Past postings catch up with Zimmerman

By way of follow up to For Blumenthal read Zimmerman, see this: Sanders suspends Jewish outreach director who blasted Israel, Netanyahu.

Although one can never tell if this is a political move to limit damage, rather than the right move because it is the right thing to do, let’s be optimistic: somebody has talked some sense into Bernie Sanders.



Five for Friday

Hobart building, San Francisco - May 2009

Hobart building, San Francisco – May 2009

They should give the Friday before Pesach a special name. Something like The Calm Before The Storm Friday, because that’s for sure what it feels like. Pesach doesn’t just happen – there is a lot of work involved – and that work is lined up, ready to dominate next week. I am always impressed by how Susan manages it, and manages it so well.

In the meantime, we are going to try and forget everything else, and just enjoy this Shabbat. As my regular routine, that means I must offer up the usual links. Here they are:

Shabbat Shalom!


History Maker Baseball

Inspired by the start of the new baseball season, I decided to set up and play some tabletop baseball, using the teams that competed in the 2015 World Series (Kansas and the New York Mets) in a best of five encounter, matching the actual World Series startups.

I used History Maker Baseball (HMB), an innovative game from Keith Avallone at PLAAY. Most baseball replay games convert player statistics into a numerical rating. In HMB, however, there are no numerical ratings, only characteristics. For example, a pitcher may be a STAR, or a STRUGGLER, and a batter may be a SLUGGER, or a WHIFFER. Each at bat starts with a 3d6 roll on the main game tables. This generates a result – a characteristic – to compare against the pitcher. If there is no match, there is a different result to compare against the batter. If there is still no match, there is a result in the final column.

There are two important points. First, some characteristics are “half” value, which means they only apply if the decider die (a custom d6 with half of the sides blank meaning “no,” and half of the sides with a circle meaning “yes”) says “yes.” This adds depth and variety. But more significant is the second point: many of the results send you off to various other tables that take account of a wide, wide range of factors and recreate key situations. For example, experience, team chemistry, umpire profile, infield, outfield, and plate drama, and so on. So, the flavor of the real game is very well delivered, and so far as I can tell, the game play gives believable outcomes. It means that it can take a little while to resolve a single at bat, but the compensation is the extra depth to the game.

The 2015 cards came with a very handy transactions summary. The team sets show the situation at the start of the 2015 season, and you can easily work out what the roster looked like mid or end season. This was especially helpful in putting together the right players for a World Series rematch.

The player cards come in perforated sheets. No matter how careful I was, the perforations were not perfect, and some cards came out with minor damage. Annoying, and not crucial. But the card quality is the weakest part of the package.

In play, because of the wide range of possible results, you need to be able to see all characteristics of all the players. That means it takes up more table space. Again, it’s more a minor nuisance, but it is a price well worth paying for the rich and realistic atmosphere.

You can get through a single game in thirty to forty minutes, approximately. I compile the statistics at the end, by hand, so you may be able to get through things faster if you use an Excel spreadsheet set up in advance. (Incidentally, I prefer to play these games as board and not computer games.)

So, how did it go? See here.


Kansas City Royals v New York Mets

These are the results of a mini series I played between the 2015 Mets and Royals using History Maker Baseball.

Game 1 – 27 October 2015

Teams 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9   R H E
New York Mets 2 0 1 0 3 0 0 0 1 7 13 0
Kansas City Royals 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 1 3 6 1

A two run homer from Cespedes put the Mets in to a lead that they never looked like losing. Cespedes, with a 5 for 5, and 5 RBI performance kept putting nails into the Kansas’ coffin, and Harvey (7 innings, 2 hits, 1 run) and Clippard (2 innings. 4 hits, 2 runs) did more than enough to secure the win. 1-0 for the Mets.

Game 2 – 28 October 2015

New York lead the series 1-0

Teams 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9   R H E
New York Mets 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 6 0
Kansas City Royals 0 0 0 0 3 0 2 0 5 7 0

New York’s Conforto solo home run in the third was eventually matched and exceeded after pitcher DeGrom gave up two walks in the fifth innings. This kept Kansas on a track they solidly converted to three runs. In the sixth, Granderson hit in leadoff, and scored, to threaten a New York fightback. That came to an end with Murphy and Cespedes grounding out (including into a double play). Cespedes’ 0 for 4 performance was in marked contrast to his first game one. A four hit seventh innings by Kansas had Gordon & Rios score the final runs, and the game really petered out after that. DeGrom (6 innings, 3 hits, 3 runs) Verrett (1 innings, 4 hits, 2 runs) and Goeddel (1 innings, no hits, no runs) pitched averagely. And while Cueto (8 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs) and Morales (1 innings, 1 hit, no runs) were marginally better, it was largely the Kansas performance in the field that kept them in the lead. 1-1 in the series.

Game 3 – 30 October 2015

Series tied at 1-1

Teams 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9   R H E
Kansas City Royals 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 0 0 4 13 0
New York Mets 0 4 2 0 0 0 0 0 6 11 1

Flores was a star for New York (2 for 4, and 5 5 RBI) starting with a grand slam home run in the second innings. Wright and Flores drove in another couple of runs in the third. Moustakas (2 for 5, and 2 RBI) tried hard, but Kansas left too many men on, allowing Syndergaard (7 innings, 11 hits, 4 runs) and Goeddel (2 innings, 2 hits, no runs) to escape from trouble far too often. Ventura (3 innings, 9 hits, 6 runs) was pulled after all the damage had been done. Davis (3 innings, 1 hit, no runs) and Madson (2 innings, 1 hit no run) were awesome, but it was too late for Kansas. New York lead the series 2-1.

Game 4 – 31 October 2015

New York lead the series 2-1.

Teams 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9   R H E
Kansas City Royals 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 2 1 5 9 0
New York Mets 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 1

Young (8 innings, 5 hits, no runs, and 9 strikeouts) and Davis (1 innings, no hits, no runs) were the Kansas stars, though Zobrist (3 for 4) and Rios (2 for 3) made a solid batting contribution. The New York batting was almost non existent, and the pitching just not good enough: Matz (6 innings, 4 hits, 1 run), Verrett (2 innings, 4 hits, 3 runs), and Clippard (1 innings, 1 hit, 1 run). Ironically, Murphy’s error in the fifth saw his team come to no harm. The series is tied at 2-2.

Game 5 – 1 November 2015

Series tied at 2-2.

Teams 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9   R H E
Kansas City Royals 0 0 0 0 3 1 0 0 0 4 11 1
New York Mets 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 3 10 0

Kansas began this deciding game with a dreadful two base error from Cain that helped give the Mets a 2-0 lead. But a fifth inning combination of hits from Escobar, Zobrist, and Pereze, put Kansas in the lead by 3-2. This went to 4-2 in the sixth ininning, with Perez driving in Hosmer on a fine double. Cespedes hit a solo home run in the seventh, to cut the lead to one. but Kansas held on, helped by an awesome pitching performance from Volquez (9 innings, 10 hits, 3 runs, and 8 strikeouts) in these closing innings. Harvey (5 innings, 7 hits, 3 runs) and Goeddel (4 innings, 4 hits, and 1 run) were not dominant enough. Kansas win the series 3-2.


For Blumenthal read Zimmerman?

Hillary Clinton has a close relation with Sid and Max Blumenthal, taking advice from them about Israel that could have been penned by the enemy outfit Haaretz. Bernie Sanders, competing for the Democrat nomination, has Simone Zimmerman, his newly appointed Jewish outreach coordinator. She seems to be cut from the same cloth as the Blumenthals, as the Jerusalem Post notes:

“We’re paying attention to what’s happening in Israel — and we are angry,” Zimmerman said in a column on her fellow millennials in Israel’s daily Haaretz in February.

“The hypocrisy of expecting feel-good social justice projects to offset millennials’ deep outrage at the grave injustices committed by the Jewish state is almost too much to bear,” wrote Zimmerman, who is in her mid-20s. “No public relations trick can save Israel’s image. The problem isn’t with the hasbara [public relations]. The problem is nearly 50 years of occupation. The problem is rampant racism in Israeli society. The problem is attacks on human rights defenders by extremists and by the state. The problem is a Jewish establishment that ignores or justifies all of this.”

Maybe I am reading too much into it, but I found this significant:

Zimmerman declined JTA’s requests to be interviewed for this story.

She writes for Haaretz, but won’t be interviewed by a JTA journalist?

The article is here.

In short, she has bought in to the Palestinian narrative. Everything is Israel’s fault, and never mind what Israelis think, she knows better.  She is no friend of Israel. Her appointment adds further context to Sanders’ recent statements about Israel, and the friction therefrom.

I’m now not sure if it is appropriate to hope for a Trump win (unlikely) or mourn the fact that maybe Obama will turn out not to have been the worst president in modern times, so far as dealing with Israel is concerned. It looks like either of the Democrat hopefuls could be worse. There may be dark days ahead.


Fool Me Once – Harlan Coben

Maya Stern used to be a helicopter pilot, until she was involved in a search and rescue mission that ended up with innocent civilians dying. She is probably suffering from PTSD, her sister was killed a little while back, and now her husband has just been murdered. She has, to put it mildly, some problems on her plate.

From the opening scene of her husband’s funeral, this roller coaster novel drags the reader along in Coben’s well practiced, well plotted, and carefully constructed style; one that demands you keep turning the pages to get to the finale.  The reader follows Maya’s journey as she tries to get to the bottom of things.

The focus of the writing is on keeping the tension high, and progressing the plot, so there are no long descriptive passages showing off the writer’s vocabulary, or arty imagination. But there is some sharp humor, the occasional well observed insight, and nothing that jars as being unnecessary or out of place. The characters are not so well rounded, though you do get enough of them to follow the rationale for their actions.

If you do read it, the test may come at the end. Will your suspension of disbelief remain? I won’t give away any spoilers, but in any case it is very much an individual, subjective assessment. This book passed my usual acid test with ease: when I got to the last word on the last page of the last chapter, was I let down by reaching the end, and seeing there was no more? You bet I was.

I found it a good read, and was well blindsided by the final twist in the tale. So, I definitely got my money’s worth, enjoyed it immensely, and would recommend it for anyone looking for a fast, easy, and entertaining read.


Why bother with security software?

The Register reports on an experiment by a team from Google, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Michigan. They left about 300 USB drives around the Urbana-Champaign campus. An incredible 48 percent of the drives were taken and plugged into a computer – some within minutes of being left.

“The security community has long held the belief that users can be socially engineered into picking up and plugging in seemingly lost USB flash drives they find…”


“Unfortunately, whether driven by altruistic motives or human curiosity, the user unknowingly opens their organization to an internal attack when they connect the drive – a physical Trojan horse.”

In other words, by plugging in these USB drives, people put the security of their network at risk.

I notice that the drives were left around the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus, and not that of the University of Michigan. Looking back now, I wonder if the researchers from there might have preferred to try the experiment at the Michigan campus! More seriously, it would be interesting to know what the result would be of the same experiment carried out in a city center (not a university campus) or a technology park, or even outside the offices of a cyber security company…

If I were a cyber security consultant, I would find this very troubling. What’s the point of getting the message across not to open strange emails, or click on dodgy links, if some witless individual is going to plug in an unknown USB and do the damage in that way? Or, as they say:

“There is still much work needed to understand the dynamics of social engineering, develop technical defenses, and learn how to effectively teach users how to protect themselves.”

You can read the Register article here.


The photographer who came in from the cold

Browsing the less well known reaches of the Jerusalem Post website, I stumbled upon this:

37 Photographs that you could be Killed for

London based photographer Michal Huniewicz risked not only imprisonment but even his life by capturing these images of the most secretive country in the world.

And when you see the pictures, you can perhaps better understand why North Korea is so secretive. Check out the material here.


Leicester on the brink?

I watched Sunday’s Sunderland v Leicester match, and the second half of Tottenham v Manchester United, and I am not as convinced as many that Leicester will be champions. Don’t get me wrong, so far as I have any emotional interest in the outcome, I would rather Leicester won. Although I have no bias against, nor dislike for Tottenham, the Leicester story is much more appealing. That, plus, a long time ago I met a Leicester fan, and although he has long since gone to meet his Maker, I can easily conjure up memories of his big, smiling face, and know how much it would have meant to him. He deserved it. On a related point, Claudio Ranieri seems like a thoroughly decent guy, and Leicester’s success would be an amazing coup for him as well. Unfortunately, the way that Leicester struggled to put Sunderland away contrasts sharply with the stunning demolition by Tottenham of Manchester United. (United are a shadow of their former selves, for sure, but still field a team of enormous talent, at least potentially.)

Leicester’s remaining fixtures are against West Ham, Swansea, Manchester United, Everton, and Chelsea.

Spurs’ remaining fixtures are against Stoke, West Brom, Chelsea, Southampton, and Newcastle.

I expect Leicester to at least be held by West Ham, while Spurs will crush Stoke. That would reduce Leicester’s lead to four or five points.

If Leicester start to feel the pressure then, the Swansea match will be no walkover They should win, but it is not a foregone conclusion. Let’s assume Leicester manage the win. Spurts will crush West Brom. So with three matches left, Leicester might still have a four or five point lead.

At this point, enter Manchester United. They will be hurt, and scrambling for points to keep West Ham off their backs. Leicester may find that a challenge too much, and a loss here will leave them the most slender of leads – if Spurs can beat Chelsea. On Sunday’s form, Chelsea will be brushed aside. That would leave Leicester with a one or two point lead, two matches to play, and one of them against Chelsea, who will be keen to make their mark. If my pessimistic senses are right, that is where the pressure against Leicester may become unbearable, and when the league leadership will change. That is when Spurs could grab the glory. Could.

Nothing is certain in football, and predictions are all guesswork. So, what is set out above could be rubbish. For Leicester’s sake, I hope it is.


Gardens of the Moon – Steven Erikson

This is the first of a ten book fantasy series – the series is called The Malazan Book of the Fallen – first published in 1999, and based on an extensive fantasy role playing environment created by the author and Ian Cameron Esslemont. In this world, there are powerful forces at play, attempting to establish, maintain, or usurp control over people and places, through a combination of awesome magic, military force, diplomacy, and double dealing.

A main protagonist is the Malazan empire (which has its own internal conflicts) seeking victory in its war against Lord Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii. The empire has just concluded the siege of Pale, but in the eyes of the Empress Lasseen there is no time to pause because Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, remains outside her control.

On a lower level of interaction, there is Sergeant Whiskeyjack, his Bridgeburners, and the mage Tattersail. They are all that remains of the once might Second Legion, and they are given a mission for the fall of Darujhistan that is expected to be their last. However, there are others who have their own plans, and the interaction and interplay means that there is trouble ahead.

The writing is dense in places, with a tendency to drop in names and terminology for magic and its practice that make no sense at first encounter. However, slowly, more and more is revealed and understood – though it is telling that there is both an extensive list of characters, and an equally substantial glossary. While bits of the book did have me scratching my head, the overall experience was positive.

It’s not a light, easy read, and that may mean I go no further with the series. It’s not that ‘hard’ reading turns me off; it’s more that I have higher expectations when that happens. In other words, I was looking for more of a return from this book than I received. I cannot say, for example, it was spellbinding in its plot, its action, or its ideas – all of these are good, but not brilliant. I can say I found it a richly imagined, and interesting world. Just perhaps not interesting enough for me.