Banned Book Club: Where’s Waldo?

Title: Where’s Waldo?

Published: 1987

Author: Martin Handford

Challenge status: Included on a recent article about classic children’s books that have been banned in America. #87 of ALA’s list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of 1990-1999. Book #30 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why:  Nudity, and/or implied nudity. Was removed from libraries in Michigan (1989) and New York (1993).

First line: “Hi, Friends! My name is Waldo. I’m just setting off on a worldwide hike.”


Seriously? I mean, I don’t even..wha?

So I went through the whole book, found all the Waldo’s and tried to find the nudity that led to the challenges. Turns out the later versions of the book edited it out. Oh well. If you want to see that kind of nudie filth you can check out this blog post.

Banned Book Club: The Lorax

Title: The Lorax

Published: 1971

Author: Dr. Seuss

Challenge status: Included on a recent article about classic children’s books that have been banned in America. Book #29 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why:  Unpopular with the logging industry, the book was apparently challenged or removed in timber-dependent communities, and specifically was challenged in 1989 in Laytonville, California on grounds that it was “anti-logging.”

First line: “At the far end of town / where the Grickle-grass grows / and the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows”


As parables go, Dr. Seuss lays it on pretty thick in “The Lorax”. The greedy Once-ler takes down an entire species of trees for their fabulous fibers – to make “Thneeds” (which bear a suspicious resemblance to the modern day snuggies). And no more Truffula trees means no more Bar-ba-loots, Swomee-Swans, Humming Fish…and ultimately no more blue skies, green grass, clean clouds, or fresh breezes.

The Lorax tries to get the Once-ler to see reason, but…”business is business, and business must grow”. It occurs to me that the Lorax might have tried to foreshadow the ultimate doom a little bit earlier, I mean, introduce the concept of reforestation before the Once-ler had cut down ALL the trees, but, that might not have had the same Call to Action that total annihilation had.

Side note: when I visited Brazil I visited a paper manufacturer. It was one of the most interesting stops on the trip. The company was really excited to share their advances in technology, specifically how quickly their trees re-forested. They had scientists working on developing trees that grow to harvestable size in a very short time – I can’t remember exact details, but 5-7 years comes to mind – so that they can work within the same footprint and limit environmental impact of their operations. I was not entirely convinced, but it was heartening to see investments being made in that area.

Banned Book Club: Song of Solomon

Title: Song of Solomon

Published: 1977

Author: Toni Morrison

Challenge status: Morrison’s National Books Critics Award winning novel, which was cited by the Swedish Academy in awarding Morrison the 1993 Nobel Prize in literature is also #25 on Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century, and target of banning attempts (frequently challenged classics) according to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Book #28 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: Several challenges on record (Ohio, Georgia, Florida) in the 90’s relating to racism, sexual themes and generally being “filth”, “trash”, and “inappropriate”. In the 2000s (Michigan), suspended from a curriculum but reinstated as long as parents signed a waiver acknowledging the book’s content. In 2010 was removed from an Indiana school district mid-semester because administrators found the content offensive.

First line: The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent promised to fly from Mercy to the other side of Lake Superior at three o’clock.


What is most significant about this book to me is not what has made the book controversial to parents and school district administrators, but that the book, written by Toni Morrison (who has traditionally written books about the black experience in America from the female perspective) is written from the point of view of the male main character, Macon “Milkman” Dead III. Typical of a Morrison book, the narrative is driven by many strong female characters who shape Milkman’s life from birth to his death, but I was impressed by the sharpness with which Morrison evolves Milkman from child to adult, and gives him his own voice amongst the strong influences surrounding him.

Continue reading

Banned Book Club: A Light in the Attic

Title: A Light in the Attic

Published: 1981

Author: Shel Silverstein

Challenge status: Included on a recent article about classic children’s books that have been banned in America. Book #27 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why:  In 1993, the was challenged in Lake County, Florida because the book allegedly “promotes disrespect, horror, and violence”; the book was subsequently removed from a Fruitland Park library, but then later returned. According to the ALA, the book of poetry anked number 51 of The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000. Generally the objections raised against the book of poetry for kids are related to subject matter: disobeying/disrepecting parents, dying and morbid humor, and the presence of supernatural themes, including demonsdevils, and ghosts.

First line: “There’s a light in the attic / Though the house is dark and shuttered…”


Over 130 poems and Shel Silverstein’s original artwork throughout. I remember this book fondly along with Ogden Nash, who also wrote clever, tender poems for young readers. In fact I have vague recollections about memorizing the poem “Squishy Touch” for a class project – where the speaker bemoans her King Midas-esque fate of having the power of turning everything she touched into Jell-O.

Most of the poems are outright silly, but, like other children’s books have pointed and wise messages, for example this line from “How Many, How Much”

How much good inside a day? / Depends on how you live ’em.

How much love inside a friend? / Depends on how much you give ’em.

There are times where the humor is morbid. But, one of the things I like about poetry and well-written kids books is that the best authors are not squeamish, and don’t treat children like babies. Children are people on their way to becoming adults, and not everything is pretty princess candy coated; treating them as if they are made of sugar does them no favors. Answering questions they have about the world is much more useful.

Big-SIEM Learning Machinations

Sorting algorithm

You’re all just nuts. Well. Ok. Some of you are legumes.

I was distracted earlier this week by a thread on the SIRA mailing list. I found myself reacting to an comment that suggested maybe quantitative risk mgmt seems is “just” plain ol’ SIEMs plus some stats/machine learning. That ended up being a bit of a hot button for a few folks on the list, because then there was a very interesting discussion that got going about data architecture options versus how common security-industry tuned tools work, which is worth a whole dedicated discussion. In any case it put me into a contemplative mood about SIEMs, since I am of two minds about them depending on what environment I’m working in: it’s the “any port in a storm” vs “when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail” thing. But regarding SIEM vs databases, or anomaly detection vs ML, or whatever:

  • While acknowledging that apples and pears are both fruit, some people prefer to cut their fruit (agnostic to apple-ness or pear-ness) with very sharp ceramic knives vs, say, good ol’ paring knives, depending on dish being prepared.
  • That said, the bowl you put fruit salad into may need to be different (waterproof, airtight, bigger) than a bowl one puts whole fruits in.
  • Also, in an even more Zen-like tangent: no matter what bowl or what fruit or what knife is being selected, if you’re making fruit salad you’re going to have to spend some time cleaning the fruit before cutting and mixing it. If the bowl the whole fruits were in is especially dirty, or say, a crate – or a rusty bucket – you may want to spend more time cleaning.

I was going for something Zen.

But I’m not very Zen, I’m pedantic, so here’s some explanation of the analogy:

Apples & Pears are both fruit

  • System logs are data that is usually stored in logfiles. Security devices generate system logs, and so do other devices. Errors are often logged, or system usage/capacity. Servers, clients, applications, routers, switches, firewalls, anti-virus systems — all kinds of systems generate logs.
  • Financial records, human resource records,  customer relationship management records are data that are usually stored in databases. Some may be generic databases, others may be built specifically for the application in question.
  • There are also data types that are kind of a cross between the two, for example – a large consumer facing website may have account data. You are a customer, you can login and see information associated with your account – if it’s an email service, previous emails. If it’s an e-commerce site, maybe you can see previous transactions. You can check to make sure your alma mater or favorite funny kitten gif is listed correctly on your account profile. It’s not system logs, and it’s not internal corporate records – it’s data that’s part of the service/application. This type of data is usually stored in a database, though there might be metadata associated with the activity stored in logs.
    • In another mood, I might delve further into this criss-cross category, which often results in a “you’ve got your chocolate in my peanut butter…you’ve got your peanut butter in my chocolate” level of fisticuffs.
  • But, it’s all DATA.

People have different tool preferences when it comes to cutting fruit

Some capabilities of data-related tools/capabilities:

  • Storage
  • Viewing
  • Searching
  • Filtering
  • Alerting
  • Comparing across tables
  • Pattern analysis / visualization
  • Frequency analysis
  • Simple mathematical operations (addition, subtraction, ranking)
  • More advanced mathematical operations (exponential functions, regressions, statistical tests, quantile analysis)
  • Sentiment analysis or text/string mining
  • Blah blah etcer-blah

Basic capabilities tend to be common, or directly comparable, across tools. For example, here’s an article that compares some of the commands that can be used in a traditional SQL database to similar functions in Splunk, a popular SIEM.

The point is, while many tools have many of the desired features, there may be tradeoffs. A product might make it really easy to conduct filtering (via an awesome GUI and pseudocode) and still have limitations when it comes to extracting a set of events across multiple tables that meets ad hoc-developed, but still quite technically specific, criteria. Or, a tool might excel in rapid access to recent records, but crash if there’s a long-term historical trend to analyze. Or, it can be a gem if you’re trying to do some statistical analysis of phenomena but too resource intensive to be used in a production environment.

People have different use cases for cutting fruit

  • In some cases data is kept only to diagnose and resolve a problem later
  • In some cases data is kept in order to satisfy retention requirements in case someone else wants to diagnose/confirm an event later
  • In some cases data is kept because we’re trying to populate a historic baseline so that in the future we have something against which to compare current data
  • in some cases data is kept so that we can analyze it and predict future activity/behavior/usage
  • In some cases data is kept because it is part of the service / product being supported

Ops is different from Marketing. Statisticians are not often the same people doing system maintenance on a network. Etc.

Hadoop architecture

Hadoop architecture

About bowls

The container for your data only matters if the container has special properties that facilitate the tools you’re going to apply, your use case for storing the data, or your use cases for processing/manipulating the data. A big use case in the era of always-on web-based services is special containers designed to allow for rapid manipulation and recall of Very Large amounts of data.

  • SIEM architecture – “SIEM” is a product category vs a description of architecture, different products may have different architectures, here are a few examples. Typically a SIEM accepts feeds from devices generating logs, and then have functions to consolidate, sort, search, and filter. Here’s how Spunk describes itself:
    Arcsight architecture

    Arcsight architecture

    Splunk is a distributed, non-relational, semi-structured database with an implicit time dimension. Splunk is not a database in the normative sense …but there are analogs to many of the concepts in the database world.

Which architecture is the best is a silly question; they are architected differently on purpose. Pick a favorite if you must, but if you work with data, be prepared: you’ll probably not often find yourself in homogenous environments.

About working with data

No matter where your data is sourced, if you want to do something snazzy like use it to train a neural net, or do a fun outlier analysis, then you’re going to have to spend a great deal of time prepping your data, including cleaning it. Some many database architectures claim to make this process easier (I’ve yet to meet an analyst that’s ever described this part of analysis as fun or easy), what’s definitely true is some data storage formats / practices make it harder.

  • If your data unstructured – like you might find in key-value pair or document stores – you might have significant work to get it into a more structured format, depending on what research methods you are going to use to conduct your analysis.
  • Even with relatively structured data you might find that for one purpose formatting is relevant but when you get to the analysis stage you need to further simplify.

The cooler things we might discover require working with more complex (i.e. less structured) data, which is why advances in manipulation of less structured data, and algorithms that are forgiving of different types of complexity are fun. Sometimes it’s the analytic technique that’s new, sometimes it’s the technology for applying it, but often the “coolness”, or at least the nerdy enthusiasm, is from applying existing techniques & tech to a new data source, OUR data source, to answer OUR question – in a way that hasn’t quite been done before. That’s kind of how research is.

And so

Stop worrying so much about your bowls. Unless the lid is on so tight that you can’t get your fruit salad out.


Banned Book Club: The Giving Tree

Title: The Giving Tree

Published: 1964

Author: Shel Silverstein

Challenge status: Included on a recent article about classic children’s books that have been banned in America. Book #26 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: Generally the Internetz thinks this book has been challenged due to being sexist (the boy is too selfish/the tree is too accommodating), or for undermining parental/religious authority. I wasn’t able to find many specific references, though, only a banning occurrence in Omaha, NY in 2007. The other event was the book was removed from a locked reference collection in Boulder, Colo. Public Library (1988).

First line: “Once there was a tree…”


So there’s a tree that loves a boy so much that she (the tree, that is – is a she), over the course of the boy’s lifetime, gives everything she has for his happiness: apples, branches, trunk – until that is left of her is a stump. One interpretation: the tree is selfless in her (?) love for the boy. Another interpretation: the tree and the boy have a sadomasochistic relationship. Wikipedia had not just one but THREE references for this second opinion, including one text entitled “Gyn/Ecology: the Metaethics of Radical Feminism“, which I think is a fantastic title. Gyn/Ecology, see what they did there?

Tracy Morgan love the Giving Tree

Apparently Shel Silverstein is way more controversial than I ever realized. But actually here’s my favorite bit, courtesy of Elizabeth Bird’s article in the School Library Journal: “[The Giving Tree] is also notable for this infamous author photo of Mr. Silverstein on the back.  Those of you who read the third Diary of a Wimpy Kid book will remember the passage where Greg’s dad kept him from getting out of bed at night by threatening him with the back of The Giving Tree, telling him Shel Silverstein would get him if he left his room.  You can see it here in this image of Tracy Morgan.


I think worrying too much about the motives of the apple tree and the selfishness of the boy is absurd. But I will say, there’s probably someone in your life who would have given you their branches and would love it if you would just sit with them for a while. Related note: call your mom (or dad, or whoever that person is).

Banned Book Club: Winnie the Pooh

Title: Winnie-the-Pooh

Published: 1926

Author: A. A. Milne, Illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard

Challenge status: Included on a recent article about classic children’s books that have been banned in America. Milne’s book is also #22 on the the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century. Book #25 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: I can’t believe I’m writing this, so I’m not going to comment just give you links.

  • Banned in a UK school (~2003) because it might offend Muslims (something about Piglet?). This rationale has also come up in US, Russia, & Turkey. (Didn’t see any record of actually offended Muslims on this topic.)
  • Talking animals an insult to God (parental group in Kansas, ~2006)
  • Labeled “pro-Nazi” and politically subversive in Russia (~2009) because an image of Pooh wearing a swastika was found among the belongings of a political extremist

First line: “Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of this head, behind Christopher Robin.”


I’m sorry people, I’m still stuck on this whole “talking animals an insult to God” thing. Thinking about children’s lit, songs, movies, television – and toys –  what’s left?

Winnie-the-Pooh is a CHARMING story about Edward Bear (aka Winnie the Pooh, aka Pooh) who is both a bear of quite a lot of brains and very little brains, as well as much loved by his very good friend Christopher Robin. He has adventures in the 100 acre woods with his friends Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Kanga & Roo, and the morose mule Eeyore.

Pooh is addicted to honey which leads to high-stakes plot twists. For example, leads Pooh to attempt an aerial takeover (by balloon) of a bee-hive. Also he ends up stuck in a honey jar in a Heffalump trap. On the other hand, empty honey jars end up saving the day sometimes, such as Eeyore’s birthday present and also the escape pod during a local flood.

Banned Book Club: Go Tell It on the Mountain

Title: Go Tell It on the Mountain

Published: 1952

Author: James Baldwin

Challenge status: #36 on Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century and target of banning attempts (frequently challenged classics) according to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Book #24 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: Challenged in Hudson Falls, NY (1994) and Prince William County, VA (1988) for various reasons including language, sexual themes, violence, and references to rape & degrading treatment of women.

First line: “Everyone had always said that John would be a preacher when  he grew up, just like his father.”

Synopsis: One of the things I liked best about this book, which is a dramatic but finely tuned depiction of the black experience in mid-20th century America, is that it is set in Harlem. Even though the roots of the family’s stories wind back down to the South, something about being set in NYC made the book feel more accessible to me than some of the other books I’ve read this summer working through similar themes. What was most striking for me in regards to the narrative was the multi-generational approach Baldwin employed: the parents and grandparents were living in the South – though slavery was over the shadow of that period still existed. And the children in the story are coming into their own decades later – in NYC – but cultural norms and expectations on them are still emerging and ambiguous. The over-arching uncertainty in the community heightens the tensions and increases the focus on the intra-family dynamics.

Besides the topics of race and status/income which were common topics of the books I’ve been reading coming out of this time period, I thought the book had an interesting perspective on religion/faith as well as gender dynamics. The family is involved in an evangelical (urban) church; the father (Gabriel) was a preacher down South, now acts as a deacon, but his son (John) is expected to follow in his footsteps. However John still needs to get saved, and as an adolescent his faith hasn’t quite bridged the gap yet. On gender, the book takes a round robin perspective between the main characters – first part is from the eyes of the eldest son John, then from the POV of the aunt Florence, the father Gabriel, the mother Elizabeth, and back to John. Viewing some of the same events and conflicts from additional perspectives lends some depth.

“No,” she said, “I ain’t changed. You ain’t changed neither. You still promising the Lord that you going to do better–and you think whatever you done already, whatever you doing right at that minute, don’t count. Of all the men I ever knew, you’s the man who ought to be hoping the Bible’s all a lie–’cause if that trumpet ever sounds, you going to spend eternity talking.” – Go Tell It on the Mountain (James Baldwin)

I think the round-robin device also provides depth (or bas-relief, anyway) to the key themes of the book: choices, consequences, and circumstance.  The choices may seem big or small at the time, but the consequences live far beyond that initial “splash” and ripple across lives and, in some cases, generations. Yet, the characters are constrained by their circumstances. Not so constrained that situations can be blamed on fate alone, but acutely constrained by the circumstances in which the choices are being made available. A subtle distinction.


Banned Book Club: Their Eyes Were Watching God

Title: Their Eyes Were Watching God

Published: 1937

Author: Zora Neale Hurston

Challenge status: #23 on Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century and target of banning attempts (frequently challenged classics) according to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Book #23 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: In 1997, the book was challenged in Brentsville, VA for language & sexual explicitness. More info here.

First line: “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”


This is a beautifully composed book that is both significant “literature” and a satisfying story. Set in the South in the early 20th century, Hurston creates a distinct world (through development of a rich character set, detailed setting, and effective use of language) and weaves into it an unconventional, but still modernly crafted, coming-of-age story.

The main character, Janie, is a beautiful young woman who has many choices made for her early in life, and due to her good looks has both higher and more limited prospects than other people in her community. Janie was raised by her grandmother, who’s primary aspiration for Janie is to simply marry “well”, though Janie is not really let in on the plan till she’s almost at marrying age. Janie’s parentage is only vaguely described, but her absent father is the explanation for her (oft described) light skin.

Only after the death of her second husband does Janie really come into her own, figuring out who she is on her own terms rather than being defined by those around her. Still, even as a newly minted adult/individual, Janie finds herself again on love’s doorstop (with a much younger man – scandal) and needs to figure out yet again how to navigate a relationship. Which sacrifices are for the good of the relationship? Which sacrifices are a denial of self? There are no easy answers and the book is rooted in realism rather than idealism.

Hurston (1891-1960) was a brilliant talent – a Barnard graduate who applied her talents to writing, folklore, and anthropology. At age 26 she had not yet finished high school (having left home at 13 after her father remarried) so she simply told the school district in Baltimore she’d been born 10 years later – so that she could qualify for free public education. (And then she went on to Barnard – awesome). This book was written over the course of 7 weeks while she was on a research trip in Haiti.

Check-in, an unexpected surprise, and Round 4

Photo Jul 01, 8 51 14 PM2

Hi there, I finished Round 3 and have come to the conclusion that it takes longer to write up my thoughts than it does to actually read the books. Well, sort of. Anyway, Round 3 was basically “20th century ennui” and my foray into comics (aka graphic novels). Here they are in case you are interested in reading back:




So now I’ve begun – well I’m almost finished actually – with Round 4, which is composed of works from amazing African American authors mixed in with the children’s classics that I found have been the target of banning attempts. It has really been interesting to read the classics in a row; they all early to mid 20th century points of view but through very different voices. The children’s books I haven’t started yet, but all re-reads and I hope will be a good break. (Round 5 is going to be tough)

Round 4

  • Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Go Tell it on the Mountain
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • The Giving Tree
  • Invisible Man
  • Song of Solomon
  • Where the Wild Things Are
  • The Lorax
  • Where’s Waldo
  • A Light in the Attic


And the unexpected surprise was quite lovely, as I was going through the list of Banned & Challenged comics hosted by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund,  I found Tank Girl on the list. I actually really like Tank Girl but had never read the whole series, so I checked to see if there were any anthologies or such available. Instead I found Tank Girl: The Odyssey  and Tank Girl: Apocalypse . I cannot tell you how geek-thrilled I was to get Tank Girl: The Odyssey and realize Peter Milligan and Jamie Hewlett had in fact retold the story of Joyce’s Ulysses. (I talk a little bit about Joyce’s book in this post). In any case, it was lovely and – befitting Tank Girl – bizarre.  Deserving of a whole post on both Ulysses and Tank Girl. But after round 4,  I think. In which I’m going to be working on the art of writing book reviews in 20 minutes or less.