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Menno E Aartsen © February 2018. Legalese at the bottom of this page. This website is published in Singapore.

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February 12, 2018: Things break, quick or slowly

Keywords: Seagate, Firecuda, Hitachi, HGST, TPM, Trusted Platform Module, coal tar, psoriasis, steroids, hacking, Wordpress, tracking, TV dongle, ATSC

Seagate 2TB Firecuda Ouch. That is the second time an HGST (Hitachi morphed into Western Digital) laptop drive failed on me - if, to be honest, that is what it was. I periodically clean my laptops' innards, and swap the batteries, and today that meant one of my HP Elitebooks wouldn't come back up. It hit a Windows start screen, which then informed me my configuration was invalid, which it wasn't, so that had to be the boot partition. Booting from a Windows 10 latest-update repair DVD didn't help, that said there wasn't an operating system on the hard disk. And that is where my overabundant backup routine waltzed in. I grabbed a replacement hard disk (another 1TB HGST disk, but I have now ordered a Seagate 2TB Firecuda hybrid SSHD, which will go in as soon as it gets here, thank God for spares though), restored a 6 day old Windows 10 image from backup, which worked flawlessly, booted that, and then restored this morning's full AIS Backup over the Windows restore, which brought me back to about 10am, in terms of files. Then, I managed to access the "broken" drive, which had its file systems intact, on another laptop, pulled the directories that I knew might have files changed between 10am and 2pm, when the failure happened, and put those on a network drive. Next, I used robocopy to move only today's changed files (a differential restore) from the network drive to the boot drive, and, after four hours of methodical restoration, I was back where I had been when the boot failure happened. So cool. I will scrub the suspect HGST drive, and run a deep scan on it, but I'll never use those in my laptops any more. I had one fail and damage data in my old Lenovo before, put that down to accident, and although I don't know for sure this drive actually failed, I was able to bring the laptop back easily, so it wasn't the BIOS or the motherboard that caused the failure (this laptop occasionally crashes when I have too many USB ports active, when it runs out of interrupts).

I had been lusting after the Firecuda (8GB of silicon paired to 2TB of conventional disk) anyway, decided not to buy one as I didn't really need it (had I known.. they were $40 off in December), and this seems a good moment to install that and switch to Bitlocker encryption - this laptop has a TPM security chip, something I have not used before, but as I am installing a completely new disk, and will have the old disk with a full image, better now than never. What Bitlocker will cost me in speed should be more than made up by the SSD portion of the drive, which will act as a big fast buffer between the mechanical drive and the system (it isn't a cache). The two HGST's, provided the drive that failed today passes a reformat, can function as backup drives. I had two, both with a 1 terabyte capacity, because I try to keep a duplicate of the active disk; if you back up to a smaller device, you save money, but you can't easily replace a failed disk. QED, one might say. My other laptop has a 2TB disk, about half full, and that has a 2TB duplicate as well. I have restored and rescued failed hard disks before, but this time was absolutely the easiest and fastest restore ever. One thing you have to absolutely take into account: make sure the Windows Repair DVD was created on the system you need to restore, on the DVD writer you may need to run the restore from. Windows checks the system configuration against the image you are going to restore, and today, if you even changed your memory, it may fail, all part and parcel of Microsoft's effort to stop people from duplicating license keys. I've had that happen before, but this time, forewarned was forearmed, it worked swimmingly.

Wincofood psoriasis shampoo For those who read my piece on skin problems, arthritis and psoriasis, below - there is a shampoo on supermarket shelves marketed for dandruff control, whose main ingredient is a coal tar solution. It lists psoriasis on its label, as well, you haven't lived until you Googled. I had never heard of coal tar treatment, but decided to try and see if some gentle use of it might alleviate my itchiness - actually, one doctor has called it eczema, and given me precription steroid cream, which did not really do much, but then I have been on long term oral corticosteroids, and I really am not fond of them, they gave me (at the time there was no alternative) osteoporosis. My other doctor thinks it is psoriatic arthritis, and having been diagnosed earlier with a form of psoriasis, and having had a father who suffered from that, I've gone with that. So: gentle use - as in, I use it as a body wash once a week, without slathering it on, or leaving it on the skin for long. As I use baby stuff more or less all the time, the coal tar shampoo, if nothing else, degreases my skin and hair, as I said, once a week. And after months of use in this way, I am significantly less itchy - although I have no way of knowing if that is the hypo-allergenic body wash, the coal tar shampoo, or both. I know the latter can have a detrimental effect on the skin, but then true psoriasis sufferers, which I am not, are probably glad of anything that "helps". Anyway, just wanted to complete my skin story, I do believe that, used in this fashion, it has a positive effect. Neutrogena sells it as T-Gel, Wincofoods has its own label, less (I saw the T-Gel for something like $8 for 6oz., Winco's own brand does $3.74 for 16oz.) - I see from English publications that topical coal tar solutions are getting horrendously expensive over there. The shampoo is actually classed as a drug, an over-the-counter medication (and again: I don't use this just as a shampoo, but as a body wash as well, just once a week). This link goes to the US gummint's National Institutes of Health. Writing this, I realize that over the past six months or so, my eczema has actually all but disappeared, although I have no way of knowing which "treatment" did the trick, or if it is a combination.

domain server hack attempts One thing I do know, from my trusty doctor, the chlorine in tap water is not a good thing for sensitive skin, so not removing the oils from your skin too often may help prevent the chlorine getting at you. And no, she is from the Punjab, so did not grow up with chlorine and fluoride in her water. An important thing to remember if you have medical issues - when trying a new or different remedy, go easy and take your time. If you've had a complaint for some time, it is not likely to go away overnight, and a high dosage of something may have adverse effects, even if it helps. Start low, then be patient. Assuming my skin is, today, feeling better due to the once-a-week application of coal tar (in higher dosages, a known carcinogen), I've achieved what I wanted to achieve, over, I think, a six or seven month period. Understand, too, that skin renews itself, and as you get older, like other organs, it doesn't renew as fast or as virulent as when you are a baby (that babies have sensitive skin is a myth - a baby's skin probably renews every month or so, as they grow - yours definitely does not), so you have to take better care of it - and no, you can't moisturize skin, you can only try to prevent it losing moisture, and stop yourself from removing all oils from it, they are there for a reason, and it isn't to make the Avon lady rich. Think about it logically: you degrease your skin, in the morning, and then put chemicals on it? Why, exactly?

Hmm. Made some changes to SichboPVR, the app I found that will let me put broadcast TV on a PC or laptop, using a dongle - while I used ATSC, I understand it'll handle the European/Asian DVB-T format as well, something I can't test as we don't have those broadcasts here, even if I own a dongle. So now it starts up when I boot, and immediately grabs a broadcast signal - it sometimes did not do that before. I don't really want it to run on boot, so I've got to figure out what else I changed. The dongle is here, the app here.... and no, I don't currently have a functional TV set, I use my flat panels as computer monitors only. It made little sense to connect a TV antenna to TV sets, when these cheap dongles let me watch TV in a window, when I want, or record whatever piques my interest for later viewing, streamed from a NAS drive. Apart from some news, I rarely watch "live" TV - once you move to the West Coast, you discover lots of stuff is programmed for the East Coast, and then rebroadcast with three hours tape delay. I am glad I don't have to watch TV with a smartphone in my lap, I just have TV going in a window on my other screen, either local news or BBC IPTV.

Well, he did it - I had (and have) a hard time with the 27 engines of the Falcon Heavy - unless the vehicle is truly intelligent, a small mishap could really take this thing to pieces. Having said that, if it achieved its intended flight path, and with the knowledge at least two boosters safely made it back down, Elon Musk has made a miracle. The Tesla in orbit? I don't know, perhaps Musk is of a new, playful generation, that is how we used to make advances, so the jury is out on that. With the reusable boosters, I hope he'll give the Russians a run for their money. With three times the payload of the Ariane 5ES, I'll bet a few headaches have started.

Looking at the tracker at my new hosting provider, I am amazed at the avalanche of hack attempts. I've seen some of that before, but bots from all over (likely spoofed IPs or hijacked PCs) trying to hit logins for software I don't even have installed, every couple of minutes, is pretty amazing. The screen capture to the left shows you some of that traffic - if it is hard to see, click on the image and it'll enlarge into a separate tab or window. And no, they're not trying to get my data, they're trying to inject code that can infect visitors - curious, as you can see, they're trying to break into my Wordpress install, every couple of minutes - curious, because I do not have a Wordpress install. I have nothing running they can do that with, and I won't, either, having seen this. It is a 24/7 occupation, and it is not in any way getting resolved, tell you that much for free. Read my IP camera review at Amazon, and you'll understand this gets worse, and the IoT is to blame. Life was hard enough when people were trying to hack your email, but your refrigerator? Why do you have a smart thermostat, so you can turn up the heat from your hotel in Lagos - have you ever had a hankering to do that? You are probably not going to bother firewalling off your smart refrigerator - at least not until you find out they have been using that to access the camera on your daughter's smartphone, including that steamy chat she had with her boyfriend, and posting the results all over Instagram.

February 7, 2018: And always The Cloud - mine!

Keywords: web hosting, Singapore, Boeing 747, AISBackup, computer backup, Cloud, alarm systems, IP cameras, camera surveillance, skin care, psoriasis, arthritis, biologics, colonial ancestry

Slightly frustrating that you probably cannot really see it, but I have cleaned up my webcode to the point that the load is fast and smooth - if you're in the United States or Europe, it'll be hard-to-impossible to discern it is now hosted in Asia Pacific, rather than Arizona. Web service has been clean and stable for a week, everything works when tested on the server IP they gave me, so after pointing all of my domains at the Singapore server, last night, with appropriate trepidation, I shut down the Godaddy hosting package, after cleaning up my files. The hosting is not far, incongruously, from where half of my family lived, and my parents married, back before World War II. Grandma Kupper's grave It was back in 1995 that I myself first set foot there, taking up a development posting, and that I realized these folks were flying hourly Jumbo jet shuttles between Jakarta and Singapore, each aircraft packed, busy enough that SIA ran 747-400s, with some 400 seats. Up until then, I thought the hourly shuttles between Boston, NYC and Washington, D.C., twin engined 320s and 757s, with some 120 seats and a complimentary bagel, were special. Anyway, while I can understand Godaddy's prices going up, over time (2012) their hosting package lost features and increased in price, and as this is just a blog, not a commercial enterprise, that did not seem worth it. I looked at other hosters last year, but none of them seemed to provide as complete a package as Hostinglah in Singapore does. I actually have enough disk space to let me back up to it, I should look into that.

Backing Up

AISBackup The AIS Backup commercial application I have been using for years to back up to external disks and network drives, can additionally write a backup archive to an FTP port, the advantage being that it creates ZIP archives, with password protection and encryption. A ZIP file can be unpacked using any number of archival utilities, the "unpack" is even built into Windows and other operating systems, and that means you don't, in a pinch, need to use AISBackup to restore files (though with AIS, it'd be a heck of a lot faster..). Because file access and setting up FTP is so much easier at my new Singapore hoster, I decided to give that a try. Ever cognizant of hacking dangers, storing backups on web servers was never a good idea, I thought, if it is on the web you might as well put an unlocked filing cabinet on the sidewalk, but with the AES encryption AIS backup allows, part of the ZIP protocol, I should be able to put reasonably secure backups on the hosting server, especially since I can put them in the root of the server, which ordinary web appplications can't access. I did not have this facility before - it exists on a UNIX or Linux server running Apache webserver software, but not on most "normal" webservers I've used, over the years. I ran a test, yesterday, and am still tweaking, but was able to back up 1.2 GB of data to the FTP server in 33 minutes using hardwired internet, and 900 MB of data in an hour using 4G LTE (mobile) data - not bad (we don't normally think about this any more, but a 900 MB backup actually uses over 2 GB of data, since the verification doubles the volume). In both cases, this involved password encrypted ZIP archives, which after backing up are downloaded back from the remote server for integrity verification. I need to check with the sysadmins whether there are any restrictions, but generally, this should enable complete real time backups, along the lines of Apple's Time Machine or Windows File History. I could even add backup encryption, which would require AIS itself to retrieve and unpack the files - double protection, if you like, without being able to manually unzip archives. I don't know if I want to make myself that dependent on one piece of software - literally every time I buy another drive, it comes with a propietary piece of backup software - Seagate had something that I can no longer find the license key for, Western Digital has something else, so does Buffalo, Cyberlink has a proprietary piece of something that you need Cyberlink to restore for, and so on and so forth.

IP cameras

Burts Bees fragrance freeYou've seen the ads for alarm systems - a reseller of ADT security is running TV ads with a retired Dallas Cowboys quarterback.. In general, if a vendor needs to attract your attention with a person who has absolutely no relationship to security, look twice. If they run expensive broadcast ads in prime time, you would be paying for those. Security is important, but remember the first line of defence is you. Lock up, lock up, and don't rely on phone or internet connected security - a phone line, cable connection or internet fiber is cut in seconds, when I see those burglars on candid camera, there clearly are lots of stupid criminals around, and they clearly don't mind going to jail for a bit. Those IP cameras are good, and important is that you have one outside, and that it talks to the Cloud, or an external server (I use my web server in Asia), so you have pictures or video of them and their car before they cut your internet or power. There is most times a car - you can't steal TVs and other big stuff if you don't have a vehicle to haul the haul. BTW, if your camera pans and tilts using motion sensing - don't use that, the mechanisms are not designed for 24/7 operation, or buy two, so you can replace it the day it breaks, with the same settings and software - tomorrow, what you buy today on Amazon may not be available any more, and you have to buy something different and spend two days integrating that into your existing setup, and test it. Better get a second camera, they're under $40 now, and like I said, don't worry about getting the picture to your smartphone, make sure it goes to a storage facility outside your home or office, where the burglars can't take it. Remember, too, the on-cam-burglaries you see on TV are those where the technology worked - the news does not show you the numerous instances where it didn't, because that isn't exciting to watch... I will keep you posted as to my experience with the camera above, but that isn't an outdoor model, and as you can see in my Amazon review, it compromises your home internet security. You can prevent it, but that requires router firewall knowledge.

Easy on the skin

As I mentioned earlier, I have some medical issues that affect my day-to-day stuff, and as others do, too, maybe I should occasionally mention some of the solutions I have found that (seem to) work. As a scientist, I know all too well that there are simply too many variables that I don't know about -say I develop a skin problem, how do I tackle it? I have (years ago) been diagnosed with psoriasis, a diagnosis that, over time, has morphed into psoriatric arthritis. That is an advance in medical science, really, as more and more patients, statistically, have been found to have both one or more forms of arthritis, and a psoriatic skin condition. I am not talking about wheelchair arthritis, or the type of psoriasis that makes your skin come off (my Dad had that), those are much more severe phenomena, and, I think, mostly happening in people with a truly impaired immune system. Whether mine is, or not, I can't tell any more, as I really do not know what would happen if I came off the biologic medication I am on, stuff I have been taking since the late '90s, when this type of medication was first released. I guess what I am saying is that, over time, the combination of aging, medication and illness makes it hard to figure out what is causing which symptom, and how many factors are in play. I recall the doctor's advice when I began to experience skin eruptions, after sun exposure, not something I had ever experienced before, and how the dermatologist's solutions did absolutely nothing. Eventually, I simply limited sun exposure, and began experimenting with shampoos and body washes that contained no allergens and chemicals and frangrances etc., discovering, in the process, that there are few, if any, skin care products you can buy in the supermarket that are truly free of chemicals. Non-allergenic body washes? They contain frangrances. And guess what, lavender is natural when you smell the flower, or crush it in your hand, but once you have the fragrance coming out of a factory after they've processed 50 tons of flowers, take my word for it, it is a chemical, produced with heat and other chemicals. And then, of course, there is the cost - some of these wonderful products end up in the beauty section for $60 a bottle, and I just can't afford that. So after copious testing, this complicated by my using extended-wear contact lenses, the type you sleep in, I ended up with Burt's Bees Baby shampoo and wash, the only compound I tried that does not sting my eyes, something I can only test on the one day a week that I don't wear contacts. But then the rest of the week I don't tear up when I slice fresh shallots, something I do several times a week. Burt's (they make several different types, only one of which is fully fragrance free!) does not take the oils off my skin and hair, or at least leaves some behind - it is available in the baby section at Target and WalMart as well, but is a bit more expensive there, not immediately clear as the store packaging is larger. I realized, as I was doing research, that those oils are excreted by your body for a reason - they are protective, they're not an "excretum" the body is trying to get rid off. It is lubricant, it forms a protective layer on top of your tissues, so removing those oils is not the smart thing to do. Think about it - if someone complains they have greasy skin, and it bothers them, washing the grease off is very likely to produce more grease. Changing your diet, seeing a dermatologist, those things may help, washing with detergent does not. Think about it - the skin is an organ, and it's gotta last you, well, for some, a hundred years. Not replaceable, either... and we need to get used to putting things on our skin and in our laundry that don't smell of anything, hypoallergenic detergent, less of it, and no conditioner - a chemical that was invented to make laundry dried on the line feel soft. A tumble dryer, on low or medium heat, so it rotates longer and more air goes through your clothes, has the same effect. Not wearing plastics, nylon fibers, rayon, what have you, does too. Same with sheets and duvet covers. I could go on....

February 3, 2018: Internet and security are mutually exclusive

Keywords: Bitlocker, Windows 10, Ethernet, Wordpress, Time Machine, SDD, hacking, NAS drive, EV, ftp, firewall

A lot of stuff goes on that does not appear to warrant our attention. Trump? He's got everybody running around like headless chickens, and when I see he says he'll give some 800,000 illegals citizenship for as long as he gets his wall, I seem to think that isn't how he started this whole thing. I didn't know it was that easy - I doubt the DACA recipients and the wall will have gotten anywhere near going by the end of his term. There is so little going on, I barely watch my daily TV news diet - of course, by the time news makes it to the anchor desks, it is hours old, and has been pushed to the point that probably 70% of all "news" is reporters trying to predict the future, the rest is kids shooting up their schools. I find the most interesting phenomenon the electric car, self driving or otherwise. There isn't a real infrastructure for them as yet, batteries do not have the energy delivery that lets you heat and cool a car, and you drive into the mountains on a half empty set of batteries, charge the car while you ski, then drive home. Same with self driving cars - the road layout and signage have to conform to standards, or the thing won't know where it is, or what to do. It loses GPS, which happens, you're stuck. Perhaps this stuff will eventually "get there", but we're not even a little bit close. Much of it is putting square pegs in round holes - regurgitating electric power from a car back into the grid - why? If you didn't need it in the car, why'd you charge the thing in the first place? And if you have just given half your power back to the community, and Grandma has an emergency two towns over, how are you going to get back home from the hospital? Plug it into a defibrillator? Dunno, kids.

Bitlocker USB boot I mentioned earlier I had encrypted a "spare" laptop using Microsoft's Bitlocker, this being an older Toshiba laptop that has UEFI boot, but no TPM - the security chip that my HP's have, which allows an effectively impenetrable encryption right on the motherboard. I have finished that now, with a secure boot using a USB 3.0 flash drive, as you can see here. It is an experiment in that I will eventually use this laptop for surveillance, where both an IP camera and its built in webcam will do its part, and the encryption ensures that no data on that system can be retrieved. Ultimately, I want the internet connection to come from a 4G LTE phone, so that any captured video and images can be offloaded on a remote server, while the local Ethernet has no Internet, or perhaps backup Internet. I have to say this anemic Toshiba, with 8GB of RAM, an SSD, and Windows 10 Pro, is faster than I thought possible. As it turns out, the secure USB stick can be duplicated, so I don't even have to worry about not being able to boot when the stick fails. They're not the most reliable memory devices, and these, at $6, are decidedly in the cheapo quarter. I am not planning to have sensitive data on the laptop, but wanted to know how easy or difficult it is to do full encryption on a boot disk. I don't want to experiment on laptops with "real" data, and lots of it. Works fine, it is smooth, I've had an external storage drive running under Bitlocker for a couple of years now, and can't say I've ever had a problem with it. How Bitlocker works on an SSD time will tell, but the process (Windows 10 uses a new version of Bitlocker, not backwards compatible) is - so far - painless. I have had misgivings about SSD's, as the first one I bought, a Crucial drive, failed within weeks - I was able to return it under warranty, but haven't touched one since, until I bought a used HP Elitebook last year, that came with one. And that drive, a 160GB Intel SSD, I tested the bejesus out of, then to relegate it to "backup use", where it passed with flying colors..

Checking my website stats right on the server, which I can now do again, the first thing I see is some 200 Wordpress/php hack attempts, in just a few days. They probably see the new face on the server, but as I am not running Wordpress, every attempt fails. And I see attempts at hitting Apple code, I don't even know what that is about. I do know it isn't installed on my server... This is kinda cool, especially since I have root access, but have not put any of my publicly accesible files there. My surveillance videos, which I used to park in the webroot, now live in the root, where the wankers can't get. I hope. I was going to turn php on, but maybe I need to think about that. Just for the blog, I don't need it. Day in day out someone runs and automated script to set up a Wordpress login in my domain, just on the offchance it is installed but not enabled. I had this last year on Godaddy, which alerted me someone had installed PHP virus code on my server instance. I tell you, /cgi/bin/ and .php are vulnerable like nothing on the planet. I encountered this before, Freeservers lost me my entire website to a hack, domain hijack, and their support crew in India then said they'd restore it from a backup, I am still waiting, ten years later.

Much more better. Because I have now mirrored the directory structure of my webserver onto my local disk, it is much easier to make sure it all fits and works together. HTML will show and display things on the hard disk, in a browser, just as easily as on a remote web server 8,071 miles away. I am not quite sure why I did not do this earlier - ah, oh, I think I do remember. A couple of years ago I discovered you can run an ftp-command in a Windows Explorer instance, even set up a shortcut for it that will log in as an ftp user. That means the remote ftp-server comes up just the same way a local hard disk does, and you can drag and drop, delete, duplicate, do the same stuff you do on your local desktop. I had just never translated that to being able to fully duplicate - recorsively - entire directory structures, and on this HP laptop, I have plenty of disk space to play with, so the entire website - about half a gigabyte - fits easily. I just had not put two and three together, partly because I had not moved my website since before I left Virginia, when I was still (privately, paid for by self) using the hoster that had my Verizon work-websites (which included all of the Verizon Business organization. This works well, for as long as you have a fiber pipe and copious disk space available. It isn't just the workspace, you need the backup facilities as well, but that now is a 6 terabyte NAS drive, soon to be replaced with a 12 terabyte (9TB effective under RAID5+1) new network drive.

Before that, I used Filezilla - an excellent piece of software, capable of recursing, but one little mistake and you screw up your server, and it has a tendency to repeat login failures so you get locked out. Which happened last week. So this is good, and on a fast laptop, over fiber, with Windows 10 Pro, I am doing well. Accessing my web structure locally (which I could have done using one of the NAS drives) with the new recursed directory paths also means I am not causing hits on my own website, so my "new" stats will be much more meaningful. This is not bad. Never mind I've been doing this web stuff for over 20 years, I still learn. Nice.

Ah, there we are! I mentioned last week I had hack attempts looking for Apple code - of course: the Time Machine! So hackers find Wordpress easy to get into, but Apple's Time Machine as well - if it wasn't hackable they would not try. Wow. Every time I look, I see that Cloud servers are not secure, there are hordes of smart miscreants trying to break them. And we know they do. So if you must "Cloud", develop something to store stuff they won't figure out. Not your average off-the-shelf solution. If you must. Honest. I cut over my domain last weekend, I have been turning it up and repointing all week, step-by-step, and the hackers have been trying to break this new server space from about an hour after Steve in Singapore turned it on. It is horrendous. Remember, the internet is a public place - anything that gets a public IP address - which you must have or nobody can get to your webiste - can be seen and scanned, and these folks have their automated tools running on every server park on the planet, 24/7. Nothing anybody can do. I even see this on my own NAS drives - I have now firewalled them, as I don't need them to be seen from outside, except when I check for firmware updates, and I noticed my ZyXel no longer ramps up, by itself, as midnight. Why and how it talked, every night, and who to, I'll never know, for all I know it was just doing routine maintenance, but firewall the port, and it stops.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018: Cancer and other Maintenance

Keywords: Asus, Blu-ray, BD, Cyberlink, VLC, Hostinglah, Singapore, Robertson Quay

Thyroid surgeryI don't know if you ever think about cancer - I do, almost daily. This is not, BTW, meant to be a sob story - my then GP, Dr. Zweig, in Arlington, VA, discovered a lump during my annual checkup, sent me for a biopsy, and the rest is history, I am doing fine, eight years on. In Washington, D.C., of which Arlington is a suburb, they don't horse around, positive test, next thing you know you're in hospital having bits removed, and then radiation treatment (in pill form). In The District, you never know who your patient is, or who they might be tomorrow - imagine, you're treating a realtor, next thing he's Da Prez. That's possible anywhere, but in D.C. you're just much more cognizant of it than anywhere else - you get sued, your next practice is in North Dakota. There is not, of course, anything wrong with North Dakota, but D.C. isn't a stop on that rail line.

Anyway, I just thought I'd mention that no, there isn't a cure for cancer. Not on the Interweb, not in seeds from trees in Morocco that have been passed through goats, and especially not in the advice of aunt Rachel's herbal practitioner. Once you have cancer, you can get successful treatment, and you may eventually be told you're "in remission". Why? Because there isn't a cure, once your immune system misfires, you know yours is capable of doing that, and it can do it again. So no doctor will tell you you're cured, because they can't promise that. They're not preachers, they're engineers. Every time I hear people say they have "beaten cancer" or "been declared healthy" I cringe. It isn't a good way to educate the public. It is no big deal, cancers that get caught early can be treated, and some of us get very old, but it is never "gone". I am on medication for the rest of my life, and was checked up on every quarter, for over five years after the surgery - partly, of course, because I already had an immune condition. And these days, my endocrinologist being happy with things, I get checked every six months, get a yearly scan, and watch myself very carefully. This is one reason why I continue to live in the United States - my Medicare was paid up when I retired. It can be discombobulating - you never know, a sniffle, a painful knee, dark stool, if the cancer is back. And the same next sniffle. You live with it - not much of a choice, really. I just want you to never forgo that doctor visit, even if you think you cannot afford it - go to an emergency room, if you need to, they are required (here in the USA) to have a doctor see you. If it turns out you don't have cancer (or tuberculosis), you are not a hypochondriac, you're one of the lucky. This is why we have three times more doctors than we need, in urban America. And if you want to be helpful, please don't post these stupid "remember cancer" messages on Facebook. If you really want to be useful, find a nearby cancer patient, offer to drive them to the hospital next time they have a checkup, wait for them, and buy them lunch afterwards. Then call a week later, to hear what their results were. Try it. You'll like it. Think about it this way: ten years from now you may have tubes and wires and beeps coming out of you. The present is for learning.

ASUS Blu-ray

Asus Blu-ray data driveI've had a few issues with USB 3.0, so have been cautious in its use - one external drive I have times out during backup, and it is really hard to figure out if it is the drive enclosure, the drive itself, the USB 3.0 port, or the Windows version that runs on the laptop, which was designed for two Windows versions ago. Anyway, the other day I was looking at Blu-ray drives - I have a Buffalo drive, meant to be compatible with both Blu-ray and HD-DVD, which connects with USB 2.0. It works well, but I always get nervous when I do not have a backup of a peripheral. After some searches, I came across an ASUS drive with USB 3.0, meant for BD, Blu-ray Data, but as I have existing Blu-ray movie software that should all work together. ASUS offers a $20 rebate on the box, and that made it a steal at $60.

I set it up, tried to play movies with my Cyberlink software, which didn't work, then realized I had seen mention of VLC Media Player being able to handle Blu-ray movies, provided some decryption keys were loaded in strategic places. And that worked - the ASUS plays movies beautifully, and today I tested the write speed of the drive, which, with USB 3.0, should be good.. and so it is. I was able to code some of my videos onto a Blu-ray disk, as well, at what I think is good speed: 6GB of video, some 80 minutes of 720p, coded and burned onto a 25GB BD disk in just under 13 minutes. I have not compared it with other BD writers, but what with all of the variables concerned, from software to disk type to available memory and CPU speed, I think this is pretty much what to expect. It is many times faster than the Buffalo - if you're thinking of getting one, do remember it does not come with Blu-ray playback software. On the flipside, Windows 10 Pro recognizes the format and can write data and backups to the drive without any additional drivers.

Having moved my website to my new hosting provider, I found I had some extra secure facilities Godaddy only offered if you paid extra. Apart from the built-in security certificates, Hostinglah's Cpanel lets me lock down my files, making it impossible for them to be linked remotely. Of course, that means I can't load them in my workfiles on my home laptop either, because home is definitely "remote". So I've been undoing the absolute image links I'd been using ("domain/directory/file name) and changing them to relative (directory/file name). Lot of work, but I can at least look at the final layout, while I write, and my local HTML-file doesn't hit files on the server it can't open. It is getting really tidy, and can sit anywhere now, as long as the directory structure is maintained. Kewl.

Singapore

Robertson Quay Hotel I doubt you'll notice this much, but my website is running much more smoothly on the Singapore server - let me put it this way, if you don't notice anything, I done good. I get the impression access is faster than with Godaddy, not blisteringly so, but I can see the difference. On top of that, I've been able to turn on encryption and remove most of the bits of Javascript I had in there, and that is just so smooth. No more hack attacks - so far - and nobody stealing clicks from my trackers, something folks now do, that costs bandwidth and response time, something I had been battling for over a year. I am really pleased - and network security, with these folks, is excellent, too many spurious accesses from an IP address and they block it, and I can block folks I don't like myself.

If you wonder why I suddenly got it in my head to move my hosting to Singapore, I've had long term ties with the place, have friends there, a cousin lived there for many years, and when I was on assignment in Indonesia I'd fly up to Singapore every other week to buy things you could (then) not get in Jakarta, like my favourite deodorant, a necessity in the deep tropics. All of the time I had a Jakarta office American Express routed me (without any input on my part) from New York via Amsterdam and Singapore to Indonesia. I spent many a week in Singapore visiting friends and colleagues (our Rapid Response Team was based there), and shopping for technology I couldn't get in these United States, like digital recorders that would record digital Dolby, and digital high resolution cameras. That is my favourite hotel, to the right, the Robertson Quay Hotel, smack in the middle of town, affordable, local breakfast, and an outdoor bar next door, on the waterfront. Doesn't get better. So when I was looking for a hoster to save money, Singapore, which is a technologically advanced but smallish place, was a logical target. Losing 50 Singapore dollars on a bad vendor was acceptable, and I have local friends who could scope the place. None of that was necessary, though, and I was gobsmacked how many hosters out there now provide SSD (solid state) servers. Having just converted my Toshiba laptop, which has a smallish Intel SSD I rescued from one of my HP business notebooks, to Bitlocker encryption of the boot drive, brought it home to me again - the 160GB SSD encrypted in 10 minutes, and I recall that when I encrypted an external 2 TB conventional hard disk, it took over 10 hours.

Saturday, January 27, 2018: That's the tax done!

Keywords: NAS drives, Cloud, Google, Microsoft, Godaddy, Hostinglah, Bitlocker, IRS

Indonesian chicken soup No, this picture has nothing to do with anything below, just spent some time cooking for the freezer, the other day, looking forward to the day I will have my own kitchen again. Reminds me part of the reason I bought the Virginia house was the enormous eat-in kitchen, not that I expect a Seattle apartment to have anything remotely like that, apartments get built for "efficiency", meaning that if you can turn around in an apartment kitchen you're lucky. In Manhattan, kitchenettes were tiny, and as it was practically impossible to cook without smelling the entire studio up for three days, you didn't.

I couldn't figure out why my Zyxel NAS drive had slowing access, and showed 100% CPU usage - the two might or might not be related - until I spent a good couple of hours rummaging around the internet. The amount of information, and the way it is indexed, is now such that a search for even a simple query returns 1000's of results, and the hackers have gotten so clever in manipulating search engines that half the results have no relationship to the query. As it happens a few results were referring to syslog under linux, and it was a syslog under python that caused the problem, but for a novice that would be hard to resolve. At least, if I have a combined parameter query, the search engine should return the first few pages of answers with both parameters included. It is a hotchpotch - got there, but it took several days. I guess I am lucky I (probably) lost no data, over the week or so this problem lasted. Box could have crashed - and why the logging process opened directories but never wrote logs.. I am planning to buy a larger version of this Zyxel, so it is important to have the OS under control. All I need now is money to buy four 3 terabyte disk - populating a new NAS with fewer than the maximum number of drives, then add more later, if you've never done that before, is not a smart idea. So, if you think about getting a network drive with all the bells and whistles, remember the drive, by and large, has no way to send error messages to your PC. So if you don't regularly log in and look at the status messages, you're dependent on functionality to assess how it is doing. While most NAS drives have the ability to send status messages to email, that requires a mail account with POP and SMTP settings, and although you can use a Gmail account for this, that may not be everybody's cup of tea. Especially since NAS drives are set up for things you may never use, like ITunes and Cloud Provisioning and Twonky and the like, it looks to me those can use copious processor capacity on your drive.

Anyway, for those that followed my antics, the cutover from Godaddy hosting to the Hostinglah hoster in Singapore was spectacularly uneventful - on a Sunday morning, the nameserver repointing took less than 60 seconds. And I've added another domain in the meantime, and moved the mail engines to Singapore, had all that done and working a couple of hours after I came back from the gym, on Sunday. I seem to recall that last time I moved domains it took me more than a day to get everything working right, but the Cpanel Hostinglah uses is the easiest and nicest I've ever had me grubbies on. In hindsight, Godaddy makes its interface much more complicated than it needs to be, or so it seems to me, but I probably am not the best judge, I don't know how other folk experience their menu system. Regardless, I am happy, I believe (untested) Hostinglah is faster, and their deal comes with everything I could possibly need, security certificates, unlimited mailboxes, and a massive 50GB of storage. Their security features, on the server, are such I may use that to store sensitive stuff on, something I did not normally do on Godaddy (unless I was overseas and had to).

If you're wondering why I mention server space, a webserver is little more than a PC equivalent (not necessarily a physical machine, but it can be a process) you access via web server software, like the ubiquitous Apache. So if you don't like the Cloud, like I don't, internet connected server space is a good alternative. You just need to be able to manage it, which, with Cloud space, is largely done for you. The thing that bothers me is that most providers of "free" Cloud space, like Microsoft, Google, and all those others - a Windows PC comes with Microsoft Cloud, an Android phone comes with Google Cloud - stipulate in their Terms & Conditions they can "parse" (read: read) all of the information you store on their systems, and can use it for marketing purposes. Think about it - you take pictures using your Android smartphone, and later, you open them in Google Photo. Guess what you just did? You copied your personal, private pictures from your personal, private smartphone, to Google's Cloud (assuming you've registered your phone with your Gmail address). I am just not comfortable having these people and algorithms go through my correspondence and analyze my pictures, feel free to call me a privacy nut, and the other problem is that I have been computerized and internetworked for so long that storing my data - approaching 10 terabytes - in the Cloud would be expensive, some $30 per month. So I have my network drives - and will soon, after I move, have to add a new 12 terabyte NAS drive to make sure I am "future proof". That will yield me some 9 secure terabytes, I can move the data from both current NAS drives, and clean those up and make important data fully redundant with them. Which is where the extra 50GB in the web server comes in.

Speaking of security, I am going to set up at least one laptop so it is fully encrypted, using Microsoft's Bitlocker. Windows lets you do that, booting from a thumb drive with the encryption key, and I am curious to see how well that works. I have a couple of thumb drives on order that will be dedicated to the encrypted laptop - my other laptops have security chips built in, and so do no need an "external device" to facilitate that type of encryption. My web server, too, now has encryption enabled, you know, the stuff that lets you run "https:" webpages. I am still playing with it, having discovered that when you secure your webpages, the non-secure pictures won't load, interesting, had not thought of that.

What else? I seem to quickly get most of my chores behind me, though, as usual, I keep postponing changing my oil, which isn't a big job, but I'd really like not to lie around underneath the car in the rain. And there have been very few sunny frost free days since the beginning of November. Umm, taxes all done, that's the earliest ever, but I was helped by the fact that I had been working on next year's budget for my Housing Association application since September, so by the time late December rolled around my database was all complete and corrected - that is usually what takes the time. The Social Security annual paperwork arrived early, last week, and that really was all I needed to pull the trigger. Yesterday, to my amazement, my return was complete, and my online tax provider accepted it for transmission. I don't know when the IRS starts taking them in, I think not until the 29th, so we'll see, I was surprised they let me transmit. Usually, there are last minute changes to the tax code, but apparently not this year. Nice to have that out of my hair.

Monday, January 22, 2018: Moved 8,000 miles in 90 seconds

Keywords: Godaddy, Hostinglah, Apache, Cpanel, Faleemi, VNU, The Nielsen Company, UNIX, hosting, webserver

Cpanel under Apache under Unix If Mr. Zuckerberg really wants to solve Facebook's problems, he can simply turn off every algorithm that attempts to identify what a user wants to see, and what is "most relevant" to a user. That is what consumers are used to do, and on Facebook, the "algorithms" make this really hard. It is a bit like you like to window shop at a flowershop, but every day the flowershop is moved to a different location, because the owner of the building thinks he can read your mind. Those are the facilities being exploited, and it is important for Zuck to understand that when you arbitrarily assign "top postings", based on nothing but programmers whose only fresh air is the walk to the car, you're inviting every idiot on the planet to break your system. Which they've done - between the pictures(!) of Buddha quotes, pictures of young pussies, videos of drooling toddlers, and virtual amputation of nipples and anything smelling of sex, you've created the most dumbed down boring environment since CNN was added to the package at the Hilton in Vientiane.

Watching a BBC program(me) about live streaming, it occurs to me (again) that I never got into that, even though I had the network connections and equipment and software way ahead of most other folk, but my use restricted itself mostly to science and development, I guess I am simply not an extrovert. Folks have told me in the past I have to be extrovert, what with being a journalist and a very early blogger, but both of those have little to do with vlogging and live streaming. Kind of slipped right by me, hadn't given it much thought - in "them days" you didn't publish for the instant recognition. These were the days before internet - the first time I was recognized in a store in Amsterdam came as a bit of a shock, it was not the part of fame I liked. Eventually, I likely had hundreds of thousands of readers in Holland and the UK, and correspondence did come in to the editorial offices, but I now realize that wasn't why I published, and today, there isn't any publishing without connecting with your audience. I will go so far as to say you no longer have control over your exposure, it is all or nothing. For someone who has had the internet at his fingertips virtually since its inception, that's quite a discovery - you can probably tell my configuring a remote server 8000 miles from my desk brought back some memories. I suddenly feel more connected.

Godaddy is getting a bit expensive, they just upped their prices again, so I figured it was time for another hoster for my website and domains. I mean, last year the hosting package (without domains) was $95 - now, they want $119.88 (you know they can't ask for $119.99, right?). So, I found a hoster in Singapore, with more of everything, half the storage (that's gonna be a problem, filling 50GB... ;), for the magnificent price of 50 Sing$s a year - that's about US$37. And no website that tries to sell you extra stuff every click (they have it, just don't annoy you with it). And regular UNIX and a more than complete Cpanel - Godaddy removed everything, like stats, that they can charge extra for, and made it easy for tablets, which means you end up scrolling for days to get to all of the information. So I am happy, need to learn the interface, but that's good for yours truly.

I had almost forgotten how much I enjoy system work - sitting here preparing to repoint the name servers at Godaddy, so they will send you to Hostinglah. There is a reason I ended up with them, I'll tell you more about Singapore in another blog entry. For now, I've been spending a couple of days changing the legalese in my pages, changing redirect files, taking out the trackers (my new account comes with those built in, as it is supposed to be) and looking up what I need to do where. Especially moving my email from Godaddy to Hostinglah is - well, suffice it to say it isn't something I do a lot. So I am spending lots of time learning their interface, taking notes, documenting what I am doing, and backing up everything I do in different places "thrice", as my Indian friends would say. Especially now, having a system failure that would lead to loss of data would be a disaster, as the cutover will lose me my main backup server - the Godaddy webserver. Making sure the links are all checked, is another main job. I already had my first error - changing my login scripts led to me logging into Hostinglah ftp with wrong credentials so often, they blocked my IP address. Took me days to figure out why I could not access my new server space.... and ten minutes to get them to unblock the block.

It was a good moment to clean up all of my web code, remove the trackers (which, believe it or not, invite miscreants), make sure the links work, and check the transfer facilities at Godaddy. I can now switch to secure webtechnology (https:) too, but have to (quickly) figure out how that works. Much to my (pleased) surprise, my Singapore hosting account comes with the security certificates already installed - Godaddy (I recently checked on this, due to ongoing hacking attempts) wanted me to pay extra and do a whole bunch of complicated stuff to install a certificate. Here (that's the way it looks) I can just "pull the trigger" and it is done. Let you know tomorrow. From a security perspective, I am better off - I've been able to turn off remote linking, and the Javascript trackers I used I have been able to remove completely, as Hostinglah has tracking built in. There are hacker outfits that use your trackers to generate hits for their billing code, I have now seen that on two different tracking sites, and without trackers that is no longer possible.

I looked into it because my Wordpress installation at the Godaddy server was hacked, the second time over the years that my Wordpress was hacked - and this time, a Wordpress that I don't even use, I got wise to its vulnerability the first time I lost my site. In Singapore, I can install it, but it isn't provisioned automatically. Kewl.

So - the bad news about the Faleemi IP camera is that it communicates on its own with whoever in China, and even finds ways around a firewall. That's significant. I am gobsmacked that when you firewall off the camera, on a router without direct internet exposure, and you move that router to a DMZ on another router, the software in the camera is smart enough to recognize this, change the network setting to DHCP by itself, and connect with its lords and masters in China. That is way beyond "helpful", as the interface does not notify you it is changing your settings, or why. I swear - I only noticed because its red LED, which starts flashing when it can't talk to its mummy in Shenzen, stopped flashing. Then I thought I'd gone crazy, then I realized that, since I didn't make the change (most things in my network have static IPs), its built in logic must have. Gotta tell you, we don't really need to worry about data security, because the FCC does not check these devices, and they are cheap enough there must be hundreds of thousands telling their makers every little detail about our networks. I recall buying a router in Beijing, and finding it had firmware using a Mandarin interface whose version wasn't even listed by the manufacturer. Worried about Huawei? Let me put it this way, legislators, if you'd like to know what to worry about, get some budget and I'll take you around Beijing and Hong Kong, and show you what really should scare you, and it ain't a large Chinese multinational.

Apart from the problems with network security, though, the price and level of sophistication of IP cameras is such that you can comfortably replace your security system with a PC or laptop, some free software, and one or two IP cameras. Both the cameras and the software can instantly, when motion is detected, send a message and pictures or video to another computer or a smartphone, and you can set it up to sound sirens or call the local sheriff. Yes, you'll need to spend time learning how to set up the (free) software, though you can buy software with support, if you want to. The way I've set mine up a cheap remote controlled IP camera is paired to a cheap laptop connected to the internet, and I will, for good measure, test this setup with a tethered Bluetooth connection to a smartphone, so that even when the power fails, the system will still work - you can actually power a camera from a USB port. Again, the way I have set it up, captured images and video go to my webserver instantly, as well as via email to my mobile phone, so even if a burglar takes or destroys the equipment, you've been alerted and their image is available to law enforcement. All this for less money than a remote calling burglar alarm system used to cost. Yes, consumers didn't use to be able to set up these computer based systems, but today, if you don't have these skills, you're probably unemployed, in which case you won't have much to steal anyway.

Wednesday January 17, 2018: In with the new, but the old isn't out

Keywords: Blackberry, Z10, WiFi, Hotspot, Blu, Paypal, two factor security, Android, Facebook, gym, working out, hunter gatherers, furniture, apartment

Ah. Saturday. I ought to put the "revamped" Blackberry back in use, with the new Bluetooth earset, now that I have replaced some of its innards. The primary reason is that I found the Blackberry, as a WiFi access point is much faster than any other smartphone I have, I am just going to have to use my new Blü on the "home" line, retiring the Nokia. That's done well, but the casing is a bit chipped, and I can go back to using Paypal with two factor authentication, which the older version of Windows Mobile on the Lumia does not support. It is useful to have a much later version of Android in the house, it can handle all of the applications I need, and I can finetune the permissions on it, stopping apps from mining my address database, for instance. That too is cool on the Blackberry - using my Google contacts database on that does not allow Google to exchange data with it, I feel invaded every time the contacts database under Android adds pictures of people without asking me. Call me deluded, but when they're in my database, I normally know what they look like. Institutionalized voyeurism.

Changes in Facebook? I find, increasingly, folks in my friends lineup becoming more forceful in their postings, but the majority seem to spend vast amounts of time reading things and then reposting them. Hobby horses - anti-Trump, or the kids, or the grandkids, or people posting pictures with useless credos, often mistakenly attributed to the Buddha or the Dalai Lama, apparently an image of typed words is more powerful than typed words. I never had a Facebook app on a "device", but find the environment boring to the point I access once a day to see if I have messages, and after three minutes of drivel sign off. I know you love your grandkids, but if you've got nothing better to do than posting endless pictures of them.. Dunno, maybe I am too harsh, but we used to talk about things, and now there's just endless reposting of people going off on Donald Trump, or posting something about the family every other day, prefaced by "God is Good". A lot of folks posting things that were in the news three days ago, or last month, preferably without any explanation or commentary. What with everybody having eighteen news feeds on their three devices, posting "news" is probably overkill. I should (soon) write about these "smart speakers", which everybody buys but nobody really uses - feel free to call me paranoid, but I would go bonkers if there were a technology company giving me a listening device in my home, something they listen to 24/7 (it doesn't work if they don't), because otherwise I can't get the weather forecast. It doesn't help I worked on bringing speech recognition into the home, via the telephone - if there is one thing I learned is that we're not close to machines understanding humans. Think I am wrong? Watch the TV news with the subtitles on, and just concentrate on every mistake you see. That's done by speech recognizers, and the ones use by broadcasters cost millions, and are fine-tuned to the news readers, they work much better than Alexa and Siri. Sure. Sheesh.

Spent much of the Sunday getting the Blu to do what the Nokia did before, I suppose this is a worthwhile exercise in terms of learning Android. I liked the 6" Blu, but it is so large carrying it in a "hip holster" isn't comfortable - if it is not positioned just right it falls of your belt when you get out of the car. For the immediate stuff I need a cellphone for, the Blackberry Z10 is still just dandy, and it is still with its stand, the best alarm clock I've ever had.

In the interim, I was able to install most apps I normally use on the Blu - my workout app, Endomondo, is, in its new Android iteration, one of the more annoying bits of software, in that it tries to get you to sign up to a "Plus" account every other keystroke or screen touch. Do these people not understand that for every moron who signs up because of this, there are fifty who go look for another app - not because we're not willing to pay, but because we don't give money to people who try to "extract-by-annoying". Not only that, the Endomondo people do not really understand how to build a user interface for folks wishing to work out. They have no clue that you need to find out why the person works out, what their interests are, and then present them something that fits their requirements. I saw that today, again, at the gym - a new member, recording her achievements in her logbook, basically setting the stage for self-competition. That may well be useful for an up-and-coming athlete, but somebody in their fourties, if she maintains this method for a decade (unlikely, as she didn't have her existing personal logbook with her, but a brand new LA Fitness supplied one), will find that once she is well into her fifties her performance will deteriorate. That's normal, nothing wrong with that, but there is no mention of that in the logbook, it is based on the same duff assumption that people work out to improve their performance. In most cases, doing that leads to frustration and injury - especially the latter, 98% of doctors will tell you that interval training and spin classes are really not good for the body, even hunter-gatherers do not use techniques that require explosions of power, but techniques that require endurance, like the stamina you need to follow an injured prey animal for two days, and then drag it back to camp for another two. Somebody who does interval training is spent after ten minutes, couldn't get it up if three nekkid women with memorable melons piled on top of their sweaty person.

Paypal back to two factor authentication is a good idea as well - Windows Mobile did not permit that, this Android version (I'll look up what it is, never an Android aficionado) does - and the Blu being encrypted, with password protection and some other stuff, is good too. I gather you can run a terminal from it over USB - actually, why don't I see if I can get one of the Bluetooth keyboards to work with it? Other than that, I am going bonkers with the apps running in the background, used or not, so I have set the background permission to "none", and something called "Greenify" can apparently hibernate anything that isn't in use, once the screen saver kicks in, though that does take a bit of programming. Perhaps I will get courageous and get a terminal up over USB, from what I see in Android "developer" mode that should be possible. Although, I'll be much happier once I have an apartment, I have found a lovely 60 inch square table that will work as a bench, desk, dining table, perhaps with a glass top, though those are hardly cheap. Thing is, I ought to get that with the table, so the surface remains unblemished. We'll see. OTOH, you could resurface the table later, and then get the top. Hmm. Most importantly, I need a work surface where I can have two big screens and two laptops all parked side-by-side, but in such a way that I can move the essentials to a side table so I can have a dinner party. It is, essentially, the setup I had in Virginia, where I had a laptop setup side-by-side with my trader's workstation - mind you, the workspace in what had been intended as my office had been taken over by a self built RAID storage server - today, that is a smallish box, with six times the storage I had then. So that should all be manageable, even with the extra 52 inch screen I am not using today, parked in the garage.

I suppose I have settled down a bit, now that I have decided to stay in Seattle - not that I had much of a choice, although I could have shot for the moon again. I was sorely tempted, for quite a while, to try and buy a trailer, and take off, but eventually thought that the risk of something going wrong - my car breaking for good, running out of gas money, the cancer returning uninvited - wasn't really worth it. Besides, the insurance hit could have been close to unaffordable, I am not at an age where I want to sail that close to the edge any more. Not getting any younger was another reason to make sure I am in control, as much as I can be, and roaring down the road to SoCal, probably ending up there having spent much of my savings on gasoline, when I have sufficient residence built up here to qualify for all sorts of stuff, made me think twice.

As it stands, the car costs me about $176 per month to run - add to that what I'd have spent on gas, from here to San Diego, probably some $350, then finding (renting) somewhere to stay, and/or park the trailer, etc, etc... then doing everything I've done here all over again in California, without any infrastructure.. I had thought about buying a used Uhaul truck up in Canada, and bringing that across the border, but then I would have had to do a lot of work on that, though I could have probably towed the SUV. Exciting thought, lot of work. I did - belatedly - discover this Dodge Durango can be towed, mine has an electric transfer case, which, apart from providing low and high gearing for four wheel drive, can disconnect the engine from the drive train. Mind you, I didn't discover this until last year, should have known when I came here from Virginia - curiously, no dealerships or Uhaul places knew... probably not that many of these things with skid plates and multigear four wheel drive around. Ya live and learn.

Monday, January 8, 2018: Don't worry about the Intel fries, worry about your home network

Keywords: Edgestar, Faleemi, IP cam, heat pump, A/C, raw water, iSpy, NAS drives, hacking

Edgestar 14K heat pumpHaving spent what seems to be an inordinate amount of time working up a budget, the year has turned, and that let me run a tax prep in my finance software. Though I ended the year with pretty much the same sort of savings I started, that is actually good news, what with a good amount of "extra" expenditure in 2017 - some $1,500. So if I can just manage to not get unexpected stuff - beyond the move - in 2018, I should be fine. I can't say I've ever done a budget in such gory detail, but I really needed to get better control of my finances, and it does look like I have pared my expenditure to the point I have control - and having credit again helps, though, for the apartment plans, I do not need it beyond being able to pass a credit check with flying colours. Even my Fico score, at long last, is green - though I discovered you don't want to put too much on a new card, even if you do pay it off at the end of the month. These days, you sneeze, you drop 20 points.

The most amazing bit of kit, in 2017, has been the Edgestar heat pump, which I was able to test extensively while the housemates were away for a month, and am currently using for auxiliary heat when I am home. Running just one in auxiliary mode costs me (this has been all heating, it being winter) 18 cents a day, that truly amazes me. The drawback - it is noisy, but doesn't run all that much, and with its twin hose system, does not take air from your environment, which is what makes the difference. During my late summer test, where temperatures were in the 70s and 80s, two of these units managed to cool an entire 2,000 square foot bungalow, running 24/7, for an average total of around $30 per month. Their "new and improved" models are now marketed under the Avallon brand - as I write this, for around $500 with the end-of-year discount. Heats (11,00 BTU), cools (14,000 BTU), and the new models automatically switch from heating to cooling, something that (not a joke) could be very useful in the desert.

Something that particularly interests me is how much water is generated by these units. They have an evaporative system built in that gets rid of the condensation you'll get in any heat pump / air conditioner, but there is a drain built in, and something I want to do is use that to capture the condensation and measure it. A heat pump that is used both for cooling and heating produces condensation all year round, during summer from the "output" heat exchanger, during winter from the "input" heat exchanger, and it will be interesting to see how much that is, averaged out, and what the monetary value is in an area where you pay for water. Additionally, having one's own supply of non-chlorinated clean water (say, run though a carbon filter jug like those available at Wal-Mart) could be interesting - again, from heat pumps that are in use all year round. So far, my heat pump provides ample heat even when the outside air temperature is 24 degrees Fahrenheit (-5° Celsius) - heat pumps didn't used to be able to do that. Anyway, drinking water is something you need an everyday supply of, so getting that from a heat pump in use all year would not be a bad idea, and what with the efficiency of modern heat pumps, you would save some money buying water, whether that is from the utility or from the store.

So - did some more work on the Faleemi IP cameraFaleemi IP cam, and I have to tell you that it works very well, but it sends data to places and networks for no reason at all, without any way to stop that. Even after turning all protocols, except for RTSP, off, it still talks to the outside world. RTSP is the protocol that lets my iSpy software pull images and video from the camera, which does, by the way, have a complete, quite sophisticated, server built in - but I've set up iSpy so that it then stores images and video captures when motion is detected, deliberately not using the camera's facilities for that. Those are then uploaded to my web server, so that even if my PCs and network drives get stolen during a heist, the thieves can't get the images, and I can. But these cameras are set up to send data to the cloud, where you can then access them, problem is, you have absolutely no control over where this data goes, what it is, and who can get to it, they use IP addresses and servers nobody has ever heard of. I've looked at the traffic on my routers for several weeks now, and there are a bunch of IP addresses that have no functionality to you at all, and as I said, it does not matter what you turn off in the camera, it goes out there anyway. Even the built in web server, when you access that from a PC, immediately starts talking to someplace called lierda.com, without asking or explaining. I've now firewalled it off from the outside world, so it can only talk inside my protected network, but while it works, it now has a blinking error light, even though there is no error, and nothing in the error log, and we know what that means, right? Even - dig this - the Faleemi app on my Android phone, on the same network, will sometimes no longer talk to the camera, and that indicates that it verifies with a server "somewhere" before it will talk to the device, this is the app that worked before, during setup. Not kosher, peeps. Thing is, how do we get Trump to pay attention to this - because it is cybersecurity that will stop North Korea, and right now they can just walk in the back door. Internet of Things? Internet of Idiots, more like.

Anyway, what I wanted to do, set up a 24/7 surveillance system that stores captures on a remote server, I've done. I have to say the Faleemi IP camera works well, can power off the USB port of a laptop, its software is superb, mobile apps work, if it weren't for its propensity to connect to overseas networks it'd be great. And it is, like the NAS drives I bought before, pre-programmed to connect to networks you have no control over, and don't need. Yes, it is nice to share pictures or home surveillance with your auntie in Huangzou, but that is not likely to be the reason why you bought a storage device or surveillance cam. None of these are set up so they are secure, with all of the ports closed, and remote logins disabled, and that is how they should be delivered. I can even make this work, battery driven, over a cellphone, so you're not dependent on your home or building internet for your security to work, but if you can't do network programming, you're at the mercy of manufacturers who do not have your security uppermost in their list. I've bought a NAS driver and a netowkr printer which would not install unless I set myself up on their network, with my email address. I had quite a bit of work "breaking" the installation software so I could bypass this invasive "registration", and Windows 10 still complains I have not installed my printer driver software (which I did, but manually).

Because: criminals learn technology too, and Comcast puts a large sign outside of your house when you buy their security system, so the criminals know how to access and disable your detectors and cameras. In the olden days, an alarm company sign meant burglars would try somewhere else, in 2017, it means the security system is on the internet, you can look up what local head end serves the house, hire a hacker, who will disable the routers for you, and you can go in. Job done.

Thursday, January 4, 2018: Did we leave Trump and Bannon in last year?

Keywords: Trump, aliens, illegals, Google Mail, Yelp, Seiki, 4K UHD TV, VLC, Bluray

Although I am writing much of this in the "old" year, you're reading it in the fresh, untainted year - that Trump fella was a bit of a surprise, wasn't he? Much like the previous president, whose arrival was - for his first term - a bit unexpected as well. I keep on wondering if we're as polarized as all that - I an only aware of one acquaintance who is a rabid Trump supporter, I eventually unfriended him, but that was more because of his frequently very offensive and ultra-biased posts. I suppose if you're a successful scientist, have too much money and can afford to be a high tier member of the Knights of Columbus you don't need to understand how the other half thinks any more. At least the blue collar folk in my neigbourhood are mostly just simple Christians (none of them Trump voters, either, curiously). Trump isn't doing a bad job of it, I must say, especially now that most of the wankers have left his administration. Just the Kushners to go, and he will be an Almost Real person, instead of a realtor with a family firm.

Anyway, that isn't why we're here, but we are taking some of the baggage into 2018. Everybody everywhere finally accepting the Australians had it right, and preventing the "refugees" from landing - and shipping back the illegals, here, despite their excuses - is a good development in my book. Contrary to belief, there are plenty of would-be carpenters and plumbers in this country, those just weren't professions anybody went to study for, because all there was, the other end, were Middle- and South Americans undercutting you. It seems every other refugee is an Uber driver now, which indicates we're not making much of an effort creating jobs for them, and they'll work for food. If you followed the Uber saga, they started out as a nice employer, where you could make decent money, and then began cutting wages and making more demands of their workers, which had to be contractors with rights. A recent article in the New York Times higlighted the travails of Yellow Cab drivers - and those were often hard working immigrants, now undercut by their own kind. Good? Bad? I don't know.

By the way, allowing North Korea to take part in the Winter Olympics would be major stupid. They're under sanction, so they are under sanction, they want to come to any international meet, give up all nuclear arms. Until they do, no strategic imports, no Olympics, fancy cars, caviar, nothing. There is a long history, with many dictators (remember Hitler?) that olive branches backfire. Don't.

Still can't get the microphone in the Blackberry to work, I wonder if I need to just forget fixing that - with a headset, the thing is fine. I did - somehow - manage to get the HDMI audio on my Seiki 4K display panel to work again, although I have no idea why it sometimes would not. Between that and convincing my Bluray setup I actually have a 3D display, and some tweaking, I've actually got the 4K running at peak performance. Curiously, in order to get a properly sharp image, you have to turn "sharpness" in its engineering controls all the way to - 0! Go figure.. and it turns out the VLC public domain video application will play Bluray movies, I just had to spend a long time reading everybody's suggestions, and after trying half a dozen or so, it suddenly worked! I do own a Bluray player, but I like running things on one of my PC screens while I use the other. Or I just like it when things work..

Two warm, rainy days, but now the frost is back, they showed some horrendous weather up in the mountains on the news this morning. Not as bad as in the rest of the country, but still cold and icy enough. Even so, it is sufficiently sunny that walking to the gym is pleasurable enough, my doctors, happy enough that I keep working out, are insistent that sunlight, daylight, and the resultant vitamin D and melatonin are essential for health.

All in all, I've pretty much fixed everything that needed fixing, with the exception of the Blackberry microphone, though the Blackberry I don't need at the moment. When traveling, that's a different matter, but I think I would do best focusing strictly on getting an apartment, and saving a much as I can so I can do the move, furniture, and everything else. I do need to get my crown replaced, it came out when I had a fall, but that's really all, and my new dentist thinks he can get the crown in place without the root canal all other dentists seem to insist on. There was a crown there, and the tooth is fine, so I am going to thank my lucky stars I found an honest dentist. Posting a Yelp link here, since I discovered if you send a Yelp link to a Google Mail user, Google puts that in their spam box. Not a good (or legal) way to deal with the competition. Must say the change from the HP Elitebook 2560p to the faster 2570p has done wonders, it turns out the Windows Media Center I am running on the 2560 is truly a resource hog, and I now have another application that lets me watch TV using an ATSC dongle, while the 2560 records stuff I've programmed, programming I then store on the NAS drive and stream to whatever I am using. Little TV needs to be watched live, and I've got working dongles on most of my systems now.

Saturday, December 30, 2017: Almost there

Keywords: Blackberry, Christmas, homeless, iSpyconnect, Wordpress, Verizon

Seattle Christmas 2017I am wondering how many of the ills of society we could cure by starting at the beginning - educating and training children. While the number of homeless in King County (which includes the city of Seattle) seems to have settled around 10,000, in an affluent area with a bit over 2 million inhabitants, headquartering, amongst others, Microsoft, Amazon and Costco, with one of Boeing's largest factories.

I am not trying to over-simplify, but with a median household income of some $65,000 a year, Seattle is no longer a place where you can live cheaply, and so more and more people fall off the bottom rung, if you will. With no way of ever getting back on the ladder, which, once they spiral into drug use and alcoholism, becomes increasingly difficult, especially with the amount of age discrimination in the Puget Sound tech jobs market. Even an auto mechanic needs to be computer conversant, today, and I see people who think being able to Google something qualifies them for a management job, and if you ask them if they can put together a website they'll say "yes", and if you then ask them if you can look at some of the code they use in their webpage - poof. Not that you have to write code on my account, but using Wordpress is not really "web design". Apart from anything else, Wordpress gets hacked every weekend, they then issue a fix in an update, and two weeks later it happens all over again. The Wordpress install on my webserver got hacked twice in a month - and this is a Wordpress installation I don't even use, I had tried to resurrect an old database a year or two ago. It provides a great platform for many folks, but if you're looking for security, not so much. This is one reason I use raw HTML, which I write myself. No scripts, no executables, nothing to hack.

But Merry Christmas, all - here in the Puget Sound area, we're having a White Xmas, it started snowing around 5pm on Christmas Eve. Biblical, almost. I hope - but that may or may not happen - that by the time I write atcha here in a year's time, I'll be in an apartment in Seattle "proper". Waiting list, kind of thing. It is frustrating I've taken so long to get to this point, I lost my home and my savings in 2011, after all, but that's what it took, and I tried everything to make it go faster, which didn't work very much.

Blackberry Z10 in charging cradleI still need to figure out how to stop the Faleemi IP camera from talking to its creators in China, without my approval, but I have at least found a public domain piece of software that works well, and talks to practically every remote camera on the planet. Quite a sophisticated package, iSpy is much more versatile than some of the other "free" applications I have tried, which, for the most part, won't talk to a "standard" IP video stream - do some research, and you'll find there are multiple standards for streaming video, and if you want to stay away from the hackable web interfaces in port 80 and port 8080, more secure and obscure solutions are available. The main problem with port 80 is that that is the standard (http:) web interface, and you can't firewall it off as that is how webpages come to you from the outside world. iSpy, at least, you can set up so it stays inside your network, and you can use ports the outside world can't "see", provided the firewall on your router is active. Best, and easiest, by the way, is to learn some router management, buy a router you can control completely, learn how to set it up and use it, and hang that router off the one the cable or telephone company has installed. You should change the password and firewall settings on that router, but for many people that router handles both internet and TV, so you probably don't want to mess with it too much. The router you installed behind it is fully controllable by you, and that's where you should have your network connected. If nothing else, a second router makes it hard for hackers to get to your systems, and they look on the first router, which is how most people connect to the internet. If you really want secure, use one provider just for internet, and then replace their router with your own, of a different brand, one they can't control from their head end. Then replace their DNS with someone else's (Google comes to mind, you can look that up with your favourite search engine), so they can't track your address requests.

As you can see in the picture above, my Blackberry Z10 is entirely repaired - with a new bezel, it looks like it just came from the factory. It is sitting in a charging cradle, for now it is a very nice alarm clock, the Z10 has something called "bedside mode" which has a very soft amber glow, then wakes you up with white light and a choice of noises. Never fails. Anyway, the Z10 works, having been factory-reset, like a banshee, too, except the problem - one non-working microphone - hasn't been resolved. I now think it may be the headphone jack (the new bezel had two new microphones) and I've got that on order. $4.20 from Brooklyn, with shipping. No, I don't mind - what with the Youtube instructions, and all of the teensy tools in the repair kit, it is really simple and quick. I had the bezel replaced inside of half an hour - could have done it quicker if I hadn't kept dropping the screws... Doing it with the bifocals on (and off), rather than the monovision in, did help. Now I am going to have to do it all over again, when the replacement jack arrives. I did replace its rear facing camera, which never worked right, it is the size of the tip of your pinkie, I kid you not. If you're wondering if this is a Verizon Blackberry, it isn't, it is a GSM/4GLTE version, but the bezel came with the VZ logo. That does not, being a Verizon retiree, bother me at all.

Sunday, December 24, 2017: Too Much Holiday

Keywords: Blackberry, Christmas, Windows 10, Seattle Housing Authority, repair, Amazon

test shot Blu Studio XL 2And after you get Christmas cards, of course, you soon run out, and you think, like you do every year, that these things are ridiculously expensive, but when you go back you find a "ten-fer" deal for $9.99, and then when you get home you find they're not on the receipt.. Did put them on the scale, but then I keyed in the wrong PIN, etc. etc. Did get the shopping done, jug of well water, gym (skipped yesterday), and I've got much of the system work done. Well, "system" work.. (later) gift wrapping all done, my workout buddy wanted to go to the gym at 7am, actually managed that, been a while since I got up really early, always nice to make sure you can still do that. Imagine, getting on the road by 7am, office by 8, just to beat the traffic. Mind you, I worked from home part of the week, best was Westchester County, NY, where I had a ten minute commute to the lab. Not for nothing did the hoi polloi refer to us as "the country club".

Windows 10 needs lots of tweaking

The amount of time and effort it has taken me to get Windows 10 with the Creators Update running correctly - still one thing that won't behave, Windows disables the Mobile Data Protection Sensor, part of a package HP provides in some of its business notebooks to intercede with the hard disk if the system drops or gets a knock. Clearly, Microsoft has done something invasive, and while users gripe about HP, I believe Microsoft has done something to drive controls it should not have, the drive control software works in all other versions of Windows, and other operating systems... Mostly, Windows 10 is optimized for battery driven devices - apparently, Microsoft does not think it is worth it to set up their software to ask the system owner if they need to run under battery conditions, or if they want ports (any ports, not just USB, but eSATA, SATA, HDMI, VGA, etc.) that are "always on". This stuff was rushed out of the gate without full testing.

If you're wondering why now, I did install Windows 10 on a couple of my systems, but have never used it in anger, until I recently decided to cut over from my Windows 8.1 laptop to a similar laptop with Windows 10, and then installed the Creators Update. I then had to do a fair amount of debugging, partly because the version of Windows 10 they pre-loaded on this machine was broken and vendor-crippled, and it took a bit of doing to get it repaired, and working right. Thankfully I had a master disk from another W10 system, that was able to repair the image. So some stuff not working right is not a complete surprise. It does now, I just need to make sure I have complete backups of all I have done.

After some tweaking, I reshot the street picture you've seen below, the result is to the right. If you click on the pic, you'll get a full size version, duly processed by yours truly, that's about 4Mb in size, the linked version here is 260k. This just to give you an idea of how well the Blu does, here is a winter sun, below a rainy gray day.

Blackberry Z10 in repairOther than that, it is pretty much a waiting game. A friend tried to connect me with a Microsoft contracting opportunity, but then the external recruiter (who listed himself as an engineer) kept emailing me to send him a resume, even though both my friend and myself had pointed out to him where in this website the resume is (if you have a hard time finding it, it is at the link where it says "resume" at the top of this page), but apparently can "do a lot for me" for as long as I send him my resume. I would think he'd look at it from the link, come back to me with opportunities, if he makes his living recruiting experts for MS, gotta tell you that if Microsoft uses these kinds of people to find knowledgeable staff, I don't give much for their efforts. He got to me because he asked my friend to recommend telecommunications experts, so he does not seem to be too able to find those himself. I've seen many recruiters like that, over the years, "send your resume" broken record, then you never hear from them again, no comment, not even a thank you. Best of luck.

I said "waiting game" - had I gotten a consulting position, of course, I would have ended up outside of the cap for a Seattle SHA apartment. I don't mind that that much, but if the gig gets canceled or otherwise does not work out, that would not be fun. So I think I have little option but to wait for SHA, and continue making preparations for when that happens. But that brings me to my budget, something I have always maintained in my financial software, but not to the gory accuracy I do now. Especially in the past year, as I recovered my credit rating, I needed to know exactly how much money I was spending, and on what, so I could calculate how much money I will need and have once I rent an apartment, and what a credit card did to my outgoings. It had been relatively simple since I lost my credit, I knew what was coming in, and how much my savings were growing (or not), but a credit card is dealt with, in software, as "available cash", when, in fact, it is not. So I spent quite a bit of time working out how to lump credit spending into "petty cash", so as to make sure it automatically fit within my budget. That was not simple, but I think I've cracked it. I think I am riding out the year with the same money I had coming into it, which is not bad, considering a green card renewal and dental surgery were considerable expenses, and the insurance repercussions from a broken garage door did not help (goodbye Met Life).

Lots of repair kits

Picture left has my slightly broken Blackberry Z10, as well as the replacement bezel & touch screen (left) and the tools that came with that, $18.95 in all. This is the second time I am fixing a cellphone, something I did not used to do, but the repair kits, accompanied by truly excellent instructional videos on Youtube, are available on Amazon and Ebay for just about anything you've ever bought. Now I will wait a bit until I take my contact lenses out, in the morning - the screws and bits are teensy to the point that I think my eyes + bifocals, for this, will work better than my eyes + monovision contacts. I need to put in a new pair, anyway - my optometrist is fine with me wearing one pair for a couple of months, rather than the intended one month, but you can eventually tell the lenses are getting grungy. Still, I only go through six pairs a year, which costs $60 with shipping. That's $5 a month. Not at all bad. Hopefully the information I have is correct, and the microphone that isn't working in the Blackberry is really broken, and part of the bezel. I've got the replacement phone, anyway, so a worry it is not. While I am at it, I'll replace the rear facing camera, which was never good in focus, for $6.95. No wonder the Chinese are filthy rich...

Wednesday, December 20, 2017: Cheap mobiles are just fine

Keywords: BLU Studio XL, Blackberry, Galaxy, Android, Christmas, eyesight, big data

Dreary rainy days, but then it stopped freezing, back to "normal" Pacific Northwest temps, if, in the day and age of global warming, you can speak of normal any more. Still coughing a bit, though much less than before, it certainly does not keep me awake any more. Hopefully, especially since I am temporarily off immuno-suppressants, the antibiotics will have done what they were supposed to. I'll just have to be patient and give it another week, see if I need to go back to the GP, or report to the specialist and go back on regular medication.

Finally managed to concentrate on getting the dang Christmas cards, but in the throes of setting up my new phone for the second time, will have to relegate writing the cards tomorrow, post office the day after, I guess. Doesn't really matter if they arrive before or after Christmas - besides, my sister's birthday is just short of Christmas, and others I really am sending New Year's cards.... It'll be fine.

Something I like about the newer versions of Android is that you can set their access permissions in gory detail. The mail app on the Blu, for instance, wants access to everything, and when you turn some of it off it won't even start. That's cool - I got another mail application that is more controllable, user friendly and security conscious. It is the same under Windows, where some applications - LinkedIn comes to mind - won't even let you log in without third party cookies enabled, because LinkedIn allows folks who pay them to put cookies on your device so they can track you, same thing Facebook does, if you do not log out, especially on phones, Facebook addicts have their feed running 24/7, just so they don't miss aunt Esther messing up her next batch of sugary cookies. That's fine - that is why I've stopped using LinkedIn, which today specializes in selling your intimate information to all and sundry, I decline all "invitations" to Facebook Messenger, and a brief sojourn with Facebook on my Blackberry tablet helped me discover that if I did not give the FB app access to the camera, it would not run. Clearly, software publishers are coming back from this, as lots of influential folks stop sharing data with lots of enterprises. People begin to understand why, when they've looked at refrigerators on phones or laptops, they are bombarded with ads for white goods. Takes seconds. Lots of comments from folks who feel they're being e-stalked, which is true. And the thing is, as I have seen before upping my security, when you buy a diving re-breather, everybody starts trying to seel you scuba diving kit you already have. Remember that next time you pay for "big data" - there is more the sellers do not know, than that they do. Because if this data malarkey worked, they'd have started selling me diving gear before I bought the re-breather. Which I bought for a friend in Asia Pacific, who couldn't get that brand in his home country there. So I was never going to buy any more, since I don't dive. I don't like my air coming out of a bottle..

While I am waiting for a replacement screen+bezel for my Blackberry Z10, this Blu smartphone is growing on me. I just have not decided what, if any, apps to run on it, but there is time for that, I can check some of the permissions on my older Galaxy. I need the Z10 to work, because it has T-Mobile WiFi Calling, which I use overseas, where I then do not incur call charges in the USA, or minutes. But the Blu, I did not mention this, is a two line handset, so I can have both the TMO SIM card and a local card in when traveling, and I believe it may work in Japan, as well (the Blackberry does, Blackberry's were long the only "international" handsets that could roam there). Plenty of reasons, anyway, to fix the Z10, and keep it as a primary spare. But I must say I am happy with the Blu's 6" screen - BTW, if you have older family members with a smaller handset, get them the Blu, it is cheap and they'll have a much easier time reading things, I notice especially older people missing lots of information as they often do not know how to go to landscape mode, or to increase the font size on their mobile, and if they reduce the stuff on their screen they may not be able to read it all. I had this at the optometrist's, the other day, could read all of the reading matter on the test card, except for one word, "bread". My eyes would not resolve the "r".

Actually, to come back to security, I can test apps on my Galaxy, which normally lives in the car as a "locator", and functions as a dashcam when I am driving. Once I've established an app does not mine my address book, I can install that on the Blu. That puts paid to CaroProo, which is webcam and car monitor, but mines the handset as well. Thankfully, that lives on a handset without contact list or any other identifiable information. I used to have that number in my Google set, but took it out of the group a while ago. Now I have encrypted the entire handset, see how that does - no, it isn't that I need that, just curious.

Sunday, December 17, 2017: Some toys work, others not so much

Keywords: touchpad, keyboard, Rapoo, BLU Studio XL, Ebay, Blackberry, Microsoft, health care, Teva, pharmaceuticals

If a sinus infection wasn't enough, the antibiotics they gave me took me off my "normal" arthritis medication, so now I have gobs of pain and discomfort and pills hanging over my head. For weeks, too. Owell. Been there, done that.

test shot Blu Studio XL 2Cool thing, this refurbished Blu 6" smartphone I got at Ebay, from an outfit by the name of Breed. Refurbished, but looking like new inside and out, new unblemished software load, and it took my micro-SIM, the one that was in my Blackberry, without question, same form factor, got lucky. It arrived a day early, yesterday in the mail, and with permissions setting and testing, I just finished setting it up, midday the next day. Android now lets you set permissions and security in gory detail - I am completely paranoid about the amount of data collection that goes on with the big internet companies, but it appears Google have seen the light and at least made the security settings fully accessible. $125 new at Amazon, the first class refurbished version set me back $85, which is reasonable if not cheap. The massive, 4900mAh lithium-polymer battery (by comparison, the replacable lithium-ion battery in my Blackberry has 1800mAh) is hardwired, but then that may last as long as the handset - past handsets, with smaller replacable batteries, I've often had a spare for. This battery took six hours to charge from empty. Still testing, will tell you as and when I find anything worthy of reporting. My reason for buying a 6" display is simply that so many websites are now geared for tablets - they look like shit on a PC browser, and the same on a small phone. The picture to the right is the first shot out of the Blu - unprocessed, full size, and without the upscale settings available in the unit. I'll show you that in the next post. I apologize for the size of the file, 1.5Mb, you can click on it to see it full size, can't show you the quality if I reduce it, now, can I..

So this Rapoo Bluetooth keyboard really does well, for as long as I can rember to charge it. It is actually the first Bluetooth keyboard with built-in touchpad where I can actually use the multi-touch feature, on four other keyboards I could never manage that. So I guess the technology and chipset (and price) do have something to do with it. The touchpad is larger than the others', too, and especially the ability to finally completely turn off the timeouts is a Godsend. Using an external keyboard makes the laptop last much, much longer, although parts for these Elitebooks are all over Amazon and Ebay, and mostly ridiculously easy to replace, kudos to HP, in love with these machines. Now, of course, having gotten used to the tap-and-keystroke method, I have to wean myself off that and onto multitouch. The number of ways you can control display is unbelievable.

Booting up this morning, my laptop is not happy, and it installed some Microsoft updates yesterday I did not know about. I have no way of knowing whether it is Microsoft's update that ripped my system, I noticed it install an update when I tried to power down and Windows would not let me. To be honest, this is not a good way to deal with customers, doing things to your system without letting you know, and then interfering with your routine without warning. And sure enough, there was an anomalous bootup this morning, then my system hung, completely, twice, and next, I was not able to do any kind of backup, using robocopy or AIS. My external 2TB backup drive got ripped in the process, would no longer mount on ESATA, and it is now sitting on another laptop running an 8 hour diagnostic. It is technically possible my backup drive "sprung a leak", it is an old 2TB external drive that has seen a lot of service, and if a drive fails, it is usually during startup. But I am more inclined to think Microsoft's update, and the asinine automated way in which this is now run, while you're doing normal work on your computer, without Microsoft really knowing what else is going on in the system, that last, big, "Creators" update Microsoft presented wouldn't even install automatically, and would not let the user know there was a problem - yes, I saw that go belly-up on all three systems it tried to install on. Coinciding with a huge Microsoft effort to extract more of your personal data through their operating system, it very much looks like they are breaking it, and not just occasionally.

The amount of time, this month, spent on updating, upgrading, and repairing Microsoft's mistakes is astonishing. I just spent another hour going through device drivers in Device Manager, which, since they are on a laptop, have their "turn off to save power" flag set by default, without ever a notification to the user. With USB 2.0 this was not so much of a problem, but due to its speed, US 3.0 is used much more, for file transfer, backup and the like, and that, too, gets a'time oututo-turned-off. On SATA ports, this was not a problem, they don't "time out", but now it is. All attempts at backing up via USB3 failed, as the drives never turn back on, solved now though. Maybe Microsoft needs to hire its testers back... Yes, some of these entries probably date back to the Windows 7 Ultimate I have on the Lenovo this operating systems load was built and updated on top of, but people do that, that's how you, with Microsoft's connivance, maintain your legitimate license key.

So: if you use a laptop (or, like my Sony Vaio desktop, a PC based on laptop technology, and you might not know that), it pays, if you have issues with devices connected to ports on your computer (USB, Bluetooth, card ports, anything external to your system), right click on START (bottom left hand side of your screen), go to the Device Manager, click on View, then select "show hidden devices", then find any and all entries that might be related to whatever device it is you're having problems with, and see if it has a power option set in "properties". If it does, turn it off. Don't stop until you find them all, some are in weird places.


How do you lose a quarter of your staff?

I recall when Teva, the Israeli pharmaceuticals company with factories in lots of low wage countries with limited oversight, and a quickly established pharmaceutical subsidiary in the United States, so it could license its drugs as an "American" manufacturer, began flooding the likes of Medco/Express Scripts with their generics. Suddenly, quite a few of the generics Medco was shipping came from Teva. It grew fast, in a burgeoning market, but apparently, Teva overstretched - laying off a quarter of its workforce, some 14,000 people, needing to save $3 billion in 2018/19. I tend to place large question marks with these companies that come of of nowhere, grow and acquire at an astonishing rate, and then suddenly implode. Often, there is plenty of graft and deceptive business involved - I have no way of knowing if that is the case here, but if you implode, there's a reason, I hope the FCC and the Israeli government investigate. After all, Teva, and its recovery, are financed out of your and my Part D plans.

Thursday, December 14, 2017: Damn! Not the "device" again!

Keywords: Bluetooth, touchpad, keyboard, Rapoo, BLU Studio XL, Ebay, Blackberry, Volvo, AI, Artificial Intelligence, transportation, traffic

Something I keep noticing - as I get older, I get more impatient. That's not good, and actually counter-productive. I'd also not expected it. I always had a tendency to get impatient with my systems after setting a process or backup to run, but this week I had a good "other" example in wanting to go back to the doctor as I didn't think the bloomin' antibiotics were working. They are, just took most of the week, perhaps my not asking the doctor what to expect did not help. At any rate, I finally seem to have stopped coughing, more or less, just don't know if that is the prescription medication or the Nyquil knockoff I got at Walmart, after the Mucinex knockoff from Safeway did nothing. We'll never know now, will we? But less sleepless nights are massively welcome, tellya...

While many of the Bluetooth keyboards I've bought shared a more or less severe timeout problem, I finally found one (with a built-in touchpad) that does let you turn off the timeouts completely, although that now means I have to charge it every day, or it will "hang up" without warning. It works fine, and the multitouch actually works well, and a daily charge ought not to be rocket science, as I do that with my cellphones. The keys are set fairly close together, and the layout isn't quite standard, but I know from experience that's a matter of time, let the grey cells learn. That's actually a good exercise for the brain, which you can train to get used to many things, it is just that you need to actually do that, rather than talk about it.

Of course, just as I've finished Christmas shopping and have returned some purchases and am trying not to go overboard, and to end 2017 in the plus, I find that my Blackberry Z10's microphone does not work. Headset microphones do, but my bag of tricks can't get it going. In the past, I've had the Blackberry log onto a Bluetooth headset by itself, and disable the built-in audio, but this time I think it may be the jack socket that has given up. I can try to fix that, but do not want to do that on a live phone, so there is little else than to buy a new handset. I'll try a refurbished Blu from Ebay first, I've had my eyes on that for a while, nice 6" display, Android here we come. It was time to do that anyway, so many apps no longer run on Blackberry handsets, as secure and convenient as they are. Fingers crossed..

Ah.. well, OK, it looks like one of the microphones in the Blackberry is out, but not the other. Crackberry folks have it that's easily remedied by replacing the screen, which has all of those bits built in, so once I have the Blu and set it up, I can take the Blackberry offline and fix it, and then I can figure out what to do with the superfluous handset. I may end up... well, I'll tell you when it happens. The Blackberry Z10 has always been a great standby for me to get internet service when cable or FIOS is down or not available - I have both Bluetooth networking and Hotspot mode on it, where it becomes a (blisteringly fast) internet access point. First the Blu, if it is in good shape, that will take some work to set up. A 6 inch screen can't be bad - this isn't the size I really want, but the problem with what apps I need to use is that they're written for tablet sized units - complete with a propensity to take over the full screen. Run things on a laptop and you're constantly resizing the browser window - websites used to conform to the size of the browser window, but no more. Open Facebook in a small windows, and you cant even see the logout "button" - but then, Facebook really does not want you to log out..

Autonomous Design

Reading yet another report on the development of autonomous cars, it suddenly occurs to me I know well why this won't work. Not, at any rate, in a way that lets a vehicle drive itself in ordinary (human determined) traffic. Think about it. We have a few methods of transportation we developed over a long period of time, all based on the ideas that a human would be in control, and a dedicated infrastructure could be created for the medium of transportation. They "evolved" - carriages went from one part of town to another, later from one part of one town to a part of another town, boats were likely created to gather fish for food, and to transport goods in rivers, trains were designed for the mass transportation of goods, and then came the airplane, which was probably modeled on the passenger train, but for longer distances, there just weren't any trains that went from London to Barecelona, way back when. If you were lucky they went to Birmingham.

So my take on all this is that if you want to create a new mode of transportation, an autonomous vehicle, you probably need to design that from scratch, and not retrofit technology on an existing concept that was designed for a different purpose - being able to be operated by hu-mans. Reading how, in the past few days, public transport in large parts of the Netherlands has been brought to a complete standstill due to winter storms, what makes you think an autonomous bus could cope with that? However much Google and IBM want you to believe there is Artificial Intelligence, there is no AI, today, that is even remotely capable of doing what a human brain is able to achieve - and that, my friends, is what all cars, boats, planes, trucks and trains are designed for. Thinking you can build a self driving taxi by sticking eighteen cameras and a conning tower on top and a computer in the trunk is just so many shades of stoopid.

Autonomous transportation devices need to be custom designed for their purpose, will require their own infrastructure, not designed for humans - what works for our brains with our input/output does not work for computers - and we may end up having to develop a more analog way of computing to have autonomous vehicles travel from A to B. I've said it before, but let me endlessly repeat it: there is no such thing as "artificial intelligence", there is only intelligence. Whether that is human or in some other "carrier" is really not relevant. Best we write a workable definion of "intelligence", and stop thinking we can build software that can somehow "emulate" our brains. That is not what intelligence is all about, and our brains have taken too long to develop that you can somehow reinvent that process in twenty years. Machines may well be able to develop a kind of intelligence that far surpasses anything we can do, but letting them play chess is not the way to get there - games do not require intelligence, they're more the province of the narrow-minded...

Sunday December 10, 2017: Life and Liberties

Keywords: chum salmon, keta salmon, omega-3, cough medicine, HP Elitebook, Blu-Ray, Media Center

Great! Went for my cancer checkup on Friday, clean bill of health, but by the next morning had a sore throat, which wouldn't go away, so now I am on antibiotics and some other stuff, guess that's what happens when you go to a hospital (or airport). Blah. OTOH, doctor gave me some medication I had never heard of, to suppress the cough, so I should be fine. Umm, well, fine with caveats. The antibiotic gives me the shits, and then I ask and find out I can't take my biologic shots until a couple of weeks after I finish the antibiotic. And I find the cough suppressant doesn't, so I have to run out after gym to get some decongestant. Could have done that yesterday. Hate being sick.

Omega 3

A few months ago, I ran into a freezer pack of "Keta Salmon", looking that up I discerned that is a cheaper but very real type of salmon, caught here locally in the Northeast - in the wider sense, from Oregon deep into Alaska - so I bought a pack, frozen, which consists of individually vacuum packed chunks of fish. Knowing that this Omega 3 thing is good for you, and that fish oil is not the best provider of it, I had been buying fresh raw tuna or salmon periodically, to keep up good nutrition, but that stuff gets expensive. Enter keta salmon (or chum salmon: a two pound bag is maybe $10, which makes it five bucks a pound, and easily lasts me a week-and-a-half, and the stuff (with olive oil and chopped shallot on a roll) is delicious. It is not as oily as "regular" salmon is, but the flavour is all there, and it is filleted skin-on. Sort of cottoned on to it when my favourite, blocks of frozen tuna from Indonesian waters, wasn't available for a while. The freezing process takes care of parasites, and as these fish are cut and frozen fresh, you know you have safe raw food - a rarity these days. Having cleaned, calibrated and repaired the big freezer this summer, I know my food is safe.

Not so bad, then - December is here, I've pretty much finished everything I wanted to, although there are a couple of things on car maintenance I haven't done, not huge though. But suddenly it is too cold to work on the car out in the open - though the next sunny day I do need to change the oil, per my own schedule. But some of the more important stuff, like restoring my credit rating, and filing a housing application - one does not go without the other - got done this year, and for that I should be grateful. Not a word I use a lot, grateful. But I guess I managed to survive the financial collapse without having to file bankruptcy, survived my bout with cancer, and am slowly on the up, so what can I tell you, light at the end of the tunnel.

Switching my two HP Elitebooks was a good move. The 2570p with the fast processor has more oomph than the 2560p, itself no slouch, and running Windows Media Center on it continuously really made it harder to do other tasks. It still does that, but is no longer used for anything else, except storage. And I just managed to get the 2570p to play BluRay disks using VLC, something I had not managed before, and that means I can record those, too, with the Buffalo external BD writer I have. Kewl. Just played a bit of Ender's Game, and must say on my Seiki 4K-UHD screen that looks fantabulous. And the laptop isn't going off like a fan heater on fire, despite driving two hi-res screens. Now, if I can get the older version of PowerDVD with a patch running, so I can play my HD-DVDs, I'd be even happier. Necessary it isn't, but I would like to reinstall the Cyberlink Suite I bought years ago, as that will write BD's (BluRay disks), although I have only the one drive, and so have never used those for storage. My experience with optical drives has been varied - I had a magneto-optical jukebox in the lab that worked great for years, but where self-writing optical drives are concerned, you don't know that they have failed until you lose your data, and with the BD disks, that can be 25GB. That's a lot. And at the same time, not enough for any kind of a full backup. Say what you like, magnetic hard drive technology has become very reliable - make sure they're level and don't overheat, and you are fine for many years - I have, in recent years, only had one 1TB Hitachi drive go south on me, and as it announced its impending demise by getting noisy, Acronis and its built-in error correction were able to correct and recover every last byte of data from it. I still believe that its failure may have been caused by the Lenovo laptop it lived in running hot, caused mostly by Microsoft's Windows Media Center. Only recently have I begun running Media Center on a separate, dedicated laptop, not on my main production machine (where it would not run under Windows 10 anyway).

Tuesday December 5, 2017: Updating, backing up, more maintenance than production

Keywords: Windows 10 Pro, Bluetooth, keyboard, SSD, large drives, Windows Device Manager, Fall Creators Update, Microsoft, VAIO, SHA, apartment

Finally figured out how to fix the timeouts in the Bluetooth keyboards and touchpads.. It is really so simple: pair and connect the Bluetooth device to your laptop, then shut down and turn it off, restart the laptop but not the device, go into the Windows Device Manager, find all drivers associated with both Bluetooth and the device (which means making Device Manager show hidden devices, it is a menu option), and look in each entry's settings to check if there is a Power Setting. That power setting can have a check mark, indicating Windows can "turn off the device to save power". Take away the check mark, click "OK", and you can shut down again, turn on the Bluetooth device, start the laptop back up, and you're done, no more timeout problems. I previously sometimes had a blue screen and a crash, but as it turns out that's what happens when you try and change the settings on a connected device. Duh. Now it is perfect, no control failures at all. I just need to charge the keyboard every day, because the new Bluetooth standard actually sets the timeout on the devices themselves. I've had it run out of juice once, already.

Something else I just discovered is that after you install Windows 10's Fall Creators Update, it will no longer let you make a Repair Disk (DVD). It wants you to supply a Windows Install Disk. I've not experimented with it, but as I installed the update from a Creators ISO image on DVD, I used that, and that worked. Of course, that meant connecting an external DVD drive, but otherwise did the trick. Don't do this, and you can create backups 'till the cows come home, but I'll bet the "old" repair disk may not work. Don't find out the hard way... I've seen on at least two of my machines the official update - through the Update section of the Settings menu - never completes, and ends up in an endless loop. Others, at Microsoft's forums, had the same experience. Moderators suggested to download the update using their Media Creation Tool, and then either update from there, or burn an update DVD. Both of those work, I can report.

OK... Vaio all set up and ready for cloning - I keep forgetting that cloning requires you to take the boot password off a hard drive - Acronis doesn't tell you, and the clone process just fails. And I have tweaked its Windows 10 install so its settings mirror those of my other Win10 machines. I even ran a trial clone to a smaller disk - last time I cloned Acronis found a Bitlocker encrypted drive, not involved in the cloning, and would not run. Same for the security cam Toshiba, all tweaked, running just fine. I still would like to set that up with the Intel SSD, but that so far will not boot off the clone.

Correction: I just got that working, completely re-initializing the SSD, then cloning, and now it works. Cool. I expect I ran something on it you're not supposed to use on SSD's, but recent Intel diagnostics indicated the SSD is in fine shape, with 100% life left. It came in one of the reconditioned HP laptops I bought, but it makes this anemic Toshiba Satellite fly. And tomorrow the big drive for my VAIO gets here, so I'll have the backup system all ready. Actually, the Toshiba is now dedicated to camera surveillance, what with the SSD it no longer has any moving parts, I did buy an external automatic cooling fan for it, so it can run 24/7. Must say Windows 10 Pro runs well on it, I think it was initially designed for Windows 7, found it at Best Buy in an "unboxed" bin in 2015. It was either find some use, or chuck it. "100% life left" for the SSD is interesting - it is true it has no moving parts, but my engineering expertise tells me there has to be some deterioration, over time. The heat generated in the laptop - in this case it sat in a small form factor HP Elitebook for years, and that is a machine that can run hot - must cause some "wear and tear".

Back to the Vaio, an "All-In-One" bought in 2009 for $730 (not to mention $113 for 4GB of RAM), which came with a Sony warranty that made someone come to my house to replace the motherboard free of charge after I blew it up, a 3TB drive and Windows 10's latest update seem to have given this old thing wings. Now to transfer 1.63TB of dashcam archives onto it.. As with Internet of Things and cellphones, these devices generate rivers of data that I think the average person has no way of storing - this is just three years of dashcam video! I know the providers want you to use their Cloud space for storage, so they can make you pay when you run out of the "free" offering, but I think the majority of consumers can't afford that kind of storage, and the NAS drive I am just freeing up had 4TB of storage, and is, at this point, to all intents and purposes full up. That is not, BTW, a drive with old archives, it has some stored data, the dashcam stuff, and a backup from my main laptop, which, admittedly, has about a terabyte of data on it. The longer you use these things, the more data you have, and for the lay person, it becomes impossible to store. Under Windows 10, it becomes so bad that Microsoft logs you in with your personal email without your knowledge or approval, and starts storing your files in their Cloud automatically. Once there, they can parse (read) your data, your use of their Cloud means you approve of that. Connect to the internet, give Windows 10 your email address, and you give up your privacy.

Not too bad a weekend, all in all. I had my annual medical assessments on Friday, after a bunch of tests earlier in the week, and everything appears "just peachy", specialists down at The Polyclinic all happy, and me too. And on Saturday I received a notice from the Housing Authority I am back on the waiting list - no indication how long that will be, but last time it was quicker than I expected, six months or so, perhaps I'll get lucky, a guy can dream, right? Especially the Ballard location appeals to me, although, when I went to a gym there, I think I was the only over-40 in the gym, very different from LA fitness in the 'burbs.

Thursday November 30, 2017: End-of-year stuff, and more Windows work

Keywords: Windows 10 Pro, Fall Creators Update, Microsoft, data collection, tv tuner, NAS drives, application conflicts, VAIO

I need to call the Seattle Housing folks, and find out how my application is doing. While it may take a year or more to find somewhere, the last time I tried this (and did not proceed for my own reasons) it only took six months, and this time, having learned my lessons, I am more or less ready to move now, making sure I can't be caught out for lack of planning and money. Especially having bought a couple of heat pumps was a good move - and now it is clear why there were a number of reconditioned ones available, the manufacturer has stopped making them, and replaced them with an upgraded - and more expensive - model, which has features and styling I really don't need, especially considering they cost, for now, more than twice what I paid for mine (which, admittedly, I bought as reconditioned items). Mine do not auto-switch between heating and cooling - but that is a feature you're not likely to use if you don't live in the desert, where it can be 90 in the shade during the day, and drop below freezing at night. So I'll live with that..

As it turns out this is the week when I end up running around doing doctor visits - eye checkup, and then two specialists decided to move my appointments from next week to this week, meaning a mad scramble to get the blood work done in time. Better to do it now, if I move to January I'll end up paying out the deductibles for next year, losing the compensation available now. I seem to be doing OK with the new budget, this despite the holiday shopping, and then of course as of January the health insurance rate comes down quite a bit. I won't know for sure until I get an apartment, but perhaps we're over the hump.

If you're wondering why the "early" preparations, I have plenty of time, and am a firm believer in maintenance and getting ready. It was clear to me, years ago, that aging is best done in a city, where there is a support infrastructure suburbs and rural communities simply don't have. I note folks depending on kids and family - by the time that becomes a chore for them this may not be a good idea - or on their church, but since I decided to stay in the US (my retiree health plan doesn't cover me where most of my family is) I'll need to find a different solution, and that's easier in the cityscape. Seattle would not have been my first choice, but I am here and the place is nothing if not affluent.

Blogging becomes far less interesting now that the amount of cyber-criminality has increased to the point that you can't talk about half your life - even the name of the manufacturers of your network equipment is sufficient for a mediocre hacker to attack your network. I seem to spend half my life turning off internet capabilities on the equipment I use - Microsoft is a perfect example, I've so far spent more than a day just finding all of the settings in the "updated" Windows 10 where Microsoft pushes your data into their Cloud, the default setting in at least 100 different "rules" is that they can. Your data in Microsoft's Cloud means two things: you have no control over the security, and Microsoft reserves the right, by virtue of your using their software, to parse any and all personal information you may have on their server network, even if you have never agreed or activated that the contents of your personal computer can be stored there. That agreement and the activation are default in Windows now.

I tell you cutting over from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 is not easy - you try and keep the applications you've been using, but in some cases that simply does not work. The worst example is that suddenly, I was no longer able to copy bunches of files from one device to another - after a bit, it would slow down, then hang. While I found similar complaints about Windows 10 in Microsoft's support forums, none of the Microsoft sanctioned solutions there made a blind bit of difference. After uninstalling my virus scanning software, and turning off Windows Defender, still no joy. Then I went into the Windows Event Log, and came across a few instances where XnView (the file manager I use) got hosed up in the same way, but it pointed at a cause: Arcsoft's TotalMedia TV tuner package I was using, one I have a valid key for. Somehow, that alters the way files are handled, so it can write MPEG video DVDs from a TV stream, how exactly I can't tell you. So after uninstalling both Arcsoft and XnView, uninstalling Q360 and Microsoft defender antivirus, some of it manually, the file transfers came back to normal. Then, of course, one of the uninstalls demolished my HP DVD drive software, which didn't come back by itself, at least until I uninstalled all of its drivers, and it somehow found a different version on the internet - just in time, I was about to boot from a cloned disk and do the whole thing all over again. I now built XnView back - an older version, though, I had noticed the latest update was a bit "weird" - and once that was finally able to access the huge movie directories I have on an external disk, put the antivirus software back (but not Microsoft Defender). It isn't easy, but Microsoft does let you disable that through its "group policy editor", if you don't do that and you install another antivirus package, that tries to disable Defender, but somehow that doesn't work, my guess is Microsoft changed the API code between two versions of Windows 10, like users don't have a tough enough time.

Funny how these old PCs I hung on to come in handy - I discovered I am running out of disk space, in that one NAS drive is over 50%, the other 75% full, and this stuff builds up quickly. So I decided to get a 3TB drive to put into my Vaio, use that, semi-temporarily, to store 1.3TB of camera data, and keep that going until I can get a bigger NAS drive (this isn't data I normally need), and it can sit there until I have a bigger NAS drive. I am thinking (after I move...) to get a four bay version of the two bay Zyxel I have - with 3TB drives, under RAID 5, I'd end up with 9 usable TB under "true" RAID. I can then buy 2 new 8TB drives for my original Zyxel, which could run mirrored under RAID10. Eventually. It will be interesting to see how the old Vaio will do under the new incarnation of Windows 10 - assuming its BIOS will even talk to a 3TB boot drive. I have enough knowledge now to be able to tweak the Windows 10 Pro with 2017 Fall Creators Update, but keeping its insides clean is so much of a headache that running it in server mode is out of the question. But it will be fun to use it for storage, Sony really did a nice design job on the motherboard. Especially turning off Windows Defender, and perhaps disabling WiFi as well, should give it some extra CPU cycles. And I just noticed that one of my UPS units is recognized by Windows 10 - previous versions did not. So perhaps I'll get lucky and it will run in battery mode again, where you have more control over the power settings.

I mentioned earlier I could no longer use my TV tuner software - Windows Media Center no longer is part of Windows, one reason I stuck with Windows 8.1 for so long, and now I find I cannot use both Arcsoft Total Media and Xnview together under the new flavour of Windows 10. So I scoured the internet for hours, to end up with something free called SichboPVR, which is amazingly powerful, quite well designed, but running in a way I have not seen Windows software run before (no, it doesn't come from China, but from Nova Scotia, in Canada). That has my concern, but at the same time, if there are new ways of putting applications under Windows, with lots of power but a low load, that ought to be a good thing. I am assuming this is part and parcel of lightweight devices, tablets, the Surface, stuff like that. I'll need to learn how this stuff works, but so far I am not seeing anything untoward, no weird things across the firewall, not like I am seeing from the Faleemi IP camera, which constantly reaches out to a Chinese address and Amazon's AWS, even though I have disabled its cloud capabilities. I'll share the addresses with you, and will ask support folks what that is about, no internet device should "reach out" across the firewall, after establishing your backbone IP address, even several routers out. This is the problem with the "internet of things", which is massively unsafe...

Sunday November 26, 2017: Data Collection or Sex, someone, somewhere, is abusing you

Keywords: Windows 10 Pro, Fall Creators Update, Microsoft, Weinstein, Strauss-Kahn, PC-AT, data collection, HP Elitebook

I can't say the politics have my interest much - I suppose they never really did, even when I was living in the Washington (D.C.) area. My job prevented me from commenting much, of course, you can't very well slag off your major clients, like Rudy Giuliani and George W. Bush, while taking their money. That's a choice, and OTOH you have to think about the number of people in your organization dependent on those clients. It is easy to criticize, but look at the Harvey Weinstein saga, and ask yourself why there are so many folk who didn't not file complaints and went after the perpetrators - the Strauss-Kahn case comes to mind, even though the complainant eventually lost all credibility, she still walked away with a million dollars net, and Strauss-Kahn's high flying career was largely ruined. So yes, I don't think much of Trump, but he got where he got, and those accused, like Kevin Spacey, still all walk away with a bit of money in the bank...

I am, at any rate, just waiting for the holidays to be done with, finished the shopping, and largely done the other chores. I should change the oil in the SUV, and mow if the sun comes out for a day, that isn't necessarily likely, but the threatening winter has not materialized, so.. Hopefully I will soon get an idea of where I am on the apartment waiting list, I should call SHA next week, not having heard anything. But other than that, I've done most of the chores, and actually find that moving the laptop that doubles as a DVR out of everyday use makes good sense. Both laptops actually are under much less of a load like this, which is a good thing. I just need to finish the backups, I've been having problems with port availability, and with 1 and 2 terabyte master disks, using fast ports is a necessity - for the heck of it, I tried using a USB 2.0 port, but a backup then takes as much as 24 hours, which isn't viable. The disk didn't like it either, and ended up declaring "read only", which took some research to resolve and re-initialize.

Don't ask for trouble, because you'll get it. In my case, deciding to swap two laptops, putting a replacement 2 terabyte hard drive in one, and updating the Windows 10 install with the "Fall Creators Update" ended up causing three installs (one repeated), a full OS recovery (still don't know what blew the partition) and at least four software re-installs. It all worked, I did not lose data, and actually gained some functionality in unexpected ways, but still, four days of work, which is way over the top, considering these are supposed to be simple, usable tools. Not.

One remaining niggly is that I can't get XnView, my favourite picture tool, to read in some directories off a backup disk - massive directories, but previously, this worked just fine. The only difference is that I now use the Windows 10 Fall 2017 Creators Update, can't imagine what else could cause this. Other than that, everything works - the 2017 update to my financial software won't install under Windows 8.1, even though there was an earlier version there to update, but under Windows 10 it does just fine. Asinine - the publisher was bought out, I can only imagine the new guys don't much care about the existing users, and older systems, and didn't hire some of the programming staff. Maybe they're not good at statistices, or they bought a failing product that needed "renewal" - rather than sell updates, they're changing the licensing structure, too.

I did have to spend some significant time getting all of the ports in the two Elitebooks to work - where I must admit to installing extra ports - using the Expresscard slots, and an external hub - and using large hard disks. This looks like a problem for the motherboards, which run out of interrupts, on occasion. There are, indeed, lots of extra devices in these systems, Bluetooth, several network interfaces, fingertip scanner, even a smartcard interface. To give you an idea of the idiosyncracy: with the Windows 10 machine all set up and running, if I plug a webcam into one of the remaining USB ports, another port stops functioning. Similarly, Bluetooth isn't functioning the way the Good Lord intended it, all I can think is that, again, the good old PC-AT bus underneath it all just runs out of interrupts. HP thoughtfully built disk vibration monitoring into the Elitebooks - nice, but that too takes an interrupt - under Windows 10 Creators update, their driver won't even work. All in all, it took me a good day to get all of the ports to work reliably in both systems, especially keeping the ATSC (TV) dongles accessible was an issue.

All they updated was their data collection

To be honest, I am not seeing what exactly Microsoft's Windows 10 Fall Creators Update has improved in Windows. It has added a couple of things you have to spend an hour looking for, mostly things that provide Microsoft with more data about you, and it copies your email address and password used to register your copy of Windows to Messaging, without asking or even telling you - Edge and Cortana then proceed to use your email address to store your information in Microsoft's Cloud, even if you've never authorized that or want it. It makes changes to security settings and firewall settings as well, without asking or letting you know. Desktop Skype can now no longer even log into Microsoft's servers, something that apparently gets solved if you reset your browser to default, something that will defeat all of the network security settings you painstakingly put into Windows. I am not at all surprised the Chinese government has removed the Skype software from distribution in China - mandatory third party cookies let Microsoft copy sensitive as well as personal Chinese data back to wherever it wants it. Cortana seems to have expanded, but for that there was no need for a five-hour-install Windows update.

Of course, I wasn't an avid Windows 10 user, my "main machine" ran 8.1. But as I mention below, I decided to switch from the Elitebook 2560p with Windows 8.1 to the 2570p, which has Windows 10, and so getting it to "run right" is an imperative. This especially since Microsoft builds all kinds of security into its internet connections and browsers, but then disables many of those so it can push software onto your PC. This is not a good thing - recently, Skype stopped functioning as it "could not reach the internet" - well, said the Community Support person, "just reset Internet Explorer to default". That, Microsoft, allows webservers to put third party cookies on my PC, cookies that do not have to identify themselves, cookies that could belong to hackers. Skype has, without actually saying so, hugely increased it requirements for access to your operating system. something similar to this happened a couple of years ago. If you want to know why there is so much cybercrime, ransomware, etc., this is you answer: Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, all deliberately disable much of your browser and internet security so they can allow their advertisers to access your operating system and they themselves can track your activities. Their revenues are more important to them than your security, and that of your family and your employer. Ransomware would not be possible if software makers did not allow lots of security back doors open. LinkedIn I have all but stopped using, as it requires third party cookies - not only that, the moderated forums where you could discuss things with other professionals are gone, all I see being posted are advertisements, surreptitious or otherwise.

Saturday November 18, 2017: It gets more complicated but not better

Keywords: Windows 10 Pro, Fall Creators Update, Toshiba, HP, United Healthcare, AARP, Mutual of Omaha, dementia, memory loss

If you're hoping to get the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update downloaded and auto-installed to your PC or laptop, you're out of luck. The update - on at least two of my PCs and on those of a lot of folks posting on Microsoft's support system - when run through the Update section of the Settings menu, does not complete. It "starts install", then "downloads", then "installs" - and then starts all over again, without any warning, errors, or anything else. What it does do is prevent any other updates or driver installs from happening. I eventually, after diligent searching, found a post from a person who had downloaded the ISO disk image, burned that to DVD, and installed it successfully. That is what I am doing now, after losing a day-and-a-half to install attempts. This is asinine. Most Windows users do not know how to burn an install DVD, many Windows users don't even have the software to do that, since Microsoft kindly no longer includes CD and DVD tools in its operating system (if yours has it that is because the hardware manufacturer included it), so they will not get updated until Microsoft fixes this. As it is, the download and install takes some five hours, so don't plan this in between shopping trips, not gonna work. What is the problem? Microsoft no longer tests its consumer processes before releasing them. What we ought to do is bill them for the time it takes to fix their errors. If 100,000 users did that they might get the message, especially since this would hold up in court... As I write this, I am doing an online update using the Download Tool, as the DVD that worked on one of my HP laptops won't work on the Toshiba. I noticed on the HP that Microsoft copied my email information to its mail application, even though it never asked, and I did not authorize that. The email information is there because if you do not use a Microsoft mail address for a login, Microsoft will not let you move the install to another computer, for instance if you replace the one you're using. It is pretty obnoxious that Microsoft takes your personal information and moves it to somewhere so they can put it in another database, and activate email pushing whether or not you want it on that machine. Microsoft, in its installs, now no longer asks for any kind of permission, and routinely locks up your PC for hours when all you wanted to do was turn it off or reboot.

No, those aren't life insurances they're hawking on TV, they're death insurances. You can just talk to your family, put some money away in a savings account every quarter, and still be able to touch that in case of need, medical bills, what have you. Guess what, open a savings account and you don't need to pass a medical, and your bank will make the right arrangements so your heirs can access that account. And you don't have to suffer the deductions Mutual of Omaha must withold to pay for its expensive prime time TV advertising with the fake grandmas. I know it is hard to save, I can't say I ever was able to - until I lost my home and my savings in the stock market crash. At that time, I cut up my credit cards (most of which were maxed out anyway) and used my last cash, from selling my furnishings and second car, to move. The bank helped by sending me a cheque when I signed my house back to them in good shape. Then, I had my overseas benefits payments paid into a separate bank account, and largely have not touched that, realizing I needed some savings if I had no access to credit. That wasn't restored until earlier this year, six years after I lost it, when I was able to apply for a new credit card. So yes, even I can save, and at this point I am not using my credit other than for shopping, so I have both savings and emergency money now.

The AARP Medicare Plan? You pay AARP for a membership, AARP then does nothing for your health except bill United Healthcare, which you then pay more to than you otherwise would, because they have to pay AARP for using their "intellectual property" from which you, the consumer, derive no benefit whatsoever.

Memory needs New Stuff

The more I observe older folk, the more I see them not just set in their ways, but in avoidance of "learning new tricks". This may well be perfectly acceptable, and in many ways the norm, but if you need to see why dementia is an apparently increasing scourge, that would be your answer. I notice it in my own aging process - I try not to do things I don't know much about, things that make me insecure, and there really is not a good reason for it. I know one elderly gent who tries to keep the mind agile with a techical spelling game, not realizing that repeating things you already know does nothing for growing new synapses and brain cells, nor does repeating help increase focus and attention span. I recall an elderly couple, after their car was damaged in an accident, complaining when they were given a high end BMW as a loaner car. The were complaining bitterly this vehicle turned off its engine when stopped, and while they understood the technology, it put them on edge, as they worried whether it would come on again. Never mind that the technology had been on the streets for a decade by this time, they could not get to where they explored the newness of it. Understandable, but in how far do we actually teach people to be conservative, to "resist change"? Obviously, here in the United States, auto makers don't really go all out inventing new driving technologies, Tesla being the exception. I recall that way back in the seventies, when I wanted a new car with anti-lock brakes, I ended up with an Alfa Romeo - no American car manufacturer, at the time, made one (with the exception of some expensive high end boring sedans like the Lincoln Continental, with rear wheel ABS), this despite the fact that the technology, as developed in the UK, had been on airplanes since the early 1950s.

So I'll keep doing PC experiments, and learning new tricks in Windows and mobile devices, simply because programming and troubleshooting always brings new challenges, and make you rethink things you thought you knew.

Thursday November 16, 2017: And then Micosoft rears its ugly code

Keywords: Windows 10, Fall Update, large hard disks, terabytes, backing up, system updates

Not my week for tech. This morning I can't get my heart rate monitor to talk to my phone, thinking maybe the HRM battery is dead, but once I reboot it all works again. And last night my main (Bluetooth) keyboard hangs up, and never comes back to where I can re-add it to my system. My spare keyboard keeps hanging up too, some kind of timeout I can't seem to change, hastily ordered a new Bluetooth keyboard - they are great but do not last. I use an external keyboard so I don't wear out the primary in the laptop, the keyboard, after the hard disk, the part that gets the most wear in a computer. In the interim (read on) I am swapping disks out in the various systems, having bought one additional 2TB drive, which will replace one that's been running 24/7s since June of last year - not that anything is wrong with it, but relegating it to backup is something I do routinely, these drives are happier when they get to take breaks, and it is nice to have drives that can be put back into permanent service when necessary.

I haven't for 30 seconds decided to do some software upgrades, and connected to that move some of my daily activities to Windows 10, or my main laptop springs a leak. Self inflicted, I tried to do a software install that not only failed, but ripped my Windows Media Center, which is what I use to watch and record TV, to shreds. I had moved my financial software to Windows 10, for safety's sake, while I tried the upgrade, so didn't lose data or access to it, but when I tried to recover Windows 8.1 that would not work, and then I realized none of my Windows Repair disks for that machine worked. One of them eventually gave me an error message I could understand, something about the install being on a BIOS disk, and my recovery was targeted to an EFI system, and after I turned off EFI and rebooted, the recovery worked - took me over half a day to figure this out. Then, I didn't have a really recent backup in one place, so I had to use an older image backup, and data from a file backup on a different disk to bring that up to date. It all worked (actually not completely done yet) but it was a scare. I am going to switch to Windows 10 now, you really can't keep using older operating systems forever, and I noticed that my financial software now has a big problem with older versions of Windows, guess that's what happens when an established software publisher is taken over. Lost weekend, but at least I am still in control, would hate to find my computer skills are out of date, phew!

All of that gives me the chance to promote the laptop with the faster processor (2.9 GHz i7 rather than 2.6 Ghz i5) and fewer bells and whistles to desk duty, as the other is better suited for travel and things, with its fingertip recognition and webcam, and lack of USB 3.0 ports. I have a 2TB drive on the way to free up the fast 1TB drive I am using for backup, and that can then go in the desk unit. So there. In the process, I noticed my primary drive load with all of my "live" archive files (those that do not live in retired status on my 10TB of network storage) is just about a terabyte in size, so I need to decide whether to pare down the archives, or put the slower 2TB drives in the main desk unit. While 7200 rpm is clearly faster than 5400 rpm, a 2TB drive has twice the amount of storage space a 1TB does, on the same platter surface, so seek time would be lower, and I've had one of those fast HGST 1TB drives fail on me already (replaced under warranty), so: decisions, decisions... OTOH, when I semi-retire the slower Elitebook, that will still be running Windows Media Center, and that would mean I can store my video files on that unit. Let's see... wow, I have a whopping 876GB of recorded TV, so that will only barely work on the 2TB drive with 1TB mostly occupied. Rethink.

Yes, I was right. Moving my Robocopy file backup back to the "main machine" I have just over a terabyte of space occupied, including the OS. Well, that makes sense, that's why I switched from a 1TB to a 2TB drive, back in June of 2016. I then moved some of the data I did not want to carry from the laptop to another disk, and I guess I am now "undoing" that, but moving only some data and selected applications to a faster laptop. I am a firm believer in semi-retiring things before they die, and "spreading the load" isn't a bad idea, the fan of the "slower" Elitebook occasionally does go off like a 747 about to take off. Entirely my own fault, must admit, the thing is loaded, normally runs two or three apllications simultaneously, and drives two high resolution displays, and some four or five communications ports. Owell. In the meantime Microsoft has decided to startt pushing the Fall update, without any kind of warning, and so every attempt at disk cloning and install fails, because Microsoft makes changes to my drives in the middle of backing up. Idiots.

Tuesday November 7, 2017: Winter? Really?

Keywords: surveillance camera, webcam, IP camera, Faleemi, heat pump, HP Deskjet, UW Medicine

Finally, a wayward Uzbek decides to carry out a truck attack in the United States. Not as spectacular as others, overseas, but still pretty devastating. Kudos to NYPD, which I think has had special training so they could ignore the ruse of deadly force assailants use - fake bomb vests, fake guns - and take the assailant down without killing him. No suicide by cop, we're getting better. But it is getting to the point that I think this is a good time to get a carry permit, something I really never seriously considered before. While Virginia and Washington State, where I live now, are both open carry states, it is nice to have the capability to carry a loaded firearm - it is especially handy since you can't really "open carry" in a vehicle, and while you can have a loaded firearm in the car in Virginia, provided it is in plain sight, here in Washington State that is not as common. A carry permit takes that concern away. I'll likely never run into a terrorist carrying out an attack, but then again, cops aren't as thick on the ground everywhere, as they are in NYC. Again, kudos to NYPD, taking this one alive. And then this gentleman in Texas springs a leak. It is hard to keep up with this stuff.

Faleemi IP cameraIn the meantime, replaced the malfunctioning webcam with an IP cam from Faleemi, Amazon got that to me in double time, without shipping charges. Quite a sophisticated device for its $40. The only problem is that you can only set it up (that is, connect it to your WiFi router and give it an address on your network) using an Android or IOS application on a smartphone, you can't activate it from your network or a laptop. That means that anything you tell the app, as well as your cellphone data, network information and address book, is sucked up by Faleemi. This is not good. I got around it by deleting the app and its permissions from my Galaxy after (successfully) setting it up, then changing its setup, address, network parameters and everything else from a browser window (which it lets you do, thankfully). It is hardly surprising there are so many hacks out there, every IOT device you buy broadcasts its presence to its makers and the world the minute you turn it on, this even had DDNS preset to its manufacturers cloud - much like the network drives I bought, this device lets you stream your stuff to their cloud, where you can then access it after you create an ID on their system, but like most everybody else, once your data is on their cloud they reserve the right to do just about anything with it, pretty much like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo do. I read the stories in the press, but the average consumer doesn't seem to worry about it, and certainly lacks the wherewithall to do anything about it.

I am increasingly seeing manufacturers making sophisticated equipment available at rock bottom prices, accompanied by software that is invasive to the equipment it is installed on. I had that last year with the HP Deskjet 3633, whose installer I had to disrupt to get it to let me install the drivers without the mandatory registration and data collecting management software, Faleemi does the same thing on your smartphone, and now the new owners of Quicken require not only registration, but their new version has a subscription basis - you no longer own the software, and the basic versions are crippled.

I mentioned earlier (around mid-September, below) that I had finished testing the "portable" Edgestar heat pumps - I put one in my office, where it provides ancillary heat, the other one got tested, drained and went into storage in a big box (I would not describe a 90 lb device as portable) with all of its bells and whistles. I am still amazed at how frugal with power these things are, glad I was able to snag two reconditioned models, just about a "twofer". The Edgestar folks do a really good job of reconditioning their equipment, I've over the years had little trouble with "factory reconditioned" stuff in general.

Frustrating doctor visit, today - OK, a little blister on my skin wasn't bad, so that was good, but then she tries to get me to schedule an echocardiogram, and I find that is only 80% covered, and I can't recall any other physician, in the past 300 years, ever wanting me to have one. My heart and chest get plenty of diagnostic attention, anyway, for various reasons, so I can't help thinking they're just trying to drum up more trade for the Seattle Cancer Care outfit, which already is on my wrong side as it seems to think it is OK to send large envelopes through the mail that state clearly you're a cancer patient, as if it their job to let your post person and housemates know that. The other day, they reminded me to have my mammogram - when I pointed out to them I am not a female person, I was told that I could just spread the word. Not. So if I am having an ultrasound, it is not at SCCA.

How does the early November suddenly turn to winter? Snow, overnight temps down to 26, not funny. Had to get the snowboots out, just for safety's sake, hopefully this is just a fluke. Hadn't even topped up the antifreeze, thankfully still had some glycol sitting around in the garage, I ought to re-pressurize the cooling system, let's see if it slurps any more out of the overflow first.

Monday October 30, 2017: Spreading Wings

Keywords: Toshiba, surveillance camera, webcam, ITV, USB, Chrome, HTML5, Car2Go, Mercedes, Ballard, AlphaGo, AI, artificial intelligence, Tesla

Wanna dem days. First my workout buddy, having told me he has relatives over so isn't going to the gym this morning, texts me to ask me where I was... then discovers I texted him last night to ask him if he really wasn't going, to which he replied yes, having misread my message. Then, a webcam that does not have autofocus suddenly develops autofocus when it is plugged into USB3, but not in USB2, this with the Yawcam application I recently started testing. However, on USB3 it dies, apparently not liking the power it is getting, so... I was going into town to go to the gym in Ballard, but now I am stuck getting the cam sorted, I hate technology not working. It is the one thing I've always had control over. People, not so much *grin*..

Then, suddenly none of my browsers (regardless of which flavour of Windows) will render ITV programming any more, live broadcast, yes, but none of the playback streaming. So despite my convictions, I've had to install Google Chrome, which, apart from a bunch of Apple browsers, will handle the streams, or so the interweb tells me. Probably something to do with HTML5, and fraud control, from what I can Google the encryption is on the heavy side. Chrome is a native HTML5 browser, where others just have code worked in, and none of it seems to work - when the server sees Flash, it starts that up, then crashes. Pity. Spent half an hour finding and removing the autostarts Google put in the operating system, the amount of data collection is slowly ludicrous, and because Google wants you to not remove them, they insert multiple starts in different places. The "autoruns" tool Microsoft makes available is brilliant for this - but be careful using it, one typing error or accidental click can brick your PC. I did that recently, then had to recover the operating system using a Repair DVD, so I was able to restore a backup - I make those on a daily basis, a good idea if you like to make operating system changes.

Eventually, of course, I didn't manage to get out there to test Car2Go until the weekend, and unlike most of the week, it rained cats and dogs. I did drive downtown and got a feel for where things are on Saturdays, just couldn't pluck up the courage to walk ten minutes in the driving rain, didn't make much sense, because I could have dropped the car right back next dooor to where I was parked. I did discover the Polyclinic staff parking is only a staff parking on weekdays, so that's somewhere to park for free at weekends - Seattle now wants meter parking seven days a week, bless their greedy hearts. I think I can bend the rules a bit - as a Polyclinic patient, I should be OK parking there, right? So I guess (more below) I'll go and do my Car2Go test next weekend, and go to the Ballard gym, the sun is back, and supposedly will stick around for the next few days.

So yes, I did, Ballard gym, but then I couldn't find the Car2Go car my app insisted was there. So I decided to head back to the Northgate Mall, where I had noticed there were a few cars - same thing. Turns out people park these things where they shouldn't - like a Seattle Public Library lot adjacent to the mall - and these smaller Mercedeses don't look like Mercedeses, and they're not all white. Call me stupid. But this is a good learning curve, I am running around doing things that don't feel comfortable - new, different, yadayada, but this is a good way to combat the insecurity. Know what I mean? I did speak to the help line at Car2Go, and they confirmed cars are left where they shouldn't be, like that library lot, and I had a hard time, GPS and all, locating that particular vehicle, partly because I hadn't expected one to be in that lot. I have to say doing this research is quite useful - when are cars available where, what is the actual distance (the app is a bit pessimistic and thinks a car is 12 minutes' walk away when it is maybe 4 or 5), especially if you're planning on taking a Car2Go to go to the mall, say, and then drop it and want to find another a couple of hours later. One of the important aspects, to me, is if that's an achievable scenario, and I am trying to figure out where that "works best", so to speak.

Well, that's cool - my retiree health insurance package (Medicare with an employer add-on) has reduced its monthly bill for next year - this after it went up some $50 per month for the current year. I had not expected that, worried about it going up again. It is, in fact, even below the 2016 contribution. Gosh. From 2016 to 2017 the premium went up 18%, but now it will be lowered by about 20%. There is no telling how these contributions are calculated, but especially with my attempt to get a Seattle Housing apartment, this is very welcome news. Between the lower contribution and my plan to let go of the SUV in favour of Car2Go, I am looking at a break-even. That would be magical!

Intelligence can't be Artificial

I've said it before, but let me just repeat: we need a working definition of "intelligence", and we need to start educating the public that there is no such thing as "artificial" intelligence. It gets worse - Google has again made noises about its AlphaGo - people, Go is a game. It has rules, set parameters, it has a finite number of well defined moves that are possible, and all that means it is calculable, and so does not need intelligence to be played, just a math wiz. There are no random variables without "prior art", which is where intelligence would come in. It is the same with self driving cars - a recent article in the New York Times actually mentioned that a self driving Volvo, as well as the Tesla, get "confused" when lane markings on the road are absent. It is important to understand that a computer program cannot get confused, it is binary, not analog, and if if is unable to resolve a situation it measures it should, if programmed properly, stop and provide an error message. That is what went wrong with the Tesla, when it killed its owner - it lacked information about what it was seeing, and its program was - erroneously - programmed to continue on an assumption, when it should have stopped and turned itself off. That is what you do when you drive in a rainstorm - if your wipers cannot handle the deluge and you can no longer see the road you will (one hopes) pull off the road.

Thing is, that failsafe - which I and my colleagues built into our automation software from Day One - needs to be at the core of any software. It comes first. Anything you build after that, if it cannot complete, must end up in the failsafe. Yes, I know, you can't put a car on the road and have it suddenly stop. That is not my problem. Very sorry, but it has to. If it does not stop you will not know there's been a catastrophic failure. When software fails there is no grey area. If you had intelligence in this thing that accident, that death, would not have happened.

Sunday October 22, 2017: Tidying up

Keywords: Craftsman, Sears, electric mower, wolf, dog, canine, Toshiba, surveillance camera, Yawcam, Voltaren, NSAIDs, Aspirin

Interesting research! So how did the wolf turn into a dog? The logical answer would be that a human household couldn't accomodate an entire wolf family, especially since the alpha males then would feel compelled to compete with the human alpha males for control. There must (purely my conjecture) have been solitary wolves who were not well adjusted to wolf society, but fit in beautifully in a solitary fashion, providing TLC to human households, without taking them over. So: wolves negotiate, dogs manipulate. It interests me - I've got friends with big dogs, and small children, and I can't help but think: "Open the mouth on that dog, look at its teeth, and tell me that apparatus is intended to be nice to your baby". I see these folks being besotted about their pets (hamburger cheese flavour dog food) and can't help but think "The manipulation worked". Yes, of course your dog loves you to bits when you come home - it's spent the day locked in the back yard, which is full of its shit. It is curious that both primary human pets are carnivore, or carnivore-derived.

Home Surveillance Setup

I have this anemic Toshiba Satellite sitting around - haven't used it for a long time, especially now that I have two HP Elitebooks, but when I was thinking about moving to "Seattle proper", the other day, and listing needs, I realized a surveillance camera would be nice - I've had a surveillance camera at home since - gosh, can't really remember, back in Westchester County, somewhere in the 1990s. I had software for that on my Vaio, before I updated that to Windows 10 Pro, which would have been a few years ago - come to think of it, I should give the Vaio an update run - but that surveillance software never recorded audio, and another package streamed, but with hiccups, might as well do it right this time. So I spent a couple of afternoons looking for newer surveillance software, and found some freeware that appears to fit the bill - still testing though (scanned, downloaded, tested, verified safe 10/19/2017). The - otherwise uneventful - Toshiba laptop is ideal for this - it has no (need for a) fan, but it will probably happily sit there taking pictures all day - and this application is quite cute, it'll even create a video out of still captures. Its FTP works exceedlingly well - usually, I spend hours getting that to work - this, amazingly, was a hole in one. Configure, push the button, off she goes. More when I check all of its functions, but this looks good. Lucky - I kept the Toshiba around because there is a legit Windows 64 10 Pro license on it, that would otherwise cost $90.

Wow! This piece of freeware is completely amazing! It streams too, again, simple setup. I need to look a little closer at its security issues, but I see no shims being loaded, no spurious drives, simple piece of Java runtime that does it all. I'll need to test its functions, interval timer, what have you, but it looks like it runs perfectly acceptably even on this anemic laptop. All I will want it for is to sit in the corner and provide surveillance footage 24/7, it has motion detection, and that means pics off offsite, so it does not matter if a burglar takes the "server", pics are on my webserver, where they can't get at them. Very nice - and very cheap, between the Toshiba ($195) with a $28 memory chip I already had, and a Windows 10 Pro upgrade that I think came with one of the HP Elitebooks, where I didn't use it. Because it was an aftermarket upgrade, it wasn't "locked" to a CPU, lucky me. Truly, brilliant. I think I'll buy an external fan for it - it doesn't have a built in fan, doesn't need that, but running 24/7 as a video server probably needs whatever help it can get.

Craftsman rechargeable mowerCool. The rechargeable mower (see August 13, below) I reconditioned over the summer sold! There was no interest before, I lowered the price last week by $15, and somebody emailed me, dropped by, took off with it. Not a massive profit, besides, that goes to neighbour D., whose property it was, and the four new 12VC lead acid batteries cost me $66, but I am just pleased I managed to restore the thing to perfect working order, the buyer seemed well pleased, and I have my outlay back. Excellent mower, by the way, but I think Sears made a sizable mistake putting something on the market powered by lead-acid batteries. Those you can't run all the way down (they die) and they don't like being frozen, and those are conditions that are sort of endemic in winter in a garden shed. Good piece of technology - I added a cheat sheet with pointers for battery maintenance, just to emphasize to the buyer that if he does not do maintenance it'll stop working.

Painkiller choice is complicated

If you know what is good for you you will not take "pain killers", NSAIDs, a.k.a. non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. The over-the-counter kind. The name itself makes no sense - they're not pain killers. Hydrocodone and Oxycodone, the well known opioids, are pain killers, ant-inflammatories may combat pain that is caused by inflammation but that is as far as that goes. I've been thinking about this, researching, for some time, especially since these things change all the time. I've been on Voltaren for many years, but recently, that has become less popular and considered "more risky", but I wonder, is that because it is being prescribed, now, for non-arthritis "pains"? when I began taking it, that was its sole use. And I have been on naprosyn, now on the supermarket sheles as well, that too used to be an arthritis-specific prescription medication. Of course, arthritis does cause inflammation, and that causes pain. So recently, when I ran out of Voltaren, while waiting for my refill to arrive, I decided to try Aspirin for a bit. After all, for years I took those little 81mg "heart health" Aspirins, on doctor's orders (I quit them a year or so ago, when it became science that these pills were for folks in danger of heart attacks or recurrent heart attacks, both not me), so if I needed a "painkiller" - doctor approved - why not try a larger dose of Aspirin? Make sense?

I have to emphasize, though, I take NSAIDs because I have to, not to combat aches and pains and work out harder. Important distinction: my immune condition causes inflammations which can lead to permanent damage to joints and cartilage. NSAIDs are increasingly found to have nasty side effects, and if you consider I am taking this s**t for 44 years, I am kind of amazed I haven't sustained more damage. But as I said, a choice I don't have, I either manage and balance my intake or it is wheelchair. Way back when, the choice was stark already - wheelchair (which is how I began this trip, after a car accident) or functionality, with the risk of early death. I suppose I've managed well - and been lucky.

Sunday October 15, 2017: The City is growing on me

Keywords: Seattle Housing, Car2Go, Blackberry, Fitness19, elder housing, suburbia, smartphone, AI, data mining

Car2Go Mercedes sedan After a few days of looking at apartment buildings, and checking their locations for Car2Go vehicles and other amenities, I found some "good spots". Today, in Ballard, I parked, got out, pulled up the Car2Go app, and found two available luxury Mercedeses within a four minute walk of where I was. While I went to look at the high street, shops and the like, I passed a couple of parking cops, and asked them what they thought, and got a swift answer that you can drop the Car2Go vehicles almost anywhere, even (free of charge) in city paid street parking, and they said they encountered Car2Go vehicles in the main drag in Ballard all the time, day and night. Indeed, the two I mentioned earlier were in a residential neighbourhood, clearly left there by folks who'd driven one home. If later, you can find another down the block when you want to go shopping, this works, they've put enough cars into Seattle, and folks are using them, so they "pop up". I am going to just test drive one in a few days, but this truly looks like there isn't a need to own a car, living in Seattle. As I said, I did the math, and this is clearly cheaper than owning a car, especially since big box stores like Home Depot have cheap rental trucks if you buy something there you need to get home. Besides, there is almost nothing you can't order online, and have delivered. So keep reading, I'll keep you posted on my testing.

At the same time I noticed a gym, literally around the corner, that had a "Silver Sneakers" sticker on the door. I walked in to inquire, state of the art, nice folks, yes, they did accept Silver Sneakers memberships ("free" for me as part of my health plan), and even though I have no idea whether or not SHA will offer me an apartment there, "Lisa" signed me up on the spot. Across the street a big, but overpriced, QFC, but that's better than the nondescript "markets" in other places. Of the locations I have seen, this is probably the best, owell, better not get my hopes up... So I am done looking, all I have to do is fill out the application, send it in - actually, I could hand deliver it and then go test one of those cars. Ha.

LA FitnessOne thing I recall, with this housing kerfuffel, is that I see a lot of older folk living in the suburbs, in houses they have owned a long time, even though their kids have moved away, some friends have passed, others have moved, and they couldn't go places without a car - no Macy's or Sears in walking distance - a 7-11 if you're lucky. Years ago I decided that once I got older, I should move to a town or city with municipal elder care, rather than live in the country. Neighbours in Virginia, now elderly, bought into a "retirement development" marketed through their church, and ended up in a compound that isn't near anywhere, where the owners didn't build half the facilities they had promised, and even if they wanted to walk to the supermarket they'd have to do so down a double carriageway (they actually were not allowed to sign their contract unless they could show they had put their current house on the market). A neighbour here this afternoon stopped and when I mentioned Car2Go, said "makes you wonder why we own cars". Well, D., you own a car because there isn't any Car2Go in suburbia, that's for the cityscape. So this is all beginning to grow on me.

Smartphone-in-hand is beginning to grow on me as well, I must say. I've been on the "cellphone bandwagon" longer than most - I had a Radio Shack (Nokia) handheld TAC phone as far back as 1989, still get comments from former colleagues who saw me with a contraption (this in Manhattan!) they didn't even know existed. One thing that truly bothers me is that most apps require you to allow them to copy and use your entire smartphone configuration, and your address book, including email addresses and everything. I can't help being security conscious, but I have two extra lines just to make sure that does not happen. Only my primary handset has my address book, while the apps I use (and some I am actually need) are on the handsets that don't have the address book. Similarly, each ancillary handset is married to a different email address I hardly use, so there is no way for apps to get at my address book indirectly, through Google or Yahoo or Hotmail - they do. Yes, one line with a fancy iPhone is what the carriers and handset manufacturers want you to do, but iif you do your sums you can get three cheap handsets with different capabilities for just about the same price, and a three line family plan with internet and tethering is only marginally more expensive than a single line. Is it important to go to these lengths? Let me put it to you this way: many cybercriminals now run corporations, which allows them to sign up to "big data" offerings from Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo, none of whom routinely investigate new clients. They are "reactive", they don't look at commercial customers until something goes wrong. You've seen how both Facebook and Google sold advertising space to criminal Russian enterprises around the U.S. election, and the reason this was possible is simply that commercial IT corporations spend little or no money on social data security. They protect themselves from getting hacked, but - and I repeat this - you can tell none of these corporation have functioning Artificial Intelligence, because if they did the AI would have easily made the connections between the new commercial customers and cyber criminals. The work is done by hackers, and those are the same who hack your accounts and break into Equifax. AI is used exclusively to try and predict your future behaviour, this to enhance revenues, and they have the commercial world bamboozled to the point most major corporations believe the nonsense Facebook and Google and Microsoft tell them, even though none of these IT empires can prove their AI can successfully predict what you will be having for dinner on Wednesday, even if they have your shopping list.

At any rate, this is kind of exciting - when in aeons past you needed to check whether you had cellular service where you were thinking of moving, now you need to figure out if you have on-street rental vehicles, if there are enough of them, if they are close enough, and add that to the gym and the supermarket and internet and 4GLTE cellular service, where possible combined with streaming video. And guess what - the advanced infrastructure here in Seattle is caused by it being one of the world's technology centers, with Amazon, Microsoft and T-Mobile all headquartered here.

Monday October 9, 2017: The marketing is mostly fake

Keywords: Seattle Housing, Car2Go, Daimler, Mid-Autumn Festival, Peking Duck, Tesla, EV, combustion engine, diesel, Blackberry, Windows Phone

Peking Duck Moon Festival It is the Mid-Autumn Festival, and my Chinese neighbours drop a boat load of Peking Duck on us. Deelish. Gotta get something to reciprocate.

Increasingly, this electric car story is pie-in-the-sky. Yes, there's Tesla, which isn't an affordable vehicle, but anything else simply does not have the range nor the charging capability to compete with a conventional vehicle. Tesla has proprietary chargers that simply aren't available at every gas station, so its vehicles are rich man's toys, and when you see Musk is building an enormous battery in Australia as a sort of megalomaniac challenge, a battery to power an entire State for which no backup manufacturing nor backup generation plant exists or is planned, you can use that as proof that Musk is in it for Musk, not for you. He has not shipped a battery assembly to Puerto Rico, he has offered to help by talking to the Governor. On 9/11, manufacturers of telecommunications equipment called me and said they would immediately redirect tens of millions of dollars' worth of equipment ready for other customers, it was sitting on the dock, "tell us where you want it, we'll sort the money out later". This to replace the switch equipment destroyed at the WTC, and at the central office next door, which the FDNY had no choice but use as an oversize fire hydrant, flooding it in the process. The tractor-trailers began arriving at my facilities in Manhattan and Arlington, VA, three days later. Apart from anything else, Tesla's Autopilot is capable of killing his customers, and I need to repeat that again and again - in my corner of technology, job one is to guarantee service is safe, and 24/7, once you have that technology under control, you can build on it. Musk does the reverse, and I can tell you right now he is doing the same thing with his spacecraft, he is in it for fame and fortune, has something to prove. I've worked with many of those on Wall Street, they always self destruct, and make victims along the way.

Cars are not electric

My advice: if you want to buy an electric car, buy a cheapie, charge it at home and at work, and only use it for your reasonable commute. Anything else, get a used $6,000 Volkswagen Beetle turbo diesel. Two, if you need a spare. Once I move to Seattle, I am actually getting rid of the SUV, and will switch to Car2Go. Currently, all in, my 2006 Dodge is costing me (with gas and insurance included) $227 per month (average over its lifetime, including cash purchase, $336 per month, average lifetime fuel consumption 13.2 MPG), and for that, I can do quite a few Car2Go miles once I am back living in the city. So there. An electric car is not cheaper, because most of the dollars I quote are non-gasoline cost of car use and -ownership - gas is only $73 per month, again, over the lifetime of my gas guzzling V-8 SUV, and including that time prices went nuts, and electric vehicles are much more expensive than gas driven vehicles. I've got more than a decade of carefully collected financial data to prove that, trust me.

I have to ask if we're working on the right technology for replacing the combustion engine. It is clear the hybrid works, but uses gas or diesel fuel, hydrogen is "clean" but somehow hasn't made it into popularity, and there is nothing else out there. Apart from anything else, for as long as more car manufacturers than necessary are competing and building incompatible technologies, we'll never achieve the economy of scale to truly control pollution. We know now that the manufacturers of Diesel engines fudged the numbers, and built fakery software into their motors, and we can therefore assume that all combustion engines have similar software, and all combustion engines pollute. For as long as they compete, they're going to build cars that have oompf, and it is the oompf that breaks the rules. If the oompf were disabled, there would be far less pollution, but there isn't a legislature that will require full control of the software - that would be the only way.

Go, Car, Go

Speaking of which, I got in the car, this morning, to go take a look at the Seattle Housing Authority rental apartments - partly to see how quick and convenient the Car2Go vehicles were. I was surprized - even all the way South, in what I can only describe as a blue collar neighbourhood, without shops, with the exception of one massive Safeway across the street, there were plenty of Car2Go vehicles around - two within 0.2 miles from the building, two more 0.6 miles away. That's a few minute's walk! Now, once I look at the other SHA buildings, I'll need to rent a Car2Go through the app, and run around in it for a bit (if I am going to rent an apartment I need one in one of the Car2Go areas, and the only way to really figure that is go there and see what's where, and how close). Kind of the only way to test. The concept of insurance, parking, gas, everything in a per-minute price is amazing, especially where Zipcar wants a subscription. I suppose this is what happens when you bury yourself in countryside and suburbia for too long, you keep au fait with what goes on in the cityscape through the internet, not in real life. Well, that is something I can change.

Not only that, as I do my research I discover Car2Go has made sure its smartphone app runs on older platforms - Windows Phone and Blackberry, in my case - as well. I don't like having applications on my Blackberry, as they all "reserve the right" to mine your address book, and I don't want that. So I have a couple of different handsets I use for particular applications, that do not have my address book or sensitive data. And, unlike many other apps, with Car2Go, that works. That's cool - it is so simple: the more people you can serve, the more money you make, and if you insist the customer has the latest version of Android, that simply means you collect personal data from the handset you don't really need to serve the customer. It is that simple. Years ago, I had a conversation with a programmer in my department that made him take a walk, when I explained the advanced page generation language he was using wasn't compatible with the old browsers the Federal Morons were using, and the Federal Morons was what paid the bills and gave the permits. It was that simple.

Wednesday October 4, 2017: NFL? A Closed Club

Keywords: back injury, NFL, Seattle Housing, Car2Go, Daimler, credit, First Amendment, public space, painkillers, diclofenac sodium, website update, weather tile

I am not quite clear what this NFL protest is all about. The players can, because of the First Amendment, protest something bad in society in public. Never mind the NFL is their employer, they're not at a public venue - a ballpark is a closed venue you can only get access to if you pay, and you can't watch the game unless the broadcaster pays either. So these multi-millionaires, who make 5 or 10 or 20 million dollars a year protest in their employer's space (the First Amendment specifically refers to speech in the public space) by kneeling rather than standing for the national anthem, and they get to their protest by walking fifteen yards to the field from their locker room, where they have been transported by non-public transport, at your expense. I don't think they are, in this protest, protected by the First Amendment, which has been exempted for speech in commercial circumstances, I think these players make too much money and I think you, the public, are partly responsible for giving these men the idea they are more important than they really are. Maybe they can start kneeling during the commercial breaks? I cannot believe we are giving "athletes" like these, who spend their lives ensuring they end up with brain damage, obesity and joint damage, millions of dollars so they can then appear in car dealership commercials for vehicles they couldn't even recognize if they saw them in the parking lot. If one of those oversized overpaid athletes publicly address the president as "bum", he need say no more to prove he should learn to spell "civility" en "education" before getting onto a public forum and teaching kids it is OK to be a moron.

Ouch

Almost two weeks after I injured my back, I am still not out of the woods. I went back to the gym, cautiously, but then Saturday I went and got a supply of well water, and my back really did not like that - one of those 5 gallon bottles of water weighs over 40 lbs, after all. Took it easy for a few more days, I am otherwise fine, but it is just a slow healing process and I am an impatient person, and the gym - I know this from the past - is addictive. I've actually been taking over-the-counter painkillers, rather than the prescription variety, just to see how that would work. The injured muscle is recovered enough that it benefits from exercise, but it is still a bit of a tightrope. Increasingly, including from my own rheumatologist, I note that the use of Voltaren (Diclofenac Sodium) is now being frowned on, odd, I was first prescribed that in The Netherlands, back in the early 1980s, before I even came to the United States, where it had not been approved. Once it was available, in the 1990s, I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread, by comparison with the Naprosyn I had been getting. So next week (which, by the time you read this, is this week), I'll take a few days "off" medication, and then revert back to Voltaren, when needed, now that I have a fresh supply.

In the meantime, I've revamped the header of my website a little bit, part of the problem being that I got errors from the Wunderground weather tile. Eventually found another weather tile, which is working fine, so far, and I compacted the header as much as I could so folks with small screens can see the postings when they open the page, and there isn't any weird script interfering with display capabilities. I periodically archive older entries, so my "main page" does not get too large, just keeping things tidy, I am always cognizant there are folks on slow networks with low resolution "handphones".

Housing

As I mentioned, I am about to contact Seattle Housing again, and see if I can put myself back on their apartment waitlist. It occurred to me I really hadn't budgeted the move, beyond coming to the conclusion I couldn't afford it, a couple of years ago. So I finally sat down, took apart my outgoings and did a shopping list of must-haves, considering I sold or left my furniture and most of my household goods in Virginia when I gave the house back to the bank. I do have pots and pans and linen and (now) two portable heat pumps, and, for some reason, two hot water heaters, but I do need beds and tables and chairs, and "stuff". So I made a list on Amazon, basically to see what things cost, and what I can afford, nice little spreadsheets, offset against my savings. Not quite sure why I did not do this before - I guess I did not have enough savings, and no credit rating, but now I am in a better place, and it isn't as much of a depressing "no can do" exercise. Phew. Took a while. Especially the credit rating is a major big thing, as agencies check that, as I found out last time. Not only that, I didn't get the new account until fairly recently, that made my credit rating take an automatic nosedive, and it then takes months to massage it back up. Massively stupid, but it means the one thing you don't want to - can't - do is get a rental check just after a new credit account and a change in vehicle insurance policy. So, say six months. That's fine, I just need to talk to the housing people and do my homework. Howzat... The only thing that pains me is that I had hoped to be able to get a loft bed - the real McCoy, California King, found an outfit that makes them to order, collegebedlofts.com, but at well over $1,000 it is outside of the budget. Not a bad price, for a fully constructed wooden bed, that is not a small size. Add a mattress, stuff...

Actually, once I redid my budget spreadsheet in gory detail, I found I am actually a bit short of cash, mostly caused by my high medical outgoings. I pay a fair amount in health insurance fees, which actually went up $50 a month this year, but then the copays are significant, too. So after I find an apartment and move - thankfully enuough savings to make that happen - I am going to have to reduce my outgoings. It occurred to me that I don't necessarily need a car once I live in the city, and I am now looking at using CAR2GO in the future, since that seems abundantly available in Seattle. Not only that, there isn't a subscription fee or membership fee, so you can truly be in charge of your outgoings. Zipcar charges a membership fee, Daimler owned Car2Go does not, making it ideal, if nothing else, to test the service before moving. Sign up, give 'em a credit card number, and apparently downtown parking is included in the rental charges, that alone could pay for itself. Next time I go downtown, I'll check the service - find out where the Car2Go cars are when I go look at apartment buildings, and perhaps check a car out and drive it somewhere.

Sunday September 24, 2017: Too much of a good thing

Keywords: back injury, Facebook, online drivel, gym, chores, maintenance, Seattle Housing

Who'd have thunk. I find myself catching up from catching up - while the housemates were away I caught up on so much maintenance I ignored some of my "regular" chores. Nothing that couldn't wait, it's just been a very busy month with back-to-back chores, and lots of research. That's kinda cool, I suppose, it certainly set me to thinking I have to get my own space and ability to do things. Don't know how to explain, but there it is. So, I need to focus. That was the last load of yard waste, in C's truck, the fifth this month. I truly hadn't a clue there could be so much growth in a suburban yard. Now to keep the momentum going...

yard waste in truckThe issue before was that I could not make up my mind whether to "stay", or move elsewhere, but considering I have my infrastructure here, doctors, and know the place a bit, moving to a Seattle Housing apartment is going to be easier and cheaper than finding somewhere down South, and establishing residency there. I see older folk here in the suburbs running themselves ragged just trying to stay connected, while their kids are moving away, neighbours go into care homes, and have other things to do, friends pass away, and a vacuum is slowly creating itself around them. Living somewhere I can make full use of public transport and renewing infrastructure is perhaps a smart thing, at this stage of my life. Change is good.

Arthritis

As careful as I am with my workouts at the gym, this to ensure I don't aggravate my immune condition, I only recently mentioned to gym buddy D. that I get some injuries because I have much more muscle than when I started this regime, back in the beginning of 2015. I can feel it, and see it, and I pull and push much more weight than I used to. So sure enough, when I dropped the GPS in the footwell, at some ungodly hour on my way to the airport, and couldn't reach it, I just pushed harder. And felt a muscle in my back go. "uh-oh" I thought, and then, while picking up my charges, loaded their heavy suitcases in the car, and really did that muscle in. In other words, today, when I push a muscle group I can actually rip one. Now I have not been to the gym all week, even driving hurts, and I can only sleep flat on my back, but even getting to that position hurts like a banshee, as does sneezing. So if you start a consistent workout regime, you'll bulk up even if you don't want to, and you won't adjust fully to the gradual change. I should have remembered my last bout with the gym, back in the NYNEX lab in White Plains, where, after a year or three of working out almost every day, I walked through a solid glass door in an office building in White Plains, by sheer strength. Not into, but through the door, took it right off its hinges. So if you're starting a controlled workout regime, where the purpose is health, rather than bulking, you're still going to gradually get more muscle all over the place. I noticed this, too, when rearranging some things, including heavy chests, in the garage, then realizing I needed to get something else, and did the whole thing all over again, then once more the week after. These were chests I would, a few years ago, have gotten some help with - in fact, I had asked neighbour D. to help me lift and drop down the freezer you see below, in my August 31 blog entry, then ended up doing that by myself, without heavy breathing. Similarly, I unboxed and moved the 90 lb heat pump into the house, and later into the garage. So I have definitely crossed a threshold...

Faceruble

Something we will likely never figure out is what the Russians hoped to gain from meddling in the U.S. election, and if they indeed did, which Russians did it. The latest I heard was that they spent "tens of thousands of dollars" on Facebook ads - that's peanuts. That does not buy enough ad space to materially alter an election that size. Apart from that, with the importance American politics, and the American president, have in the world at large, you have to ask yourself why that cannot be allowed, I can't see a real reason why Russian politicos should sit back and wait for the hatchet to fall.

The real problem is that places like Facebook have such far reaching influence that folks will try to use it as a manipulative tool - that's the rage, sit behind your laptop and make people do what you want them tto do, from taking their clothes off to giving money to people pretending to be other people. Think back what happens when you log in - Facebook will determine what you get to see, what has high priority - not you. I normally want to see the latest postings, but Facbook won't let me set that - I get "most important" postings, which is weird, because Facebook does not know what I find most important. I've never told it what my priorities are, and it has no way to establish what is important to me as it has no information about my life and functioning outside of Facebook. Without the ability to see me and interact with me when I am online, Facebook's algorithms cannot possibly even make an educated guess. I can tell, if only because I have had to unfollow quite a few people who post the most boring drivel, in large volumes, for the most part reposts of things other people have posted, and those endless proverbs from the Buddha, the Dalai Llama or Cree Indians, which aren't their proverbs at all, just people sitting at their tablet dreaming stuff up. It is tremendous to realize there are people posting on Facebook whose entire lives are taken up by their kids, cats, dogs, or long distance running, and then posting about it. Nothing else, especially not questions about things they don't understand, one dog is under a year old, already five times the size of my friend's youngest child, and she does not have a clue this is a risk, on many levels. I recall a girlfriend whose new dog was jealous of me in her bed, and upset she couldn't sleep in that bed any more, so tried to break the bedroom door down every nighto, problems you can avoid by not having a dog. No, they do not have brains or intelligence, if they did they would have developed the ability to speak and handle a can opener.

Sorry, I digress. People have, between their smartphone and Facebook, now the endless ability to post completely meaningful boring stuff without asking anyone if it interests them. IOW, Facebook gives you unbridled selfishness-without-repercussion. The point I am making is this: Facebook manipulates your world view by deliberately presenting you with a sequence and subjects of information, based on assumptions from programmers who lack most information about the users they are analyzing. If you don't know why somebody clicks "like", you can't assume it is because they "like" something. We've gotten so absorbed by "big data" that we have accepted the Facebook tenet that if certain information is not available, it can be substituted by other information. The problem, mostly, is that advertisers accept this is proven, although they could see in their advertising results, on a dialy basis, that it is not. They just find it easier to believe Facebook than to analyze their own information, or (God forbid) require Facebook to prove its claims.

September 20, 2017: Yep, rain, and a bad back

Keywords: heat pump, global warming, back injury, efficiency, hot water, heating, energy waste

heat pump hot water generator Ouch. Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch. At 5:15am, I hare off to Seatac Airport, to collect my friends arriving back from Asia, and brake a little too hard, and my GPS phone slides off the passenger seat into the footwell. Not to be outdone, I reach over at the lights, and reach a little more. Something gives in my back - did I mention I think I am developing muscle all over due to the gym visits? - and I know it is going to hurt. To make sure I maintain the macho man image, at the airport I load some really big suitcases in the back, while a perfectly functional big ugly American is standing right there, happy to do it. I even managed to get back home in time to go to the gym, but by now am in so much pain that is not going to happen. Owell, pills and some soothing emails from the gym buddies, who think beer might be the solution.

90 degree days

Pattaya vans outside Central Mall Curiously, after drought and heatwave for the whole month my friends have been in SE Asia, yesterday afternoon the temperature plunges and it starts raining, so by morning the weather is all "customary" for the Puget Sound, except it has been a long and hot and dry summer, the lawn is straw. Speaking to folks who've lived here all their lives, global warming is very real, though I personally don't know that it is as man made as they want you to believe. No doubt human endeavours don't help, but I am not convinced there isn't a warming cycle underneath it. Additional to that, if we continue buying more cars and calling 350 hp hybrids "eco friendly" and live in suburbia in homes twice the size we need so we can store Costco's cheap bulk merchandise for a year in unnecessary freezers we buy from Costco as well, I don't know there is going to be any kind of a solution. I won't soon forget everybody bought a Prius because they could then drive the HOV alone, back in Virginia and D.C., to the point their sensible cars caused traffic jams that had not been there before. Regardless, then, of what causes global warming, humans aren't going to stop that from happening. You can't drive an electric car until the "Empty" light comes on, find an e-station and fill it up. Getting serious about this stuff would be outlawing drive-throughs, reducing engine capacities, moving bulk road freight to the rails, stopping endless lines of passenger vans outside shopping malls in Asia and Africa from idling to keep the A/C running - the picture to the left shows you the endless line of vans sitting outside just one mall in Pattaya, idling every day, all day and evening - and stopping airconditioning outside seating areas in SE Asia. I could keep this list going for another five screens, the thing is, we're only paying lip service at conferences we unnecessarily fly to, even if they are halfway around the globe. Not going to happen.

My recent testing of the Edgestar heat pumps (below) has led me to wonder why we aren't adopting more of these electricity powered energy efficient technologies. I "discovered" induction cookers in China, only to realize they were available in the United States - not as $5,000 cookers, but as simple, cheap, efficient countertop units you can save rivers of money with, by comparison with electric rings and gas cookers. Same with hot water heaters and gas central heating - the heat pump based water heater I bought for my house in Virginia used 70% less energy (for real - comparison tested by yours truly, tradeoff is a much longer recovery time) than a "conventional" electric hot water tank. The picture to the right shows it being installed, back in 2010, by my builder Dan. Ask yourself why, when you can use a storage heater that consumes 600 watts at regular 117VAC household current, you'd install one that consumes 4,500 watts at 230VAC? And then when I look at the Edgestar 14,000 BTU heat pumps I have just been testing, total energy consumption just under $20 - hold on to your hat - for an entire month with 80s and 90s, this with low humidity.

I am probably boring the pants off you with my heat pumps, but I am double checking my meter readings and calculations, as running an A/C unit for a whole month for $20 is a bit staggering - yes, the house is small, it wasn't a heat wave, but comparing it to past units isn't even close. Total energy (that is, electricity) usage for the month was low - to my standards - too, if my calc is right, $73, inclusive of the aforementioned $20. To me, this just means I can, now that my credit rating is restored, afford to live in an apartment again, heat it (necessary) and cool it in summer, something that wasn't even really on my radar. Teehee! Something we're not doing enough of is understanding what technologies we have that are tried and tested and durable - like heat pumps. Modern A/C compressors have been around since 1902, so represent a truly mature technology, evidenced today by the availability of quite small efficient room air conditioning units. IOW, while the heat exchange technology in gas appliances has advanced to the point that they can be made 98% efficient, they are still based on a gas flame with a temperature of 2,770 °C, fed by a very explosive, poisonous and combustible vapour that has no other purpose or capability than to burn. I have a hard time understanding the logic - here in the Puget Sound, I am told by a civil servant, we have enough hydro-capacity to be self-sufficient in energy generation, yet here we mostly heat using natural gas, which is imported from Canada and Mid-Western States. Say what? I'll come back, in a future blog entry, on how we might get "folks" to adopt more frugal ways, things that today, through regulation and lawmaking, simply does not work - even in Europe they don't understand that extra money for the summer vacation in Thailand and state-sponsored in-vitro fertilization because having babies is so necessary will prevent eco from ever really happening.

September 16, 2017: Summer always ends..

Keywords: Edgestar, A/C, heat pump, late summer, Irma, global warming, Brexit, Caribbean, fixing things, Open Box, reconditioned

Edgestar 14 ton heat pump rear viewAh, lucky me! The second heat pump arrived on Wednesday, and that means I get a few days of whole house testing before the folks return. And as the days are still hot but the nights are cooling, I can test both A/C and heat, I had not expected to be able to do that, and that is part of the reason I bought the second unit now, nothing like knowing exactly what to expect (and pay..). That, as they say, is so brilliant. This presuming nothing is wrong with the "new" unit, but the experience I have with reconditioned equipment is that it has been re-tested and, where necessary, repaired, and that usually means it is better than, or at least equivalent to, new. Other than that, just finishing up clearing the yeard, one more trip to the recycling center, and I still have to re-sight my nine millimeter, that almost went by the wayside, even if I bought a special alignment tool and special oil. Finished clearing up in the garage today, the only "extraneous" chore left to do is wash-and-wax the SUV, one of the summer chores, pressure washer and all that.

I suppose I can be pleased with myself, I've done pretty much all of the chores I set myself to complete in the month that I had the house to myself, it is nice to kind of "let fly" without getting in anybody's way. Garage is all tidy, tools sorted, freezer shelf full of veg, the heat pumps are both sitting in test, fully installed, and what repairs and cleaning were necessary have 90% been done, I'll get the rest before Monday.

Before I forget, the "scratch and dent" heat pump I just received is in very good shape - no scratches, no dents, worked right out of the box, couple mount screws for the window vent missing, but that is something Home Depot can solve in a heartbeat. Really very pleased, and between the price ($30 less than the last scratch-and-dent I bought, which did have scratches), the speed of shipment (FedEx ground, just under a week, no shipping charge) and the shape it is in I heartily recommend these folks: openboxdirect.com.

Irma

My friends in Florida survived Irma, though they don't yet know if their house - on the bay in St. Petersburg - still exists. Fingers crossed. It is too early to say if this was the hurricane of the century, but it sure looks like it. The news is playing it up, for sure, they're used to these puppies down there, it is part and parcel of living in the sunshine state, but from the Caribbean and the Keys it sure looks that this was a bad one.

Brexit

I've been planning to write a tome about how the British are deceiving themselves into thinking - this in reference to Brexit - they have a "special relationship" with the United States, when all that is, IMHO, is an interest loosely based on a commonality of language. Watch the local BBC news, and 30% of it is stuff about America, as if nothing happens in Belgium, France, Spain, Germany, The Netherlands, all places with a sizable population of Brits, and large British commercial interests. America's interests don't lie in Britain, and the days that the Marine Corps bought Harriers are long gone. Once their actors and actresses get to Hollywood they soon become Americanized, and then American. Yes, lots of British accents in business, commerce and the sciences, but nothing that ends up being exported back to the British Isles. I personally think the Brits should have become part of Europe, but then when they decided not to take part in the Euro, that was never an option. They're an island people, and thinking they can do with the Americans what they couldn't with the next-door Europeans is folly. No, the Ozzies and the Kiwis have their bread buttered in Asia and China, not in Downing Street. Sending military and SAS wherever the US needs support makes the Brits astute whores, this isn't about them "assisting" the common good. Americans don't do common good, they make money. The British build huge aircraft carriers, even if Brtain does not need defending in that way - they don't even make fighter jets for those carriers any more. I personally, Anglophile as I am, think they're deluded, and will pay a very high price for their "independence". They want to control immigration? Nobody will want to, or be able to, move there any more - problem solved, I suppose. No, this isn't the tome, I owe you that, no time to write that much this week.

September 10, 2017: Cooling off

Keywords: Edgestar, A/C, housesitting, heat pump, late summer, Irma, global warming

Edgestar 14 ton heat pump I suppose I am technically housesitting, what with my landlord off to the Pacific beyond, there is more work in the vegtable garden than I had anticipated, not helped by the various plants, planted too close together so it is hard to see what's where. And the little tree I chopped turned out to be a lot bigger than I thought, much of it hanging into the neighbour's yard, I'd never paid much attention. I have no clue how I am going to get it all into the yard waste pickup, but there you go, exercise is exercise. From the look of it, I am going to have to make one trip to the recycling center, if I want the place to look halfway tidy. What vegetables I did not donate to the local soup kitchen, are in the newly reconditioned freezer, which is freezing like the clappers..

sun in wildfire smokeThen the heat came back - unusually, in early September, temperatures in the nineties, and the wildfires to the East and South are now so bad the sky looks like there is cloud cover, and sun and moon are shades of orange. Add to that the burning smell, today the air was so bad I had an immediate allergy attack, after a bout of retching decided going back inside, some cooking for the freezer, was the better pastime. Thank God I moved the heat pump into the living space, as it has an air cleaner and allowed me to close up the house airtight - much to my infinite surprise, by the way, I have it running 24/7 in the belated summer heat, it consumes only some 215 kwh/month, which boils down to about $22, at our electricity rates. I've been redoing the calc and re-checking my measuring equipment, because that is much less than I expected. And what with it being a heat pump, that should pretty much be the same summer and winter. That bodes well for when I get an apartment, something I had been worrying about, when I went apartment shopping here in Seattle, a few years ago, nobody really had advice on what heating might cost, I haven't lived in an apartment for so many years... besides, in NYC you didn't pay for heat, and I can't for the life of me remember how much the A/C cost, in those days, and the window units I used then really weren't half as efficient as what is available today. So I am glad I got this thing last year, replacing the cool-only LG A/C, and am now able to run a full one month test without bothering the housemates.

Amazingly, the wildfires - 150 and more miles from here - are generating ashes that make it all the way over here, the cars in the driveway are covered in it. I needed to wash the SUV anyway, but now I really do, those ashes are acidy and not good for the paint. This is amazing - we had ashes from a local fire last year, but that was a mile away, if that - much of these fires are across the mountains or in the next State. I am wearing a mouth mask, for now, you learn to do that in Asia.

Back to the heat pumps - after some thinking, I went back online and found more of the reconditioned Edgestar units I already have one of, and as they are "half off" right now (these cost around $500 new), I splurged and ordered another, just to make sure I don't have to worry about heating or cooling once I find an apartment. Global warming has made it to the Pacific Northwest in that you now actually need air conditioning in summer. I remember all too well the poor folks from the projects who would fall asleep in the subway in New York City, because they did not have A/C and their apartments were too hot to sleep in... I was planning to re-apply for a low income senior apartment with the City of Seattle soon anyway, and when I went an looked at one, noticed there isn't central heating in these buildings. Now that I know these heat pumps really have excellent heating and cooling capabilities, and I've had a chance to calculate consumption, might as well. I thought about it, and those refurbished units come in waves - I remembered that the last time I wanted one, I ended up with an LG air conditioner because no refurbished heat pumps were available. And as I said, these Edgestar units have excellent capacity, are very efficient, not too noisy, and I'll live with the ugliness. For the past three weeks, one single unit has kept much of the house (minus two rooms) cool, can't ask for more than that, and I know from previous winter use its heat output is pretty good too. No more radiators, space heaters, baseboard heaters, all of which eat much more power than a heat pump does. Seriously, I am amazed, for the past 20 days, the period of my test, the unit has used only 71¢ worth of electricity per day. Hard to believe.

What else is there... I don't know that you need me to comment on the hurricanes and wildfires and floods, it is tunring out to be quite a summer. Especially the Dutch and British Caribbean were hard hit, as I write this we're waiting for landfall in Florida, where my friends did not evacuate, New Yorkers, what can I tell you. Having had one Cat 3 come over my house (and I am talking about the eye here) I would not want to repeat that, but you can't make the horse drink, especially duff as they have plenty of family on Long Island, they could have watched the thing on TV, like sensible people. Owell.

August 31, 2017: Busywork

Keywords: Craftsman, Sears, Edgestar, Whirlpool, freezer, A/C, Donald Trump, lead-acid, lithium-ion, chainsaw, pruning, bread, cereals, processed foods

What with the housemates gallivanting around Asia Pacific for a month I am in a good place to clean and re-organize and repair and defrost and clean freezers and weed out backyard jungles and what have you. Additionally, I am testing my Edgestar heat pump to see how much of the house it is able to cool - not expecting miracles, but really the only way to check performance is to simply try. Of all of the air conditioners I have owned, over the years, few were able to do a good job, and especially the "portable" units were largely anemic, whatever the commercial blurb may promise. But this works better than expected - it won't handle the entire house, but is getting pretty close, and I've now got a kilowatt meter in the power line, so I can see exactly how much it is consuming. So far, it is big, ugly, and much more efficient than some of the Asian units I've tried - much to my surprise. From the look of it, with temperatures still in the '80s, the heat pump costs less than $60 per month to run, this at $0.1025 per kwh, and that really is a lot better than I expected. The drawback of heat pumps is that they're not small (especially not if they're dual-hose units, like mine), and they use a high airflow, by comparison with cooling-only air conditioners, so make more noise. But being able to use a single efficient unit for heating and cooling - pretty good. Especially here in the Pacific Northwest, where only 30% of households even have A/C, inefficient is the name of the game, kind of strange - there is abundant hydro-electric power, but most people heat with gas, which is largely imported from Canada.

Whirlpool 1999 upright freezerAnyway, what with the housemates away, I seem to be getting busier, not more relaxed. Then again, there is plenty of engineering stuff to do - I managed to resurrect our 1999 Whirlpool freezer, which we all thought was nigh-on deceased, but as it turned out its auto-defrost wasn't functioning any more, and once I figured out how that worked - stunning, working on cleverly engineered "old" technology - I was able to get it back to normal. We don't do that any more, maintenance on household equipment, more's the pity, I spent about a week cleaning and adjusting and replacing bits, this is just stuff I like doing, as an engineer, you learn from it, and as of yesterday it is sitting in test, so far so good. The auto-defrost is klugy, but works remarkably well, having said that, I don't yet have it at the 0° setting it is supposed to be running at (-20, for the Centipedes). Then, there's a tree to the side of the house that is growing underneath the foundation, so that needed to come out, and I could not get the freakin' chainsaw to work. Well, new spark plug - C. only bought this last year - and now I've got it going. I am kind of used to trees and chain saws, having owned and maintained five acres of woods in Virginia, but it did turn out there's a lot more tree than I bargained for. Still, it's gotta come out, as the dentist said...

Hmm. I've kind of stopped eating bread - not for any other reason than reducing my calorie intake. It occurred to me we grow up with bread and cereals, a cheap and effective way to take in nutritious grains, but then I thought that if I just eat the stuff I put on bread - like cheese, liverwurst, that sort of thing - I might actually reduce my caloric intake, apart from the daily meal I take. That, after all, has grains - I eat either rice or pasta, potatoes, not so much, cereals, to me, are too expensive, and generally full of stuff you don't actually need, flavour agents - for the kids, the flavour agents program their brains to understand that when something is sweet, it is nutritious food. There is, if you look at the labels, a lot of stuff in bread that does not need to be there, like sugar and salt, while cereals, today, fall very heavily on the side of "processed foods", again, with lots of ingredients that are nutritionally unnecessary. I many ways, I am tempted to see if I can think of better products "for the masses", not helped by the way manufacturers spike the food they sell to the great unwashed masses. Seriously.

One Trumpectomy a week

Now that it looks Donald Trump is not able to effectively lead the country, we have to ask ourselves about the voters that put him in the White House. Are there truly that many misguided and gullible people? Or are those largely "big ugly Americans" whose idea of negotating with Mexico is making part of a Home Depot parking lot available to journeymen? If there are, how come this debacle didn't happen before now? I guess it stands to reason Donald Trump wasn't going to work with the establishment, he said so often enough, but now we have to wonder whether he is able to compromise enough to "make things better", or if he is, at this point, the petulant child that is not getting his way, and has never learned how to "work with what you have". This is the guy who, when he didn't have enough credit, just got more, and always got away with it. And he is now, pardon the pun, where "the buck stops". No, the president is not the boss. He is the Compromiser-in-Chief, a role past presidents, with their political experience, have all carried effectively.

Lead-acid needs maintenance

I could have lowered the price of the Craftsman rechargeable mower, but I think it is really worth what I asked for, $115, so I'll leave it sit until the grass starts growing again. There don't seem to be cheap rechargeable mowers with the same specs, I'll give it a month or so. Checking... no, the cheapest bells-and-whistles 19 inch battery mower on Amazon is around $300, so this is a good deal. Technology is expensive - the latest fad is that they sell mowers without battery and charger, like you can go to Walmart and get those cheaper there. Not. Read the reviews, and you'll note that all of the "cheaper" rechargeable show complaints about battery life - to be honest, that's mostly due to the manufacturers not including powerful enough batteries, you can tell just by looking at blade sizes - the cheaper mowers all have 14 or 16 inch blades, any longer, and the batteries go even quicker - or burn out when the blade catches. I'd keep the thing, actually, but my housemate isn't someone who will put the mower under a charge in the morning, when he is planning to mow in the afternoon. And as I said before, lead-acid batteries you must never run down, once empty they are toast.

Interesting, then, to see first hand how well lead-acid works, when power is needed, by comparison with litium-ion. We all have flashlights and cordless drills and saws and things, and as you know you spend much of your time charging batteries, forget emergency repairs, batteries somehow always need charging when you need a cordless piece of equipment. But with the lead-acid, I was able to do a full front-and-back mowing session today, with more than 50% charge remaining once done. So that's pretty cool - caveats are that you have to give the batteries a quick top-up before mowing, and let the batteries cool down afterwards, before re-charging them. And then in winter, you have to keep 'em topped up, and they shouldn't be exposed to frost. It is just so much more powerful than a lithium-ion mower...

August 13, 2017: Summer and Haggling

Keywords: Craigslist, Craftsman, Sears, lawnmower, wildfires, Edgestar, auto insurance, Met Life, Skype

Craftsman rechargeable 19 inch mower First time ever I have sold something via Craigslist, I've sort of studiously stayed away from it due to the security implications. As a consequence, I didn't know the number of security features they've built in, to the point that you can use their anonymous email functions, and kind of take it from there, and walk away if it doesn't "feel good". Like the bozo asking if something is still for sale half an hour after you posted it. Long story short, my "spare" A/C went, for the price I asked for, in six hours, after a river of hagglers. Painless - mind you, we're in the middle of a heatwave. Now for D's electric lawnmower, which I fixed up with a new set of lead-acid batteries, but I think I may wait until the grass starts growing again. Yep - nothing doing, even though, just checking, Amazon has a cheap Black & Decker 16(!) inch mower with two 40 volt 2 amp batteries for - dig this - just under $300. Mine is a 19 inch mulching mower, with all the bells and whitles, and the new battery pack I just installed is 48 volt 9 amps, letting it go for $115, if you're interested, I'll take cash, Visa, Mastercard (in the driveway), or Paypal. The B&D (they actually own Craftsman now) will maybe mow a postage stamp, the reviews say folks charge one battery while using the other so they can finish the entire lawn. Of course, lead-acid batteries need to be maintained, and lithium-ion ones do not, but the lead-acid at least gives you oompf, and will last much longer.

For summer, the heat is way above what is "normal" for the Puget Sound, not helped by the smoke coming down from Canadian wildfires, bad enough they declared a state of emergency up there. Here, it has been around 95 Fahrenheit, a.k.a. 35 Celsius, while a bit down the road the temps topped 100. I haven't got my heat pump running all day, as the room is small enough that it makes too much noise, but cooling everything down ahead of sleep time is definitely better for my sleep. I must say that by comparison with other portable A/C units, this Edgestar does very well, especially once it cools down outside, and it sucks cooler air into the heat exchanger. It says it has 14,000 BTUs, and I think it actually does, going like the clappers. I got this unit reconditioned, and it is clear that once I get a proper apartment, all I will need is a second unit to cover both heating and cooling - actually, once the housemates are on vacation I can actually try it out in the living area. But the dual hose design makes all the difference - the single hose units suck the air you just cooled out of the room, which makes for a lot less efficiency, and, I think, a lot more electric waste. It is kind of amusing to think all these units had single hoses, and once everybody bought one they introduced the dual hose. Having said that, on a heat pump, in the middle of winter it'll suck really cold outside air, which isn't great for efficiency. Even so, these days, heat pumps work very well, and at today's gas prices, are cheap to run.

Dutch Indonesian colonial thermometerNext week, I have to find a new insurer - the one I am with now is raising my rates way beyond reasonable, I think they actually use the Verizon retiree program to hook new customers, and then gouge them. Let's see if we can do better, I got a good quote, but need to make sure I can use one specific account with them, cutting my rate by pre-paying six months out of savings, this is stuff you have to have anyway, never thought of that, which makes me a bit stupid.

Not yet having posted this, I managed to find myself a new insurer, and a policy at rates that are pretty close to what I paid before this encounter with Met Life. I switched because they gave me a better rate than my then insurer, then started raising my rates bit by bit, something that had not happened to me for years, you always spend time getting insurers to lower your rate, so this was, clearly, not accidental.I got pretty worked up over it, then seriously started insurance shopping, and it became clear pretty swiftly I should probably done that sooner, and that the Verizon retiree deal isn't, well, a "deal" of any kind.

Microsoft now requires a date of birth in order to log into Skype, a service I have used forever, and who have my credit card on file. Not going to happen. Complaint filing time. If they really think I am going to give them my date of birth so I can close my account....

August 3, 2017: Not Fake News, Fake Research

Keywords: hybrid cars, electric vehicles, Tesla, Leaf, alternative fuel, 2024, AI, Artificial Intelligence, 2 factor authentication, intelligence, GPS, marketing

Ah. Britain has decided cars on gasoline or diesel can't be sold any more from 2040, this to combat the ongoing pollution problem. Cars with hybrid drive trains - to all intents and purposes cars with both an electric and a mechanical drive train, both powered by gasoline - are exempted.

Say what? Hybrid and electrical cars are going to solve part of Britain's pollution problem? As a bit of background, hybrid electric vehicles have been on the market since 1997, some 20 years, during which period some 12 million of them have been sold, to a large extent partly subsidized by governments. The effect on automotive pollution, over that time? Big, Fat Zero. Nothing. Zilch. 0.00%. By comparison, just in 2016, 88.1 million cars of all types were sold worldwide. In the UK, the hybrid electric vehicle is so popular that the 2016 market share was.... hold on to your hat... 1%. So the British government has decided to combat air pollution by promoting the least popular automotive technology of all time. Affordable electric heavy goods vehicles by 2040? The technology does not exist. Quick rechargeable cheap electric vehicles by 2040? The technology does not exist.

Let me elaborate: there aren't, at the present time, many affordable vehicles with an alternative drivetrain being produced in volume. The only car that comes to mind that's available "off the shelf" is the Nissan Leaf, in production since 2010, 250,000 of which were sold in 2016 (I am duty bound to point out that, in many markets, electric vehicles are sold with a tax incentive and other perks, and that makes comparing and sales statistics hard-to-impossible). By comparison, Ford sold some 70,000 of its economy Focus models in just the UK, in that same year. The base Focus retails for some 18,000 - the Leaf goes for $35,000, or double the price.

What I am saying is that cheap alternative-fuel vehicles aren't being produced and sold, today. I am sure car manufacturers would be able, if they wanted to, but for whatever reason, they're not making the effort. The forthcoming "cheap" Tesla, supposedly, will cost the same as the Leaf, but it is, at this point, not out there, announced but not available. And to be honest, Tesla isn't a company known for making cheap stuff, and Tesla nor Musk have any experience or expertise in cut-throat mass markets, and it definitely isn't doing the trick the Japanese introduced, many years ago: a cheap but completely kitted base car, the Tesla Model 3 with basic bells & whistles is rumoured to be valued closer to $45,000. The orders, I understand, are roaring in - even though nobody has ever driven one... Road tests by motoring websites? Tesla "offered rides"... in a $35,000 car fitted with $25,000 worth of extras.

So: despite lots of engineering, and decades of development, the only way we can provide vehicles for folks-on-a-budget is by sticking a small gasoline engine in them - the Europeans and the Asians have city runarounds with 1 liter and 1.2 liter engines that do just fine. There isn't an alternative fuel that can be produced cheaply enough to compete, partly because diesel, long the "new" miracle powerplant, now turns out to be a really heavy polluter, being phased out in all consumer vehicle markets.

All I am saying is that if a government bases its forecast and future plans on technologies that do not currently exist, that are not being developed for the mass market, and that it has no control over, you have to ask yourself how they're going to make this happen, given that Britain's pollution isn't caused by polluting cars, but by polluting drivers. There are too many, in increasingly congested urban areas, issues that are not being addressed in any plans - again, England will exempt hybrid vehicles, which run on gas! Yes, I know BMW has said it'll build electric Mini's in England - but Mini's are fashionable expensive cars, not runabouts for someone to get groceries in and pick up the kids from practice. IMHO: not gonna happen. Ah, here we are: the Royal Mail has a contract for the new Peugeot Partner L2 Electric van: 67HP electric motor, 106 mile range, and a 552 kg payload. That's the state of the art, after so many years of development: delivery vans with the performance they had in the 1970s. Only these "save the environment". Sure.

Microsoft gets harder every week

I sometimes wonder if I should swap my two HP Elitebooks, as the 2560p is doing most of the work, while the 2570p sits in the safe as my spare. While I do swap the batteries and clean the innards every month, and can technically swap some other bits as well, Microsoft won't let me swap out the hard disk, I'd have to get the Windows serial number re-activated, and you can only do that a limited number of times. Umm, hang on, that may not be true if you have it identified using a Windows Live (or whatever) account, let me check. Yes, I suppose it is possible, I actually have gone through Windows' activation helpline myself, and that worked, but I would not use that as a reliable installation method, Lord knows what Microsoft will restrict next. If I do swap the CPUs, you see, I'd have to re-activate the other two operating systems with a new key as well, it is all a bit much. So I just won't, and keep on Hooverin'.. I must say it is kind of amazing that Microsoft, Apple, Google, and the hardware manufacturers, between them, have not invented a foolproof way to tie a buyer to a license, so that consumers can swap systems at their convenience. While I do have the ability to take all of my software and files and "deport" them to another system, for many people that isn't a convenient option, and if you consider many folks are completely dependent on their PC for admin, tax, correspondence, what have you, I've noticed a lot of older folk aren't using their PCs much, as they don't know (admittedly, don't want to know) how to manage their data. Yes, these are often the same folk who answer the phone every time it rings, look at the caller ID and then answer the unknown number, use a wireline phone (which in most cases isn't!) and think those names on their cellphone are there so they don't miss their daughter calling. It is our own fault - we're still selling cable subscription packages that include a "home phone", which nobody needs, but still has to pay for to get the "discount".

In the meantime, I've swapped some of the bits from the 2570p, bits that don't get much use, out with the 2560, which seems to be running more quietly and not as hot. There's nothing wrong with it, but it is driving two HD displays, 4 channel Dolby, 16Gb of RAM and a two terabyte disk, and that is quote a load while multitasking and streaming TV. Additionally - and this is getting worse - many websites start up tracking code and scripts and streaming video injections that eat CPU cycles by the bucketful, advertisers apparently not really aware that on most poeople's PCs and handhelds, the code simply makes it impossible to scroll and read webpages - ad customers have long since stopped testing, and believe this stuff sells things, even though it does not. If you want to know why people use ad blockers, it is because the ads make it impossible to view webpages, not for any other reason.

It is Intelligence or Artificial, not both

I like Professor Marcus' article about AI - a self serving like, as I have felt for years that Artificial Intelligence, by itself, does not (yet) exist - there are no sentient artificial systems in existence today. How do I know this to make the statement? I've had the privilige of working at IT research labs for many years, and one of the research activities there - eventually discontinued as a waste of time, talent and money - was AI, a component of the call handling automation systems I helped develop and build. We are interacting with what is deemed to be "AI" on an everyday basis - when we use Google, when we use Facebook, when we use Amazon, Netflix, and for some of us, when we use IBM's Watson. What Facebook, Google, Amazon and Netflix call "AI" is nothing more than a sophisticated computer algorithm that is capable of looking things up really fast, and then producing the result its creators programmed in. That's not intelligence. When I kick you in the shin you will feel pain and withdraw your leg, and that is not because you are intelligent, that is because that is how your body is programmed to avoid damage. When Facebook invited you to "prove it is you" by identifying pictures of friends, it is not using intelligence, or facial recognition. First of all - and that goes for Google, Amazon, what have you - if Facebook had Artificial Intelligence, it would not need you to identify yourself, it would be able to tell, from multiple forms of input, who you are. Once you give Facebook your name (a truly intelligent system would not need you to log in) its AI would be able to determine you are who you say you are, and it would know where you wanted to go. IOW, intelligence is Not Needing A Login. When is the last time you walked into your parents' house and they asked you for ID? And then, when Facebook shows you pictures of your "friends", it will show you pictures of deceased people, picture of people taken long before you could have possible known them, pictures of people it says are their own parents, and pictures of people it says are their own children. You nor I would consider a person who died ten years ago a "friend", but Facebook's AI thinks that's normal - it is in fact "intelligent" to the point that it need not take your feelings into consideration. Facebook will show you pictures of windmills and haircuts it says are your friends. If I would show you a picture of your grandchild, and tell you this is a picture of you, would you think I am intelligent? So does Facebook have AI? They will tell you they do, and I will tell you that if they did, they would use it.

You see two factor authentication cropping up all over, today - even Amazon has begun to - unannounced - require it. Why? Because all of these folks who need it - banks, Paypal, Amazon, the Fed, Medicare - do not have functioning AI. This isn't because they can't afford it, or don't want to use it, this is because it does not exist. It is a crying shame that these large IT companies are bamboozling the ignorant public by pretending something exists that does not. Think about it this way: if Tesla had a functioning self drive system, Joshua Brown's Tesla would not have killed him. An intelligent system would not have allowed Brown to ignore safety warnings, it would not have driven into a tractor trailer, and it would not have been able to continue driving when there were things it could not detect. I don't know if you've ever been caught in a rainstorm when you had to stop on the side of the road because you couldn't see the road, but that is intelligence. Even that simple thing, determining it is unable to safely proceed, Tesla's AI cannot do. Programmer's fault, you say? No - and this underscores how little you understand of intelligence - intelligence is not programmed, it runs itself. In humans, there is evolution, there is DNA, there is medicine - but there isn't a hospital division called "intelligence", where you can get intelligence treatment, or an intelligence prescription. It is not a "thing". It is a concept. It is different from organs and bacteria and conditions. And we are, as Professor Marcus expounds, a very long way from creating something that provides it. We've found intelligence in crows, and squid. Not in refrigerators. The day you open your refrigerator and note your shopping has been moved around to its proper temperature zones, that is the day AI exists. A Safeway bot shovels your shopping into your white box, and the frozen stuff will automatically end up in the freezer section. Without your going online to order, without anybody telling anybody anything, and without bar codes and model numbers, and without the bot having to be told where your refrigerator is, or even where you live.

You see, we're used to having to spend tens of billions of dollars to put up hundreds of satellites so our new Toyota can find its way to the doctor's office, and we have been programmed to believe that is intelligence - but it is not. It is fly-by-wire, and it is unreliable to the point that airliners are not allowed to use it to guide their flying. To me it is close to where I have to conclude we spent billions of dollars and decades of development, some of which I was involved in, creating artificial intelligence, we then concluded we could't do it, and decided to take something else and call it artificial intelligence, and use our marketing prowess. AI, today, even in a limited fashion, does not exist. The proof is simple: if it did, it wouldn't have the prefix "artificial". Because intelligence is well defined, and it does not need, or even allow, a restrictor in front of it.

July 23, 2017: Trying to not get confused

Keywords: Mint.com, Intuit, online finance, Oakley, shades, Air Optix, Brexit, Trump, contact lenses, hydrogen peroxide

Oakley Half Jacket Those are my "renewed" old (2005) Oakley "Half Jacket" driving glasses, which I looked at, the other day, and decided the lenses were too frayed, at the edges, and the last time I looked at replacement lenses (a kind shop person had told me they were available) you could only buy them in multiples (meaning, four sets or so) and they were expensive. But I had a quick look at their website, and they do now sell them in single sets, but they're still not cheap, $70, for the base lenses. So I did another browse at Amazon (where else...) and found the aftermarket lenses in the picture here, with nosepads and replacement "socks", for under $30. As you can see, they're a good fit, and much to my amazement their optical quality and colour correction are excellent, all they do is (apart from polarization and UV protection) impart a grey scale on the light, which is (at least on this very sunny day) actually quite pleasant. Much better than I expected from an aftermarket product. If the selfie above has shades, those are the "reborn" Oakleys, I certainly can't afford to replace them with the same brand, but they're designed to come apart and have the lenses replaced, and they do that well, even after all these years..

Trumpectomy

Every time I look at what the Trump presidency is up to, I come away with questions and raised eyebrows, but not much else. The reason the link here points to the UK and Brexit, is that it increasingly looks to me that both in the United States and the United Kingdom, a sizable chunk of the population made a damaging electoral choice that, in hindsight, makes little sense, and will lead to problems and significant economic losses. I am not sure whether or not anybody "colluded with the Russians", I don't know that we even need that investigated, nor does that have my interest, it is more the forward look I am not getting. If I think back to previous presidencies, they came with plans and actions to make change, make things better, and we ended up with new regulations, we could get subsidized new refrigerators that were more efficient, we could swap our old jalopies for shiny new fuel efficient vehicles, we could frack our way to cheaper gas, etc. But now, I am not seeing any of that, I am not seeing anything that improves life, the economy, my health care, any of those things that need fixing, in these United States. Seriously - lots of things that will get reversed, repealed, wound back, but nothing that will get built, made, started. We must remember that Tweeting, like email, is a method to avoid having to have face-to-face conversations and negotiations. It is one way traffic - yes, you can talk back, but it'll drown in the sea of noise, only what Trump tweets is reported. Putin meeting? One liners. Macron meeting? One liners. And absolutely nothing he says gets a followup, or results in an initiative. The healthcare initiative cannot now be introduced because one elderly gentleman is having a procedure... I don't know about you, but my mind boggles, I have no clue what the man is actually planning to do (although he seems to have stopped going to Del Boca Vista, for now). To get back to Putin, he is everything Trump is not - both former military and former KGB, lived and worked overseas, trained in a million things, and then we have the realtor in the White House, who I do not believe has enough command of the English language to write his own speeches. Most politicians use Twitter in a limited fashion, as 140 characters isn't normally enough space to make your point in, so if your communications fit in Twitter, and you have not been known to ever write ONE email, or made a single presentation on Powerpoint, I gotta worry about your adaptability, and your management skills. I'll not go on about this, but I am beginning to believe President Trump is't taking the USA anywhere it wants to be. Mark my words. Ah - here we are - the new White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, said it: Mr. Trump is an unbelievable politician. Live, on TV. Yes, he is.

Finance on your handheld?

Air Optix in hydrogen peroxide Something I hadn't really figured on, when I finally got my credit back, is that I had my financial software set up so "perfectly" that the addition of a credit card account completely destabilized my forecasting. I guess I had gotten too used to living "out of pocket". I've actually spent quite a few hours redoing the way I organize my accounts, in my financial software, to get to the point that I have some forecasting ablity again. It sort of throws up that credit is a truly dangerous thing, and hard to keep track of, software packages simply add your available credit to available cash, as if it is money you have. Why didn't I notice this before? Most likely because I had so much money coming in, every month, with a couple of investment accounts added, which you don't really know, from one day to the other, the value of. Being on the other side of the fence, as it were, it is an interesting conumdrum, interesting in that I am determined to make this work, one way or the other. I should probably mention I love statistics, like spreadsheeting all sorts of useless data, and finances are really the only thing I spend money on, in terms of buying software. Most other software I use is either freeware, or came with one or the other bits of hardware I've bought. One reason I use financial software is that it downloads my banking data - well, from my U.S. based accounts, at least, and lets me make electronic payments, it isn't something I would like to lose. I used to use Turbotax for tax returns, as well, but the cheaper version I used to use has now been crippled so badly by Intuit that you have to "upgrade" if you have more than one source of income. I think that's asinine, so dumped the idiots, making money by cheating is not my idea of a mutually beneficial business relationship. I have no problem paying for software, but it has to do what I need it to do, and I won't let a vendor change the functionality on me.

How many lenses?

You must have seen the news item about the British woman who had 27 contact lenses in her eye, after failing to remove some of her monthly disposable lenses over a 30 year period. Somewhat staggering, especially since she did not appear to have suffered an infection. One thing that isn't quite clear to me is why the two ophtalmic surgeons did not discover them, but the anaesthesiologist did. I can happen - I've had a contact lens get stuck on top of my eyeball, and when I tried to get it out I managed to grab it, but then it tore, and half of it stayed on top of the eyeball.. disconcerting! This happened at night, of course, when your eys are dry, and I had inadvertently rubbed my eye - I have extended wear disposables, worn 24/7 a week at a time, and there is always a risk the eye socket dries out to the point your lens gets "stuck", as it were. A generous helping of saline, and some patience, normally solves the problem, but in this case, it didn't immmediately help, and I probably was a bit impatient (and no, can't get behind the eyeball). At any rate, the press has it this woman did not do her annual eye check at the optometrist, and clearly was not the most diligent in counting her contact lenses. I've had, over the years, had a couple of minor mishaps, the most notable one in which the hydrogen peroxide desinfectant didn't properly neutralize, which was very painful but did no lasting damage, the only caution my optometrists gave me was that I was better off spending one day a week without lenses in, rather than one day a month, this was when they noticed my eyes were not getting enough oxygen, and were developing ancillary blood vessels into the cornea. I can take a hint, so I now clean and sterilize the lenses every seventh day, but other than that, I've had no problems or cautions. That's what you see to the left, the cleaning vial with hydrogen peroxide, the black bit at the bottom is the "neutralizer", which turns the hydrogen peroxide into water after a set number of hours, once the contacts are sterile. But I do see the optometrist, every year, you've only got one pair of eyes (easy for me to say as my insurance pays for the exam..). Same as with the teeth cleaning, those are kind of the basics. I've seen others comment they don't want to put fingers in eyes, but contact lenses allow so much better vision than glasses do, you have no idea. I started out with hard lenses you had to take out every day, and that helped with the process of changing lenses and keeping one's eyes healthy. If you're not a tidy person, often rush things, don't bother, but otherwise, you too can have 20/20 vision (and with monovision correction, both for reading and distance vision)!

July 16, 2017: More Shop, More Car

Keywords: Amazon, groceries, science fiction, Jack McDevitt, Costco, gasoline, Dodge 4.7 liter V-8, crankcase sludge, hybrid drive

I mentioned 1,000 page paperbacks, in my last blog entry - checked the shelves at the bookstore, but there aren't that many around, it seems - they're mostly "special editions", like a reprint of "Lord of the Rings". The "tomes" I read in paperback, in the past, top out around 500 pages, and regular books I checked are under 400 pages. So it wasn't unusual I was surprised, I am just curious when and how this technology - because thinner paperback paper is a new technology, except in rice- and bible-paper - was introduced. The pages are sometimes hard to separate, so my guess is it isn't hugely popular. Question is, if you're a new reader and you haven't had the exposure, does it bother you? I have, by the way, come across an excellent SF writer, I can't remember the last time I've become completely absorbed by a story, Jack mcDevitt, whose research and style of writing and complete adoption of alien environments have me spellbound. My nighttime reading normally leads to sleep, but I get into Mr. mcDevitt's stuff to the point I wake back up when the book falls out of my hand. It's Harry Potter for grownups, where everything is logical and normal in its weirdness. Try it. For the first time in years, I've bought another book by the same author, even before finishing the first. The link above goes to the book I am reading now, at Amazon.

More oil

I needed to realign the rear sight on my 9 millimeter, bought the tool, and haven't done anything about it. But an extra oil change comes first, I noticed last year there was some sludge in the PCV valve and under the oil filler cap, I understand that this should be harmless moisture, but that would mean I am not changing my oil often enough, so I thought I'd do a two month change, and then go back to six month changes. That way at least I get to check the state of relatively new oil. And there we go, all clean, or, at least, not a bit of sludge, though the oil was pretty black, and that probably means there was too much carbon, likely left over from the last change. Judging from the link here sludge is a "known issue" in this all-aluminium engine, so I guess I need to pay more attention. And perhaps I will change the coolant thermostat to the lower temperature version I've had sitting in a box for a couple of years. The cooling may not be as efficient as it was years ago, as there must have been crud buildup in the cooling system, so draining the entire system, flushing it out, installing a new thermostat, and refilling, more coolant circulation may be beneficial. I do have a new bottom radiator hose ready to install, so I will be able to check the "contents" of the old one. Comments found on the internet have it one should not change the coolant temperature, but I think the lower temperature mechanical thermostat - in the Durango, at the bottom of the engine block - doesn't actually change the engine's running temperature, it just makes it take more time to warm up - the other thermostats, especially those in the cooling fans, aren't changing, nor is the programming in the ECU. My diagnostic equipment will tell me what temperature the engine is running at, and I do think this older engine is running a bit warmer than is necessary. Research indicates it was made to "run hot" for clean burning, but I think less may be more, at its mileage. And, though I can't prove it scientifically, the engine is running more smoothly since the second oil change, I think I should run that header cleaner compound I bought through, and then do the oil change again. It isn't a huge expense, lessee, 6 quarts of oil plus filter at Walmart, $29, mix of heavy duty and synthetic, like I used to run in my old Alfa. So there.

I think I have, otherwise, mostly done the maintenance my old SUV needed - realizing pressure washing the front of the engine only from the top wasn't ideal, I removed the bottom splash shield for a second time (I'd just put it back from the oil filter change), and pressure washed the front as well as the bottom of the engine, after removing the serpentine belt and cleaning the pulleys with brake cleaning fluid. I hadn't done this in a complete fashion before, and sure enough, I ended up with some corrosion debris and some oil residue in the runoff - one nice thing about a pressure washer is that it uses limited amounts of water, so you don't get a contaminated flood in your driveway. You do have to be careful what you use it on, it is quite capable of blowing corroded connectors and mounts to bits (my European 220VAC electric pressure washer has double the output an American 117VAC version would have). Almost done, anyway - I do need to finish the cooling system, but once I have replaced (again) the PCV valve, today, there is little left but running engine cleaner through the intake header and valves. Ah - and I just discovered there is an intake breather filter I didn't know about. Better take a look at that, and perhaps pick a new one up at O'Reilly's tomorrow, for safety's sake. Nope, needs to be mail ordered.

Wanna buy batteries?

Odear. Plug-in vehicle prices are falling much faster than expected, spurred in part by cheaper batteries. So we have to wonder why the batteries are coming down in price. Conventional wisdom is that the production volume will make them cheaper. But it is, of course, eminently possible that, as they're not really selling in large volumes (large volume = Ford F150), there is a glut, over-production, of lithium-ion batteries, and the only way to get rid of them is to make them cheaper. I don't know, can't prove that, but I do know consumers aren't buying electric vehicles. They're buying regular cars, they're not buying diesels, after the emissions scandals, and hybrids - well, hybrids are cars with an electric drive system powered by gasoline. No two ways about it. But then I read in a Dutch newspaper that plug-in hybrids aren't selling at all, because the tax break now only applies to all electric vehicles, so perhaps that is a world wide trend? Because the new smaller Tesla is still quite expensive, and that means it won't be able to compete with the Toyotas and Hondas and Mazdas and what have you, which are kind of half the price. We know from experience the populace-at-large doesn't worry about the environment to shell out rivers of money for it, and with a non-believer in the White House... I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions, but for now, I think the electric car is a niche product, Tesla not doing itself a favour by building full drive automation in, which has killed people. Lesson: if you introduce new technologies, do one at a time, so the common person can get used to it. Older people won't even buy the auto-start cars, because they worry the feature won't work - even after they've driven one for a while.

0.1% has always been a rounding error

Why Walmart and Amazon aren't really in competition? Amazon owns cyberspace, I just checked: Walmart thinks consumers buy from them because they bombard them with emails. I blocked Walmart in Gmail, but see Walmart sent fifteen marketing emails in six days. Every six days. For no reason - there aren't emails about products I've ever expressed an interest in, or bought, this is just an email machinegun going off "because they can". These people haven't a clue - as in, they're stuck in a formula they can't get away from, because senior executives have no courage to change. There is a simple formula for implementing technologies - invent something, develop it, then try it out in a limited demographic, in such a way that you can track its effectiveness. I continue to wonder if email is a marketing tool - I personally don't think so, as tens of thousands of merchants, when they see a purchase from you, bombard you with emails, and there honestly are few people that spend an hour or more a day wading through emails they haven't asked for. This on top of the spam and the phishing, etc. E-stores I buy from on a regular basis do not do this, and that is psrt of the reason I am their customer. Even the memberships are marketing machines - AARP doesn't charge you very much because they make rivers of money selling your information - they otherwise, as far as I can see, don't actually provide you with much value. It is fascinating, if you check the Reuters link above, to see how, in one article, analysts both say retail is down - and up! It is the danger of lumping everything together, then breaking it out again - Costco and Walmart, both of which like large suburban properties, let you buy cheap(er) gas if you come to their megastores - but as I discovered, last year, the AM/PM - Arco gas stations here in the Pacific Northwest sell gas at the same prices, provided you pay cash, I now diligently make sure I have $50 in my pocket so I can fill my car up. The cost? For my V-8 Dodge Durango, which gets around 11mpg, I spend an average of $1.81 per day, on gas - post-Costco, where I used to buy my gas, when I spent $2.07 per day. My software tells me I spend less on groceries, and then there is the $55 membership - now up to $60, so even Costco is suffering, remember that when an organization wants more "members", they will lower the membership fee. When they increase the membership fee, they're not making the money they were needing to make, in whatever spreadsheet whoever used. The difference? I spent, in the 12 months after discontinuing my Costco membership, $1,000 LESS on groceries than I did in the previous year. Just groceries, for just me. That is $2.74 per day. I love the way I track my expenses, tell ya. That's just groceries, not the membership, not the Costco gas, not the LED bulbs and the hard disks and the vitamins and the contact lens fluids and the "stuff". Who knew?

July 3, 2017: Amazon does Food, and Books are Back

Keywords: Amazon, Whole Foods, self service, groceries, convenience, Aldi, Half Price Books, science fiction, Dr. Who, Kepler telescope

I keep reading and watching huge amounts of conjecture about Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods, and find it hard to believe nobody puts two and two together. It is simple: Amazon - Bezos - develops technologies. New, innovative technologies that upend product history and product design - look at how it started, Amazon sold books and developed an ebook, complete with reader, networks and infrastructure. Everyone keeps pointing at Amazon's self service self pay trial supermarket in Seattle, as if Bezos said that's in any way related to the acquisition of Whole Foods. He hasn't. Nobody said anything of the sort. In the era of #fakenews, it is a bit disconcerting to see folks write about Amazon's new "checkout free" stores, when in fact only one single trial store, accessible only to Amazon employees, has been set up in Seattle, likely to experiment with the technology. I doubt any of the commentators have actually been there - it has an 1,800 square foot size, which is probably the size of a 7-11, hardly a supermarket, a regular Trader Joe's supermarket, not the largest, probably measures some 20,000 square feet. Given that Amazon sells groceries - both as "shipped" commodities and for "fresh" local delivery in some markets - experimenting with what is likely a fully automated convenience store isn't that hard to grasp, especially since Amazon manufactures its own warehouse robots, and likely supplies the store using its own "Fresh" service, where the products are catalogued and scanned when they get to the warehouse anyway. None of it rocket science, and completely not pointing at any particular business direction. I mentioned 7-11 - between this trial and Whole Foods, and Amazon Fresh, it looks more like Bezos is aiming at the convenience market than at anything else - at consumers willing to pay for convenience, and not your blue collar Walmart customer, willing to sit in a 20 minute car cueue to get into the Walmart parking lot. The last Costco I saw built needed significant road building and reconstruction, from the local authority, that isn't what Amazon does. Drones? How would you use drones to deliver things to apartment 23B in big cities? Even if you could get the permits, which isn't going to happen in my lifetime. All I am saying is that there are lots of writers and reporters, and apparently few capable of reading Bezos' mind, or at least conjecture in the right direction.

Thinking about it, after re-reading what I just wrote, I can give you one reason why the little "Amazon Go" convenience store wouldn't work, in urban settings: theft. Here in Washington State, ever since supermarkets were permitted to start selling booze, the theft has been rampant to the point all supermarkets in the Seattle area have their booze locked up, and you need an attendant to "liberate" some. I forget the numbers, but a manager at a Safeway gave me the dollars, couple years ago, and that was jaw dropping. A supermarket where you could just load up your cart and walk out would need significant security - the primary reason why the self-service checkouts have attendants. And theft is on the rise, both in terms of good, services, entire gangs follow UPS and FedEx and Postal Service trucks, steal from porches, mailboxes, CCTV or no CCTV, they keep trying. Common knowledge has it that too much security makes your store unfriendly, something German chain Aldi ignores - you can't get a shopping cart at Aldi without unlocking it with a quarter, and I don't know that that bothers anybody - well, me, one time, when I had to go back to my car to get a quarter, I stopped carrying coins years ago.

They still do paper books

It has probably only been a year or two since I started reading books again - the paper kind, that is - science fiction, a few pages before bed. A doctor suggested that screen time just before sleep wasn't a good idea (I am sure you've seen the advice about this), so I installed a shim that changes the colour temperature of my displays at night, and then slotted in some "old style" reading time after turning in. This is how I came across a 1,000 page paperback, the other day, that I had no idea had a thousand pages. Not until I noticed it took me quite a long time to make any headway, and that the pages were so thin they were sometimes hard to turn one-by-one, did I realize there is even new technology in book binding - if it helps, I stopped reading paper books years ago, when the PC took over in my life, I had my first laptop in 1978, my first internet connection in 1980s. At least, I do not recall ever having a paperback with just under 1,000 pages. I am not sure I liked having that much to read - by the time I got to the end I had absolutely no clue how it started. Having said that, the book contained a few parallel stories that seemed, at the beginning, to have little to do with each other. I would think that when you write a "normal" book - say 500 or so pages - you run the story, even if there is a sequel, so there is a logical conclusion, towards the end, and I wonder how that works if you write a really long narrative, I don't know, to me, it just drones on. Does any of this make sense? I'll have a look, next time at Half Price Books, what some of the books I read in the past have, by way of page count. As I said, I noticed this when I found the pages were super thin, they must have been doing this for a while, though, this was printed in 2005. And when I check Amazon, I note the same writer has a 1,000 page sequel, so perhaps it is just this chappie, with his publisher's collusion. Whatever the case may be, I just hadn't come across this...

With Dr. Who, who needs another Earth?

Anybody understand why there is such an emphasis on finding "earth-like" planets? In many ways, science should be about discovery, and I think that does not mean you're out there, and spending rivers of money, just looking for yourself, or your equivalent. I am seeing this survey done with the Kepler telescope, now in its umpteenth refinement, and even if their suppositions are correct, we're talking about planets we're not going to get to visit in a thousand years or more (the first discovery, Kepler-452b, is 1,400 light-years away). So there isn't a way to ascertain if our tools deliver correct results. We're looking for "small rocky planets with years as long as the Earth’s", according to the New York Times, and that seems a huge waste of research dollars to me, as we have no proof we're not a fluke. Granted, you have to look for something, begin somewhere, but it seems a bit arbitrary to not find out what other forms of life could exist. Manned mission to Mars? For what purpose, just because we can? We already proved we can get to the Moon and back, so perhaps we should think of something different, what do you think?

June 22, 2017: The lunatics are loose

Keywords: Brexit, England, Amazon, Walmart, Lidl, Aldi, Macy's

London tower fireI have a hard time disconnecting the goings-on in England from each other - terrorism, by mostly indigenous jihadis, then a council estate, subsidized housing for low income folks, goes up like a torch. I am really not qualified to form an opinion, something you're especially likely to do if you've lived in a country, save to say that Britain came into the European Union as the poor cousin, with a somewhat backward society in somewhat dilapidated circumstances, and I can't say I am seeing what they're hoping to gain by leaving the EU, where living standards and health standards and safety standards continue to be higher than those in the UK. I suppose the divorce was always on the cards, from when the UK decided not to adopt the Euro, but I have my doubts the British know where they're going. In many ways, Donald Trump's election was weird, but Brexit is on another planet. Though, knowing the British as I do, it isn't unexplainable. After all, like the United States, Britain does not have high speed trains. They could never get the technology working reliably, while we lacked the political will, and so, the entire world now buys and uses Japanese, German and French technology. It reminds me of going overseas for (then) NYNEX, and having to explain to my American overlords there wasn't anyone who wanted American wireless technology - the European version, GSM, was developed without analog constraints, and based on data transmission, and that's what everybody wanted. Today, even the Americans have converted, finding complicated terminology to hide their failure.

Procrastination Station

In the interim, I am procrastinating like there was no tomorrow, not that I am not getting the important stuff done, but the maintenance-and-communicate list is not getting shorter. I've been planning to whack the weeds since Sunday, and today is Tuesday, and I've just not got off my ass. No disasters will happen, but I need to talk to the *&%$ who installed the garage doors, to the lawyers, I've all but given up finding Verizon HR (which can be easily remedied if only I got on the horn to Legal, or even connected with some former colleagues on Linkedin - anyway, you get the picture. As agressive and "forward" as I used to be, as discombobulated I am today. Not good.

Walmart? Amazon? Who is old school?

I've either lost my bottle, or the press has. Walmart is a large brick-and-mortar place where I go to buy things I know they sell cheaply. Their concept is based on impulse buying, in large browsable stores. Amazon is a company completely specialized in online shopping, with search engines and supplier and shipping management that all other chain stores would need a decade and billions of dollars to even get close - they even manufacture their own warehouse robots, write their own software and design and build their own servers, networks, data centers and data services. German supermarket behemoths Lidl and Aldi, which between them are destroying old school grocery shopping in Europe, are now expanding in the United States - Aldi (which owns Trader Joe's), from its quiet base on the East Coast, has the management and the technology to run Walmart USA into the ground, given time. They are the Walmart competition, not Amazon. Amazon is changing the face of shopping, especially for the generation that doesn't do a weekly shop at Walmart or Costco, coming home with overpriced commodities and unneeded flashlights, having filled up on gas at the store, some of which is needed to get to and from the "big box", typically not located near your house. Whole Foods is a high end store, well past its prime, and is not today, and can't be made to be, any kind of competition to traditional supermarkets. I would sit back and watch what Bezos has up his sleeve, and I guarantee it has nothing to do with out-Walmarting Walmart. Bezos is way too smart to step into a competition that Carrefour and Ahold have already pulled out of. In many ways, Aldi, Lidl and Amazon represent the "new technology" of shopping, with an emphasis on helping the customer spend less, something not in the interest of the traditional store.

Interestingly, we're spectacularly bad at figuring out what things cost, helped by manufacturers and vendors who use hidden cost to bamboozle you into parting with your money. When I see how much Comcast wants for your Xfinity subscription - $29.99 for just internet, the nominal charge being "$59.95 to $64.95 (subject to change)" - I know that your average neighbour pays for cable, which provides 40 times more programming than you have time to watch, a telephone line you do not need, and internet speed far lower than what your equipment is capable of. Much of the time, Comcast will provision and bill stuff you've not ordered, prevent you from using your own DVR, which you would not have to pay them for, every month - apart from which, if you recorded six programs simultaneously, on their DVR, when would you watch them? Technically, if you spent four hours watching TV, your Xfinity DVR can record 24 hours of other programming while you watch. Apart from figuring out when to watch, the device can only record 50 hours total, so you're going to have to spend some time deciding which programs not to watch, then decide what recordings to watch during the night so you can delete those and record more. If I dedicate 1 terabyte of disk space on my laptop to TV recording (in HD, via a third party dongle) I can still only record 118.5 hours of programming, so it is reasonable to conclude much of this DVR stuff is simply vapid marketing, and there isn't a "cheap, simple" option any more, unless you roll your own, like I have. When I see many folks spend $100 to $200 on cable every month, much of it for services they don't use and programming they don't watch, you have to ask yourself whether parts of our economy are based on cheating folks out of their money, as opposed to selling stuff folks need, at a fair price. If, indeed (to get back to where I started) Amazon, Aldi and Lidl are pulling the rug from under the "overpricers", that's good news for the consumers. But helping consumers understand they're being bamboozled, essentially with assistance from the U.S. government, is not going to be easy - a hybrid vehicle, a Toyota Prius or Chevy Volt, runs on gas, not on electricity, it has two complete drive trains, instead of one, and the government was forced to allow mileage calculations that no longer have anything to do with what it costs you to fuel and run the cars.

Here is an example: a used SUV I bought in 2007 for $13,000 (paid cash, no interest or lease) actually costs me, including purchase, gas, maintenance, insurance, tax, and everything else, $11.89 per day to own and run. That's $362 per month. And you will find that, whatever car you buy, that's pretty much how much it'll cost you to drive "a car" - forget the MPG, forget the "manufacturer's discount", forget the price you can only get if you use the car manufacturer as a bank, forget the insurance companies that will only insure you if they can see how many times a day you brake, and which Starbucks you go to. Gas, in my equation, only accounts for 21% of the cost of driving the car, so if it were an electric vehicle, you'd still be out $9.32 per day. If you use the car to commute, if you finance the car, or if you lease the car, expect to pay much more. Or much, much more. And that isn't adding the gas you would need to go to Walmart once a week. Or Costco. Or Sam's club. And it isn't adding the cost of the freezer you need, and the freezer electricity, to store the stuff you bought you're not going to eat until the summer is over. If then. I follow a blogger who got rid of her husband and his part time daughter, then spent another six months (I kid you not) emptying the big marital freezer, before she got rid of it. She should have calculated the cost of that food - purchase, electricity, cubic feet, freezer amortization, I'll bet those were some of the most expensive dinners the poor woman had ever had.

If you have a Macy's account, you'll periodically receive discount coupons. When you then take your charge card and discount coupons to a Macy's store and find and buy new sneakers, your discount coupons will not be honoured, because sneakers, at Macy's, are now sold by a third party vendor which doesn't honour Macy's sales conditions. Will I buy sneakers at Macy's again?

June 14, 2017: Trump made it, but May...

Keywords: Pho Saigon, Vietnamese, downtown Seattle, Theresa May, Brexit, Conservative government, EU, home search, health insurance

beef noodle phoI only belatedly realized, the other day, that after my hospital appointments downtown, picking up a bite to eat there, before heading home, would probably get me better food at a lower price, considering Seattle is funny in that it shuts down after 6, pretty much, and so these restaurants and takeaway places have to compete on both quality and price in a very limited timeframe. I am not used to this, in both NYC and the D.C. area business starts early, and shuts late - on my way to a 7am doctor's appointment, I'd come off the HOV at 6am, and have breakfast at a Starbucks that opens at 5am. That's different from Seattle in so many ways... Anyway, I grabbed a medium beef noodle soup at Pho Saigon, $8.63 including tax. The place is Vietnamese enough it has an altar, and the flavour is "all there", so to speak. TG I get to go back there on Monday, I just realized.

Mayday

I suppose it made sense for Prime Minister May to call a snap election - whichever way it went, she knows where she stands, I think there are, at the present time, a lot of Brits who have begun to realize that Brexit means an insecure future, I am certainly not hearing the masses of people who think leaving the EU is a really fine idea. Donald Trump is not into middle aged Englishwomen, he doesn't watch PBS, doesn't understand the English Londoners like Sadiq Khan speak, a special relationship with McDonalds will give you indigestion, if not erosive esophagitis. Watching the goings-on, it looks like the Brits conveniently forgot Mrs. May never was an elected Prime Minister, and now that she is, she is barely. Brexit is not a goal, not an aim, it is, at best, a crutch for the Brits to prove they really are an island people. I recall moving to London from continental Europe, and getting the feeling I had landed on the moon - and that has, despite the rivers of Europeans living there now, not changed, Britain is more American than German or French, they effectively mistake language for affinity. Having said that, millions of Brits don't want to live in Britain, they will not have many places to go after Brexit, and when looking at Britain in the way I do - I watch BBC as much as I watch American broadcast TV - I am not seeing what the British think they have to offer anybody. Way back when, part of the reason I set up a business in London was that I could import services from the USA and offer them throughout the EU - and that is a door Mrs. May has resoundingly shut. The EU, without Britain, won't lose anything, but I can't for the life of me figure out how the British think they're going to make money if they can't ship cars to the EU without paying tariffs. Have they not gotten the message that their police cars, like those in Beijing and Shanghai, are German? As is the Mini Cooper... High speed trains? French or Japanese. HP Sauce? Made in The Netherlands. I hope I am wrong, but every time I hear Theresa May talk about the "negotiations with Brussels" I think: "Negotiate with what? Streaky bacon and Stilton? Clotted cream?" It is curious to see how many Brits appear to only now realize the full extent of the Brexit consequences, today I read Airbus may not continue its EU operations in the UK if free exchange of staff cannot be guaranteed - something, of course, that works both ways, British specialists and engineers (and bankers, and chefs) will require work permits to hold a job or consulting position in the EU. So will the expatriate Brits who live and own businesses in the European Union.

The non-coalition between Mrs. May (because this isn't a Tory idea, this is someone who, like Mr. Trump, thought she'd be All Powerful) and the Northern Irish has the full makings of a disaster - Britain can't have an open border with the European Union, and by the time the folks in Northern Ireland understand they either have a full border with Ireland, or a full border with Britain - possible, as they're on an island - there will be hell to pay. Harrible, as Trump would say. It was simple, with pros and cons, now it is going to get complicated, with pros and cons. All on live TV, right on your "device".

Living space

Having parted with a lot of money getting my dental surgery and green card renewal out of the way, I now need to figure out when to start looking for an apartment again. I qualified in Seattle a few years ago, then realized my funds really weren't up to scratch, but having saved up a bit, and with my credit reinstated, I need to figure out when to restart the effort. I had originally thought about buying a used travel trailer, and moving South, but perhaps I should simply use my tenure in Seattle, if I recall the cost of the schlep from Virginia to Washington State a move to San Diego or thereabouts would pretty much kill my finances, at least temporarily. A trailer is all very well, but you have to park it somewhere, and when I see the numbers of homeless trying to leave their trailers all over the place, mixing that up might not be fun. Being eligible for housing in Seattle is perhaps something I should take advantage of. Thing is, when? Maybe I should just hit the phone and talk to them, having been on the list before.

I started this blog entry with my doctor visits - while some of those are my regular semi-annual specialist checkups, the Fed (Medicare) and my corporate health plan are adding a few things "here and there". All without additional charges, but ex-smokers now get an annual low dose chest scan, my insurers insist on "wellness visits", which they actually send gift cards for, nice they pay some of my Amazon purchases, and I haven't even mentioned my "free" gym membership. That makes the total numbers of medical checkups a bit more than I really think I need, but not doing the stuff your insurance wants you to could backfire, financially, I guess a few more tests than you actually need doesn't hurt. After all, it was during one of those routine annuals that my doctor in Virginia discovered the swollen thyroid, the sort of thing you ignore and think it'll go away, except it didn't. So all good, although I've set up my December appointments all for one day, driving into downtown Seattle is getting harder and lengthier by the month.

June 8, 2017: Enough with the upheaval already

Keywords: Manchester, Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, HP Elitebook, Bluetooth, Amazon, Verizon HR, ITV, Morse, mobile check deposit, call centers

Onelove Manchester Grande/CyrusI criticized Ariana Grande for hightailing it home, just when her fans needed her most, but watching this 23 year old from Boca roaring back into Manchester, this weekend, with a truly amazing show - which was organized and put together in an exemplary manner, this being live, streamed worldwide, with a local 50,000 strong audience - I can only tip my hat at this young lady. I'd never heard her sing, but - oops, from listening to her I'd have her of Hispanic stock, but Wikipedia tells me she's Italian American, from New York. Honestly, putting this type of show together, broadcasting it live, not a playback in sight, it was truly amazing. There weren't my type of artists, but I am glad I watched the whole three hours live on my illicit BBC feed, including the tens of thousands of kids in the audience. I sometimes think my generation is leaving the kids a pretty messed up place, but then I watch these - kids - and their taking control gives me hope. It really does. If a 23 year old can energize this many people inside of a week, we don't need to worry about the hate-beards. They're toast. We are, perhaps, seeing them in their death throes. Miley Cirus, too, impressed the heck out of me, she has come a long way from the Disney Channel, I guess it is a business you either grow up fast in, or self-destruct. I spent some time in that business, way back when, in Amsterdam, what can I tell you, the adults are getting younger. By the way, American broadcast networks, this show was an enormous missed opportunity to woe a new young adience - ABC put a 1 hour edited version on at 10pm, you can't pre-empt all these commercial programs. We're not getting it, we are losing touch with the people supposed to pay the bills and buy the products. All an American producer would have to do is watch the audience - those are the future adults you're telling they don't matter enough to let them participate in real time. 23 year olds are giving the marching orders, guys, and you're not listening. Whole new generation on the war path.

If you still think of England as the country with unarmed Bobby's, that's done and dusted. The London Bridge attack response had the attackers killed by armed officers eight minutes after the initial emergency call, when 8 officers fired 50 rounds. That's shoot to kill, and actually a better armed response than you'll find in most other places on the planet. The Metropolitan Police, years ago, instructed their officers that a potential bomber must not be challenged, but immediately shot in the head, and started training firearms officers to that effect. The London Bridge assailants wore fake explosives vests, and guess what - died on the spot. Did they insure they would not be taken alive? Did they want to make sure they couldn't take disabling shots to the body, make it all even harder than it was already? Sad to see a way of life destroyed, but there it is. We need to urgently figure out how we've invited the murderers to share our daily bread. And stop talking about "this is not our Islam". If you say that, you clearly don't understand your religion, and your co-believers. You created this problem, you let it fester, now you need to help solve it. Please understand that there aren't any suicide bomber Lutherans, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Jesuits, what have you. Just Muslims. Think about that. Think. Learn.

Pieces of Amazon

The hard disk in my HP Elitebooks is mounted in a kind of caddy, secured there by four screws, and another four captive screws keep the caddy in place, while there is a separate connector between the drive and the motherboard connector. I have, for the "spare" Elitebook (which I am beginning to realize ought to really be my primary machine) two "installed" disks, one with Windows 7 Pro, the original OS for my "other" Elitebook, and one with Windows 10 Pro, which is what came with that machine, a 2570p with a fast i7 processor, but without some of the bells and whistles the 2560p has, with its slightly slower i5 (I know, they both have a security hole, however, Intel made a patch, which was hard but not impossible to install). Until a few days ago, it had not occurred to me to check on the internet, to see if the caddy and connector might perhaps be orderable, and sure enough, they're available, not expensive ($10 or so for the set) and having that will make swapping disks and operating systems much quicker and easier. Not only that, it'll give me a spare caddy / connnector kit, without which you can't put a drive in one of these things.

2003 Dodge Durango No, that's just the SUV sitting in the street, as a construction company is putting a new garage door in. I took a picture of that, and then this, and kind of liked the shot, the colours, reminded me I should rotate the wheels. I did pressure wash the radiator and the A/C heat exchanger and the front of the engine with belt and pulleys, as I do every spring, which neighbour G. thought a bit strange, but he's got one of those humongous diesel trucks with TWO radiators, and it is through the front, after all, that all of the crap blows in, especiallly since I levered the back end of the hood up an inch, which greatly improved the air flow under there.

But back to ordering computer bits: I am drawing your attention to this because it was Amazon again. There is slowly not much you can't buy there, if you keep up the buying you get Prime treatment and -prices without the membership, and there is actually little you would want to go to the store for, because 80% or more is cheaper at Amazon than anywhere else, online or brick 'n mortar. There are exceptions - I am planning to buy sneakers over the weekend, and just the idea of having to return them if the size is wrong does not appeal to me, but with that, and some other clothes shopping, you kind of get to the point that you're prepared to shell out a few more dollars for the store convenience. But look at where the stores are going - Sears, Macy's, JC Penney, solidly going down, perhaps some of it because malls spent many years converting themselves to entertainment centers, and that turns out not to pay the bills. It may be the same for car sales, where the manufacturers control the entire sales and finance chain, where Tesla's new business model seems to be doing well. Any day now, I expect the Chinese to start wholesaling cheaper cars, and break open the dealership market, wholesale contracts are really not of this time. Look at the sales periods every year, if the big box stores are needing the Thanksgiving and December holoday periods to make their profits, that's a shaky business base. I actually bought replacement laptops at Best Buy for many years, always a bargain that had the power and bells and whistles I needed, but now I've gone to a few online reseller outlets that gave me - actually - better laptops, though I must admit I had to do a good amount of work to get them shipshape, and that isn't for everyone. I'll bet you there are millions of women who do, with the etailers, what they've always done, but now more so - buy several sets of clothes, return what you don't like or doesn't fit, except you don't have to go to the store, just print the return label and call UPS.

The only problem I see is that for every Amazon, there are probably 100 failures. You have to have the chutzpah, the vision, the stamina, and sufficient turnover to sustain what Bezos has done, and I still see loads of hopefuls thinking they can do it quicker, or (lord forbid) better. A financial paper had it WalMart is gaining in online sales, catching up to Amazon - I dunno, folks, even though they have everything, in terms of real estate and organization, to do what Amazon did, it isn't what they do, it isn't the expertise they have. WalMart's employees are now going to do deliveries on their way home. Flat tires not allowed? I don't know, peeps, I am not seeing that as a business model. Amazon's business model is as much about managing suppliers as it is about sales methodology, even though even Amazon can't predict what you may want to buy next. Trust me on that. Which reminds me, my second order of body wash was much more expensive than the first, so I need to go look for something just as gentle, but cheaper.

New Technology in an Old Blue

Speaking of which, back on April 25, below, I told you about switching from an older style Bluetooth keyboard to one with a touchpad without buttons - we're more than a month down from there, and I have to tell you I am still learning. Only now have I mastered the two-finger click, which, I think, requires the fingertips to have a minimum separation on the pad, which isn't in any documentation I've seen. You've also got to put both fingers down at exactly the same moment, something I didn't know you could train, but there it is. You don't want to get distracted learning that, either, like watching Stargate SG-1 reruns on the other screen, with Vanessa Angel's enormous breasts constricted in a grey leather "form fitting" top. So while the keyboard works OK, it just is quite a learning curve, good for the mind, good for dexterity, time consuming. Learning is good. Oops, now she is sticking her tongue down MacGyver's throat. Time for more wine.

Mobile Technologies

Another "new" thing is mobile deposit, something I had not used before. That isn't something technophobic on my part, my bank had not offered it until sometime last year, someone I regularly pay by cheque had not always managed to complete deposits (different bank though, one of the first to offer it) which I found alarming, and, not lastly, I rarely get paid by cheque, 99% of my payments come in electronically. Anyway, I got some money back from the dental surgeon, so had an opportunity to try my bank's app - very smooth, app detects validity before even making the scan, and the acceptance comes back within minutes. Must say I am kinda happy with my bank - customer service is mostly in-country, very effective, and when necessary you can actually get to a systems specialist who knows what he is talking about. A customer service agent for international transfers cracked a linquistic joke, the other day, that's something you don't get with the overseas call centers, usually. Well, umm, that's not completely true - I caught my bank in Europe using a South African call center, th'other day, I just love that accent.

ITV (the British broadcaster of Downton Abbey fame) has just started reruns of "Endeavour", the excellent prequel to "Morse", which I think is going back into production. It is very well made, the period stuff is superb, sets, acting, clothing, it's all there with knobs on. Season 4 Episode 1 scheduled for August, I guess the reruns are just to wet our appetite. Works on me... I do need to stop watching television and get out there and do stuff, though. Not that I sit back and watch, I've got Endeavour going on one screen while I write and research on the other. Another week, and I will have all of the semi-annual doctor-and-hospital stuff behind me, and can concentrate again on what goes on. Not to mention get back to the 9/11 - Zadroga Act stuff I started. I am not sure why I am having a hard time finding the Verizon HR team, I should still have the general counsel numbers somewhere, besides, I've got a few folks on LinkedIn, just never seem to go there, these days. OK, not today, Monday.

June 1, 2017: Tiger Woods may just have the wrong doctor

Keywords: Manchester, Caliphate, AI, AlphaGo, Tiger Woods, Ariana Grande, Seagate, HP Elitebook

Looking at the Tiger Woods story, I can't tell you what, if anything, went wrong in his life, but I am so happy I did not have that back surgery - which would have reconstructed some of my lower vertebrae - he apparently had... It looks to me his play didn't "collapse" until after the surgery, and I had been struggling with back pain for some time, when I decided to have that surgery, by a renowned spinal surgeon in the Washington, D.C., area. There were good reasons, too, in my case, I had damaged cartilage, some calcification in the lumbar region, spinal damage, pelvic damage, the former because of an immune condition, the latter because of an old, and serious, car accident, so the indicators were there, and my rheumatologist had no objections. We'd tried everything, I'd even had a series of epidural steroid injections, the ones you get with a live scan going as the needle goes in between the vertebrae, and the primary reason I postponed the scheduled surgery was that I suffered a rheumatic flare-up, which would have made it impossible for me to properly heal, with physical therapy and all that. Then, when the flare subsided, my primary care physician, during a routine annual checkup, noticed a swollen thyroid, and suddenly I had something infinitely more serious than back pain. All I am saying - and I am not enough of an expert to have any kind of an opinion about Mr. Woods' back - is that medication, the lumbar shots (perhaps) and the gym made my spine pain free and functioning just fine - well, almost, there are a few things I don't want to do because they hurt, but no lasting discomfort or disability, and I lift weights with the best of them. It is just that every time I read about Mr. Woods' back surgeries I can't help but wonder if those did him in. If you consider I was advised strenuously to have the reconstructive surgery, I had every medical reason on the planet, and here I am, no surgery, spine is fine, go figure. But as I said, I am not an expert, and I'll never know what would have happened if I'd had the surgery.

Barracudas

Saffie Rose Roussos, age 8I suppose among the few issues I have remaining in my computing environment is to see if I can get the drive cloning business sorted - at some point Acronis' cloning software would fail with a spurious error, something I have attributed to the HP Tools security package I installed. It allows Windows logins to be recognized by the HP Elitebook BIOS - good security perhaps, but in my view a little bit over the top. Hmm.. thinking about it, I have not tested data recovery from Windows' Image Backup, something I ought to perhaps do, I've always done that in the past. Once you find it won't work, when you need it (it happens) the consequences can be horrendous. I had been looking at getting another 2 terabyte internal hard disk (there's one in this Elitebook) so I would have a complete duplicate setup, perhaps that would be a good moment to restore this load onto a new drive. They're coming down in price - right now the Seagate Barracuda costs only $79.99 - the Seagate Spinpoint, the 2TB drive I bought only a year ago, was then $104.

Manchester, England

Meet the enemy of the Caliphate - Saffie Rose Roussos, age 8, Manchester, England, May 22, 2017. I don't know that Monday's atrocity was intrinsically "worse" than recent attacks in London, Berlin, Paris and Nice, it just felt emotionally worse, what with the victims being kids and teens and mums collecting their children... Then, Ariana Grande did not spend time with her injured fans, but hightailed it back to Boca, and pulled out her American Express to compensate, between that and her canceling the rest of her tour in Europe - and I understand some of her fans had waited for years for her to perform locally - what can I say... No longer a teen star, she missed the opportunity to be seen to be human - can't believe the commentary on Facebook, the folks who thought her paying for funerals was a good move, I dunno, even Queen Elizabeth turned up.

IT is not there to help you

Looking at what is called "AI" in the cyber environment, and at the "science" being published by the bucketload in what I used to think of as reputable sources, I am increasingly thinking we're being bamboozled into accepting science fiction as science. AlphaGo may be a very capable system, but whether playing Go (or any other game with strict rules) requires what I like to think of as "intelligence" is debatable. Research done over six months on 38 people does not prove walking one hour, three times a week, combats dementia. That isn't science, that's someone bamboozling the subsidies system. And this goes on. Facebook has facial recognition that recognizes the wrong faces. It doubts logins are valid when they come from the same place and the same person month after month after month. Etc. Yes, it's huge and has a lot to do. No, that isn't an excuse for anything. Uber and AirBNB utilize a combination of internet and mobile technology to cannibalize existing service offerings, and while that may help the consumer, I don't know if income and social care benefit from that - I think maybe not. I don't know, but the way we've gone ga-ga over technology, the past few decades, seems to yield as many advantages as it does disadvantages. The back end, the work that needs doing to integrate the new techologies, and derive maximum advantage, isn't being done. Here in Seattle, in 2017, I can't go to two competing, large, medical institutions, and have them share my medical information. Their systems don't talk to each other, and they don't want to change that, would rather forego the advantages in medical research that would yield. Any knowledge I don't take from one to the other - and I am not a medical professional, just a patient - does not become part of my treatment knowledge. That's scary. Roll that back - Google's AI plays Go, but can't make my medical information portable. Facebook can live stream suicides, but not diagnose simple ailments a user might have. Both Facebook and Google have more than enough data, computing power and science to force change, but don't bother.

May 21, 2017: It is all up in the air

Keywords: Boeing, Paul Allen, Heritage Flight, Paine Field, Snohomish County Regional Airport, B-25 Mitchell, Aviation Day

Paine Field Aviation Day 2017Aviation Days are held all over the country, but just up here is Paine Field, smack in the middle of Boeing's Everett, WA, plant, where Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen keeps his collection of rare aircraft, many still flying. The weather being brilliant, I spent a few hours trying to get a nice shot of something, I am still processing the photography and the video. The attack bomber in the middle is a B-25 Mitchell Model J, special to me in that my cousin Teddy, who passed away in Indonesia in 2010, where he had retired (he was born in the Dutch colonies before the war, and served with our Fleet Air Arm fighting the Japanese), flew one just like that on D-Day, in the 320 (Netherlands) Squadron of the RAF, earning a DFC and the French Légion d'Honneur. Two of these are based at Paine Field, and whenever I hear their engines overhead, I can't help but think of Ted, who I used to go visit when I was a teen, at the Katwijk Naval Base where he was stationed after the war. This shot came out rather nicely, methinks, at the top is a British Hurricane, to the left a P-51 Mustang.

May 20, 2017: I still think the ransomware barely happened

Keywords: scams, cyber crime, ransomware, phishing

I don't know how scared you are of "ransomware" and "phishing", you should most certainly understand it hits hundreds of thousands of people, worldwide, day in day out, and can have pretty devastating consequences for your data. By that I don't means the pictures of the grandkids - they weren't any more secure on your computer than they were in that shoebox, we tend to forget how bad we are at securing our possessions. But your tax returns, your "My Money" files - I have, by now, in just one piece of software, every financial transaction in my life (and some of at least one ex) since 1998 in one database - and other sort of important files, like your electronic tax returns, need protecting. If I seem callous about the emotional value of things, I 'pollygize - I've seen grandpappies build playrooms in their new home for the grandkids - only to have the grandkids not turn up, ever - concentrate on what is important and on what you can control, don't build failure into your life.

So, back up. I haven't really written much about backing up, knowing that some folks back up, and others don't, but perhaps some of you, with this ransomware scare, will pay a little bit of attention, this time. I am going to bore you, though, and add the security precautions I take - I am a long time computer scientist, and was both in charge of data security in large Verizon subsidiaries, and responsible for Federal compliance with respect to the Telecommunications Act. In order to do all that, I've had to learn every aspect of security technology there is, from data connectivity and network equipment to staff surveillance and router programming. So if anybody knows this crap, dudes and dudettes, it is me. And I am going to have to take you through it step by step, I have seen how a lot of folks undo their own security, and will tell you about them (no names, though, sorry..).

If you still have that old style household, where there is a computer everybody uses, and then some members of the family have their own PCs or devices, don't. Files and information may end up where you can't find them, or where they are at risk because of something somebody else does, and there isn't a point to this. Years ago, when I set up IT divisions for new Verizon subsidiaries, I began to issue laptops to all staff, including secretaries and janitors and CEOs, making everybody responsible for their own data security, and everybody required to go to the help desk if they had an issue. That, the IT help desk, you need to have at your house too - and no, that isn't the older know-it-all who thinks Google will let him become a doctor, it is whoever in the house is willing to go to the local community college and take the basic computer course - even town councils offer those, these days. The days when you could go to the store, get a PC, and learn as you went along, are essentially over - it isn't that computers have changed that much, it is that our use of them has changed, our lives depend on these things, even if you did not switch over to computerized record keeping as early as I did - 1978 - even if you somehow avoided AOL, by now Facebook must have got you, and you won't get to talk to the grandkids much if you haven't got Instagram. And while you can store things in "the Cloud", that isn't a two way street - if you're on an Apple device, you wouldn't be able to recover many of your records from the Apple cloud using a Windows device, and vice versa, the manufacturers want to tie you down, and they don't particularly care about "compatibility". Their primary concern is to tie you down in their "ecosystem", now not even because they want to make sure you continue as their customer, but to collect as much data as they can.

So you're caught between a rock and a hard place - store your stuff in the cloud, and your provider will read and parse it, store it on your PC and it may get hijacked, or the disk could go South. And backing up to prevent ransomware won't help you unless you back up every day, and keep several of the aged backups, sometimes the virus has been in your files for days before it activates. And even if you do back up, have you made sure your backup software will still be available and functioning four years from now?

I have one backup application that stores backups in a compressed encrypted password protected format, in zip archives, which means that even if the software weren't available I could still find - laboriously - a file, and I even could resurrect an entire machine, although that might take days. So - and think about doing some of this - I have backups in three different formats. I've been in situations where the Microsoft Windows image backup would not restore, this because of the software theft security Microsoft builds in, and I was able to - at the cost of time - restore from a different backup format. That is exactly why I do that, got wise over time, and so, in this instance, even if one backup would have been hit by ransomware, the other would not. Yes, it takes time, is hard work, but when I read how many professionals have lost years of data - why would you risk that? Do you have health insurance? A fire extinguisher? A first aid kit? Then why not make sure you've got your customer names and addresses backed up? Let me put it this way - if you don't routinely check your tire pressure, you need to work on your life skills. If you don't caulk your bathroom tiles, your bathroom will end up unusable, and co$t. For no reason. I sometimes think I am overdoing it, and then I see this ransomware attack hit the British NHS, and immediately feel justified "overdoing it".

So what I'd like you to do is make a short list:

Where is your data now?
How important is your data to your future?
Is your data space shared with anyone?
What would the cost of your data loss be? (time and money!!)
When is the last time you learned new tricks?

It is especially important to spend a couple of hours going through your hard disk and finding out if you really don't have anything on there you would have a hard time without. Most people accumulate stuff, over time, they forget they have, and haven't copied.

I have a hard time believing these folks we've been told about got "hit hard" by the ransomware really did not have backups. I have a hard time believing the ransomware was more or less accidentally propagated - if the statistics are correct, this worm used a propagation method we've not seen used before, this stuff happens all the time, but not at this scale. I continue to think (but can't prove) that much of this is overhyped scareware, ably assisted by scaremongering press. The propagation of fake news, today, is such that an astute operator can make thousands believe things that are impossible - only the other day I receive a kind warning from a friend about a phishing attack that had been reported in France a year before, and was complete nonsense, and patently impossible. It took me ten minutes to find the original (fake) source - but folks will "help" by reporting it as true, without checking or asking an expert. It is time consuming, scary, and as bad and counterproductive as chain letters - remember those? - used to be. But a chain letter had to go through a post office, and so could be traced - today, the post office is automated so the tracking can be faked. No, I don't have a solution either, and know from experience folks won't make the effort to protect themselves.

May 17, 2017: It gets so trust is a dictionary word

Keywords: banking, credit cards, Visa, scams, cyber crime, ransomware, tuna, habit forming, sashimi, omega-3, Linux, phishing

For years, I had a savings account I didn't really use, because a bank employee, when I moved my account from Virginia to Washington State, said if I had one, and auto-transferred funds every month, I would not pay bank charges. Turns out that was not entirely true - I didn't pay charges on the savings account, but the deposit account was charge free anyway. I didn't discover that until I went over the whole kit and kaboodle, the other day, and a kind banking support phone person confirmed that today. Since I have a savings account elsewhere, I was able to close this.. Lesson: periodically revisit everything, and look at the T&C's, because you never know how you can further simplify your life. I suppose I fell prey to one of those "unnecessary account" schemes that some banks have been employing, as I really neither wanted nor needed this savings account, at the time. Savings accounts, at any rate, have little value, these days - there is little interest, and you're just as well off sticking spare cash in a trading account, and buy some stock when you have enough accumulated. You can easily transfer cash in and out, but without ATM or front office access, your savings are less likely to "evaporate".

Malware is often fake

Microsoft webhackI can't really comment exhaustively on the wide ranging malware attack reported recently, as I don't know enough about it. Much detail about how this worked, and what types of systems were infiltrated, has not been made public, and the fact someone found a "kill switch" - apparently by buying a domain that the ransomware needed to connect to before activating - is puzzling, to say the least. If the ransomware needed that domain to be accessible, it would have been active, and then the researcher would not have been able to buy it, unless he did something illegal, or unless the miscreants were truly stupid, and set their software for a target they didn't have control over. But you don't need a domain for a target, you can just use an IP address, and that can be eay to set up, so... Anyway, if you ever do get hit with ransomware, you do not immediately need to panic, that can come later. Most ransomware is fake, and will only do anything to your system if you call the number they give you, or access the website they want you to use to pay, or click on anything at all on your screen.

If you get one of these pages, unasked for, on your screen, you need to immediately shut down your computer. Don't shut the window, don't touch your mouse or touchpad, don't touch your screen, don't touch your keyboard, none of that. On most systems, that is done by pushing the on/off button continuously, until all lights have gone off. Keep it down for a minute, just to be safe. For safety's sake, you then should disconnect the power cord from the machine, any network wires connected to it, and, if it is a portable device, remove the battery. Now, you want to turn off your home network - router as well as cable or phone company or fiber modem. That part is important - if you know how, try and make sure the IP address of your internet connection changes - the server that controls the ransomware can only do so if it has your home networks's IP address. Once that changes, the server can no longer talk to your PC or device. If your daughter (don't warn anyone!) who was Facebooking with her beau, now offers to remove your eyes, once she has her clothes back on, buy them pizza. Twice, if need be. Now, turn everything else using the internet, thermostats, NAS drives, Blu-Ray players, cameras, off. No power buttons, batteries out, power disconnected, whatever. Now bring back the internet, leave it to stabilize, turn on your paraphernalia, have your daughter turn her beau back on (this will temporarily cease the use of the vacuum hose on your legs, as well) and finally restart your PC or mobile device. Chances are, the ransomware will be gone, it was never "installed" in the first place. Vital, however, is that you turn everything off immediately, without attempting to save work or finish sending something, discipline is the mantra, this is one instance when thinking with your hands is not good. For good measure, do a deep virus scan of your PC - most virus packages will let you boot from a DVD you create with just the virus scanner on it, and those DVDs usually use Linux to boot, and viruses and scam attacks generally do not know from Linux. I recently had, via code injections from an infected major newspaper website, eleven(!) such attacks in a week. I eventually figured out what IP address they were using, and reported them to the hosting company they were using - Godaddy in Singapore, on a server in Mumbai. If I had followed the instructions on my screen, I would have been knee deep in it. Just sayin'. If you don't have an antivirus boot DVD (or bootable memory stick) make one now. Doesn't even have to be the same virus software you're normally using.

Now, if none of the above works, you have my permission to panic.

Habits Are Bad, Period

I am beginning to realize that an aspect of life we fall prey to from an early age, forming habits, actually works against us as we age. We develop a taste for foods, name "favourites", and then, as we get older and need fewer calories, keep the same food habits we developed when we were growing and hyper-active. We figure out how to get from A to B, and even as we develop new technologies, and create new facilities, we keep using the old routes. We answer the phone when it rings, because we did not know who would be calling, and as we no longer use those phones, and are reachable in a multitude of ways that let us know who is trying to connect, we still answer the phone, because "that's what we've always done".

breakfast tunaAll the more reason, then, to examine what we do, and why we do it. In my last blog entry, below, I railed against parents using outdated standards for their children, not analyzing what has changed since they were young, and this morning, when I normally snack because I want to postpone eating because of weight control - I stopped eating breakfast in the 1990's because medication was making me gain weight, or so I thought - I gave in to my appetite, and had breakfast. But not what you probably would normally call "breakfast", whose purpose is really lost in the mist of time, but a piece of raw tuna - in fact, the very piece you see to the right, here. I switched to raw tuna from fish oil a while ago, to maintain a supply of Omega-3 in my diet, a local supermarket has prepackaged pieces of raw tuna in the freezer, they are delicious - I am a Sashimi aficionado - and as I understand it full of goodness, for as long as you don't overdo it because of the mercury potential. You're better off with the frozen tuna, because "raw tuna" at the fish counter is normally ex-frozen tuna, and you don't know how they do that, there are still plenty of people who don't understand safely defrosting fish is not putting the package in warm water. Better still, raw tuna is normally very safe to eat - these chunks come from the inside of the fish, which is in a clean condition without parasites, and if you didn't know, all tuna caught out in the oceans is frozen solid immediately after catching, which kills any potential parasites, it is actually bulk sold frozen, cut frozen, packaged frozen and kept and delivered frozen. Traditionally, sashimi grade tuna is cleaned on board ship, and kept at -60° Fahrenheit, or it won't be that nice red, let alone free of parasites. At the fish counter, there normally isn't any such thing as "raw tuna", the fish are simply too large and must be transported over distances that are too great for tuna to be kept "fresh". In my case, if you want the entire story, I unwrap the frozen tuna from its shrinkwrap, wrap it in kitchen paper, and put that in a closed container in the refrigerator to thaw, which normally takes 6 or 8 hours. The remaining blood drains into the kitchen paper - easy to see when you open the container - and, hey presto! - a delicious chunk of raw tuna.

Tokyo Narita Airport breakfast To your left, a traditional Japanese breakfast as I found it at Tokyo's Narita Airport during a long layover - traditional, non processed food. Likely much healthier than processed breakfast cereal with processed milk, or the "full English" I found at London's Heathrow Airport, another island people gone in a completely different direction. I should probably be honest and tell you I have twice, in my life, booked a long distance flight so I had to change planes at Heathrow just for that breakfast, but do please understand ten years living in London will do that to you... So this is how we've traditionally coped with the world - habit forming, repetitive behaviour, accordance with the norm, nothing to step out of line, predictability, salary men. Now, we have to ask ourselves why we suddenly seem to have an overabundance of dementia and Alzheimer's, and have all but declared those to be at epidemic stage. I am paying attention to this as, while aging, I am cognizant of the dementia risk, and for some time have been developing methods to gauge my mental abilities, and any risks I might perceive for these "ailments". I am "in a good place" in that I have had years of professional involvement with risk management, complete with exposure to our spectacular failures in risk management, like 9/11. I don't know how I got so lucky to be "there" and end up a "recovery worker", but there it is, and it's taught me a hell of a lot.

We've even managed to divide our society into different classes - there are the "workers" and the "managers", where the managers get to "trickle down" initiatives to those deemed devoid of imagination. Although, at this point, without any "from the bottom up" preparation, we're replacing workers with robots, not just in the factory, but in commerce and knowledge work - Amazon has humans serving robots, which it develops itself, specifically for the purpose. The humans it just "finds" - some make ends meet by sleeping in their cars in the parking lot. Maybe that's gone on before, but I seem to recall, in days of yore, enterprises built cheap housing so they could tie the workforce to the enterprise - no more. I'll get back to this, I promise. But my basic premise is that we should start getting everybody - young and old - used to learning new things, all the time - no more "password repositories", you are all perfectly capable of remembering every password, even if starting to do so may take seven weeks, to develop "the habit" - it is better for your health, and better for your security. And you can do this at 75, at 80 - if you can't, don't use a tool, use the doctor.

May 13, 2017: Getting back to New Normal

Keywords: Macy's, discount coupons, credit cards, credit rating, Visa, pressure cooker, induction cooking, IRS, phone scams, cyber crime

Even cooking you have to figure out again

NuWave steel pressure cookerThe NuWave pressure cooker I am learning to cook with - see April 16, below - is new, in that I have never used one on an induction cooker, and I find that the recipes posted on the internet for pressure cookers often just aren't right. Basmati rice is a point in fact - three to six minutes, I read, and "leave the cooker to lose pressure", which it does when it cools down, but, at least for cooking rice "al dente", which is what I like, that simply is too long.

There are basically, to the best of my knowledge, only two main ways of cooking rice - the firm, dry, kernel, "al dente", the way it was done in my family and in large parts of Europe, and the way many Asian peoples do it, slightly sticky, so the rice is easy to eat by hand or with chopsticks. I ended up simply bringing the cooker up to steam pressure, and then turning off the cooker, leaving it sit for ten minutes. Perfect. Similarly, I had never pre-cooked and pre-fried ingredients in a pressure cooker, then to add broth and more seasonings, and finish the meal soup off under pressure, but that works fine too. Using an induction cooker makes all the difference, as that distributes energy very evenly, you don't get the hot spots common to electric and gas rings. I love that thing, now that I have the feeling I am in control....

Interestingly, having a credit card again, after six years of not having one, has led to my managing my finances which I do entirely using financial software, completely differently. More so than I expected, is what I am trying to say.

Ways around conventional credit

In my life, so far, there have been three "distinct" credit episodes. There was The Netherlands, where I did not have credit cards - at the time, very few people did, and the "American" credit card hadn't made it to continental Europe. You were (and the governments saw to this) issued a credit card when you made lots of money, but even then, it was linked to your bank account, issued by the same bank you had a chequeing account with, and mostly automatically paid from that account. There were a few rich folks, and some expats, who had real credit or charge cards, mostly issued by American Express and Citibank, but that was it. It wasn't until I moved to the UK that I became acquainted with "true" credit cards, which had taken off like there was no tomorrow, Barclaycard and Access issuing them by the tens of thousands, bankrupting a lot of people in the process - this was in the day and age when my bank, Westminster bank, sent me one statement a year, and British banks used the honour system - you wrote a cheque, that had to be good, there were no "cheque guarantee cards", which by then had already taken over continental Europe, although people there really didn't write cheques much, the payment system was based on interbank transfers using the Giro system, which was dying in the UK, whose banking system, like the American variant, was still based on the manual processing of paper payment instruments. I kid you not, elecronic processing of the data on a paper cheque was, in the United States, not permitted until 2002, and making an electronic facsimile of a cheque a payment instrument didn't become legal until 2004, at the same time that electronic signatures became legal in the U.S.

At least Britain prepared me for the United States, which I didn't know had largely the same credit system the UK had, but on steroids. Here, in the 1980s, you couldn't - at least in Manhattan - really exist without credit, which, as a new immigrant, you didn't have. Worse today than then, if your social security number had been established last week, you could maybe get a bank account, but credit? Waha! You had to get a store card - I think my first one was J.C. Penney's - and once you had a couple of those, and were well behaved, after a while you could get an American Express card. Those, as you had to settle them in full at the end of the month, did not qualify as "credit", as you didn't technically borrow money from the card issuer. Then, after a couple of years, with a steady job, direct deposit, a couple of store cards and your American Express, the credit cards started rolling in - those were the days the postman would deliver envelopes with real credit cards, ones you could take straight to the shops and start using. And did. By the time of the 2008 stock market crash, I had a little over $49,000 credit, separately from my mortgage - with little coming in, that was just about maxed out by late 2010, after my cancer surgery and -treatment. At that point I called the creditors with the bad news, gave my house back to the bank, and that will hopefully help you understand why I was gushing, th'other day, that my credit had been restored. Well, some of it. But I did not have to file for bankruptcy, it would then have taken even longer. The worst thing is not knowing what to do when, there isn't a real rulebook, and only after all debts had been resolved or waived or set aside could I try to start re-inventing myself. Fingers crossed. Today, for the first time, though I have little money, I thought about my investment account, and that if I managed to save a little I could begin trading stock again. I've kept that account open, one of the legacy items from my phone company career, maybe I should call them and find out, how, what and, the all important question, if.

I'll post more about credit in a little while - specifically, when I see my "new" credit has, after use, had an effect on my rating. I expect that will be much soomer than it used to be, what with the "big data" drive we see everywhere. I went and looked at the Fico and other credit advice sites, and see some advice that is somewhere between unusable and ridiculous, and will then tell you about it. Many are in the same boat I was in, built credit, lost it, are "building it back", and I see little sensible advice about what to do and where to go.

No More Brick and Mortar

Macy's store coupons Of all the cards I've held, over the years, my Macy's store card I've probably had the longest, and then Bloomberg thinks they're not doing so well. I've mostly bought my clothes there, ever since living in Manhattan, and periodically I get a bunch of discount coupons that I mostly don't use, but this month, needing a new pair of running shoes, I succumbed. Wrong. There are now store-in-store contraptions at Macy's, and they do not honour Macy's own coupons while they're using Macy's payment system and accept Macy's charge- and credit cards. Macy's, if you want to know why you're losing customers, there's a pointer: cheating (because I am sure you could cut a different deal) is not going to cut it. Like Sears, Macy's was once the Bee's Knees, in retail, and if you're not getting the foot traffic at the mall you need to get inventive. Letting your customers find out they can't use your coupons in your own store is not "inventive". It's stoopid. It's the flipping discounts that keep people coming back, even if they're only half real, and if these are now "pretend" too, wot you got left?

The Cold Calls are Scorching

A recent New York Times article, as well as news items on TV, keep trying to remind us not to answer calls from unknown numbers. As fraudsters con people out of hundreds of millions of dollars - just the IRS tax scam has netted miscreants $54 millon - it seems this advice does not work. Thinking about why this does not work, it occurs to me that, perhaps, many people simply don't build databases of numbers they can get calls from. Secondly, the automated systems that doctors and pharmacies and banks and others use to dial reminder calls may be states away from the caller's and the callee's locations, and often use banks of numbers. I had nuisance hangup calls from several numbers in South Carolina, that I only recently discovered all belong to CVS, from a pharmacy in a state where I have never been a CVS customer, and have never lived, and, until a few days ago, never left a message. So telling people not to answer the phone - and there are many who aren't able to resist a ring - probably won't ever work. And making robocalls illegal does not work very well either. It occurs to me there is the one thing we don't do - we don't teach our kids those basics of life. Only the other day I noticed that the King of the Netherlands, and his missus, heavily restrict the cellphone use of their daughters, and they have hand-me-downs, not "real" smartphones. I had this conversation with a friend, parent, a few years ago, and before that, with a neighbour's daughter, homeschooling her kids, with internet on dialup. Children, today, need the latest technology, because they need to learn how to use that, to further their careers. They need that technology 24/7, so they can develop the discipline that goes with that, and they need to use the technologies with their peers, because their peers know stuff that you and I don't, and will never learn. I can't remind you often enough that we may have developed SMS, texting, but only because we could use that to bill customers. Teens turned that into a communications tool, developed languages and grammar for it, then married it up with pictures. The technology is no longer an option, it is, for them and their future, a necessity. If you're worried about late night sexting, if they want to, they're going to, it is better that you know, the alternative is that you put yourself out of the picture. Use your brain, and don't compare your world with theirs. When my friend followed my advice, and got his kids (barely teens) smartphones, his daughter soon showed me you can use the phone camera to see if an infrared transmitter works, and a month later his son had written a new game on his phone. They both texted faster than I can talk. Just sayin'

May 4, 2017: 9/11 all over again, and other woes

Keywords: 9/11, World Trade Center, Zadroga Act, cancer, health care, hacking, banking, cybercrime, finances, IBAN, BIC, SWIFT

9/11 cancer brochureOver the past year or so, I've had comments from my primary care doctor about my thyroid cancer, stating that she did not understand why I contracted that, I "do not fit the pattern". Didn't ask what that pattern is, but that reminded me thyroid cancer is now one of the "accepted" ailments consequential to presence at Ground Zero on or after 9/11. And that caused me to talk to my endocrinologist, who originally is from New York, but hadn't heard, but he then talked to a former colleague at Memorial Sloan Kettering in Manhattan, who had, and between them it became clear there might be a link to my 2010 cancer diagnosis and -treatment and my presence in NYC and at Ground Zero - I was, after all, spending much of my time in Manhattan and downtown, for some eight months, guiding network recovery activities.

Like most of my peers and colleagues "who were there" I don't talk about 9/11 much. We don't need to talk to each other, since we were all there, and talking about it to others is a futile exercise, it isn't really possible to explain all of what happened, and what you went through, and I apologize for the cliché, but "you had to be there". Earlier in the year, once I decided to find out if I was in any survivor / victim category, I tried to find attourneys specializing in 9/11, but wasn't very successful - the one firm I found returned a call after 6(!) weeks, and the person I spoke to wasn't a very astute English speaker. But then, last week, I inadvertently did a search for something I can't even remember, and ended up with several websites that had references to 9/11, the Zadroga Act, and other things I had been looking for but not found. And that led to a single call to one specialized legal firm, and before I knew it I was speaking to a partner. That does mean finding a lot of information for the legal eagles, speaking to former colleagues I've not spoken to in years, and remembering all that stuff I had kind buried deep, it was a horrendous experience, especially since I ended up spending some eight months working on recovery and repair of our networks, both in downtown Manhattan and at the Pentagon. It was a time where I could not "get away from it", the only time off I took was a week in December, to bury a relative in The Netherlands.

Having received an assessment and registration package from the attorneys, now I get to dig back in my files and in my memory - and 9/11 is not something I like to think about, I to this day still turn off TV memorial programming and documentaries. Many now retired, I am going to have to dig through LinkedIn to find those I worked with, back then, folks who worked for me, colleagues - one of whom headed downtown and didn't surface for two weeks, he was handing out gas masks and mouth protection to people who mostly didn't want to bother with that - and others involved, as I was in bringing the networks back up and Wall Street back "on the air". And I guess I get to call Verizon HR, as an endocrinologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan said "they know all about this". Phew. This is hard. It even took me an extra day to post this picture of one of the brochures the lawyers in Manhattan just FedExed to me, together with a pile of letters and forms and declarations. Time to pay the piper.

The hacking is nigh on ubiquitous

I apologize for being cryptic, on occasion, it takes the fun out of blogging, to a certain extent, but the number of cybersleuths who try and hack my network and my systems is often horrendous. Because I manage my own webserver, and have all kinds of trackers going, I can see the hack attempts as they come in - the other day, someone using a spurious empty web site as a mail server tried to track my code across every domain and site I own, using Amazon Web Services to do so, running the domain finance-nyc.com using a host registered in The Netherlands, where a lot of hacks come from, so they have a legitimate SMTP mail server that can't be traced to them and can pass by other mail system's security checks. At AWS, you can link your cloud to a domain, and then automate hack tracking, and you can hide the ownership of your domain, and once you think you're ready you can email someone with a fake offer, classic phishing, but then retrieve their mail header and hack through. I noticed their tracking attempt after I saw too many spurious tracks, and changed my tracking security code, somewhat of a time consuming activity, and sure enough, I had an email within a couple of days, but as I was able to take apart their header, their effort came to nothing. Important, though, there are folks - and to some extent these are indeed spotty kids who have little else to do than go to school during the day and spend the evening and night and weekend hacking with their friends - who make a life out of this. They don't, these days, steal with the information they find, they can make easy and low risk money by simply selling it to criminals. I had someone using my tracking code for months, until it annoyed me to the point that I worked out how to "turn them off". Then, almost immediately, I saw folks in varous places accessing every single webpage I had changed - easy to follow, as I write the pages and the tracking code by hand, and so am able to track what I have changed. It is just ridiculous that the internet is that easy to criminalize - on at least three occasions, in the past few weeks, folks like Godaddy and Adobe initially simply refused to take a phishing report until I started copying the U.S. Secret Service (one of the two Federal agencies that investigate cyber crime) on their refusals. I now find myself having to redo all of my tracking code for the second time in a month, for multiple websites, as changing security on the tracking only leads to more hack attempts. Annoying, especially since I do not understand what these folks are trying to do.

Money, money, money

I got on this rant because I was going to tell you about the time it took me to clean up my financial software, but as I, for safety reasons, can't really tell you what software I use, the narrative gets a bit limited. But having database entries that go back to 1988 meant that there were many accounts I no longer use or have, that I never closed. It wasn't a big deal, but there were spurious transfers into old accounts that I didn't know I could simply "debug" by "closing" those accounts in the software, and then checking the balances to make sure they zeroed out. While most did, there were some bits and pieces that had been dogging me as "accounting mistakes" for years. Couple days of work, and they are now all gone, and the software's error checking cleaned up whatever was left, in about 30 seconds, after all that. I may still need to close out some older securities I no longer own, that mature in the future, but as I am not using that investment account there isn't an immediate need. For the first time in years, all of my balances are correct - and by that I mean I got rid of even the odd ten dollar discrepancy. It was just a matter of taking the time and being truly anal - and, of course, a week of recuperating from surgery, not going to the gym, and getting some extra sleep helped. Now to get rid of the four pounds I gained last week... but I am back on my normal gym schedule, helped by friend D., who returned from a short vacation yesterday. Welcoming him back, we tried out an (East) Indian restaurant in Edmonds, Copper Pot, yesterday, right by the ferry, lovely spot, and an excellent weekday lunchtime buffet for only $10.99 (plus tax, of course) a head, after taking a look at the Carmax they just built in Lynnwood - not new to me, I had been buying and selling cars at Carmax stores on the other coast for years. I recall being mightily impressed when the Fredericksburg, VA, Carmax took a cheque for a used car, then delivered it on the spot complete with license plates, tax sticker and registration in my name, all in house, no trips to the DMV. Lynnwood appears to be coming up in the world - first an LA Fitness, then a CVS (I was still in their computer system from being an East Coast customer), now a Carmax..

But, back to my finance software and ancillary "arrangements", using the new credit card has meant I needed to transfer funds from my overseas savings account, something I hadn't done before - because I am a U.S. resident, I cannot, under the fraud avoidance rules set by the Fed, do online transfers into the United States. A while ago, we were all supposed to get IBANs for our bank account numbers, here in the United States, but I can no longer see any mention of that, and with the different BIC and SWIFT codes for currencies as well as banks, I guess putting an online system together is more trouble than it is worth. The IBAN, the International Bank Account Number, is the European way of handling inter-bank account data, adopted by a number of other countries. I use my overseas account with just about all of my connections overseas, in Asia, Europe and Africa, but not with my North American accounts. Long story short, I have to - in 2017! - do the transfers on the phone - with the call center available 24/7, this isn't a biggie, although I have now been connected to help desks in Northern Ireland and South Africa, always very nice and very pleasant, and a lot more "native English" than the (undoubtedly hard working) folks in India and the Philippines American institutions seem fond of hiring.


April 25, 2017: Busy days, and learning

Keywords: Bluetooth, dental surgery, Humira, touch pad, mouse buttons, cost of living, ECM, engine computer, coolant thermostat

I was going to be all happy and gushing that I had, without any pain complaints, survived over three weeks since my last Humira shot, this because skipping a shot would help my immune system cope better with the aftermath of the dental surgery I had earlier in the week. But that was before I went out and, the weather being cooperative, tried the new weedwhacker I just bought. Electric, it does not weigh much, but just the little bit of spine bending at the pelvis joins I needed to do hurt like a banshee. So I have my answer as to whether or not I can reduce my Humira biweekly shot frequency - NOT! It is something I never tried, but this was kinda force majeure, and if all is well with my tooth socket by Sunday, hop goes the needle. At least I got to try - no, the pain does not bother me that much, been there, done that. Hard to imagine that before they invented biologics, it was like this all the time. Bit scary, too, but what can you do.

Having said that, as I write this it is the fourth day after my dental surgery, and I am amazed I've had no pain, no swelling, and little discomfort. Dr. Heldridge had shown me the 3D scan of my jaw and the offending molar, with three well spread out roots firmly embedded in the jawbone, scary, and I did not expect to get off this scot-free, but, either I got lucky, or Heldridge is a magician, probably the latter. Seriously, uneventful, some aftereffects from the anesthesia, but I absolutely don't feel I've had anything amputated. Good show.

The demise of the mouse button

Something else painful is switching keyboards. I use Bluetooth keyboards with built in touchpad to operate my laptops - use the laptop keyboard, and that will soon wear out, the Bluetooth keyboards are cheap, interchangeable and Amazon-easy to replace. I've been using 1-by-one keyboards, which work well, but last maybe a year, sometimes less, and so decided to look for another, hopefully better, brand. Found the Gosin keyboard, all metal rather than plastic, with a larger touchpad, too. But: no mouse keys underneath the touchpad. Ouch. So now I need to learn how to properly use a touchpad - not a bad skill to have, and slowly all laptops have touchpad-multitouch functionality, so there really isn't a reason not to teach an old dog new tricks. This is what I am referring to when I keep saying you can only keep the aging brain agile by learning new things - not doing the same-o stuff all over again, but creating new synapses and links. I realized, after testing the new keyboard, that my one remaining 1-by-one has a touchpad that does exactly the same things, so I can transition gracefully. Just have to keep my fingers off the mouse keys. TeeHee. Umm, and maybe figure out how to do pad/key combinations - it's all there, you just have to get it to "grow on you". As I progress, I find out there are a lot of shortcuts I didn't know about, and that it takes a good amount of coordination to do things like "two finger tap" - having two fingers hit the pad at exactly the same time. That's a good coordination exercise, I had no idea that you could do that, and that it actually is a meaningful "gesture" in the world of the keyboard. I haven't quite got "drag and drop" and "shift-click" down on the touchpad, yet, especially first thing in the morning you tend to go for what you are used to, until you catch yourself not doing "the learning".

Maybe I should crowdfund a trailer

Whatever plans I had for later in the year, in terms of moving, have been well an truly scuppered by the combination of my having to renew the green card, and the dental surgery. I am not too cut up about it, it cost me about half my savings, but I am not completely skint. The new credit card, in hindsight (because this isn't why I applied for it), is a godsend, as it has let me move my expenses almost two full months out, without even having to use the credit as such. End of next month I get my annual Dutch bonus payment, and that should at least compensate for some of the increased outgoings this year - my health insurance, unusually, went up by almost $600, this year, too. And gas went up quite a bit since last year, not helpful with a big ole V-8. Besides, in terms of renting an apartment, the new credit card has besically demolished my credit rating, for the next few months, at least until I have settled the credit card bill a few times in a row, it'll perk back up as the year progresses. So perhaps some of this year's plans can go to next year, I just can't figure out whether to stay put or find some way to move South, live in the sun, all that good stuff.

How to maintain an old car

Dodge 4.7l V-8 throttle body The weather keeps improving, temps are hitting the 60's on sunny days, so I am getting as much "out" time in as I can. C. amusingly called my electric $30 weed whacker a "disposable", and I guess, in many ways, it is. The old weed whacker had given up, I rebuilt that a couple of years ago, but there isn't that much border to maintain that we need a gas powered variety. Those generally start at around $90, anyway, so if this electric gizmo lasts more than 3 years, it is cheaper. I've certainly got plenty of other outdoor stuff to get on with, and I am dying to give the car a good wash 'n wax, the car wash does a good job, but my pressure washer does better, and I need to clean the cooling system, radiators, as well. The Durango has a somewhat convoluted cooling assembly in front of the V-8, with an A/C heat exchanger mounted right in front of the radiator, and a bit of winter will clog and dirty those vents, which in turn give on two fan assemblies and the belt drive mechanism, time for the pressure washer, and a liberal dose of pulley cleaner spray, with the belt off. Later on, I'll give her an extra oil change, and then the coolant needs replacing, I'll put a new lower radiator hose in, and a lower temperature thermostat, which should enable me to give the engine's cooling channels a really thorough flush, I've had the tools to do that lying around for a year already. Big job, but it is necessary, the car has run a bit hot during summer, she's not a spring chicken any more. Having said that, if you read my comments below, March 26 and April 3rd, where I replace, first, the Trottle Position Sensor, and then the Idle Air Controller - the picture on the left has the TPS sitting above the IAC, to the right of the Throttle Body, with the air intake valve closed - the engine has really perked up since I followed advice in some of the Dodge forums, and replaced those components, combining that with a thorough cleaning of the throttle body itself, and the regular maintenance, oil and oil filter change, and air filter cleaning (my aftermarket high flow airfilter isn't the replaceable kind). Additionally, I ran a dose of Lucas upper cylinder cleaner / lubricant through the fuel system, something I do every few months. As of when I write this, about three weeks after the repairs, the Durango is running great, all of the past symptoms - almost stalling, irregular and rough idle, "hiccuping" when trying to accelerate - have gone away. The reason that took a while to conclude is that the ECM (a.k.a. ECU), the Engine Control Module, needs to be reset when making changes to the engine configuration - and replacing two electro-mechanical components and increasing the airflow into the engine certainly qualify as "configuration changes". I noticed, before I replaced the throttle controller and cleaned the throttle body, that the throttle pulley, which connects to the throttle pedal, was a little stiff, and now that all that has been cleaned and the TPS replaced, it rotates without resistance. The ECM, however, "learns" the engine's characteristics, not to mention your drivestyle, over a period of time, and so replacing components in the fuel delivery system may have a gradual, rather than immediate, effect - and you probably should put some local as well as higway miles on the car while the ECM is learning.

Between the past engine irregularity, and the occasional overheating of my Durango, I've learned a lot about engines. First of all, it turned out the car wasn't getting enough cooling because the belt slipped, and that was because the A/C compressor was seizing - that is driven by a belt it shares with the water pump, power steering and mechanical cooling fan. Once the compressor was replaced, things got better, and a new belt and ignition plugs, top radiator hose, and a coolant change, improved matters too. Last year I bought a new lower temperature thermostat, 180° Fahrenheit v. 195°, still sitting on the shelf. Reading up on this, I found a lot of conflicting information on the internet, I know the engine runs hot because of EPA regulations, a high combustion temperature means a more complete burn and that means fewer carbons, I can understand that. Having said that, this engine is older, and presumably has a lot of crud and carbon and stuff inside it, in the fuel- and exhaust path as well as the cooling system, and I assume all that does not help the cooling. And then, today, I suddently realized that a lower temperature thermostat does not necessarily make an engine run cooler - it will simply take longer to warm up, but you're not changing any of the other parameters, such as the cooling fan temperatures (there are two fans - one mechanical, one electrical, the latter operated both by the coolant temperature and the A/C switch, when the ambient temperature is high enough). So replacing the bottom radiator hose and the coolant thermostat (the thermostat is at the bottom of the engine) will allow me to properly flush the cooling system, inspect the ports and the existing thermostat, and will likely allow more coolant to circulate - the design of the cooling system, with the A/C heat exchanger right in front of the cooling radiator, isn't necessarily conducive to proper cooling of a dirty engine. Because of the OBDII-connected engine monitor I have, I will be able to see to the nearest degree how warm the engine will get, with a new thermostat, I can always pop the old one back in, but I have a sneaking suspicion the warm operating temperature will not make a huge difference, the engine will just warm up more slowly, and, importantly, cool down quicker when in stop-and-go traffic in summer. What with the thermostat at the bottom of the engine, and the heat sensor at the very top, I'll be able to get a good idea of how it does. There are actually multiple sensors - I notice the heat reading on the dash is different from the reading I see coming from the Engine Control Module, which (interestingly) does not conform to the coolant thermostat temperature - with the thermostat open, indicating 195° at the bottom of the engine, the coolant temperature (measured at the very top of the engine) showed 203°, which is within the "safe zone", the backup electric fan (which doubles as a cooling fan for the A/C heat exchanger) doesn't come on until that sensor hits 220°. The other advantage I'll have is that I will be able to fill the cooling system properly, with a completely clean combination of concentrated coolant and well water, without chlorine and fluoride and stuff.

April 20, 2017: Security stops you from paying?

Keywords: Skype, Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 7, pay.gov, Bluetooth, HP, USCIS, dental surgery, Fentanyl, Percocet, Chrome, HTML5, international VISA

Royally pissed off by Skype and Microsoft, I was unable to change the credit card I was using to pay for my international calls, because Skype suddenly decided I could not even access my account through their website, something now mandatory to make certain changes, unless I gave them my date of birth. I don't know that I need to give that to a telecommunications provider I've been using more or less since it was invented, so I left tweets and a Facebook complaint (Skype doesn't even have a "proper" Facebook page) that got no responses of any kind. Then yesterday, as I was in the middle of upconverting a second Windows 10 PC to Windows 10 Creator, I decided to try again, after telling Windows that no, I did not want to use their built in Skype, and suddenly they no longer ask for the DOB. I have well understood Windows is now all about data collection, but honestly, Microsoft, the big data fad will go away again, once you all understand that data does not mean sales. Gathering information and then manipulating a person into doing something they had not intended won't work in the long run, and gathering information and then predicting a person's behaviour isn't going to do much either, or Donald Trump would not be in the White House. You really need to understand, Satya Nadella, that selling requires you to make or have a product. Creating a methodology and then dreaming people will pay you to use that is large scale folly. Musk had to create a car before he could develop the sales method he now uses, and that car had to be different, and work. Bezos had to have products people needed (not: wanted) before he could build his system, and he doesn't sell on Ebay, he rolled his own. Both began with products, Microsoft, and you discontinue products more than you support them. They also took the things they created to sell their products, and started selling those too. I save money by buying from Amazon, and get brilliant customer service. Microsoft doesn't even respond to a simple tweet from a paying customer, and Windows expert. You're losing it, peeps. It is nice you put Cloud ads on TV, but Cloud doesn't do anything, it is a tool...

It is called Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery

Edmonds Oral SurgeryAnyway. Dental surgery in the morning, my dentist, as I have had osteoporosis and was on Fosamax for a long time, doesn't want to take the risk of damaging my bone structure, so he sent me to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Are we approving medication, under commercial and social pressure, too quickly? Fosamax and the like weren't known for causing skeletal damage, when they were approved, and even years later, when I heard about it and declined my Washington, D.C., dentist's offer of implants, we still weren't sure whether all that was real. By now, medical science has researched that osteonecrosis of the jaw is a rare but not non-existent side effect, and as I stopped taking the medication in 2011, and my rheumatologist kept a close eye on my bone density and other skeletal symptoms, and the surgeon involved, who did a full 3D scan of my jaw, thinks there is little risk - there is never no risk, of course..

Updating this after the surgery, I was expecting to be out of action and in pain and discombobulated for the day, but no such thing. I did set the fresh wound back to bleeding by moving and filling some 5 gallon well water bottles, not counting that as "strenuous exercise" - I spend too much time at the gym. So stopped that, took it easy, and will have to do that for the next couple of days, or so the surgeon's office says, no gym, no heavy lifting, etc. But I did expect to come out of the anaesthesia worse for wear, and other than only two thirds conscious, there were no issues, and, amazingly, not (so far) one ounce of pain. Hard to believe, but even driving home from the Swedish hospital campus (thanks, neighbour G., friend D. having taken off to see friends and family, G. very kindly offered to substitute, drove me there and back in his massive Ford diesel truck, and sat in the waiting room minding my sanity and my wallet while I was under the knife. Then he gingerly steered me into the house and to my bedroom, I owe you).

So here we are, and it is the day after - I kind of expected that if the "pain and swelling" didn't hit me during the day of the surgery, they'd happen overnight. Extra pillow, so I wouldn't lay flat, but I slept like a baby. In the morning, I had a bloody taste in my mouth, so I was pretty sure the socket had started bleeding again - I stupidly moved some 5 gallon bottles of well water around, shortly after surgery, and that did restart the bleeding, silly me - but when I put some gauze in, no, just a trickle, which was to be expected, perhaps the taste was just what had accumulated during the night. Nothing since either, clean salt rinses. So it is all beyond expectation - I can't recall ever having a complicated dental procedure with no afterpain at all. Seriously, I was prepared for it. And though this was under full anaesthesia, there was no local anasthetic, my tongue was fully conscious, afterwards, so to speak. I got pretty hyper afterwards, though, which I gather isn't the normal response to Fentanyl with Midazolam. But then I don't like Oxycodone either, and I gather that addicts people like there is no tomorrow. I actually got a Percocet prescription from the surgery, and didn't even fill it, didn't need it, so all good. Actually, the only time I really used (prescribed) Oxycodone beyond what I should have, was after my thyroid surgery, when, once home, I kept myself zonked on it for over a week, while I was kicking the habit - stopping smoking, cold turkey, after 42 years. Worked, too. Teehee. But that was it, I don't like it, is does weird things to my brain. And the cup on the right is a $752 double walled gift cup...

Standardization is... not

My HP 2560p laptop, after I futzed with the Bluetooth drivers, still isn't healthy. Curiously, I used to run the thing 24/7, and these days turn it off at night, for no real reason other than that the fan on these HPs can occasionally ramp up to 747 strength - small footprint with a powerful processor and gobs of memory and disk, that's what you get, I never had laptops this "big" and fast before. My old Lenovo used to occasionally "ramp up", but usually only when Media Center was auto-recording. Now, I run two screens, and more resident software, and HP's security tools, and... and.. so I suppose it is par for the course. I need to spend more time looking at all the drivers, and especially remove the ones that aren't in use any more, which Windows keeps on "what if" grounds. A timeout function would be helpful there - if you've not used an adapter or disk type for a year, chances are that doesn't exist any more - and I noticed that, having ported this OS in the approved way from a Lenovo to an HP laptop, the Lenovo drivers really are not necessary any more, Windows knows it is now running on a different motherboard, that's why you have to go through the registration process when you do the move.

Speaking of laptops, I have been trying to renew my green card since last Saturday - while the green card remains valid for life (for as long as you don't spend more than a year abroad), 9/11 caused new security laws, one of which is that you have to renew the physical card every decade, so the gummint can make sure it has your face and your paws and your address. After all, Americans who travel abroad have to renew their passports as well, so it isn't that surprising. Anyway, whatever I tried, I was able to do the paperwork and the evidence upload, but once I got to paying USCIS, the gummint's pay system would crash. I figured, Saturday, this could be the international Visa card I was using ("yes, that's right, we don't accept foreign cards" - wot? This is the immigration service?), so transferred money (a paltry $540, to add insult to injury, I am a taxpayer) to a U.S. domestic account over the Easter weekend, then tried again today. Same story - slightly different error message "system too busy to serve page" - say what? It isn't like pay.gov handles the same number of daily transactions Amazon, or even WalMart, does, right? I took me a good hour of wading through menu systems and disconnected calls until I finally connected with a hu-man, whose first question was, after hearing what OS and browsers I had tried, if I didn't use Chrome. Say what? Firefox and Explorer no permitido with the Fed? By the way, if you call immigration (USCIS) and you don't push any buttons, pretending you're on a rotary phone, so you can get to a hu-man faster, you automatically end up in a Spanish language call center. Eventually, I offered to take it to my other laptop, telling the support person I had tried from Windows 8.1 with multiple browsers, but could try 7 or 10, as well, he said "7" and kept repeating he wanted me to use Chrome (I am assuming that means their server runs HTML5, goodbye Microsoft). I said I'd do that, then got the other Elitebook out, booted Windows 7, put that on WiFi without the VPN I normally use, fired up Explorer with all of the security disabled, and sure enough, this time I sailed right through. I dunno, peeps, maybe I should have stayed in D.C. a bit longer. Most of the rest of America, including my own staff at Verizon, knows you have to facilitate what your customers use, however antiquated or nassty or glossy it is. It is their dime.

April 16, 2017: More Credit and Less Fat

Keywords: credit rating, banking, Visa, obesity, dieting, Skype, Windows 10 Creators update, ISO image, Silver Sneakers, Bluetooth, HP, Trusted Platform Module

I don't know if it is the advent of Spring, my slowly improving financials, some small successes in maintaining things and reparing things and figuring out some moderately complicated webthings, but my life appears to be brightening up a little bit. Of course, coming out of hibernation, getting the first mow of the year in the can, and finding I can weather some necessary (actually, mandatory) expenses without going completely bankrupt all helps. The new credit card has let me restructure my outgoings, and reprogram my financial software so I have more control and a better alert facility, and getting a line of credit, after years of not having one, meant I can push some expenses a month out, which, in a month where I have some additional expenses, is a Godsend. It isn't that I didn't have that in my savings, but after the 2008 crash I've become paranoid about running down my reserves, I have never been so close to bankruptcy - or if I had, I wasn't aware of it, and now I am. Still shaking in my boots, as it were.

While my bank sent me a credit rating warning with the welcome letter from a credit card division VP, they did give me a "full" normal Visa account, with a decent line of credit, and all of the reward and benefit bells and whistles, it wasn't one of the horrendous credit cards that you get from the banks that operate at the bottom end of the market. Those are cards you have to pay "membership fees" to, with horrendous loan percentages, mine has a 0% APR until well into next year. I expect I got lucky, if that's the right term, because I have been with my bank for many years - I think I opened my account with them when the corporation moved me to Washington, D.C., and it turned out my bank in New York had no branches in Virginia. Never having put a foot wrong with them, and having direct deposit into that account from day one, I guess I came up a notch or two above where I might have been if I had been a new customer. So, as you can never predict how your finances may go, make sure you have a good "clean" relationship with your bank. In fact, my previous bank in New York once allowed the State of New York to put a lien on my account despite the fact I was no longer living in the state, and didn't even call me when that happened, with the NY State Department of Taxation claiming state income tax even though I was no longer living in New York and not being paid there. You can imagine, even though the lien was lifted, that this was a good reason for me to change banks - good, in hindsight, because those things always sit on your record with financial institutions, and never go away. Lucky, too, that my mortgage, which I successfully negotiated a Deed-in-Lieu for, was with my old bank, and not with the new. Phew. Who knew.

It is true what they say about fat

I may end up doing recipes for the pressure cooker - my first attempt, basmati rice, went well, but didn't produce rice as good as I cook it using my "normal" process. Only belatedly did I realize that my "normal" process (my grandmother, who was born in what was then the Netherlands Indies, taught me) bring the rice to a fast boil, and then leaves it to steep, on little or no heat. Back in the Netherlands, we used a tea towel over the pot, lid on top, but I've since found just a tight fitting lid will do fine. So when the internet pressure cooker recipes all called for "three minutes at high pressure" I should have realized that even that is too much cooking. The only variables are the amount of water, and the length of time you then leave the pot sit, closed. So next time I'll do what I normally do, but just leave the rice sit under pressure, with the heat turned off. Keep you posted. Interesting experiment - and I have to say the rice that came out may have been perfect for chopsticks or the hand, but that wasn't what I was after.

Wincofoods French Bread Pizza Watching a BBC program about obesity and the NHS (national health service) it occurred to me that the recent increase in weight I am lifting comfortably means that, for the first time, I have, harum, hard evidence that my weight gain has been caused by increased muscle mass. This may sound crazy, but I really did not know with certainty whether my weight gain was due to food or exercise, or a combination of both. Let's see - I started the gym on January 19, 2015, when my health insurer added the Silver Sneakers program to my policy. At that point my main exercise was walking, and I then weighed 196 lbs, up from about 180 in 2012, when I still had five acres of woods in Virginia to maintain. By October of 2015, I was down to 174 lbs, working out more or less to the max my joints would allow, which means stopping at a point where a particular joint began to hurt. I've lived with my arthritis since about 24, so am well acquainted with the injuries that result when you push it, having had to "push it" often enough while pursuing my career. After that, still on a regime of five gym visits a week, my weight had slowly begun to creep up again, kind of alongside an improvement in my general condition, until I hit 190 last November. And there it stayed - seemingly, for my current exercise level and muscle mass, my "ideal weight". When I look at the increase in weight I lift and pull, an increase that happened very gradually, over time, and the fact I no longer have the aches and pains I had earlier on, my guess is that the weight increase is mostly muscle, a change in body composition. I can see in the mirror I've got muscles where I didn't have them before, and some appear to have gotten bigger. But when I suddenly lifted more weight than I ever had before, inadvertently, last weekend, it kind of dawned on me I should not worry about the weight increase. Confused? Join the club! There are the itches you can't scratch, you try something, and then see if if does anything, over time. Yes, I've increased weights very gradually, and religiously restrict my workouts to half an hour, but that clearly simply means results get there more gradually, they do get there. All in all, I think diet and exercise work well for me, but the metabolism scientists that say you can expect to gain weight back once you seriously start to work out, are absolutely right. I can absolutely vouch for what some scientific publications tell you - if I eat just one meal a day, I lose weight. If I eat two meals a day, I gain weight. It is as simple as that, but I've noticed I now get hungry in the morning, that's new, I never ate breakfast since, oh, the early 1990s, when my first bout in the gym (thoughtfully provided by my employer, in the research lab in White Plains, NY) began. I find that maintaining a vitals spreadsheet on a daily basis helps me, but then I've always believed in tracking and calendars and stuff.

Something that is important to understand is that obesity, or even an overweight status, is not simply caused by overeating. There are reasons why people overeat, and most of those are, as it turns out, medical, while some are psychological. I will add, however, that what both supermarkets and restaurants, and in particular fast food outlets, provide to us in terms of "affordable" foodstuffs generally comes under the header of "tasty, bad for you". Stuffed full of salt and sugars, many prepared foods are health accidents waiting to happen - look on the ingredients label on bread, on canned foods, on sausage, on chicken breasts, simply on any foods that come out of a factory, and you'll see additives for which there really isn't a reason. Yes, preservatives, but if you can make your own peanut butter from peanuts at several supermarkets, perhaps you don't need the type in the jar. Yes, I know, time is money, and you want to get everything you need at Costco in one fell shop, but buy a tray of peanut butter, and you buy a tray of preservatives and sugar and salt and fat kids (roasted peanuts and sugar, contains 2 percent or less of molasses, fully hydrogenated vegetable oils, rapeseed and soybean, mono and diglycerides, salt). Capiche?

How about dem Winders

What with Windows 10's Creators update hitting the stands, I popped the Windows 10 Pro harddisk back into my other Elitebook, which normally runs Windows 7, I guess I might as well get the update, and see what that does. At least it has a prior privacy control, which you can run before the install - in the original version of Windows 10, it took me half a day to find all of the privacy setting, and then when Windows 10 updated, it turned all that off again. That's going to be a massive problem - I am currently not able to update the credit card number that feeds my Skype account, because - dig this - Skype will not let me access my Skype account of some ten years unless I provide my date of birth. And Skype - dig this - is fully embedded in the new Windows 10. So, at least in my case, Microsoft will not provide me full Windows 10 capability unless I hand over my date of birth and my email address and my location and my credit card number and... you follow? One step beyond everybody else, and you commit, by installing Windows 10, to Microsoft having the right to sell your personal information. To read your email. To read any files you store in their cloud. Etc. This very morning, out of nowhere, Microsoft would not let me back into Windows 8.1, on another laptop, unless I "activated" it first. That is something I did when I bought and installed Windows 8, originally, at the end of 2012, then officially updated to 8.1 Pro, and had to re-activate last year, when I moved the OS from the broken Lenovo to the HP I bought to replace it. Normally, it asks you to reverify, and then allows you to access your computer - if nothing else, that's where I store my licenses. Not this time. Microsoft locked me out. I logged out, went to the gym, and coming back, could no longer log in. Half an hour on the phone with Microsoft, two failed calls, a failed web registration, before I was finally able to access my own computer.

You may recall I uninstalled stuff when I couldn't get Acronis' cloning software to work on my main HP Elitebook laptop - now that I have figured out HP Tools' security software, and its use of the Trusted Platform Module, prevents the cloning from working. That's fine with me, BTW, I am sure there is a way around it, but I'd rather not futz with my data security, and as I said, Windows' image backup does just fine. Messing with the TPM scares me in that I am not really familiar with its functioning, beyond the theoretical, and I really don't have a system with a TPM that I don't need and can break testing, if you follow my drift. After all that troubleshooting, I had additional spurious device drivers, to do with Bluetooth devices, so I had removed those, the 360 Total Security Essentials package, and eventually, my Blackberry Link software, which wasn't working too well. In the end, I was able to reinstall 360 Total Security (which virus scans 800 GB much faster than any other utility), uninstall all Bluetooth crap I could find, then reinstall Blackberry Link. One problem with Bluetooth is that some drivers, by default set themselves up for timed powerdown, when they find laptop functionality, and you need to manually turn that off (I use Bluetooth HP login security and a Bluetooth keyboard/trackpad combo) for the never ending problems to go away. All told, with the exception of Acronis' backup software, it is all working like it's s'posed to, which is wonderful news. If I really did what I'd like to do, I would turn on all of the security features of this Elitebook, which would mean fingerprint recognition in the BIOS login, and then Bitlocker encryption on the bootdisk, but I've got so much (addmittedly backup up twice) data on the drive that I really don't want to take risks with that. My other Elitebook does not have a finger scanner nor a built in camera, so is less suited for TPM experiments - what I really ought to do is move the entire load to the "other" Elitebook (2570p) and then experiment with the "original" 2560p, if I ever get ambitious enough I'll let you know. At the very minimum, I'd need a couple more 2 terabyte disks to do that, one for backup, and the budget just does not stretch to that, I think, at least this year. I've got my green card renewal and some dental surgery coming up shortly, and that'll be that for any "extravaganza"... anybody know why Aetna does not reimburse anaesthesia unless you have at least two (not adjacent) teeth removed? Jeez.

April 8, 2017: Drones and other toys

Keywords: drone, FAA, lock, doorlock, digital lock, pressure washer, 220VAC, power conversion, Windows Pro, image backup, cloning, Spicer, dental, dentists

HexacopterKind of enjoy the advent of spring - suddenly, light gets up earlier, and it gets dark later, as if someone turned the switch. The grass is growing like wildfire, so a couple of days of sun and the mower will be awakened. I've got a fair amount of stuff on, admittedly nothing too important, and hopefully I can soon begin to exercise my drone (here still in its box, but I've gotten the spare propellors, undercarriage, spare batteries, and yes, that is an FAA registration sticker, registration now mandatory). I am, as the thing has live streaming capability, especially interested in its surveillance capabilities - the stuff you see on TV is (presumably) mostly shot with high end drones flown by professionals, and I just want to find out how hard it is to learn that stuff. I tried to find a higher resolution Android phone, but discovered the pre-paid T-Mobile handsets that used to be available at Wal-Mart and Best Buy are no more, they've pulled all that back into the T-Mobile brand stores. I've actually not gone to see what the company store in Bellevue has to offer - actually, I am probably going down there tomorrow, so perhaps I should swing by them.

The key is under the mat

Other than that, I am in a bit of a cleaning-and-repair frenzy - bathroom grouting, hygienifying the household machines, dishwasher, clothes washer, I need to de-fluff the dryer, can't think why they don't make those filter assemblies more effective, and the lawn mower needs its annual oil change, after a Marvel oil treatment. The picture to the left has our new digital doorlock, a device that is easy to install, not on the internet - I would not want to firewall a lock, tell ya - not expensive - this one an Xmas gift to my landlord. Well thought through - one particularly nice aspect is that you can set temporary user codes to allow someone access to the house - a friend arriving in the afternoon before you get home, a trusted contractor - that you can erase after one time or periodic use. And there is a bypass, if you've got folks traipsing in and out all day, again, turn on or off. Cool stuff, well made, an affordable gift around $50, fits where your old lock is, even an emergency battery pack should the main batteries run down, no more keys under the mat. Then, I slowly need to dig up my pressure washer, and blow the crud off my truck - that's always a bit of an exercise, as the pressure washer is a European 220VAC model (the one linked here, same model, same store, has gone up in price, I ran into mine in 2009 at around 80 Euros, €101.99 with tax, which I got back at Schiphol Airport), which means I have to dig up my power converter, which works well, but needs power from two separate 20AMP 117VAC circuits to do its magic. Digital DoorlockI didn't intentionally get the European version, it was on sale at a home appliance store near my sister's in Amsterdam, and more or less on impulse I thought I could try and make it work in the United States, knowing full well that has a different mains voltage. But eventually I found a converter (not a transformer) that actually works rather well, sold by Quick220, here - when I say "well", I've been using the unit since at least 2010, including as the power supply on a large 230VAC 20AMP air conditioner, without any problems. At the same wattage, the European pressure washer delivers twice the effective pressure (a function of the PSI combined with water flow) as the same brand American pressure washer does - ah, took a bit of Googling, but here is the difference: the American Kärcher model delivers 1.2 gallons per minute, the European one 1.6 GPM. That is the price we pay, in America, for the antiquated electrical system and prewar regulations we've never been able to update to "modern times". I must admit to being lazy, over the winter, and taking the car through the car wash - the local Mr. Kleen 76 actually does an excellent job, for my $9. But it is time to get the winter crud out of the nooks and crannies. Up here in the Pacific Northwest, leave a car out in the wind and weather, and soon you'll have moss growing on the rubber, I kid you not.

Bigger is more (headaches)

To update you on the Acronis cloning debacle whines about below, April 3rd (probably not their fault), the Windows Image Backup works, and a repair DVD was able to see the eSATA drive and identify the image, so something works, at least. I am a fully paranoid backer-upper, something I've actually had to use to recover entire systems, in the past. In hindsight, slow backups were caused by using older drives on newer interfaces, that kind of makes sense. A bit stupid I did not test the newer cables and drives I had lying around, until now, but at least I am out of the woods on backing up my main system. Having transferred my old archives to the new network drives, I can retire the old Seagate drives, especially now that I know they're too slow - too slow for massive file transfers and full system backups, anyway. I am quite happy I eventually decided to get that second network drive - at this point, I have all of my old stuff on one of the two drives, the ZyXel is 50% full (out of 6 terabytes), while the Seagate is 26% full (out of 4 terabytes), and I finally have all of my older archives on network drives. Keeping them on unused old drives, in the end, was a scary proposition, because you do not know whether those will still fire up, years later, and as it turns out, even "standardized" drive interfaces change specs, as processors and motherboards change. With 6 spare terabytes, I should be OK for a while. All I need to do now is give the ZyXel, which is fan cooled, a monthly clean with the workshop vacuum, because fans collect dust, and dust means heat where it should not be. But, getting back to Acronis' cloning software as provided by Seagate, and its interaction with HP Protect Tools, I kind of like the way HP does security on its business systems like my Elitebooks. They really are secure, and this is despite my not encrypting the hard disks, for which a couple of tools exist, one from Microsoft, the other from HP. The problem with HP's tools is that I would not then be able to switch to another brand PC, while my guess is I'll stay with Windows for a long time. I've been using Microsoft's Bitlocker for several years now, so I can safely say it is stable and reliable, I've just not ever used it on a boot drive. Ah, gosh, just remembered, I enabled and took control of the TPM, the Trusted Platform Module in this laptop. Gingerly, because while I knew about TPMs, I had never run a system with one enabled, and as HP has some tools that let you control all that from within Windows, I tried (successfully, as it turns out) to set that up. As I wasn't intending to change security policies on the system, that's all I did, but now I realize the TPM with HP's Protect Tools conspired to stop some disk access - I just pulled up the TPM command control, finding that quite a few commands won't work with the TPM active, and I'll bet you some of the Acronis actions are among those. Well, that's cool. It would have to be, because I don't know enough about the TPM to change it to enable Acronis, and I don't know that I really need to do that, there are other ways to back up. Boy, I am glad I wrote this piece, because the Bitlocker research led me right back to my enabling the TPM and then not documenting what I had done, and how.

President Spicer

I gotta tell you, the more I watch the news, the less news I see. Even here in the USA we now have "reporters" standing around the halls of Congress shouting questions at senators and representatives, to see one liner comments turn up in the press hours later, and be analyzed to death by "commentators" and "anchors" who spend more time not talking about things they're supposed to, than time talking about things that matter. President Trump does not make things much better - business man? In business, we present solutions using flipcharts and Powerpoints and documents - but this presidency has ended up being the domain of meaningless one-liners without substantiation. "We will do this" and "We will fix that" - but not a word about how, and when and later, why not. If there ever was a presidency of the meaningless press conference, with President Spicer shutting down reporters, while not providing the nation with information - his job - it is this presidency. A new health plan? Where? Were we told what it would achieve, and what the cost would be? No? More platitudes? It is April, and I've not heard or seen a single detailed proposal with a list of benefits. Even Speaker Ryan seems to work for Mr. Trump, rather than for the American people, which I thought his job was. I tell you, Trump and his band of white Medicare eligibles isn't doing anything for anybody - anyone can take the President of China to a golf course he owns, and I don't think the Prez has the faintest idea how much of an international laughing stock he is making himself into. ISPs and carriers can now sell your browsing data to advertisers - that's scary to the point they have, one for the other, announced they won't be doing that. If that is true, why did Mr. Trump sign the decree? Who asked him? What is the American consumer getting out of this? No point in looking to Spicer for an explanation, he is a mouth for hire....

Dental surgeon - or liar?

I can't believe how discombobulated dentistry service has become - dysfunctional, and I have to constantly look over my shoulder to see who is trying to rip me off today. Seriously - one dentist did stuff I hadn't asked for, then another dentist did stuff that wasn't reimbursed - dig this - even though they could have coded the same procedure differently and got paid, and now a dental surgeon tells me the preapproval takes 4 to 6 weeks. That's just not true, but besides, I made clear ahead of time I expected them to get a preapproval. Which, by law, I am entitled to. And I have insurance. So I asked them to get the pre-approval on he road, and will check, tomorrow, if they have. Because that normally takes 24 hours, or the medical profession would be out of business. What is with these people?

April 3, 2017: From the car to the backup, same-O..

Keywords: TPS, IAC, cylinders, carbon deposits, fuel system, 4.7l V-8, pressure cooker, induction cooktop, soto ayam, Windows Image, Windows Pro

Idle Air Controller Allright, throttle position sensor replaced, idle air control valve replaced, its port cleaned, throttle body cleaned, the picture to the right shows the old idle air control valve, which certainly had some carbon deposits (click the link above and you'll see what a new one looks like). I'll now run, with the next fillup, some upper cylinder lubricant through the fuel system, I understand that is a solvent and will clean gunk out, and in the meantime see what else I need to do, in terms of maintenance. I have a lower temperature thermostat sitting around, and think my next step ought to be to put that in, which will help in that I can flush the entire fuel system once and for all, I've replaced the coolant, but I think it probably needs a good power rinse, the tools I have, and you really can only do that by removing the bottom radiator hose, where the thermostat is. OK, well, that'll wait for summer, which shouldn't be too far off.

Get your cook on!

I occasionally spend hours in the kitchen, usually when my housemates are out, concocting Asian dishes, often doing that the way my grandmother did, most ingredients from scratch. Especially here on the left coast practically everything you need is sold fresh, locally, in Asian super- and hypermarkets. Those exist on the right coast as well, but they were never around the corner, and here, they're not only ten minutes' drive away, this part of the country is so full of Asians of all denominations, the markets compete. While I don't mind spending hours in the kitchen, cooking for the freezer, it occurred to me a pressure cooker might reduce the time needed for "creation" a bit. Checking Amazon, I found, somewhere "on the bottom shelf", a stainless steel pressure cooker intended for induction cooktops - and as it happens, I have one of those - actually, two, one I brought back from Beijing. When I look at the cheaper models, they're mostly made of aluminium, and the prices soon head up to - and over - $60. On the cheaper end, under $30, there is a 6.5 quart NuWave,which, as it happens, was designed for use with an induction cooktop, so has a solid thick stainless steel bottom with metal insert. Perfect. Of course, what with my being European, 6.5 quarts doesn't instantly translate to a volume, and I am pleasantly surprised when I find the pressure cooker is larger than I expected, 5 litres, more than enough for my multi-day Indonesian souper meals, and as I see on the internet, rice should cook just fine in a pressure cooker as well. Funny how I grew up in a household where Indonesian food was only prepared on special occasions, my father wanting us to grow up Western, so it was meat and potatoes, I didn't rediscover my roots until after I had moved to the United States.

..and you end up back with Windows Image and Recovery

On the one hand, I can't get Acronis' cloning software, as provided by Seagate, to work any more, on one of my laptops. I've tried to eliminate every variable under the sun, but so far, nothing has worked. I've now taken the "360 Total" antivirus software off the machine, as well as Intel's SSD tools, which I believe probably have Acronis code in them as well. Originally, this box came with an Intel SSD (solid state disk), but I ported that load over to a really big regular Seagate, and so far, I've been able to use Seagate's cloning software without a problem. So next step is the 360 software, after that, I wonder if the eSATA port is unhappy, I've seen that happen before. Umm, no, that didn't do it, either, I think I screwed up. I spent days making changes to the driver load, testing, removing antivirus software, more testing, all to no avail. Then, I realized that in between my last clone and now, I had installed HP's Protect Tools (February 28, below) and that this software, when I set up the security stuff, created a link between Windows security setting and the BIOS, where it created the same users I had in Windows. I haven't really experimented with what that does, but likely that's the reason clone won't run any more - talk about security! Acronis has it you can work around that by booting from their utility DVD or flash drive (which you have to create first) so that will be my next try. The secret here is that the DVD does not need the PC to restart with an Acronis bootloader, and that should eliminate the problem. We shall see. Gotta tell you, that is good security, if you cannot access or copy a hard disk without a secure key. And yes, I've now tried everything I know how to, including booting from DVD in EFI mode, which I did not know you could do, but I can no longer clone. The only other thing would be to remove the BIOS-to-Windows user links, but I kind of like the security HP has, and really don't want to mess with a data security system that took me so long to set up and get to run right. So I'll forego the cloning on this system, and try to head back to Windows' original image creation tool, which I used to use. That can be finicky to restore, so I'll have to run a test. Doing an image, on a large disk, takes a long time, but if that has to be, all of my Windows installs, from 7 Pro through 10 Pro, have the imaging and recovery tools, so what the heck. Ah, thought I'd try, the Sunday morning when I actually planned on posting this, and discovered the image backup ran much faster than expected. Wot? What I think I didn't think of is that I have been using slower external eSATA drives for backing up - for years, actually, and this time I am using a small large (1TB) SATA drive on the spare SATA port on my laptop, which talks directly to the system bus. Because: a 600GB image took just 1.5 hours to create, not the usual 3 or 4. That is a nice surprise. This is an internal drive, not one on a multi-standard interface, so runs as a "native" drive. That's this drive, and this cable, for your edification. That's perfectly doable, it gets completed while I go to the gym. Now to check whether or not this is restorable, that sometimes is a headache, too, in Windows. Tell you next time.

March 26, 2017: Between Trump and the Terrorist, who needs excitement?

Keywords: Masood, Parliament, London, Islam, throttle position sensor, air control valve, f.lux, melatonin, colour temperature, sleep, RAID, ZyXel

Ah. 52 year old Khalid Masood was a known criminal, and nobody (at least at the moment) knows why he did what he did, no "terror priors". What set him off. Etcetera. We'll get more information, I am sure, but regardless of the research and the police investigations, we really don't have an understanding what turns these folks into murderers, and why they hate, seemingly, entire societies. What drives them to a "them and us" view of the world, where it is them against the world - take into consideration that Islamic assailants often kill other Muslims, and we have, in London, another perfect example that the victim's religion, ethnicity, ancestry, really does not matter to the assailant. Once they go over the edge they kill blindly, wantonly - and this was not sufficiently premeditated that Masood had gotten firearms, which are, even in England, easy to get. It does compare with 9/11 - there, they used ordinary airliners, here, Masood used a rental car and a butcher knife. The less preparation, it would seem to me, the slimmer the chance you'll get "prevented". Yes, no, I really don't hve anything to add that someone hasn't already written or said, but just thought I'd express, again, that I don't understand why these folks think this is good stuff - I follow the exploits of the Dutch, German and Austrian jihadis that leave for Syria, or wherever, and only get the impression these are mostly young, misguided, loose cannons, where the big problem is that they seem to be presented with a religious view that allows them to murder. I don't see hundreds of Jews, Jehova's Witnesses, Buddhists, Lutherans, go someplace and be trained to be assassins and murders, being told by their preachers it is OK to kill or maim anyone you want, to douse women in sulphuric acid, to chop little kid's heads off and burn police officers alive.

I didn't even know what a TPS was

Somehow, this doesn't feel like Monday, more like Friday, (that is, I began writing this on a Monday, which usually does not mean it gets posted on a Monday..) though I got most of my stuff sorted - and as my "other" Visa card arrived, I can put my currency orders back in. About a week, not bad at all, I've noticed before that mail from European countries generally gets here almost as quickly as domestic mail does. Did get the used oil and filters and packaging and dead CFL bulbs off to the recycling center, so the "weekend debris" is gone, all I need to do is wash the rags, no rush on those, got loads. Long list of calls to make, better get cracking on those tomorrow, though some WalMart and Macy's are on the list too. Having said that, I need to install the throttle position sensor, see if I can stop the big V-8 from hiccuping, it isn't that I know it is broken, but the internet tells me that would be the first thing to look at. I don't actually like messing with car bits I have no experience of, but having watched a couple of Youtube videos, and read the manual, and with the right tools - the Torx drivers I got last year for a different repair are a true godsend - it wasn't a huge problem, and this time I got clever and turned on my diagnostic OBDII dongle and software before trying to start the vehicle, and I installed the TPS with the battery disconnected, so the ECU would do an initial scan of all systems, and read the new TPS as a new device. You tend to not do that, and that can confuse the computer, not illogical. As someone who, for part of his life, drove cars that had little or no computer in them, it doesn't come natural to think that the car's ECU has measurement values for just about every electrical and electronic and electro-mechanical part in the vehicle, and if it isn't told something is "different", it may assume the old part is still in place, and get confused by the readings from a replacement part. For $21.87, on an older car, you're better off simply replacing the part, and eliminate that variable. I've not tested it on a run yet, but as the next possible culprit is the Idle Air Control Valve, I've ordered that as well (as I post this it is sitting in an Amazon box behind me on the sideboard already), while I test the new TPS. I've made the mistake of doing two replacements at the same time before, and the problem then becomes that you don't know which one was the culprit. So easy does it.. Sort of funny, as much of an engineer as I am, I am having to learn everything about "modern cars" - I've not touched or maintained a car since they had carburetors and air cooled engines in the back, in another part of the world.

Turn off your screen without...

There is a piece of software, a utility, called "f.lux", which you install on your computer or tablet or smartphone, and this will then adjust the colour temperature of your display according to the time of day. If I may backtrack for a moment, I talked to a doctor at my primary care provider's office, a while ago, about sleep, and the lack thereof, basically to ask what, if any, OTC medication might be helpful (I've taken prescription sleep aids before, and didn't like what they did to my brain). A few antihistamines, allergy medications, the ones that do make you drowsy, are sold as sleep aids, and I had picked some up at Costco, containing Doxylamine Succinate. Nope, not a good idea, my doctor said, and suggested I should try melatonin. You can read up on this, it is, though a hormone, available over the counter in the United States. So I hit WalMart, got a low dose (3mg) preparation, and started taking that, working out, empirically, that taking a tablet with milk at 11pm was a good schedule for me to hit the hay at midnight. The milk came about because I saw some research from the Netherlands that indicates taking milk at night is much more effective in helping the body absorb proteins and calcium. So I've switched my daily milk to nighttime (I am not a breakfast person anyway), which helps, as well, to not have any caffeinated beverages late at night (I am a Coke drinker, well, Coke Zero, don't do sugar). Curiously, after about six months, the melatonin seems to have retrained my brain into a more normal sleep pattern (which I cannot prove). But there is more.

The doctor involved also harangued me about nighttime screentime, not that I didn't know this, but when a doctor talks to me I pay attention. Some of that, at least, is that when I talk to a doctor about something that bothers me it has passed the "line of control", I don't usually let things bother me unless they keep bothering me for months on end. So I resolved to cut my screentime late evening, by parking the smartphone in its cradle (which turns it into an alarm clock with dark orange display, thanks Blackberry), turning off the screens, and retiring with a book, which I read by the (warm) light of a battery powered LED lantern, with the bright LED lighting I normally use turned off. That, frequently, has led to me waking when the book falls out of my hand, which seems a good indication that sleep is upon me. I had not read books forever, reading on displays, until, last year, a friend gave me one, and I felt obliged to read it since it was such a nice gesture. That inadvertently created a habit, and I keep doing that, something I never did before. Long story.

So now I have this somewhat involved nighttime routine, and what I discovered, recently (I know, going on a bit) is a bit of software that changes, gradually, the colour temperature of my computer displays, at night. I have to tell you that, when I watch TV, I do so on PC, using an HDTV dongle on a secondary screen, or using IPTV. I am telling you that because, if I watched late night TV on a regular TV or display this trick wouldn't work, as the PC would not be involved. What the effect of f.lux, the application involved, is, over time, I can't yet tell you. But if you've got the same problem, and want to experiment right along with me, what I describe above is what you try. What I can tell you - and I have no way of telling you which of the above measures do what - is that I go out like a light, at night, without any sleep aids, discontinued the melatonin some time ago, noticing no change when I stopped for a couple of days. It is trial and error - I still do believe that what wakes me up in the morning is my body running out of thyroid hormone, which I have to take in pill form as they removed my thyroid some years ago. That, too, is a variable you probably don't have to contend with, but when I take my thyroid hormone on an empty stomach in the morning, and I have other medication or food too quickly after that, the thyroid uptake, as I understand it, is impaired. Let's not get into that, but it does have an effect that skews some of the other stuff - I think, particularly, not taking milk in the morning helps the hormone get where it needs to be. Especially calcium, I understand, is detrimental. As they say, FWIW...

More storage

Like the Seagate NAS drive, the Zyxel RAID device works well, and as I mentioned, it is faster, too, at the expense of some noise when it is reading and writing - mostly caused by my running it at RAID 0, which means it electronically alternates writes between the two drives installed in it. That makes it blisteringly fast, and a bit noisy. Having said that, it makes two Hitachi 3 terabyte "industrial strength" drives that aren't particularly fast (average seek time of 8ms) run at an impressive clip. More importantly, the device seems reliable and, unlike other RAID devices, does not run hot - or even more than warm. The way these network devices power down and "go to sleep" is actually a life saver - the technology works well, and between that and the variable fan speed, the Zyxel should last a long time.

March 19, 2017: The little everyday things

Keywords: backup, car maintenance, teeth, painkillers, groceries, fluoride, voltaren, green card, credit rating

While I have largely done everything I had planned to do, I noticed today I am still procrastinating on some other levels - planning, preparing, then not doing whatever. I've got some replacement parts I ordered last summer sitting in the garage to prove it. So better get me skates on - part of it was the cold winter, didn't much feel like outdoor activities. But I think (hope?) that's done with, the temperature is back where it is supposed to be, this time of year, 50's, we've sent the cold stuff East, they're used to it.

Brilliantly, I wiped out an entire backup, when all I wanted to do was remove it from the database, and reinstate it - one wrong click, 800GB wiped. I've got the entire original, but it just is a pain to redo the whole thing (all over again). Not much choice, though, it's the only "full" backup of what I have on my main drive, including everything I have, in the past, purged from it, dating back to when I stuck a terabyte drive in my past Lenovo - that was, umm, December 2013. At that time, I realized that I could keep a lot of archive material on the terabyte drive, but I'd have to create a full copy of the data on the drive, and then I wrote a scripts to be able to robocopy all of the archives to an external 2 terabyte archival drive. And see, this is the problem with these large drives - it can take days to run a full backup. You only have to do that once in a while, the rest of the time you can do incremental, but still it is a big job and you really can't use your system while it runs. Thankfully, I have two AIS Backup licenses, so I was able to move the drive to my "backup" Elitebook, and re-run the backup from there, then re-instate it to my primary laptop. Worked. Phew.

Now the weather must improve, or at last it should stop raining, so I can change my oil and a couple of other filters and things on the car. I've only got the one car, and it's been hiccuping, and I have the bits to try and remedy that, should have done that before winter set in. I cannot afford to go out and buy another car, even if I do now have a smidgen of credit, so I really can't afford to procrastinate. The only extravagant expense I must weather, next month, is the renewal of my green card - that used to be a lifetime thing, but now you have to fork over $600 every ten years to get the card renewed. Just that, replace the plastic. It's not like we aren't taxpayers, they really ought not to charge for this, or charge according to income.

Fluoride

Fluoride mouthwash Having read up on fluoride, I realize it is a toxin, and imbibing it through the stomach when there is perfectly good fluoride mouthwash is perhaps not necessary. I did use a prescription mouthwash during the years I was living in Virginia, when I was on well water, but here we use water from an artesian well, which we fetch in those large plastic water bottles you know from water dispensers. So I've taken to a supermarket fluoride mouthwash, rather than the ubiquitous Listerine, to make sure my teeth get their protective fix. I am not quite sure why I suddenly decided to take another look at fluoride, the discussion largely passed me by, and I always "knew" fluoride was good for your teeth - but to be honest, I never looked at the availability of fluoride mouthwashes. Yes, you can do things "topically", and I should have probably figured out a lot sooner than taking things via the stomach lets chemicals go all sorts of places they probably have no reason to be. I've got the same thing going on with Voltaren, a.k.a. Diclofenac Sodium, given to me many years ago to medicate a form of arthritis. Very effective, too, and I am saying this based on personal experience. But unbeknownst to me, this seems to have become a generic NSAID, available over the counter in some countries, though not in the United States. In fact, when I moved here, Voltaren wasn't even yet approved. And now, after reading up and doing some research, I am beginning to see why my rheumatologist is loth to have me take Voltaren or its generic any more, even though I had been taking this daily, for years. Yes, it has killed patients, but then so has much of my other medication, we used to accept that that was the name of the game. Plus ça change...

Groceries

What with the new credit card, I spent an inordinate amount of time integrating that into my financial software, to try and make sure the funds I usually set aside to put into my pay card (the card I use for groceries and gas and everyday purchases) are now split across the pay card and the credit card. The supermarket I get most of my groceries, Wincofoods, I am forever grateful they decided to build one within easy driving distance, a year ago, only takes debit cards, so I must continue to put funds in the pay card (I don't like using my bank debit card for "variable" purchases, because it is so easy to lose sight of your balances - I don't actually even carry it). My software shows me I have saved money shopping there, as opposed to going to my local Safeway (now closed) and Costco (where I dropped my account), I swear to God - one thing Costco does is make you think you save money, when in fact you spend more, under the pretense that larger quantities are cheaper to buy. They're not. Cheaper gas? Arco sells gas just as cheaply, they only take cash and surcharge cards, but cash is easy and free to grab when shopping anywhere, just takes a bit of planning. Then the non-food stuff one buys at Costco is almost always cheaper at Amazon - at Costco and at Wal-Mart, the name of the game is impulse buying, you save money by buying things you don't need cheaper than they are anywhere else. At Amazon, the chance is less, though you can get caught out if you spend too much time surfing. But I've gotten disciplined, returning stuff that I would in the past have "what the heck" kept. One thing that is nice, and that I had just about forgotten about, is that the credit card billing delay gives me an extra month or so breathing space, very welcome considering my savings account Visa card blew up, and its replacement may take a couple of weeks. And then there is the green card replacement cost, which now fits nicely in the delay, apparently you have to file and pay some six months ahead of time, not in and of itself major, but the less fluctuation, the better I like the security.

At any rate, if I now keep my nose clean and the bills paid on time, later on this year I should be able to turn back to the Seattle Housing Department and see if I can get an apartment. I tried this before, was actually offered two, but in the process realized that, without credit, I might get myself into more trouble than that was worth, and that, of course, should change over the next few months. I had originally planned to move South, but I really cannot afford to, and my time here should make it easier to get the necessary municipal support. So I'll hang tight, get the last big bill out of the way, and take it from there. It's just taking so much time, compared to when I still made the big buck$... Owell, can't win 'em all, but I don't have to lose them any more. I had expected to have to file for bankruptcy, and I've somehow managed without it, so I ought to be happy with my "achievement".. complain I can't, every time I look at the homeless encampments the City of Seattle is clearing away, I realize I could have fared worse. It was hary having to wait for my overseas Social Security Pension to come through - no option to "take it early" there, like we can here in the United States, but I got through all that OK. Having to stay put in one place for a year while the paperwork went through wasn't simple, though, but it all worked out in the end.

March 13, 2017: Hiccuping right along

Keywords: medical insurance, dentistry, patient privacy, mobile telephones, financial software, online banking, mobile tethering

Well, that's sorted - new dentist, after our old one retired, his replacement did stuff to my housemate that wasn't insurance covered, and I found another dentist in Everett who did the same thing to me. As our insurance plans pre-approve procedures, I can only come to the conclusion that some dentists deliberately "pad the books" in the hope you'll just pay when they send a bill. I don't, and they lose a customer when they do that to me. I have, generally, found the Seattle area seems to have an over-abundance of medical professionals - dense enough that a downtown section of Seattle is referred to as "Pill Hill" by the locals. And I've found some institutions walk all over patients - SCCA, the Seattle Cancer Care Association, where I wasn't even a patient, sent me mail coming from the "Thyroid Cancer Survivors Association", as if it is their duty to let the Postal Service and my housemates know about my medical condition, and after I had a chest X-ray there, began sending me reminders for mammograms, which they referred to in confirmations of a referral for X-rays. Needless to say, I do not have mammaries, I don't even think I am a woman, and I think SCCA has little or no respect for its patients. I can have my Medicare-mandated chest X-rays elsewhere.

T-Mobile prepaid GalaxyAs if that isn't enough, I head for Walmart to return a ZTE phone I just bought, you used to be able to buy prepaid T-Mobile handsets at Walmart and Best Buy and stick a T-Mobile SIM card in them, but no more. Then I went to pay for my mailbox / office address, and my freakin' international Visa card was declined. This occasionally happens, there are merchants and payment processors in the United States that can't handle international accounts, strange in a country that is end-to-end immigrants, but there it is. Because you never really know what caused the decline, I am now having to wait for a new card, coming from overseas, that can take "a week or two". But, coming home, I find my new credit card on the doormat, so that brightens things up a bit, especially since this card is married to bank and savings accounts and my financial software online, it's been a few years since I've had that luxury, and I must say the bank really sorted that seamlessly and well, setting the whole thing up and adding the account to my software was minutes' work, very impressed. Now I hope that when I change over to two factor authentication, next week, all that does not break. The software support people didn't really understand what I was talkin about, half hour chat for nothing, and the bank support folks thought it would be OK, but "check with the software folks". So all I can do is try...

A discombobulating week, then. I hate changing medical providers (7 countries on 3 continents, kinda sorta), and a new dentist is definitely that, but Hennessey and his staff seem OK, even is cautious enough to send me to a surgeon for the removal of a molar (rather than patch it or try and do it himself, which, with me on immuno-suppressants, would not be smart). It is appreciated. And then I need to figure out how to add the new credit card to my Quicken lineup - always a challenge, I've had so many providers, in the past, who said they are Quicken-compatible, and then turn out to either not work with it at all, or use Web Connect, effectively a screen scraper for situations where a bank won't implement Quicken's secure protocol, and screen scrapers I do not use, they don't really work. Quicken's API is nice, in that you do not have to use an insecure tool, like a browser, to get your data, Quicken uses an encrypted connnection with financial institutions that support that. Nothing to hack, and it largely has functioned well, over the years (my use goes back to 1991, or thereabouts, although I seem to recall using their predecessor software before that). Ah, there it is - seems a straightforward connection to my bank, with an existing way to provision online access to the new card. I've been doing my daily online routine for so long, it is hard for me to imagine people not checking their account transactions on a daily basis, but, admittedly, that's a single mouse click for me, although I can't remember the last time I had a dodgy transaction - actually, yes, I can look that up, that was in early 2015, when my overseas card account got hacked by Brazilian miscreants. They didn't hack my account (or my PC) per se, the hackers breached the bank's security, and got hold of account numbers they then used all over Brazil, for smaller purchases. Dozens of transactions on multiple accounts per day kinda gave them away.. Thankfully the bank made no issue of refunding the charges and cleaning up the account, after I explained I had not been to Brazil - ever. So I'll wait for the card, activate that when it gets here, make a purchase or two, add the account to Quicken, do an update, and once all that "works good" I'll change my back login over to two factor authentication, which I understand they now support. I've done the same with Paypal, where I was using SecurID, but they too now have two factor (SMS) authentication, a technology that is very rapidly now gaining ground, even government service websites in various countries have it working. Better safe than broke, eh?

It is fascinating to conjecture whether the originally shelled cephalopods, like squid and cuttlefish, were shelled tentacled non-locomotors, and developed their jet propulsion so they could get around more easily, or get away from predators. Then, they found that by losing weight (i.e., reducing and eventually losing the shell), they could get around even faster. Only the nautilus, today, retains a shell, and isn't very fast getting around. Fascinating, evolution, and we have actual fossils of ancient cephalopods, as their shells survived longer than their non-shelled cousins did. The New York Times has a nice picture of a 166 million year old fossil. Especially interesting is how the cephalopod must have been biologically sufficiently successful to be able to evolve into a very different animal, and the time taken would account for the amount of intelligence that developed in the squid and the cuttlefish. It is the kind of evolution that makes sense to me - first, it figures out how to use it tentacles to move around a bit, while feeding, then its stomach or gills system gains strength and learns how to expel water to move more easily, off the ocean floor, etc. It is the kind of logical evolution an engineering mind like mine likes. The computer jock in me likes the idea that, at several stages in its evolution, the cephalopod went through a decision making process - ah, if I use this stomach I can move from A to B in half the time I can with my tentacles, so I can feed more, and then "ah, this propulsion thing lets me get away from these shell breaking crabs" to "if I don't have to drag the shell around with me I have much better reach" and "now I can overtake and consume fast moving fish!" as the propulsion is strengthened and the streamlining develops. It's a bit like a living spaceship of the waters, complete with having to turn around to execute a braking maneuver, when it has the tentacles and mouth (landing gear and door) in the right place, all at once. Don't need to see what you can feel, don't need to feel what you can see. All slowly and deliberately and very successfully. I can feel a science fiction story coming on.

Having been involved with GSM wireless telephony more or less from its inception in the United States, I have, for years, been a T-Mobile customer, especially since in the early days only GSM phones were able to roam overseas, and "ours" (CDMA phones from my employer, NYNEX) could not. Something I've done practically from Day One is tether, connect my laptop to the internet through the cellular protocol, GSM was designed digitally from the get go, while CDMA was based on AMPS, and originally analog. Checking the tethering capabilities on a Nokia and a Samsung handset I found the Nokia wouldn't work (I've since fixed that in the T-Mobile service database), but the Samsung blew me away - the picture here shows you the Speedtest rate on that handset on 4G-LTE: a blazing 38 Mbps down, 20 Mbps up. That's faster than the FIOS base rate! I wish the cellular networks had enough bandwidth that you could use them as Internet providers, and not have to bother with the likes of FIOS and Xfinity, which charge you extra if you just want internet, and not cable or phone service. Wish the gummint would do something about this - you have hopefully noticed the providers all compete on speed and facilities, and not on cost, and that used to be illegal, in the United States, it is basically a cartel keeping prices artificially high. Wires on poles don't cost much, they really do not have any kind of an excuse.

March 5, 2017: Finally In Debt!

Keywords: Zyxel, HP, Hewlett Packard, RAID, NAS, Ethernet, Deed-in-Lieu, finance, credit, credit card, bank, foreclosure

system setup 2570pWoopsie. I very nearly completely screwed up my Windows 8.1 install by making too many changes in the registry, using a handy Microsoft tool called "autoruns" that analyzes all autostart code. After my overdoing it, Windows wouldn't boot any more, Windows 8 repair DVDs couldn't fix it, but eventually a Windows 10 repair DVD went in and successfully undid the last install I had made - it was unrelated, but brought the system back to earlier in the day. Good show, that, it booted afterwards, took a while, but cleaned up beautifully, not a trace of my "unhandywork". I had been trying to activate facial recognition in HP's Protecttools suite, not with a lot of success. Do I need it? No, the facilities I use, PIN + Bluetooth + password, work fine and are very secure, I was just curious. Eventually, I realized the Windows 7 Pro install I have on the Elitebook 2570p actually came from the 2560p, while the Windows 8.1 Pro install I have on the 2560p came from my older Lenovo, I was amazed I could even make that work (but then that was an upgrade from an earlier Windows 7 install). While the 2560 has a built-in camera, the 2570 does not - some business laptops are made without what many organizations call "high risk" devices, and I was trying to get the facial login working with a USB camera, which is not, of course, active before the operating system loads. On the 2560, I can't get HP's facial recognition to run because it isn't compatible with Windows 8.1 and above.

"Almost" Foreclosed

For those who have been following my exploits beyond what I write here, I closed my credit card accounts when I lost my house and my savings, a few years ago, in the stock market collapse, not helped by the bout with cancer. I've since then tried to clean up debt as I could, thankfully the house was taken back by the bank in a Deed-In-Lieu transaction, although, if you're so inclined, count on this taking years to complete - it does not finish until the house is accepted, transferred, put on the market, and sold, and as much of this involves governments, attourneys and multiple financial institutions, none of this is quick. Additionally, you may incur a massive tax obligation, because the debt the bank forgives is seen as income by the IRS. I am not sure if that is reasonable, because the Fed is essentially kicking dogs that are down, but there it is. After the 2008 crash, they did strike the tax obligation for a while, in that they created an exception for a number of foreclosure activities. But still, this is scary stuff, it isn't like losing your life's savings is any kind of a gift.

At any rate, after years of going through solving and dissolving debt and financial issues - the banks weren't the problem, as I had a decent credit rating when it all came crashing down - I've reached the stage where I wrote the last $6.32 tax cheque to my former town last month, and so figure I might be able to start building my credit rating back, as there no longer is "bad debt" or "collection" or "foreclosure" on my credit report. Clever financial institutions, even a deed-in-lieu initially comes up as a "foreclosure", despite the bank's agreeing to the process, and I was never in mortgage debt. In my case, between the portion of the mortgage I did pay, and the proceeds from the eventual sale (a former neighbour kept an eye on the local tax records for me), I don't think the bank lost any money. But the foreclosure, in some way, stays with you, although it is eventually converted to "discharged". At some point after that, you need to apply for credit, in order to figure out whether or not you're "clean enough". It is nice that my financial software provides me a free credit report every few months, but you really don't know where you are until you try, and trying might negatively affect your credit rating, you run the risk of getting turned down. Not trying doesn't help either, while trying too many times messes you up as well. So I waited, kept cleaning things up, waited a little more, and paid things and bills and tax when I had money, which took more time. Finally, yesterday, the credit score seemed as good as it was going to get without borrowing money - 704, if you know what that means - and I decided to take the plunge, and apply for a credit card. And it went through! Much to my relief, I was approved, and a shiny new card with a decent line of credit is on its way to me. Patience and due diligence did pay off - I even had to defend my own debtor suit, recently, helped by an online advice program the State of Washington subsidizes.

It's been a bit of a slog, altogether, but I should probably be well pleased I've got at least the credit and finances all sorted. Now all I need is for someone to give me $10,000 so I can start trading stock again, and make some money over and above my pension. Or maybe win the lottery. That would be the day... *grin* - and that's how I lost my shirt the last time. Not having children or a dependent partner, I took risks I would have been better off not taking, but hey, you can't predict the future very much, at least I can't, and nobody got hurt but me - actually, that isn't true, my sister lost some of her savings that were tied up in my real estate. I am not, at this point, worried about having credit again - I've done fine without it, and all I will do is change over much of my daily outgoings from the payment card I was using to the new credit card, and pay that off, religiously, every month. It will give me some emergency money, which is nice, and I'll be able to do some of that stuff you need a functional credit rating for, like renting cars cheaply, or buying a cheap car, or renting an apartment. It is amazing how important credit is in American society - with a bit of luck, even my car insurance will go down a bit, the only reason I have a reasonable deal, right now, is that I am a Verizon retiree, getting a different quote through their program. That enabled me to reduce my monthly car insurance fee from $120 to $101, and with better credit, that will hopefully come down even further (Washington State insurance rates are relatively high, and not being a homeowner does not help).

Network Drives - Take Four

It took a lot more doing than I expected, but I have finally managed to consolidate all of my older digital archives on two network drives, a.k.a. NAS drives, one of which is an older Seagate I got more or less for free from Amazon, the other I just bought and stocked with two 3 terabyte disk drives, making 6 terabytes of storage under RAID0. RAID 0, for the non-cognoscenti, writes data packets alternatingly to each of the drives, so while one is moving its heads, the other is writing, and vice versa. This makes two drives much faster than a single drive - in fact, I can write to the Seagate, which has a single 4 terabyte drive, from a fast-ish Windows laptop at 40 to 50MB/sec (megabytes, not -bits), while the Zyxel RAID device gets data at 100 to 110MB/sec. I am not sure what the risk factor is for RAID0 versus single drive, but of course, if a single drive fails you could lose all of your data, while when a RAID array under RAID 0 fails, you will lose all your data.

Each NAS device has some two terabytes of data, which means I now have about 6 terabytes of "spare" space for the future. That isn't as much as it seems, as file sizes have increased tremendously, and will continue to do so, as technology evolves. Apart from all that, I have about 600GB of data on my main laptop, and a 700GB archive with non-compressed backups from that laptop, and its previous incarnations.

Short story long, my archives, including some I have to maintain for legal reasons, are safely stored in one place, because much of this stuff was sitting on older Seagate drives I had purchased back in 2008, which had seen heavy 24/7 array use for a couple of years, and that were beginning to have trouble talking to the eSATA ports on my HP laptops. Time to get the data off, therefore, and that has now been accomplished. After reformat and diagnostics, the now empty Seagates are still serviceable, but I can't think what to do with them. Main important thing is that I can back up and store and find old things without having to worry about it, and put all old storage devices away - I had previously transferred all older files and videos stored on CD, DVD and BluRay to the Seagate array. Getting your archives ready for posterity (that's tongue in cheek, but even so) is a major undertaking, I expect I have so far spent a year, on and off, "tidying up the files", so to speak.

February 26, 2017: Paid Computers and Free Software

Keywords: StarTech, Zyxel, HP, Hewlett Packard, RAID, NAS, Ethernet, hackers, phishing, Qihoo, 360 Total Security, Microsoft, computer safety

Why I am chilly I don't know, but I've just turned the auxiliary heat back on. Funny, it is getting colder outside, but it's been a warmish day, with lots of sun, and the thermometer still has the house at "comfortable". I suppose our bodies are able to predict, to some extent, that it's going to be a cold night. Wonder what the mechanism is - humidity? Rate of cooldown? I did put away the snowboots, today, I don't think we're going to have another batch of snow, this year, though it snowed again downtown, over the weekend, but then the sun comes out and it's all gone. We didn't get as much moisture as California did, but a good amount, I don't think anybody on this coast is going to be complaining about drought, in 2017. Odear, snow again..

Network Drives - Take Three

NAS command panel That was painful. When the Startech NAS drive turned out to have a software problem, I had transferred a couple of terabytes to it already, and taking that back off, and putting it on other, smaller drives, wasn't an easy task. By Friday, that was all done, and I was able to ship the drive back to Amazon (minus the two 3 terabyte Hitachi drives, which were headed for the replacement array). These days, when you return something your account is credited when the UPS person scans in the shipping label, and on Sunday, the postman delivered my new drive, which now needed setting up.

Stubborn as I am, I did not follow Zyxel's instructions - mostly because I don't want to use anybody's webtools to locate my device, because that compromises my security - the screen to the right is from the Zyxel, by the way. Don't get me wrong, it is nice they have this "find my box" URL that lets you log in to your drive on your network through their network, but once you do that Zyxel knows what you bought, and where you installed it, and I have no idea how secure they are, and besides, there has to be a less "public" way to gain access to the device. For the same reason, I did not install their "app", which helps you do the same thing, and presumably, tells Zyxel about your device and your network as well. Paranoid? I don't think so, you do watch the news? Even if it is paranoid, I'd rather be safe than sorry.

And I was right not to bother with the tools and helper apps - install the drives, plug the box into my internal router and the mains, and within 60 seconds the device had grabbed an IP address from my router, and I could use that to access the box, and log in using their default login and password. Simple, and for reasons best known to Zyxel, not a documented setup method. That's bad. The whole thing seems to be concentrated around people setting up their own "cloud", serving family and friends with pictures and vlogs and stuff, and reading that and seeing the tools they built into this device I just have a hard time believing there are that many people wanting to run a webserver from their home network. I know that you can, I used to do that years ago, but these days I think you're much better off leasing some server space out there, do what you want there, where the network provider worries about security, and keep your home network secure. I would recommend that if you want to play "cloud", you don't do it on your home network, and don't use a RAID network drive that you store backups and tax returns on. Buy a separate RAID box, since it has a webserver built in, get a second internet connection, not connected to your home network, and play with that. You get hacked, nothing lost, nobody accessing your surveillance network or your 14 year old's laptop camera. The minute you run your cloud out of your home network you might as well turn the firewall off.


Don't invite the e-burglars

Microsoft hack You may think you're reasonably secure, but the people who are supposed to look after your internet security, for the most part, don't. I had two occasions, recently, where I saw a hack attack using a fake Microsoft website, in both cases coming from a domain managed by Godaddy. On both occasions, I alerted Godaddy's main access points, on Facebook and on Twitter, and in both cases I was told to "fill out the abuse form at such-and-such website". In both cases, as I had posted screen captures of the website and the domain WHOIS, I explained they had all of the information they needed, and asked if they were refusing to investigate. The first time, they looked again, and took the domain offline. The second time, they came back and said they did not host the domain, and I had to explain it was managed by Godaddy Singapore, and copy Microsoft on the tweet. That got some action, but the thing is that these are the people who supposedly are looking after your internet and web-security - this was a code injection carried out via advertising on a news website. It just does not work, so don't think your Xfinity internet or your FIOS give you security, because they don't, and the hackers do nothing else, seven days a week, than probing network back doors. You have one, they'll find it, if not tomorrow, then next week.


Love those lappies

Now that I have found a version of HP Protect Tools for the second laptop, I am doubly happy I got the "reconditioned" HP Elitebooks. Between the native ports, and the Expresscard slots, I have just about any port format available, and the processors are fast. From a security perspective, I find the dual-safety login facility terrific - on both laptops, apart from the "normal" windows login, my Bluetooth cellphone has to be in reach for that login to work, so even if someone saw me enter my pin, after I leave the room that isn't enough to get into the system. The other has a fingertip recognition module, which equally needs the Bluetooth present to work. The BIOS login can be bypassed, but only with assistance from the HP Business Support center, and some special code specific to your motherboard they email you. It isn't so much that I am worried my laptops will get stolen, but I have been involved in data security for decades, and I like to keep abreast of what's "out there". The above is more or less due to the fact that, despite buying and specifying laptops for many years, I had, even in my capacity as IT head in Verizon subsidiaries, never succumbed to getting expensive high end business laptops. I tried to get the same laptop, with the same specs, the same OS, the same docking station, for everybody, from secretary to CEO, so my staff only had to deal with one image, and nobody could run stuff other's couldn't. Call me an IT-socialist, but it makes life much easier, and if there aren't exceptions, you can negotiate your vendor into the ground. The only exception were the lab years in NYNEX R&D - we were awash in money, and everybody got to pick their own poison, one magical way to have your staff sit around tinkering all day and all night, hours labeled "research". This is when I wasn't designing servers, of course. Mind you, my boss was using an IBM System/88 as a print server, I couldn't top that.

To top that up, the fingerprint recognition will log in selectively, depending on which finger you've set up with which login. It is possible to use those fingerprints to access other password protected applications and websites, too, but I have long advocated that your mental agility is much better served by remembering multiple logins with multiple different passwords, so that is a facility I do not use. Having said that, the possibility to use the combination of a fingerprint and a Bluetooth handshake to access, say, a brokerage account could be an interesting way of keeping your customers secure - they could only remotely access your application and trade by using the laptop you have supplied, with their finger and their mobile phone. Something to think about. Generally, American industry frown on things that can, on occasion, lock a user out, but it is good security, and does not require dongles, which are always hackable.


Virus software

Microsoft hack I've tried a number of "free" virus packages, over the years, AVG, Microsoft Defender, Avast, Forticlient, but one for the other, they're either getting more invasive, or become CPU-hogs. Forticlient and Defender were the latest to overtax my laptop - on the HP's, I can tell they're doing double duty when the fan starts cranking, small but powerful the fan will respond to load if you have the operating system set up to do that. Looking around, I found a Chinese company that now has a product out that come in a "light" version - Qihoo 360 Technology out of Beijing has the major advantage that it operates inside the Great Chinese Firewall, so presumably knows a lot of stuff we don't, it has hundreds of millions of users of its free software in the Far East, and we have to assume this is a tool sanctioned by the Chinese internet watchdogs. "360 Total Security" comes in a stripped down "Essential" version, which takes away much of the invasive stuff they and other virus folks do, important for me as I customize my Windows installs to a significant extent. There are varying appraisals of Qihoo's capabilities and practices out on the internet, set to some extent by the antivirus software they make for smartphones, but I can't, after testing on a spare laptop, say I've found problems with it, and it certainly goes easy, at least in the "light" version, on the CPU cycles. It is excellent under Windows 7, where there isn't a Windows Defender, and Windows 8.1, where you can (with the help of a Microsoft tool) disable Defender completely, under Windows 10 I don't think you can disable Defender, come to think of it, I've not tried the Microsoft Sysinternals tool there. As we speak, I am streaming video to Windows Media Server from a NAS device, while doing some other things, writing here, and unlike with other virus applications, I am under 10% of CPU, which means the laptop is running cool. I don't so much mind it running a bit hotter, but when I was watching a live stream through Internet Explorer with Forticlient running in the background, the system sounded like a 747 during takeoff, and would, on occasion, simply grind to a halt, probably running out of memory, which is a bit weird, with 16GB of RAM. I've done a lot of reconfiguring, but with Forticlient and Windows Defender off, I've got much more "oompf". It was nice while it lasted....

I will keep you posted with the 360 Total Security, but it seems a good tool. Tomorrow, while I am out shopping, I will try and run a full scan on this machine - that was the other problem, Defender wanted to take a full day for a full scan 600GB, that just was not practical. Less is hopefully more... Ah, there it is - it scanned my 2TB hard disk with 600+GB of data in a bit over four hours. That's manageable, and even if, as some of the reviews have it, the primary QH engine doesn't necessarily catch everything (I've not turned on Bitdefender and Avast, which can be used inside QH, I figure there would be a speed penalty) it did discover 13 anomalies and viruses, which I was able to manage and clean up - that's not always easy with other virus scanners. So, all told, I think it is OK, during the scan it used maybe 20% of CPU cycles, tops, which is acceptable. Again, this is the "ES" version, I should imagine the "full" version does more, and uses more, the larger your disks, the harder it gets. I should tell you that I have some software in my archives sent to me by HP technical support, for the specific purpose of unlocking a password protected BIOS in an HP 2570p a vendor had sold me in locked state. The software, then, was legit, but 360 identified it as an invasive virus - which, since it contained BIOS crack code (specific to the motherboard of just my laptop, good show HP), is essentially correct. So 360 does a good job of finding stuff, it found what it thought were some "damaged" spreadsheets as well - twice! Once in my archives, the other occurrence in a backup of an old laptop, in ZIP archives. So it scans thoroughly, deeply, and inside compressed archives. Not bad...

February 21, 2017: Health, and other uncontrollables

Keywords: fish oil, supplements, FDA, tuna, convection ovens, RAID arrays, arterial deposits, blood pressure

FDA approved Although a recent BBC program about health had it that fish oil capsules have an equal or better health benefit than what the doctors call "oily fish", I, umm, "canned" my intake of fish oil a few months ago. I do make a point of eating fish a few times a week, mostly as Sashimi grade raw tuna, my supermarket sells that in (frozen) chunks, which I find delicious, with a dab of imported soy sauce and some chili oil. Fish oil, and I knew this from hospital treatments and from surgery, can negatively affect blood clotting, and considering my prescription medication and all the other stuff I take, I thought I'd try cutting back on some of these things, since we're more or less automatically advised high dosages, without much justification, as a sort of insurance policy. So I still take multi-vitamin, but have halved my intake of calcium with vitamin D, calcium supplements now known to potentially be able to cause arterial deposits, and reduced the "heart healthy aspirin", spooked a bit by the complete absence of research into lower dosages of these supplements. Aspirin, in higher doses, is known to be able to cause gastro-intestinal bleeding, and if you add side effects from fish oil to side effects from aspirin, and consider there is medication I have to take on doctor's orders that can do nasty things to me, it made sense for me to cut back where I could cut back - my rheumatologist even took me off some of the arthritis medication I had been taking for years. With the advantage of quarterly blood tests, annual Dexa scans, and other tests my doctors routinely do, I should be able to see if the reduction shows any change, and if so, where the change manifests itself. I think I am seeing better recovery from cuts and bruises and things, but I'll wait until my next tests to report something to you more conclusively.

These aren't overnight solutions, and without test results opinions are just like assholes - everybody has one. And let's see - what else do I not take? I halved (with doctor approval) my statins a couple of years ago, when I realized that the muscle ache in my legs might be caused by them, according to research, and sure enough, never had a twinge since. I've heard from an elderly acquaintance he has now been taken completely off statins, after he became virtually unable to walk, last summer. I understand he is now slowly improving - but seriously, if you're on a regular dose of statins that doesn't really get monitored, talk to your doctor, and do a cholesterol check. Same for blood pressure medication - there is an impressive list of side effects, and the medical profession has a tendency to stabilize you, and then never look at the dosage again. I've now reduced my dosage, I check my blood pressure first thing in the morning anyway, part of the get-up-and-go routine, and so far I am not seeing my blood pressure go up by much. I'll get my doctor to take another 10mg off the dosage, when I next need to get a refill. This is all wonderful stuff, but it is medication, and it has side effects. Last but not least, a researcher in The Netherlands thinks proteins before bed help build muscle overnight, if you work out, and so I've started imbibing a couple of glasses of milk in the evening. We all tend to think milk is for the morning, but as it turns out our bodies get more out of the white stuff while we sleep - and, of course, milk is a source of calcium, and here in the United States it has vitamin D added to it. Seriously. I have since bulked up a bit, although I have no way of knowing whether milk was the trigger, it may just be I've been increasing my weights and things, over the months. Maybe a bit of both. Who knows. Can't harm you, milk before bed, better than beer, or, in my case, wine. What I do know is that ever since I have adjusted the various dosages of both prescription and non-prescription medication, and added the evening milk seven days a week, I am less prone to bleeding, I've added 10 lbs, have more muscle in lots of places, and it seems my heart palpitations (mostly triggered by the artificial thyroid hormone I have to take) have largely gone away.

The Itch you can Scratch

Similarly, I re-examined the stuff I put on my skin, a couple of years ago, when I developed an itchy form of eczema, and a dermatologist just blamed that on age. I had no argument with that, he's supposed to know these things, but as sun exposure seemed to exacerbate the condition, I have not since been outdoors in shorts and T-shirts, something I used to do a lot. Gardening in various states of undress I gave up in the 1990s, when I contracted Lyme disease, especially as I was living in New York's Westchester County at the time, the national hotbed of nasty ticks. But after reading up on skin and hair, in an attempt to go easier on my skin, I now use far less agressive compounds than I used to, in skin care. I think I noticed years ago, when my hair started getting grey, that if I did not use conditioner that process speeded up, and I have since progressed to using conditioner to clean my hair and skin some 80% of the time, and shampoo and creamy body wash only very sparingly. I noticed that shampoo stings in the eyes (most of the time I wear night-and-day contact lenses so don't really notice that), and it may seem ridiculous, but if shampoo stings eye tissue it has to contain an agressive chemical, right? So perhaps using this chemical to degrease the skin only once a week is more than enough - the skin, after all, is an organ, and your organs are supposed to maintain themselves - people probably stink because they don't wash, or because they have an illness, not because they don't degrease. I mean, the grease is there for a reason, and just showering and using conditioner without using chemicals is likely to remove excess grease without removing all the grease. And no, I do shower every day, but again, a doctor pointed out to me the amount of chlorine in tap- and shower water is far from zero, and your skin may well end up disliking it, after sixty or more years of daily immersion. Keeping some of that grease on the skin could well have a protective effect, know what I am sayin'? It is a balancing act.. The rest of the drill you probably know, but for good measure: everything fragrance-free and/or hypo-allergenic, use just enough hypo-allergenic detergent in your laundry so it barely foams, no polyester or other artificial fibers on your skin, including bed sheets and towels and socks and the like, and simply be anal about this. Foam - lather, the Google informs me, is just for show, it doesn't do anything at all, and the chemicals used to cause the foam are toxic, it is all in the mind, clean is clean - if your hypo-allergenic detergent foams you are using way too much. The one thing I regret is not being able to swim - the pool in my gym is chlorinated, and that would skew my attempts at control, and my PCP has it the chlorine in all urban water is bad for you - all my years in Virginia I had a well, with a self rebuilt water conditioning and filtration plant under the house, so there wasn't chlorine in any of my water (except for the pool). But I will try and expose a bit more skin this spring, outdoors, just to check the response. Two years ago, for the first time in my life, I had some sunburn (I am a lifelong beach abstainer, despite my colonial gene), so I guess that was the warning.

Turbo Oven - Take Two

Zyxel NAS326 Interesting - the next generation of "Turbo Ovens" (I have now received the cheaper Hometech version) has some added bits - a two inch ring to optionally move the infrared head away from the food being cooked, so the heating element isn't right on top of the chicken, and a drip tray, so you can catch the juices in something that fits in the dishwasher. And there is a stand so you can park the head where it won't burn the house down. All in all, though, this is more of a marketing gimmick than a cooking tool. It says it reduces cholesterol - really? If this reduces cholesterol, then so does a Zippo. Or a charcoal grill. Or a toaster oven. Or a Fiat 500. Or your cousin Susan. I'll tell you more about it once I've cooked some dinner in it, but I can tell you now that if it weren't cheap, it would be useless - nice light, nice concept, but it is all marketing - if your heating element is as exposed here as you can see in the picture below, most of the heat goes "out the window" - here rather literally - and it is then just a noisy gimmick. What with the electricals - no electronics - all positioned right above the heating element, which radiates more light than infra-red energy, in the removable lid, failure is built in, and safe it isn't. Look inside your toaster oven, when it is toastering - that's infrared. This is not.

Network Attached Drive - Take Two

So the StarTech network drive array is an unmitigated disaster. Copy file systems to it, via network or USB3, and they will take up more than twice the amount of space they originally occupied. I've calculated 238%, but seen worse examples - after removing all files from the device it only had 48% of its drive space available, the rest was with the socks in space. I've shipped it back, and ordered a different brand - this wasn't a defective unit, this is a flaw in its file system design, Lord knows how nobody noticed. Maybe it is only at RAID0, I don't know, I do know this is not a functional storage device, and I spent a week testing, to make sure I didn't write this after screwing up myself. It had nothing to do with compressed disks, Windows versions, or anything else, I checked all of that. Bad bad bad. Amazon rode to the rescue, however, I was still in the return period, and for a paltry $13 more ordered the Zyxel NAS326, and much to my surprise, despite the free shipping it arrived the second day from order - on a Sunday! Even more terrific, the device was so easy to set up, I had it up and configured and secured (duh...) in my network about three hours after unpacking the box. Magic. More in my next blog, promise, let me first transfer files onto it, that's where the StarTech device went horribly wrong. I've verified that the Zyxel does not expand file systems when copying, so that at least is solved.
The time machine through February 17, 2017, with linkbacks to October, 2008, is here

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