January 2008

Happy to report Sylvester, our latest adopted tomcat, has taken to the indoor life with ease and glee. All the household critters are getting along. Now if he would just calm down when he hears a loud male voice…got clawed like the back of a couch while holding him during football. Big mistake!

marninixon2_small.jpgHeard on NPR today that Marni Nixon, an Altadena native, is joining the touring company of My Fair Lady in Chicago. It’s full circle for Nixon, who sang for Audrey Hepburn in the film version of My Fair Lady when Hepburn got the role over Julie Andrews, who had played the roll on Broadway. In this production, Nixon will play Mrs. Higgins, mother of the insufferable Henry, taking over for Sally Ann Howes who completes her run at Lincoln Center today.

The show will open at the Ahmanson in April, and in Orange County in June. Most people aren’t aware that Marni grew up here in Altadena, on Maiden Lane. I interviewed her when she played  in James Joyce’s The Dead in 2000. (Did you know I reviewed theatre for 15 years — writing for The Daily Breeze, Outlook, Dramalogue, LA Times Calendar Live and Showmag.com? Also served time on the LA Drama Critics Circle as VP for three years and president for two — so my theatre experience is long… In fact, I spent so much time in theatre seats I can’t stand to my put arms on armrests anymore!)

Just what else is Marni known for? Singing for Deborah Kerr in The King and I and Natalie Wood in West Side Story. If I can find my story on her, I’ll get it posted in her honor. Liane Hansen’s NPR story can be found at www.npr.org. And you can read the story in Playbill at http://www.playbill.com/news/article/110593.html

While you’re there, you can order the This I Believe Journal. http://shop.npr.org/product/show/30995?sc=npr-w&cc=20080114-o2-125

And you can read Marni’s bio at www.marninixon.com, at IMDB http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0633262/bio and at Wiki at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marni_Nixon

Altadena Women’s Network News
January 14, 2008

>>> Please be sure to add  AltadenaWomensNetwork@gmail.com  and
monica.hubbard@charter.net  to your service providers “safe list” or
“whitelist” so Wired Women messages will not be rejected as spam.

“There is no greater power than a community discovering what it cares
about.”   ~ Margaret Wheatley

~~~    Kudos to all the folks who came out Saturday morning to help plant
a new native and drought resistant garden at Old Marengo Park on
Woodbury Road. The 8,000 square foot park is planted with Oaks, Red
Bud trees, native grasses, Bush Monkey Flower, California Fusia,
Golden Current, Firecracker Penstemon and Ceanothus and other
California native plants. You can see photos of the work in progress

~~~    Some of our local elected women were recognized at a reception for
the state NWPC board Saturday night in Altadena.  NWPC Greater
Pasadena Chapter president, Altadenan Cherri King, brought greetings
from our local caucus.  Local elected women present included Sarah
Fuller, Susan Goldman, Sandra Thomas and Michele Zack (Altadena Town
Council) and Dale LaCasella (Altadena Library Board).  Judy Chu, one
of five elected members of the State Board of Equalization, spoke
briefly, sharing the story of her election to the Garvey School Board,
State Assembly and now our District 4 representative to the nation’s
only publicly elected state tax commission. (The State Board of
Equalization collects nearly $53 billion annually in taxes and fees
supporting state and local government services.)  It was a wonderful
evening, full of great stories and lots of cheering and laughter.

~~~    Altadena Town Council meets this Tuesday at 7 p.m.  You can check
out their updated Web site at http://www.altadenatowncouncil.org . Kudos to
Susan Goldman for her persistence in keeping the Web update project
moving forward.

To find out more, subscribe to the Altadena Women’s Network… 

Coulda used a camera on our walk this morning, and a few other mornings, as well. I’ll get more pictures up soon.

Altadena is such a mix of sensibilities you just don’t know what you’re going to see or find on any given outing. It could be the surprise of a neighbor creating an unexpected little seating area on the corner, with a potted flower beside a small bench. Or a series of stone piles being created, a new one every couple of weeks, in front of another house nearby. Then it’s a co-worker walking her dog and saying hi to one of the Nuccio Nursery wizards of azaleas and camelias.

Or it could be the ugly surprise of a used condom up on Chaney Trail. Eeeewwww. Or a speeding maniac without care for who or what is in the way. And you fear for the dog who’s gotten out and lost with no collar. But just then the owner drives up in a panic.

There’s the skunk you see racing up the road or into your yard — and your dog racing right into its spray.

One of my favorite sounds — and sights — is when I’m sitting in my living room and hear a clop-clop-clop and somebody on a horse rides by, inspiring all the dogs in the neighborhood to aria level performances. That just has to put a smile on your face.

And then there’s the quiet of sitting in our hot tub under the stars — and not a sound to be heard save my cat hunting in the bushes. That’s the magic of Altadena…

 From the San Gabriel Valley News…

Judge halts JPL worker checks

Privacy issues must be decided by court

By Elise Kleeman, Staff Writer

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if(requestedWidth > 0){ document.getElementById(‘articleViewerGroup’).style.width = requestedWidth + “px”; document.getElementById(‘articleViewerGroup’).style.margin = “0px 0px 10px 10px”; } LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE – A federal judge Friday barred NASA from requiring background checks for any of its low-security Jet Propulsion Laboratory employees until the courts resolve whether the checks constitute an invasion of privacy.U.S. District Judge Otis Wright’s decision followed hours after a panel of three 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges ordered him to revisit the case filed by 28 JPL employees against the federal government and Caltech.

In October, Wright denied the employees’ request for a preliminary injunction, writing that they had “not shown either a likelihood of success on the merits or irreparable injury.”

Wright’s ruling Friday ensures that the injunction will apply to all of JPL’s nearly 5,000 low-security employees, not just those who filed the lawsuit.

The JPL scientists and engineers had argued that the background checks, which include questions about drug use and treatment and an open-ended waiver releasing personal information to investigators, collected more information than needed for the purported goal of creating a secure identification badge.

Before the court battles began, JPL staff members were told they would be “voluntarily terminated” from their posts if they opted out of the security checks.

In their 25-page decision, the appellate judges found that many of the employees’ claims had merit and that “the balance of hardships tips sharply toward Appellants, who face a stark choice –

either violation of their constitutional rights or loss of their jobs.”The 9th Circuit judges also found that Caltech – which manages JPL – should remain a defendant in the case because of its role in creating a “coercive environment” for the employees.

Wright, who had dismissed the school from the lawsuit just two days before, said he would reconsider his ruling.

But after Friday’s hearing, during which Wright admitted he had not yet had time to read the 9th Circuit’s decision, confusion reigned as lawyers for each side disagreed about whether that meant he had reinstated Caltech for now, or not.

Wright gave each side 10 days to submit their arguments about Caltech’s role in the case, and a month for all parties to prepare a joint plan and timeline for a trial.

During the hearing, Department of Justice lawyer Vesper Mei also suggested the government might request an “en banc” review of the the Court of Appeals’ ruling, in which a panel of 15 Ninth Circuit judges would reconsider the case.

More than once, though, Wright stated his hope that the parties could solve their dispute outside the courthouse.

“I don’t like the idea that these claims are going to be litigated. I want these claims to be negotiated,” he said. Then, after a pause, he added: “I also wanted a bicycle for Christmas …”

elise.kleeman@sgvn.com (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4451

From Media Relations…

N E W S  R E L E A S E

For Immediate Release
January 10, 2008

Designing the 700 MHz Auction

Pasadena, Calif.–It’s been called beachfront property. Wireless companies are clamoring for pieces of it. The auction that will parcel it out will be the biggest of the next decade, with reserve prices set at $10 billion.

The property is in the sky, and it constitutes the most valuable communications spectrum that will hit the open market in the foreseeable future. It is the 700 megahertz (MHz) frequency, which until now has been the exclusive domain of broadcast television. On January 24, on the road toward ubiquitous digital television, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will auction off licenses to use swaths of this spectrum.

Potential newbies to the wireless grid, like Google and Cox Cable, will bid alongside entrenched companies like Verizon and AT&T and start-ups like Frontline Wireless. They’ll all use a bidding system designed and built by California Institute of Technology economics professor Jacob Goeree and economics professor Charles Holt from the University of Virginia.  The system was tested and refined through a series of laboratory experiments in which more than 200 Caltech undergraduates participated over the course of two years.

Right now, a few companies dominate the U.S. wireless market. This auction is the last chance for new entrants to create a national footprint. The 700 MHz frequency is particularly appealing for wireless–the signal can penetrate walls, and each tower broadcasting in this range can cover at least four times as many square miles as conventional cell-phone towers. This means fewer towers, at less expense, to any potential bidder. To cell-phone users, it may also mean goodbye to the roaming signal.

When the FCC approached Goeree and Holt in 2004, it asked them to test auctioning software the FCC had already built. The two rebuilt a downsized version of that software and commissioned Caltech undergrads to test it. The students came into the computer lab on weekends, placing bids in simulated auctions for hours at a time.
They competed with each other so realistically that, says Goeree, their intelligent bidding mimicked professional auction behavior.
“They even found bugs in the software because they’re so smart,” he says.

All of the bidding for the 700 MHz spectrum will take place online.
This auction will run the same way that art or real estate auctions do–interested parties make their offers, and then compete in a bidding war until a winner is declared. But a communications-spectrum auction can quickly get complicated because of the volume of goods on the block and the number of parties with varying levels of interest.

To start, the FCC has divided the spectrum into several bands–A through E–that occupy different frequencies within the 700 MHz range, and divided each of these bands into several regions. Band A consists of 176 licenses for the frequencies between 698-704 and
728-734 MHz, for example, and band C, considered the most commercially attractive, has only twelve licenses and occupies the
746-757 and 776-787 MHz frequency ranges.

Each bidder could be interested in different bands and in different geographic regions; they don’t necessarily want nationwide coverage.
For example, Verizon may be particularly attracted to the C band, and they may only want it in Texas and New Mexico, where their coverage is spotty. T-Mobile may want to buy regions of the same band for coverage from North Dakota all the way south through Texas and east as far as Kansas. And Google, in a bid to establish a nationwide network, might want a package combining bands B and C through several regions to collectively cover the entire country.

The FCC wants all buyers to be able to compete equally and wants to make the most money in the process. But the program it had devised was too complex. “We tested the plane the FCC built and it didn’t fly that well,” says Goeree. The FCC’s program was inefficient–it allowed too many potential combinations of bandwidths and geographic regions. It didn’t maximize profits, or potential wins for the bidders. Most of all, it alienated bidders with its intricacies.
Goeree and Holt tested related auction designs but these didn’t fly well either and were still too complex. So they created a new method.

“We had a very simple idea for how to do it,” says Goeree. In December 2006 they called the FCC and presented their approach, called Hierarchical Package Bidding (HPB). It groups the available licenses for all bands into packages according to a hierarchy with a fixed number of levels or tiers. For band C, for example, there could be three levels that comprise different bundles of regions. At the bottom level, 12 individual licenses would correspond to 12 different regions–Region 1 is the Northeast, for example; Region 4 is the Mississippi Valley; Region 12 is the Gulf of Mexico. On level two, the 12 regions could merge into three packages made of four individual regions each. At the top, it would be winner take all, meaning that if the highest bid was at level one, that bidder would take home the national package consisting of all 12 licenses for band C.

The HPB method gives small players a prayer at winning in the high-stakes game. In a three-level system, participants can opt to bid on any of the three levels simultaneously, though as the bidding war progresses they may find themselves squeezed into a single level.
Although ultimately the FCC wants to turn the maximum profit, it also wants bidders who value a certain license or package the most to win it. Verizon, for example, can probably afford bidding for countrywide coverage, but they might not want it. They may just want one smaller license. Less wealthy bidders can also afford to compete at a local level, where individual licenses will be cheaper. Collectively, individually smaller bids at the local level could add up to more than what is bid at the nationwide level.

At the close of each bidding round, the software calculates the total money bid at each level. In a three-level system, say the bids at level three total $12 billion, at level two they total $11 billion, and the level one bid is $12.4 billion. The software would then advise bidders on their next move should they want to stay in the game. Each of the 12 bidders on level three would be alerted to increase their bid by about $34 million. The four bidders at level two would need to fork over more than $350 million each to stay in the game. Level one could sit tight, until the next round. There would be no need to calculate; the bidders would just make sure they could afford the suggested bid. “It solves the complexity for them,”
says Goeree. It also means that if each bidder at level two or three follows the advice in unison, they can all move on to the next round.
Of course, whoever can’t follow the suggestion will get shut out.

In an October 2007 public notice, the FCC declared, “The HPB auction format was chosen in part because it mitigates issues inherent in some other package bidding formats that give bidders interested in large packages an advantage over bidders interested in individual licenses.”

The FCC chose a two-level hierarchy for the upcoming auction. On level two, 12 individual licenses will be available. Level one is more complex and consists of three packages: a 50-state package will constitute eight of the 12 licenses, another two of the 12 licenses will be made of other U.S. Pacific territories, and an Atlantic package will combine the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Gulf of Mexico, and Puerto Rico for the final two licenses. Testing by Goeree and Holt showed that even a simple two-tiered format performed dramatically better than the FCC’s previous setup.

Goeree’s main concern about his hierarchical system was that making packages of licenses without information about bidder preferences would fail to meet bidder interests. The HPB offers prepackaged units, but companies might only be interested in an intermediate choice that matched their needs more closely. They might therefore refuse to bid on Goeree’s setup. “It turned out I was wrong. The HPB auction actually performed better,” Goeree says. He found that allowing his volunteer testers to build their own packages resulted in overlapping regions and too much extra complexity.

“In fact, we will use HPB in part because the mechanism for calculating [prices] is significantly simpler than other package bidding pricing mechanisms,” the FCC reported in October. “In addition, we find that . . . HPB procedures in general strike a careful balance between permitting bidders adequate bidding flexibility and discouraging insincere and anticompetitive bidding behavior.”

Given the stakes and the number of licenses, the auction will likely last for several weeks. There will be several bidding opportunities per day, but just like in art auctions, the bidding ends only when the money runs out.

Visit the Caltech Media Relations website at http://pr.caltech.edu/media.

For over a year now I’ve been feeding a stray cat we named Sylvester. No mystery why — he’s black and white just like the cartoon kitty. He started hanging out with another kitty I named Zorro because he was black and constantly getting into fights. Zorro disappeared but Sylvester stayed. It took nearly a year for him to let me pet him, but once I did, he turned into the most affectionate cat I’ve ever seen. I had him neutered through Happy Strays before deciding to keep him. One reason I hesitated is because of another cat that started hanging out, who we call Brutus. He has to be one of the, dare I say, ugliest cats I’ve ever seen. Golden beige thick fur, with small eyes and fat cheeks and the worst disposition ever. And in recent weeks, it’s been clear he’s also very sick. So I snatched up Sylvester and took him for shots yesterday, fearing he may have caught whatever Brutus has. My worst fears were confirmed when I was told he has feline leukemia. And I haven’t seen Brutus in several days, so it’s possible he’s passed on from illness.  I got Sylvester all of his shots, then had to run home and get my other two kitties to have them tested. They haven’t had much contact, but we had to be sure. They’re fine, so they were immunized for the feline disease.

So now I have a dilemma — keep Sylvester as an inside cat and take care of him as long as possible, or find him another home. The difficulty is that I also have a dog and a doggie door, so keeping Sylvester inside is going to be very difficult. If anyone has room for a loving kitty — he’s about 3 years old by best guess — please let me know. He’s a doll.

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