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June 15, 2019: Tools and Utilities

Keywords: Windows 10 Pro, HP Elitebook, Roomba, Pyle USA, robotic vacuum, SSD, air conditioning
So if you take out an auto policy with the Hartford, you won't get dropped if you have an accident, and as you are required to be an AARP member, they will help you enroll. Well, uh, insurers don't normally drop you if you have an accident, unless you did something really bad, they only raise your rate. And I don't hear anything in there that says "We save you money" - because the AARP has a membership fee, and in the few years I had a membership, there wasn't anything the AARP offers that benefits me. It's just an organization that sells your information to other companies, which then try to sell other things to you. So no Hartford for me...

Pyle USA Robovac Back in my large house in Virginia, I used to have Roombas to help me vacuum, in addition to a regular vacuum cleaner for the more intense work. Now that I am heading for an apartment, I thought something like that might be a good idea, but when I looked at the prices I had second thoughts. Reading reviews, I noticed that even a $1,000(!!) Roomba still has the same problems they always did - the rotating brushes get clogged easily, need endless cleaning, and you really can't run these things unattended, because they will occasionally get stuck, and, AI or not, they're not sufficiently intelligent to figure out how to liberate themselves, so the "unattended" vac job isn't. The more complicated (read: expen$ive) Roombas and like contraptions tend to clog themselves up by sucking dust and hair and particles through their machanisms and bearings, the end result being you have to spend hours cleaning the self same mechanisms. So: I decided to stick with simple, stupid. I've ended up with a refurbished Pyle robotic vacuum without the horizontal rotating brush - it just rotates two side brushes, and quite powerfully sucks air through a filter bin with a fine maze, that does not clog, and that air then cools the batteries on its way out. Its dust- and small particle uptake is pretty amazing. It runs for an hour, uses various different rotations, and takes four hours to charge. Refurbished, these units looked and behaved brand new, came with spare filters and side brushes, and at $46, I bought two. That gives me a double set of spares, an extra battery, an extra dust receptacle, and a spare unit. If you ever come across something you need, and find it cheap and refurbished (like a vacuum, or an espresso maker), buy two. There is nothing worse than an appliance you bought in the sale, that breaks, and then you find out a replacement is going to set you back four times as much. Same with my two heat pumps - found one refurbished, for some 40% off, tested, quickly bought another. Many of these refurbished things are actually new, and were returned by a buyer who never used them. If they're damaged, you can always (at least with Ebay and Amazon) return them for refund.

Done. All three PCs / laptops updated with Windows 10's latest - because of the number of updates triggered by the update, and the slow speed with which this all happens, my old Vaio took some six hours to do - this after turning off all boot security, passwords, screen savers, what have you, because if you don't do that
a) the update will fail; or
b) you have to sit there to manage the repeated boots
Turn it all off and it takes care of itself, and at the end of the road all you have to do is to put your settings back. As I mentioned earlier, doing this install from disk, which involves burning a DVD using an ISO file Microsoft makes available, using an application, works fine, I am just amazed I have had to do that for at least three years, as, in my case, the online "big" update always fails, without any indication why.

Speaking of updating, I discovered the other day that SSD's, solid state drives, run significantly hotter than do conventional or even hybrid drives. One commenter mentioned a large disk transfer failed due to over-temperature, and while cloning my "old" drive to the SSD I noticed that my SSD was pretty much cooking, like close to 80 degrees centigrade. So while the cloning software says you can use your system during the cloning process, you may be better off not to. My two SSD's (ADATA and Intel) both came with management software, so I was able to keep an eye on things. As you never know where the threshold is, better be safe than sorry.

In the interim, the hot weather has subsided, so I now have an opportunity to test my heat pumps, in that I have turned off the gas central heating, and am heating the entire house with two 14K BTU portable heat pumps. I had really never had a chance to test the heating cycle, as I had been sharing this house until the beginning of the year, but being on my own, until my Seattle apartment becomes available, I have started preparing for apartment life. The builders have finished the indoors stuff they started on when my landlord and his wife moved out, so I have a chance to do more preparing, having packed much of my gear in the past month, ready to roll. There were some household things I needed to buy and/or unpack and test, as my landlord took (by agreement, I needed to buy this stuff anyway) his kitchen things, cutlery, pots, pans, stuff, so I have had some (planned for) expenditures, from a vacuum cleaner to additional vents for the heat pumps, and I managed to get some cheap 20 gallon storage totes at Home Depot, as I was shopping for those an entire pallet of half-off leftovers with lids came in, so I was able to snarf five, rather than the four I had budget for. With two large sea chests with wheels, and a bunch of large boxes, I have (I hope...) more storage than I need, for the move, having packed three quarters of my stuff already. I don't know I've ever been ready this early for a move - did pretty good when I moved from Amsterdam to London, but then I had help.

June 5, 2019: Windows and Blu-Ray

Keywords: Windows 10 Pro, Blu-Ray, HP Elitebook, ISO DVD, heat sink paste, CPU temperature
Windows decided to do its big annual Windows 10 update something like seconds after I finished installing the BD drive I tell you about below, and as has been the case the past three or four years(!), the online update fails. In this case there was no error message, not even an announcement, and when I ran the troubleshooter the error code was not listed at Microsoft, and there wasn't an error found anyway. As I had done the previous times, I had to run the Media Creation Tool, an offline update tool, create an ISO file (which makes a bootable disk able to do a "clean" install), put that on a DVD (so the new BD drive came in handy, I'd had to use an external drive before), and then run it from the Windows desktop. As has been the case before, I needed to tell the installer not to run any online updates before the install, and off it went, for an hour or so. I've just finished reversing the various settings Windows changed, mostly "new" functions that get turned on to help Microsoft collect data, and I just noticed the updates to the update completed too, so now I have to abort my backup and reboot the machine. At least I have the ISO disk, so I can do my other PCs manually. And it is working, I guess, hopefully that will still be the case with the "update updates". Finish the backup tomorrow.

One additional laptop repair I had postponed was a non-working internal CD/DVD writer, which I was not sure was broken. I couldn't boot from it, but there were no errors, and the Windows troubleshooter couldn't figure it out. So I gambled, and ordered a Blu-Ray drive from China, as I had been having a hard time playing Blu-Ray disks with one of my external BD drives - writing went fine. I guess I got lucky, because other than a struggle with transplanting the bezel, which is laptop model specific, the drive went right in, one screw and a bracket and Bob's your uncle. After traipsing through my Videolan install, and reinstalling all Blu-Ray libraries, my test movies (Ender's Game and Wallace & Grommit) ran like the clappers. Brilliant. The drive cost $76, and even though the Chinese said it would take four weeks or so, it only took a week. There were several cheaper offers on Ebay, but this was the only that specifically mentioned compatibility with the Elitebook 2570p, which I thought was the safest way to go. I don't use the BD/DVD/CD drive that much, but to have it to boot from if I have to recover a disk or OS failure is a boon. Windows is, by now copy protected to the point that I've even had a restore fail, because the recovery software didn't recognize all drives...

Having replaced the fans in both laptops, and installed an SSD in my "main machine", all I need to do now is replace the CPU heat sink paste, which helps transfer heat to the cooling system. I came across a mention on Youtube - didn't even know you could do that, kinda makes sense that that would break down over time, especially in a small fast laptop, which, with the new fast SSD, is really clocking up the cycles. Live and learn. As I understand I need to completely remove the old paste, then apply fresh, etc, I think I'll try this on the 2560p first, which is essentially my spare, which I can fix if I screw up.

May 28, 2019: Spring into life

Keywords: stomach trouble, Seattle Housing Authority, Car2Go, Theresa May, Brexit, child abuse
(Unusually) felled by a stomach bug for a week, it looks like I would do well to review my diet, and change my eating habits. It looks like I eliminated so much "bad" stuff from my diet - sugar, fat, processed meats, processed mixed oils, yada - that I ended up with an abundance of other bad stuff. I have no real idea why my tummy acted up, but it's the second time this year, and my bi-annual blood tests were all clean, so it is unlikely it's a "real condition". So I'll try the light stuff, probiotics, white bread, eliminate the meat and beans, white chicken maybe, see how we do. I had originally intended to go back to the gym as of today, not having worked out since May 18, but I think I'll start with a couple of days walking instead, before restarting gym visits. Ease back in, so to speak, lost about six pounds, which doesn't make me unhappy. Maybe I can keep the weight below 190, with the new diet.

House in flux The Housing Authority is truly in motion - after my April intake interview, last week they pulled my credit report, and a few days ago called my landlord for a reference. I don't know why that makes me anxious, I've cleaned up my credit report to perfection, and things are hunky-dory with my landlord and -lady, especially since they recently moved to their other home, and I am more or less living in a construction zone - which I don't mind. At least the place won't get burgled, which happens frequently in empty homes being refurbished. Anyway, wheels in motion - and friends and neighbours all comment that the Seattle neighbourhood I'll be living is a wonderful upscale safe area. When I submitted my choices for residence to SHA I predominantly concentrated on being able to grab Car2Go vehicles in walking distance - this will enable me to eventually let go of my SUV, not replace it, and save money, the car costs me (including the original 2006 purchase) some $300 per month, and using Car2Go there won't be any "base charges", so hopefully it'll be cheaper, and I will have more cost control. The apartment will make my monthly cost go up, so I need to save all I can.

I think Theresa May should have know several cycles ago her Brexit deal was never going to happen - it seems to be generally forgotten May was chosen as PM, she was never elected. And if you're not elected, you don't have that voter support mechanism. When I saw her fly back and forth to Brussels, month after month, it became clear she is not of this era, she doesn't negotiate using her smartphone and Skype, instead wasting millions of pounds on totally unnecessary travel and dinner meetings and endless security. In the business world, we started using new communication technologies twenty-five years ago, to replace meetings and travel - Mrs. May, clearly, is a dinosaur, and thus never stood a chance. She, sadly, can't claim to have "served the country I love" - she brought the place to an almost complete standstill in just a few years. The delay itself will be very very costly, not to speak of the consequences.

By the way, I just noticed folks in New York with billboards that state "It's a parent's right to choose" - it really is not. A parent does not own their child, to do with as they wish. Just because you have some weird idea about vaccines, does not mean you are at liberty to disable or kill your child! Yourself, arguably, but a child is not property, it is not a pet, and if your not a medical scientist you are not qualified to draw medical conclusions, any more than you can approve construction drawings for a house. It is a hot button item, parents generally seem to think they can inflict their religion on their kids too, it is an issue. Perhaps we should make "parental rights" something parents need to earn, as their parenting skills are tested and assessed. Inflicting measles and mumps on innocent children should never have been part of the permissions.

May 20, 2019: Improving vi$ion and $peed

Keywords: contact lenses, daily wear, Bitlocker, SSD, silicon drive, move, packing, eye inflammation, immune system
After months of trying different contact lenses, multiple optometrist visits, comments from my rheumatologist (the condition I have can effect some soft tissue, like heart valves and eyes), and finally a visit to the ophtalmologist, the verdict is in: no more extended wear lenses. I think I've been wearing those since the 1980s, and interestingly, it's been the insides of my eyelids (first one, then the other) that no longer tolerate the continuous wear well - the eyeball itself is not affected. So now I have to get used to daily wear lenses, which is an entirely different "experience" - after some testing, I've stopped for several weeks, and now have my first "full" order of "dailies". I think it may well take a month for my eyes to settle down to different vision correction, not to mention non-continuous wear.Bausch & Lomb My new lenses - a Bausch & Lomb product called "Biotrue" - are thinner and more flexible than my extended wear lenses, so I hardly notice them. I tried Acuvue lenses first, but they were so thin and "floppy" I had difficulty putting them in, which is not good from a hygiene perspecitive, a lens coming back out and having to be re-inserted. So I am glad I tried various different brands, before settling on the Bausch & Lomb variety. Rather than test with a few weeks of my optometrist's samples, I've actually bought a 90 day supply, if after a month or so they don't "work right", I'll head back to the optometrist, and try something different.

I have more or less finished packing for my move, insofar as I can, without having a date, the rest should be done in a day or so, as and when, plenty of empty chests and boxes. When I do get an apartment, I'll need to wait for furniture to arrive - I've got the wish lists all set up, so all I need to do is pull the trigger, order internet, and put in the alarm system.

I've plucked up the courage to Bitlocker encrypt my boot drive on the Elitebook - the 2TB ADATA Solid State Disk (SSD) I put in (see March 5, below) works amazingly well, and while backing up, this morning, using Windows' image backup tool, I found it transferred 400GB or so in under ten minutes - unheard of, that normally takes 30 minutes to an hour from a regular hard disk, but this is something else. And so I thought I might as well set that up for Bitlocker, a Microsoft encryption tool I have been using on my Toshiba with Intel SSD boot drive for a year or so. Never a problem, so why not, I thought, and it is running now. Scary shit, on your main machine... the only problem is that the SSD is running hot, so I've had to stop using the laptop for other things, I was streaming video, and the drive reported a temperature of 68 degrees Celsius, when the specs state 70 is the max. 2TB of silicon is a lot to reformat, and the cooling inside the laptop is primarily controlled by the CPU temperature, I don't know if a hot running disk will crank up the fan. There is, after all, a lot of processing power going on in that small footprint. Stopping the video stream helped, it is down to 60 degrees, better be careful, after all, this is silicon, therefore really fast, and 2TB is a lot of cells.

Not that bad - it took about six hours to encrypt the entire 2TB drive, and - at least on this HP Elitebook with a TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chip, boot and run are completely transparent, the system logs itself in. Is the added security that important? Probably not, although it is nice to know nobody can now ever access my financial and other confidential data, but I wanted to see how well Bitlocker works, on a large solid state disk, and what the effect on processing power is. I guess my next backup will tell me how good or bad Bitlocker is. Important is not to use a third party application, but something Microsoft has built into Windows, and therefore will likely continue to support for a long time. My nightmare is always that a vendor stops doing what they're doing, or goes belly-up, and you terrific tool is no longer supported, or worse, stops working. It's happened.. Microsoft's lawyers know you really can't stop providing a service that has been integrated into your main product. I did not want to add processing load to a traditional hard disk, but with an SSD there's really no "load", in terms of electro-mechanical actions that cause additional wear, even though the read/write heads on a drive float on a cushion of gas - that still causes some friction, none of which applies to SSD electronics - so far, so good, happy.

May 4, 2019: Any day now?

Keywords: Housing Authority, HP Elitebook, computer maintenance, CPU cooling fans,moving
Quicker than I expected, my next Housing interview was called, mostly consisting of Federal questionnaires, and bank statement review, as HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) subsidized housing requires. While that does not in any way give me a timeframe, I received an apartment building assignation during the same interview, something I had not expected yet, especially since the preceding presentation had it that wouuldn't be until later!? Don't look a gift horse in the mouth - it would be wonderful if that means my apartment will be granted soon, though I do understand discrimination rules prevent SHA from making prognoses. At least this is a seniors development, which means I can't get pipped at the post by a family of refugees - no such thing in senior developments. So I probably should relax and count my lucky stars. One bedroom, too, so that's brilliant.

In the meantime, I have largely finished making packing preparations - partly, I've packed the clothes I don't really need, secondly, I'd brought out the suitcases and storage boxes and plastic totes I either already had, or just bought, been lucky with those things. What's been packed has been labeled, and I bought another two travel chests, as the three I have are pretty much full up. Only for one heatpump I have no packing material, so that will have to come "as is", wrapped in blankets. I am still using that as auxiliary heating, anyway.

At the same time, I am doing some computer maintenance - after replacing the hard drive in my fastest laptop, the fan began to make noises during startup, so I ended up ordering a replacement fan from China, as I was not in a rush, and they were cheap - $8.70 for an OEM fan. That works great, and now I am, after moving the load on my big (2TB) disks from the regular drive to a hybrid drive, doing a full wipe on the original laptop drive, and am now cloning the SSD load to that drive, as a backup. Seagate lets you do that, if one of the two drives connected to your PC is a Seagate product, you can install and use their (free!) Discwizard, which contains Acronis cloning software. Once cloned, should anything happen with your installed drive, you can install the clone and boot from it, and it will have the same Windows key your original installation did. I am still fussy about the SSD, as I have had some bad experiences with them - one reason why I replaced the fan, and keep an eye on the internal temperature.

I am just hoping I can keep those two HP notebooks going through my move, because I am spending a fair amount of money to prepare for the apartment, and if I need to replace one of my laptops it'll be more than I can afford. From the look of it, my future rent will be at the top end of what I can handle - though I was told they may take my significant medical expenses into account - and anything I hadn't budgeted for is going to be a problem. All it needs is a small mistake.. I can see my savings shrink already - that's OK, that is what they're for, but it just makes me nervous, if you know what I mean.

April 17, 2019: World in turmoil, kinda sorta

Keywords: Notre Dame, Assange, packing
There are just a couple of things I don't understand about Julian Assange. First of all, a number of his supporters and "friends" signed on for his bail money. When he failed bail, the judge eventually made those folks forfeit a total of Ł93,500. I've never heard a word about this, apparently this is OK for him to do? And secondly, however strongly someone may feel about their principles, isn't it a bit insane to lock yourself in an apartment in Knightsbridge for seven years? Even if he had been summarily extradited to the United States, which wasn't all that likely, he'd probably have spent seven years in jail there. The only difference would have been that he'd not have had a cat in a Federal Penitentiary. To me, this man is an egomaniac on a path to self destruction. Manning served her time, Snowden buried himself in Russia, and this guy now bit the hand that fed him - hard. No, you can't publish stolen documents and think you'll get away with it. Americans, in particular, stay on your ass when you wrong them - forever, if that is what it takes.

Although I've not even had my final housing interview yet, I have - hesitatingly - started packing. And in the process, I realize I brought a lot of clothes up here from Virginia that I don't really need. Apart from anything else, quite a few no longer fit, and additional to that, I am unlikely to get a new position in the corporate world, where, especially in the Seattle area, the clothes I used on Wall Street and in the Government environment aren't en vogue, up here. So, with some trepidation, I have started sorting them out, and will, tomorrow, get the first batch over to a thrift store, thankfully I am not having to get rid of all of my suits. Funny, though, thinking why I hung on to this stuff for so many years, probably a "what if" thing stuck in my craw from the corporate East Coast. Off with it..

Watching my early morning (US time) BBC news, I suddenly saw a flash of the roof of Notre-Dame de Paris on fire. That's bad, I thought, but not until an hour later did I see announcements flashing up here-and-there, and soon realized that the cathedral was well and truly on fire. Calling my sister, who used to live in Paris, we commiserated, and I found it hard to believe the fire got (clearly) out of hand so quickly. Some of that damage is irrepairable, seeing the photography this morning it is pretty amazing the entire thing didn't collapse. I was there many years ago, but am glad I've at least seen it the way it's been, the past couple of centuries. In hindsight, the fire service have done an amazing job, but I think in future just relying on alerter technology is not enough.

April 6, 2019: Weeks? Months? Please?

Keywords: packing, doctor woes, Boeing, privacy
I was looking for some recent pictures to illustrate this post, but I seem to have not been too active on the camera front. Partly, what I do have is too personal to post - by personal, I mean invading other people's privacy, something I have never done. Even the very pretty wake of cousin Ton I really couldn't show you - I've not asked for permission, but part of that is that I don't think that's my place, a death in the family is such a personal matter, especially for those closest to the deceased. Between that, negotiations with my landlord, builders, and financial matters, there isn't a lot I can post about and not breach someone's confidence. That's a bummer, but I think the days that you plastered your entire life all over Facebook are massively over.

From the look of things, my apartment allocation is getting closer, so I began sorting my things for the eventual move, yesterday, getting boxes out of the loft, that sort of thing. Today, re-sorting, consolidating, labeling boxes, not that I have huge amounts of stuff, but getting ready in time is a good thing. This is all interspersed with my landlord moving much of his stuff out (they physically moved a month or so ago), while the contractors have started redecorating, which thankfully isn't going very fast. If I am lucky, I can move directly from here to the city, which would be great, though there is a backup plan. At least my nightmare, having to move in the middle of a snowy winter, has not come to pass. The way it looks now, I won't even have to hire a truck or trailer, and can just move over a period of time (running out my prepaid last month's rent) using my spaceous SUV-with-the-seats-down.

I order (through my mail order pharmacy) a medication refill, which they normally get a script for from the prescribing physician. The clinic (UW Medicine Shoreline) promptly emails me to say they've issued the script, but won't do that again unless I come in for a doctor visit. Did they previously contact me for an appointment? No. Have physicians at Shoreline seen me for other matters? At least twice, in the past year. I come in annually for the wellness physical my health insurance mandates, something they should slowly be aware of, but mailing me they will not issue a future statin (not a vastly critical drug) presciption unless I do so-and-so? Not in my book. I don't know who these people think they are, but, if nothing else, a doctor cannot refuse medical care unless there is a very good reason. Said doctor not politely communicating with the patient is not a reason, especially since said doctor has access to the medical files provided by the specialists I see twice a year, including all of my tests, at other facilities. I've had previous issues with this particular physician, from unnecessary duplicate tests to chargeable procedures carried out without approval or prior notice.

The Boeing 737 MAX story is beginning to get a bit involved - I am curious how the retrofitted MCAS system could override the pilots' input, if that is indeed what happened. Particularly interesting is to find out why a retrofit correction had to be used, rather than incorporating the correcting in the existing Flight Management Systems. Judging from what I read - but I am no expert - MCAS effectively "killed" the FMS, and permanent pilot override was not an option, with MCAS and the FMS continually contradicting each other. Again, I am no expert, but the 737 first flew in 1967, which makes it one of the older airliner models still in production - has the architecture reached the end of its adaptable life? Were these new engines "one step too far"? This kind of "mistake", if that is what is was, is a very rare one for Boeing. Jury still out, I know, and the stock market shows investor trust in Boeing - a trust I certainly have.

March 28, 2019: Google "Play"?

Keywords: stomach, cramp, global warming, Android, OBD II, vehicle monitor, APK creation

Stomach cramps and associated doctor visits waylayed my activities for a couple of days, and I had forgotten that the then prescribed laxatives have unpleasant effects. Especially the first day, at a high dose. But much better now, thank you, and only annoyed by not being able to go to the gym for a few days. I had intended to walk today, get at least some exercise, but then got over-absorbed by my HP Windows 8.1 laptop acting up. Its fan had been running riot for a week or so, intermittently, so today I spent some time figuring out why. Turns out that, for reasons I do not understand, it was synchronizing external disk mounts to the internal disk - which, as it has a 2 terabyte hybrid disk now, actually works. But the CPU load was huge, and besides, I hadn't set it up to sync, and have no idea why it decided to do that. Thus I had to figure how to turn sync off, which you need to do in two places, and I had one off, and one on. Seems to have worked, so hopefully I won't be woken up by a 747 ramping up in the middle of the night any more. Don't get many of those overhead any more, although there still is the occasional new freighter coming out of the Boeing factory up the road. They still sell them, and refurb the occasional passenger 747 being resold, as well, those fly mostly in Africa and Asia.

Global warming is something you are confronted with every day - walk through a supermarket, look at what is available in terms of food, and you will understand that every supermarket stocks more food than it can sell. Researchers have looked at the food waste, and the problem there is that you can't get supermarkets to have less food on the shelves, because the consumer will - largely - go where the choice is greatest. There may be some nice eco-conscious folk who will be frugal, but take a run through the suburbs, and you see the assortment multiply, because the supermarkets have to work even harder, there, to bring in the trade, to places where you have to drive, you can't walk there. Part of my amazement is that they're adding supermarkets, this in an area where commercial development was at a standstill - within ten minutes' drive, I now have a Safeway, a Sprouts, a Trader Joe's, two QFC's, a Wal-Mart market, two Korean supermarkets, an Indian supermarket, a Hispanic supermarket, and a Fred Meyer. And I may have missed a couple I don't buy at.

I've not paid a lot of attention to Android as an operating system, at least, any more than I have to to be able to use my mobile devices, but the other day, when I replaced my older Galaxy (see February 27), I ran into an app that wouldn't transfer to my new handset. CaroO Pro, a clever vehicle monitoring app that makes your mobile act as a dashcam, as well, is no longer sold or supported. So I spent a week or so trying out some other apps from the Play Store, NONE of which worked. I mean, you'd think there might be one, two maybe, but no. After trying five or six, rejecting those you could not try out a full functionality before buying, I looked if there wasn't as way I could transfer CaroO Pro, but that either doesn't work at all, or it only works if you back up your phone to Google's Cloud, which I will not do out of privacy concerns. In the end, I found something called "APK Installer", which I figured wouldn't work, but which is supposed to turn an Android app into an installable app you can transfer to another handset - and back up to your PC archive drive.

Guess what - that did work, hurray!. CaroO Pro wouldn't run right on an Android Blackberry - which the Blackberry said was due to it having been written for an older version of Android - but it runs perfectly on my old Blü, which I bought reconditioned for not a lot of money, so is easy to dedicate to the car. In fact, the app runs better on the Blü than it did on the Galaxy - and the camera has better resolution, too. I had best repeat that using multiple mobile handsets for different purposes is a very good solution, for the price of an additional line and SIM card it isn't worth not doing it. The "all things to all people" principle that both Samsung and Apple seem to want you to adhere to makes little sense - yes, I can use my primary phone to run my fitness app, but using a cheap refurb, with no connection to my primary "mobile identity", is much more secure, and lessens the risk that some miscreant accesses my data through that app, something that's been a problem for many years. My primary - secure - Blackberry has few of the apps I need occasionally, and everything I know mines data is not on any of my handsets, but accessed through a secure browser on a laptop. I've not seen a targeted ad, on a phone or on a PC, in years.

March 22, 2019: Why is there false news?

Keywords: vegetarian, eye doctor, contact lenses, immigrants, fake news, mass murder, deluded activists, massacres

not vegetarian I am not a huge meat eater, but definitely not a vegetarian either - that young vegan vlogger being caught eating fish, then admitting that her doctors had told her she was destroying her health with her strict vegan diet, and she then continued to pretend she was still vegan. Smart that she listened to her doctors (other vegans will not), not so smart she lied to her followers. Especially a strict vegan who has, inadvertently, discovered her vegan ways were damaging her could do many other deluded folks with that eating disorder a power of good. No, we weren't created vegan, we're omnivore, and animal proteins our metabolism can process and use are a necessity. There are almost weekly reports of vegans almost killing their young children with their adopted diet, and going to jail, but as with fake news, their followers and adopters don't seem to believe those reports. Makes ya wonder, dunnit? The slab of meat on the left was discounted at Fred Meyer, a Kroger store I don't frequent, as they are fairly expensive, but this was a happy exception - over 3 lbs of steak for $12. Freezer is happy, and so is my Sharp multifunction oven, which I am now using again, since the housemates have moved.

Contact lenses are absolutely amazing, so you can probably imagine I was not hugely happy when my rheumatologist sent me to see an ophthalmologist - "just to be on the safe side" - who came to a swift conclusion that my days of wearing contacts 24/7 ("extended wear") are over. Looks like my skin (specifically, the insides of my eyelids) no longer tolerates those things. He also said I ought to consider glasses (the horror!), but if I had to, I should do daily disposables. So I'll head back to my optometrist and, with his help, sort all that out, it is what it is. My eyes are fine, there's no tissue or other damage, but with an impaired immune system it is better not to take risks. Eyes, please do remember, can't be replaced...

I am amazed, and somewhat perturbed, at the number of immigrants I come across, in this blue collar community, who simply don't bother to learn English. They seem to think that for as long as they can say "How much?" at Costco, and have a friend in their ethnic community who can help translate, they're fine. You know the sort of person - you say something to them, and they stare at you with these glazed eyes, unable to even utter the words "Can you explain what you mean?". It is somewhat unforgiveable, in my book - my hairdresser, who is Vietnamese, takes an "English as a second language" course at the local community college, free, something available in most, if not all, communities in the United States.

I am very sorry to have to say that if the good folks in New Zealand really thought they were safe, they were deluded. Terrorism, in all its forms, has spread across the globe, taking decades, but it gets everywhere. I recall leaving my US Air shuttle from New York to Washington on 9/11, seeing the attack on the WTC on one of the monitors in the terminal, and my first thought was "They got here too", remembering the Palestinian and Japanese terrorist attacks in Europe in the 1970s, when I was living there. The U.S. government had not felt it necessary to introduce the airport security we Europeans had rolled out across Europe after some lethal hijackings. The assassins could just board the aircraft, knives and all.

New Zealand was one of the last places that had not been hit with extremism, and I would begin by finding out who in New Zealand government fell down on the job. There has been plenty of terrorism in their neighbourhood, Australia and Indonesia, and it was only a matter of time until someone attacked New Zealand. I am sorry the prime minister felt it necessary to do this cutesy "having a baby in office" thing, but I am firmly convinced she made a mess of national security. No, it isn't the gun laws, the necessary surveillance of the population was not in place, here was an foreign extremist whose social media profile should have put him under surveillance, and someone in law enforcement must take responsibility for not taking a close look at a foreigner stockpiling guns. He knew he could, filed and got licenses, and a national security apparatus that doesn't even slightly investigate such a person isn't worthy of the name, it isn't like New Zealand could not hire in the necessary experts, from Israel, from the United States, from France, from Britain, the list is endless. To begin with, Prime Minister Ardern should admit her responsibility, and resign. Her replacement should be well versed in matters military, preferably with a good amount of overseas experience. Sure, change the law all you like, but please remember laws do not make you safe, only well trained people can.

March 16, 2019: Jeez, Spring!

Keywords: ADATA, Seagate, SSD, HP Elitebook, methotrexate, immune system, dashcam, refurbished, mobile phone, Android

spring clean Finally sunny and warm, after a lot of cold, so beginning to clear out my landlord's broken bits is next on the list. I could not bring myself to do this during the cold weather - probably because it is not my priority, and the entire house redecorating project is very much on the long run now. Not that I mind, I am waiting for my SHA apartment, and now in my second stage approval. So helping with the clearing up is a good thing, and yesterday I walked, rather than drove, to the gym, I just didn't want to handle the cold.

I've not run comparative statistics on the SSD I installed, simply because this isn't a statistical excercise, I want to know how the SSD improves the system's overall functioning. I know the thing is fast to the point that an inadvertent mouse click moved an 8GB subdirectory into another subdirectory without any kind of a delay - voom, it was gone. Gone, in that I had no idea where it had absconded to - I was halfway into a recovery operation when a backup ran longer than expected, and I could see where it had moved. No data loss, then, but I'd never seen a large directory move that quickly. Amazing. I was working on a restore from the last backup, that morning, when I realized I hadn't lost the directory, it had just moved, quick as a flash.

In the meantime I am just about done with my semi-annual round of doctor visits, cancer checkup, loads of blood tests, and even though my doctors are happy, there are some changes to my circulation and heart rate I am not really happy with. They're hard to diagnose, because my thyroid hormone dosage changed at the same time I switched to an injected immune system suppressant, after 20 or so years of biologics. Three months isn't a really good measure of change, and my rheumatologist made reassuring noises about the workout pulse rate. The general consensus is for me to see my GP (which I am scheduled for anyway), and then a cardiologist, just to make sure. No symptoms, though, nobody seems very worried. We upped the methotrexate slightly, hoping that will help with the occasional arthritis discomfort, which sometimes wakes me up. And then the eye specialist, teeth cleaning, and I should do my annual "Wellness" visit, my health insurance folks actually give me a $50 gift card after, can't look a gift horse in the mouth.

In the process of changing my "car phone" - the cellphone I converted to an engine monitor-cum dashcam from an older Samsung to a less old Blackberry - learned an amazing amount of stuff about Android. One thing is that some phone manufacturer versions of Android work differently from other versions, and that 80% of the stuff Google installs on your Android handset has absolutely no function other than to collect your data. When I could not get the HERE WeGo app (the former Nokia GPS app) to run on one of my handsets, I activated Google Maps instead, as I needed a locator right then. That worked (well, I must add) but the installer activated half a dozen other Google apps, including setting all of the permissions to "on", that had absolutely no bearing on locator services. The net consequence would have been that all sorts of Google apps now reported their location, for no reason, and without any purpose. I eventually got HERE to run on another handset, but then spent a laborious hour de-activating the Google crap that had just been re-activated.

Having said that, I have long since turned away from "all things to all people". It is actually a lot cheaper to dedicate different cellphones to different tasks, not even all of them have to be new, either. You just have to spend time to figure out which phone is better at which task, and which phone needs the higest security. My primary is always with me, on my hip when away from home, on my desk when I am in my office, even better now that I have a wireless charging base for it, and that is, for instance, the only handset that has some of my financial provider apps. The handset I normally use for voice calls, for instance, does not have my contacts database, so the call provider can't mine phone numbers and email addresses. When I am not home - when I don't answer my "home phone" - it lives in the car, running engine, GPS and dashcam, using an app that, again, can't retireve any data from the handset, as there isn't any. Greenify turns off any apps I've stopped using - you can stop an app and log out, but that does not mean it is no longer running. That alone makes Greenify very useful - it tells me exactly what's refusing to turn off, and lets me force it off.. Etc.

March 9, 2019: Tempo Doeloe

Keywords: Indië, Ton Aartsen, RIP, family, ALS, death

Ton Aartsen RIP Cousin Ton, in The Netherlands, somehow contracted ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, and that killed him, unfortunately, in fairly short order. The family hoped he would hang in there for a while, deteriorating, but busy with a new exhibition. Last week, he took a sudden turn for the worse, and decided, together with partner and daughters, that enough was enough. I am quite sad, especially since I didn't get a chance to say goodbye, thinking I'd go over when I could find an affordable air fare. I should have probably gone during his last exhibition, a few weeks ago, when I would have been able to see much of my family, but didn't. Dumb. I sat with Ton's father, Teddy, after his last hart attack, in Jakarta, Indonesia, where the old colonial Navy pilot had retired to, but this time I didn't get the chance, and the money I had been waiting for wasn't available to me until Friday, literally hours before he died. My sister had warned me he was being sedated in palliative care, so I knew what was coming.

Tempo Doeloe, BTW, the headline for this piece, refers to the old colonial Netherlands East Indies, where so many of my relatives lived before WWII and Indonesian independence. Cousin Ton comes from one of those extended "Indo" families, a heritage he shares with many of my other relatives. Curiously enough, the non-colonial side of the family was naval, and ended up stationed in the colonies too. Judging from my Facebook feed, Ton was, in his final months, comforted and cared for amazingly by his partner Ank, and his daughters Flore and Aagje, who were with him, caring and loving, through the very last moments of his life - as I write, he lies in his artist's workshop, behind his partner's shop in Leeuwarden, where he will repose until they take him to his last resting place. Godspeed, cuz.

March 5, 2019: Finally, a bit of computering

Keywords: ADATA, Seagate, SSD, hard disk, terabyte, computing speed, HP Elitebook

While I have a small SSD (Solid State Drive) in the old laptop I've dedicated to managing my monitoring cameras, that doesn't serve an essential function. I tried one of the highly acclaimed larger SSD's a few years ago, and immediately came acropper, with the entire file system self destructing, and nothing recoverable. Crucial, the manufacturer, was absolutely no help, and I kind of decided SSD's weren't ready for the big time. You have to remember I am an old guy, I've seen hard disks self destruct decades ago, but certainly not in the past 20+ years. Drive failures, data loss, sure, but nothing I couldn't recover with the right tools.

ADATA 2TB SU800 SSD So the little Intel drive, originally in an HP Elitebook, has done good service in my Toshiba, after being used extensively in the HP. That gave me the courage to try and find an affordable "full size" laptop SSD. Some due diligence led me to a 2TB Adata SU800, out there for $238. While what reviews I could find were often in favour of more expensive SSD's made by manufacturers who are mostly well known for the volumes they build, the previewers / testers used load of arguments to do with internal architectural drive constructs, such as the number of NAND gates in the design, but there is very little comparative information out there about the effect of an SSD on an integrated system. An SSD provides faster data transport, this is true, but this is hardly the only factor that matters. Windows 10 Pro, for instance, fully recognizes the SSD as such, even after a clone from a regular Seagate drive (kudos to Seagate's free cloning software!) - which reminds me, I need to check what the HP thinks of this drive. Right back..

Yes, indeed, my HP notebooks recognize SSD's, as they should some were originally fitted with them. This is part of the issue with SSD installs - if the PC or notebook isn't "SSD aware", the latter will revert to standard hard disk emulation, which works well, but slows things down. Secondly, the operating system should be SSD aware, older versions of Windows may not have all the bells and whistles - my carefully updated Windows 10 Pro is fully aware, and actually automatically replaces my automatic defragmentation routine with the new "SSD trim". This clears out unused memory on the SSD once a file has been deleted, which otherwise has to be done before a write, which takes time.

So all this stuff works, and we'll see how she holds up in use. An SSD isn't just a faster memory device, you see, its presence inside a PC or PC-architected computer will help with making operation more efficient. An SSD doesn't have electromechanical heads, which have to be moved from data field to data field, for instance - the PC is capable of reading multiple data points at the same time, but an ordinary hard disk can't do that. It can only move one head to one data point at a time, however many heads and platters it has. The latter reduce seek time, that is true, but it is still a (fast) single tasking device. And if the next data point is on another platter at another location, the whole thing needs to move. This takes energy, and costs time. None of that applies to an SSD, and I am hoping that my HP Elitebook will run cooler, and use fewer CPU cycles, I was not primarily concerned with speed, with the HP has plenty of, but it does, especially when ramping up in the morning, crank up the cooling when the CPU rolls over 50% load. An SSD could help here, but I'll need to see, over a period of time. So far, so good.

February 27, 2019: Tidying up, in all ways

Keywords: housing, SHA, IRS, dashcam, Blackberry, medical expenses

It does look like, ahead of moving, I have my finances under control, always depending on what the Seattle Housing Authority will want for rent, how much of my medical expenses they will take into account. We'll see. But I am able to furnish an apartment and move, glad I gave it extra time to save and control cost. I've even found out that changing doctors saved me money - Swedish, probably due to clever coding of their bills, charges me less copay than The Polyclinic does. The latter does not even respond to letters or billing disputes, so I am well pleased I have moved most of my care away from them.

The year is well under way, so to speak - my application with the housing people is being processed, I managed my tax return truly quickly, as the Fed has increased the standard deduction to the point I no longer need to laboriously calculate my medical deduction. Only a couple of years ago you needed to really come up with the gory detail, breaking out lab cost, pharmacy cost, doctor's charges, transportation, and much more, but that, at least for me, is all gone. So the return went off, and was accepted by IRS Fresno in - believe it or not - 20 minutes.

Of course, there's always something that breaks - this time, my Samsung phone, the one I use as dashcam / vehicle monitor in the car, occasionally won't turn on the camera when I start the Caroo Pro app. As that Samsung has been in dashcam use almost every day since February 2016, living in the vehicle in the dead of winter and they height of summer, there really is nothing wrong with it slowly dying, but that means getting a replacement, and I think the Caroo Pro app has disappeared from the Google store, and I doubt the install of a new handset will pull a copy of the app. Only one way to find out, and that was going to happen at some time or other, I suppose.

I had, for some time, wanted to get another refurbished Blackberry Priv, basically as a spare, I like that handset immensely, it works very well, is fast, super camera, excellent hires screen, so why not make the jump now, while they're still affordable around - found one for $150, hopefully it is as artfully refurbished as the vendor says, and as the last one was. Then, I'll have to find a new dashcam / OBD-II monitor app - that'll be interesting, with the Priv's high resolution camera with Schneider Kreuznach lens.. My cellular carrier kindly sent me a free nano-SIM, I guess they're happy with my 19 year custom - it's actually more, but they don't seem to count the predecessor, Voicestream. No matter.

It's been an expensive couple of months - not so much the Holidays, but the rent went up (partly my own doing) and I needed a number of expensive household items due to my landlord moving out, with all their gear. It isn't a big deal, I had a budget for my eventual move to Seattle proper, and those expenses just came a bit early. It is the time of year I need to get all of my medical checkups done, as well, and that is always an expensive excercise, especially since the deductible sits in the beginning of the year. Add to that my car insurance renewal, and you know what I am talking about. All in all, I've managed to clean up my finances, save a little money, albeit slowly, so I really have nothing to complain about. Even so, when I do my taxes, I see I've spent $7,530 on medical expenses, over the year - that's just over $20 a day. And this is with my super duper corporate insurance, which I guess I am lucky to have..

I especially shouldn't complain as I am, to all intents and purposes, housesitting this place - today, finally, months late, a workcrew arrived. Not that I am not paying rent, but it does not look like I am having to move out anytime soon, and I may be able to move to the landlord's new place, if that becomes necessary and this refurbishment is finished.

February 18, 2019: We do not normally have "winter".....

Keywords: snow, heat pumps, cold, 4 wheel drive, gun license, CPL

massively cold I had not anticipated Old Man Winter arriving late - not only is there a foot or so of snow, but it started freezing in earnest - as I write this, 10:30pm, the temperature is down to 18 Fahrenheit, a.k.a. -8 centigrade. That's cold, peeps. I de-snowed the SUV, but wasn't able to completely de-ice the windshield, something I guess I'd better re-commence with the engine running. Thankfully the big V-8 produces copious heat.... (as you can see from the display, it got even colder - 8 Fahrenheit is really cold, like -14 centigrade, with ice underneath the snow). Never did an update for the blog, as endless pictures of masses of snow would surely bore you to death, suffice it to say that over one Sunday, the amount of snow was more than the normal annual snowfall in the region.

I can't tell you how happy I am I got that Durango, all those years ago. With high clearance, with the skid plates that protect the engine and transmission, all wheel drive with high and low gearing, oversize real snowtires, antilock brakes, self locking differential, I've been able to get around and do the necessary, when local friends have, until yesterday, not been able to get any of their cars out of the driveway. I should compliment myself with the maintenance I've done myself, and the overhaul of the cooling system and the A/C that are both working well. I'll probably sell this thing as soon as I move to the city, using Car2Go is likely to save me money in the long run.

While I had really never tested my Edgestar heat pump in real cold, it has no problem producing heat in the house - gone are the days that heat pumps couldn't use air at or below freezing. This particular unit gets its compressor air from outside, so it really is producing some 67 degrees from that 18 degree outside air. From what I paid for these things that is pretty amazing, and clearly, Asian consumer technology is a ways ahead of what we manage here. It isn't that I didn't know this, but proving it is kinda par for the course, and with heat pumps, you can't really test unless you have "real" weather, the electronics only activate heat or cooling with the right ambient temperature. Well, that works.... (that is, down to 8 Fahrenheit, when the compressor could no longer produce sufficient warm air. Good thing to know).

Not a lot else to report, hence the pause between postings - some family stuff going on (back in Europe) that I really can't report on, not without breaching people's privacy, I'd love to be able to go over and visit some of the affected members, fingers crossed. You deal with deaths, the expected and the unexpected, but euthanasia - legal in The Netherlands - isn't something I've ever given a great deal of thought, yet there it is - preplanned, announced, demise.

Now I need to find myself a shooting range, locally, can't really carry a gun and not be proficient with it, haven't shot at a range for quite a while. Especially with monovision contacts, you need to practice, practice, practice. I don't mean I am planning to run around shooting miscreants, but if you do "pack heat" and you end up in a situation you need to draw, you need to be secure. Besides, I meant to adjust the rear sight, and haven't yet done even that. For those who think it is exciting to carry a gun, a couple comments. First of all, there are places that don't allow guns, so you need to check when you go somewhere. I was checking out the new "Sprouts" farmer's market next to my gym, and they have a "no guns" sign on the door. The WA State AG has it there isn't a law that makes that sign valid. While you can stop folks from "Open Carry" - carrying a firearm visibly, legal in many states including Washington, the Concealed Pistol License has been made legal in this state by making it an exception on regular gun laws. Which leads to it being lawful to carry a licensed concealed gun in an airport, but not beyond security, which is under Federal Statute. Same in the Post Office, which is Federal. All I am saying is that there are a thousand rules, and you're expected to know them by heart, and follow them. And then - I'll expand on that at some point in the future - there is the issue of drawing a gun, and using it for self defence. Many of those situations will land you in court, and then it is not up to you whether you could or couldn't.

The whole thing made it clear to me that West Coast states, different from the East Coast, still have some "frontier" elements to them. Many places in the USA you have to go take a gun proficiency course (I actually did when I was an NRA member back in Virginia, and used their HQ range), jump through hoops, have a triple digit security check done and take an oath in court to get a license, which, in some places, can take months, especially if you're not a U.S. citizen. Here - no tests or classes, just fingerprints, FBI check, two weeks (but then I have a clean record in the Nation's Capital, for professional reasons, which not everybody can say). So yes, it's a bit of a Frontier State, and it does feel a bit weird to strap a holster on and go shopping.

February 5, 2019: We were watching other people's winter, but then..

Keywords: thyroid hormone, endocrinology, snow, carry permit, White House, SHA, housing application, HUD, heat pumps

late winter snow 2019 Puget Sound All in all it has been a mild winter, though the weather forecast warns for some "lowland snow" in the next couple of days - I am just a bit cold because of my thyroid medication, of which my endocrinologist increased the dosage. They like to have you take a slight "overdose" of thyroid hormone, this to lower the changes of a wayward leftover cancer cell activating, and starting the thyroid cancer cell growth again. I just follow orders, but the higher dose has effects on circulation and heart rate, and they're not really enjoyable. Then, you just wait until your next blood test, when hopefully the medics will be happier with the numbers, and my circulation can return to some semblance of normalcy. Having your body go through cycles you have no control over, and that as a "normal" state of being, isn't something you ever get used to. It is all well and good to work on fine tuning your medication dosage, but the number of months it takes to arrive at a "stable" reading is never easy, especially since you have to keep doing it.

Ah, there it is. The snow I mean. Amazing - weather forecasters said a couple of days ago there'd be snow Sunday evening, and they were spot on. Surprising especially since we're in a sort of trough, up against the mountains, and sometimes that means we get completely different weather from Seattle proper, which is only 20 miles or so away. The snow you see in the picture fell in about four hours, and then it started freezing, thankfully I don't have to go anywhere tomorrow, did what shopping I needed this morning, and threw in an hour at the gym, hope it melts, we'll see. Should have some time to manage my long delayed gun cleaning, tomorrow, now that I found the gun oil that kind of got lost in the tool kit. And then I need to find a convenient firing range, really the primary reason to get a carry permit in the first place. While Washington State really doesn't require a permit to go to the range, it is easier not to have to worry about carrying a loaded firearm and such - in Virginia, carrying a loaded firearm is legal when you're going to the range, here, it is not, meaning you have to unload and then reload when you're there. Not a big deal, but it is just easier if you don't have to worry about it. So no, I am not one of those packing heat wherever he goes - besides, it is not clear to me, from the Washington State law books, whether you can leave a firearm in an locked, parked car. That is, you can't if you don't have a permit, but I am not clear that you even can if you do.

I've pretty much gotten to the point where I completely ignore any news coming from the White House, or the Fed in general. This is unusual, if you consider how important the gummint was in my work, not to mention having an office in easy reach of said government. But what comes out of the White House today seems have less to do with running the country, than with endless megalomania. I don't recall every seeing such an allergy to negotiating in our leadership.

Not knowing what will happen when is not my favourite state of being, but my number came up with the Housing Authority, so an apartment may be in sight, I rushed the paperwork off to them. I am reeling off the rest of the bucket list, buying some of the stuff I have avoided getting for as long as I didn't need it, and getting my kitchen tools out of hock, now that the housemates have taken theirs to their "new, old" house. Started cooking in earnest, again, too, now that I am in nobody's way in the kitchen, and I should swap out the heat pumps next week, so I know the stored unit heats fine, too. In the interim, I will give the dishwasher a thorough clean - there was black mould in the unit (not caused by yours truly), and repeated cleaning cycles with an antibacterial compound have not completely killed this stuff, which is nothing if not persistent. What I had not done - stupid me - is use the hottest longest cleaning cycle, which, now that I have increased the temperature of the hot water tank, may help. Just did not think of it. Add some bleach....

January 29, 2019: Still catching up

Keywords: Medicare, medication changes, SHA, pistol license, clearing up, back ailments, orthopedic surgery, Andy Murray

No snow in the Puget Sound lowlands, well, as of yet, though there is plenty in the mountains that surround us, and we have persistent night frost, but sunny warm-ish days. I am cold, but I think that is mostly due to medication changes. At a point where I've not walked to the gym, which I normally do, since well before Christmas, but I am compensating by maintaining a two day schedule, and hitting the treadmill instead. Since my workout partner now hardly goes to the gym, and no longer takes walks at all, my schedule is really my own, though I'll be pleased when the weather improves and I can work on my vitamin D again. I don't believe that supplements have the same effect as sunshine - having said that, my skin is no longer as sun-resistant as it once was.

I can only apologize for my tardiness with the blog update - simply too many things to write about, too many things I don't want to publicize, and I am not pushing myself enough to fulfill my promises. Probably procrastinating a bit, or a bit much, but the mail shook me awake this week, with (finally) a Carry Permit, and an application renewal for the Seattle Housing Authority - and that is important, my number is up. So now I have more stuff to do, but a different priority lineup. Then I needed to find an eye doctor, ophtalmologist, and that was not as easy as just calling someone. One ophtalmologist, recommended by my optometrist, didn't answer the phone - on a second attempt, they didn't return the message I left. The receptionist at another office didn't think I was talking to the right specialist, and the fourth I called was just in the process of moving to a different practice. I then managed to talk the practice assistant into checking which of their other M.D.'s had the specialism I was looking for (my rheumatologist had asked me to see and ophtalmologist), and that is how I eventually got an appointment. This is all pretty amazing, considering how overstocked the region is with medical practices, this isn't the first time I am not able to register with a specialist - I think lots of doctors don't like Medicare, and many aren't fully aware there are corporate types like myself who have enhanced insurance plans.

My landlord and his wife have returned from their family affairs, having laid his Father to rest. There is always a higher incidence of deaths in December, though this was unexpected, this soon after their move.

With me alone in the house, I am busy doing stuff I didn't get a chance to do, for one reason or another, and I should get on with clearing some of the broken and no longer needed stuff away to recycling, it's been sitting in the garage for weeks, I just didn't want to load up the SUV in the rain and iffy weather, but the sun is back, so I don't have a real excuse. I am just not very good at waiting and taking things slow.

Reading the reporting about poor tennis pro Andy Murray having to likely can his tennis career due to his hip malfunction, I can say I am sorry for him, but he's had a good innings, stellar career, and he shouldn't stay narrow focused on Wimbledon, or anything that could increase his level of injury. I had decided not to comment on this, but if there is anything I have experience of, it is the skeleton, joints, bone damage, though I am not, and have never been, an athlete. But I've had to look at this on a number of occasions, what medicine to take, whether or not to have reconstructive surgery, which I've done once and declined once, and then when I saw Andy decided to have hip surgery in Australia, I couldn't help but wonder why. As you can read in the linked Guardian article, that type of surgery doesn't normally get an athlete back in the game. I recall my ballerina wife, having surgery on both feet by a world renowned surgeon in Amsterdam - while she recovered sufficiently to get back on "toes", and the stage, she was forever in pain. Lots of people have the lower back surgery I almost did, but never get back to 100% functioning - whatever that is, as none of us get younger. My back is functioning well, but the lumbar region pain slowly gets worse, and it isn't really likely that locking more discs (my ankylosing already did a number on the joints between pelvis and vertebrae) will make the pain go away, I can work out at the gym every other day, lift weights, stuff, so there likely is not a lot that can be achieved surgically. It isn't broken, if you like, and so there isn't a lot to really fix.

January 7, 2019: Shopping, moving, changing

Keywords: cleaning, chemotherapy, Medicare, heat pump, bamboo, recyclables, Brita filter

Brita basic water pitcher Running around cleaning and clearing up, I have fallen a bit behind in blogging, especially since there is so much else going on. I didn't go to the gym for almost a week, while I took my heat pumps out of storage and tested them, this because I had never had a chance to test their heating capability in the middle of winter, which involves turning off the gas central heating. I've now got one of them running on one side of the house, boosting the gas system, just to see what that does to the energy bill on the whole. It will take a few weeks to get a good average, but with a bit of January frost I'll get an idea of their performance.

I mentioned coffeemakers and pod coffee, of the espresso variety, so I went and got a Brita filter - to some extent, because I found a box of unused filters in my storage. The housemates used well water, but as the containers that lived in were never cleaned or sterilized, I decided to go back to Brita - filters and jugs I've actually been using since I lived in London, that would have been the late 'seventies, mostly to get rid of the faint whiff of chlorine big city water has. Mind you, I visited a ladyfriend in London, a few years ago, whose Brita filter jug had a greenish rim, so it isn't necessarily the be-all-end-all if you don't have a spare so you can stick one in the dishwasher. The "new" Brita jug disassembles, so it is easier to clean. The filter jug I got at Wal-Mart wasn't as expensive as the one you see in the picture here, taken at Wincofoods. Tasteless clear water, what more can one ask for. There is a cheaper version, but this slimline jug has an electronic filter usage indicator, so I'll know when the filter is due for a change.

In the interim, I am cleaning, especially some floors and work surfaces that haven't had a proper (bleach) cleaning in years. And I am settling into my "new" medication - it has only been two weeks, at this point, but I was on biologics for some eighteen years, without ever a real break to see what that would do. This may sound ill advised to you, but how do you find out what effect the biologic has if you don't, at some point, stop that treatment? Thankfully, my new rheumatologist finds that an acceptable argument, and was actually quite pleased when I suggested to switch to an injectable disease modifyer for immune system conditions, when previously I'd been on an oral form of this medication, together with NSAIDS. The only "problem" is that I've been dispensed a higly concentrated solution (methotrexate is otherwise a potent chemotheraphy agent), which I get to self-inject in small weekly doses, and getting 0.6 ml out of a tiny vial without aspirating lots of air is a bit of a skill, must say. Previous medications I self-injected came in much large vials, with much larger syringes, this is just a completely new experience, and it is a bit of a job to get the dose right, not to put too much air in the vial (you get a small fountain when you retrieve the syringe), and keep the stopper sterile for the next aspiration. Methotrexate seems to be hard to get - it took a couple of weeks, unusual for Express Scripts, and turns out to only be available (in this dosage) from.. Australia! Interestingly, after Express Scripts hiccupped a bit, they were able to supply the medication, but not the syringes, which I ended up (thanks to Safeway) getting directly from a Medicare supplier. Shows you how popular self administered chemo is, in this country..

bambo disposable plates Other than that, not a huge amount of "news" - what with the moves on hold, and so far no word from the Seattle Housing Authority, I am more or less "marking time", as my ballerina used to say. Nothing wrong with that, I have plenty of chores, and as the housemates have taken much of their stuff, I am buying some new household items I had on the list for my "big" move anyway, and had saved up for. I had, for instance, not been able to properly test the heat cycle of my heat pumps, in sustained winter operation, in the house, rather than a room, so that is now ongoing. That'll give me a chance to calculate the cost of heating using these units, my previous heat pumps, in Virginia, were whole-house 50,000 BTU units, but an older technology. These Edgestar units have much more capacity per kilowatt, although the issue with heat pumps, should you feel tempted, is always that they don't produce high heat, but medium heat at a larger air volume, so they are relatively noisy. As I go through the stuff I have in storage, as I am going to have to move that sooner or later, I come across all sorts of things I didn't know I had - mostly household items, from cooking pots to water filters - that I am putting to use replacing the housemates' stuff. I've switched from the electricsl stove top to my induction cooker, faster, more efficient, but that means having to dig up my owne cooking pots, which are compatible with induction cooking. There is my cast iron enameled Dutch oven, which I really like to cook in (no chemicals as there is no non-stick surface), my electric rice cooker, which I have to figure out quantities of (I am really fussy with my rice), my pressure cooker, bought especially for induction, and there is cleaning all of the kitchen implements and cutlery, which haven't been out of their boxes in years. What with the rent going up and the dinner stuff I need, I am spending extra money, but then this is why I had saved some, so...

One thing I didn't "keep" were plates and cups and saucers, don't recall why, so it is time to get some. I occurred to me that many, if not most, of these things are available made of bamboo, admittedly factory made, but mostly process, shaped and formed using steam and hydraulic pressure, not chemicals. Add to this that bamboo grows at incredible rates, and you'll appreciate bamboo kitchen implements can be eco-friendly as well as pretty - and recyclable! Bamboo actually has a tensile strength that can exceed that of iron compounds, and vastly exceeds the strength of aluminium, so you're not losing capability there. Add to this something I recently realized, namely that woods can be maintained, cleaned and kept flexible using vegetable oils, put two and two together, and you can use those oilive oil cooking spreay cans to maintain wooden furniture and wooden cooking implements, which can dry out. Olive oil, after all, is perfectly safe and healthy and edible, so a bamboo plate, rinsed in the dishwasher, and cleaned with olive oil, should be terrific. I've found sets of "disposable" bambo plates (10 for 13.99, inclusive of shipping, no tax) that should fit the bill, so I am trying those out, see how long they'll last. One thing they can't do is break...

December 24, 2018: Global warming isn't about the tailpipe

Keywords: pod coffee, TRU, Senseo, espresso, global warming, Poland, climate conference, Amazon, fertility, procreation

TRU Senseo pod coffee maker The housemates having moved, I've got my kitchen paraphernalia out of storage, which led to my being able to try this TRU pod coffee maker I found cheap on Ebay some time ago. The Philips / Douwe Egberts Senseo pods and pod machines never made it in the United States, even though other systems, like the K-cup and Nespresso pods did. For reasonably priced Senseo pods in bulk I ended up buying from a UK supplier, but I knew there are refillable plastic pods, which I ended up ordering from Amazon Germany. With the Espresso roast fine grind La Llave coffee I recently found in a supermarket, I am much surprised at the quality and strength of the coffee - and this TRU unit has a setting combination that lets me brew a very strong dark foamy mug of coffee. Magic. I think in general coffee systems you have to clean and maintain after each use just don't cut it with Americans, with the exception of the affluent type that buys a real espresso machine, but I am not someone willing to spend $300 to $500 on a coffeemaker, which then spends much of its time keeping hot water under pressure while not being used. This TRU does need a couple of minutes to heat its single shot of water, so is frugal, for as long as you remember to turn it off after your two morning cuppas.

What with Christmas a few days away, I've had to get prezzies and things ready early, as friends, in the middle of moving, have been haring back and forth between their parents' new home, where someone has been taken ill, and their parents' old home they are moving into. A lot of upheaval for them in the already busy month of December - while I had some legal things going on, and with all that it isn't clear which house I'll be in, come February, all that's clear is that things are all moving out a bit, time wise. Not an issue, just upheavelish.

The more I think about global warming, the more I am absolutely convinced none of the formal efforts to control and improve the environment will have much of an effect. You just can't reduce energy consumption - which is the only way to control what goes into the environment - while continuing to breed. I think about the environment every time I walk to the gym, and at the Starbucks on the corner see eight or ten cars idling while they wait their turn on the coffee line. Why would I concern myself with the environment when people think it is OK to idle a 5 litre V-8 while waiting for a coffee to brew in one of the most inefficient machines ever invented, operated by two scantily dressed women in a shoebox, and the State Government thinks it is OK for this pollution to happen, while spending a billion tax dollars to improve the Orca habitat and remove the dams that reduce the salmon's ability to procreate in their ancient spawning grounds?

You cannot seriously suggest that a United Nations organized climate conference causes representatives from some 200 countries, including support staff, to fly into Poland from all over the globe? Take into consideration that the optimal number of decision makers in a meeting is six to eight, beyond that number most time is wasted on logistics and negotiations, and the statistical chance of agreement goes inverse to the number of participants. We have the tools to enable all of these people to communicate with one another, and use vote lists and mathematical software to arrive at decisions, and those tools cannot be used if you stick all of these people in a conference room - if only because there is not enough talk time. The conference ended with a Polish representative, Poland was the host, dancing on a table. Surely, that is a waste of energy, and completely adverse to the fact that no climate conference has ever led to any climate improvement. I will say that for as long as most of us sit in some kind of transportation in traffic jams on our way to and from work, every day, pollution is not a resolvable concern. It isn't just cars - subways, trains, buses, and airplanes all have traffic jams. Your rush hour flight from A to B is going to sit on the tarmac with engines running, waiting for its takeoff slot, because there are too many people taking, ultimately, unnecessary tips.

We must stop making babies, and Amazon must stop moving thousands of workers to the most congested areas in Virginia and New York, without a reason for them to be there. We must curtail growth, at least in the overbuilt areas, and migrants, in particular, must stop making babies - as I write this, a Nigerian woman on board one of those "rescue" ships is being taken off, with the baby she had on the Libya beach while boarding. That is completely totally moronic - I guess the idea was to time it to have this baby on EU soil, so the authorities could not deport the mother. You can't make babies if you cannot afford to feed them, and no, it is not a religious duty, you do not need children. I know we cannot, PC correct, tie women's tubes, or men's vas deferens, to untie them once they have proven they can sustain a family, and get a permit from the authorities, so you think of something, but we have to do stop this craziness. If the Chinese had not implemented the one child policy, all those years ago, they'd be spilling over the edges of their country by now. It is possible - but hard to prove - that China's one child policy, and India's lack thereof, is the cause of India now surpassing China in polluting the environment - see here.

December 16, 2018: Freefloating through Christmas, hopefully

Keywords: rheumatology, methotrexate, ALS, family, Medco, pen injectors, biosimilar

injectable methotrexate kit After replacing a couple of bulbs at the back of my SUV twice, I have finally (...) figured out it wasn't the bulbs, or the mount, but the insert fitting, which has two copper slider contacts that, over time, bent a bit. Sometimes they connected, sometimes they did not. A screwdriver and a gentle push was all it took... That means I don't have to install the LEDs-with-resistors I bought to fix the problem - a godsend, because I haven't figured out how to identify the wires I need to put the resistor across - those bulbs are dual-filament, and there is a single cable tree that serves all of the lamps in the taillight assembly. What remains is the license plate lamp, which I noticed is flickering - but while it quit freezing, it has been raining most days, good for agriculture, but I am not lying on my back behind the car removing the assembly in the rain.

My sister is thankfully keeping in touch with our dying cousin, struck down only a few years into his retirement by ALS, a.k.a. Lou Gehrig's disease, for which no cure exists. Deterioration is slow but sure, a grim reaper story if ever there was one. As I am having to move any day now I can't afford to fly to Europe to visit him, which I had intended to do, but then my landlord announced his move, and that means I have to move. I have money set aside for the SHA apartment move, but an additional move, with the possibility of the moves being close to each other, kinda cleans me out. Nothing you can do..

My medication changeover is an ongoing story - just now, I saw my injectable methotrexate is being shipped. Curious, as a few years and two rheumatologists ago, my doctor wanted to put me on injectable methotrexate, and we subsequently found out there was a drug shortage, and (then) Medco could not supply. I moved on to a different medication, but now find it is available, and so I am taking that plunge. Methotrexate, both an arthritis treatment and (in different strengths) a chemotherapy agent - that was why, when there was a shortage, what was available would be reserved for cancer treatment. But as it now seems my stomach is really not happy with the oral version, I've managed to get approved for methotrexate. Curious - Humira, at around $15,000 per 90 days, doesn't need insurance approval, while injectable methotrexate, at around $31.68 for a 117 day supply, does (in Europe, Humira has lost its patent protection, and that led to an 80% price reduction - in the UK, the National Health Service is replacing Humira with a "biosimilar", which is expected to lead to a UK-wide savings of between 300 and 400 million dollars). Go figure. One thing I do notice is that self-injecting is not hugely popular, in the United States (and, to be fair, elsewhere, I assume), and what with the advent of the pen injectors - for those not familiar, most injectables now come in an injector like the ones you've seen on TV for Epipen - the number of people using syringes will only have decreased. When I first began taking biologics, some twenty years ago, they came with an ordinary syringe, which a nurse taught me to use - all I can say is that I don't at all mind going back to syringes, the spring loaded pen injectors "explode" a short needle into your tummy or thigh, and they always hurt more than a needle prick does.

Come to think of it, I once helped a girlfriend over her needle phobia by having her inject me with my medication. It hurt - she bent the first needle going in my leg, and we had to do it again, but the second attempt was fine, and the next day she could go to the hospital lab and get her dreaded blood test...

December 10, 2018: Is "getting used to" a form of addiction?

Keywords: tapering off, medication reduction, habit forming, changing doctors, rheumatology, supersonic vehicle, vitamins, supplements, metabolism, working out

Changes to long term medication, as it turns out, are more traumatic than you'd think. I've done it before, but kind of forgot how substantial it is - tapering, after several years, off the PTSD antidepressant treatment I was on needed push and concentration, and I guess this time is no different. Although, I have been on biologics for some eighteen years, at this point, and I really didn't have a truly medical reason to want to stop Humira. But medication becomes a crutch, over time, and you no longer know what the benefit is - know, as in experiencing the curative value. I had spent several months off Humira, leading up to and after surgery, and not feeling any different off the medication, I kept wondering if I should not make that a more long term effort. Then, my rheumatologist didn't want to let me quit, without even giving me a rational argument I could live with. So then, you're forced to change specialists, which is traumatic, if you've been seeing someone for years.

So you have to figure out if you're doing the right thing, then find a rheumatologist you can talk to and build a relationship with, then find out if the new doctor is willing to contemplate a different treatment method, and then, finally, do it, and see if she "tunes in" to where you are. None of this is easy, not if you've been seeing doctors and being treated for over fourty years, in six or seven countries on three continents.

The development of a 1,000 mph vehicle, Bloodhound SSC, has finally been shelved. An additional 25 million Pounds Sterling couldn't be raised, and so the project was shut down. I thought the entire idea was cockamamie, the technology development involved (which included building a track in South Africa) horrendous, and I could never understand what benefits this vehicle would have - if you consider even Concorde had to be shelved, supersonic cars aren't going to be driving folks to the shops in Shanghai anytime soon. I always thought that even if they'd managed to build this thing, chances of the lone driver getting killed in the eventual attempt were pretty good. But then I didn't think this noisy realtor would make it to the White House, either, so you can take that any way you want to. I just didn't think that a fighter pilot developing a useless car at enormous cost is really what we need...

There is an increasing understanding that vitamins, supplements, probiotics, and what-have-you, actually don't play a part in improving our health. The Guardian article linked here does a good job of explaining it, but for completeness' sake, the body, when nourished properly, will make all of the various components our organism needs quite successfully on its own. And if something is lacking, like calcium, or vitamin D, or thyroid hormone, that should be established by running tests, and having a doctor figure out why something is missing. I have no thyroid hormone production, because they had to take out my cancerous thyroid, some years back. So I take thyroid hormone tablets, and my endocrinologist frequently orders blood tests and then adjusts my medication "as needed" - there isn't an interactive self regulating thyroid hormone pump, as yet, even in the land of diabetes the pump is a new thing, for those who can use it. We manufacture and take huge amounts of osteoporosis medication, but as medicine stands, today, stuff like Fosamax actually barely works, and calcium supplements, as it turns out, mostly leave us as quickly as we ingest them. I know from my own experience, having taken a bisphosphonate for over ten years to combat my steroid induced osteoporosis, that the medication did not add a huge amount of bone mass to my skeleton (although, truthfully, I have no way of knowing what would have happened if I had not taken the bisphosphonate). I do know that the bone density scans taken since I stopped the medication, eight years ago, do not show an appreciable difference - likely, my regular workouts in the gym (mostly lifting weights and walking) keep my skeleton "in calcium".

So the supplements and medications that are supposed to improve your health actually do not. In a nutshell, your health takes care of itself, provided you "eat right", get exercise, get a modicum of sunlight, and sufficient rest. There's no "heart health" - there is no "unhealthy heart" - there are heart defects and illnesses, but those you need to take to a doctor, not the vitamin counter. It is a good idea to monitor yourself - blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, at regular times, and maintain a database or spreadsheet you can use to compare values. That is the value of Fitbits and other health monitoring tools - monitor your metabolism over time, doing workouts that bring your heartrate up to a particular point may be benefical for athletes, but for the ordinary person, they have no value. They don't make you healthier, nor do they make you live longer. In fact, if you're one of those fanatical workout types, you may end up with a sculpted well formed body, but you'll pay the price, later in life, when you slow down and confuse your metabolism.

December 2, 2018: Lot of upheaval for December..

Keywords: SHA, apartment hunt, retirement communities, Brexit, U.K., Theresa May, Sleep Number Bed, Sleep Number Corporation, asylum seekers

Car2Go Mercedes in Ballard The limbo kind of continues - waiting to see when my landlord decides the "new" house is ready for occupation, and waiting to hear from the Seattle Housing Authority.. There actually isn't an issue with either of those "futures", I just wish I had a little more of a schedule - I especially don't like the propect of moving in the middle of winter, and there is always the possibility SHA will come through a week after the initial move. Actually, maybe once I have my move date, I can call them and see if they "know anything". I've not done that so far, as I don't have dates, and thus can't give anyone meaningful information. But I would like to finish the whole thing off and move into an apartment of my own.

Just whining, I really shouldn't complain. It is just that there is a bunch of stuff I can't (or don't feel comfortable to) do, in shared accomodation, and I would like to get on with my life. This has always felt like an intermediary episode, in a suburbia that has little to offer me, while recovering from the almost-bankruptcy that overwhelmed me after 2008, and the cancer recovery after 2010. Looking over my finances, I've fully "recovered" there - in quotes, because I've only got emergency money stashed away, but at least that will now let me buy what I need so I can move. Most importantly, my credit is now all clean, debts paid or removed, no (more) derogatories, so I can move on. I had always intended to move to a city when I got older - I have seen older folks move into newly built retirement communities in the middle of nowhere, or sit in a house in suburbia, where there isn't a support infrastructure, making themselves fully independent on their children for help and support, which isn't a good way to endear yourself. Nor is getting to the point where you have to get the bi-weekly shuttle to Safeway with the other old folk really that good or enjoyable. Better to live in a larger city with an elder support infrastructure, a building with staff, and shops you can walk to. Seriously. The pic to the left is a street scene in Ballard - an abundance of available Car2Go vehicles, like the Mercedes pictured, within easy walking distance of an SHA apartment building, should even make it possible for me to let my SUV go, and not worry about insurance, gas, registration and what have you.

So my UK Brexit prognosis is that Mrs May's compromise will hold, the Brits will grudgingly and noisily agree with what's been decided behind their backs, and discover that if you are not in an agreed cooperative with your massive neighbour life will become harder, more expensive, and very messy indeed. The impact on the Brits that have moved to the EU will be significant - mind you, many, if not most, of the Brits that live in Europe have swapped their British citizenship for citizenship of the countries they live in. My own Brit expat acquaintances and friends, in the Netherlands and France, have all taken local citizenship. The British government is not really aware that, for Brits to forsake their citizenship, there had to be some major soul searching and disappointment going on. You can't be British without Brits, and for the English establishment not to understand they've swapped hundreds of thousands of staunch Brits for the ability to stop "refugees" - something no nation has been able to do - is pretty stupid. I am putting refugees in quotation marks because I find it hard to believe that the hordes of asylum seekers that come to Europe, the United States and Australia are truly persecuted people. What they know about these regions is that once you somehow force or slither your way in, you are given a place to live, and money to live on - something that happens nowhere else on the planet. Why do they not go to that other rich nation, Japan? Because they have a language nobody speaks or can read, and if you somehow get there, as an asylum seeker, you are locked up, and very few asylum claims are honoured there (the link goes to the Japan Times). Clearly, this "migrant" was put on the road by a human smuggler, nothing less, the rest may just be an excuse the migrant cobbled together. That mother-of-five who was teargassed with three of her daughters at the Mexican border (where were the other two?) has to have been sold a false bill of goods by someone to leave her home - did she have a job? - and trek 4,000 miles, apparently without husband, to go live in the United States. She thought, apparently, that she could just walk across the border and put in an asylum claim. This is a joke, people, and I just can't fathom that all these folks are persecuted peoples. Same in Europe - rivers of mostly Muslim people, many from countries were there is no war, all claiming persecution. The latest is Iranians, renting boats on the French coast, to smuggle themselves into the UK. Things must be pretty bad out there, but if you've got thousands of dollars to pay to people smugglers, maybe you ought to pool your money and overthrow your government. And why does not the government at the point of origin arrest those people smugglers? And jail them? There must be a big, fat, money trail...

Apparently, the folks that sell the Sleep Number Bed have a clause in their policies that allows them to record biometric data from their customers, a clause you agree to when you buy one of their beds, which is controlled by a mobile app, itself likely allowing data collection. Sleep number have full control, as you can only buy their product from them, so buying one of their beds ties you into a contract that lets them do anything they like with you, and in your home. Important to understand is that their terms and conditions allow them full surveillance of anywhere you have installed one of their products - their bed, after all, connects to their computer networks and servers via their app you install. And their terms let them add surveillance technologies that may not be installed today - why would you mention recording in your terms if you cannot do so, and have no intention to? A quick search in patents.google.com shows that predecessor Select Comfort Corporation filed or was assigned some 94 patents, 59 of which were assigned to Sleep Number Corporation. U.S. Patent US20160100696A1 stipulates the Sleep Number Bed's controller can retrieve recorded sleeper data from the cloud, and compare that with the current sleep pattern - data that obviously could onlyh be retrieved from the cloud if the Sleep Number controller sent it there in the first place. Proof enough, and "data" can be anything, including video the bed takes of you.

November 25, 2018: Technologically, we are moving backwards

Keywords: Microsoft, Windows 10, October update, A/C, natural gas, heat pumps, heating efficiency, missionaries, technophobe, technology failure, political division

The revamped Windows 10 October update does install, but I went through a series of failures whose cause I don't know. What worked for me - but I must emphasize I have an installation that dates back to Windows Vista, with legitimately obtained updates and upgrades - is to tell the ISO installer (from DVD) to not download and install "updates and new features", making sure to run a full update immediately before doing the install. So if your installation fails and uninstalls by itself, as mine did three times, that's something you might try. Everything seems fine, and I have now done the install on another laptop - curiously, there, it decided to offer to install "new features", even though I had told it not to. Go figure. Most of those new "features" share your data with Microsoft's server network, so if you have the time, try to turn all of this crap off, so you don't tell Microsoft where your laptop is 24/7. The "where" taken literally - Windows is able to locate in several different ways, and even if you have the GPS turned off, there is now a setting that lets "apps share location data", which is on by default. You can only turn it off in the Group Policy Editor, an editor you have to wade through each update, to see what Microsoft have added to defeat the settings you did last time.

portable 14,000 BTU heat pump I thought the central heating boiler had died again, but thankfully a quick blow-and-suck with my new wet/dry workshop vacuum seems to have fixed things. I keep thinking these gas elements for what are, effectively, A/C units, are inefficient and expensive to run, I would have expected folks in the State of Washington, where there is an abundance of hydropower, to use heat pumps, rather than gas, which is largely imported from Canada. The State itself calculates heat pumps are cheaper to run than gas central heating - of course, once you have a heat pump, and you didn't have A/C before, you'll probably end up using both, and spending more overall. I could go on for hours, but, most importantly, if we want to get away from fossil fuel we must switch to electric powered technologies, then make sure we generate the electricity in a "clean" manner. This is not easy - wind power and solar power have a devastating long term effect on the environment - not in terms of creating pollution and poisons, but they change temperature management of the earth, without our having done any research on the long term effect.

If, indeed, American missionary John Allen Chau was carrying diseases to which the Sentinelese have no immunity, we should urgently begin making it clear to these misguided religious folk that bringing lethal diseases to uncontacted tribes is a prosecutable offense, especially if it involves paying local citizens to break the law. There is, especially, a need to officially determine his body must not be retrieved, this to make sure his relatives, organization, and friends, understand there is no support for what could be termed a form of genocide. Do please remember what the Spanish and Portuguese conquistadores from 1491 did to the American Indian, in what can only be termed an unintended massacre - of some eight million indigenous peoples, largely by bringing diseases they had no resistance to. In my view, people like Chau are religious fanatics and mentally ill, and should be treated as such.

It is somewhat amazing to see how many people - from missionaries to refugees - usurp rights they feel they have, for no reason that I can see. When all is said and done, once some Christians and some Muslims (and seemingly, some Buddhists, viz. Myanmar) invoke their deity or religious leader, they no longer consider themselves bound by law - law, to all intents and purposes, is an agreement between people, not religions. Yes, law is fine, democracy is fine, but when religion is invoked, all this stuff is null and void. And as entire countries are controlled by religions, you can't always negotiate that. I find it highly confusing, and the level of polarization seems to be increasing - or maybe it always was, and I just did not pay attention, in my younger years. It is disappointing, the number of people in communities that look after themselves, not after the greater good. I am not sure where the dividing line is - I think it is an excellent idea to stop the migrants, if they're coming by the thousands (as they've been doing in Europe for years) they need to be discouraged. If their home country is unliveable they need to fix that, and coming over and using our resources without asking or approval is not really on the cards. We have plenty of indigent folks of our own, and our social support system isn't geared to adding more mouths to feed. We must understand that, for each pair of "migrants", there will be children, something a lot of people seem to think they have a right to create. We must understand many of those migrants believe in religions that prohibit birth control, a system put in place in the Middle Ages so religious communities could grow larger and stronger. You can see how backward we really are when the European heads of state manage physical meeting several times a week, for quite a long time, when we have spent so much time and money creating infrastructure and tools to make physical travel to meet to discuss completely unnecessary. You may think this a strange diversion, but a missionary invading another country, and a prime minister using an airplane to conduct negotiations, are both vestiges of an era long gone, and in this day and age, very counterproductive.

November 18, 2018: More Windows :( and more shopping

Keywords: Microsoft, Windows 10, October update, apartment, SHA, shampoo, fragrance free, allergens

If you are running Windows 10, you'll know the October update really did a number on people, removing file structures and deleting files, to the point Microsoft actually withdrew it altogether. So the October update is now available once more - in November... I've downloaded the disc based installer, in ISO format, so I can do the install while watching what happens - otherwise, Windows does it "in the background", leading to your being unable to use your system in the middle of something important. That's supposed to be seamless, but as we know from experience, that is not something Microsoft has been able to do for quite a few years. Yes, there are a gazillion different installs of PCs and laptops and tablets, but if you want to produce an operating system for-the-masses, you have to make it perfect. So when you listen to Microsoft's plans and prognostications and high tech endeavours, know this - from someone with 20+ years of developer expertise - : Microsoft does not have the ability, probably does not allocate sufficient resources, to fully debug its products. This is especially important for business and government officials needing to decide about Cloud based services, as the upshot must be that if Microsoft is unable to properly support its operating system, it can't support a world wide network, either.

Especially in the day and age of security breaches, you have to be able to rely on your vendors. Windows is so bad I've now fully disabled all anti-virus activity, as the amount of computing power that is "absorbed" by the hooks Microsoft Defender has built into the system can slow you down - for instance when backing up or doing a network file transfer - by 40 or 50 %.

I know Microsoft, in years past, has been walking a tightrope between parsing files to facilitate the Federal Government's security requirements, and parsing files to support using your data for its own commercial purposes, and providing a reasonable performce of its operating systems. When I see the new update, after its introduction, removed entire file strutures, there aren't many causes I can think of except for Microsoft's data gathering attempts - after all, Microsoft deperately tries to get you to use your Microsoft mail address as a login, and that means everything you have on, and connected to, that computer is accessible to Microsoft - using their mail address implicitly means you allow them access to every file and network operation you have. Microsoft's Cloud is now an integral part of their operating system, and that means the operating system can move files to the cloud all by itself, and if you want to know what Microsoft can do with files in its cloud, just read the terms and conditions. That is, you see, when Microsoft decided reading files on your computers wasn't legally sustainable, and led to massive amounts of negative publicity, the legal solution was to "provide" you with a means to store or temporarily store your stuff in their cloud - in Microsoft's server world, it can do anything it wants with your data.

While I am looking forward to living in my own apartment again - haven't lived in one since Manhattan - life was getting a bit complicated when my landlord, whose house I share, decided to move into his parent's house. But as it now turns out, a lodger there unexpectedly upped sticks, so I think by the end of the year, barring a pleasant surprise from the Seattle Housing Authority, I'll head over there too. That way, they can fix this place up, redo kitchens and bathrooms, make ready for a new rental. I have no clue how long it is going to take SHA, it's been over a year, so fingers and legs crossed a few more months will do it.

In my quest to reduce chemicals on my skin as much as possible (doctor's advice), I had been looking for fragrance free hair gel for a while. You'd think, in this day and gluten free age, that would be a readily available product, but no - 98% of the hair products "out there" have lots of chemicals. Noticed that last year, when looking for fragrance (and other additives) free shampoo and body wash. There, too, most "sensitive skin" products contain everything they're not supposed to. Even most of the types of the "Burt's Bees Baby" product I eventually found aren't fragrance and additive free, except for one. And those products that that do omit the nasty chemicals are, for the most part, expensive - the Burt's Bees stuff is in stores, but costs a lot more than it does online, and even there it is hardly cheap. Same for the gel I found, "Free & Clear", a lot more expensive than "ordinary" products (like, a factor five), and I can't yet tell you how well it works, I only just started using it (I think I used too much this morning, my hair feels like cemented). It occurred to me we should start selling these things, at reasonable prices, to young people, so they get in the habit of looking after their bodies better, and learn what to look for - now, you go to low allergen products when the damage is done, which makes little sense. Most of these "free" products, after all, are horrendously expensive, and mostly aim at "fad" buyers with too much money, who would likely do best to listen to a doctor rather than a "practitioner".

November 12, 2018: Xmas on the way

Keywords: contacts, Acuvue, monovision, extended wear, FDA, Christmas shopping

Hmm. Something I never really did was compare contact lens brands, kind of figuring that much of the "technology" is more or less hype, there clearly are only a few compounds able to be worn in the eye for long periods of time, while retaining shape, which is where much of the correction comes from.

Acuvue Vita 30 day Having tried several types of Air Optix, and then Biofinity monthlies - actually, the "monthly" lenses that used to exist have more or less been done away with by the FDA, which decreed that contact lenses can only be recommended for 24 hour wear for a maximum of a week, and not for the 30 days and nights that used to be permitted. I had switched from the 30 day type (Air Optix Night & Day) to the 7 day type (Air Optix Aqua) anyway, realizing that, over time, giving your eyes one day a week to breathe is better than one day a month - once you go to 24 hour monovision contacts, which I did maybe 23 years ago, you really no longer have optimal vision with glasses, which become a necessary evil for use when you are doing your "rest day", or have an eye ailment. It was actually my optometrist who pointed out to me I could wear the "regular" Air Optix, much cheaper than the Air Optics Night & Day, 24/7 as well. But now, after my unexpected prescription change and some eye sensitivities, he has switched me to Acuvue Vita's, which are a bit thinner, and are hardly noticeable in the eye. They're harder to take out, but I guess that is par for the course, and I think they may not last as long as the Air Optix, but my reading (that is, book reading, reflected light) has improved greatly, and so has the acuity of my Blackberry Priv, which has a more-than-HD 1440x2560 AMOLED screen that makes the character set very small indeed.

I've only just started wearing a completely new set of Vita's - the previous were testers - so the jury is still out, but they're doing very well, better than any other type of lens. Monovision is finicky, and needs "settling in" - at some distance, one eye takes over from the other, and the trick is to bring that transition as closely together as possible - I just hope that after the allergy that seems to have befallen my eyes, I am stabilizing out. Come to think of it, I may have become allergic to the material Air Optix uses - not their fault, but that does happen, after all, I have two conditions that affect both my skin and soft tissues. So we'll see - my new rheumatologist has OK'd my coming off Humira, but she does want me to go see an eye doctor - as opposed to optometrist - just to make sure. But I will give the new lenses a chance to settle in first, make sure I experience no more tearing and itching.

Time kinda creeps up on you - I need to get my skates on and start on the Christmas prezzies, something I often do throughout the year, but as I didn't, certainly don't want to leave 'till the last minute. Wondering if I can find some stuff on Ebay - I hadn't previously bothered much about the sales tax, but as there is so much you can mail order without the 10% State hit... Maybe not the most social thing to do, but 10% is not nothing, something that became very noticeable when Amazon started charging sales tax on everything.

November 6, 2018: Data and Server Security

Keywords: flu shot, health insurance, open enrollment, data security, server security, Apache, backup, encryption, AIS Backup, Trump rhetoric

Finally got to the point I could get my flu shot - between the immuno-suppressant medication and a bout with bronchitis, I did not want to chance it, but at this point, my lungs have returned to normal, I am working out as normal, I've stopped most immuno-suppressants, so I might as well. Now I need to figure out what the heck Verizon Benefits is up to, I got a letter stating the annual enrollment is no longer necessary, as if I knew all about it, but I did not. So I guess I need to call HR, especially as when I model the plan, it seems to cost less than what I currently pay, which is what I'd be paying next year. It does mention that there can be "life events", and that those can update by the month, and I guess I can change plans, too, whenever I want, I really need to sit down and spend some time figuring out what it all means.

I seem to have ended up setting myself so many writing restrictions I am left with hardly anything to write about. And most of what's left is medical related - next up, a different brand contact lenses - and makes my blog look like I am close to death, just spending my days popping pills, which I am not.. I see hundreds of hack attempts float by at my new webserver, where I have root access to my Apache load, and so can see every attempt at access, something Godaddy didn't fully allow. Must check they have actually closed my account, as I have asked them to. Anyway, I see many floaters coming in from Russian and Ukrainian websites, mostly fake commercial sites, I am assuming these are hacker sites where they distribute links. As I have disabled most of the coding and scripting languages I have access to at server level, there really isn't much a hacker can do to gain access to my server load, I am not even running mail scripts from there, and I am not running Imap anywhere, so there isn't stored mail anybody can get their hands on. For that same reason, I run a script that removes all mail immediately from Google when I read it, so there isn't any Cloud storage I use. Cloud, with the number of skilled hackers that are out there, is a really bad thing to use - if you can, keep your active data storage local. Remember, on 9/11, nobody could quickly restore their systems in Manhattan, or even easily cut over to backup systems, as the backup networks were taken out together with the primary networks, due to the sheer scale of the destruction. That is unlikely to ever happen to you, granted, but it happened to me, once in my life, in both Manhattan and Arlington, VA.

Which reminds me, I was going to test the ftp-based AIS backup with encryption. Be right back... *harum*. And yes, that works like a dream, including double encryption. I will need to do one more test, to build more stealth into the backup process, but it sits on the server outside of the published directory, I'll just need to do an additional test to see if I can get some access security going, making the directory effectively invisible. The way it is now set up, the backup can't be decrypted unless it is back on the originating CPU. One more test with different directory structures, better security, and perhaps a test with encryption. No, I really don't need that much security, but at the same time I'd like to figure out how the "remote, layered" security works, and how much that slows down the backup process. My new overseas hoster doesn't have restrictions on data volumes and throughput, so technically, over time, I could put most of my must-retain data on that server.

Hmm. The link encryption does not work - hoster probably does not support SSL over FTP. This isn't an issue, since the session is encrypted, and I can't quite see anybody hack into the link when it goes halfway around the globe - that's more of a local thing. Must say I am impressed at the multiple levels of security AIS builds into its application. More importantly, I should run a backup through my fiber connection, then try and restore using a 4G-LTE wireless connection. Interesting in two respects: the time it'll take, but the process is different as well, you have to retrieve the settings archive manually from the server, and then the software is supposed to get its command set from there, and start the restore. Let's see.

Well, yes, it is entirely possible Mr. Trump's rhetoric is complicit in the upsurge in rightist violence. But it is equally possible a change in the way Americans think and act is at the root of both Mr. Trump's election, and the racist violence we see. More anti-semitism? Reading European news sources, that's the case there, too - and nothing to do with America or Americans. I gather Jews are leaving France, moving to Israel, in droves - this even though they were somewhat of a "protected species" in France, after what the Germans and some French did to them. In many big cities in Europe, Jews are loath to wear the yarmulka in the street, they've been attacked for it, even killed. I don't know. Perhaps it is a kind of "zeitgeist", a "spirit of the age". With that, while Donald Trump probably could do better, he isn't what causes this excessive "acting out". And we need to do a lot more research on what makes people's brains go completely out of control, reject, effectively, all societal controls. I've never felt the need to kill somebody, even when in a conflict situation - I recall corporate security telling me someone had lost their lawsuit, and now really didn't like me any more - as I went to the store and bought a .38 to put under my pillow, I wondered if I would use it, should the need arise. It never did, but I am, after reading and watching all that, at the crossroads again, thinking I should get a carry permit. In my immediate area, in the space of three months, three different legally armed citizens intervened when confronted with would-be assassins, all in public areas, two at random Wal-Mart stores, one in the street in downtown Seattle. In one case, the armed assailant tried to carjack a vehicle, only to be shot and killed by the driver..

October 28, 2018: From Small World to Defence

Keywords: rheumatology, arthritis, biologics, databases, search engines, DoD, Pentagon, security services

So not only did I find a new specialist, highly competent, but as I sit in her surgery getting acquainted, I find out that not only did she intern at the (now defunct) Manhattan hospital that treated me after I moved there from London, she lived in the same little downstate New York town I did! Of all the.. it truly, at times, is a really small world.

A relatively new type of medication, I've had great results from taking biologics, I began taking Enbrel not long after I moved to Virginia, back in 2000, switching to Humira around 2012. But after several breaks in treatment, in the past couple of years, due to my undergoing medical procedures for which I had to stop Humira temporarily, I began to wonder if it was still effective. I had no pain increase when off the medication, and it did not help with some of my arthritic symptoms, which I don't know it ever did. As my rheumatologist weaned me off the rest of the anti-inflammatory cocktail I had been on for years, I began to experience more discomfort, then found that my rheumatologist wasn't discussing this with me intelligently - meaning he was ordering me around like I was a twelve year old, and not justifying the treatment decisions he was taking for me, behaviour that gradually got worse.

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, as a patient, try and analyze your treatment, and take your time doing it. Make sure you have the skills to do database searches - I see, on a regular basis, people who think they are able to do information searches without any kind of training or education, not understanding that a "search engine" is essentially a large database, and that you need to be trained to do adequate searches. I am, most people are not, and if you did not grow up with the internet you likely are ineffective in finding information. Anyway, back to the medics, doctors still aren't always trained appropriately in negotiating with patients, and patients don't always provide doctors with all of the information they should. I eventually, in this particular case, decided this doctor was ending up in hobby horse territory, this by comparison with the previous rheumatologists who had treated me - this since 1973, when my particular ailment had first been diagnosed, I have been treated, probably, by fourteen or so rheumatologists in four countries on three continents. So when this doctor began to treat me entirely differently from all of the others, I began to wonder if I'd lost the plot, or he.

There has to be a trust relationship between doctor and patient, if you have a serious ailment that requires very specialized care. At the same time, you have to follow doctor's orders, because that is the only way you can establish if the treatment has the effect the doctor is aiming for. But as my pain levels and discomfort increased, and I was not able to "reach him", so to speak, any more, I eventually started looking for another doctor, if only because that is the only way that lets me figure out if I am wrong, or the previous physician.

Having only just had my treatment plan changed, I do not yet know what's what, I expect that may take weeks to even months. Apart from anything else, it is always hard, if you have multiple long term conditions, to figure out what is causing which symptom - taking an artificial hormone, but without a functioning thyroid, is by itself confusing enough, as the thyroid is an "on demand" organ, and a pill is not. Keep y'all posted.

Mathematician Dr. Hannah Fry, who has been presenting and making BBC science programmes I've found riveting, recently picked up the story about scientific responsibility towards the population we serve, no doubt on the back of the Google engineers who somehow got their management to opt out of bidding on a DoD development program.

I've never worried about that. Yes, the military and the security services, at times, do unsavoury things. They're certainly rocking all over our privacy - something, unfortunately, their opponents do, as well. All this talk about facial recognition makes me laugh - back in 2008, when I last visited Beijing, every police vehicle there had a camera mounted on the roof, and I am sure the associated software could recognize faces. They don't have to worry about democracy, you see. So if they "have it", we can't afford to "not have it". Both the military and defense contractors were important customers of my division, and my servers were both on Wall Street and in the DoD. Like it or not, those establishments form an important part of the American economy, and they perform an important function - however you may dislike the way they go about things. I knew, from when I was assigned to run those networks, that I could either decide to go do something else, or accept the responsibility as part of my job. In my case, not being a U.S. citizen, it got more complicated, and I ended up asking personal advice from the Department of Defence about my suitability for the position. I ended up getting moved into a hush-hush department overlooking Arlington National Cemetery nobody in the corporation knew about, full of bona fide spooks and retired cops. And being investigated every year. Never had a problem with it, you have a job to do, do it, or leave. Of course, after you reach a certain level in that game, walking out is no longer an option, and being under surveillance is something you get used to, they're not invasive, they just always let you know they're there. I particularly liked Professor O'Mara's piece about the "issue" - which, believe you me, in the United States is not an issue at all. And it helped, too - whenever I went to buy a new gun, I put my Alien number on the FBI form, at which point the salesperson just knew it was going to be a week or more before he could charge my credit card, then calling the State Police for a request number, and to his immense surprise, coming back with an immediate approval.

October 20, 2018: Boring medical, mostly

Keywords: Pill Hill, referral, doctor's appointments, medical condition, health tracking app, internet scams

90 day Humira supply I don't know if I've gone crazy, but calling a medical establishment on August 27, providing a referral by the 29th, even though my insurance does not require it, and being told "we'll process it and call you", should have elicited some kind of response before October 14, when I decided to call and check progress. Then, I was told that the processing was still in the works, at which point I began asking what kind of processing takes two months, which the support person responded to by saying that was not her department, and she was just trying to help, at which point I explained I am an insured patient and a paying customer, and she should begin treating me as such, and provide solutions instead of blaming others. After hanging up, she was back on the phone within five minutes, suddenly expecting me to come in that afternoon. Slightly related, the picture here shows a 90 day supply of arthritis medication, courier delivered in a refrigerated container, to the tune of $13,500. I don't know what I'd do in this country without my fancy medical insurance....

Because of liability issues, I am not, at this time, telling you which institution and doctor's office this is, once I've been seen and have a better understanding of the issues, I can make some educated comments, this is a situation where I am unahppy with one of my specialist physicians, so am looking for another. I've seen situations like this, in the Seattle area, occurring more frequently, to the point I have an extant complaint with the Washington State Department of Health going, and have simply walked out of places for not providing adequate service. What do people do if they need to see a doctor urgently? Emergency room? I understand a new intake needs to be scheduled, but not doing anything about a valid referral for two months, and then offering a same day appointment? Are these folks crazy? I'll tell you more, names and places, once I've been seen, but considering this is an institute that has access to my medical files, the mind truly boggles. Leaving me in pain for over two months (though I could have had that seen to elsewhere) is really unacceptable. And taking some of the NSAIDs I have in stock would not help my new doctor to do a proper assessment. Not a happy camper, and I must say that if the clinic wanted to give me the feeling they really don't want new patients, they succeeded.

When you have some long term medical conditions - in this case, a form of arthritis that won't go away and was first diagnosed in 1971 - you are quite dependent on your medical team, and especially on the specialists that monitor and treat you. Changing specialists is traumatic - you develop a working relationship with the specialist, and as you get more experience, generally know what's going on with your body. But if a specialist starts doing things you don't expect, and doesn't seem to treat some of your complaints, you eventually need to do something about it. On the one hand, you don't want to switch doctors too often - they look at your medical record and wonder why - but at the same time, you can only go so long with treatments you don't really understand. That's when you try and change, and around here, once you get into Medicare age, that appears not always to be easy.

So after getting the Provčn Bluetooth digital medical equipment to work (see below, October 6) - not with its own app, because that does not talk to the thermometer - I now have new, reasonably accurate, and remotely readable diagnostic devices. Quite reasonable, too - the Bluetooth thermometer $14.95, the Bluetooth blood pressure meter $29.99, while the MedM Health Android app talks not only to both of those, but my Bluetooth heart rate monitor (XOSS, $19.99) as well. I had a separate app for that before, so am well pleased these MedM folks built an app with a huge database of compatible devices (kudos to the Amazon customer / commenter who figured that out). I had, in the interim, occasion to go to the doctor's office, so was able to verify the accuracy of all of this gear. Reasonable accuracy, of course, but at the same time you need to take into account that, since all of this gear is electronic, readings will vary, even with the professional stuff. The readings, then have more of a comparative value, and you can see trends over time, which is what I was using these devices for in the first place. The reason I maintain a record of my vital signs is my long term GP in Arlington, VA, who insisted I should do daily measurements from when I hit 50. The reason wasn't so much that there was something wrong - apart from the long term conditions we knew I had - but that my medication load was relatively high, and the measurements, when off, would provide an early indication of any "developments". The spreadsheet certainly helps me track my comparative health, and manage, to an extent, weight / food and alcohol intake. The monitoring did absolutely nothing when I subsequently developed thyroid cancer, but hey, you can't win them all.

I keep being amazed at the efforts, worldwide, to "help" consumers taken in by all manner of telecommunications and internet scams, which clearly are lucrative and easy enough to perpetrate that tens of thousands of miscreants can afford to spend 14 hours a day, seven days a week, carrying them out. The changes they're caught are small enough they keep going. I noticed that other day the Dutch government is outlawing all unrequested solicitation calls, Britain is on the way there, but what with cross-border and internet technology, for as long as consumers answer anonymous or unknown-number calls, there isn't any way to solve the problem. You'd wish you could fine people for answering unknown numbers - I stopped doing that when caller ID became available, although even before, as soon as I had an answering machine, I often used that for call screening. And yes, you can buy internet calling apps that provide your home number as caller ID, even though your call does not come from there. And you can screen your Facebook or Instagram profile so only your friends can see it, if the miscreants can't, they can't mail you. Etc.

October 11, 2018: Sicker!!

Keywords: sinusitis, bronchitis, steroids, supplements, antibiotics, medical, illness

steroids etc. I can't recall being this sick for this long - well, perhaps "sick" isn't the right word, no fever, but this prolonged bout of sinusitis is sapping my strength (by the time I am writing this, some ten days later, it has morphed into a full bronchitis, says the urgent care physician). My breathing is laboured to the point I've actually stopped going to the gym, as all that does is bring on more coughing attacks, and being on antibiotics (since augmented with a crash dosage of steroids, so now when I am not coughing I live in my bathroom) I can only assume I could spread a virus infection. From what I can glean from searches it isn't unusual to have this for several weeks, and what with both my housemates working at colleges they could easily bring back all kinds of weird stuff. Or I could have picked something up at the gym, where I now have, unusually, not been for a couple of weeks. Blah.

Increasingly, it has become clear that most vitamin and other supplements don't actually have much, or even any, beneficial effect. Recent research referenced in The Guardian seems to show vitamin D, has little or no effect on bone health, as previously Calcium supplements don't appear to have been proven to add calcium to one's bone structure. Other vitamins (check the Guardian article) are equally useless. I am particularly interested in calcium and vitamin D because I have had osteoporosis - no, not because of the Mennopause, but because I was treated with a mix of immunosuppressants and steroids for a number of years, going all the way back to England, this all before biologics were invented. When that happens, the doctors do regular bone density scans - you can see changes in bone density on regular X-rays, as well - and I can't say I've ever seen much effect of the various treatments on my bone density. Sure, I did not lose any more bone, but then I don't know if that would have happened if I hadn't taken all that stuff. I never worked out in Europe, or my first years in Florida and NYC, but after that I became a gym aficionado, and that may well have helped with the bone strengthening.

All I am saying is that it is becoming increasingly clear that vitamins, bone, stuff, are created by the body from the foods we eat, and only that way. Something similar seems to apply to the vaunted "probiotics". That process seems to not work with concentrates created in a lab. Nobody has, as of yet, completely rewritten their narratives, but short sentences like "Currently, researchers are undecided if probiotic supplements are effective." (Cleveland Clinic) are being inserted... Not a sermon, just a thought. It is interesting how we humans tend to hang on to "better safe than sorry" ideas - let's take probiotics, leading to massive unnecessary fat and sugar intake in flavoured yoghurt - and let's take calcium, even though half a brain can read up and understand the calcium in the supplements goes right through you, and we will probably discover fortified milk doesn't do anything "ordinary" milk can't.

While I am sitting here wishing my brain was functioning normally, so I could think along more easily with UCL mathematician Dr. Hannah Fry on the BBC - that's gotta be the most delicious brainiac readhead on public television - her "lecture" is, for unclear reasons, auto-followed on the iPlayer by an episode of Dad's Army. Owell. I can doze off again, until the next coughing fit.

October 6, 2018: Still under the weather, but fall programming started

Keywords: sinusitis, thermometer, bluetooth, Babylon 5, Law and Order UK, account updates, spam, phishing, medical trackers

Provčn ET-828BT As I mentioned earlier, I thought I'd get a new body temperature thermometer, as my old one was, well, old. Besides, I don't recall ever getting it calibrated, there weren't as many "devices" available at the time. So after I received the Provčn ear canal digital thermometer, and after I tested and returned the Wal-Mart temporal digital thermometer, I kind of discovered it is the same with all of those digital devices - unless you figure out exactly how to take measurements with any of these things, and replicate that every single time, you're going to get differing readings. Nothing wrong with that, but we were - in my age group - brought up with simple, fail safe, things. Apart from anything else, if you're wanting to consolidate vital signs in one place, you're going to have a hard time finding Bluetooth capable devices, with an app, at what I would consider reasonable prices.

Having replaced my venerable Microlife wrist blood pressure meter with a Bluetooth equivalent from Provčn earlier, when I got their Bluetooth thermometer I discovered that would not talk to Provčn's own Android app. I found a workaround, eventually, but the number of things you can buy at "reasonable" prices that don't work right is staggering. In this particular case, I ended up tweaking two devices to work with a third party (out of nowhere) app - in the process discovering that the Provčn ET-828BT is actually a Jumper Medical JPD-FR302. Go figure.

Ah, great! Comet is rerunning Babylon 5, like seeing an old friend. And as Comet is a broadcaster, anybody can watch, or nearly so.. seven days a week, too - these folks are "getting it".

I only just realized - now that ITV has begun re-running Law & Order UK - that I love watching that for the same reason I love Law & Order, which I still tape the reruns off. I recopgnize the locales where it was shot, having lived in both central London and all over New York City for many years. Both places I used to walk a lot, which is how I got to know them. Makes me homesick, a bit - more to the past than that I think I should go live there again, even if I could afford to. Phone company does help you learn places, and people, and accents... Ah yes - Law & Order UK, Bradley Walsh, incredible actor, soon all over your tablet in the new Dr. Who! Woop woop!

If you are, like me, being flooded with emails from the likes of Google, Ebay, Amazon, Oath, Facebook what have you, to "verify" or "update" your account information - don't. There is absolutely no reason to ever log in to any of the services you use, unless it is to actually use them - order, look something up, what have you. The information in your account(s) does not have to be up to date, or accurate, or complete. For as long as you change whatever email address it is you want to use with the service, when that changes, there isn't any other information that has to be up to date, unless you want to start some kind of transaction. The reason for the requests is data collection. You log in, they put some tracking cookies on your system or device, and extract whatever data they can, at that point. You don't need to use them for a year, don't log in. They want your Mum's maiden name? Your Dad's middle name? Make one up (and keep a note of it, obviously). If you're Indonesian, your Mum might not have had a last name, and your Dad might not have had a middle name, anyway. And apart from the tracking, anybody snooping your data traffic - from hackers to your telecom provider or internet provider - could steal your login information, know your PC's or device's MAC address, etc. Especially since these folks send emails with a link for you to "verify your information". Just don't, it is completely unnecessary. Don't keep all your credit and debit cards on file with Amazon, or Expedia, and if you must have a card on file, pick one that expires in January. The only time they need current information is when you make a purchase, or some other transaction you need to make. Remember: if you do not update your information when you've not used the site, you can't be scammed.

October 2, 2018: Under the weather, and nothing on telly

Keywords: Kavanaugh, congressional hearings, sinusitis, thermometer, bluetooth, contact lenses, amoeba, F 1, Formula One

No, I have not watched the Kavanaugh spectacle. For one thing, you're just looking at a guy, and other guys, and a gal, and other gals, talking, without any way to ascertain who is and isn't lying. Secondly, whatever somebody got up to in high school or college, thirty-five or fourty years ago, is stale. It has no probative value for the person's current demeanour, and there aren't many ways to ascertain how things do or don't get distorted, over time. There's no video. Maybe he was a sleazebag, in high school. I don't know that a bunch of very higly paid national mostly older legislators need to try and get "to the bottom of it", which they can't do from a meeting room. Allegations are just that, allegations. And hoever much we may feel that where there's smoke, there's fire, that is not any kind of proof, in our world. Even the BBC is broadcasting the hearings more or less integrally - why? Why is it vital for the Brits to be able to witness every inch of hearings that have absolutely no bearing of English society? I keep fearing the British watch every second of "American" news because, in the throes of Brexit, they actually believe this "special relationship" claptrap - the BBC actually broadcast more of the Kavanaugh hearings live than the American broadcasters did. Folks, please be aware that we don't get Prime Minister's Question Time, or House of Lord's deliberations, all over TV. PBS broadcasts BBC World News (world, not domestic), and Nightline, but other than that, we get Endeavour Morse, and most folks in the U.S. of A. do not watch PBS. Well, yes, late at night, to get away from the infomercials that sell you stuff you don't need, at inflated prices.

And the ghastly question is this: if Kavanaugh raped a girl, or shoplifted, does that make him a bad Supreme Court judge? Don't get me wrong, if he coerced girls into sex he shouldn't be on the Supreme Court, but what happened? How did he ever get to be a judge - because rape would disqualify him from being a Federal Judge, as well. Who took that decision, and did they know? This is D.C. Prep, and Georgetown U. - these guys all knew each other. What happened to "drain the swamp"? Stank too much?

Noticing how my temperature went up during this bout of sinusitis, I realized my digital thermometer is getting to retirement age - I bought that at a Safeway (I think) in Arlington, VA, soon after I was moved there from NY, so that would be, umm, around 2001, 2002, mebbe 16 years ago. Checking prices online I thought I might as well bite the bullet and get one of those fancy forehead thermometers at Wal-Mart, where I found the shelp price to be some $10 over the web price, so had to battle to get the lower price, explaining to "Brian" that if that was the "internet only" price, the website should say so. Thankfully I had printed the webpage, with time and date, so the customer service desk went with the lower price. Only then did I realize I had bought a new blood pressure cuff recently, one that Bluetoothes with an app, and that when I installed it I noticed it was looking for a Bluetooth thermometer. Which I have now found, same brand, Provén, on Ebay, for $10 less than the Wal-Mart thermometer. Good day to waste money... As I have the Provén device on the way, I will actually return the Wal-Mart-bought device, as I am not 100% happy with its readings. On the one hand, I can get the same reading with it I can with my old digital under-the-tongue thermometer, but when I do the reading, as per the instructions, differently, the reading is more than a degree off. I expect the Provén, which does an in-ear measurement, will be more consistent. And a lot cheaper, too..

On the medical front, I told you I was having problems with my contact lenses. While my optometrist is sorting that out - the new correction is going gangbusters, for now - I noticed there is an increase in Acanthamoeba keratitis reported, especially in the UK. Over the past couple of years, I have read a number of reports of this amoeba infecting contact lens wearers, in some instances destroying their "central vision", whereas I cannot recall it ever being published in the general press before. The ailment is caused by a water borne parasite, which can cause infections with severe consequences - and no, I am not mentioning this because I have it, but if you are, like me, a contact lens addict, you may want to review the way you handle your lenses and your eyes. Long term routines can become too routine, if you follow my drift. I've never used water much in the way I deal with my contact lenses (other than for hand washing, but now I dry my hands after washing, which I did not do before, thinking I avoided lint on my lenses), but as I wear mine 24/7, for a week, and often use (optometrist sanctioned (!)) one pair for a couple of months, all this with a weekly break and hydrogen peroxide sterilization, I've been paying closer attention to the way I treat my eyes. This was one reason why I recently changed brands, just wanting to check whether or not the particular material the manufacturer uses causes me discomfort, something that can happen after years of successful use, it is even possible the chemical composition changed slightly. I am lucky, though, my medical plan includes eye care.

Once an avid Formula One aficionado, I got bored with the predictability and artifice, probably around 2014, when I spent part of the year in Thailand, and watched some races there, in the pub. The British patrons at my hotel felt the same way, only the Thais watched. And saeeing how this weekend's Russian Grand Prix ended in Lewis Hamilton "winning" because of Mercedes orders to Valtteri Bottas to let Hamilton pass - it is now about big business, not about athletes in competition. Sorry, lads, never again.

September 24, 2018: Fall comes with Moving and Maintenance

Keywords: landlord, apartment, moving, Dodge Durango, Body Control Module, contact lenses, vision correction, Het Parool, Femke van der Laan, The Guardian, paywall, exercise walk

Yarg. Just as I think I have everything under control, my landlord announces I've got to move, because he's got to move. Nothing untoward, but his elderly folks are moving into a seniors compound, and that kind of means the whole (tight knit, local) family is going to be doing musical chairs. It isn't a complete disaster, I have some time, but it likely means I will be spending more money, and I had earmarked that for my own move to a Seattle Housing Authority seniors apartment. That's always a hard to plan situation, because the availability of seniors places, once you are on the waiting list, is dependent on someone passing away or moving to a care home, and those are impossible-to-predict events. So there - it isn't a complete disaster, but there's never anything that goes as smoothly as one would wish. Owell.

Dodge BCM module Some relatively minor functions of my SUV have been acting up - indicators, central locking, that sort of thing. Intermittently, nothing serious, but I eventually thought I needed to find out what was causing that. Turns out that is likely a failing "Body Control Module" - little did I know this 2003 Dodge has not just one, but multiple computers, this particular one in charge of timing and switching and things. IOW, non-engine related. It has been interesting, (largely) doing your own car maintenance, something I had not done since my 'twenties, started again after moving to Seattle on my last dimes after the 2008 stock market crash. Between the various car sites, Youtube and Amazon and Ebay, it is not rocket science any more, and, as always, you learn from your (copious) mistakes. This particular module I am not sure about, as some websites have it it needs programming, but the vendor says it is probably good as is - as I got it off Ebay, he knows I can return it, so I'll give it a go.

I've had a sinus thing going on for weeks now, I think one of the housemates brings a bug home from one of the schools they work at, and then my impaired immune system does the rest. It isn't major, but this time around my eyes seem to have gotten affected - well, possibly. The vision correction in both my eyes has changed, significantly, actually lowered, something I had never experienced before - and my optometrist was pretty flustered, as well. So I've got a pair of contacts with the new correction, see how that works, for a few weeks, I just hope that's the end of it. To be honest, I don't know that the sinuses and the vision are related, but it is possible, especially since my rheumatologist has made so many changes in my medication. At least the correction is going down, eyes corrected with contact lenses do do that - as I understand it, the contact lens leaves the eye still actively correcting, while glasses do the focusing for the eye. Something like that. In the past, I've usually had slight changes in one eye or the other - I use a monovision correction, where one eye is corrected for distance vision, the other for close up - but I can only recall one occasion of both eyes changing at once, in 45+ years of wearing contact lenses.

It is increasingly clear to me that the pay walls used online by newspapers serve little purpose, other than to alienate readers. I noticed this the other day, when the excellent column Femke van der Laan, widow of Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan, writes for the Amsterdam daily Het Parool, was moved behind the Parool paywall. I realized that meant she lost, from one day to the other, probably 80% or more of her readership. What would be the point of that? I kinda don't think they said to her: "Let's see if you're worth money, and lose you lots of readers while doing so", and she then said: "Great!". There are, today, so many publications that have good articles that it is not feasible to take sign-in memberships or paid subscriptions to them, the way it used to be when newspapers were newspapers. Alan Rusbridger, the former editor of The Guardian, and now an academic, made the point well in the BBC's Hardtalk, the other day, stating that The Guardian now has a billion Pounds in the kitty, and uses a formula that has subscribers to the paper pay to keep its access open, because the subscribers feel this is a worthy cause. He made the point that the New York Times, once the nation's conscience, is NOT, today, read by 97% of the American population. And I think that shows. Once authoritative, it has become a playground for petty opinionators. From what I can see, it looks like Het Parool decided to un-paywall Ms. van der Laan again, so I guess somebody saw the light. And no, it isn't that different from when you had to pay for paper journals and magazines - once they were sold, everybody could read them, in the library, or in the house, or in the pub, they were shared, it wasn't ever pay-per-reader - which is what they try to do today!

Owell, time for my walk. I've changed my exercise regime over to three gym visits per week, plus a long walk, as I noticed my workouts didn't "do it" for my legs, and there is the daylight / vitamin D equation as well, of course. For now, the summery weather continues - we had a bit of rain, but I gather that's gone for the week. Nice... And then, in the lovely sun, see if I can get the new timing computer to work. The guy on Ebay who posted the installation video didn't bother transferring the firmware either, although he didn't report the results of his surgery. Let y'all know.

September 17, 2018: Amazon has had its day

Keywords: Ebay, Amazon, AliExpress, AliBaba, Chinese traders, USPS, mail order, sales tax

OK. Focus, Menno. I've been thinking about what to do with myself, once I get My Apartment, as I'd like to get "back to work" in some way, I don't know that I have a current IT skillset in terms of mobiles and tablets - they bore me anyway - but I should be able to use my data networking and systems skills in some way. I had, in the past, done some trading on Ebay and Amazon, but found that generally not really satisfying, basically because it revolved around selling stuff I owned, rather than properly marketing, buying and selling. So then I "discovered" AliBaba, AliExpress. That is a different kettle of fish, I realize - you could, if you wanted, buy a dozen E-vans from China or India, and have them delivered to Alaska. Not that I have a desire to do that, but the place is awash with anything that can be bought and sold, I would think that if I wanted to buy three baby elephants, there probably is a vendor on AliBaba who can supply them. Woof. So I guess, other than looking for another place to live, I can spend some time doing research on what all can be done on the AliGroup websites.

Where Amazon was once blisteringly competitive, it clearly is looking for a different way of conducting trade - until now, it just was not clear to me which way it was heading. But if you look at recent developments, Amazon is going upmarket, making the most of a subscription model that ties the consumer to its ecosystem 24/7, much like Facebook and Google have attempted - and failed - to do. If Amazon can make this delivery thing work - specifically for the Prime subscriber, who identifies by being able to pay, annually, for, basically, air and promises - it does, in many ways, what Costco does.

2.5Costco makes you buy much more than you need under the premise that that is "cheaper", something you can only do if you pay them an annual subscription fee. What in fact happens is that you pay more money than you need to, money assumed to be "future savings" - you just spent $20 on coffee for four months, when I spent $6 on coffee for one month at Wincofoods, which means I have $14 still in my pocket - your coffee, to add insult to injury, you now have to store in your home, and I'll bet you have never calculated what each square foot of your home dedicated to storing things you do not use actually costs, inclusive of heating and cooling. But of course, you bought the bigger house, because in 20 years' time, it'll be worth much much more than you paid for it - maybe. So you pay extra money for your Costco product storage space - to your mortgage bank. In the interim, Amazon is rapidly running away from the concept that made it big and powerful - selling things cheaply, and shipping them cheaply, quickly. But that was then, and this is now. To the right a USB 3.0 disk caddy I just bought via Ebay from a trader in China - admittedly, it took weeks, but for $9, including shipping, without sales tax, I am happy - as this caddy is made of transparent plastic, I can see what disk is in there, helpful, as I sometimes have to switch disks, and often don't know which disk is in which caddy. These laptop disks are often backup disks, having been retired from "main" duty when they were replaced with a faster or bigger version, and so are in perfectly good shape.

Amazon now tries to make sure you never have to go to the store to shop, in a mix of large volume cheap stuff, with "free" shipping, delivery to pickup centres near your travel path, commute, or home or office, and fresh and premium products delivered directly to you. Today, if you order from Amazon using its own delivery service, the website will tell you, on the day of delivery, where in your town your order is, and how many stops it'll take for the driver to get to you - a completely useless service that Amazon invented, solely to get you addicted. And a far cry from negotating mammoth contracts with UPS and the Postal Service, which now delivers Amazon packages on Saturday and Sunday. And Amazon is clearly aiming at a subscription model, where it somehow knows when you need what, and gets it on the road to you - you make coffee to take in the car, notice you'll low on half & half, tell Alexa on your way out the door, and by the time you get home it is on the porch (Huawei makes a robot vacuum you can operate via Alexa). I noticed that after President Trump ordered an inquiry into Amazon's use of the Postal Service, Amazon immediately began charging local sales tax on every order, regardless of where it originated - previously, out-of-state shipments did not incur sales tax. And I've not seen riots in the streets, this despite the fact that many Amazon purchases, here in Washington State, for instance, now cost a whopping 10% more than they did before. Why no protest? This is sales tax, not money you pay to Amazon, so it reasoned you wouldn't protest at "obeying the law". And you didn't!

Reason for me to move most of my online shopping to Ebay, where only shipments originating in your home state are surcharged. With some extra effort, you can actually find many products you used to buy at Amazon (where you look up the product number) for the same price, or cheaper, you just have to wade through page after page of the same product. And if it is similarly priced, I still save the 10.4% sales tax... One nice thing about Ebay is that some products are offered by overseas merchants - in the UK, or Germany, or France, for instance - at competitive prices. They take a bit longer to get here, but I've recently saved $10 on a drive enclosure from China, $10 on 98 coffee pods from the UK, and a whopping $28 on 2 clock batteries from Germany for my laptops...

September 11, 2018: Busywork

Keywords: 9/11, Manhattan, Pentagon, Lou Gehrig, ALS, home maintenance, alarm system, camera surveillance, global warming, reusable energy, carbon avoidance

Oops! I only belatedly realized it's been almost two weeks since I last posted, and somewhere in there is mention of Death With Dignity and wills and things - better post this before someone starts putting two and two together, and arriving at 1,255. The only person dying - slowly - is a cousin, who has had the misfortune of attracting ALS, a.k.a. Lou Gehrig's disease, something that kills you, no cure. I hope to be able to go visit him well before the year is out, while he is still "all there". Horrendous there still are illnesses for which no cure exists. I believe he has opted for euthanasia, which is available to someone with his condition, in The Netherlands. Ah, and today is September 11...

What with the housemates gone gallivantin' abroad for a week, I had the opportunity to do some maintenance, reorganize my stuff to prepare for my (hopefully soon..) move to the city, and do a bunch of maintenance on my computers, making sure I have monitoring and alarm systems ready. For years, whenever I move, I make sure alarm system and internet are in before I move, and the place is fumigated. Especially a connected alarm system is important - I've once had a burglary attempt, in Westchester County, the day after a removal van had unloaded furniture at the house. So I spent the week making sure stored equipment still works, updating the "new apartment" shopping list, making sure I have the finances sorted, and then I go on waiting on the city. The only thing I forgot was to test my combo-oven, not much could have broken on it, though, ovens and microwaves are things that only break when in use.

All of the testing does mean I have a working monitoring / alarm system, that stores camera stills and -video on a remote server, before a burglar or other miscreant even knows they are being filmed. And I am not using anybody's "cloud", so my privacy is guaranteed. I should actually say I have my own private cloud, which you can set up by renting server space somewhere, and using an encrypted transfer mechanism to store your stuff. The only change, or, if you will, addition I have made is that the camera not only provides an RTP stream to the iSpy application I have spent many hours getting to run "just right" (meaning it mustn't overload my FTP protocol, which will shut down the link if it gets too many logins), but it now emails my smartphone at the same time, enabling me to log in and check the video, so the alarm system is complete, and any miscreants should never know they've been "seen", and even if they do, their pictures will already have been sent to a server on the other side of the globe.

The more I follow the endless and fruitless discussion about global warming, and the weather statistics available, the more I have to come to the conclusion no amount of carbon avoidance or windmills or what have you is going to bring about an appreciable change in the environment. We've been "at it" for quite a while, but there isn't any statistical evidence that any of this stuff is working. And then I am not even getting on my hobby horse - nobody wanting to even think about how much damage we are doing to the ecology by converting energy from air movement into electricity. There is no telling how much global warming is caused by the reduction in wind speed due to turbine parks - nobody is even researching that. Imagine hotter wind, at a lower flow rate.. would get your hair dryer, faster, but the rest..

There is no "free" energy, nor is there any such thing as "reusable" energy. You use it, it's gone. It comes back in some other form, which isn't usable energy, it can come back as pollution, as heat, as water, all things that have their uases, in the right place, at the right time. And I am serious: until somebody proves to me the air flow we re-purpose to generate electricity has no ecological function, I vote for not using it. Same with solar panels - until somebody proves to me that the solar radiation we prevent from hitting the earth has no ecological function, don't do it.

August 31, 2018: Death with Dignity

Keywords: T-Mobile, router, wiFi, 802.11ac, USB storage, terabytes, POLST, GP, PCP, physician assisted death, assisted suicide, machine intelligence, AI

After some diligent programming on my T-Mobile router, I've finally managed to get my VPN into the UK running right again. I have two routers - actually, more like three - there is the fiber interface, which is kind of a modem, then I have the "outside" router, alll properly firewalled, and then there is the "inside" router, a model that T-Mobile makes available to some customers so they can use a smartphone as backup internet modem - it otherwise is a pretty quick and clever 802.11ac WiFi and Gigabit Ethernet router. Due to some clever tricks, the "outside" firewall obscures the "inside" firewall, you don't spend ten years in D.C. and don't learn data security. It was, from the lab into the Real World, the one thing I spent years of research on, data security, as more and more "devices", beginning with the mini-computers we used, like the fault tolerant Stratus, were connected to the internet, after we discovered that hackers were dialing around to find modem tones, modems provided so technical support folks could dial into their systems. They got on the nascent internet, too, from when ITT Dialcom began to run its public PDP-11 systems more or less worldwide.

Many modern routers are fitted with USB ports, this so you can hook up a USB storage device, and use it as a shared network drive. I had tried that once, couldn't get it to work, and forgot about it, as I have plenty of network storage. But as I replaced my 2TB 3.5" backup drive with a 2.5" version, I was cleaning the "old" drive, which is perfectly serviceable, and wondered if there was anything useful I could make it do. Turns out I have almost a terabyte of recorded HD broadcast TV on one NAS drive, as one of my systems, using an ATSC dongle, automatically records many of my favourite programs, something I used to use a Tivo for, but this is on a much larger scale. And as the NAS drive is 70% full, which is saturation point, in my book, as these drives take backups, I figured I might as well transfer the TV to the 2TB drive. As it turns out, the reason I couldn't make it work on the router before, is that you have to make work directories on the drive prior to activating it, you cannot create file systems or store data in the root of the shared drive. But once there is a directory structure, you can use it as a normal drive - quite quick, too. I don't know how much life is left in the old girl, but the TV recordings aren't a must-have, so they'll be fine there, and can be shared right from the router. Its use does not seem to degrade router bandwidth, so so far, so good. Using an adapter, the drive runs from USB3 to eSATA, with a 3GB/sec transfer rate, which is acceptable. By comparison, it runs at around 30 MB/sec from Windows 10, when a super fast striped NAS drive gets 100 MB/sec.

Next thing on my list turns out to be Windows' task scheduler - where I found a bunch of tasks I had turned off elsewhere, "update" tasks by Google and Adobe, still being started. It isn't the updates these folks are concerned with - Google and Adobe, amongst many others, use their "update" tasks, which run at least once a day, to collect data on you. Google does not need to provide updates for my systems, as I don't use their software, and Adobe - suffice it to say that when I run Adobe software, it can update, but there isn't a need to run this daily. Somebody ought to start billing these folks for the CPU cycles they use without permission, then sue them, class action style, for non-payment.

Senator McCain's death brought the conversation to euthanasia, and the POLST form my GP gave me, a while ago. Physician Assisted Death is legal in the State of Washington, one of the reasons I live here: should the cancer ever return, it is nice to have an easy way out, previously, I would have had to return to my native Netherlands, where euthanasia is legal. I should add that it is not, in Washington State, here, physicians, supported by another physician, can prescribe lethal medication for you to take, provided (to keep it short) you have less than six months to live. I had another look at the POLST form, which kind of regulates the aftermath of one's life, and confirms rules for terminal care, resuscitation, medical interventions, tube feeding, etc. The difference with other methods, like a living will, is that this is co-signed by the physician - this is how you get the form, physicians in this state are required to provide these to at-risk patients, which I guess I am. My doctor, who is South Asian, couldn't even bring herself to discuss the implications. The difference with advance directives and living wills is that this is a state government directive, supported by the 2008 Death with Dignity Act. It handily sails around Federal law, under which assisted suicide is illegal. I hope to never need it, but it is certainly more elegant than eating your gun, which creates a real mess for others to clean up. This does not. No, I am not in failing health, simply thought about it as I have not filled out the form, which I've had for six months, maybe I'll deal with this once I have an apartment, which will involve a new GP, in town. Having said all that, I am glad she gave me the form, as this is one of those things I need to take care of. Updating my will, which I really have not done since NYNEX made me, when sending me overseas, is another one of those chores...

You know, it just occurred to me I could probably not post the above narrative on Facebook, as their suicide watch AI would go off? When is someone going to painfully prove to these people they are out of hand, not omnipotent, and no amount of computing power can help them understand people? AI and Neural Networks were in their infancy when I joined Bell Labs and NYNEX S&T, then spent well over a decade dying a slow death. I must repeat: there is no such thing as Artificial Intelligence, there is only intelligence. Machine intelligence? Not this side of the 22nd century. It is easy to prove: for social media and government websites to require two factor authentication to make sure it is you logging in, there is no machine intelligence at Google, Social Security, Chase Bank, Facebook, etc. If those interfaces were intelligent, they'd know it was you without you ever having to enter a password. Remember: first it was passwords, then we needed passwords and secure IDs, now we do passwords and codes to smartphones. That means it got worse, not better. When your new partner and you get to know each other, you need less communication, not more. That, my friends, is intelligence. An electric car in automatic mode killing its driver is Artificial Stupidity - the driver's, and yours, with Elon Musk's hubris.

August 25, 2018: Out with the old

Keywords: USB 3.0, eSATA, Trump, Plugable graphics, technology agnostic, May, Skype, Brexit, HP docking station, Elitebook, DisplayPort, Seattle Housing Authority

Plugable USB-to-HDMI adapter Maybe unusual for a former journalist, but I have all but given up on The News. Between Trump's antics in the USA, and Britain's Brexit, I get the feeling the lunatics have taken over. The one thing that jumps out at me, in both cases, is that we appear to have gotten to the point where the "leaders" we put in charge are completely without moderation. Britain's Mrs. May spends virtually all her time flying back and forth between London and Brussels, in "negotiations", when there is barely anything to negotiate, and what there is, could simply be discussed on Group Skype. Folks seem to delight in information-fed opinions, which they proclaim loudly on social media, selectively gathered because there is way to much information out there for anyone to parse, and few people seem to have had any kind of training in research and information gathering. I am saying that because I did have that training, in IT - I continue to be amazed at the great unwashed masses, doing lookups on Gooogle without any idea of how to do a database search, how to use language to get encompassing results, and that if you have a hard time spelling, your search results will be skewed, because the search engines (or its programmers) make assumptions. I had never lived in a blue collar environment before, but what I see here in this corner of Seattle suburbia is absolutely horrifying.

I had wondered why people answer calls from numbers they don't know, but they simply aren't computer savvy to the point they can use the tools available for screening. Way back when, in the phone company, I got famous (and told off) for refusing to hire people who didn't have an email address on their resume - this when not everybody did have email - and later, for anybody listing a Hotmail account, rather than a "real" email address. Remember: I worked in IT, and I had to have an easy way of weeding out the people who paid only lip service to computer skills. Today, recruiters, I would recommend you ask applicants if they receive their bank statements in the U.S. Mail, and for anyone who has to use technology in their job, even if they only need to run vehicle diagnostics online to the DMV, if they get paper statements, don't hire them, and help them by telling them that if they want to be seen as internet conversant, that has to be demonstrated in everyday life. If you don't manage your internet account online, you are a computer agnostic. There is not, intrinsically, anything wrong with that, but "further education" appears not to be very high on many citizen's wish list - not helped, probably, by recruiting managers who fail to see a person's taking community college courses as an example of achievement. It is not that hard to figure out who is eager to learn, and willing to advance their mind.

While I am desperately trying not to spend any money I don't need to, this to make sure I have enough in the kitty for when my move comes (this when the Seattle Housing Authority offers me an apartment), sometimes you have to. So the replacement of my main flat panel display led to a plethora of things whose need is, at best, debatable. They're not massively expensive items, and I am happy to report the high resolution display is now running at high resolution, thanks to a docking station for the laptop, and a graphics converter on one of its USB3 ports.

After replacing my aging Seiki display with a state-of-the-art Sceptre 4k UHD HDMI 2.0 display, I discovered my HP Elitebooks DisplayPort interfaces don't run at a high enough frequency to actually serve up 4K over HDMI. In fact, the dock I just got for the Elitebook 2570p won't even run non-Dolby audio over DisplayPort. So after some Googling, I found some USB 3.0 port converters that are supposed to support 4K with audio, pretty amazing, considering the bandwidth needed to output that. USB is a shared resource, and I have some other stuff plugged into that bus, so the best thing was to try. At least I could then remove one DisplayPort connector - my other display runs SVGA, a connector the Spectre no longer even offers. So, in one fell swoop, from no USB 3 devices, I now have three - a 2TB hard disk, a TV dongle (which, for some weird reason, won't load its drivers on USB 2 any more) and the Plugable HDMI adapter. While I had Blue Screens using too many USB devices on this HP before, the addition of the docking station seems to have resolved that, must have its own interrupts on the docking port.

A perfect solution it is not - at the highest resolution, 3840x2160, I can run no higher than 30 Herz, but that resolution makes things truly small, so I am happy with 2048x1152 @ 60 Hz. The sound output shows you how restrictive the USB 3 port can be - it'll run no higher than 16 bit @ 48000 Hz, over native HDMI that would normally max out at 24 bit @ 192000 Hz. On my setup, running high resolution video at maximum resolution results in noticeable audio delay, although I am running an HD VGA display at the same time, which may skew the results.

August 20, 2018: Trump and online shopping

Keywords: Seagate, RAID, USB 3.0, eSATA, credit, credit rating, Amazon, Ebay, Trump, Bezos

SATA and USB3 drives You get kind of used to having things work just so, and my never ending supply of external backup drives is no exception. I've had 4 750GB Seagate drives, originally part of a RAID array I had put together myself, when I found out Windows Vista supported RAID at the driver level. Then came a couple of big Fantom drives - one RAID assembly, and a "regular" 2TB 5.25" drive in enclosure. The RAID drive eventually died because its fan failed - I've not really had much success with the RAID enclosures, a couple of others did not last either. But the 2TB Fantom "GreenDrive" has lasted, I think, over ten years, and until yesterday was still happily taking backups. It would still be doing that today, if I had not decided it was probably slowly time to replace it, under the "better safe than sorry" motto. It sat behind my primary laptop, where it gets backed up to several times a day, using a Robocopy script that grabs all of my important updates of the hour or the day, including email and finances. Then, those updates get backed up to a network drive, using an encrypted AIS backup session. The NAS drive is local, but in principle, that could be sitting anywhere, if I trusted the cloud enough. I may eventually decide to get more storage space with my Singapore hoster, and start putting my backups there, but for now, this works fine. What you don't want to do is use Google's or Microsoft's or Amazon's Cloud, because miscreants know to look there, and they have time and skills.

My older external backup drives all have eSATA connections, and I have always bought laptops that have an external eSATA interface. The native disk interface in a PC, SATA is fast (6GB/sec), and you can boot a PC from an external SATA drive as if it is a native internal boot drive. What with the availability of USB 3, though, I've been playing around with that interface, almost as fast (5GB/sec) as eSATA, getting cheaper by the day, and I got a USB 3 enclosure, and a backup 2TB 2.5" laptop disk. All that seems to work fine, has a much smaller footprint than the previous drives, and does not need an external power supply. Now that I got a docking station for my HP Elitebooks - those are, at this point, available new on Ebay for $20 - I have plenty of USB 3 ports, so decided to take the plunge, moved the file system from the backup to a 2TB Seagate laptop drive, plugged that into my mail machine, and we'll see how well that does. You have to remember USB is a shared resource, but I don't have other heavy demands on the bus, at this point only an ATSC TV dongle, so there should not be any issues. Once I move I'll get a larger RAID array, so I'll be able to consolidate the backups there, and use the "old" RAID array, in mirror mode, as my live archive.

For the American financial system to insist on consumers to have multipe lines of credit seems a bit silly. Apart from which, in this immigrant country overseas accounts (I mean accounts in countries with a modern credit system) aren't taken into account, either - I'll bet you a hundred bucks many of the millions of Asians who live along the West Coast have accounts in their home countries. Some for emotional reasons, others have kept Mum's savings account, and others just keep the inheritance where it came from. I am looking at this because, now that my credit rating has finally been reinstated, the bank keeps nagging me about getting more credit. That's something I certainly don't want to do with them - in actual fact, I really don't want to get more credit, because what you borrow you gotta pay back - but I am not really sure if I want another "proper" credit card, or another bank account. Just to make sure I am well covered, for when my apartment comes through, I have now gotten another line of credit, one thing I did not want to do is apply for that in the middle of address changes and all that. It's all in the timing, I suppose.

Not long after President Trump let fly at Amazon and Jeff Bezos, Amazon began charging local sales tax on everything it sells. Until that time, sales tax depended on where the shipment was shipped from, but no more. Effectively, that means much of my Amazon shopping has become 10.4% more expensive - and as there is a $25 minimum you have to order to qualify for free shipping, that all adds up. Ebay, on the other hand, does not charge sales tax on stuff from out-of-state, and you can just pick-and-choose those Ebay sellers that offer free shipping. So today, I ordered some beauty products, and a drive enclosure there, and saved $6. Ebay is a lot more work, you have to wade through their somewhat arcane search engine, and deal with the cluttered screens, but hey, it is money. That was $6 of $36, or 16%, partly due to said sales tax. Thanks, Mr. Trump. I think. Amazon must be paying tens of millions of dollars in sales tax, now, bet the states are happy - and it isn't costing Amazon a dime.

August 13, 2018: How long can you push?

Keywords: Durango, A/C, health, exercise, Musk, Tesla, Silver Sneakers, SEC, DoJ, DoD

Silver Sneakers membership A bit sad my workout buddy is having some medical issues that stopped him from taking walks - and by the time I realized this was going to the longer term, I had to decide what to do. Part of my routine is always walking to the gym - between the walk there and back, and half an hour of weights and rowing machines and the like, four times a week, I have the perfect workout (especially with all of the recent research indicating walking is better than running, and 90 minute workouts are counter-productive). So what with D. now driving to the gym and back, I've had to tell him I am going back to my walking routine - at my age, you cut back on exercise, that's forever. And that I don't want. I just don't like disappointing people, but it is my health we're talking about here, and what with the arthritis and the cancer, I always feel I am fighting a bit of a battle.

Dodge Durango summer 2018The SUV seems to be holding up with my DIY maintenance - I thought I might have screwed up the A/C, but after the last repressurization with "clean" R134a it is fine now, that may have recirculated some of the compressor oil through the system, which has interconnected front-and-back refrigerant circuits. All I need to do now - later, at the end of summer - is replace the coolant. It is not that the cooling system is in trouble, but I think after this much time replacing the coolant, draining the entire system, flushing the block completely with the lower hose removed, and then replacing that with a new hose, and repressurizing it, should keep 'er shipshape. Yes, it is getting to be a long, hot summer up here, one reason why I made sure the air conditioning was working OK. When I drove up here from Virginia, the A/C compressor broke, and after having that replaced, I've had to learn how to maintain the A/C myself. Guess I managed... I've discovered, as well - don't laugh - that having my oil changed at Pep Boys, where I previously had some maintenance done, is actually cheaper than getting oil and filters at WalMart, and doing it myself. Especially since they rotate my wheels (with the oversize all terrain tires I bought from them) for free. Go figure.

Speaking of cars, the more I watch Elon Musk's antics, the more I wonder if he is a loose cannon. This if often an issue with overachievers, whose stock in trade is pushing the envelope, based on a brain that is close-to-genius, and an absence of risk avoidance. All of the times I overreached and pushed boundaries, I always landed on my feet, and that has taught me only that those high jumps are very addictive. There comes a time when "kicking up" is the only way you know how to operate. Leaving Verizon, I found it impossible to "think small" - not because I thought I knew better than everybody else, but because I had not had any opportunity to get a feel for "taking small steps" for years. I recall that when I wanted to go see staff overseas, and my bosses didn't see the immediate need, I simply booked a ticket to Singapore or Chennai on my own dime - I could work from Verizon offices in overseas cities if I wanted to, and nobody would ever ask on whose orders I was there. That's how you get things done, and I always brought back results.

Anyway, by the time Musk launched a test rocket towards Mars with a Tesla in its nose cone, I really began to wonder what, if anything, he was trying to prove. And now that he has Tweeted he'll take Tesla private, he really must be made to understand he, too, must adhere to a set of rules - it is actually often the SEC that is used to discipline wayward entrepreneurs, an SEC that has the power to stick someone in jail for a decade, while paying a ten million dollar fine. Not a lot of regulators do that. I've even wondered why a naturalized South African gets to handle sensitive DoD contracts - that's unusual and may be very risky. I know - from experience, in my office overlooking Important Customer The Pentagon - that the Fed is extremely sensitive to "perceived risk" - things that can come back to bite them. The Pentagon had a large gaping smoking hole to show for this - one I drove past, on my way home and on my way to the office, several days a week. My (cleared) people were in there, helping the DoD fix things. The rest of the week, I was in Manhattan, wiring Wall Street back together - all stark reminders of the old adage: "In America, when things go wrong, they go very wrong". Musk seems to think he safely got on the highway - maybe he has, but that does not mean he's safe. I remember the face of the Enron representative, way back in Manhattan, when I told her I was shutting down our (Bell Atlantic - Enron) joint venture in downstate New York, the one Enron was trying to showcase to Wall Street. I hadn't told my boss, because this was my decision, but soon enough, Enron's CEO, Jeffrey Skilling, was on the phone to the president of my division, telling him what had happened, and asking him who I thought I was, who my boss was, whose decision this was, and how to get this back on track. Short conversation: it was my decision, and it was final (Enron had not delivered their portion on time, and changed the deliverable without notification, my Lotus Note was on his desktop by that time). My bosses knew I was covering them by taking this decision myself, they could not be blamed by Enron, or the NY State PSC, or the FCC, nor could the Wall Street Journal nail anyone's ass to the wire (except mine, of course). The day Mr. Musk runs into someone in the Fed who does my kind of stuff, after he makes a mistake, he is toast, he can take the next rocket to Mars. The Enron CEO went to jail in 2006, and is, as I write this, still there.

It is commonly accepted that a megalomaniac overachieving moneymaker is safe, because his allegiances are self serving, and only pose a risk to the stock market. We should understand, from the 2008 crash, that this is not always true, and we should understand, as well, that such a person really does not have allegiances we can in any way influence - or even understand...

August 8, 2018: Sport is not exercise

Keywords: drone, hexacopter, Sceptre, HP 2570 graphics, GPS, Android, cellular snooping, health, exercise, competitive sports

So now I really need to find some space to fly the drone - the backyard is just too small - that is to say, if I let 'er rip she'll fly into something, and then a propellor will break, or sumtin'. The thing is so light even a tiny gust of wind sets her adrift. Anyway, it is working, and I am learning to trim and roll and things.

Turns out I can't use (for now) the new Sceptre display's 4K resolution, because the DisplayPort on my HP Elitebooks is version 1.1, and I would need version 1.4a to go to HDMI 2.0, which is what my display supports. Next laptop, I guess. Ah, wait, there is a port replicator for the HP 2560/2570, and that has DisplayPort 1.2, rather than 1.1. Maybe that will work. Worth a try. The other solution might be a USB 3.0 display adapter, but that is a lot more expensive, and probably uses a lot of CPU, as well. Let's check out the port replicator, just under $20, first. Mustn't forget to clean and test the old Seiki display, this week, and probably get that back to its original firmware, I had it running with the 50" firmware, allegedly "better" than the 39" firmware, but putting the native firmware back will probably be less confusing to any buyer.

Nokia 6110 Navigator If you're concerned your phone (I can only speak about Android, as I've never owned an Ithing) passes location information on to the maker of an app, you can stop worrying. A smartphone has a number of different ways to localize you, and even if you turn GPS off, for as long as there is a SIM card in the phone, or even if there isn't, but WiFi is on, the handset will let the carrier of record know where it is, in relationship to cellular towers or WiFi hotspots. I was, a few years ago, completely taken aback when visiting Beijing, finding that my (pre-Android) Blackberry could show me exactly where it was, down to a diagram of the building I was in. This, peeps, on a secure Blackberry, on a VPN that didn't touch the Chinese cell network, and allowed me to connect to all of the forbidden fruit, like Facebook and Twitter.

All I am saying is that the nature of cellular networks, even before WiFi "happened", was such that location was always available information. Every cellular base station has a GPS unit built into it, as that is how cellular networks determine their local time, information they pass on to your handset, that is how your clock gets set. The GPS in your smartphone only makes it more accurate in determining its location. To just make a superfluous observation, if the phone and the cell tower won't know each other's location (in the radio transmission sense), you're not going to make and receive calls. And if the next repeaters don't know where your phone is, and your phone doesn't know where the next repeaters are, you're not going to have a conversation while you move. Or receive your next call. Or email. So for the Pentagon to tell soldiers to stop using those fitness apps when on any kind of base is folly, as the functionality of fitness apps includes determining how far you ran, where your buddies were, and then they need your email login so they can identify you (and find all other internet information about you, like where you buy your socks, because Macy's has your email address too). I had actually thought to buy a second Blackberry Priv, set that up without an email address, and see how well (or badly) that would work, but I just noticed my vendor has no more reconditioned Privs, and I don't really have the money, anyway, this summer, for an additional experiment, not with my move coming up (hopefully) soon.

While we are on the subject of excercise, military or otherwise, excercise to keep you healthy is not the kind that military and athletic and other overachievers do. What they do must eventually be carefully "built down" when they finish with their careers, and get back to a more normal physical achievement level, if only because the automatic consequences of physical overachievement can have severe physical and medical consequences, later in life. I know at least three Dutch competitive swimmers who ended up being severely overweight.. I know a dancer who ended up with a heart condition because she had trained to the point her heart was five times "normal" size, and had moved to the center of her chest, as there wasn't enough room in the customary location.. I know a competitive cyclist whose heart condition was never diagnosed as he was in superb physical shape and never had any complaints, and annual physicals had never found anything wrong - until his heart just stopped, and he was found in the road with his feet still in the pedal straps.

I am saying all this because I have just seen a bunch of click bait ads, some of which have a former Olympic swimmer talk about "fit employees". I am sorry to say a competitive Olympic swimmer knows nothing about health and fitness. His fitness came with his athletic career, and isn't an example for the average worker, nor, indeed, for an employer. Even if you accept your fitness level has anything to do with your health, an employer still has to wonder whether this is anything to do with them, whether it is their business, and how far that actually reasonably goes. Because: people who exercise generally have injuries, and some of those can have long lasting, or even permanent, consequences. Before I got my "Silver Sneakers" health insurance gym membership, I took long daily walks to try and maintain my fitness. On one of those walks, I was attacked by a dog, fell, and ended up with a collapsed lung. That was a direct consequence of my fitness regime, and had that been part of my "employee health efforts", you can bet your ass I'd have sued my employer. All I am saying, the over-exposure to "healthy living" has many consequences, some good, some not so much. Put on lots of muscle, you're going to have to find a way to get rid of that when you get old and become less active, because if you don't, it'll turn into fat. Which is massively bad for your heart. Think about it.

August 3, 2018: Old Toys, New Toys

Keywords: dbpower, X600C, drone, hexacopter, Sceptre, Komodo, 4K LED UHD TV, Seiki

Hexacopter Finally, I have put my drone together - it hadn't come out of its box, let alone been assembled, since I bought it, at the end of 2016. Getting it to fly was another story - with six props, this thing is able to go in directions the Good Lord hadn't invented, and after I understood you have to actually calibrate this thing manually, I set about teaching it which way is up. Kinda makes sense - the thing has no real understanding of the power each motor puts out, so my session began by it flipping itself repeatedly. Turns out you even have to calibrate the power output on the joystick, and "zero" both joysticks once drone and control unit are talking to each other. Do that wrong, and the thing jumps like a kangaroo seeing his mother-in-law coming down the alleyway. I recall a friend getting one, earlier, and launching his straight over the roof of the house - you do have to figure out how the controls work. All told, I spent maybe a coupe of hours calibrating up/down and forward/backward settings, and by the end of the session was able to control the drone flying a few inches off the ground - interestingly, once you have the calibrations done, the drone is light enough that you actually have to steer continuously, to correct for wind. Next (next session) I'll see if the control unit remembers its settings, and then calibrate turn radius, because turning is an all separate function - again, using six freaking props. I have the video working - one reason I bought this unit was that is continuously transmits live video (SD, 640x480) to a smartphone over WiFi, where the camera (the white thing under the fuselage in the picture of the upturned drone) turns into a WiFi hotspot. Pretty amazingly small and light, and my 6" Blü phone nicely fits in the handset bracket on the drone control unit, while the app can actually record the video as you fly along. I spent maybe half an hour getting the WiFi and camera to work, yesterday, and another hour finding and losing and finding and securing the impossibly small screws that hold the various bits together.

The reason for me to buy this drone was simply that I had never flown a drone before, and at the time most drones were able to record video on a memory card, but transmitting live video, so you can watch in real time where you're flying, was rare (well, unless you wanted to spend $600..). It is kind of cool, and as you have to do all sorts of stuff all at the same time, flying a drone should help me test and maintain dexterity and response time. Generally, as you get older, the only way - or so the scientists opine - to maintain your brain, excercise, is by learning new stuff. We humans tend to get lazier, over time, and that probably is one of the main causes of deterioration. You have to keep learning, keep up the discipline, and take notes. Important, that - I learned taking notes in my education, and later in the lab, but then I had chemo, and found my brain didn't store stuff as well as it used to. So - more notes. Not so much to be able to retieve things, but if you write things up, your memory works four hundred times better.

Sceptre U43 UHD TVTwo days in a row, I've had to turn the A/C off, as I expect shipments I have to sign for, and I don't necessarily know I can hear the knock at the door when UPS or FedEx arrives. Some drivers just knock, don't ring the doorbell, one never knows. And as it is blisteringly hot, I'm just hoping they'll be early today. Yesterday, it was 7pm, and I had steam coming out of my ears. Today, as soon as he gets here, I can start swapping my four year old Seiki out for a brand new 4K UHD LED display panel. The Seiki (a 39" SE39UY04), bought in 2014, hasn't broken yet, but started acting up a few days ago, has 4K too, one of the early ones, but only at 25 and 30 HZ, or frames-per-second (depending on whether your mains frequency is 50 or 60HZ) - I picked that up Open Box at Fred Meyer, around the time Seiki tried to flood the market with what turned out to be a premature firmware release. The new unit can run 4K UHD - that's 3840x2160 - at 60Hz, and 1080p (the "standard" HD) at 120Hz. Then I'll likely sling the Seiki on Ebay, somebody may like to see if they can make use of it, with the caveat it may not last that long.

Ah, there it is. The screen is amazing - can't tell you what the UHD looks like, as I need to dig up my HR Blu-Ray player to test that. But the "regular" HD looks amazing, I've not seen my high resolution photography with that much detail. For the price (just under $250) a steal. With all the bells and whistles and latest levels of HDMI and HDCP - you can look it up at the Sceptre website under model number U435CV-UMR. Of course, every time they introduce an upgrade to a standard, like from HDM 1.4 to 2.0, your monitor adapter may not be compatible - in my case, the HP laptops come with DP (DisplayPort) monitor connections, and so my DP-to-HDMI connector needs to be upgraded. I mean, it may not need it, but if I don't get a higher standard adapter I'll never know what it can do with this new display. Etc. Letchaknow.

July 23, 2018: Should politicians get educatered?

Keywords: Medicalert, charities, medical bracelets, Brexit, EU, European Union, delegating, management, Theresa May, United Kingdom

medical pendants Since 2007, I have had a subscription to Medicalert, one of those outfits that maintain your medical information in their database, with a pendant you wear that medical personnel can use to connect with their organization. Problem was, they kept turning on auto-renewal (this is a violation of FTC regulations, can only be done with your approval), and have no facility at their website to turn that off. Worse, they now have a clause that when you renew, you automatically agree to auto-renewal - again, against the law, and on top of that they give no information about their business license and their charitable registration. They don't even tell you when you ask. Add to that their inability to provide the clear medical printout they used to - entire sections are now invisible, and detail, such as "date of onset", that used to be available, is gone - and I can only assume this is no longer a bona fide organization (if it ever was). So I found myself another provider - what with all of the hacking going on I don't know it is safe to tell you who - and no longer will contribute to the growing coffers of Medicalert. The one time I did end up in an emergency room, ER staff and physicians mistook my silver pendant for jewellery, took it off when they sedated me for surgery - as they do in every hospital on the planet, as jewellery gets stolen - and ignored it.

Should have probably ditched the subscription then, in hindsight. At this point Medicalert seems to have as its only purpose to make money, and there are no statistics of any kind that show this system's effectiveness. If Medicalert bracelets and pendants had saved 24,165 lives, last year, I promise you that would be all over their website - but not a word. And look at the picture to the left - not sure why it took me so long to realize, but if you're going to wear a medical bracelet, forget about the fancy silver or gold jewellery. In an emergency situation, nobody is going to check your jewellery, or - another famous example - your mobile phone, just in case. They'll look in your wallet or purse for identification, while they figure out what they need to do to stabilize you. If something obvious occurs - a friend, or this very visible red pendant - they'll use the information. They can't assume - think! - that if you put on your bracelet you have O Positive blood, that you actually do. So they'll test anyway. In my case, nobody bothered with my medical data until after I was out of the ER, and in a bed in intensive care, with hoses and drips and pumps and stuff, and alive. Simple as that, peeps. If you think I am full of it, here is a blogging cardiologist's view of these things.

Australian Angus beefIt is slowly vitally important the population of the British Isles understand nobody but them really cares about, worries about, Brexit. Read European papers in their native languages, something many Britons in Britain aren't capable of, and you'll find few articles and reports about Brexit. Go into European stores, from supermarkets to auto dealerships, and you'll find few products that come from Britain. Jaguar, Vauxhall, Mini, HP Sauce, baked beans, list archetypal British products and you will find they're foreign owned, foreign manufactured, or both. The other day I found a beautiful 3 lb Angus roast at Safeway, cut it up and froze it, using that as steaks. Australian, shipped to and sold in America, see pic to the right.. This is what the Brits won't see, you can get quality products from anywhere, there is this glut of freight transportation, worldwide, and if the British stuff gets too expensive we can get Marmite from New Zealand, for lower prices.

Britain is 93,600 square miles in size, and has 66 million inhabitants. It is trying to impose its divorce terms on a Europe that, post-Brexit, will be 1,634,499 square miles in size (17.5 times the size), with 444 million inhabitants (6.7 times the people, which means they have three times the space per person, too). IOW, this is David and Goliath. The British do not understand you cannot move something that size by pushing. I see the breathless BBC reporters reporting on "the negotations" from Brussels, and their viewers have no idea no German, French, Slovenian, Danish, what have you, reporters breathlessly file reports about Brexit to their home fronts from Brussels. About agriculture, medical benefits, open borders, terrorism, sure, but not Brexit. There used to be an Anglo-Saxon worldwide old boy network of these really advanced English speaking countries - but that was then, and today Australia has defence agreements with the USA, and trade agreements with China, and little Korea makes more cars and smartphones than almost everybody. The Americans need the Australians (a.k.a. the "white Asians"), and the Chinese need oil and coal and minerals, none of which Theresa May has to sell.

it is perhaps not all that surprising Britain decided to Brexit - they were underwhelmed by the Euro to begin with, which wasn't a good way to start. They're not team players, not in the sense that they'll take orders when some flexibility is warranted, and having seen the ridicolous fervour the Germans, in particular, applied to the so-called "migrants", it was perhaps not that surprising the British decided to put a stop to a process they were not getting a say in. It is a sea change - look at the new right wing governments in Hungary, Austria, Italy and other "border" countries, and the way in which they seek to stop the migration, and it will be clear political leanings all over Europe - not to mention the United States - have changed significantly. Something that is very clear is that the politicians who make up governments, more often than not, have no management training. Theresa May is a point in fact - she appears to have difficulty delegating the tasks of government. Brexit negotations should be handled by the relevant minister, with a team of experts, but instead, the prime minister flies back and forth to Brussels to have dinner with senior EU officials - a spectacularly ineffective way of managing a transition, and quite possibly counter-productive. I know from experience how difficult delegating is, it makes you very insecure, as you're not in the driver's seat when you brief somebody and let them have at it, but that is the way you find out if you picked the right person for the job, and what their strengths are. That's management - the other thing is called insecurity. Thinking "you know best" means you're not a listener, not a learner, not an analyst.

July 18, 2018: And the heat is on..

Keywords: Windows 8.1, HP Elitebook, UEFI, GPT, A/C, refrigerant, Dodge, Edgestar, Blackberry, Priv, Class 10 SD

R-134a A/C charge So yes, I did a full re-install of the Windows 8.1 Pro laptop - that's the last version of Windows that will still run the Windows Media Center as an integrated "app". And much to my surprise, a "bare bones" reinstall, this time with a full UEFI implementation, makes the almost venerable HP Elitebook 2560p fly like a fish. I swear.

That version of Windows does not allow you to create a recovery DVD, but thankfully I still had a 2015 ISO image in the archives, and was able to create a UEFI compliant install disk from that. Buy refurbished HP business equipment, and you get service for life, don't you know. Having said all that, I was surprised to see that a completely clean install of 64 bit Windows 8.1 gets that operating system running much better than keeping on patching the existing install. I had converted the laptop to a UEFI BIOS, but I don't know that it ever really booted under UEFI, a technology I am not necessarily familiar with. Just like I discovered with Windows 10, on another laptop, though, a reinstall can be made to run in full UEFI mode. In this case, what it took is burning a Windows 8.1 install disk from an ISO file on a UEFI machine - that created a UEFI compliant boot DVD, and as the laptop's BIOS had been fully updated (this is vital), doing that install on a "bare" hard disk - one that had all of its information and formatting removed using DISKPART - caused the drive to be formatted in GPT mode - necessary for UEFI boot - and then install an EFI boot partition. Job done. Converting a "regular" disk to GPT and UEFI is hard and risky, and this reinstall was simple, although getting it all set up the way I had it took a couple of days, completely with intermittent backups and Microsoft Updates - all 170(!) of them.

I did overcharge the A/C in my Dodge (June 22, below) - ambient temperature was still in the 70's, in June, it is in the 90's now, and sure enough, the system had overpressure, kept cycling continuously. IOW, you are best off checking and recharging your A/C during high summer. I had never checked how to bleed pressure off an automotive A/C system, but one thing the website warned about was the effect of R-134a refrigerant on the skin and your breathing. For safety's sake, I wrapped the low pressure valve in an old towel - just as well, but with the excess refrigerant - ice cold - came a ton of fluorescent dye - one of the cans I bought had a mix of leak indicator/sealer, as well as lubricant and refrigerant. I expect I used too much of that mix - I later switched to refrigerant-only - because the towel now looks largely fluorescent, but the A/C worked just fine, this morning. In a week or so, I'll re-test the pressure, but as you can see, the current pressure is a little over 45 psi at an ambient temperature of around 85 degrees, this measured with a hot engine, and the A/C at cold / recirculate / highest fan speed. Hopefully, the overcharge did not do any damage - I saw some leakage from the engine I could not explain, hopefully the system drained off the over pressure, had it blown an A/C seal I guess there'd been more leakage, and it would not have worked well today at all. One hopes.

What with the housemates gone for the weekend, I had an opportunity to test the capability of my two "portable" heat pumps. While I had done that last year, when I bought the second, that was in late September, still warm, but on the cusp of autumn. As the forecast had the temperature in the nineties, this week, with high summer, that gave me an opportunity to check that these two 14 ton "portables" really have the capacity to cool (and therefore heat) an entire small house. If they do that, they'll do just fine in an apartment, with "juice to spare". And indeed, they managed to keep the house at a nice, comfortable, 76 Fahrenheit, some 25 centigrade. I am honestly amazed at the efficiency of these units, all it needs for cooling use is just an external thermostat, or else the fan runs continuously. In heating mode, the fan does turn off, I guess they never figured out how to program that. The evaporation mechanism (heat pumps produce condensation, which these dual hose units blow out the compressor exhaust) works well - interestingly, that means that, in heating mode, the unit initially switches on in cooling mode, blows out the condensate, then switches to heating mode, which generates more condensate. But it works, had me confused, though, initially.

My Blackberry Priv (June 4 and subsequent entries, below) turns out to have really high resolution video recording. As in, 4K at 30fps, or 1080p at 60fps. I need to do some more testing, but an initial low light recording came out a bit amazing. Mind you, a minute-and-a-half recording takes up 30 megabytes, which would translate to 1.2 GB per hour. The reason I didn't realize is that I had no class 10 micro-SD cards, just stuck in any old card, and the Priv then warned me I could only get 720p. I initially though that was fine, then thought I ought to at least try, so ordered a couple of Class 10 cards, and off she went. At high resolution there is no shake control, so I am not sure how that will be useful. Having said that, I had not anticipated that the highest resolution video camera I'd have was a cellphone. Sumtin' else. The picture to the right, FWIW, is a screen capture of a bit of 4K (3840x2160) video, shot with the Priv, when recharging the A/C on the Dodge. Never done that before (except from HDTV, when that was the only stills I could get).

The Priv has a Schneider Kreuznach lens set, with 18 megapixel picture element, which does deliver pretty stunning imagery. At which point I realized that my old adage, always shoot at the highest resolution as you never know when you need that, is going to cost me - in terms of memory and storage space. Thankfully I was used to calculating storage needs based on my Nikon SLR's capabilities, but I can slowly start to double that up. I had been thinking about getting a larger NAS drive once I move, 9GB (out of 12) RAID5, but now I will have to, complete that with a 10GB backup drive, and then put my "old" NAS drives on Ebay. The problem with copious storage is always that you need to back it up, and that can be a problem. The cloud is all very nice, but just the idea of restoring 2 or 3 TB to a PC over the internet is a bit problematical. Apart from which, I really do not think I want my long term archives, which include sensitive stuff, where internet companies can parse them.

July 12, 2018: No more drone flying in Seattle

Keywords: Windows, image copy, Microsoft, Windows 8.1, HP Elitebook, prednisone, drones, hexacopter, authentication, Amazon security

Hexacopter droneGreat. I bought a camera drone, a while back, that never even left the box, and now that I am trying to find some things to do that keep me occupied while saving money, I find there is hardly anywhere you're allowed to fly drones any more. Never having flown one, I just want to be able to go somewhere I can teach myself. Maybe I'll just call the State Police, see if they have an idea how far out I need to go to legally fly. Seattle and the counties surrounding it all prohibit drones. Understandable, though.

In the interim, a change in medication seems to have done me good, in terms of reducing my lower back complaints. The bad news is that I have progressed from NSAIDs to steroids, not an ideal medication. Having said that, I am managing on a low dosage, so we'll see how that goes. The last time I was on semi-permanent steroids was before they invented biologics, I was still living in Westchester County, NY, working in Manhattan, before even starting my D.C. assignments. Fingers crossed.

Increasingly, Amazon wants two factor authentication when "something about your login changes". As nothing does, and no other providers of internet trade or services signal anything untoward (and they scan, believe you me), the cause has to be the way Amazon attempts to query your browser for their data collection. I've tweeted complaints on a number of occasions, but Amazon then wants me to call in, which is really not necessary, as they can see from my Twitter handle who I am, and track back from there. Any third rate network engineer can do that, I've been on the interweb for a while, and their customer for a while. Well, yes, say the Amazon support folks, but "we have no access to that type of customer information". What that means is that the support folks can't help with system issues, they can only gather data and pass that on to folks you don't get to speak to. But: from a privacy and security perspective, I don't provide network and system data to anyone. It is just not safe. Note that Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Verizon all try to ensure security by forcing you to always log in from one device on one network with one software package. That way they can "assist in your safe browsing". The thing is, that's bullshit. Always using the same network, device, browser, app, makes you a sitting duck for cybercrime and hackers. For your own safety, switch browsers and devices and networks and use VPNs as much as you can, so providers will learn to stop enforcing this fake security. Pretending you have AI by checking for someone's IP address is blistering nonsense.

Painfully, I can't get my Windows 8.1 laptop to back up any more - using the Windows System Image tool, that is. As I had problems with my Windows 10 laptop image recovery as well, this has to have been something I did. I think I am about to start on a painful reinstall, if I can find my license keys. Might be interesting, on a laptop that was not designed for UEFI but has an update UEFI BIOS. Owell. I can always do it twice...

June 29, 2018: Restoring Windows 10? Fuggedaboutit

Keywords: Blü, MasterLock, Android, Blackberry Priv, VOIP, Windows, image copy, Microsoft, AIS Backup

charging A/C on 2003 Dodge 4.7l V-8 Not too long ago I bumped something into the keypad of my safe, when said keypad came off a bit wobbly, I took the locking unit apart. Of course, something in the bezel broke - I've had the thing since 2007 - leaving me worried the lock might stop working altogether. So I looked for the manufacturer, luckily still extant, sent pictures of the offending part, and this morning an entire new keypad with electronics arrived - for the paltry sum of $27 and change, including tax. Took a while to install, the cringe moment that you are going to test if it works - if not, you might not be able to open the safe without The Professionals - and all's well that ends well. That's the old bezel, at the left. I can't vouch for all of Masterlock's products, but anybody who can deliver a replacement part for a fire safe, cheaply, eleven years later, has my blessing.

While I quite happy with my Blackberry Priv, it takes some getting used to. One app, Telz, a VOIP app I am using on my other Android device, won't "run right" on the Priv - it keeps hanging up on conversations, even when, on the Blü, it is rock solid. And the wireless charger I bought, recently, keeps overheating the Priv. Admittedly, this began when I tried to charge overnight, while running an alarm clock display - Blackberry forums have it charging wirelessly while running apps, even inadvertently, can cause this. So I am trying to figure out what is running that should not, that kind of stuff. In the interim, my old Blackberry Z10 has been pressed back into service as alarm clock - still the best display driver for that purpose of any phone I've even owned. It doesn't need a SIM card to do this, so that's cool. Saves the environment.

AIS Backup AIS Backup, the English backup software I have been using for years, ever since they gave me a couple of licenses when I helped them troubleshoot Iomega Bernouilli drives (remember those?), is still going strong. I like the fact that it creates zip archives - in emergencies, you can get files without the software - and I mainly use it as a secondary backup tool, should my primary (Windows image backup) fail. Which, in the past couple of days, it did. Spectacularly.

In order to help prevent you from giving a copy of Windows to your cousin Joey, Microplod have built lots of restrictions into the image backup, one of which is that it won't let you restore to a system with a different configuration. This now leads to it even failing on a restore on the same machine - I had seen some examples of it not wanting to activate on a different disk, but this time, it restored to completion, and then, when done, came back with an error, which indicated it sitting on a different architecture, and failed. Since I restored a backup to the same machine it came from, after I had a file system mishap, this was complete codswollop, same Windows, same disk, same motherboard, same network, yada yada. I will not use Microsoft's backup tools again, this especially since they really want you to use their cloud tools, which lets them parse your files. Nono.

But there is always AIS Backup, my secondary "copy machine", so I am now in process of restoring that backup. Which, started from Windows, initially failed, too, with memory errors. This was getting worse (I am trying to recover my "main machine" here!). But then I went through the setup again, and noticed in one of the dialogs that AIS recommended an operating system "overwrite" to be run from the bootable Linux shim they make available. I've never used that, as I back up to network devices, mounted using NFS, and when you boot from an AIS USB load Windows' networking isn't loaded.

So then I decided to have a look anyway, since Linux and its Daddy UNIX have networking built into their shim, although I did not think this would be that sophisticated. Guess what - boot the laptop from the Linux utility load, and AIS Backup will find and mount things as native NFS out the wired Ethernet port. It'll mount the backup, and start restoring, without any Windows in sight. Mabe I should spend more time experimenting and reading manuals. Honestly. I didn't know this, and I have used AIS way over a decade. And amazing it is - I had previously, just to try it out, run a test with AIS, in having it back up to a remote server (as in, 8,000 miles away) using the ftp protocol, both using my fiber connection, and my 4GLTE host protocol, and that worked well too. The "overwrite" restore did not work, so I have now wiped (using DISKPART) the drive again, and am trying to do a full restore that way. Fingers crossed.

June 22, 2018: A week of troubleshooting and fixin's

Keywords: Blü, Dodge Durango, Open MRI, A/C, freon, Android, phone update

charging A/C on 2003 Dodge 4.7l V-8 My Blü Studio XL2 6" phone sprung a leak, that is to say, there was an Android update sent out by Blü, and that would not install. I managed to figure out how to run diagnostics - not an Android expert - and you can see the result in the pic to the right. When I couldn't find a fix that worked online, I went to Blü's website, which actually has the capability for you to generate a trouble ticket, and a couple of days later I got a response that made no sense to me. As one of the emails had a customer service number to call, I tried that, and much to my amazement - this is a cheap phone, and refurbished to boot - that got answered after five seconds. I followed their instructions, got nowhere, called again - and "Marie" added one step to my instructions, and had me up and up-dated in five more minutes. So if you want or need an affordable unlocked two line phone with large screen and many of the trimmings - it is not a Blackberry Priv or a Samsung Galifrey, but then, at a third of the price, doesn't have to be - getting a Blü is not a bad idea. You'll find them on Amazon and Ebay, and refurbished phones, at least mine, from an Ebay vendor calld Bree, are a steal, and "like new".

Android recovery screenMedical facilities generally don't keep you waiting forever, you go for a blood draw and there is a crowded waiting room, you make allowance. But CDI today, made a dog's dinner of it - half hour drive, I got there early, since there always is paperwork - I hadn't been to their Kirkland facility, which has an Open MRI machine, for years - then waited for fourty minutes, half an hour beyond my appointment time. Nobody told me of any delays, there was nobody - 0 - in the waiting area, the last person there had left fourty minutes earlier, and when I asked what the holdup was the receptionist didn't pick up the phone, but went into the facility. Five minutes later, she came back and told me "less than ten minutes now", without any explanation or apology. So, ten minutes later, I left - I don't see why I should give these folks my insurance money if they can't be civil or helpful. I hate doing that, you don't make friends this way, but on the other hand there is so much medical competition in the Seattle area I see no reason why they can't treat me as the paying existing customer I am. Apart from anything else, this isn't an appropriate way to treat a known cancer patient. Gotta make some calls Monday..

When summer starts, I usually double check the charge in the A/C system in my Durango, mostly because a kind mechanic replaced the compressor with a rebuilt version, a few years back, and I assume that that could have resulted in leakage - he did not depressurize the system, prior to the repair, Google tells me that should have been done. And since then, after a recharge using those cans of refrigerant you can buy at O'Reilly's, performance has been anemic. I intermittently use those cans that include compressor lubricant and leak indicator, and those that just have refrigerant. So while I topped up the A/C system every year, this year I added a bit more pressure than I normally do (in the shot to the left, the can of refrigerant, blue, and the charge adapter, blue, are at the far left, clicking on the picture will show you a larger version). Having read through the Dodge forums, I was cognizant it is easy to over-pressurize the system, so I have erred on the side of caution, so to speak. The way this works is to some extent dependent on the ambient temperature, as that is what determines the point at which the compressor engages, and as it wasn't blisteringly hot, the pressure was fairly low, and I kept adding regrigerant. At some point, the compressor began to cycle more or less of its own volition, and I assumed I had reached max - as it cycled, the gauge repeatedly flipped into the red zone, and then came back to green. I thought I might have overdone it, but guess what: the A/C, for the first time since the compressor was replaced, is running perfectly. Today, with temperatures in the 'eighties, the SUV is cool inside, front to back, in ten minutes or so. Brilliant. So: don't be too cautious.. My guess is that I've finally put enough refrigerant in, and that I may have added too much lubricant, over time, which has now finally distributed itself throughout the system, which, because the SUV is large, has separate-but-connected back-and-front systems, with separate heat exchangers, one of which is all the way in the back. I think.

June 15, 2018: New discoveries, and brain agility.

Keywords: Blackberry Priv, Android, ez Share, webserver card, Nikon D90, nearsighted, children's vision, memory, long numbers, dementia, phone unlock

ez Share SD memory adapter I had been looking at those SD (memory) cards that purport to provide WiFi access to your pictures for a while, mostly because I found it hard to believe an SD adapter could contain a WiFi host. Guess what - not only do these things contain a functional WiFi host router, they also have a webserver built in, as well as enough processing power to build a TAR archive. I am gobsmacked. I bought the ez Share device for under $20, it comes without the memory card, so I inserted a 32GB micro-SD card, set the timeouts on my Nikon to long, unformatted the card (which would trigger the camera to re-format, if it could see adapter and card), stuck the whole shebang in the Nikon, it recognized the card, I formatted and took some pictures, parked the camera next to my laptop, and three minutes later I was looking at, and downloading, the shot I had just taken. Amazing. Best to disconnect from your internet, for the duration, then connect to the card's "hotspot", and a browser window will open automagically (pic to the right shows you the server view from the adapter on my D90 - not only does the card recognize standard picture formats, it can also "see" raw image formats, like Nikon's NEF). I mean, easy as pie. No more USB connection, and you can use the camera you have. Donald Trump should look at this, and learn why slagging off the Chinese is maybe not smart. While we build megamillion dollar medical devices, they create really advanced small stuff that actually works every time...

My D-90 had lost some of the sharpness in its imaging, and I blamed that to the time I dropped the camera body, a couple of years ago. So imagine my surprise, after I reprogrammed the CPU to accomodate the adapter card. You have to set the timeouts in the camera to as long a time as you can manage, and that gets done in different places. That done I made some other changes, as I went through the settings, including setting the ASA value to "auto", where I had always had a value I was used to in 35mm days. Whether it is the sensitivity, or something else I did, I don't know, but the camera is back to razor sharp, with both my zoom lenses. Can't think what it was I did, but that makes me happy. I am not posting a picture here, because you can only really tell when looking at a full size (4310x2868 @ 12MB) shot - bit big on a webpage.

ez Share adapter integrated webserver I am following, with some bemusement, an ongoing discussion in The Netherlands about the increase in nearsightedness in children, blamed (by prestigious medical scientists) on digital devices. Followed by endless discussions about how to make (read: force) children to "play outside", which apparently is the only solution to cure their vision "problem". I gotta tell you, these folks are deluded. Important is to figure out what change is in progress, and how, and then find a solution - but that is not "don't do it", or "limit their screen time". Apparently, nobody has talked to the kids involved. Or read up about when exactly humankind left the savannah, and why. Don't get me wrong, I don't deny the problem, but I do know that going backwards, and using force, is not a solution. When I was a kid we were taught to be right-handed by being rapped on the knuckles, and forced - at home and in school - to write with the right hand. We know, today, there is no rationale for this. For forcing anyone young to do anything that does not come natural, one needs a very good reason. The principle must be that the child must be given options, then left to decide its own preference. We need to stop thinking we know things. That's not how you discover.

One of the things you need to be mindful of, in terms of health maintenance, is the mind. Previous generations, to the best of my knowledge, didn't much work on maintenance of the brain, but this is slowly changing - although I doubt very much this is being addressed where it should, among folks in their twenties and thirties, when they can still "learn to learn". Ending up in science and technology, and the development of the computer environment, I expect I was simply lucky, always having to "wrack the brains" for work. The reason I am bringing this up is that recently, I decided to use an old 18 digit security key, one I had not used for years, and one that I always felt was too long to remember. This key is in one of my WiFi routers, one of those keys you set, and then the systems remember it for you, you just have to make sure you can find it in your database, if you can't get into the router to read it there.

Surprise, surprise: this key is still glued in my brain. I could use it for a password, I remember it by rote even though I never used it on a daily, or even weekly, basis, and as I said, I've not used this key for years - like two, or three. Alpha-numeric, too. I am reasonably good at remembering passwords, I use maybe ten, alternatingly, but this really is a bit "over", if you follow my drift. I do not, at this point, even know if I am remembering this code as a number, or if it is simply a sort of object, whose "shape" would be determined by the "proper" sequence of numbers and letters. Yes, so I can remember things that are hard to remember, but is that proof of mental agility? If there were tests you learned for this when young, I'd have something to go on, but there weren't, so we're pretty much on our own - I remember that last cognition test I took, when the psychologist tested me on my knowledge of past U.S. presidents - for a non-voter who isn't a U.S. citizen, that may not work, and the result has no bearing on someone's memory, if you have not established they should remember this.

Briefly back to the Blackberry Priv, that seems to be working swimmingly, I am almost tempted to buy a spare. But I won't, because Blackberry just announced yet another new handset, so by the time I need to replace this, there probably will be refurbished versions of that. I can't afford to have phones lying around doing nothing - besides, I have plenty of those, older handsets, I can always fall back on the Z10, temporarily. In the interim, T-Mobile just told me they'll unlock this Priv - one reason these refurbished Privs are cheaper than others, is that they are locked to T-Mobile - and without an existing TMO account with some history, they're not going to send you an unlock code.

June 11, 2018: Just playing with my new toy.

Keywords: Blackberry Priv, Android, ABC news, live streaming, BBC iPlayer, NooQee, wireless charging

spicy beef pho Yes, that is a bowl of spicy beef pho, I often forget to walk around the corner from the downtown Seattle clinic I go to for checkups, and pick up Pho to take home for lunch or dinner. Today I remembered, and it did not disappoint - enough for two meals, and five alarm, too. But the picture is here because I am still trying out the new Blackberry Priv, with its 18 megapixel Schneider Kreuznach camera. This is a compressed JPEG, so you won't see the full resolution, but even this shows it is pretty good. HD video too, although I need a faster (cat 10) SD card to fully utilize that. With the card I have, I can do 1280x720 at 30 frames per second - actually, in terms of file size, that's oompf aplenty. Anyway, I love the Priv - if you don't need to keep up with the Joneses, you can still sit in the front row for a reasonable amount of money. Battery life is good, it makes a terrific alarm clock - one of the must-have features for any cellphone for me - and as of this weekend, when the induction charger and holster get here, I'll be super happy.

NooQee wireless chargerSo, yes, at least I can now watch ABC News' broadcast, (East Coast) live at their website. That's major, I really don't want to have to sit here glued to my ATSC dongle, I suppose I could record a broadcast on the other laptop, just in case I miss the "World News". I have always thought it strange that, in the USA, the main newscast is a half hour, sometime early evening, the rest of the copious newstime taken up by the locals reporting on lost dogs and phonescammed grandmas. It is likely my own fault, I've really never been a proper local anywhere, well, maybe Amsterdam, I must make sure I "local" myself, once I move to Seattle. If you live in places you know you will not stay forever you don't have that urge to "connect".

It has taken a long time, but the networks are finally streaming to the internet in HD - not only that, ABC has managed to do a "normal" broadcast, with ads, which was the problem, for a long time. I hadn't looked at this stuff for quite a while - I use international "intelligent DNS" servers, and many organizations did not like that. It is a bit like VPN - you can get to sites that would block U.S. access, and your own provider can only get limited information about your surfing. It isn't that I do prohibited things, I just value my privacy, and having control over my networking. And no, it is not illegal to access the BBC iPlayer without paying the TV license fee - UK law is not valid outside the UK, and you cannot pay the license fee if you don't have an address in the UK. I checked, there is no way. These people are doing themselves out of so much money...

The wireless NooQee charger in the picture to the right works, is really all I can say. I had no real need for one of these, or so I thought - I did buy one for a friend last year, but then I got the Blackberry Priv. There was a charging stand for the Priv on Amazon, that was inexpensive, but there was a shipping charge. And as it turned out, this NooQee was more expensive, but shipped for free, if I bought enough stuff in one order. As it turned out, I needed some other things, so now I have this "NooQee" - I don't know if anybody has explained to the Chinese what that means, in popular speak... I have had a charging stand for every Blackberry I've ever owned - you have to charge them anyway, and they make great alarm clocks, especially in a stand by the bed. Blackberrys always went into "sleep" mode when you put them in the stand and activated the alarm clock, complete with auto-dimming of the screen. So let's see. It isn't environmentally good, though, it consumes 2 amps for 1 amp power delivery, where you really only need 500 milliamps to charge a phone. Having said that, the battery in the Pri si not removable, so a stand capable of fast chrging may not be a luxury. I've now got two phones with fixed batteries - it is likely the plethora of aftermarket batteries, some of which probably put your phone at risk of catching fire or exploding, that are doing away with the replacable battery. The battery in my Blü is massive, could last days, I think the Priv has a slightly less powerful one, to keep it slim. Let you know how long it lasts... But this stand is cool, I have it running, for now, on a 1 amp power supply, and as the phone fell over, propped up as it was, the past couple of nights, a stand is a good idea. Not having to use the USB socket is probably helpful, too. Right?

June 7, 2018: More Blackberry Priv, a.k.a. Androidery.

Keywords: Blackberry Priv, Android, refurbished, Amazon, T-Mobile, Google, Android 6.0.1., Marshmallow

Well, a day down, and I have largely finished setting up my "new" Blackberry Priv, not helped by the fact that some Android phones work differently from others. I've not followed Android very closely, so don't even know what silly name we're up to today... I do know the setup process is "long and involved". Just downloading an installing the latest Android version, after SIM activation, took a whopping four hours. And, kids, that will only get worse, over the years, for no real reason, I am sure we could fix that if we really wanted to.

Blackberry PrivAnyway, having just tested internet tethering on this handset, and finding the WiFi network connection running at 300 Mbps, I am a convert. Running speedtest from a connected laptop I end up clearly faster than the basic FIOS fiber connection I have at home, pretty amazing, that is the power of 4GLTE. The rest of the Priv - still wading through the settings - is pretty powerful and complete, I've spent much of my time turning off the plethora of Google apps, that serve little purpose other than to collect data. Shot some pictures, and open them in Google Photo? That moves them, instantaneously, to Google's Cloud, where they are immediately read and analyzed, it isn't legal for them to do that on your phone. In my other Android, there is a File Manager, so I could shoot files from the SD card to my laptop, but Google have done away with that, as well, now - this forces you to use Photo or Gallery, both of which instantaneously copy your pictures and videos to Google's cloud. I am able to connect the Priv using a USB port, and suck 'em off that way, but elegant it is not. Owell.

But it's got everything, 5.4 inch high resolution screen, HD camera, it is spiffy, plenty of RAM, and Blackberry moved contacts and calendar and stuff seamlessly from the Z10 to the Priv. I just need to turn off the Gmail app, and use the Blackberry Hub instead. We'll see. I've ordered an induction charger and a Blackberry holster, so it'll (almost) be like nothing changed. I am still finding my way around Android (the Priv updated itself to Android 6.0.1., a.k.a. Marshmallow once I began setting it up), which, though I own several Android handsets, I had never used on a daily basis. I do enjoy the Blackberry productivity tools, having gotten used to those over the decades, and Blackberry's transfer tool brought my databases over from the Z10 pretty much without a hiccup, and without my having to use anybody's cloud - just my WiFi network did the trick. The nice aspect of this is that I don't necessarily have to store stuff in Google's Android cloud. I disable most of their apps, you don't need to have Google Maps on your phone to use mapping, nor do you need the Google Voice app to use Google voice. Etc. Call me paranoid, but I like to have some control where my data goes, and I like to use other people's software and hardware - I especially don't want to "Google" my laptops. Blackberry, I am pleased to see, is still allowing the manufacture of new Blackberry smartphones, and that means I'll be able to continue using their productivity tools, which have more of a business flavour than Google and Apple do, their focus is on making sure you stay in touch with Grandma and Grandkids, gotta tell you, I see some people contort themselves so they can force their children to interact with them all the time, I avoided that rattrap many years ago, when I decided to go live places where the family didn't, and then divined a vasectomy would give me more control of my life. But that's a different subject.

For me, personally, another T-Mobile handset (the refurb Priv is available for multiple carriers, from Amazon and Ebay and likely others) lets me use T-Mobile's WiFi calling - not that vital as I have unlimited minutes, but when traveling overseas you can make calls to the United States with it, still charged as a local US-based call, as far as I know, local, as the call is made not from the country you're in, but via the internet, from Snoqualmie, WA, where the head end is. And T-Mobile does well on the tethering and hotspot front, where especially the hotspot, using dual band 802.ac WiFi, is blisteringly fast (mind what kind of allowance your account has, though). I don't use it often, but during outages, and while traveling, carrying your own fast router is a Godsend, and the Priv is much faster than the Z10, which is no slouch - 300 Mbps versus 75. And having the slide-out keyboard (picture below) is convenient, though a full function screen touch keyboard is provided. I tell you, at the price (I balk at shelling out $700 or more for a cellphone) this unit is state-of-the-art and very user friendly. My only criticism, though it really isn't wrong, is that the screen is hi-res to the point that pages in smaller fonts are hard to read, as the handset renders very small type as if you've got the eyes of a twelve year old. So if you're in bifocal age, expect to spend time zooming..

I have to tell you that, indeed, Google has made Android much more secure, and provides lots of different ways to prevent apps you install from breaking your phone and your privacy, but it takes a huge effort to find all of the settings, tweaks and protective measures you can take. Even if you do, in order to prevent apps running in the background - this is when you quit an application and it then disappears, but continues to run - you need to switch the entire Android operating system into "developer mode", which requires several obscure steps that you can only find in obscure internet forums. It works, but I like to think few people turn that on, especially since it doesn't show in any menu until after you actually do.

June 4, 2018: Steamed lobster, and the Blackberry Priv.

Keywords: lobster, pressure cooker, steaming, freezing, encryption, Bitlocker, TPM, Blackberry Priv, Android, refurbished

I thought my car needed repairs, but it looks like I was wrong - after topping up the A/C and the fluids, and having an oil change and wheel rotation done, all seems to be well, I did get the pressure washer out and gave the engine, heat exchangers, undercarriage, wheels, brakes, and the aftermarket air filter a good clean. Wash and wax is next, but the engine front and undercarriage kind of pick up more crud than you'd think. I do want to change the coolant and flush the cooling system, properly, this summer - not something I have done before, but slowly time - I did change the coolant two years ago, but I think a pressure flush will help the cooling. Not that she runs hot - the engine is programmed to run hot, for the sake of complete combustion, and I have changed the air handling system to give 'er a bit more air. As it turns out, the OEM air handler is heavily baffled, so the big V8 doesn't make as much noise as it can. That's cosmetic, and on an older engine not necessarily helpful, as it reduces the air flow into the manifold. Anyway, she is doing fine, and I have topped up the A/C more than I normally do, out of caution, and that actually works much better... Didn't add compressor lubricant, did that last year, and that does not help with the system efficiency. More "raw" refrigerant, this time, and we're doing better, lotsa cold air.

lobster cooked You'll be pleased to hear I have figured out how to (hopefully) humanely kill lobsters, then, later, defrost them and steam them in the pressure cooker. As you may know, the standard way of executing a lobster is by live immersion in boiling water, a process, I understand, lobsters aren't altogether happy with, so I decided to try and vacuum pack two live lobsters, and stick the resulting packages directly in the freezer. As far as I know, deep cooling a live animal (insects, fish, mammals) causes quick loss of consciousness, as the brain progressively shuts down bits not necessary for survival. And in a number of articles, the advice is given to "numb the lobster" by putting it in the freezer. That gave me reason to think that if you put the lobster in the freezer, and leave it there, it should go from "numb" to "dead" in short order, right? The vacuum packing helps to immobilize the critter, snd draw out remaining water. After all, if lobsters don't have a central nervous system or a "brain" as such, so cutting them through the head isn't a good way of killing them. So I figured freezing was best, and as you can see in the pressure cooker just after I opened it, the lobster, defrosted in the fridge for 24 hours, boiled up just fine, it does not have to be boiled alive. Cooking time was experimental - two minutes on high pressure, but rather than cooling the pot, as some cooking writers recommend, I just turned off the (induction) heat, and let it sit until the pressure sensor came down (9 minutes). Meat nice and white, and any remaining moisture (this was more steam than boil) evaporated while it cooled down. I think we're good.

The discussion about whether lobsters (and other edible critters) feel pain is interesting. You see, we don't really know what pain is - it is not an emotion, it is a warning mechanism that something is seriously wrong, it gets you to look for an improvement with regard to whatever is wrong. From that perspective, then, the lobster, attempting to escape from a pot with boiling water, does feel pain, no need for the semantics. Stunning it, as is routinely done with slaughter animals today, as I have attempted to do, is then probably the most humane way to prepare a lobster for the kill, in whatever way you do that. As soon as I have my own apartment again I'll try and do some experiments, along the above lines....

Shows ya. I tested the Bitlocker install on the two older PCs I have that run Windows 10 Pro, all went well, and eventually got to where I had the HP Elitebook 2570P all ready to convert, with a new hybrid hard disk, and an activated TPM, the Trusted Platform Module that provides motherboard level security so the drive is locked to the laptop, can't be read or used unless physically installed in the one laptop - unless you have the encryption key created while Bitlocker runs. Well, maybe not... Yes, the install worked, the encryption worked, I was able to boot and run the operating system - except, somehow, memory errors began to occur. My ATSC TV dongle would no longer load its drivers, and any attempt at playing back HD broadcast TV recordings resulted in the Blue Screen Of Death.

I have no clue what causes this, but was thankfully able to back Bitlocker out completely, then bring Windows back to a restore point just before the conversion - the reset took hours. All is well, I am just terminally puzzled what didn't work - not that I have done the research I should, but then Bitlocker is something I wanted to install out of curiousity, not because I need it. There are rather a lot of levels of security in these business notebooks, I am not surprised something doesn't work right if you stack them all on top of each other. The plethora of security tools in business notebooks is meant to help IT departments implement the particular security scheme for their organization, and that usually is a choice of tools, not a stack. Even without Bitlocker, setting a drivelock password will make the drive inaccessible once removed from the system, and that really was my primary concern, as that is where my financial data lives. If you've been "computerized" for as long as me, you have whole decades of your life exclusively on disk, and I have worked diligently on protecting the data as much as I can, even to the point my computer room has a surveillance camera streaming video to a cloud overseas when I am not home. It isn't that I need that much protection, but as a researcher I just like to try and make things work, things I have particular expertise in.

Blackberry PrivWhile I am doing my level best not to spend an unnecessary penny, I do at some point need to replace my aging Blackberry Z10, which I successfully repaired, a while ago, I even replaced the rear facing camera ($6.95 on Ebay), better than ever now, the picture to the right was taken with it. But the Blackberry OS really is a thing of the past. I am not desperate to run dozens of apps on my mobile devices, but there are some things I need, and in today's "devices" some service providers, like banks, actually use a level of security that expects you to use their apps. There is some functionality they do not make available on PC, like cheque scanning, and older operating system, like Blackberry's OS-10, and Microsoft's Lumia, are not well served any more. Found a refurbished Blackberry Priv on Amazon, the Priv is the first (and likely last) high end Blackberry that natively runs Android, so I thought I would give that a try - annoying Queens, NY, vendor delivered late and insists on a delivery signature, inconvenient to the point I almost didn't get it, but the unit, which I ended up collecting from a FedEx depot, is in pristine shape (that's a slide-under keyboard in a very sturdy metal casing you see in the picture). I've not yet fired it up, but it looks like I even have an unused nano-SIM, which my carrier says they'll activate OTA, so we'll see if Blackberry did something to Android that makes it more palatable than the pure Google version. Getting one ($180 where it originally cost $699, and this handset looks new, unused, one can get lucky with "refurbished") is the only way to find out. More later..

May 29, 2018: Updates don't work. Really.

Keywords: Windows 10, Windows Update, Microsoft, data security, virus scanning, FICO, credit score

Windows 10's April "update" turns all of the sharing-data-with-Microsoft settings you've painstakingly turned off back on, adds parameters to that, and resets Edge, adding startup and icons even if you have turned Edge (which shares data and your mail login with Microplod) off, while it tries to re-enable its email application. In my case, I use a popmail application that does not share data with Microsoft, and does not put my email in Microsoft's Cloud (itself turned off) for "storage". You need to understand all of this "sharing" has two risks: first of all, Microsoft reads all of your email and files - completely unimportant what they say about your privacy, when Microsoft reports folks who access and distribute kiddie porn to the FBI (no problem with that), that means they have to parse (read) mail and files, and track the IP addresses the perp accesses. No two ways about that. So I laboriously turn everything off that gives Microsoft access to my data (including Microsoft's firewall, you can use a separate, external, physical firewall, behind your router(s), much more effective than Windows' firewall). Important: if you don't keep files in the default directories, they are harder to find. If you use tools that aren't common, hackers may not find how to get through, or use, them. We know this now: self driving cars don't necessarily recognize things they are programmed to recognize - humans, fire trucks, road dividers come to mind. If humans programmed it, it is, by definition, faulty.

In the interim, I have now run the April update on all three of my Windows 10 installs - this seriously is way too intense, especially since, as I understand it, computers with the Avast virus software installed may face problems even completing the upgrade. Yes, this is supposed to self-install, but the way Microsoft does updates, today, means that on many computers this update will not install, or not complete, and consumers who don't understand why they suddenly can no longer use their PCs are not likely to be able to complete this update without help. Not only that, some of Microsoft's own updates disable future updates - go figure - while some viruses disable updating, as well, without the user ever knowing. It is high time Microsoft understood that this method of "updating" software is no longer functional. Not only that, more than half of what Microsoft installs on your PC has nothing to do with "updating", but installs new functionality which, for the most part, is intended to collect personal data from your computer - there are at least half a dozen "apps" you can't use unless you provide your email address, and permission to use it, to Microsoft, as well as allow Microsoft to copy your files to their cloud, where they force you to permit their reading your files. All of them. Yes, you can turn that off - if you know how to run gpedit.msc under an elevated command prompt, and know where to find the policies. You know all that, right? Grandma? Whaddayamean, you didn't like it when the cops busted your front door because Microsoft reported that picture of your naked three month old grandson as kiddie porn?

Seriously, for a while I thought I was really overdoing this data security stuff, and then this amazing series of high level hacks happened, several a year, carried out by expert systems analysts capable of breaking through every firewall and protection we've ever invented. The ever increasing use of publicly available *nix and *nux operating systems in routers and firewalls have made it hugely simple for miscreants to find and track your devices and data traffic. All they have to do is break into a network interface router, analyze, at their leisure, the traffic there - nobody ever spends time looking at what goes on inside these routers - and then follow what looks a promising data track. That's simple, and that is why we get hacked, because it is so easy. Same with answering calls - I now only answer calls where I recognize the number, but I've gone one step further - most of my calls come in on a handset that does not have my contact list, so Google can't mine the Android phone for my contact information. When the call goes to voicemail, that has an email address not associated with the handset. For as long as carriers don't provide a facility where you can press a key to report a call while that call is in progress - that would be the easiest way for them to track the connection, which they could keep locked on the source switch until they release it - spoofing and phishing is going to continue, and the people that answer all calls don't help. No, hanging up does not help, you answer the call, they know your number is active. Their technology recognizes when the call goes to voicemail, which can often track the originating number, which is why they hang up so quick. Let it go to voicemail, and you have a record...

Frustratingly, my Fico score (Fair Isaac Corporation credit score) wasn't up to par, despite my best efforts, recovering from the Deed-in-Lieu I went through. Then, suddenly, my bank decides to "upgrade" the version of FICO it is using - I didn't know FICO had versions - from 8 to 9. Consequence: my FICO score jumped up, from marginally good to excellent. That should make me happy, especially since I found it frustrating my careful money management didn't really reflect in my credit score - but while it now does, I can't figure out what the banks were doing using a FICO score that clearly didn't reflect reality. The discrepancy between the two versions is just too great.. So, cool, but puzzling. I really ought to ask them. The two versions clearly cannot both be right. Then again, at least they fixed it. Trying to "standardize" all 325,719,178 Americans is bound to cause some problems.

Sorry to be cryptic, I would have loved to tell you what bank I am with, but today's hacker and tech giant environment really no longer warrant that. Letting hackers know where you bank was never a good idea, and then Google and Facebook and all those others may pull your financial data and sell them to people who come to completely wrong conclusions. Today, you're best off having an absolute minimum of accessible data on the internet - I am very firmly convinced that if you inadvertently post two pictures of you outside a Citibank branch, someone is going to jump to the conclusion you bank there, even if you're with Chase. That's getting crazy, but very true, you have absolutely no control over what data goes where, and what algorithm then jumps to conclusions that are never checked by anyone. I know this from my Facebook data file, which has me very active in PS2 gaming forums, in the past - gaming is something I have never done, so where do they get that from? I've never even looked at a PS2, let alone owned one... or any gaming device, nor have I ever attended gaming forums. I've attended one Xbox developer seminar in my entire life, and that was because a researcher invited me, I was living in Microsoft's hometown at the time.

The time machine through May 17, 2018, with linkbacks to October, 2008, is here

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