving businesses helpful signs to show that they embrace the new law

Saturday Night Live offers a friendly storefront sign to businesses that embrace the new law.

Under this law, a McDonald’s cashier can contest being fired for telling each customer to praise Allah—or for refusing to serve customers who don’t respond in kind. After all, he is just exercising his religious freedom. This doesn’t just open a can of worms—It sends a crop duster to spray worms over the entire state!

This slideshow from Huffington Post presents first-hand quotes and tweets from 26 politicians, corporate heads (Apple, Nike, Twitter, Angie’s List, Yelp, NASCAR, etc).

Some people stand with the Indiana governor, such as former governor Jeb Bush, and senators Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum. But it is revealing to note that no corporation or sports team wants this pretext to commercial discrimination. They are vociferous in distanancing themselves.

Of course, not all politicians stand with Indiana Governor Mike Pence. The governor of Connecticut is a lightning rod in mustering dissent. So are the mayors of Seattle, Denver, and Washington, DC. You can imagine the statement from Oregon’s governor Kate Brown (she is openly bisexual).

Yea, brother! Are you a straight, God-faring Christian?

Indiana Governor Mike Pence: Straight, God-fearing and bad for business

Financial repercussions are beginning to mount. Angie’s List is canceling a $40 million expansion of their headquarters (this means fewer jobs!). The alternative rock band, Wilco, has cancelled a tour stop in Indianopolis. Salesforce.com is cancelling a business deal. The Colts, NCAA and NASCAR cannot easily relocate, but they are apologizing to fans and reminding them that these venues welcome all fans–both on and off the field. Hillary Clinton called it a “sad decision”. The founder of Yelp calls it “unconscionable”.

Governor Pence insists that the law is misunderstood and that it was not intended to be a pretext for commercial discrimination. In response, check out the opening section of a letter signed by Angie’s List CEO and the heads of eight other large corporations. It points out that intent is not really the point. It’s all about effect:

Regardless of the original intention of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, we are deeply concerned about the impact it is having on our employees and on the reputation of our state. All of our companies seek to promote fair, diverse and inclusive workplaces. Our employees must not feel unwelcome in the place where they work and live. 

To clarify the law, Governor Pence is rushing a corrective ‘fix’ into the legislative docket. That’s just another head slapper. Why bother?! You don’t fix lunacy, you drive a wooden stake through it, bury it, and hope that your opponents forgive or forget.

Wild Ducks wonder how long Hoosiers must wait before Governor Mike Pence rolls back his spiteful and bad-for-business legislation. We also wonder how the governor could have acted on such bad advice. On the other hand, if he acted on his personal conviction, then — red state or blue state — I wonder how he became governor!

The Baby Exchange

Can telling a white lie to a child backfire? It did for me.

From time to time, at AWildDuck, I offer an observation or op-ed on a topic of human interest. This one is not about current events, the price of gold, law or politics. Nah. It’s just Ellery relating a personal experience and a lesson learned…

When my teenage daughter was 3 or 4 years old, I took her with me for a routine blood test (my test and not hers). On the way to the hospital, I explained that we would be visiting the same hospital where we ‘bought’ her. She seemed to accept the explanation. She even asked if the hospital had a variety of babies from which new parents could choose.

car seat tantrumLater, during that same ride, she became irritable and whiny. She complained about something unrelated to our hospital conversation. In an effort to calm her, I made a terrible blunder. Actually, it was just a joke. At least that’s how I saw it. But to my daughter, is was an ominous threat…

I told her, “If you don’t calm down and behave, I will ask the doctor if I can return you for a refund or maybe exchange you for another model.”

Suddenly, she became very quiet. I assumed that she had simply stopped fretting over whatever was bothering her. I interpreted the sudden tranquility as evidence of good behavior.

[One hour later]…

Throughout the appointment, my little girl remained as quiet as a church mouse. I figured that she must simply be processing the fact that blood can be drawn from a person’s arm. When I completed the brief procedure, I realized that we were directly across a hall from the obstetrics ward. I hadn’t visited since my daughter was born. It seemed a good idea to check it out under less stressful circumstances. Holding my girl’s hand, we walked over. Almost Immediately, I spotted the doctor and head nurse who delivered my daughter.

Doctor_Nurse-a

Dr. John DeLoge & Trish Hardigan, RN

“Cupcake”, I said. “I want you to meet some very special people. This is the doctor and nurse that brought you to Mommy and Daddy.” My daughter froze. At first, she offered only a blank stare, Her eyes were as big as saucers.

Gradually, I realized that my precious cupcake was in a state of shock. Her eyes welled up in tears. She began to wail at the top of her lungs while hyperventilating.
“P-l-e-e-e-z-e, Daddy! Don’t give me back to the hop-pis-tal. Don’t exchange me for another baby!! Pleeeze don’t do that!! I promise that I’ll be good! I will never whine or talk back again—EVER! I promise, Daddy! I want to live with you and Mommy! Don’t exchange me!”

Realizing that my precious girl was terrified and that the terror was caused by me, I held her tightly and explained that I was wrong to tell her what I did. I explained that Mom & Dad’s love is unconditional and that parents never return babies.

She calmed down and we headed for the parking lot. But not before the nurse reminded me that a parent must never place a child’s security in doubt—nor assume that a toddler could understand a joke that trifles with the security of the family unit.

I agree.

Who’s on First? What’s on Second

One-liners

Whenever a waiter asked my father if he had decided on something to eat, he always responded in the same way: “I’ll have number 27 on toast!” He followed with a big smile and a sharp sniff, sucking in a full breath in a split second. That was his way of showing that he thought he had said something very witty.

27_on_toastIt didn’t matter if the menu was numbered or if they even had 27 different entrées. He thought this response was knee-slapping funny. He even paused with comic timing, locking eyes with the waiter. I think that he expected him to laugh out loud at the riotous joke. The problem is that no one understood Dad’s humor—not the waiter and not even our family. Typically, the waiter barely managed a chuckle and waited for Dad to decide on an item that was actually printed on the menu.

With Dad, it didn’t end with number 27. Throughout my childhood, he had a slew of one-liners. Each was a snappy answer to a simple, everyday question. Some of the quips made sense, and some were so quirky, subtle or complex, that any sense of meaning was lost on us. I don’t think that even Dad could explain some of the obtuse one-liners of which he was so proud.

These retorts were so autonomous and repetitive, they were drilled into our individual psyches. Eventually, I found myself snapping back with the same answer when going out for a bite with friends…

Sir, are you ready to order?
          “Sure…I’ll have number 27 on toast!” [sniff]

Since I have absolutely no idea why I utter these words, I probably lack the panache of my father’s delivery. When I use the line, restaurant employees appear dumbstruck—even more than with Dad.

Yeah—Joe What!

Perhaps my father’s most memorable snappy answer was to that common American expression: “Do you know what?” In response, he would snap back without any delay: “Sure—Joe What! Met ’im in the army!”

Again, I had no idea what on earth this meant. Not even a clue. In fact, I never even parsed the words. But over the course of a lifetime, I heard it thousands of times. Eventually, when someone asked me “Do you know what?” I would respond instantly “Sure…Joe What! Met ’im in the army.” I’m pretty sure that it sailed past people around me without a thought, but for those that were tied to me by circumstance (my roommates at college or anyone I dated more than a few times), it actually rubbed off. Somewhere in upstate New York, there is a community of former acquaintances who continue to use the phrase even to this day! Just like me, none of them know why they say it or what it means. In fact, even my children respond in this way. It rolls off the tongue naturally.

Surprise Visit

During my 3rd year at college, I decided to surprise my parents by flying home over a long weekend. I recall feeling proud that I had managed to travel without asking my folks for air fare, or even a ride from the airport.

1945-EBR Formal-2Upon entering our home, my mother was so excited; she gave me a big hug. It was exactly the response that I had sought. “Where’s Dad?” I asked, hoping that he was also at home. I wanted to gauge his surprise and excitement. Mom explained that my father was in his upstairs office meeting with an old friend that he hadn’t seen in years. It was an emotional reunion of sorts, and Mom suggested that I wait for him to come down.

As I snacked on my first home-cooked food in months, I relished in the fun I would have surprising Dad and catching up on family affairs. Eventually, Dad descended the big curved staircase into our living room. At his side was a guest that I had never met. Both men were in World War II officer uniforms of the U.S. Army Air Corps. In all these years, I had never seen my father in uniform. He looked pretty snazzy! Just like in the old photos from before he was married.

“Hey, Ellery. You’re home!” he called out to me. “Do ya’ know what?!” I responded without even a nanosecond delay: “Yeah—Joe What. Met ’im in the army.”

“Exactly!” my father exclaimed. That’s right!

“Huh?” I was puzzled. I had expected a small groan, upon recognizing my quick return of his trademark quip.

“You got it right!” Dad repeated. “How did you know?”

“Know what?” I replied.

“Yes, Watt!”, Dad said. “How did you know?”

I felt like I was in an Abbott and Costello shtick. Yet, I had the distinct feeling that I was Costello.

Epiphany

For a few seconds, Dad’s army buddy, Lieutenant Joseph Watt, was as clueless as me. But just as we were about to hit the reset button a second time, Joe started to smile. “Let me guess, Ellery…” A thoughtful finger rose to his lips. “I bet that your dad has used my name as part of a stock expression throughout your childhood. You never realized that ‘Joe Watt’ was a real person, and that I met your Dad in the army. Is that right?”

Brain freeze. I was speechless. Joe What. Met him in the army…I get it! This is Joseph Watt, an army officer with whom my Dad served during the war. So That’s Watt!

Nice to meet you, Joe. You’ve been part of my life forever.

2nd Lieutenant Joe Watt (left) with Dad

2nd Lieutenant Joseph Watt with Dad at Weidner Memorial Library, Harvard Yard