The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

It's official: The Millennial Generation is 1981-1996

At least according to Pew Research:

Pew Research Center has been studying the Millennial generationfor more than a decade. But as we enter 2018, it’s become clear to us that it’s time to determine a cutoff point between Millennials and the next generation. Turning 37 this year, the oldest Millennials are well into adulthood, and they first entered adulthood before today’s youngest adults were born.

In order to keep the Millennial generation analytically meaningful, and to begin looking at what might be unique about the next cohort, Pew Research Center will use 1996 as the last birth year for Millennials for our future work. Anyone born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 22-37 in 2018) will be considered a Millennial, and anyone born from 1997 onward will be part of a new generation. Since the oldest among this rising generation are just turning 21 this year, and most are still in their teens, we think it’s too early to give them a name – though The New York Times asked readers to take a stab – and we look forward to watching as conversations among researchers, the media and the public help a name for this generation take shape. In the meantime, we will simply call them “post-Millennials” until a common nomenclature takes hold.

Generational cutoff points aren’t an exact science. They should be viewed primarily as tools, allowing for the kinds of analyses detailed above. But their boundaries are not arbitrary. Generations are often considered by their span, but again there is no agreed upon formula for how long that span should be. At 16 years (1981 to 1996), our working definition of Millennials will be equivalent in age span to their preceding generation, Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980). By this definition, both are shorter than the span of the Baby Boomers (19 years) – the only generation officially designated by the U.S. Census Bureau, based on the famous surge in post-WWII births in 1946 and a significant decline in birthrates after 1964.

I've always been solidly an X-er, but some of my friends will be surprised to learn that they, too, are now officially Gen X.

Function following forms

Designer Josh Gee spent two years trying to put Boston city government forms online:

Getting city workers to accept online submissions rather than traditional paper ones is the bulk of this work. On average, it took me about 30 minutes to make a digital form and five weeks to meet with, earn the trust of, and get buy-in from the employees who would use it. Even if they were excited, the nitty gritty details took a lot of back and forth.

While I avoided a bunch of process change, there were some takeaways that I think are useful for anyone working to move government forms online:

  • There is huge demand to move forms online — I had expected to drag departments online kicking and screaming. Instead, the majority of departments were eager to move things online and thrilled to have a partner with the technical knowledge, mandate, and tools to do that.
  • Flexibility about form structure and questions — I initially thought there would be a strong demand for submissions that look exactly like current paper forms. That hasn’t been the case. In all but one or two cases, I was not only able to move forms online, but also suggest changes that made forms shorter, more clear, and more accessible.
  • Excited about future change — Early on I began to notice a pattern. A few weeks after I moved a form online, some departments would to reach back out and ask for tools to help them manage digital submission, “This has been absolutely amazing. It would be great if I could approve it and then send it to Steve for his signature”. I thought a lot about the phrase salami slicing. If I tried to change everything about the way these departments worked right off the bat, they would have resisted every step of the way. Moving just a part of their workflow online made them eager to go completely digital.

This is close to home as my company is right now engaged in an effort to do this sort of thing for the U.S. Military Enrollment Processing Command. It's not easy.

Blogging A to Z challenge...accepted

This year, The Daily Parker will participate in the Blogging A-to-Z challenge.

Since I've posted an average 1.31 times per day since the modern era* of this blog began in November 2005, and an average of 39.6 times every April, posting at least 26 entries this coming April isn't the challenge. (Also, given trends, it's possible my 6,000th modern-era post will be one of them.)

No, the challenge will be coming up with 26 entries on one specific topic, and making them worth reading. Keep reading to see (a) what topic I pick and (b) how I do.

Sign-up opens March 5th.

* braverman.org had a proto-blog starting in May 1998. Let that sink in. We didn't even call it "blogging" back then.

Bronze age defenses, modern attacks

Via Bruce Schneier, DHS Senior Analyst Jack Anderson describes how walls are still a dominant security metaphor, and the consequences of that choice:

Walls don’t fail gracefully. But there is a bewitching tendency to trust them more than we should, and this leads to dangerous liabilities. Extreme risk prognosticator Pasquale Curillo calls this tendency to depend too much on controls we’ve put in place the “fence paradox.” By protecting things — which they must — organizations can encourage situations where they stand to lose a lot if their wall is breached. When that fortification fails (and eventually, every fortress fails) it fails catastrophically. The scale of the Equifax hack in 2017 and the Brussels bombings in 2016 both illustrate the way that organizations and systems organize risk, tending to put together massive targets for potential threats. Walls actually encourage this kind of thinking. If you build walls to protect something, it makes sense to expect them to work. But network architects and airport security designers both need to listen to de Montluc, the 16th century French military mastermind: “Nothing is impregnable.”

We need a new awareness of what walls do. It’s tempting to think of them as blocking threats, but they don’t. They behave more like filters — winnowing out only those threats not serious enough to circumvent them. And this implies a secondary problem apart from the fence paradox. A wall that prevents large-scale foot traffic across unsecured locations in the U.S border means that only determined, capable adversaries will be able to cross the wall. The people who are the least threatening are the only ones who are easily deflected. It may prevent smaller scale losses, but it actually encourages your biggest threat to innovate, leaving room for catastrophe. Bag checks and barricades moved a perimeter outward at the Mandalay Bay Casino last October, but Stephen Paddock circumvented this by moving his position upward. As Washington considers the marginal benefits of a massive border wall, it needs to think equally of this revenge effect.

This weakness is where the idea of “defense in depth” (layered security) comes from. A good summary of the reasons for defense in depth comes from a 1921 Infantry Journal, published by the U.S. Infantry Association: “All essential elements of the defense should be organized in depth. If the forward defensive areas are captured, resistance is continued by those in the rear.”

That's bronze-age wisdom, in fact. And yet security designers don't seem to learn. And the President's wall around Fantasyland will not prevent the threats he fears, not one little bit.

"Told you so."—George Washington, 1796

Thomas Pickering and James Stoutenberg, writing for the New York Times, point out that George Washington warned us about someone like the modern Republican Party or Donald Trump taking power in the U.S.:

In elaborate and thoughtful prose, Washington raised red flags about disunity, false patriotism, special interests, extreme partisanship, fake news, the national debt, foreign alliances and foreign hatreds. With uncanny foresight, he warned that the most serious threat to our democracy might come from disunity within the country rather than interference from outside. And he foresaw the possibility of foreign influence over our political system and the rise of a president whose ego and avarice would transcend the national interest, raising the threat of despotism.

He wrote that should one group, “sharpened by the spirit of revenge,” gain domination over another, the result could be “a more formal and permanent despotism.” The despot’s rise would be fueled by “disorders and miseries” that would gradually push citizens “to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual.”

“Sooner or later,” he concluded, “the chief of some prevailing faction, more able and more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purpose of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.”

And then he arrived at one of his greatest concerns: The ways in which hyperpartisanship could open the door “to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”

As someone with a degree in history, all I can do is watch the train wreck and hope to survive it.

Mid-week link roundup

Lots of things popped up in my browser today:

And now, back to work.

Peace in our time, canid edition

Coyotes and red foxes seldom interact in the wild, as foxes tend to give coyotes a wide berth. In urban areas, however, they seem to get along just fine:

Over the years, foxes and coyotes, like so many other wild species, have settled in the city, and they’re inevitably here to stay. It’s not uncommon to see them scampering across their neighborhoods. Some animal species have adapted to thrive amid the human-dominated landscape of high rises, fragmented green space, and heavy traffic. Now, at least in the case of these two wildlife predators, they may be changing their behavioral instincts to coexist with each other—thanks in part to the abundance of food.

[A recent] study has found instances where the two species forage for food at roughly 90 m from one another without incident. And in a rarely seen moment captured in Madison by PBS for their documentary, “Fox Tales,” a vixen remains alert as a pair of coyotes scavenges alarmingly close to a den with her pups inside. Drake said the interaction happened weekly for over a month, and yet there was no attempt for the mother to move her den.

Both species seem to live pretty close to me in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. I've seen more than one coyote on my street. (Fortunately, while foxes may not bother them, they still run away from humans.) I'm also seeing fewer rats. So, hey, foxes and coyotes are both welcome in Chicago, as far as I'm concerned. I'm glad they're not competing.

What are the odds of this?

North suburban New Trier High School—one of the richest public schools in the world—has a world-record 44 sets of twins (and one set of triplets) in the 10th grade class alone. I'm going to ask Deeply Trivial to help figure out, what is the probability this happened entirely by chance?

Kathy Routliffe has the story for Pioneer Press:

Their numbers are noteworthy, given that the class has slightly more than 1,000 students, according to New Trier officials. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the rate of U.S. twins at 33.5 per 1,000 births in 2015, making New Trier's sophomore class statistically impressive.

Even more so is the fact that some sophomore twins chose not to take part in the project, and that other New Trier classes also boast twins, Winnetka campus principal Denise Dubravec said Wednesday.

Most, 22 sets of twins, and the triplets, come from Wilmette. Many were part of Ryan and Luke [Novosel]'s first record-setting effort: They got their fifth grade class at Wilmette's Highcrest Middle School certified for the same record back in 2013, with 24 sets.

Guinness officials certified the numbers last May, although they didn't send word to Ryan and Luke until January, Fendley said. When they did, Ryan and Luke learned their class set two records, one for the most number of twins, and one for the highest numbers of multiples, thanks to the triplets.

Seriously, there has to be a non-random cause here. Fertility treatments, maybe?

(Incidentally, a number of my close family members and some friends attended NTHS, and I grew up in a neighboring district.)

File that under "B" for "Bad OpSec"

Via Bruce Schneier (and other sources), the Australian government suffered one of its worst-ever disclosures of secrets caused by not looking through used furniture:

It begins at a second-hand shop in Canberra, where ex-government furniture is sold off cheaply.

The deals can be even cheaper when the items in question are two heavy filing cabinets to which no-one can find the keys.

They were purchased for small change and sat unopened for some months until the locks were attacked with a drill.

Inside was the trove of documents now known as The Cabinet Files.

The thousands of pages reveal the inner workings of five separate governments and span nearly a decade.

Nearly all the files are classified, some as "top secret" or "AUSTEO", which means they are to be seen by Australian eyes only.

But the ex-government furniture sale was not limited to Australians — anyone could make a purchase.

And had they been inclined, there was nothing stopping them handing the contents to a foreign agent or government.

The found documents ranged from embarrassing (to both major Australian parties) to seriously top secret (troop deployments, police investigations). In response, the Australian government is calling for increased penalties for publishing or even possessing secret documents—but as Schneier points out, in this case that would have made the breech immeasurably worse for Australia:

This illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the threat. The Australian Broadcasting Corp gets their funding from the government, and was very restrained in what they published. They waited months before publishing as they coordinated with the Australian government. They allowed the government to secure the files, and then returned them. From the government's perspective, they were the best possible media outlet to receive this information. If the government makes it illegal for the Australian press to publish this sort of material, the next time it will be sent to the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, or Wikileaks. And since people no longer read their news from newspapers sold in stores but on the Internet, the result will be just as many people reading the stories with far fewer redactions.

In all, it's a reminder of the security adage that no security system can completely protect against human stupidity.

A mollusk told a crustacean to GFY. What happened next will terrify you

In all seriousness, self-cloning crayfish are kind of freaky:

In 2003, scientists confirmed that the marbled crayfish were indeed making clones of themselves. They sequenced small bits of DNA from the animals, which bore a striking similarity to a group of crayfish species called Procambarus, native to North America and Central America.

For nearly two decades, marbled crayfish have been multiplying like Tribbles on the legendary “Star Trek” episode. “People would start out with a single animal, and a year later they would have a couple hundred,” said [German biologist Frank] Lyko.

Many owners apparently drove to nearby lakes and dumped their marmorkrebs. And it turned out that the marbled crayfish didn’t need to be pampered to thrive. Marmorkrebs established growing populations in the wild, sometimes walking hundreds of yards to reach new lakes and streams. Feral populations started turning up in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia and Ukraine in Europe, and later in Japan and Madagascar.

Cloning works in the short term, but not for very long. Sex is useful in fighting disease:

If a pathogen evolves a way to attack one clone, its strategy will succeed on every clone. Sexually reproducing species mix their genes together into new combinations, increasing their odds of developing a defense.

The marbled crayfish offers scientists a chance to watch this drama play out practically from the beginning. In its first couple decades, it’s doing extremely well. But sooner or later, the marbled crayfish’s fortunes may well turn.

“Maybe they just survive for 100,000 years,” Dr. Lyko speculated. “That would be a long time for me personally, but in evolution it would just be a blip on the radar.”

One question the Times did not answer: how do they taste?