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July 29, 2015: Mugabe the Lion, and heat waves

Keywords: Zimbabwe, Cecil the Lion, Robert Mugabe, Trump, Huckabee, heat wave, Dodge Durango cooling, Bosch spark plugs

Umm, let's assume this dentist paid his $50,000, that's how much Robert Mugabe charges for one of his lions. Been going on for years. Apparently, the $50,000 produces more lions than it costs. Is that the issue? Mr. Mugabe, wozzup with that? I am not sure we should be blaming the dentist - he couldn't hunt a lion if he couldn't buy a license.

Donald Trump? It really is high time the Republican Party began to take itself seriously, and find a way to cut billionaire comedians from its ranks. These folks have a responsibility towards their voters and the country, and when you read and hear the comments Huckaby and Trump and others think are relevant... I was aghast when I heard Mike Huckaby state he understood what the Jews have been through, he'd visited a concentration camp and stood at the oven door. I am sorry, Governor, the only way you can understand the persecuted would be if much of your family was dead, killed, murdered, it was empathically not about "vernichtungslager" or the ovens, or Zyklon-B, the Holocaust was about a world view that used ethnic groups as scapegoats. It was a world view, still prevalent in some quarters, that created terminology and registration systems to facilitate mass murder, "ethnic cleansing". I don't know how to explain it, but I do hope Mike will now go to bat for the other ethic groups that were massacred, for instance Gypsies and Homosexuals and Mentally Ill people.

2003 Durango 4.7 liter V-8Ah. Summer. I didn't really see that coming until we got this ridiculous heatwave - 90s in an area where the normal June temperature is in the 70s. Last year I got the feeling we were having climate change going on - for the first time in my life I got sunburnt, unusual, unpleasant, my dermatologist opined this was age related... I am sure it is, but I am sure, at the same time, that if it weren't for global warming it might not have "erupted" on me. So this year, annoyingly, no shorts and tees, I guess that's that. I've spent too many years in the tropics not to know that the natives, there, largely don't do shorts and tees, and so I probably shouldn't complain too much. Kids, the sun is dangerous, and can do lasting damage, even kill you. Don't. And remember we're all subject to global warming, and it won't be until several generations hence before our bodies adjust. Trust me. I never had a tiny bit of sunburn - but then I do not "tan" or go to the beach, never have, never will - until 2014, and I can just tell the climate has changed.

Finally my car is happy in the heat - probably should say: not unhappy. What finally did it was the top radiator hose, in combination with the 20psi pressure cap. I guess the old hose was losing pressure, something I never noticed until there was a small puddle on the bottom splash screen, back in February, when I checked the engine compartment after going for a transmission service. I ordered a new hose - $24 on Amazon - installed it, and re-bled the system, and it's been fine since, right through the heat wave. It isn't all I did, and my other maintenance helped, too, but I would recommend to check cooling system pressure first, if you have overheating problems. The most important "other" improvement were the Bosch 7962 FR8LCX+ spark plugs, which, according to their documentation, have an improved heat transmission technology from the combustion chamber to the engine header. The difference was noticeable immediately after installation, having said that, the old Champions probably had 80,000 miles on them, so... Amazed spark plugs are supposed to last 100,000 miles, these days.

LED replacement sidelightAs I didn't know what bits in the support systems of a car with 100,000 miles on the clock needed attention, I tried to figure out what was necessary, and in the process did much of the maintenance, from replacing the coolant and the sparkplugs to the PCV valve and the serpentine belt.

I think I could become a second hand car mechanic now.. For as long as I had two cars I really only paid attention to the Camaro, and now I discover the Durango needed some TLC before I even drove it cross country. It is interesting, there are some relatively minor changes that are major improvements - take the spare tire, which is winched underneath the back of the car, and which gets loose when the spare tire loses pressure, as it will gradually do. Then, it moves around, and bangs against the metal a bit, and you can never tell what that noise is, what causes it, and it is't loud enough to be alarming, or familiar. I only just discovered it needs to be pressurized properly, and then tightened, and now I uderstand why the winch has a ratchet. And you have to check the pressure on the (full size) spare every time you check the other tires, and check the winch is tight. Who knew? And then there is the license plate light, which ends up with a silver deposit inside the bulb, which is designed wrong. Turns out I had an LED that fits right in there, did not give enough light for the sidelights, but is ideal for the license plate, and quite blue-ish bright. Problem solved, teehee - had I not attempted to change the front sidelights, I'd never have had these small LED lamps.

As I am working on a paper on risk management, I am paying particular attention to some of these things, as I note quite a few fire hazards in the conventional technologies in use in cars. Look at the heat silvered bulb to the right, and the scorched light fitting next to it, and you'll see what I mean. It amazes me nobody, over the 90 years or so they were in use, ever looked at them and thought "We can do better". Home lighting is in the same category - bakelite and plastic light fittings scorched, often burned, and while LCD and LED bulbs solved that problem, that wasn't the reason they were developed. In hindsight, I wonder how many thousands of people have died because of the inadequacy of the materials we decide to use. Yet, again, nobody ever seems to have said "We can fix this". Strange. Statistics will prove, over time, that LCD and LED bulbs save lives, as they don't cause fires at the rate conventional bulbs do.

June 29, 2015: It's just that women are jealous of navigation software

Keywords: Transport for London, GPS, satnav, navigation, Nokia, automation, innovation, SMS

2007 Nokia NavigatorAn interesting project - adjusting the top speed of a London bus on-the-go, depending on location and circumstances:

"[Transport for London] said the system would allow drivers to focus on potential road hazards rather than having to constantly check their speedometers."

Reading the article reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend and her daughter, both of whom felt the use of a GPS unit, or navigation software on a smartphone, was counterproductive, you did't learn about your local area, and I should do my own map reading and navigating, unless I went somewhere totally out of my local area.

What I wasn't able to explain to them was that my experience with GPS is that it takes half the work out of driving. I remember actually having an argument with a neighbour, years ago, someone who was accompanying me to the hospital for a sedative procedure, to the effect that he'd been driving locally for over fifty years, and I really could rely on him, why use the GPS phone, it took the wrong route, he said. He, too, couldn't understand that GPS is a tool you can use to find the shortest and most convenient route, that it actually knows the distance you drive, or the time needed, or some combination of both, and that it lets you concentrate on other things than where to turn left and right. Reading maps, or following someone's instructions, is all well and good, but not having to do that lets you drive more efficiently. I've noticed that I do learn how to get from A to B using GPS, it just takes longer. And today - I've used a GPS phone since 2007, although I had a GPS satellite receiver with software on a laptop seversl years earlier - you have traffic information too, of course, which I assume Transport for London can use to its drivers' advantage.

Most importantly, when you use navigation software the way the good Lord intended it, it talks to you to tell you where to go, and when - looking at the display should not ordinarily be necessary. So, provided you learn to use the software properly - switching to local roads when you know the highway is still in "commuter mode", for instance - allows you to concentrate on all sorts of things that, previously, your brain was too busy to notice. And, once you do use GPS consistently, you can occasionally deliberately ignore its instructions and find new or altered routes - not something you would have done using maps or driving instructions, once you knew "how to get there", that's what you stuck with, for the next twenty years. But most importantly, to me, the soothing voice - "turn left in one mile" - is very pleasant to have in your toolkit. It is hard to explain, but once you're a GPS user you need not pay attention to where you are at all. It does not matter. The software knows, that's the whole idea behind automation. I recall picking up my landlord from Seatac, last year, and getting lost twice, simply because I hadn't turned on my GPS, and was having a conversation while driving along, as well. My bad. He still thinks I've gone geriatric, but I've actually concentrated on using GPS since I bought that Nokia Navigator, in the Philippines, in 2007. You couldn't buy a phone with GPS software in the United States, at that time, so perhaps I should forgive all of those intrepid Westerners, none of whom got GPS until GM and Ford decided to build it into cars as a marketing tool, and AT&T and Verizon Wireless allowed GPS phones in their handset lineup.

It seems a never ending discussion: automation is fine - many consumers don't think of GPS, or "satnav", as the Brits call it, as automation - but you have to be able to write by hand, calculate in your head, and read maps. Well, yes, I can understand those arguments, but look at it from the developer's point of view, and you'll soon find that you cannot develop automation effectively unless you use it all the time. Ideally, you'd have two researchers, or pairs of rsearchers, so you can compare the outcome, but that would mean you're comparing new with old, and you're not taking new and letting it "stretch its legs", so to speak. Use a tool the way it was intended, then start expanding its use and capabilities - like it or not, this is how we learn. Phone text messaging came about because someone decided to put the ability to send bills via phone displays in, not because someone was really clever. "Text speak" was invented by kids, refusing to be hampered by the small size of phone displays, while the adults were all running around saying how bad this was for language development. They never realized this was language, a new way of writing things, this was true innovation.

June 20, 2015: A month? I wrote nothing for a month?

Keywords: Toshiba C55, Windows 8.1 Pro, command line backup, IPTV, Seiki 4K UHD, recovery partition, USB 3.0

Toshiba C55 open, with old and new disksUmm, I am not at all sure how I haven't managed to write a thing, in almost a month. Actually, I wrote stuff, but then came to a dead stop and didn't post anything. And then I didn't do one iota of work on the training course (which now won't happen until the fall, but that isn't a reason not to work on it). Considering it is just about summer and I have a list of things I wanted to do, and then didn't do any of them, I should be ashamed. And I am - I just can't figure out how I ground to a complete halt. I am doing worse than Jeremy Clarkson. I mean, I can understand how he feels he is out in left field, having lost what must seem like his raison d'être overnight, but I am sure his phone is ringing off the hook. Mine isn't.

Which is, of course, entirely my own fault. So I have to pick up somewhere. An agent was complaining I hadn't updated my resume, and I indeed took out much of the detail of things I'd done over the past few years. Some of it can't be posted, some of it I thought wasn't terribly important, so then I thought taking it all out was a good idea. Not. So I guess I need to put much of that stuff back in, "Mind The Gap", so to speak. Sheesh.

In the meantime - more about the actual install below - my new Toshiba laptop is actually doing everything it is supposed to, including running streaming IPTV out of Europe at near-HD quality, in real time, as well as providing antenna TV reception using an ATI Diamond dongle I've had for some time, which came with software that works better under Windows 8.1 than it did under Win7, before. To look at that I had to get the Toshiba to "talk properly" to my Seiki 39" 4K UHD display, which it now does over an S-VGA connection, at 1920x1080@75Hz. The higher resolution, which few devices can generate, is 3840x2160, but due to HDMI limitations that only works at 30Hz, which would be equivalent to interpolated screens at 60Hz - and at any rate, I believe the Seiki will only support that over HDMI. So far, I have not been able to get any of my systems to talk to the Seiki at the higher resolution with lower refresh - but as I don't need that, I've not made much of an effort. The 75Hz refresh is very welcome, though, the image coming out of the Toshiba is incredibly crisp, especially since the faster refresh works better with European 50 cycle video.

I've found that, unlike my Lenovo, the new Toshiba's Win8.1 Pro load will successfully run a full command line system backup (using WBAdmin in a Powershell), and I was amazed it backed up some 120+ GB in twenty minutes, probably due to the USB 3.0 port, which is new technology to me. It seems faster even than the external 6Gb/s ESATA port on my Lenovo, which is supposed to do better than USB 3, rated at 5 Gb/s, and isn't self powered. On my older systems I use AIS Backup, which works fine but is a bit finicky restoring, but now I should be able to do a "native Windows" restore, as the Toshiba install DVDs created a recovery partition on my new terabyte disk. That's really cool, was never able to get that working on my older systems, although of course I didn't want to lose disk space, but on a terabyte drive that's not really an issue. Toshiba's recovery partition takes only 11GB, and I am backing up to the 500GB drive that was in the Toshiba, now in a Sabrent USB 3.0 enclosure. It backs up so fast I may be able to dispense with the incremental backups, and simply do a full backup once a week or so. Kewl.

streaming BBC IP TVHaving said that, the Toshiba has, at $229, two features my 2012 Lenovo does not - USB 3.0, and built in Bluetooth (the Lenovo does have a USB/eSATAp port, useful for me as I have a bunch of eSATA backup drives). As the Bluetooth sits on the system bus, and does not need USB bandwidth, and the Toshiba's chipset has a high speed USB bus right into the ports, I/O in the Toshiba is significantly faster, even though the CPU is slower than the older Lenovo's. This is, for me at least, interesting to the point I can actually use the technology, which may not be the case with everybody. With the basic anemic flavour of Windows it is sold with, and little documentation how to rebuild the system to speed it up, the majority of consumers won't be able to use much of what this system can do. Additionally, the Toshiba firmware with Windows 8.1 Pro is able to recognize Blu-ray data disks, and write to them, giving me the ability to store up to 25GB of data per BD-R side. Although I have had the relevan software and compatible drives for years, this is the first time I can actually write to a BD-R right-out-of-the-box, without jumping through software and firmware hoops. Amazing.

Replacing the hard disk in my new laptop, and adding memory - I maxed it out to 8 GB, which is all it will take - certainly made a good difference in speed. How much I don't yet know, I am still running software updates and installs, but the 500 GB hard disk that was in there has a rotation speed of 5400 rpm, and a SATA interface that maxes out at 3.0 Gb/sec. The new disk has a full terabyte, rotates at 7200 rpm, and sports a SATA port that will handle 6.0 Gb/sec. So not only is the drive physically faster, a disk with the same platter size but larger capacity will take less time to move its heads, while it is known that Windows' use of "virtual memory" (swapfiles and swapcode on disk) gets faster as the disks get larger. Considering I part paid for the memory and the disk with an Amazon gift card from my health insurance, it is an all around good deal. All in all, if you forget the gift card, the Toshiba with extra memory and disk, combined with an update to Windows 8.1 Pro that I bought in January of 2013 but backed out of my Vaio, set me back a total of $388.67. If you do consider the gift card and the fact I had the Windows 8.1 Pro upgrade already, I only actually spent $273.68...

The C55 doesn't actually have those little access hatches you can open to replace memory and disks and clean and stuff, so in order to do an upgrade you actually have to take the entire bottom off the machine. 12 or so screws, but it isn't a huge big deal, and then you crack the case by sliding a small screwdriver over the hinge (top left in the picture) under the casing, and "wriggling it a bit". The latches will pop, and then you just keep levering the casing until it comes off completely (make sure you drop the screws out before you do this, or you'll never find them again). At that point, replacing the disk and the memory takes maybe five minutes, just be aware that the hard disk has a piece of sticky foil attached to the underside, you can pull this (carefully) off, and apply it to the new disk. I assume it is ground shielding, the disk is not screwed onto the PC board, which is how these things normally get grounded.

At any rate, if you've made a set of Toshiba recovery DVDs before doing all this, you'll be pleasantly surprised that the Toshiba Windows install is intelligent enough to go out and discover how much memory and disk is installed, and adjust Windows to those parameters. This is often not the case, and the install will think it knows what's there. And then I hit a snag - I had installed the Windows 8 Pro upgrade earlier, and after putting the disk in needed to do that again, but this time Microsoft decided that was one time too many, and errored out in operating system activation. Damn. Or so I thought. But then I tried again the next morning, and this time was thwarted by a glitching phone line. At the end of all that, I heard the automation say I could be transferred to a hu-man, so decided to try that, and believe it or not, a call center in India sorted it all out, after I had explained my predicament, even coming back on line when the phone glitches prevented the registration from working, and reading it out to me live. Took all of twenty minutes, and it made my day, being able to use a license I had bought at the beginning of 2013, but only used for a couple of weeks. I wasn't at all sure it would even work, but it does. Kewl. Thanks, Microsoft (I don't say that a whole hell of a lot....). And the system now runs very smoothly, with the fast disk and extra memory. Especially the ATSC-TV dongle runs brilliantly, just need to check it'll still record OK.

May 24, 2015: Maintenance never stops

Keywords: working out, Toshiba C55, Windows 8.1 Pro, elder care, Dodge Durango, maintenance, repair

I can't remember ever having writer's block before. Although, I must have done, I do recall having to call my editor, now and again, being in the process of missing a deadline, and that usually is writer's block. But at this point it is severe - and it isn't for lack of subjects or information, it's just that the words won't come out. Let's see, last blog entry was May 3, three weeks, blah. I do seriously wonder if it isn't somehow related to the gym, working out, and weight loss. Let's see... 91 sessions, in the 116 calendar days since I got the membership. That's pretty good, that's, umm, better than five days a week. And, apart from losing a ton of weight, I am bulking noticeably - I noticed yesterday I can feel solid muscle in between my rump and my upper arms, pretty good for what is only a short workout. I am tempted to spend more time in the gym, but stop myself, want it to remain manageable, and above all, want to prevent injury, something I truly cannot afford, medically speaking. So far, so good.

While I am perfectly happy to accept that regular physical exercise (the link takes you to a scientific review at the Daily Telegraph) will generally lead to a person being healthier, or perhaps I should say "less unhealthy", I honestly can't quite figure out where the researchers in this study got their comparative statistics. You really can't compare a sedentary with a different active person, except perhaps if you're got identical twins. I am following up my own statistics, comparing a number of years with just daily walking as exercise, with going to the gym on an almost daily basis, and while I can spot some differences already, the causes of those differences are hard to measure, and even harder to prove. I've had several levels of exercise, over the years - none, for a long time, then once I hit New York I hit the gym, since one came with my job, and then I used my woodstove and the maintenance of my five acres of woodlands as exercise. Then, when I lost the house, I was relegated to walking, and as of the beginning of the year I can go to the gym again. Being a bit of a statistician, I am able to do some comparing. My medical condition and the medication I am on are good reasons to monitor and record my vital signs - that gives me early warning of trouble, and helps convince my doctors I am a conscientious patient. What I am absolutely unwilling to accept is that you can measure that someone lives longer because of one particular activity. It isn't statistically and scientifically provable that if I had not bought five acres of woodlands, when I retired, and have been exercising since, I would have died by now. Life expectancy is not something you can measure - look at the Facebook husband dying after falling on his head using a treadmill - yes, treadmills are risky contraptions, I don't know why people think they emulate walking or running, when you walk or run the entire universe moves past you, so a treadmill provides an artificial, and contrived, universe, where something happens that does not exist in the real world. That has risks, and that is why the guy died.

Toshiba C55 and ATI dongle I had planned to finish at least a blog entry over the weekend, but during the week my trusty old (2009) VAIO All-In-One began to develop a noise I did not like. I am not sure whether it was a fan or the hard disk, but it got worse as the week progressed, to the point it woke me up a couple of times (but as a systems engineer, anything computer that "sounds different" is alarming). Anyway, I ended up going to Best Buy to see if I could find a cheap laptop, although I really can't afford new equipment right now, I didn't think the VAIO was about to die, but then again I know from my lab years that once a system gets noisier it is on its way out. I gave it a good air clean, but that made no difference.

Lucky me, Best Buy had a brand new ex-display model Toshiba Satellite laptop sitting boxless in a cart for a couple hundred(!) dollars, and as the VAIO's tasks aren't very demanding - I use it for watching and recording TV programming - I snarfed the Toshiba, and that led to an entire weekend PC-installing, something I hadn't done in quite a while.

It came with Windows 8.1, something I feared I might have to remove and replace with either Windows 8 or 7, but as it turned out 8.1 now can be installed without being tied to a Microsoft email address, something that was mandatory when it was first introduced. In fact, it was cleaner than I remembered, my only problem was that Best Buy had set the machine up with a login, and thoughtfully hadn't provided a password, so I couldn't back that login out. After a while, I figured out a way to completely reinitialize the laptop - it wouldn't, as delivered to me, even let me create master disks without the password - and that led to an installation session that lasted from around noon until around 8pm, inclusive of the 126 updates Windows wanted to install - by 10pm, I had finished installing my base software, removing the crap Microsoft and Toshiba insist on installing, and configuring the system.

I've noticed, as well, that today's version of Windows 8.1 has facilities the original upgrade to 8.1 did not have, like a way of backing up and restoring. Its absence was one reason why I backed 8.1 out of my Vaio after buying the update - there was a shell command to back up, but it did not work, and the "Windows 7 backup and recovery" that was part of Windows 8 had disappeared in 8.1. I've not tried it yet, but at least it is there in the Control Panel, where it belongs.

And as it turns out, this stupid $200 Toshiba has a few more surprises I had not counted on. Unlike any of my other systems, over the past few years, it natively recognizes BD (Blu-Ray Data) disks! 25Gb on a side. I bought the Buffalo drive (which is able to read HD-DVD movies as well as Blu-Ray movies, and write BD disks) back in 2009, but was never able to get it to work reliably, although I got loads of software for it, and on some systems was able to play either HD-DVD movies, or Blu-Ray movies. I don't know if it is Windows or Toshiba, but it looks like the PC has finally caught up with technology - think about it, it is a drive I've had six whole years. Sheesh.

And then I decided to see if my Windows 8 Pro upgrade still worked - I didn't expect it to, bought it when Miicrosoft introduced 8.0 upgrades, back in 2013, and usually these updates have a short shelflife. But much to my surprise, the activation key was still valid, and so I was able to upgrade the 8.1 Basic on the Toshiba to 8.1 Pro - although I had to call customer service at Microsoft to get it to activate, they had the previous activation, which I backed out after a couple of weeks, still in their database, but even that worked. Bit of luck, with my new install, I can even tape the last ever Letterman tonight...

So I have now been installing this Toshiba since Saturday noontime, and I am not done - I have a fast Hitachi terabyte drive on the way, and an 8 Gb memory module, the thing only has one memory slot. To make it all "easier", you have to take the entire laptop apart to install this stuff, no convenient little doors and openable slots for upgrades. Like I said, it's sjeep. Will keep y'all posted - between the 7200 rpm drive, both faster and bigger than what's there now, and the additional memory, this laptop should be much faster.

While I am still planning to change the bottom radiator hose, coolant, and the cooling thermostat in my Dodge Durango, replacing the top hose, and re-bleeding the system twice, seems to have pretty much done the trick, as far as the 4.7 litre V-8 running hot is concerned. During the past month, it's been pretty warm and sunny, and there hasn't been a trace of the engine heating up. It probably means that with the coolant pressure at nominal, the cooling ducting has sort of "unstuffed" itself. I guess all I am waiting for now is for the weather to improve a little bit - we had massive summer last week and over the weekend, but it's gone now - and work on my brakes. That's a bit scary, in that I've never done that before, and front brake failure if I "get it wrong" would be really bad news. So bit by bit, easy does it, but I do need to get it done, what PEP Boys quoted me is not really something I can afford.

May 3, 2015: How do you deal with insecurity?

Keywords: health insurance, aging, prescription glasses, jobs, writing, course writing, insecurity, health care, R&D

insurance billboard This is really annoying, in many ways. Thanks to the Silver Sneakers program my Verizon/UHC health insurance program is now offering as an inclusion to the policy, I've managed to get my condition back to where it was years ago, I've lost twenty pounds (but as I am gaining muscle mass it is probably more), my waist is back at 34, which is truly astonishing, and I've gained as much stamina as my thyroid medication will allow. One consideration I had not given thought to was that LA Fitness built a center within walking distance from my home last year, and that makes it much easier to go and work out every day. It isn't something I would have ever considered as a factor, but there you go. But at the same time, I seem to have lost my writing propensity, and my course writing endeavour has ground to a screeching halt. I am trying to figure out why, what the correlation is, how I can get back on track, but so far not massively successfully. Kate is, as I understand the BBC, doing much better than me, but then she married into a nice family. I should, for the sake of truthfulness, add that my rheumatologist has managed to wean me off some of the medications I had, in some instances, been taking for decades, and I should imagine this brings changes that only gradually become apparent.

I would have, in the past, rarely added these types of personal observations, but I am thinking part of my "risk management" course could be a review of aging and illness, considering I have quite a bit of experience of the latter, and am beginning to gain some experience of the former. One of the comments I got during some test presentations was that younger students might want to hear about things "they didn't know" - and while I am not certain that's necessarily my field, I may well help students explore what happens when they get older, and how to cope with older staffers, or even older relatives.

Way back when, when working in the NYNEX R&D lab, I "discovered" two interesting facets of aging - but not necessarily older - workers.

One colleague had problems with smaller on-screen fonts, as he didn't wear glasses. Other staffers, in Operator Services, were able to handle calls much more quickly when we gave them much larger screens - again, folks who, for reasons best known to themselves, didn't wear prescription glasses. Surprising, as, at the time, the phone company had two vision plans, basically giving staffers free spectacles every two years, and then giving staffers using monitors to do their work more free glasses the other year. So there wasn't exactly an incentive, like money, not to have spectacles. This has always - I've been wearing contact lenses since I was 25 or so - puzzled me. Why would you not get eye correction when you can get it for free, and you do not have 20/20 vision? And I have not, until today, ever found the answer to that question. It is hard enough to cope with aging vision, but it is beyond me to understand why you would inflict this on yourself at an earlier age.

Similarly, I've met plenty of people who won't go for medical checkups, even if they have a complaint or two, and medical insurance. Coming from Europe, where virtually free healthcare is ubiquitous, I've understood why some Americans will try and postpone doctor visits, and prescription medication, but it seems many who have all manner of health insurance do that too. A friend had back-to-back strokes, a few years ago, and I am convinced he is one of those who previously wouldn't go for his annual physical, even though he had both a private and a retired military health plan. In my case, my thyroid cancer was diagnosed during a standard annual physical, by an observant primary care doctor. I might have been toast, otherwise.

Watching the "Double Decker Driving School" series on ITV makes me want to move back to London, and become a bus driver. London looks so familiar, I like the corner shops, know the street well, but I have no freaking clue why I am watching this, or why I would want to do this. Even if I were to qualify, which, at my age, is probably complete rubbish. No, I wouldn't want to drive a bus in NYC, or D.C., but London, it seems like a romantic thing. Say what?

I guess I'll just have to push over the hurdle of submitting the outline and starting the classes. Thinking about it, I've mostly worked in jobs, during my career, and I expect that's where the insecurity comes from, because what few independent enterprises I set up, early in my work life, didn't take off. So the frustration is not being able to find a "job", and the insecurity of setting up "my own thing" again - if anybody knows how to start an enterprise, it would be me, having, by now, built and turned up entire network operations centers in new telecommunications companies, which are today very large and very profitable. I suppose insecurity is the operative word. That should then be just a matter of pushing on, although, at this point, starting the classes at the beginning of the fall term probably makes the most sense, I do need to write a whole bunch more material in order to do all three - course, articles, book. That's the plan I began with. And what I should do, and haven't done, is some interviews, talk to some folks in corporate America about their take on risk management. It isn't like I don't have them close - Boeing is next door, so is Microsoft, so is Amazon - and I just realized the military is too, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and after a decade in D.C. I am well acquainted with the Army and its vagaries. So get on with it, Menno...

April 24, 2015: Frisky is perhaps not the right word

Keywords: Songkran, Thailand, jihad, migrants, Durango, car maintenance

cherry blossom As the cherry blossoms are out all over the Seattle area, and the weather has really been un-spring-like, at least as far as the Northeast is concerned, I was invited to join friends for the Thai Buddhist New Year celebration ("Songkran") at the Atammayatarama Monastery in Woodinville. Pleasant and a lot more civilised than the noisy and boisterous celebrations in Thailand, they had a room set asides for us "farangs", foreigners without Thai language skills, and after offerings to the monks there was a shared buffet with truly wonderful Thai food. Set in a distinctly rural part of King County the monastery is located in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, under the smoke of Mount Baker, "Koma Kulshan" in the native American Indian languages of the region.

I have to tell you I find it highly confusing that so many countries are attempting to prevent would-be jihadis from traveling to the Middle East to join IS or fight in Syria or do whatever. I mean, I understand why we don't want folks to do that, but if predominantly young Muslims want to follow what they perceive to be a call of religion, there's not a lot you can do to stop the majority of them. It's not unlike the African migrants heading for Europe, or South American migrants heading for the United States - they'll scrimp and save and pay people smugglers obscene amounts of money to convey them to an insecure and unstable future, without identity papers, jobs, an understanding of the language, and in many cases they die on the way. I may be thinking way too simplistically, but if they spent all this money improving their world they might be a lot better off, and in many cases still alive. It is staggering - whole entire families, children and all, move to to a war zone, and I personally don't think there is anything we can do to change their mindset. Stopping them and jailing them based on "terrorism offenses", as we do now, is only going to increase the number of folks that want to go.

But let me reiterate, I have no clue how someone can maintain a religious belief that compels them to go somewhere and kill people, or support people that kill people, even if that means abandoning their family, environment, kiss goodbye to the education, etc. I do get (from the press) the impression many of these folks' families tacitly condone their actions - in other words, they have the same beliefs their jihadi offspring or relatives do. I would probably have to say joining IS or Boko Haram, to me, probably falls under "freedom of association", we may be better off allowing would-be terrorists to leave and "do their thing". Having the police, security services and judiciary spend manpower, time and dollars policing our own populations may not be the best use of our resources. We just have to make sure we can track who leaves, and then make sure they don't come back in, we have the technology to do that.

The weather has been perking up nicely, but I think it is still a bit cold to finish up car maintenance, no real reason to freeze my fingers off. I've decided that putting in a lower temperature thermostat (185 v. 195 Fahrenheit) probably is a good idea, I can flush the cooling system in the engine block at the same time, and then there are the front brake pads. The Youtube instructions have it that isn't a big deal, and I did buy the tools to do that the right way, so..

Within days from writing that the temperature hits 70, early in the year, it won't last, but good enough to give the car a pressure washer spring clean. Although there's been no snow all winter, and so no road salt and other gunk, there's a good load of pollen, not as much as I was used to in Virginia, but enough to need a daily windshield wipe. Tree pollen is slowing, but grasses and flowering plants are erupting all over. Anyway, the car is done, and with it the driveway. Next, hopefully in the next couple weeks, the brake pads, which Pepboys said were just about gone, when they did the gearbox maintenance, before I drove to Canada. I am sure they overstated that a bit, but I am equally sure they do need replacing, so I ordered new ones from Amazon a few weeks ago, with a torque wrench, they're ready to install (I hope, never done that before).

April 8, 2015: Fresh fish and old passports

Keywords: Sashimi, steak tartare, Netherlands Embassy, US Mail, working out, weight loss, talk topics

steak tartare The sandwich? That's steak tartare, raw ground beef, raw egg yolk, raw onion, bit of raw olive oil, some cucumber underneath, ground pepper and capers. Hadn't eaten this for a long time, eating completely raw meat and egg really is high risk, but then this stuff is delicious, and it is quite healthy (if it isn't contaminated). After all, I eat sashimi, and that is raw fish, my guess is that may be high risk as well. We live in a world where too much food for too many people is produced at speeds that are too high, and you do need to make sure you eat this stuff where refrigeration of foodstuffs is of a high standard. Sashimi, of course, eaten in a good Japanese or Korean restaurant, coomes from a fish that is as fresh as possible, killed just before the serving is made. The Japanese go quite far in this regard, they fly live fish from Japanese waters, tightly quality controlled, around the world in specially adapted aircraft, if you ever wondered why good Sashimi is really really expensive.

So another blog entry, even though I should be adding topics to the training course. Ah, yes, no, now I see where I went wrong - I did the presentation slides, and then did not write copy for every slide. Probably should have started the other way around. So now I have "redone" the narrative, will fill in the text to go with slides that I can talk to but don't have text for, and then see what more I can add. Didn't do numbered headlines, I really should have known better.

Don't get me wrong, I have plenty of interesting stuff, but every time I add one I end up taking it back out because it isn't "general" enough. I want to add topics that will still have validity a couple of years down the road, that's how I ended up taking ten slides out already - yes, Mrs. Clinton had a mail server at her house, but her issue isn't technological, and so the topic is data security, the retention of information. What I do need to do is start interviewing some folks and companies, as I can legitimately do that - probably needto get UW's permission, though, really time to call them. David Cameron is buzzing away on the BBC, all makes good sense, I guess he called the election because he knew he can steamroller the competition, UKIP included. Sounds sure of himself, I like that, no faffing about.

Something I really should do is write up how I, as a cancer patient, manage my workouts and physical wellbeing. If you have serious conditions, this is a never ending "battle", which is beneficial on the one side, on the other, confronts you with your "problems" on a daily basis. And as you get older, things do not get better, but having said that, getting older comes with issues regardless of conditions, so you need to do a fair amount of research to establish how much of your life is affected by medical conditions, and how much by "simple" aging.

Waaah.. Now it looks as if my new passport is stuck at the Embassy in D.C.- at least, I received confirmation it was "ready for pickup". Under the new rules, we're supposed to provide a shipping label for the Embassy to ship the new passport, and I did, but the shipping does not seem to be happening. Perhaps I am just being impatient, but all this is complicated by the process, if for whatever reason they've sent it to Vancouver, I can't pick it up as I don't have a passport to enter Canada. I had to send mine to D.C., for them to send me the new passport. So I guess I'll have to call them and try to figure out what went wrong, and I am not looking forward to sorting out what should be a simple and straightforward process, except the D.C. Embassy now handles all of North America, which I think they didn't do before. Something to do with the cost of the equipment needed to produce biometric passports.

Ah, OK, just as I am about to hit the phone and start yelling at them in Dutch, the United States Postal Service emails me to say my shipment from Washington, D.C., is on its way. Phew. I do get over-anxious a bit, I suppose, although the Netherlands could do better in the communications department. Telling someone on April 1st their passport is "ready for pickup", when in fact it is being shipped a week later is confusing, to say the least.

A day off from the gym, the trainer who did my intake said I should not work out every single day, as that would destroy muscle tissue that would never get a chance to "rebuild", the body eating itself up, so to speak. I am following his advice, although I still am not entirely sure what would cause that. It isn't something I've ever heard before. On the other hand, applying logic, when you work out you're engaged in what I guess I can call "non-natural behaviour". If you're a bricklayer or a carpenter or have some other physical occupation you use a bunch of muscles every day, and if you lead a sedentary lifestyle, the workouts aren't part of your normal life pattern. So, from that perspective, it makes sense. It is one of the reasons why I work out only half an hour or so per day, added to a two mile walk. The workout is weights and cardio-vascular, so between that and the walk I "run" about every muscle in my body. Additionally, the body-brain coordination gets exercised, that is now much better than when I began, back in January. No more dizzy spells (caused by blood pressure medication), and a visible change in body shape, which kind of caught me by surprise!? Not to mention most of my jeans falling off my ass...

March 31, 2015: Definitely spring & time to get cracking

Keywords: Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, Clarkson, Top Gear, writing, authoring, mowing, spring clean, spring

Lot of stuff going on... well, in the world at large, not in my neck of the woods so much. Singapore Emeritus Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, of course, if you've not read up on how he more or less singlehandedly created Singapore, you should. It is truly one of the most amazing stories of statesmanship on the 20th century. Inspiring, and if you want to learn about how to walk a tightrope, this is your story. I love Singapore - if I weren't such a scatterbrain, I'd have moved there, the people, the weather, the place, all amazing.

Spring green cleanI have to tell you I haven't really liked Jeremy Clarkson that much - I thought he was crude and sexist, but credit where credit's due, it's probably Jezza who made Top Gear into what it is today, and he and the BBC did a good job of that. I am not sure why the entire press seems to insist Clarkson made Top Gear - it was the BBC's production team that put it all together, they do good stuff with talent, and should be complimented over creating the Clarkson, who eventually got out of hand. Being at the top of your game is hard - but you can tell he is an overweight smoker, and yes, that does make him a dinosaur. Sad that his career ends up like this, but perhaps he'll get with the program and tidy up his life. His is, for now, heading for heart attack territory.

In the interim, while I've gotten much done I needed to - including even a printer repair I didn't think I'd manage - I am more or less stuck with the training course I wanted to put together. I got distracted by the car repairs, then by the trip to the consulate in Vancouver, but my new gym regime hasn't helped much either. I do faithfully open up the presentation and accompanying documents, and try to add more material, but so far that's not really been massively successful.

The idea was that once I had the "first cut" smooth, done and dusted, I'd add additional material that I would be able to draw on for a second round, so to speak. Normally, when you're writing an article, you write as much as you have material for, then whittle it down so it is "on length", on topic and concise and "punchy". I've tried to do the same thing here, and think I've been successful, but when creating presentations have never been able to do masses of slides and material, unllike one of my former bosses, who always managed to do more "spares" than he had in his primary set. I don't believe in that - if you've got words falling off the bottom of your page, is my experience, you will have lost your audience halfway through. My presentations have punch lines, and I embellish in my talk, I don't think you should put everything you have to say on the screen. You do that, you might as well give everybody a handout and go home. An audience needs to be engaged, think along with you.

So that is where I am at - 27 slides, about 14 pages of solid text, I am now adding some text to that, but now I want to get a second set of slides started, different subtopics, and I can't get started. This is even though I should have more time - now that I go to the gym almost every day, my day somehow has started up earlier, and I now sit behind a cold coke, back from my workout, earlier than I used to start overall. Good, you'd think, right? Went by itself, too, was unplanned, the earlier start, it is the way my body is responding to the gym. I go to bed a bit eaarlier, too. Kind of nice to let all that happen naturally.. I'll give you, in case you're interested, some background on how all this happened and "worked out" on another occasion.

The thing is, I had wanted to start giving my talks well before summer recess, and the way it is going I don't think that will happen. And that means I'll start after the summer holidays - not in itself a disaster, but I would have liked to make some extra money sooner. So there... OTOH, I can now write more text, because the idea was that I wanted to be able to expand this into a book. All I need to do is sit and write, right? Jeez...

For now, spring is completely here - I thought it was a bit chilly to do outside things, but on Thursday that changed, temps in the 70s and oodles of sun, and so the mowing and weedwhacking started - the grass had been growing slowly for at least a week, it was time. Things look very green and healthy, it's been a very smooth transition from winter - actually, we really haven't had any winter to speak of, no snow, hardly any frost, and then only a few nights, this could be a scorcher. If it is anything like last year, another unusual summer, for the Pacific Northwest. Fine with me. The portrait at the top I took today, tan already, and the haircut helps, of course....

March 25, 2015: From medical woes to immigration

Keywords:Korea, Asia, Asian American, endocrynology, medical, Virginia Mason, cancer, biometrics scanners

Regular readers may be wondering why I am so fussy about the car, but I am in the unfortunate situation (unlike in the past) it is the only one I have, and without it I can't do stuff like go file for a new passport in the next country over. So far, so good, I had the transmission serviced 10,000 miles late, more for safety's sake than for any other reason, and I think I've done everything else, except for the brakes, which I should be able to do myself. Maybe I am just majorly insecure, but I've not been without money or credit for a while.. Gimme a job, someone.

Korean AmericanLet's see, what else is there. Back to the gym first thing today, yesterday I took a lazy day, slept in - I can't remember the last time I did that. The Vancouver trip was just tiring, not massively so, but compared with the East Coast, everything here seems scaled down a bit, I guess I got used to six- and eight lane highways over the years. And I realized that at least this part of the West Coast (including the bits of Canada I've visited) is massively Asian. Sometimes I run around and think I could be in Beijing - the other day I went to the H Mart, a Korean store that's more like a shopping center, and once you walk in there you don't feel you're in the USA, huge food court, too. At the local gym, I would estimate close to half the crowd is Asian - Asian from Asia, for the most part, and that is a completely new experience for me. Same in Vancouver, Asian doctor's offices, big Chinese banks, etc.

Hopefully my replacement passport will arrive soon - seems a bit silly to have to go to Canada to apply, and then have it sent from Washington, D.C. What with the Dutch government having reduced the number of offices where you can apply, mostly, I understand, due to the cost of the biometrics machinery, we now at least get a ten year validity, rather than the customary five. I had no travel planned, right now, so no man overboard.

From the health perspective I really can't complain. My endocrinologist thinks I am pretty much out of the woods where the thyroid cancer is concerned - it is coming up for five years since the surgery and radiation treatment, and all tests have come back clean. Always remember that all it takes is a single cell to go "bad", but then that can happen to a perfectly healthy person, too. An advantage when you have a "condition" is that you get monitored more than the average person. Additionally, you tend to go and see a doctor when you've got something bothering you that you cannot easily explain - often, you read or hear that someone got sick and then very sick and then dead because they ignored the first symptoms of whatever went wrong. I recall my friend D., who developed a spot on his back, decided to have that looked at after coming back from vacation, by which time he was diagnosed with malignant melonoma, which eventually killed him. Of course, you have to be realistic, he might have been beyond treatment when the blemish first appeared, one never knows with these things.

Speaking of matters medical, I am dealing with functional and medical changes galore, since I've begun working out and losing weight. It is a bit unexpected - I had hoped to lose weight once I began working out regularly, but at the same time I recall that that only goes so far, at some point you begin putting on muscle mass, and muscle is much more dense than fatty tissue. But for now, as I am eating a little less than before, I keep losing weight, though no longer in large increments, and I really had not expected that. It is hard to ascertain what does what, though - my rheumatologist has weaned me off some of the arthritis medication I was on for quite a while (as in, years and years), and I am generally feeling fine. There is, of course, always the insecurity of what the artifical thyroid hormone does - the thyroid, when present and functioning normally, gets triggered by chemical signals, and adjusts its output the way the body tells it to, and since there isn't a very specific function the thyroidal hormones perform, there isn't a specific complaint that can easily be associated with the absence of the hormones. But once they take out the thyroid and the medication is dosed not only to accomodate the body, but somewhat over-dosed to prevent the body trying to make thyroid cells, not all is 100%, in the endocrine system. And you have no real way of telling what's what, this is such a complicated system.

Read the comment sections in thyroid patient internet sites, and you can see clearly how confusing it all is, especially with the amount of pseudo-science flying around. And I can't say endocrinologists are always helpful - at Seattle's Virginia Mason, I went through six endocrinologists in two years, they left as fast as they arrived, and nobody did anything to help the patients subjected to this turnover. Part of that problem then becomes that different doctors have different philosophies, different ways of dosing medication, and worse, one doctor may deny what another confirms. This is not helpful - one side effect of the levothyroxine can be heart palpitations, and what I did not know is that it takes a long time to establish the optimal dosage for this artificial hormone, after the surgery - that is, if there even is such a thing as "optimal", the body tries to regulate its production, but since these are simple daily pills there's no response to the various biological mechanisms. Some doctors want you to be on a relatively high dose of levothyroxine, this to ensure your body does not try to make any more, which could lead to the cancer recurring, and that, of course, goes with side effects. Etcetera. It is not fun, and for the patient, can be quite confusing. The heart palpitations in particular can be disconcerting - I don't know if you're ever aware you have a heart, and it is in your chest doing stuff, but when you get woken up on a more or less nightly basis by your heart racing you soon start to worry, reasonably so or not. It's scary, especially the repeat factor, when you start to ask yourself how much longer this organ can handle that type of abuse, if you follow my drift.

There's more, but let's not bore you completely to death, thankfully I found a new endocrinologist at Seattle's Polyclinic, where there isn't the horrendous turnover that seems to be endemic at Virginia Mason (and not just in the one discipline, either).

March 21, 2015: Another passport in the can

Keywords:Vancouver, British Columbia, Google cars, artificial unintelligence, passport, Netherlands Consulate, car maintenance, Dodge Durango

Vancouver, BCAwright, that's the car just about done - I'll tackle the brake pads when I come back from Canada, which is where I took the picture - mostly because I don't want to do maintenance I've never done before and then drive hundreds of miles without proper testing. But the rest of it's done, oil change, radiator hose, wheel rotation, checked and burped the coolant, transmission service, replaced an LED fog bulb, even fixed the power receptacles that weren't functioning properly. I've not yet washed the car, but that's mostly because it still dips to freezing at night, and that might cause frozen condensation, although rubber strips and seals seem OK. Another week or two, and the temps will be way up, and I can start spring cleaning. Besides, like when you fly, and take used luggage, don't clean your car before a trip, keep it dirty and looking used.

Curiously, though the car doesn't overheat, it does now run right up to 200 or so degrees Fahrenheit, fluctuating between 197 and 204, in city traffic. At the same time, the engine warms up much more quickly, so my guess is that by the time I discovered the oozing radiator hose it must have been leaking for a while already, and was losing pressure in the cooling system, which would have dropped the temperature, the pressure increases the boiling point. I do recall the old hose bulged a bit, and if I assume that that hose had 100,000 miles, like other bits of rubber, it was probably high time it got replaced.

Anyway, having just driven up to Vancouver (the one in Canada) and back everything seems fine (I needed to renew my passport, and the closest place, now, where the consulate has secure biometrics recording facilities, is Vancouver, B.C.). Curious, how relatively small changes make a huge difference in the way an engine behaves. I had expected that previous repairs, this batch, and all of the maintenance, would lower the coolant temperature, but instead, there is much less fluctuation, and she's consistently on the warm side. That kind of makes sense - coolant at 20 PSI can handle more heat than coolant that doesn't get up to pressure. I noticed, as well, that the newer versions of the 4.7 litre engine have the thermostat at the bottom of the block, and I suppose that means the top is hotter than the bottom, and as I understand it the thermostat opens at 195° Fahrenheit. Apart from that, I rarely run long distances, so perhaps all she needed was a good long run, especially since temps are now in the sixties. All I can say is that she behaved exemplary - sitting in a half hour queue at the US/Canada border, today, the car got warm enough for the auxiliary fan to come on just once, which one assumes isn't unusual, on a warm sunny day.

On another note, have you been following Google's antics? I expect I'll add some of this to my Risk Management talk, but let me tell you here, as well, that software that has the ability to play computer games isn't, in my book, "artificial intelligence". Apparently, Google, whose software it is, says it can teach itself to play some 49 classical computer games. Here is the BBC News article.

One can start a long conversation about the nature of intelligence, of course, but I will for now simply say that one computer program learning how to use another computer program is hardly "smart" - any more than that your "smartphone" is "smart". Intelligence, to me, is the ability to handle a creative process - learning how to use something, from computer games to a Fiat 500, does not qualify as creative.

It is certainly an interesting thought, but if you're going to accept this as a concept then our call handling automation server was intelligent too. I can understand why Google wants us to think that software that can create a process completely from scratch is smart, but I have to tell you that if the software was created to teach itself to figure out how to play games it is just doing what it was designed for. If it went out, found a computer system, figured out what that was and did, then figured out how to load software on it, and then... you follow me? That might qualify, assuming that the same software, the next day, found a bathroom, figured out what toilet paper was, and figured out how to change the roll... Kinda sorta.

But yes, learning to wipe an ass you do not have, that'd be plenty smart, especially since most animals with asses don't use toilets. At which point you're into existentialism, why do humans have large brains and asses, and why do they use those asses for the same purpose other animals do. Fascinating.

I am coming on a bit strong as I see rivers of sometimes nonsensical reporting, mostly about products and services that aren't even on the market yet, written up by editorialists who can't seem to differentiate between "development", "research" and "products". Yes, quite a few folks work on self driving cars - but is a database company like Google truly well placed to develop this technology, as opposed to, say, Honda or Mercedes? You could certainly make the point that new ways of looking at problems can deliver new solutions, but then the underlying concept - why have vehicles drive themselves - may philosophically not get answered. It would seem to me that if you're going to bring some form of automation to transportation, you'd have to start thinking right at the conceptual stage - here's a human, this human needs to go from A to B, why? What does the human seek to accomplish? What does the human need to take, or bring, or collect? Is the human alone? Is the human alone on a perpetual basis? Etc.

Having a car drive from here to there and then figure out a purpose with that drive seems a bit backwards to me.....

March 6, 2015: I suppose Canada is next door now

Keywords:Vancouver, passport, comment spam, Telegraph, Disqus, transmission, radiator hose, working out, gym

I can't say I have seen a lot of comment spam at the Telegraph's blogs, but I am encountering it every posting now, which is a pain, as I have to manually report them to Disqus every time, and they're getting sophisticated, as in looking like real comments with an unrelated embedded link. Blah. Is Disqus no longer policing its network? As in, again - this is why I stopped using Wordpress at my own domains, years ago, when I noticed I spent more time weathering spammers than writing. Can Disqus do something? Or the Telegraph? I believe the Telegraph is doing well out of its volunteer bloggers, but allowing masses of comment spammers, many embedding links in India, is going to put the kibosh on all that. Link to my Telegraph blog, which mirrors this site but allows for comment, at the menu above.

Yowze. While I am continuing to work on my training course, I need to get my car serviced, and then drive up to Vancouver to renew my passport. Between the fees and the service and the gas, I am talking hundreds of dollars, bit of a headache - figuring out where to have a passport picture taken, where to park all day, trying to negotiate the Netherlands Consulate appointment website, which runs in India and does not work, etc. Pain. I used to live a metro ride from.... never mind, Menno, stop whining, scoot up to Canada, have lunch, do the business, and roll back.

Generally, though, I am pretty much stuck with my writing and presentation. I got useful feedback from my housemates, but turning that into useful training material isn't easy. Kind of bugs me, I used to write at 1,000 miles an hour. Now, I feel I am starting all over again, as I definitely need more material (I have about four hours' worth at this point) as I think I need to make sure I have a second course just about ready when I start presenting the first. In that, it is important to inject some "new and different" material - as T. put it "they'll want things they don't yet know". I don't necessarily know that's true, though - I've made my career "marrying up" existing concepts, making up new technologies where necessary, but re-inventing the wheel in its entirety isn't a good way too manage risk, as that can only be done using tried and tested principles.

And then.... things kind of ground to a halt, contracted a stomach virus and that really took the wind out of my sails. No, not food poisoning, that's what I worried about, some chicken I cooked, but the doctor insisted it wasn't. By the time, a week or so later, the stomach upset retreated, I was exhausted, dehydrated, and not at all feeling well. I rarely have stomach upsets, caught me completely by surprise, even to the point that I just stopped more or less everything, except for going to the gym. Managed to take the car in for transmission service, but then I had postponed that before and I didn't want to drive up to Canada without having it done - there's "stretching things a bit", and then there's risk. I may be imagining things, but it seems the engine is running a bit more smoothly. Now, I need to replace the top radiator hose, which I think is weeping a bit, and do the annual oil change. Then, when I come back from the frozen North, I need to replace the front brake pads - Pepboys wanted to plane the rotors and put new pads on when they were doing the transmission, but that would have been another $800 or so.

When I went online it looked like replacing the pads isn't that hard, and they're not expensive, and I doubt the rotors need work. They normally get planed because they're warped - that happened on the Camaro all the time, way back when, but you can feel that when you brake, and the front end of the Durango seems rock solid - the workshop did rotate the tires, but that was thankfully free, part of the original purchase of the mounted all terrain tires. Those weren't the cheapest, but well worth it, I took one size over and they're warrantied. Those few square inches of rubber, after all, is all that keeps you safely on the road...

Having replaced quite a bit of the rubber in the car - hoses, connectors, belts, tires, what have you - I should be OK, when going through the maintenance manual I noticed that much of that needs replacing when you hit 100,000 (miles). One thing I am not sure about is the serpentine belt - while I replaced that in 2013, the one I used was Amazon's cheapest, and I got the feeling that may have started slipping already. So I bought another, a little more expensive, and noticed that was a bit larger in diameter, but stiffer at the same time, a pain to untangle and instll, but there seems to be no slippage now. The lettering on the back of the previous belt had all but disappeared, which I think probably should not have been the case. Let's see - PCV valve, crankcase ventilation (vacuum) hose, and now the top radiator hose. Hopefully it'll all work, never knew the old radiator hose had polyester clamps, and I suppose they "gave" partially because the cap is 20 rather than 18 PSI now, partially because the hose is old. Make sense? The new hose has metal clamps.. took some 20 minutes to install, then re-bled the cooling system and topped up what little coolant was lost when I cut off the old hose, everything seems fine. The guy at O'Reilly's told me not to bother with the special tool for removing hose clamps, and he was right - adjustable pliers did the trick, and putting the clamps on the new hose that way wasn't a big deal either.

What else is there.... ah, I think I should be able to gauge the results of my gym regime by now - started all that on 1/19, it is early March now, average bp then was 133/85, average heart rate 86, and today those averages (from 1/19) are 129/83 and 88. Weight was 198, is 185 now, all in all I think we're seeing some results. I can't tell you how pleased I am Verizon decided to throw a gym membership in with the health insurance, couldn't have afforded it otherwise. Of course, I had the workout discipline, I'd been going to the gym at the lab in White Plains for years, even though the established wisdom, when I started it, was that arthritis patients should not do strenuous physical exercise. I had to battle doctors to get corporate permission - and guess what, not three years later the medics discovered that yes, of course, much better to lift weights and walk and work out as much as you can without injuring yourself. Best way, if you have an existing condition, is do that walk, preferably outdoors, and spend half an hour or so in the gym, doing exercises up to where you can feel your joints, but not beyond. Additionally, take regular "days off", so my therapist said, so your muscles can recuperate rather than "eat themselves". Later in the year, I'll let you know how I am doing. At this point, I can see new muscle on my body, and I think I have reached the point where the fat is giving way to muscle tissue, so, as that is more dense than fat, the weight loss has kind of ground to a halt, but I have so far lost 14 or so pounds, which is amazing. Tomorrow my quarterly cancer tests, knock on wood, catch you th'other side.

February 15, 2015: Working out, and internetwork woes

Keywords: working out, gym, experimental college, UWEC, FIOS, fiber internet, T-Mobile, ASUS

Ah yes. I mean, no. Jeez.

I've managed to maintain my daily workouts for almost a month now, helped by my iron resolve *grin*, and for as long as I follow my own two rules I think I'm good. Those are: give your body the odd break, work out most days, not every day, and don't overdo it. I can tell already I am tempted to "expand", another fifteen minutes, another machine, and I know from experience that leads to boredom and injury. In just a month, I am already pushing and pulling twice the weight I started out with. I have, in the interim, lost ten pounds, and so that bodes well. I know I am going to do the muscle mass thing, been there, done that, but I'd really like to stop snacking and munching. Mind you, the mussels were nice, tonight, now if I can only eat delicious things that are cheap... Sorry, I think I am likely boring you and whining, not necessarily in that order.

Curiously, over a period of time, former girlfriends / wives / acquaintances have been in touch, making me wonder why I don't periodically get in touch with them, just catching up. Some of this, of course, is the holiday season, which, especially in Europe, gives folks loads of time off to do things they otherwise don't have time for. Thinking about it, I am always trying not to make a nuisance of myself, thinking I don't have that much to say that might interest them. And there are those, friends and family alike, that have unfriended me on Facebook. I do that myself, occasionally, too, when I see they've been hacked, or they post so much drivel day-in-day-out that there isn't a reason to keep reading it. I do mean that it may not be drivel to them, but I generally draw the line when I see how some folks surf the web part of their day, and then post everything they see to everybody, preferably with a policital slant, or an animal conservation slant. I personally try not to overdo the politics, anyway, but you have to remember I did not grow up in a two party system, there isn't any such thing as a black-and-white world. There are admittedly drawbacks to multiparty political systems, but I still don't see how you can criticize a one party system from a two party system. Even the United Kingdom no longer has a two party system, and I do believe they kind of invented it. Still, once a system is in place, there is little you can do to change it, you can't really expect Republicans and Democrats to dig that hole for themselves. For each other, yes, but that would not be where it stops.

It occurred to me, as I was driving to the gym after stopping to get well spring water and groceries, that I should simply build my presentation around a list of things I have real expertise in. C. looked at me quizzical, yesterday, when I told him I'd fixed a bug in the OS of the new T-Mobile / ASUS router, and that made me realize how many folks don't really know a router is a computer running Linux or UNIX, or some derivative thereof, and that those with UNIX lab expertise, like myself, can therefore figure out "what the problem is". Before I finish this statement, let me roll back into the interface, and make sure it is still "fixed". Yes, it is... hihi, that's cool.

I don't know that anybody realizes properly that 802.11ac routers have everything at least duplicated, and probably triplicated or quadrupled, in terms of ports, addresses, wireless interfaces, etc. I see problems "solved" on the internet that aren't, and as is often the case, neither the manufacturer (ASUS) nor the client (T-Mobile) have gone in to analyze the errors, and fix them. Just because the router does not go down does not mean it is running well.... Once I saw how the FIOS fiber interface handles a router (I must admit I spent years with Verizon working on these data interfaces, though not for the consumer) I could kind of pick my way through the settings that ASUS isn't that familiar with, things that are a bit different here in the USA. Anyway, running error free for about 24 hours, fingers crossed - and as I update this blog, the router has been "clean" for over three days. FIOS has even stopped resetting the PPOE network interface every night.

February 6, 2015: Tax time, and saving time

Keywords: working out, gym, experimental college, UWEC, Quicken, tax return, FIOS, fiber internet, medical

FIOSGot positive and constructive commentary on my training course trial run, I'll have to spend a bit of time trying to "make change without making change", if you get my drift. I suppose this is another reason to relearn Powerpoint, and see if I can make the presentation redesign a bit quicker. In the meantime, I am not quite sure where my money went, and as I now need to build a Canada trip into my schedule - passport renewal - it is time to get the calculator out. Having said that, my mobile refund is on its way, and my credit card fraud reimbursements have arrived. It was wholesale slaughter, but the Bank was very helpful and managed it well, it was just a bitch having to make half a dozen midnight long distance calls to get it sorted.

The way I've set up Quicken may be brilliant for tax returns, but managing future income planning has become harder. That's pretty much my own doing, as I allocate funds to cards I have dedicated to specific purposes, and that confuses the heck out of Quicken. Keeping track of past funds and accounts is equally complicated, not necessarily because of anything Quicken does wrong, but because its primary purpose is money management, not past record keeping in a recession. Quicken / Intuit do now break up their offerings in different packages with different capabilities and shorter active lives, and as their documentation does not properly spell out what is what, you can end up buying four features you do not need because there isn't any other way to get the fifth. Generally, Quicken thinks it has everybody by the balls, a tactic that usually works until someone gets fed up and provides a better solution for less money. They can hear the competition baying at the door, though, I understand H&R Block does a nice job, and there are others. I can't help but remind the Facebooks of this world of... AOL.

Anyway. Let's see - I began going to the gym Monday January 19, and I've so far done 12 sessions in the 18 available days. One "absence" was unscheduled, the others were planned. I've decided I'll only go to the gym in the morning, after coffee, and walk there and back (unless it is pouring with rain), and if I've got something else on in the morning I won't go. That way I'll feel motivated when I've skipped a day, and it won't become an addiction. Back at the lab, that's how I used to work out - in the gym by 7am, unless I was traveling or having an early meeting or something similar. It really is too early for physiological results, but what the heck:
Blood pressure down a bit, but my GP had increased my blood pressure medication. In a few months, maybe I'll take a look at lowering that again. Weight: average down 5 lbs over "before", need to do more. And, of course, at some point I'll start putting on muscle mass, and the weight will stop going down. I am trying to keep my weightlifting down to where it will strengthen and build, but not bulk. We'll see.
Blood oxygen up a percent. I started monitoring that after my lung collapse, when I noticed my doctors being almost paranoid so my lungs are probably out of warranty by now. I know it is a valid concern - my uncle F. fell off his roof while fixing it, didn't go to see a doctor until weeks later, and by that time the lining of one of his lungs had become inflamed, after, likely, one of his ribs puncturing it. A friend told me the same thing - when he came off his bicycle after an altercation with a car the hospital doctors were more concerned with his lungs than his ribs and things. My uncle? He died three months later, nothing the doctors (here in the US!) could do for him. So that's why I keep an eye on my lungs, having seen de deflation in my X-rays. If you fall, and have shortness of breath, head for the ER, don't delay. And no, I wasn't that smart, I went to have my chin stitched, it was the ER doctor who put two and two together, he had me intubated an hour after the accident.

What else is there... my landlord replaced his cable internet with a FIOS fiber feed, moving his home phone from cable to cellular - if you shop around you can use local number portability for free, add the number to your existing cellular account and you'll likely only pay $10 a month, and in our case the local phone company provides the FIOS fiber feed without a "special offer" which the cable folk would typically expire without letting you know. Real fiber - fiber drop to the house, termination in the house, and even at the lowest speed we're still testing this faster than cable internet. An advantage of using T-Mobile is that you can have "Wi-Fi calling", which means your handset can make calls using cellular or WiFi, and that gives you more redundancy than a landline or a regular cellphone would.

January 25, 2015: 'member?

Keywords: memory, Mah Jongg, passcodes, working out, experimental college, UWEC, T-Mobile, change, Lumia, LA Fitness

LA FitnessThe more I see people stuck in routines, or set in their ways, the more it is clear to me one's mental as well as physical health is best served by change, embracing it, self inflicting it, and so on. Having said that, I know that is easy to say, if you don't have to go to the office in the morning. Having said that, I am lucky having worked as a freelance photojournalist for many years, when you generally have to make sure you have a schedule that works, do maintenance and admin, because you're your own little company and anything you don't do nobody is going to do for you.

The other day I lent out some equipment, and as I set it up I noticed that I had the same security code in it that I use with my bank cards and cellphones. Rather than go into a tizzy and resetting that equipment, I adopted new codes for cards and phones and what have you. This is massively annoying, because you're going to be keying the old code everywhere, including the supermarket checkout, but it forces you to "learn" or "relearn". This is vital for the aging brain, or so I read in the literature. And to be honest, I don't really remember how long it used to take to learn a new code - I remember complaining to banks when they changed my security codes unannounced. Now, I embrace it, although I did whine at the bank that forced me into using a different code, last year. Important, too, is to not use the plethora of security code and password software repositories available in the marketplace, and built into some of your software. Instead, use five or six different passwords, and key them in manually every time. Your brain learns from your fingers, and you keep regenerating those (Poirot accent:) little grey cells that manage and contain your memory. Yes, Mah Jongg with other folk at the mall works too, but remembering things you need on a more or less daily basis is far more effective, I believe - simply set up a complicated password for your PC, write it down, and once you have it by heart throw out the note. That's the phase I am in - I've changed my security code everywhere, except on my Blackberry, so I can access that with the old code to look up the new code, if I need to. The gaming brain and the utility brain are, I think, pretty much two different brains, and it is the utility brain that you need to train. Absent minded scientist? That may just be someone not concentrating on the really important stuff, like where they left their car keys.

This is part of the reason I am really pleased I've been writing this training course. Wracking my brain while "filling" my subjects I remembered a lot of things that have happened during my life and career that I realized I had all but forgotten. And these days, the internet helps you do the research and correlate your memories with occurrences, and "fix" things in time, and you've got friends and colleagues on Facebook and LinkedIn to check things with. But, of course, if you don't write the papers, and, as I'll be doing Saturday, test them out on a trial audience, you never get going. I've not really thought about not doing this, but I am having frequent bouts of insecurity. Those, I recall, can be very productive too, it is like going for an interview or starting a new job, you don't know until you try, and the insecurity inherent to that makes you perform at a higher level. You could compare that to a flight response - if you do well on the test you get out early and won't have to take it again - end of stress.

I was thinking about this when I began my daily (or near daily) workouts, last Monday - pace yourself, do not turn it into an addiction - very easy to do if you're motivated - and (as my rheumatologist mentioned in an email) don't allow yourself to be pushed, don't, for now at least, take exercise classes, which are competitive. I found it hard to leave after half an hour, yesterday, already, funny how the brain switches, and I found it very pleasant to be back in the gym, my body "remembered". I had to forcibly remind myself it isn't just the workout at the gym, the walk there, and the walk back, are part of the workout. If you recall, the body needs a modicum of daylight, more or less every day, and that I now get as part of my workout.

Annoyingly, the bank as well as my mobile provider owe me money - the mobile company because I returned their overpriced Lumia under the "buyer's remorse" program, I suppose that was my own fault for checking prices the wrong way around, but the bank... My Visa card got hacked, and then the United States Postal Service didn't deliver my legal document, so I had to Express-Mail-with-tracking it again. Perhaps the holidays interfered, but even so, I've never had a mail item not get to its recipient at all. Horror.

Ah. No test presentation tomorrow, I gather T. can't make it, and he confirms via email... Next week? I have to do this because I don't want to submit my draft to UWEC without a trial run, and I don't want too few in the audience, but I also need to "get on with it". Fingers crossed. I do have a lot of other stuff I need to do that I postponed because of tomorrow, so I can play catchup - I almost canceled my workout for tomorrow, after not "gymming" today, but now I can put that back in my schedule. If you do not work out six days out of seven, for at least the first month, it is going to die, you see, you have to get the adrenalin addiction going quickly. Trust me, I've done it before. But I did need to get swimming goggles, or I can throw out my contact lenses, what with the fitness center having a full size pool, I belatedly realized, and as it turned out Walmart had some. Lucky me, they were 25% off, "we don't normally stock them" - and I am glad I asked as I would not normally look for them in the gun department. I swear.

Not having been able to raise the woman whose dog caused my fall I finally went to the police - this is something I really don't like to do, but I don't really have any other choice. Friendly cop - I spent too many years in NYC and DC - did his best, although I should, in hindsight, have called 911 right there on the kerb, back in August, bleeding and all. As in the before piece, we'll see. Fingers crossed. My insurance will be after her, soon, as well, and they have resources I don't..

Rereading this blog post, I am thinking the Mah Jongg example is better than I initially imagined. You'll agree with me that Mah Jongg promotes mental agility, and as you need to remember quite a few Mah Jongg suites it helps memory functioning, but I cannot think of much in everyday life that compares with Mah Jongg. So if you're trying to help aging brains exercise and function, perhaps you're better off looking for activities that mirror those in everyday life. I've said, years ago, that I think part of the obesity problem is that humans get more efficient in the way they do everyday things, as time goes on, and therefore likely need less food, but they do not adjust their caloric intake accordingly. It sounds stupid, but over the years you develop more efficient ways of brushing your teeth, or mopping the kitchen, and we don't account for this in any way I am aware of. It would be an interesting subject for research, the problem being that you'd have to spend a lot of years working on it, harder in the United States even than in Europe, unlikely to result in profitable products or services.

January 19, 2015: Toys and Freebies

Keywords: University of Washington, Risk Management, experimental college, UWEC, Nokia, Lumia, LA Fitness

I am just about done with the Risk Management training course, now I need to get C. , Mrs. C., and his friend T., to sit down long enough to listen to it, so they can tell me how bad I did, and I can figure out how long each segment lasts, which should be an interactive exercise. 20 slides, I am in two minds if I should do a few spares, 14 printed pages in my narrative, 29 questions, but I will say more than is in the narrative, and there is a good sized Q&A. Now I need to finalize and "slideize" some pictures, and do some diagrams. This ain't half work, Mum....

Nokia Lumia 635In the meantime, I've managed to (cheaply) snarf one of the last ever Nokia phones available, the Nokia Lumia 635, $65 plus tax, complete with T-Mobile WiFi Calling and 4G LTE. It is sold as prepaid, but since I am a TMO customer with a SIM card to spare it is postpaid for me. I just needed to activate a mini-SIM with the number that came out of my older Nokia C7. That's still going strong, but I figured a new Nokia would come with free maps and navigation, as they own Mapquest, and indeed it did. I was going to keep the C7 as a spare, these days you do need a handset handy in case your main one fails, but C. bought it off me as soon as I switched over, part of his effort to reduce outgoings by not forking over buckets of money to the cable company for the "bundled" telephone.

LA FitnessPart of the reason I wanted this handset is that it has Windows Phone, it immediately upgraded itself to the latest, 8.1, and so I can learn that a bit, and see how it gets on with Windows 8 on the laptop (8.1 I backed out, that's a data collection machine, not an operating system). What the 635 does not have is a flash, or a front facing camera, just in case you're interested in getting one. I don't need either, since I have that and more on the Blackberry, so nothing lost, but if you want "the works" the 635 is not for you. I just don't think phones need to be "everything and the kitchen sink", phones are dirt cheap these days, and you can get all the bells and whistles for less than half of what a "full featured smartphone" would cost, nor do you need a "contract". Anyway, if I run into anything amazing on the Lumia I'll let you know. It is pretty spiffy and I like its Finnish "austerity", and much to my surprise, the Windows tiles are rather fun, as a touch interface on a phone. But I cannot turn on the tracking software without allowing Microsoft to send me advertising, which I don't think is what the Federal government or the DoJ wanted. Blackberry nor Google do that, as a condition for using their tracking system...

Going in a somewhat cursory fashion through my Verizon health insurance handbook, I came across a mention of an exercise program, or rather a "free basic" fitness center membership. I never believe this "free" crap, but checking it out wouldn't hurt, I thought, so I called, then figured out the center they gave me wasn't that close. But then their website came up with LA Fitness, and that particular center was built only last year, across the avenue, near my bank. Went over, and guess what - it is indeed completely free in the health plan, and you get to use all of the facilities,nothing "basic" about it. Teehee. I am psyched - my health plan isn't exactly cheap, and I am much looking forward to working out again. I've been walking, 7 days a week, but the weightlifting I used to get maintaining my woodlands and firewood I miss. We'll see.... The picture on the right has Lilly and Ricky signing me up for my new membership. Not much in life is free, but this is. Well, I guess my not insignificant health insurance premium helps pay for it, but I understand it is an annual membership with a $69/month face value, so I am not complaining, especially, since, inexplicably, my insurance contribution was lowered for 2015, no idea why, but things are, overall, looking up a bit.

January 11, 2015: Not a good start to the year

Keywords: University of Washington, experimental college, UWEC, Islam, Paris, France, salmon

phonewatchNo real reason for posting the salmon sandwich picture I took, the other day, and I am not really happy about the depth of field, with the bounce flash I should have done better. So maybe I'll try that shot again. But I do like the way my Nikon handles the colours, no smartphone can better that - and having a "real" lens helps, of course.

Writing this course takes me back to my journalistic days, in Holland and England. Sitting there in front of a half written article pushing the words out of your typewriter or word processor, and once you get stuck, erasing and rewriting what you wrote. I must have at least six or so two hour classes written, I think, preferably so that I can drop some material along the way, when the Q&A works as well as I hope it will, and takes more time than planned. I just don't have enough experience of doing this, and I recall that when I would put clases together, in the lab, they always ended up shorter than I had planned for. Which I still think is better than my boss, who would run over by 45 minutes, and who would routinely have 40 or so "backup" slides. I don't believe in wordy, I think that if you have too much material you're going to cram and not going to get your point(s) across.

Anyway, I am happy to report the thing is nearing completion, with some additional slides I have to yet write a narrative to, but now I think I am "on length". I had eliminated some stuff that was more hobby horse than subject matter expertise, and that meant I didn't really think I had enough material. And of course, adding subject means the entire non-automatic numbering needs to be redone. But that's fine.

Thinking my printer engine was toast - would have been OK after six or so years - although, this is an industrial unit, so maybe not - I just discovered everything is actually fine, except for black. So maybe I can figure out why black toner is not being fed evenly. I did find a couple of suggestions on the web as to how to cure that - what did we do before the internet? Spend money, I guess - and so far that's led to some improvement. I really don't want to take the print engine apart, though, if I screw it up I'll have to shell out a couple hundred bucks to replace it, or to replace the printer..

Of course, with the violence in France I have sort of ground to a halt - with the French police the way it is these assassins knew they wouldn't get out of this alive. The French police, and paramilitary units, are tough and effective and if you screw with them they shoot to kill. This is the country of the Foreign Legion. I just have a hard time with the concept of the kamikaze - that's what these Muslim assassins were, and there isn't anything they achieve by doing what they did. We've not spent the past couple of thousand years building our civilization to let some medieval prophets with beards and face veils and Kalashnikovs tell us how to live our lives, and that our wives and girlfriends are whores. It is preposterous, and they should know by now that we're not having any. I fully appreciate most Muslims never tire of telling us "this isn't Islam", but you seriously can't expect us to believe that with Boko Haram, IS, Mr. Monis in Australia, and so many others killing innocents in the name of their religion. Something in Islam, or in some of its followers, leads them to believe their religion doesn't just condone killing non-believers, it actively asks to do that. Sometimes, believers can be killed, too, a Muslim police officer in Paris is apparently a legitimate target. Apparently, being Muslim doesn't even help if the wanker with the gun thinks you use Western aftershave.

It is time to explain to the Muslims of good will we need them to start acting like the first line of defence. Not knowing who is praying in your mosque is unacceptable. Allowing Muslims to cross your border without ID check because they say they're on the Hajj? You've got to be kidding me.. They need to start being proactive, and police their community and their religion. Kids leaving for Turkey? Call the FBI. Your neighbour and his two cousins being secretive and not working and owning four cars and spending a lot of time target shooting in the mountains without ever a fresh kill? Ask questions, call the Border Patrol or the Department of Agriculture, which has its own army, do something. Remember: if you see something, say something. And not just to the Imam. Remember the Paris assassins decided to put an end to Muslim and Jewish and French lives, for no reason I can understand. They committed suicide by cop, no way would they appear in court to explain themselves, and as to the "escaped wife" - it doesn't really matter where you went, we'll find you, there is no escape. You have the stark choice of giving yourself up or dying - you pissed off the French security services, and they don't do drones, they'll come get you. It may have taken a couple thousand years, but your time is up. Remember Osama.

January 1, 2015: With a little help from a friend

Keywords: New Year, 2015, hospital, moving house, friends, loved ones, University of Washington, experimental college, UWEC
I hope you have figured out what it is you want to do or accomplish in 2015 - I have, at least for the first part of it - below. But before I commence 2015, I need to thank some folks who have done right by me. Firstly, C. and T., who helped me through the aftermath of my accident, and hospitalization - for a simple fall, I took quite a beating, but thankfully recovered. Then there is ex E., who somehow figured out I'd contracted cancer, a few years ago, and became concerned enough to offer to help me move back to Europe, and sit back and relax for the rest of my life. Had I lived in mainland Europe, where you're encouraged to retire from about age 32, I might have thought about that, but I am not ready to stop working, if I have to create my own job, which, hopefully, I am doing. It is, perhaps, an American thing that's rubbed off on me... But that was sweet, real, and generous, thanks, darling. I don't know if I will regret turning you down, but I am who I am, and I need to keep going for a bit, or my brain will go missing.

Of course, I have to remember friend and colleague Chris Helbling from Norwalk, CT, unexpectedly passing away in March, way too young, I miss his forever encouragement on Facebook - only days before he wanted to know whether or not Thailand was a good professional target for him. Then, poof, gone. Bastard. I miss you, Chris.

And I really do not have words to describe Nathi Pudianti, from Jakarta, Indonesia, who became the Office Manager, and much more, when in 1995, with the Rajawali Corporation, we began setting up the NYNEX mobile telephony joint venture Pt. Excelcomindo Pratama in Indonesia. Apart from the magic she worked, professionally, with the Indonesian authorities, she became a close personal friend, introducing me to the Dutch who "stayed behind" when Indonesia wrested its independence from the Dutch, and who, to a large extent, ended up in the higher echelons of Indonesian society. The owner of the company we partnered with was one of those "formerly Dutch", it is hard to explain, I suppose you had to be there.

In 1998, Corporate Security came to me, as riots erupted in Indonesia - initially with an anti-Chinese emphasis (and I mean Indonesians with Chinese ancestry), they had found that eventually, random foreigners had been pulled from their cars in Jakarta, and the security people wanted to get our staff out. I called Nathi, and she arranged for a corporate jet, contracted, fueled and ready at Jakarta's Halim Perdanakusuma military airbase, so I could bring my American colleagues, who had received death threats at that point, to Singapore, and safety.

Then, one day, my grandmother's grave in Surabaya was robbed, she'd passed away there in the 1930s, when my family still had holdings in the colonies. Nathi arranged for me to go and "fix up" the grave, and I and an American friend I was traveling Asia with flew into Surabaia, to be met by corporate staff, and, at the formerly colonial cemetery itself, by what seemed a platoon of embarassed Indonesian military. None of this was helped by Surabaya being the main Indonesian naval base, and my friend being someone in the U.S. military. Between them, under the stern gaze of all seeing, all knowing Nathi, it all got sorted, and she would not even let me pay for the stone and the setting. I cannot tell you how special my relationship with Nathi became, and how much I miss her not being in Jakarta any more - Nathi fell ill in 2014, and mercifully was spared further suffering when she passed in May.

Last but not least, I have to thank my rheumatologist, Anthony Krajcer, MD, who has, with what seems a magic wand, weaned me off most of the powerful but nasty medication I've been taking for years, to the point that I am now on only one anti-rheumatic drug, with the others a "standby" in case of flares. Very good doctor, picked up on some stuff my previous rheumatologist had missed, and went from there. Thanks, Dr. Krajcer.

So now that I am really pushing to finish getting this University of Washington Experimental College course written - as I am writing this the outline is done!!!, and the narrative some 40% complete, I am doing better than I thought - I find I have to drop something else creative. Turns out to be photography. I always spent lots of time putting pictures, mostly newly shot, in my blog entries, and I just find myself concentrating on writing now, just about all day. I will hopefully, be able to continue doing blog entries, I guess you'll find that out one way or the other. But the course is getting to be major work - slides, some using techniques I have not used before, then the OpenOffice learning curve, I can't afford the Microsoft Office suite. I actually don't at all mind learning OpenOffice - when you age, as you can read in hundreds of articles, you need to keep your brain agile. There are many ways of doing this - to be honest, I believe that some of those "dementia" and "Alzheimers" diagnoses are likely caused by the fact that most people, as they age, get stuck in routines and stop using their faculties, be they brain or arm or leg or lung muscles. Coupled with the aging body taking much more time to grow things and repair things - I've had a good example recovering from my fall, which collapsed my lung and broke my hand - you need to keep using all those muscles.

My arthritis won't let me run, so I walk, and learning new software, periodically installing new computers or operating systems or hard drives, keeps my mind busy. Not using a password application is another brilliant tool - I use a dozen or so different passwords, for services and software packages, and I change them periodically, and each time I teach myself to key them in from memory. A rather complicated three-step three-password bank login took me some six weeks to learn by heart, but I believe doing things like that is invaluable to keep an agile mind. You have no idea how brilliant that is, and it is a perfect tool for you to gauge how accurate your memory is - it will let you know when your memory is deteriorating. Rather than follow the BS advice you get on some of the popular TV shows, treat your brain like all of your other parts and organs, and exercise it - and no, there are no pills or vitamins for your brain, whatever Centrum wants you to believe. If running does a number on your joints, which is the case with me, you talk to your doctor, and walk, instead - but you do it seven days a week.

My primary care provider back in Virginia gave me some excellent advice, back when I hit 50 - he made me go out and get a blood pressure cuff, and check my blood pressure and pulse first thing in the morning - before coffee, food, showers, alcohol, and smoking (which I gave up on after my unrelated cancer surgery, in 2010). This isn't to call the doctor when something seems out of order, but to establish a base line for your blood pressure and heart rate - people are different, and while there are recommended values, this way you learn how your body functions. I've since added a temperature reading, a good way to see if you are inflamed or infected some way, and since my recent collapsed lung event, I now measure my blood oxygen level, as I noticed that what I always thought was the doctor's office pulse reading is actually both that and blood oxygen. No, I am not a hypochondriac, but as a scientist I find it fascinating to measure things, and see if I can correlate some data. That is, after all, how you invent things, and how you learn.

Contact lenses are another one of those age tools - when you use glasses, your eyes no longer need to work to focus, I discovered a number of years ago - this is why most end up with double or triple or vari-focus spectacles, which do little but exercise your neck.. With contact lenses, your eyes work "as normal", so you retain those eye adjustments you were born with, the "muscles in your eyes" continue to work. Use monovision contact lenses, and there is extra work done by the eyes and the brain - way back when I first got these lenses, it was fascinating to see how, in the space of a couple of months, the brain adjusted to the different eye corrections, to the point you ended up with 20/20 vision.

So there. Happy 2015.

December 20, 2014: Still hard at it, the writing I mean

Keywords: ITV, money, Australia, Monis, Sydney, oil price, Putin, learning
Ahh... a new Foyle, I think, on ITV. Goodo. No, it's not. Oh well, Rising Damp is back, not that that is a comparable series...

Not an easy month, December, although I think I may see some light at the end of the tunnel. Mortgage woes well behind me, a little bit more money next year, and I am slowly wading through doing some of the things I don't like doing. As I mentioned before, I am somewhat surprised I find myself so inward looking - while I never was an extrovert, I would have expected my career and NYC and DC to have changed me a bit, but no, I seem to be right back where I started. Well, perhaps not entirely, I'll get to that.

One is oneself, that much is clear. And I need to accept there is nothing wrong with that, and use it as an asset. Learning. I am the one who has always said you really can't change another person, only yourself. But now I am beginning to think you can't change yourself, either. Which would mean getting the right tools for whatever it is you were kitted with to begin with. There, a bit of wisdom like no other....

Having watched the Sydney mishap unfold, I don't really understand why someone like Man Haron Monis decides to start something he can completely calculate will end in his death. Having lived in Australia for twenty years, you'd think he knew better, leading me to think this was suicide-by-cop, he knew he was likely to be put away for many years before he started all this. You see this on the news on an almost daily basis, people put themselves in self destruct mode, then can't seem to brake and turn back. It is weird. Just infinitely sad he had to take others with him. And for all those who said "he was visible through the window, why didn't a sniper shoot him" - you can't shoot someone through plate glass, it distorts the scope, and it will deflect the round. So there.

The Ozzies are frontiersmen and -women, they're tough, they don't mess about, and if you screw with them they're going to come right back at you. Even if the coffee shop manager hadn't tackled him, they'd have gone in there and ended it. I can't prove it, but take from me that Australians are a different breed, they're determined to run a fully Westernized country, but at the same time they are Asians, well aware of that, and work on it. If you need something done in APAC or South Asia, hire Ozzies or Kiwis, they know their backyard, and they are respected "down under". I have never had an opportunity to visit, but I've worked with many, and I've worked all over that backyard of theirs. Bit of an omission, never visiting Oz, when I have spent so much time next door, in Indonesia.

I have to tell you I think the fall of the oil price is nice, I paid $2.33 for a gallon yesterday, down from somewhere near $4, I should think Obama's drive to frack and pump oil has worked very well, and he should be given kudos for this, massively. It will do wonders for our economy, make products cheaper, life cheaper, yada yada, but if somehow the Russian population can't be made aware the fall of the ruble is related to Mr. Putin's antics, we may not achieve all of our goals. There isn't a soul in the rest of the world willing to help Russia until it stops flying bombers in front of our airliners, and giving the East Ukraine Ethnic Russians (EUER, ask your German cousins what it means) advanced ground-to-air missiles with which they can kill holidaymakers. It is really important that the Russian government concern itself with taking care of Russians. If that means Mr. Putin, and some of his cronies, need to retire, folks, let's get that on the road. He's had his fun.

As I mentioned before, I really need to finish writing this training course, and I think that means scaling back the blogging, writing is a strange craft with a limit to what one can put in, creatively. I may post bits of course here, for you to comment on, but I may take more of a hiatus from the blog, at least for a while. Wish me luck ;)

December 15, 2014: All Work and no...

Keywords: African American, Microsoft Project, University of Washington, Microsoft Office, ASUW, Red Dwarf, USPS, US Mail, Amazon, Bezos, Christmas
Someone was being interviewed on the local news here in Seattle, and the question came up why there appears to be an increasing racial divide when there is a black president in the White House. The expert opined that those two factors aren't related, but I am now, thinking about it, wondering if that's true. Could it be that the white right wing populace, seeing a black man (who is multiracial, and not African American, to boot) in control of the country, is realizing they're about to be taken over? That the blacks aren't going to stay in the cozy corner they were supposed to? Is all this, Ferguson, etc., the backlash, perhaps? This makes a lot more sense to me...

Waaah. I have finally begun to format and outline the course I want to teach, my landlord C. smiled when I whined about having a hard time writing the outline, and said "It's like opening a can of worms, right?". It sure is, and it is not made easier by having to relearn Microsoft Project. I never used that much, like many engineers and programmers working with Visio instead, but I don't have a copy of that now, "mine" belonged to Verizon, of course. And so I am using MS Project, and that is a bit of a tall order, not that I mind, as I have mentioned in blog posts before, the best thing you can do for yourself as you age is learn, learn, learn. The "old adage" that you can't teach an old dog new tricks is so much BS, it is a matter of motivation, and a matter of laziness, as you get older you don't want to spend untold hours learning things. But as I discover as I am creating this outline, all you need is the motivation and drive to create something, and you'll soon set yourself to learn tools you didn't use before. Or, as is the case with Project, barely used, all through my career most of my use of Project was to look at other people's presentations, if I ever needed it I created my presentation in Visio, and then imported the slides.

Visio allowed me to use the thousands of templates I had, and the animation and transition capabilities MS Project has I never aspired to. There is a reason for this, the same reason why I do not use a fancy web tool to create my web pages. I firmly believe all of this fancy stuff actually takes the reader's / viewer's, audience's attention away from my message. We've got video, if we need to absolutely show something in motion, there isn't enough of that in Project, unless you want to spend massive design time, time better spent, in my view, writing. I am still too aware that many of my web readers are in parts of the world where "broadband" doesn't even get to half a megabit per second. I tested some of that in Thailand, in an upscale residential neighbourhood, where my friend's house has a nominal one megabit ADSL link, and I can tell you that that is, to our standards, painfully slow, and then you can see, as well, that Western web designers have no clue that their webpage, when viewed in Asia or Africa, continually communicates back and forth over slow links with servers thousands and thousands of miles away, and that the embedded advertising and statistics and tracking and other "stuff" does that too. The net consequence is that a lot of what we produce in the West slows to a crawl "over there", if it can be viewed / read at all.

At any rate, I am now producing my first full presentation in MS Project, or rather, its free equivalent, Apache OpenOffice, being my usual impatient self as I go through the learning curve, continually wanting to do things I don't know how to. The focus needs to be on the message, though, not on the medium, I've always kept my environment as basic as possible. I did not, and do not, believe in webpages that have menus at the top, the left, the right, and the bottom, and then some "click me" crap here and there in the page. I think that if you require your reader to spend five minutes learning to use your page, you've just lost five minutes of that person's attention. To me, all these menus (and I've upset my own staff by saying this) mean you don't know what you're trying to get across. Get in the car, and drive straight, left or right. You want to go up or down as well, you need an airplane. You need to keep life and the pursuit of happiness simple. Right?

Apart from being a "Can Of Worms" - i.e., "COW" - I have just realized that putting together a training course is WORK. Jeez. Not that I mind, but I am really going to have to write, every day, as I expand the outline beyond what I have done so far. Then, I am going to torture some friends to sit through the talk. Wel, part of it, anyway, so I can do the timing and find out if they think it is worth listening to. Then, finish it, and put the proposal into UW. Then, if they bite, see if I can get a paying audience together - that's how the ASUW Experimental College works. What all that means is that I will likely not update this blog as often as I normally do. Unless - but I need to think about that - I can post the individual sections in my blog. Will let you know. Clear is that what I am doing is, at the very least, writing a series of articles, or perhaps even a book. This isn't a bad idea - entrusting my significant years of experience to a hard disk, I could do worse. It's just not something I set out to do, and I do now realize that's a solid eight hours a day, seven days a week, for quite a while. Well, I did want a job, so I guess I just gave myself one....

Ahhh... Red Dwarf is being rerun on PBS, at least here in the Frozen Northwest. Actually, the weather has been incredibly mild, reaching low 60's last week, but as of tonight the temperature is dipping again, after the massive storm we had. Even the power went out, for three or so hours, very unusual for the urban Seattle area. We'll see. I've otherwise gotten my Christmas stuff pretty much done, shipping cards and gifts to Europe, sending a chronology to the Dutch Justice Ministry as I am being cyberstalked by an ex, gotta tell you the postage to Europe has increased tremendously. It used to be cheap to send parcels and larger postal items overseas, but no more. I don't know that raising prices like this (so domestic postage can stay reasonable) in an immigrant country may not be a good idea, I wonder if the Postal Overseeers have done their sums to see if the price increases have had a positive effect.

To be honest, I don't know that any company in trouble (which the Post Office is) has never gotten itself out of trouble while raising prices while reducing service. Post Offices are open fewer hours, I recall some in Virginia now closing for lunch (...), the only, I repeat ONLY, way to make more money is by selling more. And if you can't think of ways of doing that, you need to be replaced. So you don't open fewer hours, you open more hours. And you sell more products. And you stop sponsoring sports whackos and the like, everybody knows what a post office is, we don't need to see the logo on bob sleds, we've got Post Office vans all over our neighbourhoods several times a day. And postboxes all over, but perhaps we ought to make 'em red, like the British do, so they stand out a bit. Even German yellow would be better than dark blue. Maybe hire Jeff Bezos to run the place. C'mon.

Anyway, I've got the gifts done, don't know what I'd do without Amazon, speaking of Bezos. Even my fish oil capsules are cheaper there. Not to mention.... but let's not give the Christmas gifts away, so to speak. Only they don't yet have "flatpack Swedish" rejuvenation showers... yet.

December 5, 2014: Big Data Quivers

Keywords: Big Data, Facebook, Twitter, Stephen Hawking, High Frequency Trading, stock exchange, fober optics, artificial intelligence, AI, trending

phonewatchFinally some research that hits my hobby horse head on: "trending" applies only to a very limited subset of the human race, even in "connected" places. You just very simply can't take decisions based on "big data" garnered from social networks, as they don't form a representative slice of society, the information coming only from social network users, and not even from all of them. Yet, this is being done every day. I've found, from whenever they started, these online surveys the stupidest thing imaginable. You have no control, and no information, over who does and doesn't take part, and you have no proof of the veracity of the information respondents do give - if, in a survey, you, a 58 year old male, say you're a 27 year old female, that's how the "big data" goes down. On top of that, you're completely dependent on the questions the originators ask, as the vast majority of surveys only handle fixed values, not variables, and they are certainly not capable of processing natural language input. One of the most important questions and statistics - who does not take part in surveys, and why not, can never be answered. Not for nothing is the United States Census legally required to be answered by every householder in the nation, and do census takers come out to all those who have not responded to "make 'em".

Take the huge noise about Facebook's experiment with user emotion - well, yes, of course you can manipulate people, Goebbels proved that extensively, and he didn't even have computers. To what end, is more of a problem, there really aren't any ways you can predict the outcome of these "experiments". Give me a team, a supercomputer, and five to ten years, and I can put something together that can understand random hoi polloi in a limited fashion, but that's about as far as it goes. We aren't, at the present time, even capable of machine-understanding all of the spoken English of every native born American, I am not even talking about first generation immigrants here, so there is much work to be done. Even something as simple as background noise massively reduces our effectiveness. With the advent of caller ID, telephone surveys have become virtually useless, as many people no longer take calls from numbers they don't recognize, diluting the pool of respondents.

It is a simple mistake to make - you have access to a massive amount of data, so you're now going to correlate that data, and make sense of the correlation, somehow. You may have noticed how Twitter has decided its mobile app, under iOS or Android, is going to take an inventory of the apps in your smartphone, and Twitter is then going to draw some conclusions from that. Like what? For one thing, I'll remove Twitter's app from my phone if I can't turn that off, as I am sure hundreds of thousands of others will do, and that will make Twitter's data and demographics less valuable. I've done the same with my Facebook apps, on the handheld and the tablet. But I will suggest that Twitter's move is one of desperation - it is not able to monetize what data it has on its users sufficiently, and so it is going to find more data. Now any first year psychology student should be able to tell you that if you can't make hash of what you have, adding something is going to make that worse, not better. If a given dataset does not provide sufficiently meaningful results, you have the wrong people, not the wrong data.

My original job in the Systems Analysis Laboratory at NYNEX White Plains was data collection, collecting and storing data from sixteen operator positions on Long Island, and making it available to a team of psychologists for analysis. We were, complete with our own programming language, in process of creating "automated operators", voice recognition driven, able to partially process operator services calls without human intervention. The calls, together with the information our automation had garnered from the caller, would then be sent to an appropriate operator. We collected (with the appropriate regulatory approval) call information 24/7 for over a year, before we began assembling and programming the system. We think these capabilities are new, but not so - what's new are the faster networks and increased processing power. The smartwatch to the right does everything a regular cellphone does, handles two SIMcards, SD card memory, video- and still camera recording, data capability, browser, and a USB connection, in other words, it does everything a smartwatch does. I bought it in China in.... 2008.

trading applicationSo I have a bit of experience with the vagaries of data collection, and of then doing something with the data, is what I am trying to say here. The entire "big data" story strongly reminds me of the spreadsheet craze - I've had people come to me with enormous spreadsheets, some large enough that you could not open them on a Windows PC that did not have extra memory installed. And you know, hopefully, what the risk is with these spreadsheets (and an important reason I rarely use them, and if I do, I keep 'em small) - one wrong keystroke and the result may be skewed, and you won't know. Even if you did, you wouldn't know why unless you went through the entire spreadsheet cell-by-cell, and even then... Creating a spreadsheet is programming, usually carried out by non-programmers, and work that, like all good programming, is never audited.

You may, by now, have read Stephen Hawking's comments on AI, Artificial Intelligence, and its dangers - I have to tell you that until we begin auditing code, we've got nothing to worry about, we are not, today, capable of writing unbreakable software, or hackers would not be able to break into systems, hacking is not caused by hackers, but by coders and software designers who leave holes in their work. Today, we establish whether code works by verifying its output, not by verifying its functioning, and so the only thing we know about the code is the result of our testing. That's not the same as auditing code - with testing, anything you don't test, you know nothing about. Auditing gives you a view of everything you've done, even the bits that are dead end, because you don't yet need them. If, for example, a piece of code leads to four branches (if-then-else), but the fourth branch never gets called, you'd never know that was broken, because testing a function that isn't used does not normally get done, and you've just left a hole for a hacker to use. You never know, of course, until you try to actually land that probe on that asteroid, and it needs to fire its hooks, and doesn't. By then, it is too late. In global telecommunications, which counts among its customers every police department, armed forces branch, and hospital in the known universe, not auditing your code, at least in Operations, is a no-no.

Years ago, when in research laboratories there were large AI departments, AI eventually bled to death. We could not make AI work, even a little bit, and so we decided to use our funding elsewhere. AI, you see, isn't a machine that can think for itself, and then run Apple's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana. Siri and Cortana aren't artificial intelligence. They're machines that can look things up, really really quickly. You can't ask them about things that aren't in their database. If Siri or Cortana don't have information on your subject, and could, in a split second, go out into the world, find the information you're asking about, then come back and vocalize that to you, that would be a form of intelligence. Limited, but doing research and then parsing and formatting that so it is useful to you can be called intelligence.

So, while Professor Hawking is probably right, I am not seeing any risk to the human race from AI in the forseeable future. I don't, to be honest, even know that binary computing, which is what we use, today, even in supercomputers, can even be made to think - because, we know from brain research thinking isn't a binary process. Thinking uses, shall we say, shades of gray, and is capable of correlating more than two shades of gray without a calculation (we've never found a calculator in anyone's brain, not even Einstein's). We have computing, today, that some people call "intelligent" because it can do amazingly fast calculations, that seem to finish before they start. In particular, High Frequency Trading, which some brokerages say uses inteligent algorithms. I am not so sure - if this type of trading is based on intelligent computing, there would be no need for the servers that run the trading software to actually physically sit in the stock exchanges they trade in - all you see is the trading screens to the left. There is a huge industry around this - very high speed servers, connected to the trading systems through very high speed fiber optic connections, where the service provider, often a contractor to the brokerage, will change fiber vendors based on a single millisecond better response time of their network. Intelligence, in my book, would obviate some, or much, of this advanced technology. In my book, these are really advanced steam engines. An intelligent algorithm, as I mentioned to one respondent, would be able to predict market movement, and act accordingly. There's no such thing today. And if you feel that humans, with the exception of Warren Buffett, can't predict the stock market either, you'd be right. Nobody can. That is why I propose that a machine capable of predicting the stock market, well ahead of time, might be really intelligent. Might. Because even there it is possible that it is just a really really fast calculator with really really good software - which makes the programmer intelligent, not the software. You know weather predictions, really important to society, are today made by supercomputers, running specially designed software, which has to be rewritten every time you change the computer.

November 29, 2014: It does not get easier

Keywords: chicken, steak, cooking, fat, medical, assertiveness, moisturizer, skin complaints, postnasal drip, Thanksgiving

sirloin and broccoliI rarely cook a proper dinner, these days, I share a kitchen and just don't like pots and pans and stuff sitting around in the way of other folks. But I ran into some nice 50% off sirloin at the supermarket today - I'll be damned if I pay $11/lb for steak, if you've noticed, the prices of beef and chicken has been going up considerably, over the summer. I wonder whether the repurposing of feed corn for ethanol production has something to do with it, of course the oil prices over the summer did not help - there it is, ethanol production uses 40% of American corn. If that is the case, some of those prices should come down, I paid $2.74 per gallon, the other day, it was $3.90 per gallon of regular as recently as July - not an average, it is what I paid at Costco. Anyway, when I got the Blackberry out I noticed that my sirloin-and-broccoli combo looked rather picturesque, I take pictures of food I cook frequently, but rarely post them.

chicken fatBy the way, as the BBC is broadcasting massive warnings about the presence of campylobacter in supermarket chicken as wel as on the packaging, yes, if you mass produce livestock at an accelerated rate for food production, this is going to happen - it happens with veggies, too. So the steak you see here, cooked by yours truly, is deliciously pink inside, but that does not kill the bacteria. And I would have done it red, except I could not get the synchronization with the broccoli right, and sirloin is overcooked in seconds. But chicken (and pork) are cheaper, and thus higher risk food, and so should be even more cooked to death, like eggs. With chicken and pork, that has the added advantage of getting the amply present fat out. The 125 milliliters of fat you see here amazingly comes from only three lbs of chicken - a mix of breasts (fat) and thighs (less fat). Cooking the chicken thru-and-thru, then draining the fat, and using healthy oil (like olive, or my favourite, sesame) to finish the chicken is a good idea. Shame to throw out the deliciously flavoured chicken fat, but there it is (don't forget to run a hot tap when you are draining fat, or it will congeal in your drain).

Thanksgiving. Kind of snuck up on me, and we're getting close to the end of the year, better get me gifts going. I used to buy those as the year went along, but I guess I've just been frugal. Anyway, enough time left for that - perhaps I'll go take a look at the Black Friday antics tomorrow.

In the interim, I need to get my medical bills (still from the August mishap) out of the way, and see if I can get the dog owner to give me her insurance information. I dread that. But I have to do something, I can't afford the $1,300 to replace the front crown I lost in my fall. I noticed, the other day, that I really went back to being massively introvert, after leaving my Verizon position, it is somewhat amazing that you can go extrovert for 20 years, driven by your career, and then roll back into the old skin, as it were. The thing is, that does not do me any good, so I've got to re-find that New Yorker hiding in there. Maybe that will help me finish writing that lecture I've been working on. That never used to take me months, either. Having said that, I may decide to do that concurrently with writing a book, which I can easily self publish. It would seem a waste of effort not to.

What else do we have. Ah, moisturizer. I should add that I am not writing this stuff down because I'd like to share my ills with the universe, but if someone out there has a similar problem, one I have solved, or have had solved, it might benefit them.

I came out of the summer with what I thought was sunburn, parts of me, like my forearms and lower legs, were itchy and blotchy. Considering the unusually hot summer we've had in the Pacific Northwest, I figured I'd just had too much sun exposure, and as the summer was winding down the discomfort would go away. Except it didn't. After a while, I itched all over. Itchy and scratchy, you know the sort of thing. Eventually, doctor visit, he prescribed steroid cream and moisturiser, and gave me a dermatology referral. The dermatologist studied my skin, and said it was very dry, and I should moisturize, and to speed the process up, take a fifteen minute warm bath twice a day. I reduced that to once a day, I don't normally lie around in the bath, and as I was adding some stuff to the water I felt I needed to clean the bath every time, but the treatment did not work. So I switched to moisturizing, as in all over, you know men generally don't treat their skin the same way women do, and few moisturize and condition their skin. I thought maybe the dermatologist was bonkers, no nice pills, but here we are, a couple of weeks later, and I'm just about done with the itching. He'd opined this was just an aging skin condition, nothing to do with the summer and sunburn and my collapsed lung and resultant medication, and he was right, simple as that. Maybe the AARP should hand out moisturizer with their memberships.

The only problem was that I couldn't find an applicator for my back, a few I found had replaceable pads but were horribly expensive, but I eventually found the washable Kingsley Lotion Applicator on Amazon ($7.74), so now I can just wash it when I shower in the morning, and leave it to dry. Peachy. By the way, one doctor recommended Eucerin, I went and bought their exzema formula, and that works very well, but it is pretty expensive if you're slathering it all over yourself. So, after some research, I ended up with Curél itch defense lotion, and that works fine too. I am under the impression Eucerin is better, but as I expect I'll be using this stuff for quite a while, the cheaper solution is, I think, the better.

I've not had this happen a lot, but a housemate came home with a cough, set the entire household coughing, and by last Sunday I was feeling bad enough that I made a doctor's appointment. Udub was kind enough to squeeze me in with an attending physician, the next evening, and wouldn't you know it, by Monday morning I was feeling a lot better, had actually had a full night's sleep, so was able to cancel that appointment. We all seem to be on a similar recovery schedule, definitely longer than the ten days the medical sites all mention. Dratty things, sinuses - no elevated temperature, no elevated blood pressure, but something is pearshaped nevertheless. Especially if you're a former smoker, sinuses will mess you up. At least, I think it is a sinus complaint - I've had similar attacks in the past, and doctors have always told me it was a sinus infection, with the coughing caused by what they call a postnasal drip.

November 23, 2014: Incoming!

Keywords: AT&T, webhosting, Google, Gmail, Microsoft, Microsoft Cloud, Kinect, targeted marketing, SEO, copyright

Unpleasantly, AT&T gave me notice, the other day, that they are discontinuing the mail and access service I've been using for decades, next year - originally, that was an hosting service AT&T bought. At any rate, as I was contemplating whether or not I should switch over to AT&T's web hosting service, which is cheaper than the service I use today, I noticed spam levels in my AT&T account rising to, for me, astronomical levels. I need to call them about this, but it triggered me moving my mail to another account, and while I was doing that, I decided to move all of my crucial mail out of Google, as well. Google, after all, says it can parse your email for commercial purposes, and I really take a dim view of folks doing that. AT&T's user interface, as well as their SPAM interception system, have been problematical to use for years - I can compare it with Google's, which is far more effective, although you need to check that periodically, as it will mistakenly capture non-SPAM, on occasion.

Nokia C7As I checked what mail options I had available, I suddenly realized I had an extra Gigabyte mail account with my hoster, one I had never activated, so I am now in the middle of doing that. If all this works OK, and I have enough mail storage to survive a 24 hour flight, I may therefore let AT&T's offering go. I am happy with my current internet hoster, having dumped Network Solutions a few years ago for deluging me with phone calls and emails for no reason.

Call me paranoid, but does anybody out there have a problem with the major providers all writing into their T&Cs they have the right to parse your stuff for marketing purposes? Not just the free stuff - if you accept Microsoft's offer of a piece of free Cloud with your Windows 8.1, those T&Cs apply even if you need more Cloud and pay for it. Umm, did they not kind of snuck this past us, and past the Fed, which is supposed to protect us? Why would I want to store my personal, private files in the Microsoft cloud or the Google cloud or the Facebook cloud and have them go through them to see what information they can use? At this point in time, they've usurped the right to recognize and report kiddie porn stored on their servers. Nobody in their right mind is going to complain about this, but think about the implications: they can parse and recognize just about anything, remember in this context Facebook uses face recognition, and I presume Microsoft and Google have that sitting ready too. Importantly: who made these people part of Law Enforcement? In my days with NYNEX/Bell Atlantic/Verizon, it was made clear to me (by corporate attourneys and CFOs, one of my functions was Regulatory Compliance) that law enforcement support was part of my duties, as these are regulated telecommunications companies, but nothing like that applies to internet service providers. We have, in the NSA, the Secret Service, and GCHQ, excellent capable agencies whose job it is to work with the internet companies. Parsing my files to see if I do anything illegal of your own accord is NOT Microsoft's or Facebook's job, unless they hold suitable law enforcement certification.

So let's head back to the XBox, with its "always on" Kinect technology (your turning it off does not mean the box can't turn it back on), and you end up with a device that can see what goes on in your room, and has motion- and face recognition, which Microsoft can pair up to your data it has in its cloud. I am not saying they do that, I am saying it is a possibility, and there is little to stop them, considering they have it all. I can understand a gamer might want the technology, but for it to be installed in a living room, where it has access to the entire family, including the three- and the six-year-old, and all of Mum's correspondence and party pictures stored in the cloud, I've got to think this is insiduous, and then I have not even started about the thousands of hackers relentlessly trying to break into these server systems, whose security stands and falls with one network administrator's mistake....

The issue is not that I have a problem with Microsoft's and Google's targeted marketing. The issue is that there is no such thing as "targeted marketing", any more than that Search Engine Optimization, SEO, exists. In order to use targeted marketing, which is a methodology that will let you put a particular product or service in front of a consumer when they are about to buy something, you have to be able to read minds and predict the future. Neither is technologically possible, so, apart from the idiots funding this stuff, and paying for it (you and me), it'll eventually die. Same for SEO - nobody has ever been able to predict what an internet surfer was going to look at next, or whether they were looking at handbags for Grandma or themselves, so SEO has at its major distinction that it has as good a chance of hiding something you want to see, as it has of actually producing it. You may recall that SEO meant you had a bunch of people stringing together lists of keywords so search engines could "find" a website "more easily", and then creating both regular websites for search engines, and web push technology to create pages on the fly (which search engines couldn't trigger), and then Microsoft created web code running on Windows Server that only Internet Explorer could see, and it went on and on and on. Now, whether targeted marketing works depends on whose client you are - if you're with Google, your customer's targets better have Android phones, if you're working with Microsoft, they may need Windows phones, and then you have to figure out whose GPS maps are in use by the carrier involved, because otherwise the phone may not show your chain of pizza stores on its map. Targeted marketing, today, is that Google says it can tell your customers at lunchtime they're approaching your pizza store, and you have a special lunchtime offer, today. Except, the chain of Indian restaurants down the block has another lunchtime offer, and they are paying more to Google, so they get that bit of real estate (there's no room for two special offers on your average smartphone screen). What do you mean, you searched for Italian food? Who asked you? You don't pay for this shit! Well, yes, of course this advertising uses bandwidth on your 4G subscription, but we'll just assume the Federal Government will continue to ignore that you're paying for Facebook and Google's advertising use of your network connection, which should be against the law. And I hope you're not looking something up when your phone loses the 3G or 4G channel, and decides to throttle back to EDGE, because the advertising will continue to load, and nothing else will.

Understand that SEO, and targeted marketing, depend completely on your logging into the service you're using, and your providing them personal information - whether it is Google's search engine, or Facebook. Facebook asks you what school you went to so they can use that information for targeted marketing. Worse, they have advertisers believing there is a correlation between the people that went to your school, as if you're suddenly all buying the same shoes. There is ample scientific evidence that no such correlation exists, but there you go. Facebook then wants to tell all the people you went to school with you buy Bison Burgers, and they are having Burger King believe that works. Again, there is ample scientific evidence that these methodologies don't work - and by "work", I mean that the methodology does not suddenly cause an additional 1,000 people from your school to buy Bison Burgers. Fifteen, maybe, but Burger King is paying half a million dollars in advertising fees to sell those fifteen burgers. Which they do because there isn't any way to connect the outgoing$ with the actual customers.

So: the problem is that they have all of this data that does not belong to them, that they have surreptitiously rewritten America's copyright law without anybody asking them to, and that the data they hold can be stolen by hackers or made available to the authorities under court order completely without your consent, and without your being able to influence the process. And that, my friends, is wrong. The data is there because the providers are developing technologies that don't, and can't, work, and they can take it because they don't have to prove their stuff works. This is, by the way, as much of a "bubble" as the real estate inflationary cycle was, and it will lead to the same results.

November 17, 2014: Don't tell me we have to wait until he falls off the horse

Keywords: Russia, Putin, Ukraine, Brisbane, China, Soyuz, MH-17, Windows 8, Alibaba, Google Glass, Amazon, big data

What with all this Russian agression going on, I wonder if Putin drives it, or if the Russian population thinks this is all good and wonderful, and he is a Really Good Man.

From here, there isn't a lot you can say, the United States routinely does things that are very similar to what Russia does. I was sitting in the pub with a State Department analyst friend when George W Bush announced on TV the invasion of Iraq, and the analyst (whose responsiblities were in the Middle East) exclaimed "The guy is crazy!". And he wasn't talking about Dubya's choice of necktie... What that taught me was that Mr. Bush committed the United States to something some of his own experts didn't believe was warranted. Or useful. Is Putin doing things his own experts don't want him to do?

Chinese tea mugsHaving said that, Obama isn't doing any weird stuff, so the Bush monikers really do not apply to him. Back to Putin: is he following echoes of the Soviet era, which, after all, is where he came of age, or does the average Russian really want that old territory back? Even without Ukraine and Georgia and Estonia and whatever, Russia is still large enough that it takes over 60 hours to traverse it by train. Much of that is a bit frozen, but still, it is Russia. What is clear with Putin is that he is like the Iranians and the North Koreans: he won't negotiate. At this point in time, Mr. Putin has played his gas-and-oil card to the point European countries are beginning to source their energy elsewhere - it was nice while it lasted, they say, but using energy as a weapon is not what we signed up for. So that's there - everything Putin does seems belligerent - tanks to Ukraine, bombers and jets to Europe and soon over the Atlantic, but when all is said and done the income Russia was getting out of its gas and oil riches is dwindling, and we're going to make sure it will dwindle much more. Soon, we'll start sending our own crew capsules to the International Space Station, Elon Musk is just about ready to build those, and that will obsolete Vladimir even more.

It hasn't been talked about much, but we don't actually need Putin's Soyuz and Progress space capsules at all. The Europeans fly freighters to the ISS today, they're working on a crew version, so is Space-X, which has its own freighter in operation, and then there is Boeing. If we were to ask the Chinese, nicely, and offered them a bit more money than we are paying Vladimir, I am sure they'd be very happy to ferry astronauts to the ISS, they have their crew capsule flying, and have Russian docking ports. We may not be politically ready for that reality, but if Vladimir really gets uppity, that could change overnight. He may not have read his history books, but flying nuclear capable bombers over our shores is going to disappear our appetite for his rockets pretty quickly. Is that why he is doing what he is doing, because he understands Russia has lost the race, and it is his fault? Does he understand the Chinese are capable of setting up space-Uber overnight? Does he understand Russia doesn't sell Bluetooth headsets, doesn't ship an air filter for my Durango from Shenzen via the interconnected postal service?

It is not good for Russia, and I personally don't think that Mr. Putin's discussion with the Chinese will loosen their economic bond with the West - American kids learn Chinese, these days, only the military learn Russian.

It is the age old conundrum - what do you do with someone who won't negotiate? And does this stretch to the entire Russian political structure? I doubt there will be a new Cold War - those bombers are old, man - but I do think somebody will soon have to tell Putin where to get off. He should pay attention to the way Obama is tackling ISIS - we can now handle these operations almost 99% from the air, which takes longer but is just as effective. Putin's friends should realize that we can pick off their armoured cars, too, next time they want to annex a Crimea or someplace. There hasn't been the political will, but we must realize that Mrs. Merkel's speaking Russian has benefited nobody. Putin does not negotiate even with someone who speaks his language and grew up under his old political system, understands him better than any other head of state, and that perhaps it is time to begin delivering different messages. After all, we make the airplanes and the cars and develop the technology, Russia has a very long way to go on that score.

Let me put it this way: when the ethnic Russians in Ukraine shot down the Malaysian airliner, Putin could have stepped in, taken care of the matter, and shown us he cares. Instead, he chose to make a clear statement, troublesome coming from a neighbour: he doesn't give a shit. I think it is time to begin returning the favour. Putin probably isn't the civilized educated upper crust Russian we hoped he was.

I can't really whine about Windows 8, since I upgraded from Windows 7 Professional on a Lenovo that didn't officially support it, and I had to do a fair amount of "manual labour" to get it to run right - meaning there were a few drivers and devices that wouldn't run "out of the box". I backed out Windows 8.1, since that is tablet-centric, and completely oriented towards letting Microsoft gather your personal information, parse your files, basically turning Windows into a worse version of Gmail and Google's search engine. I understand the "big data" discussion, having worked in that environment for many years, but I must say I have never seen any big data operator provide meaningful information to advertisers. It is being bought, and paid for with massive dollars, but there isn't any evidence that any big data provider is capable of predicting anyone's behaviour. Think about it - if Google were able to predict what you will be buying, when, and where, which is what it purports it is able to do, Google wouldn't be doing research into self driving cars. Or leasing massive airfields. Google would not need to, if it had found the Holy Grail of Big Data. Nor would Microsoft. Or Yahoo. The only way Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft can know about you is if you log in, and tell them who you are and what you do. None of these folks otherwise have any way of recognizing you - the mobile apps all of these folks make have only one purpose: to track you, as a person, your mobile phone being the device that uniquely identifies you - hence the concentration on "mobile devices" - PCs don't travel.

Amazon sells stuff, and employs rivers of developers and scientists, but even Amazon has no clue what I am going to be buying next - Amazon's predictive algorithms don't get much beyond suggesting you buy your previous purchase again. I am not kidding you - Amazon spends millions of dollars on science and systems so it can suggest I reorder the liquid sweetener I've been buying. Guess what - I buy the sweetener on a regular basis because I really like it, and I order when I run out. None of that has anything to do with Amazon's "intelligent systems" and "big data". I read the other day Alibaba correlated Chinese women's bra size with purchasing behaviour during a Chinese holiday - guess what, prove that to me over a ten year period and I'll believe you.. It is crazy, Jack Ma, you're falling into the same programmer guided trap everybody else does. There is no reason to assume that two things that happen simultaneously are related, and the isn't a reason to assume that if they are, you know why. Go talk to a doctor about correlative symptoms, and you'll find there isn't much hard science when working with humans.

The only reason there is a "Google Glass" is that Google wants to use your vision concentration to do meaningful predictive stuff, but the bandwidth you would need to do that just isn't in the airwaves, today. And even if it were, the back end intelligence doesn't really understand "how humans work". Trust me, I'n an arche-nerd. Curiously, I wrote this a couple of days ago - today, Google announced the consumer version of Glass won't be available until 2015, at the earliest.

November 10, 2014: Management of the Self, without Dr. Fuhrman's Vinegar

Keywords: gout, rheumatology, hospitalization, PBS, Dr. Fuhrman, David Perlmutter M.D., National Health, socialism, Obamacare, heart care, brain care, Walkman, iPod, Aardman Productions, Shawn the Sheep

Gout. I somehow developed gout, which I never suffered from before, last year, while house sitting for a friend in Thailand for three months. At the time, it was minor, but once back in the United States it hit me like a ton of bricks. Since then, I've been trying to find a way to "knock down" the very painful and disabling gout attacks, and guess what - I may have found a solution, after experimenting with medication for over a year and a half. Last three times, I was able to control the attack overnight, every time - to the point I was able to go for a two mile walk the day after. I need additional statistical proof, but once I have enough, I think I'll talk to my rheumatologist and see if we can make this work for other patients. That would be magic.

thyroid removal scarI do realize I very rarely post personal stuff like the gout episode, my recent hospitalization being somewhat of an exception. I think the last time I posted something like that was when I had cancer surgery and radiation treatment, back in 2010 (I survived, thank you) - but while I mentioned that hospitalization, I didn't mention much else, I've never been given to talk about "moi" a lot. But I am thinking that management of the self, to some extent, is risk management, and as I experience things, from being a 9/11 first responder, and being diagnosed with PTSD afterwards, many years of arthritis, thyroid cancer and the treatment of it, and generally the various stages of aging, I might as well write some of it up, and perhaps teach a class on it. No, I have no desire to give a loooooong talk on PBS on how to make your heart younger, I believe that is pretty much nonsense (sorry), but insofar as I can perhaps share some of my experiences, and perhaps help the odd person with similar experiences, sure, that'd be a good thing. I mean, I am a writer, photographer, I have film- and video experience, I have been a movie- and theatre producer, so perhaps I can put all that together a bit.

It is the problem I perceive with all of these folks PBS is so fond of plastering all over the airwaves - the great generalization. This even though we are all individuals, and need individual solutions to our individual problems. I should hastily add I never watch any of these shows, so perhaps my interpretation isn't relevant - after all, these folks spend a lifetime gathering data. But David Perlmutter, M.D., telling us about "the effects of wheat, sugar and carbohydrates on the human brain".. Really? On PBS? How about split peas? Or cherry ice cream? The idea behind Obamacare, or socialized medicine, or National Healthcare, which is what we call it where I come from, is that you can care for the health of every citizen, whether they have money or not. Dr. Perlmutter telling people who have time to watch this stuff how they can make their brain last forever is, in my book, hogwash. Not to mention "Dr. Fuhrman's End Dieting Forever" - does the absence of "M.D." mean the Dr. isn't a doctor? Shouldn't that then read "Ph.D."? Nope, he is an M.D. And he sells... books, DVDs, formula, capsules, vitamins, you name it. Board Certified. It is not clear to me why Bob Vila had to leave This Old House and PBS in disgrace over commercial ties, even if they were a bit more overt than Dr. Fuhrman's capsules. And did I mention his salad dressing, which he only ships FedEx? Or the ketchup... or the cereal bars... Yes, PBS funding has been reduced, over the years, and I understand they have to get more commercial than the original concept was. Just because the 1967 PBS concept was what it was, society changes, and we must change with it. But hours and hours of "heart health".... that is important for young folk, and they don't watch this stuff. They Facebook, with their friends and siblings. Get real.

Virginia Hospital CenterSo the populace need good, free, medical care, especially when they are young, and not the kind you get on TV. I don't think Dr. Fuhrman has capsules for indigent people - for the moment, his capsules cost 33 cents each, you can't get them from Costco, and you need internet and a credit card. I mean, uninsured people cost the taxpayer rivers of money, when they get old and sick. And the lack of free medical care actually kills people, lots of them - how can you justify that?

The older I get, the more I think it isn't the gurus we need, we need teams of knowledgeable folk, who share each other's experiences and supplement each other's brains, and train those who take care of everybody. Most importantly, no "Doctors" should be allowed on television unless they have found, recruited, and bring their successor, trainee and/or understudy, sharing their wealth and their fame with the next generation. There's no such thing as one gal or guy who knows everything, or almost everything, and I think it is actually Mercedes' team that is the Formula One champion, not Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg.

Make sense? Or am I rambling a little, or a lot?

I am trying to wrap my head around the return of things we could have let go a while ago - glasses, wristwatches, stuff we now think will get a new life due to digitalization. Think back with me for a moment, to the Walkman. That was a hugely successful product, it eventually ended up as a portable CD player, and then it died, until Steve Jobs downsized it, stuck a tiny hard disk in it and called it an iPod. Today, your smartphone plays your music, while it doubles as your photo camera, video recorder, messaging device and telephone. Talk about a multi-market killer. And it will soon be able to sense your vitals, so this exercise band is useless, and Google Glass may well die the same way, as soon as someone walks under a bus due to asymmetrical sensory overload. In other words, really nothing new, just things that either get smaller, or combined, and then both. But no new functionality - in many ways, Steve Jobs killed the music CD while filling Apple's iTune coffers. Other than that, music is music, right?

On another note, if the Republicans mess up now, they can shake it at the next election. We have the first ever black president, so my guess is the next may be a woman. It is a bit early for a gay president, although that might be interesting. An old white guy is a recipe for disaster. I have to say that I commend Obama for pushing through Obamacare, something previous presidents (and their wives) were never able to do. So good on you, Barack. In the fullness of time, this will prove to be one of the most important achievements of any president, ever, tracking closely behind FDR's 1937 Social Security Act. You just cannot continue to refer to the United States as "the richest country on earth" and not provide health care for Americans. Poor countries even do better.

Who? Rosberg? Ah, Hamilton spun. Just once. The excitement.

Insofar as you are familiar with the Aardman production company and the Wallace & Gromit claymation short films, not to mention the "Chicken Run" feature film, I recently discovered they make the "Shaun the Sheep" children's series for BBC - I have to tell you the stop motion action and the scenery are absolutely brilliant. The miniatures, the actions, and the way in which the Aardman folk create an understandable and very funny environment children can understand without dialogue - stunning. I wish I could do something with this - very labour intensive - technology in the adult world. As always, this is down to people - their warehouse burned down, sometime in the past, but they have not let that get them down.

November 6, 2014: The Race to Advertise

Keywords: Formula One, Bernie Ecclestone, Lewis Hamilton, Rupert Murdoch, 911, VOIP, backup batteries, Comcast, Matt Lauer

When Washington State privatized liquor sales, supermarkets began selling liquor from their regular shelving. Recently, a number of supermarkets have moved liquor to separate supervised rooms, or to locked cabinets for which you need to summon an attendant.

In one, just one, supermarket, theft losses for the quarter were $273,000. After they locked up the liquor, theft loss for the month reduced to $12,000.... What I would like to know is if this means the taxes on the lost booze are lost as well?

4.7 litre V-8 with cold air intakeSo Formula 1, which had already been transforming itself into the most boring thing on Earth, with two guys from one team winning alternatingly they can drop the rest of the teams, is now in monetary decline, run by Bernie Ecclestone, who has amassed a fortune that is larger than the value of all teams together. When the Austin, TX race is run, the BBC and others cannot broadcast it live, they have to make do with excerpts, because Fox/Sky, Rupert Murdoch's playpen, own the rights to this one, and prevent other broadcasters in markets they are present in from carrying the race live. The net consequence of all that is that most people who could be interested and would watch it and see the advertising can't watch it and can't look at the Hamilton chappie driving his Blackberry Mercedes. Which, apparently, in our brave New World, is the new purpose of sponsoring, in the United States supported by the FCC: making sure many viewers can't watch something live. Doesn't matter if you pay for cable or taxes, you can be excluded if you have the wrong subscription. To be honest, Ecclestone should use some of his river of money to finance the ailing teams, and then go away and hand over the reigns to someone who is more attuned to the audience and has a future vision. I mean, think about it - circuits and cars and drivers carry advertising, and now we sell the rights to broadcast to someone for a lot of money, in such a way that the majority of people who could watch the advertising cannot.

Will I take a Sky or Fox subscription because I can watch three or four races I otherwise can't? I have to spend hours figuring out which channel I can watch this weekend's race on? I now need four different cable channel subscriptions to see all races? Maybe not, Rupert & Friends. What I find gratifying is that the Ruperts are competing themselves into oblivion, because the people that used to watch Formula One don't any more, it is too much of a hassle. That's the reason we have teams going bankrupt, not one, not two, five or six. Having hybrid cars that use less fuel when you have begun nighttime races that use huge amounts of electricity for lighting that can be seen from the ISS, and races in the tropics and the desert where open(!) stands are air conditioned... you've got to be kidding me. I would recommend advertisers band together and start pushing organizers to get live races in front of as many viewers as possible. Otherwise, why advertise, if someone else arbitrarily decides who gets to see your logo on that car or track?

Because, and I cannot say this often enough, there are lots of people coming to Formula 1 races, and lots of people watching them on television. But neither Ecclestone nor Mercedes nor Murky nor the other teams have any idea how many millions of people would be watching if F1 weren't insufferably boring. By the time you get to having to retune exhausts in Oz because "the engines don't sound right" you really have lost touch with reality

Ah, Mercedes won. Oops, no, make that Mercedes, I'm sorry. Formula One is so much more exciting now that we have two drivers competing.

Speech driven switchAs I am trying to get my head around putting a course together, to teach at UW, and how to do that - a lecture is one thing, that I know how to do, but I've never done a series, well, not intentionally, anyway - I come across the FCC talking about how to revamp 911, which appears to be somewhat in disrepair. And then I read that the FCC tries to figure out where the carrier responsibility starts, and the consumer's responsibility ends.

911 used to be a "protected, secure" service run over copper wires - I'll never forget flying back in from Germany, and being met by a limo on the tarmac because our new operator services system was not working right, in our trial office on Long Island. Another time, I got called out on Christmas day, for the same reason. Every telephone subscriber had a right to have their 911 call answered, by a human, within 45 seconds. And we did. Barring the odd mishap, when we did get million dollar fines. And internally yelled at by the client. Rightfully.

But the wireless and IP telephony universe have put paid to all that. The times when you could send out the craftspersons and fix the wiring, or me to fix the switch, are long, long gone. It was one of the first things the phone company taught me after I went to work in their research lab - 911, emergency services, we even created special software and servers to deal with this, which was exciting.

But the FCC needs to understand that making sure residential VOIP modems have backup batteries is not going to work, and not going to be able to be maintained. If I pull the power on my landlord's Comcast connection box everything goes out, including the phone, despite the battery - and no Comcast technician turns up after receiving an alarm from their Central Office, because they don't. I don't know why, but that is the reality - a standard Comcast customer premise device, and Comcast doesn't have the ability to monitor its functioning. How the FCC wants to cure this is beyond me. Way back when, of course, the wired telephone ran on batteries too - the big grey box on the left in the picture connects to the battery floor - an entire floor - in the Central Office. That worked, because it was maintained by union technicians who knew what they were doing. If you're going to mandate battery "at the customer prem", as we call it, FCC, you will need to provide a human based mechanism to maintain and replace those batteries. Comcast isn't going to do it - the way I look at it, they won't even do it if you tell them to. They're too busy enticing Matt Lauer to continue to giggle his way through the Today Show. You have that going on, why would you worry about your subscriber being able to call the fire department or an ambulance... plenty more where that came from.

November 1, 2014: Medics must not run governments

Keywords: Ebola, Hickox, Bangladesh, CDC, India, epidemics, risk management, Sony Vaio, backup, AIS, ESATA, IPTV, WiFi
I don't quite understand what exactly these Western nurses are doing in Ebola, to be honest with you. The way this epidemic is going to be controlled is by a capable local administration, and it doesn't look like we're using the tools we have to force the local governments to step up to the plate. Western doctors and nurses going over to treat victims and then coming home with the disease, as has been the norm, does not help anybody in any way. The US and the UK sending military in to set up hospitals is perhaps useful, but even there, the local governments have not been able to set up health systems in their countries? Same as the Bangladeshi and Indian government cannot control the slave-like conditions their factory workers work and sometimes die in? A garment factory fire is not that different from an Ebola epidemic, is it? In both cases, the government is responsible for its citizens, not the World Health Organization. The WHO is supposed to help and support, it does not run local health systems, nor is it there to advise the governors of New Jersey, New York and Maine. C'mon. We have condoned Indian and Burkina Fasso and Liberian governments not taking care of their citizens for far too long, and then when a disaster happens, we send in "aid workers". Think about it, that's a joke. It doesn't solve any of their problems, and if the citizens of Burkina Fasso burn their parliament, you can bet your bottom dollar they don't have a hospital network and subsidized health care either. Time to start tackling this from the top down, not the bottom up. I can still smell the excrement I encountered in the early morning when taking the train from Chennai Railway Station, in a country that sends satellites to Mars, while when I see the Dutch all in a tizzy over a fire in a garment factory in Bangladesh, where the owners had locked the fire doors. I wonder why the Dutch government does not intercede with the Bangladeshi government, as they can stop all imports from Bangladesh with a single telephone call. No, Dutch citizens will boycot certain stores that sell stuff made in Bangladesh. So now the cloth is made in India. Is Apple responsible for the workers in the Chinese contract factories? No, the Chinese state is.

Anyway, you get my point, I am sure. We can force the Lamborghini guzzling governments in Third World countries to invest in infrastructure, we just don't have the political will. Sending nurses to Ebola is not going to solve anything, and I would suggest it doesn't really save a lot of lives, in countries where a life costs a quarter at the best of times, anyway. Aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières is today complaining they could have been more effective had adequate maps and demographics of the affected countries been available - well, guess what, you've had since 1971, when MSF was founded, to create those in the Third World countries where it was likely your help would be needed. Or the UN or the WHO could have done that, or helped. It would seem to me those maps and databases are as essential to medical aid as saline solution. I find it strange MSF is suddenly complaining about this now, when there have been dozens of epidemics, there's the forever battle with malaria and other parasitic diseases, all of which need this type of information. But the thing is, aid is aid, it is not, cannot be, medical care. I worry the epidemic will be contained, the aid people will leave, and what then? We start back up with nothing, redecorate the presidential palace and buy more Lamborgini's? Prolly.

As of today, doctor's offices in the United States apologetically tell you, when making an appointment, that they have to ask you if you've been to Ebola - oops, sorry, West Africa, in the past 21 days. Or your wife. Or your teacher. Or your friends. Even if the doctor isn't in New Joisey or Maine. This is way late, but I suppose it is better than it was with SARS. Or Mers. But even so, during SARS, and Bird Flu, in Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Chinese international airports, EVERY passenger was screened, wherever they came from, wherever they were going. The Singaporeans built ports to scan all passengers. Talk to the White House and the CDC and they will tell you that's excessive. Excessive? Reducing risk and preventing a potential epidemic "excessive"? Remember the American patient with drug-resistant TB who escaped quarantine abroad, flew to Canada and drove across the border, then to fly home? That's what people do, they get moronic. That sort of behaviour (the same behaviour nurse Hickox is exhibiting) can kill thousands. The mind boggles.

BBC iPlayer on a Sony VAIOI have found that when running IPTV over WiFi, where the source is in Europe (timing is an issue here), my Vaio displays more reliably from an 802.11G router than from my 802.11N router (the Vaio itself supports both). I should hastily add that the Vaio is running Windows 7, which it was not designed for - it is an older All-in-One flat panel PC, which still does very well, but I have had to manually tweak a few device drivers to get it to run without errors. Yes, I could get a newer PC or laptop, but I just love tweaking older but technically up-to-date equipment to see how well it does, with a reasonable amount of, but not too much, TLC. Not too long ago I completely disassembled it - first time since a motherboard replacement in 2010 - which wasn't easy, where would we be without Youtube, because it isn't possible to fully clean its innards from dust otherwise. I do "blow it out" and vacuum the slots, every month, but I can tell you this was a necessary exercise.

This PC is my spare, to use if my laptop conks out, so I have the same software installed on both, and all of my files (religiously) backed up on a daily basis. I recommend running something processor and memory intensive, periodically, and then listening to how hard your fan runs. If it starts imitating a 747, after a while, you do need to do the dusting thing. When I did the big clean, in the summer, I took the opportunity to replace the 325MB hard disk with a 500GB disk from an external Tivo drive - this being a Western Digital ECO drive designed to run 24/7 without external cooling. I figured that, too, might help the Vaio to run a bit cooler. It seems to do just that - I have not heard the Vaio's fan run at the high rate it sometimes used to, especially when watching recorded TV at the same time as recording another program using Microsoft Windows Media Center, which seems to be the most demanding application I have, brilliant though it is.

It is a bit disconcerting to see that even though most computer users have become very reliant on their PCs, they generally neither have a "hot" backup machine, meaning one they maintain and have the same software on as their primary, nor do they back up. If you know how much can go wrong inside a PC, and how easily you can lose all of the data on your hard disk, you'd "be better". I am lucky, of course, having run bunches of servers in my lab in New York, and having worked, as a systems designer, on high availability servers and networks. In that line of work, you beat up on your systems to such an extent that some will fail, and you learn why and how this happens. That is why I am anal about backing up and having duplicate systems, you probably think I am crazy maintaining one duplicate backup, and an additional drive with just my files on it. Both backups I do daily. That takes little time, especially since I use fast big drives, on a fast (3 Gbit/s ESATA) port on my laptop. Newer PCs may have the new fast USB 3.0 port, or even a Superspeed port, with up to 4 Gbit/s, although USB is a shared port, so the final throughput will depend on how much stuff you have on the other ports. You kind of don't tend to think about it, but on this particular machine I have a USB Bluetooth dongle that talks to my keyboard as well as an audio device, and that can take quite a bit of bandwidth. The ESATA port talks to the internal ESATA connector, which allows the internal harddisk to talk at 6 Gbit/s, both on the system bus, the fastest way to convey data - that is why the system thinks all drives on ESATA connectors are internal, i.e. native, devices, while anything on USB is considered a removable device.

Why am I going on about it? If you buy a USB 2.0 disk to back up to, like one of those nice cheap terabyte Seagates I see at Costco, your maximum throughput is effectively 280 Mbit/s, and unlike ESATA and USB 3.0, half duplex - so, backing up is going to be slow, or perhaps I ought to say, not fast. Additionally, these drives are mostly powered with 5VDC by the USB port, while ESATA drives have a separate 12VDC power supply. My average daily backup is 2 to 3 megabytes - using my AIS backup software, which creates zip archives, a backup takes 20 to 30 minutes, so while I finish my morning coffee and shower, my backup is done. On USB, I don't really know, but I will test that for you, as the drives I use have both ESATA and USB connectors.

So, anyway, I got here from IPTV - I have not spent much time analyzing the routers, but the most likely culprit is 802.11N's ability to "burst" traffic at high speeds, up to 300 Mbit/s, which is hard to maintain, and may confuse the receiving end in thinking it doesn't need to buffer. You read about the huge numbers of devices that can use WiFi, not to mention Bluetooth, but little mention is made of the lack of frequencies available for all of these devices to share. Stuff bounces between frequencies, I suppose. So if you like to stream things, but it hiccups, try, paradoxically, a slower router.

October 27, 2014: The Age of Devices

Keywords: Samsung flat panel TV, gun violence, smartphones, tablets, blogging, teens, learning, dashcam, Apple II
Samsung flat panel TVJeez. One moment you note an armed civilian in Canada taking down an armed assailant, and preventing much loss of life, and you think "Thank heavens for guns". And then a fourteen year old in Marysville, up the road from me, unloads a magazine on his friends at school, and then blows his own brain out. An American Indian with gun experience, an accomplished hunter, there seems to be no indication what made him snap. There isn't a solution to the American gun debate, anyway, there are enough guns in circulation in the United States to keep gun dealers in bread 'n butter for a hundred years. All you can do is teach children gun stuff when they are young, so they develop proper respect for firearms, and learn how to lock 'em up. Just because you have a carry permit, or you live in a state with open carry laws, doesn't mean you have to have a gun on you.

Caroo software on a SamsungI need to do a serious piece on data and device security. There is so much drivel being spouted on the airwaves, down to when you should or should not read your email, and whether or not you should control your kids' device use.. Email, at least fromn those accounts where you get your important email, should be coming to your smartphone - mine has for many years. So that beeps when I get email, and then I take a quick look, and if it is not important or answerable I delete it, and the rest I pull to my laptop when I get to my desk, and deal with it. Email is not something you can deal with once a day, not any more, email has superseded the telephone in terms of communication, to the point that some folks will call you because they don't want to commit their thoughts in writing. Important to know. Twitter? Facebook? Twitter is public, and therefore not a secure medium, and I personally think Facebook should not be used for work related communication, because the Facebook organization reads and parses everything that goes through their servers (and even stuff that doesn't). I cringe every time I see an article in the press accompanied by people's personal pictures or video, like those of that Ebola nurse Pham, that are copyrighted by Facebook or Twitter or Google. That's not right - we have copyright laws whose rules should not be able to be overridden by legal language in someone's terms & conditions. What's the point of a law if an organization can just do some legal language and "defang" the law by making you click on something that does not even state it is an approval process? Technically, the Post Office could redo its rules and say affixing a stamp gives them the right to open all your mail and use your private information, wouldn't you think? Because that is what Facebook and Google and Yahoo and Microsoft do 24/7...

And controlling kids... I think they should learn to deal with their lives in the best way possible, taking away their smartphone at night deprives them of the 24/7 connection with their friends, and make you look like an idiot. How are they going to learn to manage their time and activities when you do it for them? The idea is for a kid to learn to live, I know it is easy for me to say, and it probably is hard work, but it's gotta be done. I was at a friend's, a while ago, and their kids, early teens, had regular cellphones, not smartphones. Smartphones, tablets and laptops are what they're going to have to use at college, and later at work, so you can't get those for them soon enough, I opined. Once they had them, they did various pretty amazing things with them within days. That's learning, right? And that is when they learn about security and backing up, and updating software, where when they lose data it is not a life disaster with abducted social security numbers and things.

So perhaps the secret to my getting back to more frequent blogging is to put this in an allocated time slot. I used to write late at night, but somehow all I do, these days, late at night, is watch television. Hm.. but then I didn't use to have TV reception on my computers, nor did I have access to the BBC iPlayer on laptop and tablet, so TV was a separate device. My big Samsung TV is semi-retired, living in the garage, these days...

As I have mentioned before, the days of the television are over. A big screen is perhaps nice to watch a movie with the partner, that's what happens with Netflix, but all of the rest is fine on smartphone and tablet. But Netflix may be a generational service, I don't know that kids are that interested in movies. They game, and may want to transfer the game interactively to a big screen, but mostly, want tools that let them carry whatever it is they want to do. Screens have become communications devices, and you can't share a big screen, we're in the iPerson era. It is particularly fascinating to me, as I have seen the computer arrive, and take over the world. I was lucky enough to be involved with the introduction of the Apple II, arguably the first mass market PC, in the Netherlands and Belgium, and today.... umm, let's see, a PC, a laptop, a tablet, two smartphones on my desk, and another in the car.

That last phone is probably a good example of where the cellphone is going. When I am not using the car, that phone provides a location service, so if the car gets stolen, or towed, I can check where it is. And when I drive, that phone is a dashcam as wel as the engine performance monitor, all in one. and that's what it is, $100 and you have a dedicated device for whatever you need to do. No, there's no need for the "internet of things", you don't need to connect your washing machine to the internet. All you need is a port on the machine. If you want to control your washing machine remotely, you can hook a phone up to it, with a washing machine app, and talk to it from whatever device you want. Most people won't want to remote control refrigerators and dishwashers, so won't need the circuitry, and the computer to control those things is built in already anyway. Having hundreds of IP addresses in each household is folly, technologically speaking.

Think about it - the device on the left, from a hardware perspective, is capable of doing it all - TV, PC, phone, handheld communication device, you name it. It just isn't very good at doing it all at the same time - pretty much the same restriction that applies to the PC. But it is cheap enough that you can dedicate one to a particular use, and that will be the next step. Getting an iPhone and then using it for everything, that isn't going to fly, and in many ways, that's why Google, with its "free" Android UNIX knockoff, wins...

October 19, 2014: Ebola, or How Sick Can You Get

Keywords: Ebola, Liberia, CDC, NIH, Homeland Security, 9/11, OFCOM, BBC, teens, blogging
This Ebola story reminds me, strongly, of 9/11. Days before that attack I saw off a friend from The Netherlands, returning home after a visit. She expressed amazement that in the US, anybody could still walk up to the gate, to welcome or say goodbye to a passenger, even at international airports, a practice terrorism had stopped in Europe in the 1970s. We all know what happened - four days later, on Tuesday 9/11/2001, terrorists did just that, and hijacked four passenger aircraft.

What I am saying is that the United States could have adopted security measures as terrorism began to happen at airports, in the 1970s. It was predictable that someone, at some point, would come to one of our airports. The U.S. chose not to, as it often does, with a view at commercial disadvantages. And I think Ebola is a perfect example of how we again have no adequate response - no, we don't know enough about how Ebola is transmitted, and infectious patients can just lie on a form in Liberia, or detour through Brussels, or call the CDC to get cleared so they can fly with the first symptoms of Ebola, having treated a patient from West Africa who died. You really can't go on stating "chances are very small", because that means they aren't zero. We have a plethora of consequences of "small chances" - look at New Orleans, and hurricane Katrina: 1500 people died, most unnecessarily. And we keep on doing things "this way".

This is not how you run a country, or security. Ebola is as bad as guys with guns, and we created Homeland Security, and Singapore and China built portals to scan passengers fully automatically during the SARS epidemic in 2002 and 2003, so how the fuck are we not ready, why is not everything we need to detect and isolate permanently installed at every international airport and seaport, why can we not make our citizens safe? Well, says Obama, we can't stop flights from West Africa coming in. Huh? Sure we can... and even if we don't want to do that, we can take over passenger security at their airports. We've done that in Western Europe and other places, after 9/11, inject TSA folk into foreign airports, so we can inject CDC and NIH teams into foreign airports. They can accept that, or no more passengers booked to the USA. Simple. C'mon. Mr. President, if you were to stop appointing retired Generals and Rear Admirals, and find people who really know how to deal with disasters - we do have those, me among them - we can save lives and stop hospital idiots in Dallas screwing things up. They're not to blame, they've never had this kind of stuff going on, but we can train them. Preferably ahead of time. Liberians in Dallas? And we did not know that? That's your job, Mr. President, perhaps the NSA should have been told to refocus, and that is your job. We spend billions of dollars on these folks, and they can't see an Ebola coming. That's.. the Mexicans had it right when they refused a cruise ship with an Ebola nurse into port. Why take the risk? Let's get this over with and then get back to "normal", whatever that is.

CBBC on a 39Onwards. So here, through the good services of OFCOM, as reported by the BBC, is your real issue: kids are abandoning watching the television set, opting to access the world on their tablets. I've thought this was coming, and here it is: never mind how big your TV is, and how connected it is (with, of course, a manufacturer mining your television for personal data), a new generation is using a connected device. No more television, no more telephone, the tablet will let you do all that, even use Skype and similar services, but for the most part this is a generation that has little need for talking, texting and messaging instead. Other research indicates that one in three people a teen meets is an original internet acquaintance. At which point some scientist opines that this is very risky, not realizing there are people you cannot get to know "in real life", simply because your physical paths would never intersect. Kids who grow up "on" the internet develop safety mechanisms that work as well as those we developed meeting people in bars and at parties, we're just in a transitional phase, IMHO. I've been lucky enough to have been meeting people on the internet since the late 1970's, and while I've been disappointed with some, I've never had major issues. One I actually married. I would say it is actually easier to do safety screening with an internet acquaintance than it is with a bar acquaintance - the article at the link above has some teens commenting on that. Your new friend does not come up in any searches? Fuggedaboutit.

To me, kids on tablets instead of TV is so cool, the only problem is that idiotic enterprises are spending billions of dollars marketing to platforms that will go away, and cannot connect you to advertising that will reach that generation. When you see the desperation with which the New York Times tries to force you to subscribe, and other agencies doing pop-over and slide-over and other disruptive and annoying advertising mechanisms, investors should keep a close eye on advertising revenues, because at some point Toyota and Hewlett Packard are going to get it through their thick heads they advertise in annoying ways, and their products are advertised on a TV that nobody watches, or they are being advertised in ways that are intrusive to the point the consumer gets annoyed. I have a hard time believing some advertisers use techniques that actually make it temporarily impossible for you to read or watch what you wanted, which makes you wonder if the executives controlling the $$s actually check what the agencies get up to.

In order for me to get this course together I planned to, I have to write, and if I look back at my blogging, of late (prior to the beginning of August, when I had my accident), I've not been as good at writing as I was before. Let's see... beginning of the year, I think, I ran out of steam, for no good reason. I have a three month gap in 2013, when I was in Thailand, but that was for legal reasons - a gap I can now close, when I get around to it, I have plenty of photography, and plenty to tell, in a travelogue sort of way.

So, let me try and get back to a higher blogging freqency, plenty going on in the world that bears commenting.

October 10, 2014: Backing up is hard to do

Keywords: AIS backup, Seagate, Lenovo, laptop backup, hand fracture, blood oxygen, pulse oximeter
Western Digital terabyte driveOK... so that backup didn't work either. I have one suspicion, though - if you turn off your display, and the computer then tries to power its display connection down, could that cause it to hang? Necessary it isn't, I've discovered that if you lock your system it'll begin a turnoff sequence a few minutes later, so I've reset the full backup, and will try that next. I glanced over the Windows errors, but couldn't find anything that made sense here, other than (perhaps) the user interface login, which presumably fails because I have bypassed the Microsoft login setup. Sheesh.

Followup: I somehow managed to turn off the screensaver, though I don't know how. In order to eliminate all of the variables I turned off the virus software (I replaced AVG with Ad-Aware, the other day, as AVG is increasingly popping stuff up on your screen unasked), the scheduled disk compression (a CPU hog on a 1 terabyte drive), and the screen saver (but not the display turnoff), something that did not work last time I tried. I've also upped the CPU cycles AIS can use from 60% to 80%. So far, so good, after a night of running, and it is running faster than before. Removing the virus software has the benefit of it not reading files that are being accessed, which would be OK during a normal backup, but not when you're backing up an entire 600GB disk load - that's about how much I have on this disk. After a night's running, AIS reports it needs about another 47 hours - usually, it takes less than what it forecasts, but at least the system hasn't stopped responding to me.

pulse oximeterBy the end of the week, I should just about be back to normal. It is truly amazing how much is involved with the recovery from what should have been a simple fall.... I was able to bin the yard waste and put the bin by the kerb today, and by the end of the week I should be able to wack the weeds and mow the lawn. Since the cast came off, I've had to be really careful with my left hand, so there were lots of things I just didn't do, to reduce the risk of my pinkie breaking again - the bone had broken in three places, and the joint had split, don't ask me how.

Apart from that, after the surgeon at Swedish told me my lungs had "uncollapsed", I wasn't quite prepared to have every doctor I saw since go for his or her stethoscope, to check my lungs. Apparently, the aftermath of a collapsed lung is kind of a high risk exercise, with a chance of recurrence - apart from anything else, they won't let me fly for months. So, I went online and bought a pulse oximeter, which is what they used in the hospital. I always thought these things they clip on your finger just check your heart rate, but they actually check both your heart rate and your blood oxygen level. I found one at Amazon that has the capability to connect with the PC for $42.46, which I didn't think was too expensive (less advanced units cost as little as $25), so I can now check my blood oxygen, which I do in the morning. Because I have high blood pressure (like many people my age), I had been monitoring that, on my doctor's advice, for many years, and adding temperature, weight, and now blood oxygen, wasn't a big deal. It all goes in a spreadsheet, and when I have my quarterly medication checkup I take the averages in. I've actually never been in the "danger zone", but it is a good way to be alerted early should something be wrong. It is, I suppose, an early warning system that is good to have when you're aging, especially if you have a long term condition for which you take prescription medication.

Hah! The next day, and the backup has finished - AIS is now running a full verify, checksum style, so I have two full AIS backups, and the Seagate is running fine, with the interface replaced. I had one ESATA connector spare, had just never figured out where it was. By late night or morning, this will be done. The daily incremental backups don't normally cause problems, although I think I will, in the future, turn off the virus scanner during a backup, which normally takes only half an hour anyway. Yahoo! Yoohoo! Or whatever.. Update: Done. 48 hours 9 minutes 42 seconds. Phew.

October 5, 2014: Recovery: slowly but surely

Keywords: hand fracture, medical bills, AIS backup, Seagate, Lenovo, laptop backup, pro bono
noodles 'n chopsticksAlmost there... My hand out of the cast, I can use chopsticks again.. I had no idea that was that important to me?!

I had wanted to replace some parts on the Durango, having read that when you replace the serpentine belt, you should replace the belt tensioner and the idler pulley. That makes good sense, so I ordered them, but as my left pinkie is still healing, I really don't want to take the risk of damaging it. The orthopedic surgeon had it that the new bone, after almost two months in a cast, is still not fully hardened, and taking the belt off, and doing stuff that takes a fair amount of force, is probably too risky. I'd just like to get that over with while the weather is still warm, I hate working on metal parts in the cold, but I suppose there's always gloves.

Anyway, if that's my main problem, it isn't all that bad. I was worried about the medical bills, after my accident, but (apart from my disappeared front crown) they seem to be reasonable. But then, I have not had the hospital bills - yet... fingers crossed.

Anyway, what with two functioning hands I really must write up the accident report, and then find a pro bono attourney - or at least one willing to pursue the dog woman's insurance. I lost a crown from a front tooth, and certainly cannot afford to pay for the replacement. Besides, I should not paying any of the medical expenses, considering this was all someone else's fault.

If you consider my "accident" is almost two months ago, I must say I am not recovering half as fast as I would have expected. Perhaps that's normal - collapsed lung, hand fracture, broken tooth, chin laceration, which means my head took a hit, all a lot more damage than you'd expect from an ordinary fall. And in hindsight, I think I may have briefly lost consciousness, so all in all, I likely took some damage. Curious - I suppose, apart from my 2010 surgery, and the massive car accident I had when 24, I've never had an accident or major trauma. Well, this wasn't major trauma, but you get my drift. I find I am even having a hard time getting back to writing "normally" - blogging, and picking up writing the coursework I am planning to develop. Hence the aforegoing musings.

Next (as I write this) I am trying to figure out why my laptop kinda dies while doing a full backup to one of my large Seagate ESATA drives. I've sort of caused my own problems by installing a terabyte drive in the laptop, and restoring a good portion of my backups to it. It made little sense to put a very large drive in the Lenovo and then not use it, but that does mean I have to be really diligent about backing up. I've seen, over the years, how easily a hard disk can fail, and if you've got the better part of fifteen years of stuff on it, the results can be even more devastating.

While one of my AIS backups runs fine, the other failed, the other day, catastrophically, I wasn't able to recover it. That does, indeed, still leave me with one full backup, as well as a robocopy backup of my essential files, but I do want AIS to run to two drives. So, I've made some settings changes to Windows 8, and am now trying the backup for the third time. Somehow, it fails after 100 gigabytes or so - originally, the drive went into fault mode, but after exchanging its ESATA interface module, the laptop wouldn't come back from timeout. Can't figure out why not. So I've eliminated some more variables, and we'll see how that goes this time....

Next morning, the backup is still still going strong, but I did notice some truly weird behaviour in Windows 8 - I had upgraded to 8.1 previously, but when I found out that's more aimed at tablets than anything else, and it functions as a personal information collection machine for Microsoft, I backed it out last year. I get Windows errors, frequently, that refer to the User Interface login, and I have no idea where they come from. And then last night I noticed that you can turn off the screensaver-with-login all you like, it continues running. Even turning off Lenovo's fingerprint recognition makes no difference here. I think that since I bypassed Microsoft's user login (the one the operating system forces you to use, Windows Live based), for which there is no official turnoff, Windows continues to log into Microsoft, even if it does not have login credentials to do so. That would make sense - my worry now is that the forthcoming Windows 10 will do the same thing. It is one of the reasons why I don't, and won't, use an Android phone, or a Microsoft phone - they require the login, and collect personal information for their own use.

You see, backing up some 600GB in such a way that you have plenty of leftover space on your 750GB backup drive requires you to use a compression algorithm, and that slows your backup down. AIS Backup, a package I love, created ZIP archives, which lets you, in an emergency, access your files on the backup drive even if you don't have AIS loaded, something I think is clever. But starting up, of course, it says it'll need some 72 hours, and if you use your laptop while backing up you do run the risk of a crash, can't count the number of times that's happened to me on the fingers of one hand. Having said that, I never turned off my maintenance routines and antivirus stuff before, so perhaps that's all it takes. I'll keep you posted.

I hope F1 driver Jules Bianchi will recover, that was a horrendous crash at Suzuka. I suppose he is paying the price for the F1 circus - despite an approaching typhoon, and a driving rainstorm, the show must go on. I watched part of it, then went to bed, as this was more of a toe curling exercise than a proper race. Last year, there were quite a few British expats in Thailand emphatically not watching Formula 1, since it has become predictable and boring. More about that in another writeup.

September 25, 2014: My hand is back!

Keywords: Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Seiki 4K LED Ultra-HD, 2160p, NASA, SpaceX, Elon Musk, Boeing, ISS, Mars
Seiki U-HD 4K Remembering the last time I used Dragon NaturallySpeaking, using dictation meant you wrote a lot more than was comfortable to read in a blog. In other words, you can go on talking, dictating, whining, until you see blue in the face and dictation software will faithfully render it into your computer, by the bucketful. The latter, at least the way I look at it, is not pleasant for the reader, who I believe wants to read a paragraph or so, and then be able to choose whether to go on to the next paragraph, or to someplace else. So, at the present time, this is working well, and I can be writing decent text as the mood strikes me. I am at the present time sat in my room and the microphone has been set for mono sound, which is probably what I did wrong before. This headset, while cheap, certainly works well with Skype, and there is no reason why it would not function well with Dragon.

Of course, when I last dictated a paragraph I turned the microphone off and saved the file without making corrections, which prevents Dragon from learning what it got wrong and what the correct words were utterances might have been. That is, even for this older version of Dragon (I purchased this package in 2010) one of the really amazing capabilities of the software, that it will learn how you speak and express yourself, and then applies the corrections you make. That also means that using Dragon is a time-consuming affair because you have to allow it to get used to the way you speak and the way you form your sentences and the way you use grammar and language in general. But then it is nice to have a way of getting to a semblance of perfection, which makes it easier and quicker to dictate later on. So let me say this, make the necessary corrections and then go to Facebook to see if I can dictate into the Facebook comment box since I still need to reply to someone.

Waaa. The cast is off my left hand - in one form or another, it was on there since August 10. The hand is not working well, as of yet, but that is only to be expected, I am getting physicial therapy, even. But I have two hands to type with, so I can write this blog again. Teehee.

The picture at the top shows my new 39" 4K LED screen, one I discovered at Fred Meyer, recently. I salivated over it, at $399 before tax, but as I (and most everybody) don't have equipment that can output 3840x2160, 2160p, or four times the resolution of your living room HDTV, there didn't seem much point in buying it. Having said that, this set was barely more expensive than its 1080p equivalent, but when I went back, after two weeks of salivation, they'd run out. Except - they had a no-box return, for $359.99. Woof. I caved. I still don't have 2160p equipment, but I suppose I will, at some point. And the quality of this display is something else, never owned a monitor (I use it on my laptop) you can't see the pixels of.

After the recent announcement by the Federal Government that Elon Musk's SpaceX as well as Boeing will be given contracts to build the next generation of spacecraft to get to the ISS, speculation has begun about travel to Mars. To me, that's a joke. There is nothing on Mars that we need people, or should I say, “boots on the ground”, to do, we have robot technology that currently is driving around on that planet, and pretty soon we should be able to send robots that could bring stuff back if we want to do that. In terms of analysis, we seem to be doing a pretty good job of putting entire automated laboratories onto the planet. So, other than the understandable curiosity about putting people onto another planet, which in fact we have already done with the moon missions, I'm not seeing that this is a logical next step in terms of the development of space travel, and the interests of space exploration. Every time I look at the orbital station we have, what I see is an actual spacecraft, one that could travel to far away regions. Yes, it would require further development of the platform, we would need facilities to grow food, a fully equipped hospital on board, as well as a repair station, but those are not major concerns, we would need to build the prototypes, test and use them in a weightless environment, and then we would basically be ready. To me, vastly more interesting than sending a couple of guys in overpriced and otherwise useless spacesuits to Mars.

There is another factor, however. Since the distances we must traverse to get to the outer planets and beyond are vast, we would need families on board of a spacecraft, and we haven't even begun to think about how we would achieve that, let alone do the research and the trials. We don't have, as of yet, little spacesuits for the kids, and we seem to be sending older people up, rather than younger, and we certainly haven't put couples into space, let alone families. In order to advance mankind, and our knowledge, and push the envelope of scientific endeavour, this would be the next thing to do, scientifically vadtly more interesting than sending men to Mars. This is about people, survival, breaking new barriers. We have already been to another planet, we've already walked around on it, we have robots that can do that type of exploring for us, and none of that requires any physical input beyond that which already exists. But sending people "way out there", wouldn't that fascinate you?

The time machine up to September, 2014, with linkbacks to October, 2008, is archived here

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