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LA Fitness

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Old stuff through August 2, 2016, with linkbacks all the way to October, 2008, is here.

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-Mobie 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.

February 17, 2017: It ain't half hot, mum

Keywords: Amazon, oven, convection, infra-red, sleep, melatonin, electric standards, impulse buying

It wouldn't be the first time I fell prey to "impulse buying" - couple years ago, I bought a 4K TV set / monitor at Fred Meyer, on sale as a customer return, only to discover I could have bought it new, for $45 less, at Amazon. I had started reprogramming the firmware, and thought returning it probably wasn't worth it, so I didn't, but yesterday I did order a tabletop oven from Amazon, for a $13 savings. I had wanted to try one of those "turbo convection ovens" out, considering that, just for me cooking dinner and putting some in the freezer, using the entire big furnace oven makes no sense, and C's toaster oven is just too small and hard to clean - it has convection and circulation and everything else too. A turbo oven, you know, one with a glass basin and the infrared heating element in the lid, seems something I can just get out when I need it, and leave it stored away the rest of the time.

Turbo Oven

convection oven Testing it, though, I noticed the "20% faster" story is just a fairytale, and the temperatures listed in the manual and on the thermostat aren't even close to each other. I happen to have an infrared thermometer, so stuck two slices of bread in the thing, on the lower and higher rack, set it for 350° Fahrenheit, and let have at it. Sure enough, the top slice didn't get to 200° until 20 minutes later, and 210 10 minutes after that. I don't mind this, for as long as I know, so when I get the new oven (which, for $13 less, comes with an additional spacer ring), I'm going to do more testing - to begin with, at 400°, again, with slices of bread, and then with a small chicken with potatoes. But if a slice of bread takes 20 minutes to get to 200°, with what is supposed to be "instant on" technology, there can't possibly be much time savings over other small ovens, and frying or roasting stuff in cooking pots is likely faster. On top of that, these things turn off at the end of their cooking time, and that means the entire head of the oven, mostly made of plastic, gets heated by the element cooling down, and the hot air below it, 'coz that's where heat goes, up. What you can do is use a cooking timer, and turn the thermostat to off at the end of the cooking time, then let the circulation fan dissipate the heat - I think not doing that is why so many in the Amazon review section complain these ovens do not last. So we'll see, at least they are easy to clean, and you can see how your food is doing. On my original test setting, by the way, the bread wasn't quite toast after half an hour. The new unit will have an extra couple of inches of spacer ring, probably a boon with chickens, legs of lamb or turkey, and small roasts. Mo' later, with pics, maybe even video, promise.

It is interesting, though, to read the reviews of these ovens at Amazon. Clear is that many buyers have no clue what "hot air convection" is - this even though convection ovens, large and small, have been around for years. I caught one person complaining because the broiler function didn't work - well, umm, there isn't one. And the other problem is that these Chinese devices work well in China and in Europe - because they use a different voltage, which essentially delivers twice as much energy to the oven as 117 VAC does in the United States. It is the same with space heaters, air conditioners and the like, even though most American homes have both 117 VAC and 230 VAC, used for water heaters, clothes dryers and the like, 230 is rarely, if ever, used to power domestic appliances. I have an electronic converter that can combine two American home circuits to a single 220/230 VAC European / Chinese circuit, but the European appliances just aren't available here (and if there are electronics involved, the American 50 cycle system puts paid to appliances requiring 60 cycles). Sure enough - the European and Chinese models have a 1400 watt power consumption @ 220VAC, in the United States, that would equate to 2600 watts @ 117VAC. But the American plug-in consumer ovens only have 1200 watts... if you're going to tell me your American fixed furnace oven does much better, yes, but that is, normally, hardwired to the home's 250VAC power supply, and has vastly more capacity than the small appliances do, whose power consumption is limited by law. Why? The United States was early in its adoption of consumer electricity, and adopted a 60 cycle system with a 117 VAC connection. Later, when electricity became more common, the network wasn't upgraded, but another 117VAC circuit added. In Europe and Asia, most countries adopted a 220 or 250 VAC 50 cycle standard, capable of delivering more amperage. Their industrial power, often available in residences as well, ended up being 380 to 400 VAC.

Sleep? What Sleep?

When speaking with one of my doctors about sleep - I'd been complaining I wasn't getting full nights any more - he did the "screen devices" thing on me, and of course, I've been looking at display screens all day and much of the evening since I've worked in the computer industry - I've had PCs in the house since the late 1970's, and got my first laptop in 1980, setting up a commercial server not long after. But you can't ask a doctor a question and then not follow orders, so what I have done is stop the cafeine and/or alcohol around 11pm, turn off the screens when I go to bed, and read a book for a while before lightsout - in fact, save for the bedside LED, which isn't frequency sensitive, it's lightsout when I start reading. He recommended melatonin tablets, as well, and I've been trying those for six months or so, after figuring out what the best time is to take them - in my case, around 11, an hour or so before I hit the sack to read a while.

As with many of these "multi-solutions", I don't really know what did what. I do know I have more restful sleep, even to the point that I am cutting back on the melatonin. To make matters more complicated, my new-and-improved hearing hears things more clearly, to the point they disrupt my sleep, but I suppose that is a matter of getting used to the new auditive levels. Mostly my own fault, I just slacked too long.

Back pain?

While we're on the subject of doctors and medication, you may have caught the spate of articles about back pain, and how "pain relieving" medication doesn't normally solve that. I picked up on the reporting because I have an arthritic condition that affected (45 or so years ago) my spine and other connective tissue, and suffered intense back pain for quite a few years, which, you'll be pleased to hear, was treated effectively. These days, I no longer have back pains, even though the lower part of my spine, and its connecting joints to the pelvis, have largely calcified. So, you'll ask, how come I am (largely) pain free? Next blog, I promise.. time to post this out.

February 10, 2017: Broke it myself

Keywords: garage door, Brexit, Windows Media Center, Electronic Program Guide, Startech, HP Protect Tools

banging the door It was warming up, but then the cold came back, and overnight, the snow. Not a lot of it, but the warming up isn't happening yet, and so I can't go and try out my drone. Thatsabummer. It'll get there, though, but it really is time for me to get out of the house and "do stuff", I've been sedentary for too long. Doesn't mean I don't go and work out and do me chores, taxes are done, but I need to get out and change my oil and do other things, especially my throttle position sensor appears not to be happy, and I have the replacement sitting ready. Then, of course, I couldn't back the car into the driveway, ice and snow, switched to four wheel drive, and put three tons of steel right into the garage door, which I have never done before. Mind you, in most of my houses the car went in the garage, and this one is used for storing stuff, like some Americans do. Owell. Now I have to figure out where to get these panels, if I can't, umm, "undent" them.


Life is not a spreadsheet

Increasingly, it would seem we're ruled by statistics and risk assessments - just sitting here watching the BBC news, and the EU commentaries on Brexit, I hear risks and percentages flying by like there's no tomorrow. As if the "risk" of something happening has any bearing on the future, and as if - I mean, if were were able to meaningfully use "big data", we'd never have thought Hilary Clinton would lose, right? I mean, seriously. If you wanted to see the polls, and the predictions, proved wrong, all you need to do is look at the election. It is scary - we base the future of lots of things on risk assessments that can be thwarted, at any moment, by the risk assessments. I've said it before - if AI worked, Facebook would not need to run security verifications on members logging in. And I dread the day the U.S. government wants my social media passwords - I don't know it has any right to know what, or whether, social media I use. And I would not provide that information, nor would I give my phone and laptop passwords. Not. Private. Mine. Not your business. Down, Trump, down!


The Guide that wasn't

That's all I needed - suddenly, my Windows Media Center application, which enables the use of HDTV dongles with programming guide and recording capability, sprung a leak, and started complaining it had no up-to-date listings. I figured I'd done something wrong reprogramming my laptop, so began trying to get the guide back to work, to no avail - I even lost what listings I still had, after a day's worth of hacking. Firing up my other laptop, I then discovered the problem was likely on the database vendor side, nothing to do with me or my setup. The error messages started Saturday, I think - today is Tuesday, and I guess they fixed whatever needed fixing. The only thing I lost is my pre-programmed list of programs for recording, so I am going to have to redo that over time... At least I've now found a bulletin board where users and Microsofties exchange information about Media Center, which is supposed to eventually go away, as it is not longer supported by Windows 10 - my guess is the studios don't want Microsoft having a component that lets consumers record copyrighted programming and movies. You may recall the ability to play DVDs went away when Windows 8 became 8.1, and drive and computer manufacturers began to include third party programs - with Windows 10, of course, all that came back, but with folks used to HD the good old DVD no longer is a real sales argument.


The bigger the drive, the bigger the headache

Bloody hell. The file transfers from older storage devices to the new RAID box are nothing if not time consuming, and there isn't a way to do this device-to-device. File systems (I am talking about hundreds of gigabytes..) go from storage device to the big hard disk in one of my laptops, which has more than a terabyte of unused space (talk about foresight), and from there to the StarTech. I am trying to do this, now, in such a way that I won't have to move them again - my dashcam videos, for instance, are up to a terabyte (for real), and so will move to the RAID device, and stay there. It's a headache, but it works - and in the middle of all that I get a hack attack, an attempt at script injection in Internet Explorer. So then you need to stop doing what you're doing, see if you can interrupt file transfers without losing data, and then just mash down on the power button until the laptop shuts off "hard". Then, for safety's sake, reboot all of the routers, take all network devices off line, re-IP the fiber router as well as the "in-house" firewall, and then slowly bring everything back on line. Overly elaborate? I think not, a real hack attack can make your files "unavailable", and this was one of those code injections with audio where it purports to come from Microsoft and tells you to do nothing and call a number, or your computer will be disabled. Don't EVER do that, should you ever see/hear this, just shut your entire network off at the power buttons, you do anything else you're liable to give 'em a back door - the second the script starts running in your browser the bad guys are notified. Once you've powered everything down, pull the plugs if you need to, changing your outside IP address, if you know how to do that, is a good place to start. The hackers won't know where you've gone, giving you time to clean your system(s) up while they try and re-establish contact. If you don't know how to do any of this, just shut everything off with the power buttons, including any network equipment installed by the cable or telephone company. That may, these days, shut off your phone, temporarily, but that is a lot better than getting hacked, I promise.

By now, I've added so much functionality to the HP laptops that their fans are doing overtime. I checked it out, today - I am writing this especially for others whose laptop fans are sometimes very audible - and had to come to the conclusion that even throttling back power consumption in the Windows power settings isn't enough to keep the cooling in check. If you've not done this, most laptops have settings for the cooling system, and then there are some in the Windows power settings as well. Sometimes you can download power control software from the manufacturer's website, it is sometimes published as an afterthought, and some manuals don't mention it at all. Crank up your system, get the hard disk(s) running with cache disabled, put in extra memory, attach two HD screens, rather than one, and you're well on your way to a power hungry hot running PC. IOW, it is largely self inflicted. Still, when I replaced the Lenovo with this HP life got less noisy, but now I am back to my, umm, old ways. Well, we'll see, I've retightened the processor heat sink, cleaned the fan after taking it out, and cleaned the cooling duct, this time, so we'll see if this is "better". Or, at least, less "bad"...

I did discover that some of the great HP tools aren't in the systems because they weren't part of the original load. Doesn't mean they won't work, it just means they're not in the "available" database. So the 2570 has ProtectTools because I got the original Windows 7 load, the 2560 did not because I cobbled my own 8.1 together from a licensed Lenovo load (and then re-licensed it). All I had to do - duh - was Google "HP Protect Tools" and now I have security through face recognition as well as fingerprint scanning, with the same Bluetooth verification the 2570 has - you can't log in to the system unless your keyed Bluetooth device is near. That's cool, methinks. And it's been around for a while - rather than a dongle, this would be a good way to implement Facebook security for folks who have laptops and Bluetooth handsets.

January 31, 2017: Room for more

Keywords: StarTech, NAS, Ethernet, backup, RAID 0, fire, soot, Trump

fire debris on carAnnoyingly, there's been a really large fire at an apartment building under construction - will Americans never learn? Entire apartment complexes built in woodframe, this went up like a torch, practically destroyed some nearby occupied buildings, and soot and ashes are all over for miles. Truly amazing - imagine they'd finished this complex, moved elderly folk in, and then it burned, and they continue to build in wood because it is "renewable". Forgive me, I come from somewhere we've been building in brick and concrete since before the war, a lot sturdier and a lot safer. Click on the pic, and you'll get an enlargement that shows clearly the amazing amount of ash and soot falling on the world a few miles from the location of the fire.


What is driving him?

I am almost compelled to comment on President Trump's immigration antics, although I really don't want to. Last time we saw this was after 9/11, and then there was a real reason to bar bunches of people from entering the United States, while we figured out what was going on. And I should add that all you need to do today, is look at the truck attacks in France and Germany, and you know we can't be complacent. Trump is right in that they'll do that here, next, or the time after next. This action will not stop them from trying, but it will put them on notice we've got a new guy at the helm. And it's a problem - millions of refugees, with certainty with undercover terrorists in their midst, for the most part Muslim, have made it into Europe, with no attempt to stop them, so they just kept coming. Trumps Executive Orders won't prevent the next attack, but Trump is right we need to start doing things differently. The New York Times interviewed some of those refugees, recently - in Indonesia. They were on their way to Australia, found out the Ozzies shut the door, tight - and Australia is not next door to the Middle East - and now they've applied for asylum in the United States. I don't know, but it sounds, looks and smells like asylum shopping, they've not applied for asylum in Egypt or Turkey. It's worrying.


The bigger the drive, the bigger the headache

The review I am writing for my Amazon page about the StarTech NAS device (network accessible drive) is getting elaborate to the point I probably don't want to duplicate it here, you'll likely find it boring, and I can just post a link to it - here it is. The thing works, although I am having trouble moving large (1 terabyte) file systems to it. Don't know what causes that, could be the computer I am using, or the router, the problem with NAS drives is that the transfer goes from drive to router to PC to router to drive, and that is asking for trouble. But there isn't another way of doing it. For now, I've freed up enough room on the "old" drive, and the new drive has some 5.13 terabytes available space, so I am good for a while... Startech RAID deviceAmazing, the amount of disk space you need, these days, to store all your stuff. Ten freakin' terabytes, to be on the safe side. The "old" NAS drive I only bought and installed a year ago... Mind you, I've run into the first issues, in that a ROBOCOPY file transfer from one NAS drive to the new one ate some 2 terabytes of space that I appear unable to recover, so now I am moving my files off the drive, will then reinitialize, and figure out what happened. It may be it does not like Windows 7, which is what I was using at the time, we'll see. It is an interesting conundrum, let's see if I can recover the entire disk space, and then see what went wrong where. Not a word about this on the forums anywhere.. You're best off, by the way, making sure you always have ample storage space. Let's say you have a 4 terabyte drive, and it is filling up. You buy another, or a bigger drive, but now you would need to transfer some of that load to the new drive. This is not easy. On network drives, you can no longer make that direct-to-PC connection, so you end up having to copy a terabyte of data from one system to another - traversing Ethernet connections twice. That can take days, and you have a good chance the system you're using is going to hang up on you, at some point. So adding storage space way before you need it, and then changing your backup strategies, way before you need to, is a good idea, that way you can take your time making sure you have copies of everything you need. And test your new drive, update its firmware, and learn how to use it - I'm on my second reinitialization of the StarTech already, after the first time something did not work as advertised.

It is amazing how Amazon has changed the way I shop - and I don't mean the way it sources and delivers things, but the effect of its sheer size on product availability. Ebay has interesting aspects too, but when I look at what Amazon has in its lineup... The NAS drive above came without drives, so I need to find large cheap drives, and was able to find cheap older (but new) enterprise drives that gave me exactly what I needed - size (3 terabytes) and reliability in a package that is a little noisy and power hungry, but combined with the software in the NAS RAID enclosure just what the doctor ordered. In the olden days, finding those drives would have been hard-if-not-impossible for the consumer, they're made in large volumes for large "industrial" RAID arrays with 400 or 500 drives in them, and would never make it to your local Radio Shack.

January 25, 2017: I can hear it now

Keywords: StarTech, NAS, Ethernet, backup, hearing, tinnitus, NAS, RAID 0, multipoint

StarTech NAS driveThinking about whether or not to quickly post this bit of blog, or wait until I get the StarTech NAS drive, I realized I could just take its portrait when it gets here - Tuesday - post this, and then post more next week, once I have it all set up and tested. This unit works differently from others I've owned or used, so I ought to take my time - I am assuming I will be able to mount file systems under NFS, but as there isn't a mention of it in the manual, and there are some protocols I've never used before, I may end up having to do some learning, or, perhaps, finagling... I noticed, as well, that I had previously bought another StarTech product - an eSATA-to-USB3 interface cable, which has become one of my interface mainstays, considering the avalanche of USB3 ports in equipment, and my growing collection of SATA drives. Thankfully, my "new" HP laptops have eSATA ports, and I just managed to snarf an interface card, because, USB or no USB, the native, built in, interface for your hard disks - all of them, SSD or conventional - is still SATA, and will be for a long time. That external USB drive you got for Christmas? It has a SATA drive inside...

Waa! Just as I see my NAS drive is getting here a day early (Amazon is fiendishly clever, they do this all the time now) my 2TB backup drive won't mount, so I've been running a scrub on it for the past eight(!) hours. Looks like it's one of those file mishaps, but for as long as that scrub is running I can't get started on the new drives. Owell. Funny, Murphy always turns up somehow..


Say What?

Brilliant. I went to see a doctor a couple of weeks ago, because I'd been having hearing problems - and as I'd blown my right ear firing a new gun without hearing protection, ten or so years ago, I was worried when it didn't resolve by itself. Doctor opined I needed ear cleaning, and a nurse syringed both sides. That was new to me - my PCP in Virginia always scooped the ears out, why he chose that method I never asked, but here they seem to like the wet stuff. The consequence of the wet stuff is that within a couple of weeks I was back to half deaf, and needed to figure out to go see an audiologist, or perhaps an ENT specialist. But then I thought the lavage should have had some effect, so decided to go back to the PCP office, seeing whichever MD was available the next morning. Sure enough, the previous treatment hadn't worked (the nurse nor the doctor had checked my ears afterwards), so another nurse did the whole thing, rather more thoroughly, all over again, and this time got the crud out. Phew. Now I can hear again, not looking forward to disputing the first provider's bill, but I don't see why I should pay for shoddy work. Hate doing that, but there it is. Super job, by the way, this alternate doctor did. Interesting is that my hearing, apparently, had been impaired to the point hearing sensitivity increased - the consequence: when it all cleared up some "normal" noises became amplified to the point they got my hearing to shut itself down again. It took over a week for my auditive faculties to get to some semblance of normalcy - at one point, a shaver next to an affected ear actually hurt, if that is the word. Now, for the first time in months, I can hear my network drives spin up an down - and get woken up in the middle of the night by a cooling fan. Weird stuff, and a good example of how gradual hearing loss can be, and how some doctors just don't do what they're supposed to do - or this would not have cleared up. Sheesh.


More Storage? Really?

external driveWhile it is still non-urgent, my network storage (NAS drive) is filling up, and I have only 33% space left of the 4 terabytes that were in the drive I bought only a year ago ($135, or $33.75 per terabyte). Admittedly, I transferred some backups to it, but I see now just my dashcam archive alone has grown to almost a terabyte, and there are my daily backups, the recorded HDTV, etc. The more storage you buy, the more you use, QED. And I had not transferred almost 1.5 terabytes of older archives to the NAS drive, not to fill it up too much.

So I had little option but to order another NAS drive - discovering that when you go beyond 4 terabytes, this gets expensive. For now, I've added 6 terabytes, this in the form of a RAID device with two 3 terabyte disks, totaling $225.51 ($37.59 per terabyte), so that I'll end up with 10 terabytes of storage space between the two. Between the 2.5 terabytes I've used, and the 1.5 terabytes of old archives I'll now move off the old Seagates, I'll end up with 6 more available terabytes, it is a bit staggering to think that's probably going to need expanding some 18 months down the road. It'll free up all four Seagates, 750 GB each, for which I really won't have a use any more, as it is complicated to keep track of what's where, if you split your backups. I thought about setting up my own server again, but I don't think my old Vaio would last, running 24/7 with an 8 terabyte drive inside, if its controller will even handle that size disk, which I doubt. My other currently non-used PC, a Toshiba, would have to use its USB3 port, and I understand from the 'net that that is not a reliable server interface under Windows 10 - I can't say I know that to be true, but I cannot afford to find that out the hard way, and I don't have the room to set up two "experiment" servers. Being very familiar with Ethernet and router programming, as well as RAID configuration, I can handle NAS technology.

Even another NAS drive will bring its own worries. I had a Fantom two-drive RAID array, a few years back, and like the drive I just ordered, that had a cooling fan. And the cooling fan was what failed, after a few years, and you can't run a drive array without cooling (my current NAS drive has only one drive, and no force cooling). It's an issue, because the asemblies don't tell you the fan has failed, and as that is temperature controlled, you may not notice in time. It'll be interesting - the StarTech I ordered has S.M.A.R.T. drive diagnostics built in, so in principle it could have an alarm for high temperature.

Why the fuss? The larger your archive gets, the more data you could potentially lose, and I try to keep two copies of everything, in two different backup formats, but as you'll have understood, that truly bloats up the disk needs kinda fast. I make an exception for recorded TV, which I mostly have no intention of keeping in the long term, and dashcam footage, which isn't truly essential to my wellbeing. So what remains, in terms of backup, is my main PC hard disk content, which has (on 2TB) practically all of my files, archived in ZIP archives on the NAS device, and a ROBOCOPY of all data files on that hard drive, on another, non-networked, 2TB drive. The new drive will (sorta...) let me consolidate my archives, although, ideally, I should have one big RAID array, but I just can't afford that, and besides, those things need a lot of maintenance, don't think it'll just sit in the corner and stomp, that is not how things work.

Of course, what began as a simple order-configure-connect job rapidly becomes major planning, if only because I need to free up a system to do a low level format of the two 3 terabyte drives I just bought. As soon as they get here. One thing you can't do is sticking two drives in a drive array without testing them first, so now I have to figure out what to do that with. In Windows, you can turn off "quick format" and format then runs a cluster-by-cluster format and verification, but if you consider that takes 9 hours on a two terabyte drive, it is anybody's guess how long the 3 terabyte will take. Still, it has to be done - those drives will sit in the NAS device for (hopefully) years, and once it is all configured and running, the first time you'll find out something is wrong is when a drive fails. Now if you have three drives, you can configure it so two drives can hold all of your data, and the third drive can be replaced, but on a two drive array, no such luck. Especially not if you're going to use the array for striping, a.k.a. RAID 0, which distributes data across drives so access is faster, but if you lose one li'l byte, that's it, all gone. Kinda scary when you think about it.

January 17, 2017: Downtime? Maintenance all around

Keywords: freezing, Intuit, Quicken, Windows, Trump, Brexit, workout, gym, longevity, death risk

frozen fountainGreat. It was warming up, but now it is back down to 22 - at 9pm. I don't know, I am just not enjoying the cold. Not that I have to be in it a lot, but I wouldn't mind walking to the gym. I just don't when it means freezing, what can I tell you - to a large extent, I do this to myself, because I like working out in the early morning, when it does warm up in the course of the day. Probably take the car tomorrow, and run into Bellevue to get my office mail, while I am out and about, a hardship it is not, it is just too cold and the wrong season for me to work on the car or work in the garden and things. Owell. Doctor stuff first, and we'll take the week from there - they are forecasting rain, but the temperature dropped back to freezing, although the car wasn't covered in ice this morning. That's a neigbour's fountain, to the left, still running, but mostly frozen.


More Windows Woes

Periodically I run diagnostics on my computers, and as I realized I had not run an update on the semi-retired Vaio (since September...), I decided to do the main laptop next. Just the CHKDSK, on its 2 terabyte hard disk, takes 9 hours to run, no way to speed that up, either. So this time I decided to start that off, go to the gym (sunny, so walkies, that was good - is the Five Guys burger really up $2?) and then do some installs on the backup HP, so I can use that properly, which meant Office and Quicken and Tor and stuff, things I hadn't put on before. That led to Quicken absolutely refusing to finish installing, at the point where you need to get it to talk to its Intuit lords and masters, it crapped out with an unclear error message. I ended up having to remove it, all traces of it, including manually in the registry, running some kind of Intuit cleanup package, and then doing a completely new install, which I did without trying to open my existing database, so it wouldn't "know" it was a re-install. And that, several hours later, worked, and once set up I was able to run a data restore, using a backup rather than copy of the database.

system updatesI can see from the Intuit help forums I am not the only one having this problem, but Intuit, as always, doesn't want to tell the world what the problem really is. I think it is simply copy protection, I think the software thinks it is running on too many CPUs, which Intuit discourages. Anyway, I got it sorted, and while I was at it created a new clone of the hard disk, now I have to figure out where the auto-start of Acronis hangs out, ah - buried deep in the Windows registry , in three different places, you can disable what you like in the MSCFG configuration utility, it still autostarts. For no reason, I might add, but I've seen in several different versions of the Acronis Imager, all written for disk manufacturers, that it is able to communicate back to Acronis. In one case, in the version provided by Intel, it tries to prevent you from installing it unless you provide your email address. To be honest, I don't know that all this screwing around in other people's operating systems - without permission! - gets them anything, other than a lot of pissed off customers, judging by the responses in the Microsoft forums. Horrendous.


Will you want a Trump with that Brexit?

Peeps, I don't know why so many still need to voice their anti-Trump feelings, but he won, and he will shortly be the next Prez. He is a seventy year old who decided retirement wasn't for him, he was going to climb the ladder a bit more. So give the man a break, give him some respect - this was not an easy thing to do, I don't care whether you're a teacher or a janitor or a systems specialist, tell me where you think you'll be at seventy, and then we'll talk again. No, I am not defending him, but if you're one of the complete idiots who thinks he'll self destruct, I've watched him do his thing for decades, and he really, honestly, does "know a thing or two". Let him get on with his job, and if you can bear it, help him and his fellow republicans along the way, because continuing to fight and battle will only harm the nation and the citizens who have a right to care and a voice.

I look at the goings on in Britain and I can only come to the conclusion that it is all a bit "pear shaped". Much of the South is mired in a huge avalanche of strikes, reminding me of the miner's strike I was there to witness, but that was in 1984 and 1985, and I would not expect the unions to disrupt society as much as they do, today - the inevitable consequence will be an economic downturn and a disabled government, which wasn't doing well to begin with, as the consequences of Brexit strike. Britain is negotiating with the EU and the United States? What with? They're threatening to withhold the vital supplies of Marmite and Stilton? They won't sell us Japanese and Indian cars any more? Are these delusions of grandeur, or is there something I am not seeing, is there some method to this madness? I've said before, perhaps deciding on Brexit through a referendum wasn't such a smart move after all, perhaps the populace doesn't understand economics as much as it should. I recall that after I moved to the UK from the Netherlands I noticed that things that were normal in Dutch society, like telling your audience something had increased in price by 2.5%, weren't as straightforward in Britain - news readers had to use equivalencies like "pennies in the pound" and explain by example. Admittedly, decimalization had not yet hit the British isles, but I had never understood how much of an impact that had on general education. And I began to learn how poor Britian was - there were small packages of everything in the supermarkets, working class pensioners could not afford to buy whole pints of milk, or sixpacks of beer. There are at least two generations of Britains who hark back to that society, one reason why Dad's Army is continuing to be broadcast on the Beeb. Insular, perhaps, I can't see what makes anybody in Britain think anybody is baying at the Chunnel doors - yes, there is a train underneath the Channel now, but it's losing its purpose. Imagine, all those years and the vast rivers of money to dig the thing and get fast advanced trains into Britain - and now they leave the European Union, which is why the thing was built.


Healthy Once A Week

After all of the too-many-to-mention research reports about the benefits of exercise, now comes one that says being an excercise "weekend warrior" is OK too, it has similar benefits to regular (but less intense) exercise. So maybe it does - the research used survey data on just under 64,000 people, over an 18 year period. I personally stick with my five-times-a-week half an hour regime, having found it agrees with me. Having said that, I don't find a huge difference in my metabolism, although physical functioning and balance and coordination are undoubtedly better. I lost 20 lbs, but have now put 10 of this back by way of muscle mass, which has its own long term risk, I'll discuss that with y'all on a different occasion.

The important question to me is how the medical researchers arrive at numbers for "less likely to die" and "more likely to fall ill". In my simple mind, you can calculate how many people who exercised died, and how many who didn't died, and then you've not go much to go on beyond those numbers, because there just are too many variables. I know researchers try to take those into consideration, but in my mind, unless you have a single piece of software on a single computer that you can use for eighteen years (which few scientists do), the calculation itself becomes a variable.

Let me 'splain. When I fell, in the street, after a dog lunged at me, I ended up in the ER with a collapsed lung. When researching that, later (I hadn't had one before, nor did I know what exactly it was) I discovered a collapsed lung can easily kill you, especially if your lung has been damaged by a broken rib, as was the case with me. Quick action on the part of the ER surgeon and the subsequent IC treatment "fixed me up" and brought the lung back and my "systems" back to normal. I realized later, though, that this was exactly what killed my uncle Frans, down in Mobile, AL, after he had fallen off his roof whie repairing it, and then didn't go to the hospital. Well, he did, later, but by that time the damage to the lining of his lung had caused an inflammation from which he did not recover. Thanks to a chest tube, a suction pump, loads of morphine, anti-inflammatories, anti-coagulants, and some other bells and whistles, my lung inflated back, and I recovered. Thing is, if you'd want to look at the "chance of death" for a collapsed lung, there are many factors you should eliminate in order to arrive at a meaningful statistic. Perhaps the only meaningful statistic is that "it can kill you". Because - well, look at what personal injury lawyers use, and you'll find they concentrate on collapsed lungs caused in vehicle accidents, and you'll find that, there, a third of patients die. But to me that isn't a valid statistic, for many reasons, not the least of which is that a car accident "participant" may have lots of other injuries, and they may not be sufficiently communication able to tell ER staff they have difficulty breathing, which is what I told the surgeon who examined me. I recall that, after that fall, with some bleeding injuries to my face and a missing tooth, I didn't think of being winded as unusual. Which, of course, it was. In other words, I was my own worst physician - the best thing I did that day was go to the ER - home, then to the hospital to, I thought, get some stitches to my damaged chin. Yeah..

From the perspective of the "informed citizen", then, the chances of dying from a collapsed lung (or a heart attack, or an ingrown toenail) depend entirely on whether the patient is conscious, and whether the patient is communicating. I mentioned twice I had difficulty breathing - the first time, when someone helped me get up, nothing happened, it didn't mean anything to the person, or to me. The second time, in the ER, the surgeon did a chest X-ray immediately after I said it, then showed me the result, and told me what was needed. I could have not said it. Or he could have missed it. Or whatever. What I am trying to explain is that you can find some excellent research on your condition out there, with very well calculated statistics, but they may not necessarily mean anything useful to you. There is not a statistic that can tell you how long you're going to live, or that working out regularly will improve your longevity - it will certainly improve your health combined with some other factors - but there isn't any way of predicting if you're going to have a heart attack tomorrow, or walk under a bus.

I've been on this rant before, so let me try to not bore you too massively, it just concerns me that so much money and effort is spent on predicting the future, which is not really one of those things we can do. I know one thing about working out, which is that if you do too much of that, you're setting yourself up for a situation where you'll sustain physical damage if, at some point in the future, you throttle back the exercise - something most of us will do as we get older. When my first wife and I were examined in several hospitals, way back when, after a serious car accident, doctors were aghast at the size and location of her heart - she was a ballerina, working, performing, and taking classes six-plus days a week, every week. Her heart was more than twice the size of mine, and had moved to the middle of her chest, as in its original position a lung, enlarged as well, was competing for space. Athletes and dancers will tell you that "throttling back" at the end of a career can cause significant medical problems,

January 9, 2017: More Science, less Knowledge

Keywords: weight control, diet, breakfast, vegan, omnivore, metabolism, tax return, Express Scripts, Accredo, Intuit
fresh and canned


Meat And Two Veg

For years, I had an argument with my PCP about the need to eat breakfast, and how eating breakfast helped with lots of things, including weight control. I tend to follow advice from medical doctors, but I had eliminated breakfast from my diet many years and two doctors before, because I was gaining weight and, since this was likely due to my medication, there was little I could do, except, drastically, try to reduce my calorie intake. Eating one less meal per day (I was married at the time, and would normally eat breakfast and lunch in the office, with colleagues, dinner with the missus at home, after I picked her up from her commuter train stop) might help me do that, I thought. I think it worked. So now, finally, I've found a seemingly knowledgeable academic (and medical doctor) who appears to support my view, albeit for different reasons. I have no idea why the Telegraph put this article in the "Women's Health" section, by the way, it is of interest to all, and not in any way specific to any gender.

Professor Kealy is quoted in the article about the types of foods that are presented to us as "breakfast", which have, in fact, little to do with an early morning meal, as it must have originated aeons ago, most likely as the meal taken by the breadwinner at home before he left for work. Go back further, to the hunter gatherer, and you'll understand there weren't that many foodstuffs you didn't have to either kill or harvest before you could eat, in the age before refrigeration. Foods were either eaten fresh because they did not keep (milk, eggs, fruit) or, after gathering, needed to be processed (cheese, meat, tubers) and cured for longer term storage (sausage). Yes, I once elected to change planes at Heathrow Airport so I could have a full English Breakfast, including a kipper, several years after moving to New York from London, and my parents' housekeeper in Austria would never fail to serve all of us (including my ten year old sister) a peach schnapps with breakfast, thing is, there are as many breakfast styles as there are ethnicities. For a Dutch person to eat a kipper, which is a kind of dead herring, murdered, burnt and mutilated to the point even the bones can be sucked through a straw by the Brexit peeps, is heresy, by the way.

In other words, most of the stuff we think of as breakfast really isn't. And for most of its history, humankind likely didn't eat three meals a day, but went out to gather food, prepared that, and then communally ate. When food was cooked - which killed the germs - you had to eat it, because there weren't any knobs on prehistoric stoves you could turn to "simmer", and if you didn't eat it it would become part of the fire. Remember we're thinking about an era when anything that needed doing needed daylight - keeping a fire or torches going for the purpose of lighting probably was not practical, in terms of energy expenditure, either. You can hunt, or chop trees, not both, and when you chop trees you're likely to use them for building dwellings, not for being able to light your needlepoint, or read your math exercises at 11pm.

We're loosing our way with all the science, finding endless arguments for things we want to prove, like that we are originally vegan, or that breakfast cereal is a natural food. If we were herbivore, we'd have the same kind of intestine a cow or goat or elephant does, which can vary in length from 20 to 40 metres (our omnivore, i.e., hybrid, gut is 6 metres or so), and if breakfast cereal were a food group there would be no sugar, starches, proteins, vitamins and minerals added to the grains we like to think we consume. Breakfast used to be oatmeal boiled with water and milk, possibly with some honey or butter or syrup added for fortification and flavour, if you were middle class and could afford such luxuries. Porridge, in the Anglo-Saxon world. And if we think about this carefully, porridge is a processed food - dried oats, rolled or crushed or milled, then cooked in a protein rich medium. Once humans discovered fire, we learned to do these things - I remember my mother boiling leftover milk, at the end of the day, and storing the "milkpan" with the boiled milk in an outdoors cabinet so it would keep cool and not spoil and could be used in the morning in my Dad's coffee and our breakfast porridge. Milk, immediately after WWII, was a precious commodity, and you didn't let it spoil, then to throw it out, nor would you drink the milk to prevent it going off, when you weren't hungry. It wasn't (and this is important, socio-economically) a drink, it was food. Then, milk plants discovered they could make porridge in large vats, and the boiling process would pasteurize the milk, and they could put this in sterilized bottles and sell it. Hey presto, instant breakfast, 1950's style. So a horse, with 20+ metres of gut, does not have to cook his oats, and a human, with 6+ metres, does. Get the difference? It isn't that boiling the oats makes them "easier to digest" - a horse can digest raw oats, a human cannot. Simple. From an engineering perspective, quite logical, and there isn't a vegan who is going to change that engineering.

The point I am trying to make is that we are, as humans, hunter gatherers in the process of evolving. Our metabolism, endocrine system, our biochemistry all are hunter gatherer systems. We're still programmed to wake and get active when daylight begins, and turn back home at dusk, with our hunted and gathered foods, which we then prepare and consume (the wimmens cook roots and the mans barbeque - there is a long history to that!), and then digest until dawn, you don't do things while you digest half cooked roots and partly raw meat. Seriously, it is most likely we ate as much as we could, as opposed to all day feeding, as herbivores do - we may be omnivores, but we don't graze, even monkeys move about and eat nutritious fruits, which pack much more energy than leafy foods do. Hundreds of thousands of years we lived like this - homo erectus is assumed to be 1.8 million years old, we've been cooking dinner, according to archeological finds, for some 400,000 years. That's why we eat at 6, by the way, we've spent all day finding and subduing the damn food, which does not always cooperate. Artificial light (gas light) wasn't put into use until around 1800, only some 216 years ago. Before then, artificial light wasn't very bright, and for most purposes that had required daylight not useful. You've probably read the medical advice about reducing screen use well before bedtime, as it interferes with our natural sleep cycle - that probably is the best example I can give you of how our metabolism has not in any way adapted (yet) to our new technologies. Your brain sees a certain wavelength from your mobile device, it thinks it is tomorrow, already. Nothing wrong, and it is, at the present time, anybody's guess how many generations (you read that right) it will take for that biochemical mechanism (that took millions of years to develop) to go away. In the meantime, the commercializers want us to believe baked beans are food, even though frozen, nutritious, healthy, delicious frozen beans without additives and preservatives are available cheaply, and in abundance. Canned overcooked sterilized stuff with lots of sugar and fat and other unhealthy crap in was invented to feed Napoleon's troops while freezing to death in the Russian steppe - it is not, and has never been, food.

Private & Confidential

Last year, I prepared a tax return in online Turbotax, up to the point where it was ready to file. I was still waiting for some Federal Return forms, so figured once I got those I'd go back in if I needed to make any changes, and then file. I have a pretty complete online ledger, and there are few outgoings or income that "escape", but there are always little things, mistakes (I found a category typo just now - DOC ended up DOG) and currency fluctuations. Life got much easier once I began using Quicken's built-in currency translator, though, but the thing is that that really only works when you have bank and credit card accounts, and convert any foreign cash manually. Anyway, much to my amazement Turbotax decided that since I said I had finished my return, I couldn't make any more changes, and would have to file an amended return. Since the Fed knows exactly how much pension I get, misstating that, which is what Turbotax wanted me to do, did not seem such a hot idea, so I abandoned (never filed) that return, and found another online tax processor-and-filer to use. That is how little it took for Turbotax to lose a loyal customer, mostly due to it putting restrictions in its software that are supposed to increase its revenue stream - like filing an amended return next year, which you have to separately pay to do. Not.

Accredo One of the excruciating facts of life is that you really can't blog about companies you do business with any more, lest cyber criminals try and go after your personal details with them. So I mentioned Turbotax, above, only because I no longer use them, and only mention Quicken because I use their software with an API, I do not use their online offering. You won't find me mentioning banks I use - if I mention a bank it is because I am not their customer. Etc. I've seen (in my own data streams, server logs and in my emails) that cyber criminals actually read blogs and try and use your personal information to hack you - not new, many years of that - and many have quite complete databases, including your telephone numbers. Again, that's a reason not to answer the phone when you don't recognize the number, ever - in fact, most folks I do business with don't have the number I normally use privately. The vendor / bank / supplier wants your cellphone number? Don't give it to them - unless there is a real reason why you would want an organization to text you - like two factor authentication - there isn't a need to give it to them. These days, most get just the one, "home" number, there is, for most organizations and businesses, no need to have any other numbers you might use. Not using your home area code for your "secure" phone is another way of making sure you're safe, the time of "long distance calls" is long gone.

Not a sermon, just a thought....

And here is another instance of Express Scripts' subsidiary Accredo, the online specialty pharmacy, putting an order in for three months' worth of medication, that I have not ordered or asked for, and won't need for another month. My prescriptions come through a plan that is prepaid by my former employer, Verizon, and for Accredo to fill a prescription early means they can charge Verizon, hold on to your hat, $12,094.54. They do this every three months, state they won't do that again, and then do it again. Last time they didn't just stop the order, they canceled the prescription. This time they responded to my tweet offering to void the prescription, again, where I wonder how you can void a prescription the patient hasn't asked for? They know my doctor's office doesn't know they asked for a prescription without my approval, and I guess I really need to start talking to the Fed. This isn't about my personal insurance woes - if they do this with me, they must be doing it with thousands of Verizon insured, and so charging, likely, many millions of dollars they should not. To me, that's fraud, they know the plan is prepaid, and they can pretend a prescription is due when it isn't (this stuff gets shipped overnight in a cooler, since it must be refrigerated, and so "getting it on time" is not a factor). Think about it - $12,094.54, just for a single 90 day prescription. I'm in the wrong business.

January 5, 2017: Catching up and fixing things

Keywords: PDP 11, blogging, British Telecom, Trader Joe's, citizenship, Netherlands, HP, laptops, system maintenance


fresh bread at Trader Joe's Private & Confidential

I see other bloggers post quite personal things, and get lots of folks following their exploits, not to mention post comments, yet I've never been quite able to do that too. There are probably a couple of reasons why that was sensible and justified, in the past, but today, I am not so sure. Of course, some of the more popular bloggers specialize either in handbags or emotions, some in both, emotions I am really not good at, and handbags (fashion) I think I left behind me in Amsterdam, when I made my big move to the Anglo-Saxon world, technology and "overseas", in 1979. While there was a lot of fashion in London, British society was much more segregated than what I had been used to in The Netherlands, and you couldn't really work in the computer industry (first at IBM again, then in my own little shop) and be in fashion at the same time, although I did continue in photography and the press. That is how I eventually got to this blog - not long after landing in London, I got my hands on a leased PDP-11 at British Telecom, and effectively had internet and a laptop from about 1984. Dialup, that was all there was, outside of academia, but it worked and had everything, including server space and remote processing, that you are used to today. I am working on a Linux instance at my web hosting provider today pretty much the same way I used to work on ITT Dialcom's PDP-11, 32 years ago....

Here is one of the few things I don't buy at Wincofoods, which so far is overall the lowest prices supermarket I've found, pretty much a West Coast thing, that I only discovered maybe a little over a year ago, when they built a branch not far from where I live. To your left is Trader Joe's bread (Trader Joe's is owned by German mega chain Aldi Nord), which is so much nicer than the factory stuff in other supermarkets, I don't eat that much bread, so the extra expense isn't an issue. I have noticed that most of the factory bread I've bought in other supermarkets gets moldy before I finish the loaf (I don't refrigerate bread), and this does not. It's true, after several years of bread buying here, I think I used to buy artisanal bread back in Virginia, so that does not really compare. This bread is not, by the way, soft, but nice and firm, I have no idea why they call it soft.

Needing some Dutch government documents notarized, I stopped by the bank, as I do every January, at least these days I can email the documents the The Netherlands, until the end of 2014 it was snail mail only. Much to my surprise a new manager at the bank is a Brit, someone who came here a few years ago, and has complete understanding of the paperwork involved with being European abroad. Of course, he is as surprised as everybody when I tell him Dutch law does not allow dual citizenship, something normal for folks like the Brits, even the Germans now allow it. But the Dutch won't - I am not saying I have a problem with it, the law is the law, but if a Turkish citizen can have dual Dutch/Turkish citizenship because they CANNOT abrogate their Turkishness, why can't I? It was never a problem before, but since 9/11, the Patriot Act, the stock market crash and TARP have put a number of jobs out of reach for Legal Permanent Residents, something the immigration system never intended, and in the final analysis probably is discriminatory.

Even though I recently updated this blog, I think I'd better do another round. I noticed some anomalies with font definitions, it much looks like Seamonkey, wonderful tool though it is, does not like having things copied and pasted, and does not have enough intelligence to clean up after itself. This isn't an issue, I just need to be more diligent verifying HTML code after moving things around, especially when I post links and things. I guess what I am saying it's probably me, not Seamonkey. And I have about a year's worth of posts in here, this after a recent cull, but I think I need to cull a bit more, as I now write and post more. Kinda cool though, but I do want to put a bit more science in my musings. The hard part is picking subjects to get passionate about, not so much the writing itself. Ah, that's the word: passionate.

HP's business style support

If you feel inclined to do what I did, and buy recycled laptops, the HP Elitebooks, I discovered, have some advantages beyond fast multiprocessors. For one, the Elitebook is a business computer, sold and supported by HP's corporate division, and something I did not know is that that applies to used Elitebooks as well, they continue to be supported by Real People with Real Toll Free Numbers. Teehee. Having problems with a BIOS whose password was not made available by the $$%& vendor, I was directed to a toll free number by somebody at one of the online support forums, and when I rang that, they sorted me out, free of charge, in no time at all, emailing the fix to me. It isn't the sort of thing you expect when buying a cheap used laptop.

I should caution you though, some vendors don't update their drivers and software properly (and some completely fuck up the operating system they are supposed to have a license to provide), and if you want the thing to work properly, you may end up having to hunt for the software you need. Only the other day, I discovered that Intel had an update for the network stack in the 2560p, which it provides the chipset for, and that update was neither made available to Windows' update software, nor to HP's update package (which you can download from the HP support site if the vendor has not included it). Intel, you see, wants you to install their "automated" update stack, which, once you install it, runs all the time, and sends information about your computer use that has nothing to do with driver updates to Intel continuously. You don't actually need to use it, you can find and download the individual drivers, but that is complicated and time consuming, and not for everybody (just the definition jargon will put you off). Important it is - I discovered that the "old" driver package sometimes hosed up the entire network stack, and part of the problem was that it left the network port powered and running when the laptop was powered down - this can hose the port on the computer side, but the router port too. The updated driver does not do that, it properly resets the gigabit ethernet port, but you can't get it from the HP support site, Intel has not made it available to them, or to Microsoft. Bad show, all for the sake of "big data" collection, which does not benefit you at all.

Is it worth doing all that work? I really couldn't tell you, beyond "it works for me" - in the years I got brand new powerful laptops through my employer, I had to do the same amount of work, I think, that I do now, I recall it took me, on average, at least a week to bring a new laptop on stream. Having said that, back at Bell Labs, and certainly once I joined NYNEX/Bell Atlantic/Verizon, I took responsibility for internetworking and configuration, in my team, something I had always been expert at, and not an unusual occupation in an R&D lab. For many of the divisions I helped set up, I managed the configuration process for the vendors and manufacturers of laptops and desktops, even (servers, too, but in a different way and with a different purpose). So what I am saying is that I am not your ordinary computer buyer, and part of the reason I do this is that I enjoy this type of research. Especially making these (quite advanced) HPs "sing" is fun.. And that, of course, does not help you, unless you want to learn this as a trade, and I don't know how many organizations still employ configuration specialists - it is time consuming, requires expertise, and that makes it, predominantly, expensive.

December 30, 2016: Is Tesla the new Star Wars fiction?

Keywords: Carrie Fisher, HP, Elitebook, CMOS, Ebay, VAT, Bluetooth, Tesla, AI, Fictional


Princess Leia left the planet

It seems unlikely Princess Leia left the planet, but there it is. It is only days ago I watched her hop about the couch on the Beeb - that's right, December 9, in the Graham Norton Show. Picture of health and vivacity, working so well with the Brits on the show that night, sometimes the cultures clash, but not with her. A lot of people lost, these past few weeks - British born NASA astronaut Piers Sellers, George Michael, who set millions of hearts on fire, of all genders, Richard Adams, the genius who wrote Watership Down, one of those wonderful storytellers that come out of Britain now and again, it is quite a list. It makes me want to do something people will remember me by - I remember the excitement when I got my first byline over an article I wrote, way back when, it was much easier to "become somebody", back then, little did I know that, for many years, much of my work would disappear behind a corporate firewall. With my informed consent, don't get me wrong. Owell. They will be missed, those wonderful folk that gave us so much intellect and pleasure. The Lord have your soul, Carrie Fisher, we been robbed... and as I am writing this, her mum, Debbie Reynolds, too, passes away. Wow.

HP2570p innards Runaway Windows


Well, that problem is solved, I can now use the 2560p Elitebook connected to my gigabit ethernet connection without its network connection eventually getting hosed up - it did that so often I just used the 130Mb/s WiFi instead, which was fine, but still, something not working right nags on me. I have to stay away from Internet Explorer 11 with Flash, and I have had to kill the Fortinet Proxy connection. That was a connection I didn't use anyway, but it wasn't an option to turn off, I had to go and change the Windows Registry, which I really don't like doing, because you can forget you did that, and it is possible an update to Fortinet could change it back. We'll see. Here is another developer blog that has some helpful tips to curb IE 11's process growth - running this right now, with one IE11 Flash emulation process, one Windows Media recording process, and sundry editing in another browser. Fan is up, but not blowing me socks off... For now, at least no runaway processes on the laptop - something that can happen if you use one 24/7, with lots of simultaneous stuff. I can't for the life of me imagine doing all I do on a tablet, with reasonably anemic processing power, not a lot of memory, and not a lot of disk - but then, reasonably, on a tablet you wouldn't try to run everything side-by-side on multiple screens, right? It goes to show consumers go for convenience, not for usability. We have known for a long time "users" don't like doing maintenance, especially when that maintenance requires some learning, doesn't matter whether it is plumbing, computers, mobile "devices" or central heating furnaces - I had a good example of that only the other day, when an HVAC repair person came over to fix our gas furnace, which, in the end, only needed a thorough burner-and-sensor dismantling and cleaning. I never touch gas (well, almost never, I installed propane myself on my generator back in Virginia) as it entails significant risk - get it wrong, boom, type of thing.

That wasn't all on the computer front - one thing I was looking for were the CMOS (RTC, or Real Time Clock) batteries for the HP laptops, since I do not know how long the batteries that are in the secondhand units have been there. In the past, clock/CMOS batteries often were rechargeable, these days, more often than not, they're lithium button batteries - ordinary button batteries in a custom casing, and I found on Amazon vendors charging the Earth for them, like $20 or $30 a piece, and that's before shipping. If you older computer goes bonkers, can't remember its BIOS settings, that sort of thing, most of the time the CMOS battery died. Thankfully, I found a vendor on Ebay, based in Germany, that sells them cheaply, with reasonable shipping charges, so I ordered a couple. Earlier, I bought two on Amazon, and then realized they had the wrong polarity, just before installing them, that could have caused massive damage to my motherboards. The picture above does not do my work justice - to get at the little RTC battery, you have to loosen three captive screws, then take out the fan, top left, then you can push the keyboard up from the inside, flip the thing, pull the keyboard off and up, and then you can see the battery, dislodge it from its glue pad (....) and replace it. Make a new glue pad, too... But the German batteries are OK, they had the right part number, they fit, but now I see they charged me VAT (Mehrwertsteuer, in German), which they're not supposed to do, when shipping outside the EU, so now I have to get that back. Never rains... But without the batteries you're nowhere, you can't even boot an Elitebook without a proper date setting on the clock. Ah - the gentleman in Munich mails me back to say they charge VAT on shipments outside the EU, German law. He is going to rue the day he charged me €2.94 VAT, because there is 0% VAT on "third country" shipments, and he does not provide his tax ID on his invoices, which, by EU and German regulation, you're required to do. I am not all that concerned about the three bucks, but either I've gone bonkers, or I can't read German any more, or I remember EU VAT law (applicable across all EU countries) incorrectly. I don't think so, so I've asked the German tax man, after finding out what the vendor's local tax office is.
 
Netherlands Tesla in accidentAnd if that was not enough I discovered HP installs the Bluetooth drivers for these laptops with timeout enabled - the mobile operating system can "disable the devices to save power". And for unclear reasons, on a Bluetooth keyboard or mouse the OS does exactly that - after ten or twenty minutes, the connection times out, and you have to turn off and restart the Bluetooth device, which is why I kept having to reboot my keyboard/keypad combo. I went through the drivers and disabled the capability - except for one, which crashes when I try to change it. But it looks like that fixed the problem. I should remember to look these things up on the internet more often, as by now, just about everything imaginable has been documented, and gets updated further every day.

Tesla

No, the Tesla did not "predict an accident about to happen", nor did it "avoid an accident". That isn't what its Autopilot does, or is capable of doing. I've run, and re-run, the bit of video broadcast by the media, see the screen capture to the right, and it is easy to see what happened. Two cars ahead of the Tesla, somebody hits the brakes, hard. The Tesla detects that - you can see multiple sets of brake lights, those are different cars, and they are all tailgating - interestingly, the Tesla is not, probably because its automation won't let the driver do that. A second before the freeze frame I show here the Tesla alerts, because it senses decelerating cars ahead - you can hear it beep - and the Tesla now slows down. Then, because of the tailgating, the middle car can't stop in time and attempts to swerve left. As it does so, it overcorrects, tilts, and the little red car ahead of the Tesla, tailgating as well, attempts to swerve right, and in doing so, hits the destabilized car ahead, which rolls. Now, there are stationary, or almost stationary, objects in the path of the Tesla, which stops, as it is designed to do. That's good, but it does not foretell a collision is about to happen, nor does it avoid anything. And so we have yet another example of false news - what with the talk of Artificial Intelligence, there will be plenty of people believing these fairytales, broadcast - and this boggles the mind - by the major American news organizations without any kind of analysis - you can see the ridiculous headline from NBC News. Nobody needs to worry about hackers in Macedonia creating fake news - we're doing this ourselves. Sensibly, Tesla doesn't emphasize this video at its website, and in its forums several folks come to the same conclusion I did.

December 27, 2016: Merry Christmas and a Wonderful Hanukkah


Keywords: Christmas, disasters, assassinations, throttle position sensor, Dodge Durango, Windows 8.1, Explorer 11, process growth, IOT, internet thermostat


Happy Holidays, Peeps

Could it just be the holidays? I am stressed out, for no clear reason, unless the recent series of disasters, from Aleppo to the Berlin Christmas Market, have something to do with it. I am getting it wall-to-wall on TV, on the one hand this overly sweet Christmas drivel, doled out by blondes with injected lips on heels, on the other hand seven year old bloggers in Aleppo. I don't really believe one or the other. And as I have clearly not done a lot to give my own life a bit more direction, this past year, something I can only blame myself for, I need to figure out how to put that sparkle back where it belongs. Putting on four lbs over the holiday doesn't help either, thanks to the lovely invitation from my landlord's family. Whoopsie.

To be honest, I thought it was just me, but as I was standing in line at the Arco gas station folks around me, after the obligatory "Happy Holidays", started whining about what a bad year it has been. I mean, with the election and the terror attacks and all the other stuff. We still have troops out there, IS seems to have established a new country without anybody really noticing, this has been costing thousands of lives, not to mention gargantuan amounts of dollars, and there appears to be no way to take control of what goes on. It probably slowly costs half a billion dollars to kill one Daesh leader - and you have to remember I was one of the people who helped spend those oodles of dollars expanding the United States military infrastructure necessary for the Iraq war. That was exciting, and we won, right? Didn't we? I am sorry to have to say this, but that's the feeling I get when I see how we bomb the shit out of IS, who seem to somehow have no end of armour and cannon and stuff, and who then send people over to attack us with trucks and on the ground in Paris and - I can't help but remember - use our own airplanes and infrastructure to wreak untold havoc on 9/11. I don't know what I am missing, but I am not seeing we're getting anywhere. And now Princess Leia is out of action too, of all people.

Dodge 4.7 liter V-8TPS

A what? Ah, a Throttle Position Sensor. At least, I hope that's what the problem is - this is what happens with an older car, things need replacing. It's just a rough idle, but as with all things, if I don't fix that, something else will go wrong. There are a couple of other possible causes, but the experts on the car forums suggest to replace the TPS, reset the ECU (the central computer) and see what happens. So that is what I will do. In the picture, it sits at the top of the inlet manifold, the "throttle body" as it is called, to the right, and it shouldn't be a big deal to replace (assuming it isn't freezing cold, like today). Fingers crossed.

Internet of Things

It is one of the more fascinating aspects of telecommunications technology that even though it is now possible, 99% of the time, to figure out whether a caller or sender is legitimate, the majority of scams are due to consumers answering the phone, or opening emails. I've gotten to the point I very rarely answer calls any more, use voicemail instead, and I make sure I use phones and services that have blocking capabilities - today, even "rejecting" a call isn't a good idea, as the miscreant will then know there is a person on the other end. Similarly, if I don't recognize an email sender I won't open the email, and if I don't recognize the sender and there is an attachment I automatically report it as spam. But judging from the research, the majority of adults will pick up the phone or open the email, no matter how many tools we give them to help make them safe. I have a hard time believing so many folks on the news report that they answered the phone and then got lured into giving away information. You'd think that not answering the phone would alleviate the problem, but no, the risk does not apply to "me". I am sure you have read all that before, and there are people who make a real art of this stuff - the other day, I began getting calls from an automated system that delivered a staccato ten calls per round, in such a way that on your phone, both lines (most phones have two to facilitate call waiting and conference calling) would be in use, blocking any other calls. It is a technique used to simulate urgency, and to make the callee concerned they cannot be reached. On most phones, you can set such a number to "silent ring", then check how many calls are made, and then you have ammo to report to the FCC. It is a bit of work, but when the FCC gets enough reports on a number, they'll go in and shut the bad guys down, we just have to keep reporting these things.Smartphone WiFi tracking screenI got here because I noticed at my doctor's office, when I turned my WiFi on, that someone had installed an internet thermostat (see it in the list of WiFi sources in the picture to the right). This is a good illustration of the problems our WiFi standards are creating - a primary precaution almost nobody takes is to not broadcast the "SSID", the name of the network connection, because an internet thermostat, like an internet camera, is an easy gateway into someone's network, especially since they usually not only connect to your local network, but let you control them from your smartphone. I know that when I installed my network drive, which comes with a free cloud service that lets you access your files from the internet, it came with this service enabled, and insisted I had to enter a network user name and password into Seagate's service to activate the drive. It took me a good hour, and two full device re-initializations, to figure out how to set up the drive without that ability. I have my own internet server, where I can park files I want access to, for instance when I am in dodgy countries, where I can use an encrypted VPN I carry that lets me access stuff I don't want to carry across borders, or have on my system, a place as predictable as a cloud drive connected to a NAS drive by a known cloud supplier is not really a safe way to access files. Last three month trip abroad I easily spent two days removing sensitive files from my laptop, and putting those files I might need on my internet server. It isn't that they can't be found there, but the chances they're found are much smaller than when they sit on a cloud server. And you certainly can't access my NAS drive from outside through my multiple firewalls.

Windows Woes

I was (and am) running two screens side-by-side, but before used two different systems, accessing a shared database on one of my new HP laptops. When the (overly long) HDMI cable on one system began acting up, I decided to move both screens to the HP, something it should be able to handle, much of the time I run an IPTV feed on one screen, and work on the other. But that did not work as well as I had expected, especially when the HP is hooked up to a Gigabit Ethernet connection, using just a slower WiFi connection gives fewer problems. The primary problem occurs when I run the IPTV feed over Ethernet using Internet Explorer 11 - after a while, that just hangs, and with it, all Ethernet connectivity grinds to a halt, without any kind of error, and the network interface reporting healthy. I have now installed Intel's latest Gigabit port driver, not offered by Windows Update, and that seems to have a beneficial effect, together with the use of Seamonkey/Firefox rather than Explorer. It is kind of strange; when I run Explorer it eventually hangs, and the HP system fan, which is load triggered, begins to blow like crazy. I am still trying to figure out why this happens - previously, ATSC HDTV dongles had that effect, but not on the HP, although I use the dongles more for TV recording than watching, and when recording you do not use the screen, of course.Ah, there it is - Internet Explorer, when displaying an IPTV feed, uses more than 50% of CPU cycles, while Seamonkey (combined with Adobe Flash) uses 6 to 8% of CPU cycles. That has to be the reason - this is, by the way, using Windows 8.1, which I use on one system because Windows Media Center, which supports the HDTV dongles, isn't available in later versions of Windows, killed off.

Bit of Googling, and sure enough, there are entire tribes complaining about process growth in Explorer 11, under several flavours of Windows. Well, that explains that. And I didn't use Explorer 11 much, mostly Seamonkey to watch IPTV, when I was using a separate CPU for each screen. So the hanging issues aren't directly related to the Ethernet port or the USB ports, something I thought might be the case. It is just Explorer 11, possibly in combination with whatever Explorer uses to display IPTV, I am assuming that isn't Flash. I also note process growth in Forticlient, or one of its subprocesses, the Forticlient VPN, which I don't think I use but gets started by the overall Forticlient antivirus package. I had never chased any of this stuff down, but now that I run everything on one single CPU, I need to make sure I have some control, there isn't a reason why some software should be hanging so bad I have to reboot. That was, after all, the primary reason why I replaced my Lenovo with the HPs - faster more sophisticated processor, more memory, bigger disks. One HP (with the Intel Core i5-2540M  CPU @ 2.6GHz) should be able to run everything I normally use all at the same time. Having said that, I've spent half my career ensuring my team's operating environment worked (I've always had that as a sideline, even if it wasn't my formal job), and know all too well that you can't give a developer enough capacity, they're always going to run more than they ought to, especially in "kluged in" network applications, and doing reporting in vastly oversized spreadsheets. I try not to do that myself, but it always creeps up on you. Having said that, if this does not work, I can always switch back to using two CPUs, although I am more comfortable having the secondary HP as a "spare". I've never gone to where I had a full spare, while the 2560p and 2570p aren't 100% "alike", they're alike enough that all I would have to do is swap the hard disks, and one wonderful aspect of the Elitebooks (these, at least) is that they are easy to clean and maintain, the bottom slides right off, I could get used to that, all of my previous laptops always had the plate-and-screw business going on. I bought a box full of compressed air cans, it really is three minutes' work, and using the spare to drain a battery fully, for maintenance, then swap it out, is great too, they have the same battery and charger. I am still looking at what causes all of this, in many ways I would want to switch to Windows 10 altogether, for which I have a couple of valid licenses, but several of the software packages I use aren't supported under Windows 10 any more, and for now, Windows Media Center in particular, which is a full blown broadcast TV / cable TV application with recording, time delay, and a perfect  2 week programming guide, stops me from ditching 8.1. There are some third party applications that do TV and cable and satellite, but none of them work as well as Microsoft's Windows Media Center does, credit where credit is due.

December 20, 2016: Trump & Christmas looming

Keywords: holidays, supplements, global warming, winter, database, internet searches, America, neighborhood, AOL

oversize ChristmasWell, no, not hell week - kind of a different year for me though - got invited to a Thanksgiving dinner by a neighbour, and now some other folks have asked me over for Chistmas, That's very kind, very welcome, I remember from New York that it takes a long time to settle into a neighbourhood, used as Americans are to itinerants - I don't mean people upping within the year, but moving in somewhere, and leaving again a few years later, a regular occurrence in this country of career and job changes. But now I have to go and get more gifts, in the middle of the procrastinators buying theirs, although one thing is very clear, these days, no store runs out of anything, until the last minute. Actually, that isn't entirely true, last year I had to run around like crazy to find a humongous Christmas stocking, big enough for an electric cooker, all of my regular stores had long since run out, but somehow Fred Meyer still had some, at the last minute - half off, too.. That's it on the left, big enough for a good sized toddler.

Global Warming

I can't very well tell you again it is cold, because I just told you that a few days ago. I am not even sure why it bothers me the way it does - then again, it usually doesn't get very wintery up here, not like it does in New York State and Virginia. But I am looking at my yard thermometer right now, at 8:15pm, and it is 25 outside, and it's been like that for more than a week now, down to 18, and it normally isn't. Not that I can complain to anybody, or ask for me money back, the entire country is in a deep freeze, which happens. Global warming , they say. It's global cooling, more, though, and this summer wasn't as hot as the one before, either. It will be interesting to see how the Trump administration deals with global warming, if indeed some of his picks - and the man himself - don't believe in it. I have to be honest, and tell you that, while I do believe the earth's climate is warming up, I think that may well be cyclical, and only marginally influenced by mankind. But even if that is so, there isn't a lot we're going to achieve by "environmental action", like cleaner cars and a reduction in coal based energy generation. You see, I note everywhere that the increase in energy requirements continues, exponentially, and car manufacturers seem to be building more cars than ever before. We've even managed to invent "energy efficient lighting" of which there is now more than ever before, and we're seeing more power generation problems than we used to before. So - we're creating more people, and we're increasing our spendable income, buying bigger refrigerators, installing more air conditioners, and driving more cars. Conclusion? We're not achieving our lofty aims, and endless conferences and replacing old, polluting cars with more polluting cars is not going to work. Yes, a Toyota Prius is nice, but it is a hybrid, and that is, by my definition, a vehicle propelled using gasoline. I know this is a whine and I am not providing any kind of a solution, but if the Germans are shutting down nuclear power and replacing that with more expensive "green" energy, we're heading down the wrong route. I can tell you, when I see thirty cars idling in line at the Starbucks drive-thru, in the morning, to get coffee, I know there isn't a way in hell we're going to get anyone to mind the environment in any significant way. Apart from anything else, the proliferation of wind and solar power is going to have a really negative effect on the environment - without going on for too long, air flow across the planet has several functions, and reducing that airflow, and intercepting some of that airflow and converting it to energy, which is eventually bled off as heat, is not a good idea. Perhaps we finally have a president who understands this. Of course, as I am preparing to stick this page on my webserver it is 42 and raining. Go figure.

Google How?

With the avalanche of fake news, something that becomes ever more clear is that the public watches and reads news, and takes to the internet to look things up, but doesn't necessarily then arrive at the right kind of information. "Right" is a difficult word, because there are, obviously, many kinds of "right" information - in this United States National Institutes of Health article you'll find the following phrase: "although 75% of Americans were aware of Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy, fewer than 10% of respondents had the information necessary to accurately interpret her risk of developing cancer". In other words, there was a specific reason why Ms. Jolie had a double mastectomy, and that reason was not understood by the vast majority of women. That stands to reason - something I've been telling, as a trained database builder, colleagues and staff for years is that the availability of information through internet search engines means little, as the majority of consumers don't have the training to do meaningful "encompassing" searches. That is gradually improving, as the first generations of kids that grew up with search engines are now hitting adolescence and adulthood, but essentially the search engine was unleashed on an unknowing public by scientists who have no clue how the average person looks for information. Many scientists don't even know "average persons", and this goes much further than you'd think - ask 100 Americans what the National Institutes of Health is and I'll bet 80 or more won't be able to tell you, and therefore could not determine that an article in the Institutes' database has been reviewed and accepted by a scientific panel as accurate and "true". Read the article, and you'll likely find the information in it is amorphous, not easy to understand, and jam packed with references that would take you more than half a day to wade through - IOW, the information is not easily accessible to most people. In many ways, it seems the hackers and miscreants have developed ways to inject information where people can easily find it before the mainstream media are able to counter what is termed as "false" information. I am being cautious here, because, short of fictional information, there are lots of ways to interpret information, many of which are more or less valid. I was reading up on a number of allegations in Britain, where HPV vaccinations are alleged to have made some adolescent girls very sick, almost disabled. Medical experts deny this is possible, and you know how many folks run around in the "vaccination conspiracy theory" universe, and when you read some of what they write both the allegations and some of the "evidence" they use are scary.  At the same time, it is absolutely possible that a vaccine has side effects, so it is never possible to say it didn't happen. But the proliferation of social networks seems to have made runaway scaremongering much worse, not helped by the fact that many people have not learned to find, or even recognize, reliable information, relying instead on the stuff friends and family "share". I see this in my own Facebook news feed, where some of my friends endlessly (I am talking about several hours a day surfing and sharing) disseminate information they find, in most cases without any explanation or recommendation - in the olden days, at least it was easy to understand how a mate got to his erroneous point of view (=pints of Guinness or thereabouts). Perhaps I am spoiled - I was a researcher early on, trained as such from grammar school, and have had internet access since 1978, when the internet largely was a scientific and engineering tool. I tend to forget most people didn't get acquainted with the internet until AOL happened, after 1990, and after 1994, when the World Wide Web began to proliferate. By 1990, I had already left Bell Labs and gotten a full research position with NYNEX' fledgling R&D organization, where the internet was ubiquitous.

I am not saying I am holier than thou, but even in the IT environment I then spent many years working in, our regular staffers often did not have a clue how to find and use information - in my earlier years as a journalist, we had researchers, whose job it was to do data mining, and who were very good at it - I think that somehow, we completely forgot to build that so necessary skill into our school system, even today pupils do not learn data mining in any meaningful way - and no, Googling is not the same thing. It may not be that clear, but spelling mistakes in searches are a major source of disinformation.

Vitamin D

I am not feeling 100%, so am taking it easy tomorrow, Thursday, maybe I am not even going to the gym. On Thursdays D no longer goes there anyway (he now intersperses a long walk day with a gym day, which makes more sense), but I would normally work out. However, I think the TDAP vaccination may have put me under the weather a bit - not badly, but enough that I can do with a late morning and an easy day, plenty of home stuff to do anyway. The TDAP shot combines three vaccines - don't take what I say as gospel, but I can't think of any other reason why I feel un-chipper, I had an influenza vaccine one week, the TDAP triple the next, I have an impaired immune system, it is cold, and there isn't anything else that I can think of that would give me that queasy feeling. Besides, it really is cold, at least it feels that way, although my remote thermometer only shows 30 degrees, barely freezing. Then Friday will be a gym day, and as D. leaves early for yoga on Fridays, I have to walk, regardless of the chill, anyway. At least, with my big V-8, the car warms up quickly when I drive out in the cold, especially since it sits there idling for a couple of minutes while I set up the dashcam and program my GPS, this makes a huge difference in warmup time, not to mention defrosting. I've heard people say "my car doesn't do that", but in most cars, the defroster setting kicks in the A/C, not to cool the car, but to dehumidify the interior, where moisture collects on cold surfaces. This helps add extra heat to a cold cooling system, in winter, and the removal of the humidity helps warm the car, this day and the next (assuming you've closed your windows and your seals are tight). But I try not to drive to the gym, health wise I am much better off doing the walk and getting a dose of sunlight, there is, by now, an abundant body of research that has proven that a dose of sunlight, every day, is necessary to keep all sorts of biological and endocrine processes in tune. I was made more clearly aware of the correlation when one of my doctors did a vitamin D blood test, this after it became more widely known that vitamin D, made by your body in response to sunlight (any kind, filtered will do too, daylight is probably the better word), and, these days, added to some foods and some vitamins (like calcium, hint hint). As a consequence, I make a point of walking to and from the gym on a daily basis (that's 45 minutes right there), drinking milk before bed every day (as it turns out, the body absorbs protein and vitamins better during sleep, did you know?) and religiously take my calcium (but that has medical reasons, in my case). I have observed lots of folks don't read up, and take things they don't need (vitamin C comes to mind) and don't take things they should (vitamin D and calcium come to mind, and not necessarily in pill form!).

December 15, 2016: Nothing but shopping going on

Keywords: working out, gym, holidays, heating, monitor, laptops, Brexit, democracy


It's been a bit quiet, especially as my workout partner sort of fell away, the past few days, unwell, not going to the gym. I discovered my "quick" workout sessions truly were too quick, Friday I even forgot to get on the treadmill, something I do when I drive to the gym, usually when it rains and / or I am working out by myself. I need to check if the HRM software "shorts" my time when it loses sight of the GPS satellites, which happens, now and again. Endomondo does not come to a full stop when that happens, unlike the previous app, but I wonder if the elapsed time readings are real.


Welness
Out of nowhere, a relative I had not spoken with for a couple of years connected back with me, amazing how the holidays and an impending death in the "old country circle" changes the way people behave. I am mostly concentrating on getting my end-of-year medical stuff out of the way, realizing, as I write my hospital report, that I am doing much better today than I was a year ago. I do make a rather large amount of effort connecting my doctors with each other - this may sound stupid, but if you elect to have doctors in different medical organizations, at least here in Washington State, they can't get at each other's databases, and carrying medical information yourself is very much a hit-and-miss proposition. I would love to know how many patients here die because of this mismanagement. Anyway, most of the improvement is due to my diligent gym routine, five days a week, with diligent monitoring, of course. It is helped by neighbour D., who, last year, asked if I could walk him through gym exercises, at the time new to him, and since then, we keep each other in a regular rhythm, walking to and from the newly built LA Fitness most days. I guess if you do not have someone you work out with you may slack, over time, but we've been doing this together since the end of last year, and I've actually been doing "it" since January 2015, the 1.5 mile walk being an integral part of the workout.

While I see some folks due grueling workouts most days, that isn't my thing, and my rheumatologist warned me against classes, competing and putting too much strain on my joints, not that I didn't know the risks. What is clear is that if you, almost gingerly, start repeating a controlled workout, without undue strain, and over time, again cautiously, increase weights, repeats, and pressure, you'll start strengthening your bones, joints and physical structure almost without noticing it. "Bulking" wasn't my aim, although I can see muscle buildup - the problem is that once you bulk up, you can't then throttle back your workouts later, because you may replace the muscle with flab, and even though you work out less, you may eat at the workout level. Check out the New York Times wellness blog, there are quite a few articles about this, main important thing is to achieve some balance that is easy to maintain.

Christmas (shopping)
Pretty much done the Christmas shopping, some gift cards and a basket to go, perhaps - no, later in the week, when I get some more nice $$$s through. I've still procrastinated a little bit, the oil change is still sitting on the garage floor, mileage wise that isn't a problem, but I should have done that while it was warm / not raining / freezing / snowing. Right? The rest is pretty much maintenance, except for my dashcam footage, which by now takes up 800GB on my NAS (network) drive. That's since November 2014. Take that into account if you decide to record all of your drives at high (1280x720) resolution, and store the footage - thing is, if you record it, you never know if there is something that happened in view of the camera that could be useful, or "required by the court". But I need to get that off the NAS drive and onto some other kind of backup. You see (hint, hint) the more storage space you get, the more you'll use, as technology advances. "Big data" isn't called that for nothing...

I did get "spare" batteries for my drone, and the vendor sent me the promised spare landing gear and propellors, but I still may not fly until the weather turns, it's just been too cold to spend hours in the open learning to use this device. Hmm... I just realized that this might be a good hunting aid, with its real time streaming video, really depending on the range it can handle - in itself, that should be easy to establish. As I understand it, these things have a safety that have the drone stop-and-drop when it loses connection with the controller (which uses RF, not WiFi) but at least with the video you can see where you are when it goes down. It'll be interesting to try - at least I now have half an hour or so of flying time, and I'll have to see how long they take to charge on my car equipment (considering I only have the one charger)..

Heat pump
Looking for the same heat pump I bought last summer, I found the same model under two different brand names on Amazon, and I am sure a few other places. I bought it -
refurbished - from a remarketing outfit in Texas for the ridiculous amount of $263. It lists new on Amazon for $419, as we go to press, an 14K BTU dual hose heat pump (a.k.a. an air conditioner that can reverse its action and cool or heat), which is still a really good price for a dual purpose device, but it is big and ugly. The reason I am mentioning it here is that I am really pleased with its functioning, this being its first winter in my home, especially since I noticed it still works well despite the outside temperature (it gets its air from outside, hence the second hose) dropping to 18 Fahrenheit, -8 centigrade. I know that older heat pumps have a hard time when temperatures get close to freezing, I did notice this unit had to work harder taking in really cold air, but it does keep on trucking. So if you're looking for an affordable unit, for a room, a garage or a small house without central air, you could do worse than the Edgestar - and I've owned and used a number of like units, in the past. Heat pumps, generally, are a lot more efficient than other heat sources, and at 14K BTUs this thing only needs its lowest fan speed.

Laptops
While I am generally very happy with the two reconditioned HP Elitebooks I bought (see below, around
the beginning of September) I have a remaining nag going on, in not being able to find reasonably priced CMOS batteries for them. The batteries they have are still good, but what I would like to do is replace those with new ones, so I have spares, I've had CMOS batteries in other systems die on me, and if you don't have spares that can be a real headache. I found some that turned out to have the wrong polarity, and I found some they're trying to charge $30 a piece for, which is ridiculous. Other than that, I have the luxury of a complete spare, which lives in my safe, and gets run now and again, magical. I had been buying marked down laptops for a few years now, not really seeing the point in getting high end "latest" models, which, for everyday use, don't really have advantages over "last year's model", but I think I have now adequately proved some careful research pays off. This, admittedly, means you have to (be able to) do the work to bring the reconditioned system back up to the level you need it - in my case, I bought three, ended up having to ship one dud back to its maker, and spending, oh, easily 60 hours per laptop on configuration, upgrading, updating, and beyond, but then I'd have done much of that with a new, state-of-the-art, laptop. Where today's state of the art is not really technically changed from two year old state-of-the-art. Unless you're an avid gamer, and there are specific requirements your software has, there really is little changed, and the neat thing is that the information is all out there on the internet.

Ah, I did find the HP CMOS batteries. Reasonable price, cheap shipping. On Ebay, from.... Munich, Germany.

Something else I had not tried before that came about through Facebook postings with former colleagues is dual display use. I had, back in the Network Operations Center I built in Arlington, kitted staff out with dual display systems, but that was by buying laptop base units with their own graphics cards with dedicated memory. If you're building a worldwide telecommunications network you need 24/7 monitoring, and not system crashes (these were not the dedicated systems inside the NOC). This wasn't because I didn't know you could do this with just a laptop, but not all staffers were cognizant of the ways to do this, of the memory requirements, and their laptops, by themselves, were using shared memory, and you really don't have much control over how much stuff they run at any one time. So the docking station with dedicated graphics was the more secure way to do this, to avoid the helpdesk getting five calls an hour about crashing systems. With the docking station you have control over its architecture, and all the user has to do is slide in the laptop, without changes or accommodations.

So earlier in the week, when one of my laptops suddenly wouldn't talk to a monitor any more (through a 50 foot HDMI cable, which is problematical at the best of times, at high resolution) I decided to try and hang both monitors off one laptop, one of my "new" HP Elitebooks, using both the SVGA and HDMI port, and sure enough, this works fine. I haven't tried truly high resolution, just two 1080p (1920x1080x60Hz) screens, but this works - in fact, better than the "long distance" HDMI solution did. With 16Gb and a 2.6Ghz processor, the Elitebook has more than enough oompf to handle two displays. Neat. If you're thinking of doing something like that, though, make sure you have (talking Windows now) a big hard disk, the more disk the better Windows' virtual memory works, and plenty of RAM - 16Gb or more, depending on what your motherboard will handle. Don't do these two things, there may be memory glitches, and you won't always know that those are what cause system problems, there aren't a lot of "intellegible" error messages in the memory space, and running Windows diagnostics is not for everybody, and very time consuming. Keeping logs, making only one change at a time, then testing, and testing again, as I said, is not for everybody.


Brexit
What is, for me, the big deal about Brexit isn't the fact that Britain will be leaving the EU. That in itself is a bit mind boggling, but that's what they decided, that is what is going to happen, much as we didn't see Donald Trump win the election. What I really wonder about is the effect of democracy on the state - in England, is it reasonable to assume that the voter knew what the consequences of Brexit were likely to be? Insofar as anyone can calculate the consequences, as there now must be "negotations", but nobody seems to know what those will be about. Did the population have the data for this decision? Heavily politicized, is this the type of decision you can leave to chance? Have we over-democraticized our political systems? You can let individual members of a family decide what kind of breakfast they're going to eat, or you can decide that "the democratic way", where everybody gets to eat what the majority wants - without any ahead-of-time idea what that is going to be. No system, no ranking as to nutritive value, health effects, negative effects, just a vote, and it is up to the voter how much they know, and how much they think that weighs - as we saw in the United States, where the flyover states apparently decided they'd had enough of the coasts deciding stuff. That's different. I think. Seriously, I've looked (closely) at the way they do things in China, at the way democracy works with the huge population in India, I grew up in a multiparty system, lived in England when that went from a two party to multiparty system, and now see how the United States is run. Pros and cons in every system, that much is true, although I had to wait to live in the United States to hear "liberal" used as a curse word - and "socialist" I had never encountered this side of the pond until coming to the Puget Sound.

On the one hand, we train people to make decisions after training, sober, with proper preparation and a good understanding of the case, and then we go do a "referendum", with effectively no control over who does what and why. And it just makes me scratch my head and ask myself if this really the way to run a country. It certainly isn't the way we run corporations...


December 11, 2016: Winter is here. Take it away..

Keywords: Netflix, Canada, TV ratings, Comcast, snow, 4WD, digital rights, fake news, journalism
Vancouver(TV)
Canadian fire
                          hydrant Stargate Atlantis is being rerun on Comet - and I never realized how close to me that was shot, Vancouver, B.C., Canada, the place I go when I need to renew my passport, it is closer than San Francisco. The place where it seems much of Hong Kong and some of mainland China is moving, driving up the house prices to unimaginable heights. It seemed, last year, driving through it, a somewhat rundown American city, with addicted hookers working for fixes across from my hotel, within walking distance from the downtown business district - it is actually close enough that the Seattle TV channels are on the local cable system there. The hotel, and the folks running it, were very pleasant, but again, all a bit tatty and not well kept. The picture to the right shows a hotel fire hydrant in downtown Vancouver - marked as "non-compliant", it still seems to pass safety inspections. But visitors do rave about Vancouver, so what do I know...

Netflix
Speaking of television, does it bore the pants off off you too? It may be me - the dancing shows, the cooking shows, the celebrity this-and-that shows, but if I look at the rankings these shows appear to be runaway successes - I sometimes wonder what's wrong with me that I dislike stuff the rest of the world seems to love. I do think at this point in time the ratings for these shows have little to do with reality - when in the past, perhaps a viewer might have read a paper or a magazine interspersed with the show, today viewers (most of them, I will bet) interact with a mobile device or a laptop while "watching". So nice for raters to get their data from cable and satellite boxes, but those do not provide any information about the viewer. They just show a program is on. We have plenty of technologies that would make better tracking possible (although that might bring a privacy problem), but the advertising folks do not want to use them, because their revenue pattern would shift, and perhaps go away, and entrepreneurial they are not.

I must admit to being a Star Trek kid - over the years, scifi series had me spellbound, but that appears to be a genre that has slowly died. Perhaps not surprising, since we now actually live in the era those series foretold, and we have a couple of generations who no longer park their butts in front of the boob tube every night. Yet, Netflix appears to be making money hand over fist, and I think the majority of its aficionados do their watching on the couch. Ah yes, there it is - 40% of Netflix subscribers use "devices" to watch things, but 90% of Netflix' content is streamed to TVs and PCs (including laptops). Of course, there are lots of people who aren't young who have time to watch movies, while many younger folks steal time here and there, and mix their watching - Netflix has it the "average viewing time" on devices is some 40 minutes, which is shorter than movies, even shorter than most TV series. The funny thing is (but this has to be me, I am not criticizing anyone here) that I see folks watching (and enjoying) totally fictional movies and series, I mean overtly and obviously fictional, and I find myself thoroughly uninterested, but then when I think about that, as I just told you, I was a massive Star-Trek-and-the-like aficionado, I devoured science fiction (actually way before that made it into TV production, I have been reading Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke and all these other good guys since I was a kid). And I have actually started reading SF again, but in a different manner - a few pages a day, every night before bed, after years of not reading books at all. If you consider I was a speed reader and would often go through two paperbacks in a weekend.... So I don't know, there is very little, these days, that catches my imagination sufficiently for me to sit back and watch an entire hour of something, and what feature films I've watched on long distance airplanes I've mostly fallen asleep halfway through, with the exception of some comedies. Seinfeld. Give me Seinfeld.

Frozen
Warg! It got cold, like 24 F (for the Centipedes, 0 Celsius is 32 Fahrenheit), had to scrape, and then the snow came, as you can see below. Can't say I've ever particularly enjoyed that, but it is somehow double annoying this year. Wait... umm, cold happened last year in late November, but each time only for a few days - and since I don't have to drive early tomorrow (Wednesday) it may warm up a bit, and later in the week it is supposed to warm back up (the picture below was taken on Friday, so it did not, and I am well pleased with the four wheel drive on snow tires, getting around in the slush at near freezing temperatures). But Seattle is unlike New York and Virginia, where I lived, once winter set in there, it stuck, here, most of the time, winter doesn't.
 

2016 Seattle snowAt least I have now increased my blogging frequency, let's see if I can keep that up without running out of interests. I have plenty, but for quite a while I've simply not "put pen to paper", if you follow my drift. I am my own worst enemy - I will not put stuff on Facebook, or any of the other social media, because they all usurp part ownership of your output, and can use that and sell that however they like - it is the reason why I removed my videos from Youtube, and my blog from Freeservers. But I do not then (and that's my own fault) figure out how to stream video on my own server, and do it from there, which I am perfectly capable of doing, so why don't I build my own Youtube? That does not try to take their efforts away from creators? Let me put that on my "to do" list, see how to stream stuff from my webserver, and perhaps set up a platform for folks who want to own their own things. It is the bane of my existence, wherever you turn someone wants to use your data, and I really don't think that is acceptable. Apart from which, there isn't anyone who can show me the random collection of data actually sells anything - I am serious here, there isn't a single vendor or manufacturer or trading house that can show you how many of what they sold to people whose data sets they bought. You cannot reprogram someone's brain using randomly acquired data, just popups and popovers in front of their faces. But our intrepid advertising agencies con everybody into believing that works. "Nike sold 12% more shoes since they contracted Facebook" they'll say. Nike might have sold 12% more shoes if they pissed in the Hudson River - thing is, no manufacturer has the guts to "try something else", and the numbers on which 80% of these decisions are based are complete fiction (spent too many years on Wall Street and in the Fortune 50 not to know that).

Anyway, enough of that, and suffice it to say that most folks' blogging kinda died when Facebook took over the world - when Facebook managed what AOL had not - AOL was first, and AOL fell flat on its face. Never be first.


Fake News
So a guy from North Carolina, father-of-two, drives to D.C. to "investigate" Hilary Clinton child abuse accusations - with three guns, and fires a round inside the innocent pizza place that's been rumoured to be involved. I can't for the life of me understand how this gentleman believes these stories, but I have a hard time with the people who create these fairytales, as well. Am I naive? I'd like to understand how the FBI has not tracked down the person who created this tale, arrested them, and how we're not hauling someone into court over this. Seriously. Mudslinging and bitchfights is one thing, but guns to sort non-existent allegations out? How exactly do we educate our people that they cannot figure out what's real and what isn't? I am having a hard time believing this is the same country I moved to from Europe, back in 1985. This is increasingly weird stuff - the son of Lt. General Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump's impending national security adviser, is reported to have been fired from the Trump campaign - without the campaign ever stating he was hired, or stating he was fired. So why does the venerable New York Times report the firing as fact? And why does the BBC's "political editor", Laura Kuenssberg, who I often see aggressively accosting interviewees in a form of BBC journalism I really don't like, stand on the pavement outside 10 Downing Street and yell questions at political figures? Is that a reporting technique she learned in journalism school? I see Ms. Kuenssberg do the same thing other senior BBC news presenters do - speak to interviewees as if they're some sort of judge and more senior than the pope, at times being downright insulting and disrespectful. I've particularly seen the New York Times, for many years my favourite newspaper, run off the rails in its pursuit of any perceived Trump wrongdoings, post-election. The Times did not used to report conjecture as fact - and as a former journalist, I find this a bad trend, and I think this is part of why the extreme left and right media feel they can print whatever they like, fact or abject fiction, everybody is doing it.


December 7, 2016: Do homework, then decide...

Keywords: HRM, medical devices, mobile apps, cloud devices, accuracy, Amazon, gym, competition

Heart Rate

Endomondo report You may have seen some of the publicity surrounding the accuracy of "fitness trackers", more specifically the wrist worn variety, which have been tested up the wazoo, and found less than accurate. I picked the Time article to link, because it seems to have the most relevant information, without undue amounts of advertising, but if you Google the subject you'll find a plethora of articles and videos, some ridiculous, some stating the wrists bands are accurate, some stating the reverse.

I have the chest variety, which measure heart rate by detecting the electrical pulses that control the heartbeat - wrist monitors use an optical method of sensing blood flow. That may well be accurate when you are sitting still and the unit has good contact with the wrist (compare that with the pulse oxymeter you stick your finger in, which does a similar optical measurement), and is correctly positioned over the veins, but as you walk or bike or treadmill or do anything else involving movement, the wrist band will move in various ways, so to this engineer it is not surprising wrist bands do not give accurate and consistent readings. Do they need to? There are two answers to that.

One is that if the manufacturer states an HRM is 94% accurate, it then has to be, or you shouldn't say that - in fact, folks are now taking FitBit to court for making claims they say are unrealistic. The other is to do with you - what do you expect of your H(eart) R(ate) M(onitor)? Apart from the fact that I do not know what "94% accurate" means, would you be good if your paycheck was "94% accurate"? As a scientist, I can tell you this: if you know something is 94% accurate, you know the 100% accurate value, as well - because you can't calculate one without the other. Having said that, if you were to put three medical grade monitors in a hospital side-by-side, they would likely provide (slightly) different readings. As there are few reasons why you would need a 100% accurate reading, some deviation, then, isn't a big issue. Do what a friend of mine did, the other day - he compared his blood pressure meter with his brother's, at his house, and came out with very similar readings for both of them, on both devices. Case closed. If they deviate, you then need to compare those with a third meter, see what you come up with.

CooSpo chest HRM My cuffs (I have two) and blood oxygen meter I took into my doctor's office, and asked her if I could check them against their equipment. Again, case closed. It isn't about the 100% accuracy, then, it is about consistent results over time, so you can build a database you can refer to when you don't feel well, or at your next checkup.

As you may have read in a previous blog entry, below, I eventually bought the chest variety, which the medical profession feels is more accurate, the combined (with smartphone sensors) output of which you can see to the right (click on the pic to enlarge). One reason why I don't want to wear a wristband is that I stopped wearing watches many years ago, when I knew I could always rely on my mobile phone to have time, date, and my calendar, but then I carry my Blackberry on my hip 24/7, and I use the calendar, and I use it for email, I see no reason to wear two devices for one purpose, and I actually like not having that thing on my wrist, same as I don't wear glasses, but extended wear monovision contact lenses. Technology is there to make your life better. The other reason not to wear a wristband is that it talks to an app on your phone 24/7, and this then sends all of the data to the app's manufacturer, including your phone book, location, your email address, all your friend's email addresses, etc. I am allergic to this.

Another thing I don't need is to know my heart rate 24/7, including Christmas Day. I am not a heart patient, but as I wanted to know, for medical reasons, how high my heart rate gets when under exertion, I settled for the chest strap. I begin measuring when I leave the house to walk to the gym, then measure throughout my workout, then during the walk home - the output top right (which, IRL, has a Google map as well) is from a recent gym session. Interesting is that an average exercise app (this is Endomondo) makes lots of assumptions about what is important, rather than ask the user what it is they want. Endomondo, like others, is annoying, even tries to send you encouragement messages, and tries to get you to compete with other Endomondo users, not understanding that the "competers" are a subset of fitness app users, there are many different reasons for people to work out. In my case, it is simply health, and trying to help my body cope with the medical condition I have, as well as making sure I have fitness data I can take to my quarterly medical checkups. My doctors specifically do not want me to compete, because competing, as we all know, leads many people into injury territory, and for health maintenance it is completely unnecessary. This applies to millions of people - patients - in the world, and Endomondo and its competitors very simply have no clue how to cater to them.

So no, I don't count reps, I don't count steps, I don't check my pulse while working out, I just work out until I work up a sweat, or feel a joint or muscle protest, and look only at results over time, which is why I like having the stats in the picture. Tracking your pulse from workout to workout is a fool's errand, just as stupid as believing your protein knows drink to go to your triceps. Not gonna happen. I check a whole lot of vital statistics, but that is more out of interest, what you should check daily, first thing, before coffee, breakfast and shower, is your weight and blood pressure, and anything else you think is relevant to you, and stick that in a spreadsheet, which, even if you don't want to use a PC, you can do on a mobile or tablet. Even unsmart phones have spreadsheeting applications. The simple value of this exercise is that you can check deviations over time, and that way you have an early warning of anything that might go wrong, and take the information on a doctor visit.

I actually initially wanted to get a wrist band, did some research, then went to read the reviews at Amazon. I found: 8,331 different wristband fitness trackers (which would indicate this is an, uhm, really popular product) and, in the reviews, found hundreds of "incentivized" reviews - reviews where the vendor gave the "reviewer" a discounted or free product in return for their "unbiased" review. I've railed against this for years, as the practice begs abuse, and finally, as of October 3rd, Amazon no longer allows the practice. In my search for a fitness tracker the incentivization made it practically impossible to find a few reviews I could trust, in the end I came to the conclusion (especially with the negative publicity about wrist trackers) that this was, for my purpose, a useless product, turned out in a couple sheds in Shenzen by the millions. To be honest, for my purpose even the Apple Watch or Samsung Gear aren't "fit for purpose" as they use unreliable technology to monitor blood flow. Repurposing the concept of the wristwatch for things it was not designed for, then finding a technology that only half works, then filling your failure to do good science with advertising, is not smart. I get the same feeling I did when that Tesla killed its owner - you just should not implement that kind of automation without making it foolproof and failsafe - and no, Elon Musk, you cannot tell a customer "not to use that" any more than you can tell someone not to put bullets in the Smith & Wesson 66 they just bought, and not to fire it. Bam. It isn't how things work. One of these days, an Apple watch wearer will die of a heart attack their phone should have seen coming, and didn't, and that will be the end of that. Because, if you built this monitoring capability in your device, and you can prove (there's the crux) the device saw the symptoms but did not alert because it did not understand them, the maker is toast. And that will happen, because these products, from Apple Watch to Tesla, aren't tested the way they should be, they soothe maker ego, not consumer care. Remember how "ignorance of the law" is not a valid defence? I believe that once you can purposely monitor life signs and you sell your product as a device that can help you with your health, you are now required to understand what you "see".

December 5, 2016: Flying? Almost...

Keywords: Sinterklaas, Santa Claus, drones, FAA, weather, snow, winter, Trump, employment, WiFi, streaming
Don't worry about Sinterklaas, if you're not Dutch, the British, when introducing their own flavour of protestantism, rolled Saint Nicholas and Christmas into one, if you were wondering why Santa Claus and Father Christmas are the same thing. So, on to more important matters, like toys and Trump...

Drone
Hexacopter VI've bought myself a drone, as I think it is time I learned a new technology - it is sitting here, but I need to get some spare batteries for it, because with only eight minutes flying time I am not going to learn very much. I also don't know, as it is getting colder, whether or not I can muster the stamina to sit out in the cold for hours while learning to fly this thing, This is a six axis drone (I must admit I don't know what that means, in terms of functionality, exactly), complete with always-on WiFi camera so you can see what the drone is seeing, real time, other than that I am going to have to try it out to tell you what and how well it does. Amazingly small, the white thing in plastic in the front is a real time camera complete with WiFi server, powered by the drone's battery. Finding a large enough open space will be job one, although within fifteen miles or so there is plenty of countryside, seaward or in the direction of the mountains. So - batteries, and then the vendor sends you extra propellers, guards and motors when you "report in", that's not bad. I noticed tonight the model I bought is sold out already, and I ordered this before Cyber Monday - just in time, I guess. It is, I can see from the manual, considerably more sophisticated than the one I bought two years ago - but that was a gift, I never flew that myself. The "giftee" didn't do much with it either - one flight that ended on a roof, one that ended in someone else's yard, one indoors that demolished some glass ornaments, and it hasn't flown since. That drone had a camera with memory card, this drone will stream what the camera sees live to an Android or iOS handset (presumably with capture capability), which is much more cool, methinks. As an aside, drone ownership now has to be registered with the FAA, the Federal Aviation Authority, which will issue you a registration number ($5) - you have to pay by credit or debit card, so they have an address verification on you. No, there is no provision to enter the registration number in the electronics, which would be a good way of doing this, make it illegal to fly unregistered drones, and develop electronics to "zap" drones that don't have the number embedded. Owell. More to follow.

Trump
So, nice, the president-elect persuaded Carrier to keep some jobs in Indiana, rather than move them to Mexico. I agree we need to provide more employment in large parts of the United States, but I don't know that this will do it. On the other hand, American businesses have been moving business units abroad, and cheap labour into the country, for years. Only a couple of years ago, I walked into the security office at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, to sign the paperwork to get my contractor ID, and, with me, there was one other Westerner in the line, the fourty or so others were all Indian, and all from Microsoft's overseas subsidiaries - not the H1B variety of contractor, they already were Microsoft employees being "transferred". I spent time in the Philippines and India, watching as local folks there were getting ready to apply for contracting positions in Europe and the USA, getting their paperwork and permits together, then going to work for the EU and American subsidiaries of Indian and Filipino contracting companies with existing contracts with Western multinationals. It's been the practice, it is where the money goes, and stopping Carrier from building A/C units in Mexico isn't going to solve "globalization". To a large extent, we're feeding the world, and while that is not, in and of itself, a bad thing, we ought to get paid for doing that, that is the missing link. And no, I am not being critical, it will take time to convert the Washington environment, and power structure, then more time for the "new ways" to trickle down - if they ever will. But Mr. Trump is setting the stage, and he does not want it to be business as usual. It's time for that, I do agree. But I know much of the power structure in the gummint, from having to work with it, at all levels, and don't know that a President can actually cause that much change, if his cohorts aren't "with him". Having said all that, Mr. Trump is certainly shaking the tree, judging by his seemingly impromptu call from the president of Taiwan. Yes, Mr. Trump, I can totally see that a customer who spends billions on our military hardware deserves to speak to the CEO. Good show. You're growing on me.

Snow?
In the interim, it is getting colder, bit of a freeze overnight, I am going to have to start taking my wipers off the windshield at night, it is December, so I guess that time of year. Winters here can be very mild, but they're talking about "lowland snow" on TV, and "lowland", that's us - the weatheroos seem to think the snow may get here Sunday night. I had dreams of moving South, a while ago, kind of canned that, partly for lack of money, partly because I still had some stuff to sort from back when, but I think that is mostly, maybe completely, done, at this point, and as I have been officially declared "in remission" (teehee) there really isn't much to stop me. You'll ask why the medical holdback - that wasn't so much because I was in imminent danger of anything, but my treatments stand and fall with good doctors, once you find those you have to build a relationship with them, and then get everything done that needs doing. You don't want to move and change doctors and clinics while all that is going on. I've just had a battery of clean tests, added to that a Medicare mandated Wellness assessment, and some of the physical complaints I had earlier in the year, have basically gone away, due to a reduction in medication, diligent working out, some changes in my diet, and more of a reduction in alcohol intake (I stopped smoking in 2010, cold turkey).

December 1, 2016: We're not Vegetarian any more

Keywords: hunter/gatherer, vegan, omnivore, chimpanzee, heart rate, HRM, blood pressure, fortunetelling

To continue, for the moment, on the raw foods topic I started below, we humans began eating meat some 2.5 million years ago, and eminent scientists have it that that was, not coincidentally, a period when our advanced brains began to develop. That's interesting - we can assume there was some brain development because we needed to develop strategies to hunt and kill animals, before this time, we were up in the trees, and the fruits that are there do not tend to run away and need to be hunted down a lot. If you, purely logically, see that we came out of the trees at that time, we became bipedal hunter / gatherers in order to discover meats and tubers and roots - again, largely not available in the trees.

Then, interestingly, we actually developed to digest stuff raw - heating food by burning, and later by cooking in vessels, then by cooking in vessels in water, didn't happen until 2 million years later, some 400,000 years ago. We ate stuff raw, and, presumably, we learned to pound things to make them easier to digest. Vegetables? No. All you need to do is look at older Hindu (=vegetarian) folks in India to see how much vegetable matter you need to ingest just to stay alive, and remember that Indians cook their vegetables so they are more concentrated, take away their boiling and cooking and you end up with five to ten times the volume you would need to eat.  Just think about it: a head of cauliflower has maybe 150 calories. But way back when they didn't have heads of cauliflower - they had stalks. So in order to get a 500 calorie cauliflower breakfast, they'd have had to find maybe four or five pounds of cauliflower stalks, take off the inedible bits, and then they could eat the rest, and sit there and bloat. That's just breakfast, of course. So, no, I don't think they had time to do a lot of veggies - that's what vegetarian animals do, cows, orang utans, elephants, they spend all daylight hours foraging, and moving from feeding place to feeding place - not because that is a leisurely activity, but because it is the only way they can get enough nutrition, and that is using the specialized stomachs you and I ain't got. We're omnivores - compare yourself with the chimpanzee, and you'll find that animal, a close genetic relative of your cousin Bobby, gets perhaps 3% of its diet from meat, the rest from - well, actually, a large percentage figs.

So eating some foods raw - say, meat, fish, fruits and roots / tubers, all foods that have concentrated calories, is actually in our ancestral biological makeup. Lettuce is not. The shell of a corn kernel is indigestible, as well (and that includes popcorn). And it is proven there are some proteins that are not available in any agricultural product, but only in animal products (a category that includes eggs and milk). I know it is heresy and i will burn in hell for saying it, but you do realize that a steak is a chunk of processed grass, don't you? While I do appreciate a Dutch researcher's well founded view that that a steak costs 3,000 litres of water to get to be food on your plate, that is becoming a problem because we keep making babies, and stack 'em all on top of each other in vast urban areas. The steak, as a product, isn't the problem, it is the volume we produce that should have us pay attention. Calculate how much grass and hay that steak cost, and you'll find an equally staggering number, but you see, we can't digest grass - it is somehow important in this discussion to understand that a cow is a living self-reproducing machine that turns indigestible produce into human edible foods, like milk and cheese, and eventually, meat. Goats, too. And sheep. And I am not having the horse discussion with y'all. I'll continue this at some point in the future, suffice it to say that even the house cat has trouble digesting raw meat, today, as most urban cats have never been fed anything raw by their owners. We should not confuse instinct with need. You can buy, even here in the United States (in Europe they're in the supermarket) frozen one day old chicks, by the way, and feed them to your cats from when they wean - you'll find they love them, growling as they "play with their food", and a lot healthier than "bacon cheeseburger flavoured" canned cat food. I spotted that at Wal-Mart, the other day, how crazy can you get? The chicks are of the male variety, by the way, they're destroyed, as roosters, for some reason, don't lay eggs, make trouble in the cages, and don't produce the flavourful meat hens do.

So I got the CooSpo heart monitor, unexpectedly cheap and easy to pair with an app on my Lumia mobile phone. I bought the unit without knowing what app I was going to use with it, and this was one of the few where I could tell from the reviews it would work with Windows Phone, although I have an older version, 8.1. I have other handsets, but I normally take the Lumia to the gym, I had had it running with an exercise app, so that was, kind of, the tool of choice. Long story short, the free miCoach app from running shoe manufacturer Adidas did not work for me - it will not run if GPS is not on or not working, and in that condition it'll turn heart rate detection off, too. Apart from that, miCoach somehow found my date of birth, which I did not provide it with, and so I canned that. I then tried Endomondo, an application that I ditched years ago, when I found it was mining everything on my old Nokia phone, but in the interim they appear to have seen the light and today, you can run Endomondo without telling it anything except your email (you do need to go online and tell it not to share anything with anybody, but it lets you do that). What's more, it works flawlessly, even behind a screen saver, it synchronized with the H(eart) R(ate) M(onitor) expeditiously, and I have now done a full 1.5 hour gym walk-and-workout where it "got everything" and didn't kill my battery. Though I had GPS on for this workout (and it actually tracked my walking inside the gym) you can run it without GPS, and it will work just fine. I do think some of these apps need to start getting out of "competitive" mode - I work out to maintain my health, not to compete with others and potentially injure myself. The developers should give an option between "health" and "compete" modes, and let you decide what you want to track. I have friends (folks I love dearly) who post their runs and bike rides on Facebook, diligently, I just think that's overachiever stuff, that serves nobody.

Word of caution here - one of them was a picture of health, competitive long distance cyclist, tall, blond, Californian in origin, scientist, musician, recent Ph. D., no health complaints or concerns, who, a year or so ago, suddenly fell over, bike and all, dead so fast his feet were still in the pedal straps. Turned out he had triple vessel disease (all three coronary arteries blocked), due to his physical prowess had never noticed a thing (nor had his family, doctors, or the medical folks in Verizon who do the employment checkups), and this would have been easily detectable had someone done the right tests, a chest scan or ultrasound, but these are tests you don't get unless you've got something going wrong, or have complaints. If you can cycle sixty miles in the French mountains and do a smiling selfie after, not at all out of breath, you clearly are in perfect health, right? Medicare now mandates those scans for smokers and former smokers over 65, but I can't help but think there is a battery of tests that younger people in the picture of health should get, too.

So why my sudden attention to heart rate? There isn't anything wrong with my ticker, that gets tested frequently, and I monitor blood pressure and ancillaries thoroughly, but it has something to do with my thyroid hormone, or lack thereof. Bear with me, it is an involved story, but that way at least you'll understand I am not a hypochondriac, even though I know how to spell that. I hope. Something I wasn't really aware of is that the thyroid plays a part in the regulation of the heartbeat. As a consequence, if some intrepid surgeon removes your thyroid, and the endocrinologist then prescribes a replacement hormone, the heart may start to race, or beat irregularly, palpitate, partly because the body no longer can regulate the amount of hormone released into the blood, that's now a daily pill. Although my endocrinologist back in D.C. had explained it, I never put two and two together - when they remove a cancerous thyroid, they like to put you on a higher dose of hormone than strictly necessary, to reduce the chances that any cancerous thyroid cells that remained in the body after radioactive iodine treatment will re-activate. I guess back in D.C. I was just too overwhelmed by being radioactive for a while to take everything in. They do all this very thoroughly, at least in my case, with a full body scan before and after, with the body artificially starved of iodine, so any thyroid cells are active, and, with residual radioactivity, show up on the scans. At any rate, long story short, I've had heart palpitations more or less since my surgery, although my blood pressure and heart rate are in normal ranges, and it is just alarming and annoying to be aware of your heartbeat, something you normally never notice (if you do, go talk to a doctor), and even sometimes to be woken up by it.

In other words, what I am experiencing is, under the circumstances, normal, monitored well by three doctors and myself, but it still causes some anxiety. At one point it got alarming to the point I had a cardiologist do a full heart workup, the issue being that once your heart becomes irregular, you may not notice if something really goes wrong with it, and that is why I worry about it more than I probably should. My doctors aren't concerned, I work out at the gym five or six times a week, so I should be good, but for added "protection" I will now use a heart rate monitor so I can see how high (during exercise) really is high.

So there.

You must have noticed the press, both before the election and after, has been extra-ordinarily engaged in predicting the future - as if there was such a thing. To begin with, much of the media had the election outcome completely and totally wrong, and now they're all trying to figure out who president-elect Trump will assign to cabinet positions - which the press had mostly wrong, so far - and what his policies will be. I predict they'll get that wrong, too. I think it will be a massively good idea to simply wait until he gets into office, and then see what happens. We've never dealt with this kind of guy before, and making endless hours of commentaries and endless reams of posts isn't going to do anything meaningful. I don't think he wants to be read, our Mr. Trump, and I think his staff is under extremely strict orders not to release any information. There have always been folks in the "inner circle" used as conduits into the media - not this time. And that is, actually, excellent. You'll hear the horn, around the corner - I don't necessarily even think all of his tweets are designed to indicate policy. He's just thinking out loud. We're maybe not used to that, but if would be kind of refreshing. May you live in interesting times....

November 25, 2016: The Realtor Who Roared

Keywords: tartar steak, Google, Trump, president-elect, tuna, raw foods, matjes, browser compatibility, Android, Alphabet

LA FitnessI always forget to smile when I take a selfie at the gym, compounded here because the phone I was using has no front facing camera. Besides, why post these selfies? Then again, why not... *grin*

No, I don't like Trump either. I didn't think he'd be the best choice for our country. But guess what: He Won. He Got It. You have to give credit where credit is due, he ran a hard campaign and came out on top. Donald Trump, the non-establishment candidate. So whatever the gazillions of commentators say, Mr. Trump came out on top and he will be our President, for at least four years. So in my book - and I had a lot of rednecks in my old neighbourhood in Virginia say that, eight years ago, about Obama, after they had done enough White House Watermelon Patch jokes - he is our President, and we need to support him. Because he will be running the place, and we need a place that is functional and successful. Not running riot with "He is not my president" placards while tearing up the streets. He got it, live with it. It is called "democracy", it is what y'all are so enthralled with when you look at places run under autocratic rule by military juntas or totalitarian regimes. Get ready for the next election, but don't let's try to mess the place up, save the good bits from the Obama years, and move on. I have always believed change is always good, and that is what we got, peeps.

It is snowing in the mountains... slightly early, but winter is on its way. Snow boots.. check. Gloves in car... check. Ice scraper indoors (warm)... check. Thermal leather gloves indoors (warm)... check. Snowbroom in garage... check. Gloves in exercise bag.. check. Snow jacket.. check. All that's left to do is clear out the back of the car, re-arrange the emergency gear, and put the snow chains in. While with snow tires and four wheel drive I am not required to use them, State Law requires you to have them in the car when crossing the mountain passes East. And the oil - I need to change my oil, filter and fresh oil ready in the garage, all I really want is a sunny day so I don't have to get cold or wet, or both, doing it. Air filter done, injector/carbon cleaner in gas, tires done - oops, not the spare, need to get under the car and check the pressure.

raw meat and fishSo let's take another look at the raw foods I crave - when you read this, please remember I grew up in The Netherlands, and there are many things that are eaten raw (as in: uncooked) in Northern Europe that horrify most Americans. Matjes herring, by the way, isn't really raw - while not prepared in any way, matjes are tradionally caught, gutted on board ship, and then brined - sodium, the active ingredient in brine, acts as a preservative when added to the fresh fish filets, and causes structural changes in the meat that makes herring edible right out of the storage vat - that is how the catch is processed, into small vats, 40 herrings per vat, in brine, no oxygen, no decay. So, while "raw" herring isn't cooked, it isn't really raw, either, but the preservation process, refined over six(!) centuries, and not dependent on mechanization or refrigeration, very functional. Having said that, freezing and refrigeration have contributed to improving the flavour of herring, which is no longer increasingly saltier due to the length of time herring was in its, uh, pickle... In the picture, left, are my main vices, considering I can't get real matjes herring here in the Pacific Northwest, the Scandinavian version they do import is way too salty for the Dutch palate. Some stores, notably in California and in the Northeast, do sell it, but shipping on dry ice isn't necessarily reliable, and the Eastern European matjes I found at Costco are salted herring more than matjes (there's no sea to catch herring in inland Eastern Europe). But the frozen tuna - tuna almost always is sold "from frozen" - the distance it has to travel, and the size of the fish, make it impractical to ship any other way - is rapidly becoming my "fish oil alternative". The Fed has it this tuna has been frozen long and hard enough - see the rules here - that it is perfectly safe to consume, provided it is thawed in accordance with the instructions, which basically boil down to "defrost in the fridge, then eat immediately". I do that religiously, letting my tuna defrost in a closed container wrapped in kitchen paper, so juices - blood - and freezing water are absorbed away from the meat. Works a treat, delicious and, I understand, super healthy.

Meat, ground beef, as I ranted below, is a different kettle of, well, meat. While the issue with fish is parasites, meat has different contaminants, bacteria and the like. Even so, I started buying prepackaged ground beef (like in the picture left) which is "created" in meat packing plants, about as close to the source as you can get. The shrink wrapped trays you get in the supermarket may be a long way "from source", shipped as beef to distributors, from there to stores, processed there, handled multiple times on its way to you. So I am going to give this vacuum tubed ground sirloin the same treatment my tuna gets - draining wrap, refrigeration, then a week's worth of freezing. I figure just draining the fluids and the blood may help remove, and through the freezing, kill, contaminants. I've been eating raw ground beef, in a number of ways, ever since I grew up, in Europe, so perhaps I am resistant to some of the bugs y'all are not. After all, when my buddy and I went to work in South East Asia, again, most of our crew developed "Bali Belly", a.k.a. "Delhi Belly", but we did not, we eat native food in the countries we're sent to. We figured that things 300 million Indonesians eat can't be all bad, just don't start your day - in the deep tropics - with cereal with fresh milk and fried eggs. That, at the time, was produced specially for the whiteface expats, and that meant serving and kitchen staff had no experience with how to make and keep Western food safe. "Only drink bottled water" but then we discovered the housekeepers were cleaning water glasses with their bare hands - in a country where toilet paper was available only in expat stores, or a one hour flight away, in Singapore.

gmail misfire Here is (see my rant below) another network that says "you're not compatible" - Google. That's an issue - you'd think that, with Google's mother company Alphabet having some 65,000 employees, they could spare a couple to guarantee compatibility, but no. Google has a peculiar problem that Microsoft had before - Google makes it own operating systems and browsers, so, rather than concentrate on communicating with you, Google has a ve$ted interest in getting you to use Android and Chrome and all that other good stuff. If you're in advertising, this is actually a massively stupid idea - your interest is to make sure that anyone, anywhere, can view and use your output, from banner ads to Youtube. So think about it - last blog, I showed you Twitter cannot show ads in some browsers (by its own choice!). To the right, here, you can see how Google can't display ads in my browser - again, by its own choice! And it isn't that it is not possible, Twitter and Google have chosen not to show things in browsers they don't like. Chosen. Like Microsoft in the past, Google thinks it can do advertising and operating systems, both (AOL, way back when, did that too - until someone invented the World Wide Web and Mosaic and massive AOL and its Keywords went the way of the dinosaur). It has been proven time and again that you can't mix the two, in the long term - and what I don't get is that Google does not understand you don't need to. Especially now that Google has been split up into separate operating companies and is now Alphabet, and they have throttled back on some of the more esoteric activities, like self driving cars, you' think they could take care of their client, the consumer, first. Being commercially successful by killing other people's products has never worked in the long term, while making sure everyone, especially the lower echelons, can see and use your products, in the long term, makes you a winner. Advertising is advertising, and perhaps that can be combined with making search engines and databases, but it isn't compatible with operating systems. Before you tell me I am off my rocker, I am a UNIX developer by training, and so well familiar with Android and Chrome and the stuff Apple does, because all of it is based on ripped versions of Linux, which itself is based on ripped versions of UNIX. While UNIX is a brilliant operating system for network elements, and the folks at MIT did a great job building a graphical shell around it, you can, today, take almost any operating system, and do that, because the latter day processing units, the CPUs, are so fast and so versatile. They are in fact so good I am using a laptop with an Intel I5 processor as my everyday machine, because I currently don't need the speed the I7, which I own as well, allows. That's new - even the I3 in my old Lenovo was, at times, stretched to the limit, but the more recent Intel chipsets are blisteringly fast, outputting 4K graphics without straining themselves, even with Intel's graphics processors, which aren't the fastest on the planet.

By the way, don't wait shopping for the holidays, the deals are good now, especially online, the etailers have had their Christmas stock in for weeks, if you wait until the hype starts you'll only pay more, and right now just about everybody ships for free - in fact, if someone tries to charge you for shipping, give them a miss. Trust me. But don't wait, and don't impulse buy, see something nice, check online places at your leisure, there is always tomorrow that way. I got most of my gifts done, and earlier today even bought some toys for myself. Well, toys... one is a heart monitor, I think it is time I keep a closer eye on the ticker, as the thyroid hormone messes with that a lot.

November 21, 2016: Social networks are greed-iron

Keywords: tartar steak, central heating, backup strategies, Facebook, Twitter, Google, network security, user security, fake news, artificial intelligence

fresh steak tartare I am cold, tired, for no reason, although - a neighbour thought the grey skies and the chilling temperatures didn't make him jump for joy. Temperatures hit freezing - 32 - for the first time this year, yesterday, kind of out of nowhere, I had woken up to 50 the day before. And I see cold and snow roaring into the Midwest, but then that is pretty much the same every year. Hopefully there will be a bit of sun next week, I need to change my oil and refuse to do that in freezing rain. The seasons are definitely different this year - where my neighbour had grapes by the gazillion last year, this year the harvest was meagre. That's a bit how I feel, although I should be happy some of my financial woes, dating back to the 2008 stock market collapse when I lost my house and my savings, seem to have gone away. It has been a long hard slog, though, and I can't say I feel like celebrating. With the cancer and some other medical issues under control, I really should not complain. Next week a slew of blood work, then the annual checkups over the next couple of weeks, spend the 2016 insurance money while it is there. My 2017 health plan insurance contribution has gone up significantly, a bit of a bummer, considering the past few years it kept coming down, but there it is, nothing you can do. And if the preceding paragraph reads a bit gloomy, that is how I feel, although I probably have gotten through the worst of it all. Even got a Thanksgiving invite, so I should not be whining, but get on with the pumpkin pie.

Whaha... When I am cold, I tend to think that may be due to my thyroid hormone, or lack thereof. Not this time, but that is why I did not notice the central heating had conked out - the furnace was running, intermittently, but not firing. Thank heavens for friend and neighbour D., formerly a central heating engineer, who came over, manually started the thing up, said he'd order the part, and then very kindly not only ordered but went to pick up the "furnace ignitor", a ceramic thingie that heats up to some crazy temperature and ignites the gas. Thanks, buddy, I owe you.

I love tartar steak, but have decided maybe not to make that any more. It is not safe, while I've never yet had a health problem eating raw ground beef, but I should draw the line with the raw tuna, which, to all intents and purposes, is "more safe". Raw stuff, in general, veggies, meat, even fish, is rarely advisable to eat, humans aren't made for it, we're not "proper carnivores", nor are we herbivores. The French eat it, the Dutch, the Danes, the Germans, Norwegians, but the thing is Americans aren't into raw stuff, and when you live in an urban area with six million inhabitants the sheer volume of beef that has to be produced constitutes a risk factor, especially if you know beef and other animal products are only spot checked, the Fed making ample allowance for the volumes the market requires. Back in Northern Europe the shelves are full of beef prepared and designed to be eaten raw, from tartar steak to filet Américain, but there it is a real product, properly tested, and prepared by people trained for it. Here, it really is only served in upscale restaurants supplied by specialized butchers, in places like New York City and Los Angeles.

As it now stands my "new and improved" backup strategy works reasonably well - having said that, I have not had to recover a system from backup, so proof I ain't got, the full recovery I did around July 13 took (including drive recovery and diagnostics) a couple of days, and had as its main result that I discontinued some backup strategies, and ended up replacing my trusty ole Lenovo. Now, I back up on a daily basis anyway, but once a month or so clone the entire drive, as well, using free drive manufacturer's cloning software, and I have stopped using Windows Pro's backup software, which would not let me restore a full backup to a different motherboard. Should I have another drive failure - something I hope is, again, years away - all I will need to do is install the clone where the defective drive is, then run a restore from AIS, where I would set the restore for "newer" files, which would be everything changed since the last cloning session - not just my files, but operating system changes as well. That should be really quick and perfect. Famous last words, right? One thing I have done, as these HP Elitebooks were bought used, is order new CMOS batteries. The one thing you worry about is that a CMOS battery dies, and then you lose your BIOS settings every time you power down, and Lord knows what else. I've had that happen once on an old Sony VAIO, but there the CMOS battery was an ordinary button battery, one you can buy at the supermarket, and these HPs have custom batteries. They easily last five to ten years, but that is where the problem lies, you don't count on that battery dying, and you may not be able to get it at the corner store. So if you have an older PC or laptop, check if Amazon stocks the CMOS battery, and put it in your Wish List, and replace it when you next do maintenance, it'll set you back less than $10, in most cases. It may involve partly dismantling your system, though, so check the installation instructions before you buy, or else get yourself one of them geeks at Best Buy to do it.

Twitter video errorFor many years, I hammered into my staff's brains that websites must allow as many people as possible, using as many technologies as possible, to access information. That wasn't just because I was in charge of the information the law required us to make available to the consumer, but I had a very good understanding that many people use old computers, old browsers, slow network connections, non-smartphones, half broken systems, and what have you. One of my programmers in Chennai, India, once told me he had broadband internet at his apartment building - that meant that the 24 apartments in his building shared one dual channel 128Kb ISDN connection. Still, today, many cheap mobile telephones in third world countries only manage EDGE networking, with speeds up to 500 Kbps. And many of those networks and devices basically make it hard-to-impossible for their consumers to access our advanced services. The picture to the right is the error message I get from Twitter when I use my Seamonkey browser, one of five or so different browsers I use. There are some things I can do more easily with Seamonkey, which is based on Firefox, than with other browsers, and it has an email module which I use to store my POPmail on one of my systems. Facebook It is pretty much a security concern, I have better cookie control, and my email does not get archived in the cloud, where it isn't secure, once I am done with it. Does it make sense for Twitter to prevent people from seeing their video? I have no idea what the video shows, but in general, alienating users, preventing users from seeing ads or accessing information, is a completely useless exercise - most technology in use by consumers today is "outdated". If the folks at Twitter are interested: your arrogance, and over-reliance on advanced technologies, is why you are not doing well. You've lost your way, kids. It is comparable to the Fed telling drivers they can't be on an interstate if their car is older than fifteen years, or, as they do in Europe, ban older polluting cars from certain cities, because they forgot pollution goes where the wind goes, and pollution is dependent on whether, and how much you drive, not what with.

So, as you can see, Twitter, in its infinite wisdom, has decided it can mandate what tool I use to access my Twitter account. As does LinkedIn, as does Facebook, and many others. These are organizations that say they have deployed Artificial Intelligence, but as we can see their AI is not able to accommodate consumer's choices or limitations - I can use other browsers, but there are millions of people out there who don't know how to update their software, install applications, stuff. And guess what - the folks at LinkedIn (third party cookies, a HUGE security risk, mandatory), Facebook (won't allow you easy access from secure browsers using the Tor network, which stops Facebook from finding out where you are) and Twitter (more of the same) really don't think that people who aren't on the latest browsers and high speed urban networks, and preferably on mobile devices whose information they can mine, should be able to use their facilities. I don't mind telling you I took Facebook and Twitter off my mobile devices, while I barely use Skype and LinkedIn any more, because both now mandate third party cookies, which allow anybody to inject malicious code into your PC, and hijack you. It isn't accidental the large networks are being hacked - think Yahoo - as if there were no tomorrow, they require your browser to open an easily accessible port to what we refer to as "The World", and from there the hackers can get into the networks via a back door. Is that necessary? No, it isn't, but the networks make money by selling your data to third parties, and can't find a better way to do that. If they had real Artificial Intelligence, they'd be able to collect data without exposing you to malicious activities, but they do not. Think about - you've seen the reports about "fake news" on Facebook and Google, and how Facebook and Google are now using advertising link denial to discourage the practice - do you not think that AI, if it really worked, and if Google and Facebook had access to it, would be able to discern fake news from real news? Catching third party cookie hackers and fake news injectors with AI would be proof it worked, let me (as a developer) tell you that none of these folks have AI, or know where to point it to do real development. The picture to the left shows you all the times that Facebook queries my login - the reason is simple: I access Facebook using the Tor browser, which uses the Tor network, which means my access point changes, all over the world, and most folks, including hackers and Facebook, have no way to localize me. That's deliberate - my system and data are much safer when nobody knows who I am or where I am, so when this login appears to come from Budapest, Hungary, the next may be from Cebu, Philippines. The browser used, Firefox, helps in that cookies can't be parked on my system, they are treated as "session cookies" and removed when I shut down the browser (one of six I use). IOW: I am in charge of my security, inasmuch as I can be. Think about it - Facebook wants you to be safe, but at the same time it wants to, at all times, know who and where you are, what you're doing, who you're talking to, what website you just visited, and which one you're going to. Guess what - that is inherently insecure. Especially for you, because Facebook sells this information to anybody willing to pay for it, and it gets stolen, too, all the time.

Again: showing shoes on a smartphone to someone who is passing a shoe store is not AI. You can program that on a GPS receiver in BASIC. Honestly. Those techniques do not, considering the cost of implementing them, create revenues - tell me, you get a shoe on your smartphone while you're on your way to lunch with your boss, you're now going to buy shoes instead? C'mon.

November 13, 2016: Automotive, environment, wellness... all in one

Keywords: DST, electric vehicles, global warming, CO2, air intake, solvents, ignition cylinder, Daylight Saving Time, democracy, climate change

Dodge Durango steering column Two things not to do, or only do very carefully: use throttle body cleaner on the air intake behind your air filter (I have an aftermarket cold air intake) and give it a good squirt down the idle and run ports, and the valve, and your car won't start. Had to crank it a few times, leave it alone for a few minutes, crank it again, it then hesitatingly cranked up on very low revs, I then gingerly stepped on the gas, and it slowly came back to life. As if that wasn't enough, I bought some graphite at the same time as I bought the solvents, squirted that into the new ignition lock cylinder, and as very little came out of the tube I gave it a bigger squirt. That got so much graphite into the slot I couldn't get the key in any more. Had to use compressed air to clean it out, which got graphite powder all over the inside of the car and me. The key did go in, so I learned another lesson. Vacuumed and blew the entire inside front, and I guess tomorrow I'll take the steering column shroud off and blow those innards out, lord knows what graphite in the wrong places will do. If you've never maintained cars much, there is a lot to learn when you start doing it yourself, and it isn't fun as I only have the one car, so screw it up and you're done for. I've had dreams of buying a used VW Beetle Turbo Diesel, to run around in, keep the SUV for when I need it, but I can't afford two cars.

Hah. Took the shroud off, blew and vacuumed out the steering column inside, which is rather full of electronics, reassembled - and then the computer would no longer recognize the ignition key chip. After some tries, I figure the columns inside the shroud pushed on the wiring (the pink / green bundle in the picture) pushing the connector partway out of the immobilizer (the labeled rectangular bit), which would disconnect that, and the engine would start and then stop. After some careful realigning of the connectors and the wiring, and cautious re-installation of the shroud, all seems fine now. Weekend or next week change the oil and the oil filter, and things should be OK. Something I didn't know is that the Caroo Pro dashcam / monitoring application provides an explanation of error codes when they happen - hadn't had an error code since installing that, way back, lessee.. November 15, 2013, I installed that, you'd have to go to the archives to read that. The minute an error happens in the vehicle computer (ECU) Caroo throws up the code and a brief explanation, handy especially if there are multiple codes, which hasn't happened, thank heavens. It is a nice feature, and with the dashcam facility and the GPS, not only can you see what time it happened, but exactly where you were, how fast you were going, traffic, mountains, rain, all that good stuff. Kewl. Gotta tell you, though, until I took the covers off the steering column I had no idea that is jam packed with electronics - all of the data going to the instrument panel runs through there.

I vividly remember when Obama won the election, first time around, and nobody saw it coming. Put a black person in the White House. The same thing happened last week, except the process is reversed a bit, but both, people, are what we call democracy. There are millions of people giving you their opinions, all over the internet, I don't know I want to add mine - this is, absolutely, democracy, and predicting the future is a somewhat useless exercise. By the time President Trump is embedded in the machine that is Washington (unless he moves the White House to the golf course next to Del Boca Vista) we'll see what gives. It will be interesting, and I expect it is time the "other" party got its say. I see Army and Air Force folks in my neighbourhood driving around with service and American flags on their car roofs - they weren't doing that yesterday, so I would urge you to understand, and support, if you're on my side of the fence, to give them space and let them do their thing, it is, if you like, their turn. Somebody asked me, way back when, when I first came to work in NYC, if I was another "bleeding liberal", this a reference to my Dutch nationality, but no, I am not - and this was well before the corporation moved me to below the Mason-Dixon line, where the parking lot in front of my office was kept immaculate by a chain gang from the county jail across the street, about ten miles from the White House.

chain gang Arlington, VAI am not a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, I think you need to be born that way, but having spent half my career in D.C. working with "them", I think I have a reasonable understanding of what makes the other side tick. They won, respect the vote, people. As I said, this is democracy - maybe more so when you don't like the outcome. And as we've all seen so much "conjecture" in recent years, in this election more than ever, we need to take an urgent walk back from the speculation. It is getting worse because, especially in social media, folks now speculate on speculation, someone posts completely nonsensical information, someone else picks that up and "reports" on it, someone else embellishes the report on the report, and it goes on. I saw folks on Facebook warning each other about rigged voting machines - in all seriousness, although no voting machines were ever rigged or broken into (they're mostly not connected to the internet, or networks in general) but people believe in absolute fairytales...

I really don't like the time change. I am writing this on November 6, the day of the changeover, and I can really feel my internal clock protesting that it is later than it is (9:44pm, which is in real life 10:44pm). I am wondering why we do this to ourselves, yes, light earlier in the morning, but it seems to me it might actually be better to simply let nature, of which we are part, take its course. But I guess even Indiana now observes Daylight Saving Time, so who am I to argue? Force myself into the new time zone, like I used to do when traveling, there's a good boy. Bleh.

Speaking of well, I came across a couple of blog entries in the New York Times' "Well" section, where I find much information I can trace back to the original research, and thus trust, that made me think again about the fish oil and the calcium we imbibe so freely, without much of a scientific reason. Find the NYT Wellness section here. I've actually known about the risks of fish oil, the Omega-3 provider, for quite some time, especially as when I've had surgery I've had to discontinue it - fish oil depresses the immune system, and can affect blood clotting (as does Aspirin, including those pesky little ones prescribed for "heart health"). Why do we eat these things? As a kind of "what-if" insurance, and especially in the case of Omega-3, there are foods that let the body metabolize DHA, EPA and ALA naturally. One food I take that I did not before is raw tuna - I began shopping at Wincofoods to save money, when they built one near me (don't look for them on the right coast, they're "over here" only) and I found they had small chunks of frozen ahi tuna, shrink wrapped, that are safe (due to deep freezing, Fed says that's OK) to eat raw, sushi grade, and delicious - a dollop of chili sauce and some Chinese soy sauce and it is more than just a snack. They need defrosting, and the packages say to defrost them in the fridge "prior to eating", I wrap a piece in kitchen paper, put that in a closed container, and the next afternoon it is succulent and delicious, with the paper absorbing fluids and blood. The list of minerals and vitamins in ahi tuna is impressive, and as these are metabolized in a different way than the ones in a multi-vitamin, this is a healthy option - high in mercury, I limit my intake to one piece every other day. Other than that, it is clear from the science that these other foodstuffs that were bad for you - milk, eggs, cheese - actually aren't. Those foodstuff provide a number of the vitamins and minerals that we get these supplements for, and as I said, I think we mostly use the supplements as a kind of insurance. I have the advantage that my metabolic functioning gets thoroughly analyzed a couple of times a year, due to the medications I take, and I am now cutting back on the supplements, so I'll be able to see, in six months or so, what that does to my innards. I just never paid attention to that much - and while changes in the blood analysis aren't necessarily easy to analyze, why not see what, if anything, changes. It is all well and good to say that "too much" of this stuff isn't good, but nobody seems to know exactly how much is "too much".

Reading up on the goings on in The Netherlands, I see the organizations that work on climate change and traffic had forecast to achieve some 200,000 electric vehicles in the Netherlands bij 2020, three years from now. Currently, I understand there are some 100,000 on the roads. To be honest, apart from the side discussion about these vehicles - do people use them to replace their gasoline driven miles, do they have a fossil fuel vehicle as well as an electric - I think that's a remarkable number, and I wonder whether the soothsayers should not adjust their targets to reality. The Netherlands is a well organized affluent Western society. with a population of some 17 million - looking at Japan, where the electric vehicle was developed and first introduced, wealthy and on a developmental and organizational par with The Netherlands, that country has a population of 127 million, and, today, some 145,000 electric vehicles on the road. So what would your conclusion be? Mine would be that The Netherlands is doing just fine, probably better than Japan, on the evehicle front, and needs to adjust its goals to its reality. And yes, the government is absolutely right phasing out the subsidies - improving the environment using taxpayer Euros is fine, but there are better ways than subsidizing cars. You need to get folks out of their cars, and perhaps the better way to do that is to make polluting vehicles more expensive, as in, much more, and not subsidize what is essentially a luxury item. There are a lot of completely nonsensical ways to combat global warming - in Germany, it is now known, eco-electricity is expensive - in 2014, German households shelled out more than $24 billion in subsidies for eco-power, that's $296 per head of the population. German electricity costs some 35 cents per Kwh, so just the subsidy could buy some 842 Kwh per person (a 1,500 watt space heater could run on that for 561 hours, or more than three weeks - in Germany, that is, here in the United States, where we aren't as advanced, it could run for 818 hours, or five weeks).

All I am saying is that, simply from looking at published statistics, pollution as well as the cost of energy are increasing, and the idea behind all of this eco-development was that we would get clean energy and a commensurate reduction in polluting factors in our environment. We're seeing quite the reverse, I believe, and even if you look at something simple as the cost of "growing" ethanol in the United States, that is making agricultural foodstuffs and cattle feed and eggs more expensive, which is an extremely roundabout way of improving the environment. If at all. Advertising that eating meat pollutes, and then allowing drivers to idle in the queue to buy coffee at the drive-thru Starbucks makes no sense to me at all. Ah, yes, and let me make my position even more clear: plug-in hybrids are not electric vehicles. They're a marketing ploy. A hybrid vehicle is a car with two drive trains, rather than one. Both fueled by gasoline. Twice as expensive to build and maintain as an equivalent gas or diesel powered vehicle.

November 5, 2016: Cars, medication, and more Brexit

Keywords: Brexit, insomnia, hormones, HP Elitebook, health savings plan, Blackberry server, geek squad

At Harbor Freight, I go look for Torx drivers, to swap out my ignition lock cylinder, and while I can find the T-20 the instructions mention, it does not say "Torx". I grab the ones I think I need, and ask the manager guy at the checkout, who tells me he is only really familiar with the name "star key", never having heard of Torx, and indeed I can't find anything on their copiously stocked key stand that uses that name. Coming home, I Google, find some explanations that seem to indicate I got the right thing - having bought Torx bits at Sears before - but just now, I entered the receipt into my financial software - and guess what, that says "Torx T-Handle Hex Key". Tsss....

Dodge Durango dashboardHaving said that, despite trepidations I managed to part-demolish the steering column in my Durango, pull out the ignition lock cylinder, and replace it. This was more of a hassle than it sounds - I had left it way too long from when it became intermittently hard to turn, and that slowly got worse. I'd actually bought a new cylinder last year, read the installation instructions, and I guess I kind of decided this was hard enough that a bit of procrastination was in order. So, last week, it began to misbehave again, I went back to the Youtube instructions, realized that if I recoded the new lock with the old tumbler sequence (but not the old tumblers) I could continue to use the old keys, and finally had a go. You see, the electronic lock (activated by the chip in the key) is separate from the mechanical lock, so if I could simply get the tumbler sequence right, I'd be in business. Long story short - it was high time, several tumblers wouldn't come out of the old cylinder, and if you can't get them out you can't read their numbers, then insert new tumblers with the same numbers in the new cylinder. I ended up having to half demolish the old cylinder, force some of the tumblers out, and then found that half of them were worn to the point that their numbers were nigh on illegible. Get the numbers wrong, you can't use the old keys, and the new keys didn't have chips (even if they'd been "so equipped", you need the two original keys to program a spare, something I did not know until after I'd lost one original key). Anyway, I somehow, carefully, managed, the new lock cylinder is in, and all is well. Phew.

You may have read some of the commentary about smartphones and laptops and flat screens causing an imbalance in the human endocrine system - notably, preventing or delaying the release of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate (amongst others) the sleep cycle. While I can't tell you I've experienced clear evidence melatonin helps, I have (at a doctor's suggestion) been taking over-the-counter 3mg tablets nightly, for about seven months. He said to curb screen time before bed (yeah, right) and to try melatonin. Clearly, some doctors at least believe in using the supplement, although, when you look at the research, there is little evidence the supplements work - there is little quality control, and hundreds of manufacturers, so where would you even start? But what I've done is experiment with the time I take it (eventually settled on 11pm, for an around-midnight bedtime) and I now read a bit before turning off the lights, this to make sure I don't roll into bed straight from the screen burn. What else... ah, I went and replaced my sheets, with a non-chemically treated (non-wrinkle free) percale 100% cotton. And I switched  to hypoallergenic detergents, which I use with an extra rinse cycle.

hospital testsWhile I have no idea whether I was suffering from insomnia or something else, I do know I have more restful sleep. Because my prescription medication has changed as well, in those seven months, I can't tell you the melatonin did it, and from the research I am seeing it being used for much shorter periods of time, like up to three months. That may not mean anything, though, the melatonin tablets may be retraining my endocrine system. I'll talk to my doctors again, especially my endocrinologist, and will report back to you. I see crazy melatonin dosages on the shelves at Walmart, though, from what I've read I'd say to try the lowest dosage, and perhaps up that a bit if you don't notice anything much after two months. What I know from these hormones - I take the thyroid hormone, of course, under doctor's supervision - their adjustments must be gentle and slow, I get my hormonal dosage changes tested after three months, at the earliest. So it is likely other artificial hormones work the same way. Increasingly, though, researchers are beginning to discover the stuff they stick in pills doesn't work the same way the stuff from your food (or glands) does. If you've not read it, calcium supplements have been found to cause arterial deposits, rather than be absorbed by the body and removed if not needed. It is not yet clear what causes this, but it is clear that at least some of the compounds don't do what they're supposed to do. This makes sense - I've always maintained that the way the body works seems too elaborate to be able to be usurped by bits of chemical in a bottle or jar, I keep hearing folks in the gym who insist their potion "goes straight to my arm muscles" and actually believe that that is possible. Trust me on this - even if you inject it into your arm muscles you still can't make them absorb it. Crazy stuff.

On the one hand, this Brexit thing is really strange. I had not expected it any more than (seemingly) the majority of the British establishment, but when I look at the fires now raging in the "jungle" at Calais while it is being cleared, and I recall the vast rivers of humanity crossing the Eastern and Southern borders of the EU, the past couple of years, it is perhaps less than strange that the British went "enough". After all, they're at the end of Europe, so everything that comes West ends up in England and Ireland. The notion that people from Africa and the Middle East can just up sticks and demand EU benefits upon arrival is a bit strange, and it is, by now, clear there are opportunistic Islamic terrorists and economic migrants among them - people who aren't being informed on by the genuine refugees, who must know who they are. During 2015, 1.2 million refugee applications were filed in the EU, while I have seen estimated that only 30 to 35% of these applicants are actual refugees from war zones - that still amounts to 360,000 to 420,000 refugees. The problem, as the British have clearly understood, is that when you accept them and accommodate them, word goes back and many more come. The other problem is that the majority of economic migrants can't be sent back, because their countries of origin often won't accept them, especially when they no longer have identification - especially the economic migrants claiming asylum will "lose" their passports, because they know that lessens their chances of being sent back. It is very clear this is a trade - Algerians, Moroccans and Albanians, none of which are eligible for any kind of refugee status, keep coming, so it is clear that whatever the EU authorities do is not working. The Australians, who started to send migrants to camps in other countries that they pay for, have seen a precipitous drop in boat migrant arrivals, and are now augmenting their system by introducing a law that will prevent anyone arriving in Australia illegally, and not gaining status, from ever entering Australia again, even as a tourist or spouse.

I must admit to being completely confused about the elections here, and the fact that politics are now approached with a fervour that, until now, I only associated with religious fanatics. The whole idea behind this election is that we choose a president who will improve these United States, and do good for the population and for the economy. Shutting down Obamacare, which insures mostly poor Americans who never had health insurance, and not having a defined plan for something to replace it with, is, it would seem, bad medicine. Health Savings Plans, Mr. Trump? We've had those for years, I used one throughout my employment with Verizon. You pay for it out of income, which is not so good for low income and no-income Americans. If I have to listen to any more drivel about Mrs. Clinton's secure private Blackberry server, I am going to throw up. Yes, she had a mail server at the house. So did I. So did a lot of others. It was, at the time, an effective way to have control and have better security than your corporate environment provided. It would be helpful, Mr. Trump, if you talked about things you know about, which I suppose restricts you to talking about making money, setting up high risk enterprises, and the next blonde-on-heels from some backwater. Mrs. Clinton used to stand around in the U.S. Air terminal at LaGuardia, with Ms. Abedin and her security detail, at 7am, to catch the commuter Shuttle to Washington National - she, I, and a bunch of other worker bees, not something I expect you did a lot of. I must tell you I'd rather have a lawyer than a realtor in the White House...

Update on the "refurbished" HP Elitebooks: I have my doubts about the resellers that hold refurbishment licenses, but the computers themselves are truly rock solid pieces of gear. Having said that, under Windows 7, Windows 8.1, as well as Windows 10, I've had to do a fair amount of manual stuff to get them to work right - and by right, I mean, yes, I am a bit of a perfectionist. On the "spare" Elitebook 2570p, I swapped over to the Windows 10 Pro disk, yesterday, to give the OS its updates, and discovered it actually had loaded the wrong audio driver, which worked, but did not properly program the interface. I ended up having to load the older Windows/HP IDT driver, which fixed all, but its absence had not been noticed by HP diagnostics or Windows' update software. I am specifically mentioning this because I have noticed "wrong" drivers even on new laptops and PCs, so this isn't necessarily a "refurb" mishap - besides, HP's diagnostics are quite advanced, but in my case, on perfect hardware with updated firmware, even they drop a stitch, here and there. I enjoy troubleshooting and fixing that stuff, but if you don't, and you don't have a "helping hand", I don't really know what to tell you. To be honest, things you don't need you really don't need to worry about, and in dire emergencies there's always Best Buy's Geek Squad, which has been around for so long they can't be all bad. One nice thing about Ebay and Blinq and Amazon is that you can return things that don't work as you expect them to, they're pretty good for as long as whatever you return is broken in some way, or seems that way. The only complaint, if it is one, that I can level at the HP Elitebooks is that their cooling can get noisy. This isn't a defect, if you have a small footprint laptop with a fast processor, large hard disk and gobs of RAM, it'll need a lot of forced air. The way the chipset works is that you can set it up to have the fan adjust to load, and the driver lets you tell the firmware to slow down the processor when the internal system temperature goes up. By default, it'll crank up the fan first, but you can, as it were, reverse that. Even then, it'll occasionally sound like an airplane taking off, and there is little you can do to remedy that. So far, it's always slowed down after a while, and both systems are doing it, so that was designed in. Keeping the vents and the fan clean using compressed air, which takes all of five minutes, if that, helps. Unlike most laptops, the Elitebooks have vents at the front and on the bottom of the casing, and so can "suck air" even if some of the vents are obstructed.

October 24, 2016: Scan, scan, scan away

Keywords: Brexit, Calais, migrants, Medicare, CHKDSK, Dexa scans, disk maintenance, PC vacuum

If, indeed, the French are now cleaning up Calais, the British voter, in choosing "Brexit", has finally brought home the ugly truth to the French and the EU: you can't let all these people in, and then shunt them on to the next country. Brexit closes the UK borders, abrogates those parts of Schengen that Britain implemented, and France (if the Calais eviction really works) has now understood it is stuck with migrants it could have stopped to begin with. I think the Hungarian and Slovenians are right - there isn't a law that says you have to let these folks in. If you do let them in, more will come, and perhaps Brexit (I never thought I'd say this) is the first crack in the EU armour, closely followed by the Walloons refusing to compromise on the Canada trade deal. The Austrians, even, are stopping migrants at the Italian border, and all over right wing activists are gaining political ground on the back of this ridiculous influx. Yes, a refugee will say anything to get in, but a 28 year old healthy male pretending to be 15 would have had to have a reason to flee their native lands. And if they're a stropping healthy adult, they weren't starving - besides, you can do all manner of medical tests to see what age such a person is, and the level of their past deprivation. I don't buy this "we can't X-ray their teeth" malarky, I really don't. If the Americans can X-ray pregnant women as a condition of receiving a residence permit, so can everybody, and a chest X-ray shows all sorts of stuff that can be used to determine approximate age and health - just a Dexa scan will do it, low intensity, low risk, you don't need advanced MRI scanners for this stuff. Get the TB patients and cancer sufferers while you're at it.

thyroid surgery I can't tell you how annoying it is to have a couple of long term medical conditions at the same time as you age. I mean, I know we all age, but beyond a certain point you get some "aging ailments", or whatever you call that stuff, but when you have medical things going on at the same time, and take powerful medication for them, it becomes hard to figure out what's what. Heart condition is one, in my case. I don't know that I have one, but the thyroid hormone I take to alleviate the effect of having had my thyroid removed has side effects you wouldn't think of. Some you discover over time, and they are hard to diagnose, very hard - after all, you're your own first line doctor, as far as that is concerned. A couple of years ago, it bothered me to the point I went and had a full cardio workup, wearing a monitor for a week, but no, there was nothing wrong. It just makes me wonder if there isn't a better way to administer these hormones. After all, the body's needs change all the time, and having a singe blood test done every few months, a sort of snapshot, isn't a very effective way of managing that. There isn't an on-the-fly test for these hormones, so an automated pump, like is used for some other ailments, is probably out of the question, unless we create a new type of test. Even for diabetics, I see from Google, automation is being worked on, but still far away, as an everyday solution. It is nice they do so much work on robotics, but I get the impression that, beyond the pacemaker, there isn't actually a lot that is working (and affordable). I have to wonder if we couldn't go back to "proper academia" and develop stuff paid for out of taxes and subsidies and available to all, including all those folks who currently don't even know they need medication, as they don't have enough insurance coverage to go and see a doctor when they need to. Which reminds me, I have my annual insurance renewal coming, dying to see what surprises are in store this year. Mind you, I am one of the lucky ones, Medicare paid up and my retiree supplemental insurance covers a large portion of everything I need. When I saw my Humira now costs some $11,500 for a 12 week supply (that's what the insurance plan pays, not my copay, I'd be toast).... When I first started on biologics, some 17 years ago, I think the cost was around $3,000 for a 90 day supply, that was a different medication, two shots a week, I remember well that after the nurse at my doctor's office showed me how to prepare and administer the injection, I drove out of the hospital parking and spent a whole evening pain free, first time in years. So if you've followed the noise about the cost of Epipens, and other drugs, yes, the cost of drugs is going up way faster than the cost of living, and I've not seen a real explanation.

Anyway, medical science is what it is, and it does amazing things. As I try and track my own functioning - more out of scientific interest than for any other reason - I find that the longer I take medication, and follow doctor's orders, the less I can connect with what does what to me. Especially working out, the gym, has amazed me, in terms of vital statistics. You see, my GP, back in Virginia, asked me to keep an eye on my blood pressure not long after I turned 50, just as a general precaution, and I turned that into an exercise, maintaining a vital statistics spreadsheet, on a daily basis. That meant (fast forward a few years) that when Verizon added a "free" gym membership to my retiree health plan, in January of 2015, I could track what physical changes working out (I go to the gym five or six days a week) wrought. It wasn't earth shattering, but blood pressure dropped a bit, weight went down by about 20 lbs, but then I added 10, over the next year, which I think is simply muscle mass (I can feel bulges here and there that weren't there a year ago), the only issue has been is that my heart rate is consistently high, which should not be the case with regular workouts, but this may well be related to the thyroid hormone. At the same time, if you look at the tables, median and maximum heart rate go up with age, and I keep forgetting to take that into account. So I'll save that for my next endocrine checkup.

Something else I have been keeping an eye on, and ought to have really written about, is the potential for dementia and cognitive impairment. Let me quickly add that no, I don't suffer from either, but as I read about these ailments, and even Alzheimer's Disease, especially in the superb "Well" section of the New York Times, I think about how you keep an eye on your mental faculties. If you're like me, and you've spent your life getting paid for using your brain, you kind of take your mental capacity for granted, but then you read about all the people, some younger than you, some older than you, who develop some kind of mental impairment, and you start to ask yourself how you measure this. Especially - and I've seen older people do this - using brain teasers, games, spelling challenges, and the like, and then I see from the research that repeating things you did before does not grow new brain cells. That kind of stands to reason, when you think about it, when you work out you exercise muscles you already have, you're not developing new ones, though you may grow them larger. Thing is, for mental agility, do you need new cells, or more cells, or both? I don't mind telling you that continued tweaking of Windows and my PCs, and getting and learning new versions of operating systems, helps me understand if my mind continues to be as agile as it was, as that is something I've been doing for decades, although I'll agree with the scientists that it isn't learning anything new, it is more of the same (I should add I worry less about mental exercises, I do those day in day out, doing what I do - it is the monitoring I am concerned with). Part of the problem there is that I am not adding functionality to my network - a while ago, I started working with the Amazon cloud, but must admit to getting terminally bored - if it helps, I ad built a cloud forerunner in my lab at NYNEX back in the '90s, and I can't say today's cloud is vastly different, though more available. Similarly, this blog lives in its own web server instance, which I maintain and program and run myself, using a commercial provider, and that, too, is a cloud. I am not using webtools, per se, as I write my own code, and have more fun maintaining a website that folk on handphones in the boonies in Asia can read, than doing HTML5 that they can't.

Chonburi poolOn a different note, I came across pictures I shot in Thailand, a couple of years ago, when I spent three months there, housesitting for a friend, while he was working abroad. At the time, I barely blogged about it, for a variety of reasons, some to do with his work, some to do with his divorce, there is so much data that could harm someone if it ends up on the internet, so I decided to 'write it later". Never got around to that, though, and since it entailed three months in a fascinating country, and pretty much a discovery trip on my part, and he has since moved and sorted stuff out, I think it is time I catch up on that. I was actually there for the move, helped and all that, and helped set up the wonderful new house he now lives in (and taught his four year old to swim, since it has a pool). So I'll check where all the pics live, and you have that coming, promise..

In my October 15 blog, below, I mentioned some Windows tools, CHKDSK among them, and it so happens I lost a file from my hard disk, the other day. Even though this was likely user (=me) error, one never knows if there is a disk problem, I have a terabyte of stuff on this drive, so decided to run a full CHKDSK (which came up clean). But that gave me the opportunity to time the process, I see people commenting with drive checks that run for days on end. To some extent, the speed with which a disk scan completes is due to the speed of the system, the amount of RAM, and the speed of the disk, but beyond that the interface matters. A disk check on an internal disk on a SATA interface will run fastest - the scan on my 2 terabyte Samsung (made by Seagate) internal 2.5 inch laptop disk, running at 5400RPM with a port speed of 6GB/sec, took seven hours to complete. The disk has some 600 occupied gigabytes, but the scan I ran checks the empty clusters as well, so that would not have made too much difference. So: it is important to run these tests, periodically, but count on the system being offline for half a day or so, more if the disk is external. Tomorrow, I'll run a clone of this same disk, now that I know nothing is broken, and I'll let you know how long that takes (result, the clone is actually a lot faster than a Windows Backup: for the 2TB drive, less than two hours, on an external eSATA port). Should be comparable using a USB3 port, most PCs and laptops don't have external eSATA ports, these days. These two procedures (with the tools I mention below added when necessary) are vital in maintaining the security of your data. I know it takes time, but all it needs is one head crash (most PCs don't have the fancy HP emergency head parking software my Elitebooks do) and you can lose anything from one file to your entire hard disk. And the more data you have on your disk, the more likely you are to not run maintenance and backup, because it takes too long, right? Oops.. I should add there isn't any point to the cloning if you don't know how to remove and replace your hard disk - for one thing, you have to use a clone disk that will fit in your PC - although for the vast majority of "common" PCs and laptops the instructions are on Youtube, and sometimes in manufacturer's maintenance manuals. I was delighted to find my "new" HP Elitebooks have extremely detailed maintenance manuals at the HP website, just make sure you can find this stuff before you try something. Having said that, PCs need periodic cleaning, so these exercises help with that.

October 15, 2016: It's like with teeth (or hair...)

Keywords: disks, drives, Winchester, Microsoft, Windows, Windows command line, Windows tools, drive diagnostics, roofing, repair, painting, neighbourhood, blogging

new roof A neighbour's house in the late afternoon sun, I just thought it looked pretty. At the end of summer, quite a few folks in the neighbourhood repainted or reroofed - some both. One neighbour's work crew found a split beam in the garage, caused by a mistake made by the original builder, and that led to everybody checking their rafters, as that builder had apparently built more than half the houses on the block. It isn't something you notice easily - in this case, a roofer repairing storm damage noticed the garage roof having a slight misalignment. That soon got more expensive, apart from jacking up and realigning the beam, gutters were now misaligned, etc. Anyway, repairs were done, the house in the picture (different neighbour) was reroofed and repainted, and doesn't it look pretty and American...

I am thinking I've not updated my blog recently - I haven't, October 1 was the last, I do apologize. I had picked up speed after not blogging too frequently over the Summer, but then started working on PC and laptop modifications again, and that interests me more than cooking. Funny, that - I actually love to cook, I just don't spend the time and the money that lets me blog about it. Or rather, I don't experiment with cooking often enough that is it interesting for readers / viewers to follow me, especially considering the number of folks who do this actively, all the time. I was looking at the output of some of the young new European bloggers - the folks on Instagram, Twitter, and, to some extent, Facebook, but I think I am just too far out of tune with that generation, and part of my not "tuning in" is that I have privacy and moral stuff going on they don't. Not that they're wrong, or I am right, I just have that much more experience with some of the excesses the industry gets up to, and some of this stuff I just don't want to participate in. You could almost predict that Wells Fargo would decide to push accounts on unsuspecting consumers - you do that once, nobody complains, you do it a few more times, you get merit raises, why stop? I've had money thrown at me, almost, during my budget control days at the phone company - I am talking about budgets of up to 50 million-plus dollars for a project, and that was in the days a million was a lot of money, before the last stock market crashes. One rep (Fortune 50 corporation) told me to get more orders in, he'd set up a slush fund somewhere. I am sure there are a lot of folks out there who take these deals, and never get caught. Is it OK to do a systems upgrade at the weekend in a coastal town so you get double overtime and can take your boat there and get travel expenses? I've never tried to stop folks from doing that, somehow it was part of the culture.. How about the freelance anesthesiologist who flies his own small airplane from Florida to D.C. in a hospital deal - like we don't have enough anesthesiologists locally - that I did report to the insurance, after they billed me for the guy's services as a separate line item. I could go on.

So I'll stick with the laptop-and-Windows stuff for now - it is interesting to keep that working right, and I know that at least the advanced blogs I see out on the 'net aren't done on tablets, nor indeed are the fancy videos we see (though they may be recorded on tablets and mobile, but that is only part of the process). I am a bit allergic, as well, to the vast price increases I see in mobile equipment - more expensive than PCs and laptops, while less capable, seems a bit against the grain. Small wonder Samsung batteries catch fire, although the overheating mobile batteries have been with us for longer than this last occurrence, occasionally, although they never led to an entire product being removed from the market.

HGST 1TB 2.5 inch drive I am not going to whine at you, not too much, anyway, today but allow me to, yet again, caution you that large hard disks, if you use them the way they are intended, can cause truly bad stuff to your data - and large hard disks installed in anemic laptops are now a sales argument, otherwise useless PCs come with a terabyte drive, since those probably cost under $30, wholesale. We'll assume you have the means to reinstall your software, but data lost, can mean forever. If you downloaded the software you bought, and it sits on the same big hard drive it is installed on, guess what... This is one reason I try and buy software on DVD - yes, once you install that it is going to go and download a new version, but it does give you a place to start. Software you bought years ago may not always be re-installable, even if you did keep the registration. Tied to that AT&T email address you no longer have access to? Tough cookies...

You see, since I almost lost a terabyte drive (see "July 13", below) I've been more diligent checking my storage devices. I used to be anal about this stuff, but realized, as I went along, that I assumed regular use of a storage device meant I'd find out if it were about to fail. In many ways, that's true, but in that drive failure I discovered, as well, that you can run diagnostics that can give you advance warning, in particular, when your drive develops bad sectors, and the diagnostics tell you they found bad sectors, and moved data. These are relatively new diagnostics, available mostly because someone put them on the internet, and they work well. Begin by checking who manufactured your hard disk, then go to their website, and download their diagnostics - those will usually tell you if the drive is still in warranty, as well. That HGST drive had no spare sectors left, used them all, and I did not know. Bad on me. I am not expecting you to run a drive diagnostic every week, but that drive failure can happen to anyone. I don't, and never will, know what caused it - to be honest, most drive diagnostics packaged with Windows that are readily accessible wouldn't have flagged this particular error, the only reason I found out was a peculiar noise the laptop occasionally made, only noticeable in the silence of the night. But yes, where PC and laptop maintenance were manageable, today this takes, with the memory and the complexity and the large hard disks, lots of time. I think it is worth it, but then I spent years with systems I had to maintain as State and Federal Law required certain data to be "protected and available at all times". So I established a routine, because I had to - I am talking about Wall Street and DoD related data here, not having that when you need it (think 9/11) can be a firing offence, and a career ender. Besides, we built and designed the high availability servers the phone company relies on for 24/7/365 database access.

Here is a geek website explaining how to use the SFC and DISM command line tools in Windows to "fix" your Windows, although I would recommend a full CHKDSK run ("full", since that checks both your used and all empty clusters of your disk) before starting the above commands, and again after. Here is the instructions page. With one Windows install, supplied by a certified vendor, I could not run SFC or DISM to completion, Windows Startup Repair wouldn't run either, and eventually I resorted to creating a Windows 10 upgrade DVD, using an ISO image, and the "upgrade" process repaired all damaged files in the Windows image. You don't know that it has, by the way, unless you do all of the above all over again, with a full CHKDSK at the end of it. It worked, but it took days. and I can tell you that if your Windows gets corrupted, and you don't do this, or have someone do it, you'll lose all of the information on your disk. This especially since users are often hell bent to "let me just finish this" before they take time for maintenance. Same as with cars and houses, you do that, you lose. And computers and data are a lot more complicated than cars and houses (Tesla maybe excepted, and the White House). But let me tell you that the vast majority of those problems deemed to be caused by viruses actually are either motherboard or memory failures, or Windows corruption, and the above tools will fix the majority of them, or give you an idea of what is wrong. and those ads about what to do when your PC slows down... mostly, that means you've got to turn it off and vacuum it - all of it, and blow out the fan(s) in the reverse direction (not in your bedroom, obviously, in the garage, or outside). PCs and laptops have firmware and drivers built in that crank up the fan(s) and slow down their processors when they get too hot inside, for whatever reason. That will slow down your PC or laptop, no matter how many "tools" you run.

October 1, 2016: Microsoft Certified Refurbishers aren't all that certified

Keywords: HP Elitebook, Sentry, Seagate, Microsoft, Windows, refurbished, MIL standards

HP in Sentry Safe Well, what do you know, these HP Elitebooks fit in my safe! I have one of those Sentry Safes, small, luggable, fireproof (up to 1,700° F), with a mechanical/electro-magnetic combo lock. It isn't so much that I am afraid of being burgled (although there is always that concern, I've not been burgled since living in London, although someone tried in Valhalla, NY, after my gear came back from an overseas posting in a removal truck), but one never knows. An important aspect is the fireproofing, making sure important documents are safe, and now I can keep my backup laptop in the safe too, I realized my Elitebooks are built to comply with United States Military Standard MIL-STD-810. That's dandy, although now I have to figure out if I should keep a copy of my importand data on there - that's a lot of work. I am already bonkers with the backing up, although true backing up I only do with systems containing data, but I do worry about the stuff on the NAS drive, which, at 4TB, I don't have the disks to easily back up.

I did discover, the other day, that my old Seagate 750GB multi-interface external drives won't talk to the eSATA interfaces on the HPs - let's see, I bought those in 2008, so high speed eSATA changing specs is not strange. That's not necessarily as bad as it sounds, as I have a USB3-to-SATA converter cable, but it means I have to think carefully about my backup strategies - and I have to get the old data on two of those drives onto my NAS drive, so I don't lose access to that. I tested - nothing wrong with the drives, just an old implementation of eSATA. Perhaps I should check Seagate to see if they have updated firmware.... Having recently discovered cloning, with free cloning software for their brand disks provided by Western Digigal, Seagate and Intel, I have to some extent replaced Windows 7 Backup, available on all of my Windows Pro installs, with Acronis cloning, as that gives me a backup I can boot the machine from. I found that not all Windows image backups will restore on architectures different from the ones they were backed up on, and that is a concern. Shows you how important it can be to use multiple different backup tools - you never know which one will still work, a few years down the road.

As I discovered, partly by virtue of buying two (the flesh is weak - mind you, I did terminally blow up my 2012 Lenovo, which I had just upgraded to 16GB RAM, and was going to hang on to), if you're looking for a fast solid cheap notebook, a used HP Elitebook is a good bet, but you have to make sure that either you're a PC aficionado with good Windows understanding, or that you have such a person available - cheaply, obviously, or the system won't be cheap. I now have a very serviceable HP Elitebook 2560P , and a 2570p, and with the disk and memory upgrades I installed, and some expert fine tuning of their Windows loads, I really am happy, and the cost (that is, the total cost for the two) was comparable to that of one underpowered new laptop at Best Buy or Walmart. As I've said before, affordable laptops, more than in the past, are mostly crippled in some way - they come with "Windows Home", and an anemic Intel processor whose primary feature is battery life, even if the system is called a "gaming computer", I could go on. It seems laptop manufacturers are jumping through hoops controlling the manufacturing cost of laptops, and consumers end up with really not very usable computers that won't handle much of anything - load a large spreadsheet and Skype will hiccup, that sort of thing. I can hear consumers cry how an Elitebook with a 12.5 inch screen is "too small", not realizing you can use an HDMI cable to plug it into a $250 40 inch LCD TV and have the largest PC screen in your house ever. The picture to the left shows you the innards of a cheap Toshiba Satellite - the hard disk isn't mounted, but in a rubber surround, shielding underneath it is glued to the drive, and the metal plate above it takes care of the cooling - the processor is anemic to the point it does not need a fan. With one memory slot, this "laptop" has truly been pared to the bone, and expandable it isn't, the battery is not user replacable, and the bottom plate not intended to come off. It works, but how long this would last in mobile use is anybody's guess. Compare that with the picture of the innards of the HP 2560p, in my post of August 15, below, and you'll understand what I mean...

Toshiba Satellite As I was digging up the manuals for these HP systems, and reading up on them, I realized they are built to comply with United States Military Standard MIL-STD-810. That came as a surprise, but explained their sturdy build, and the ease of service - where any laptop I've ever worked on has had to have panels unscrewed and hatches opened to get to where you install memory and replace hard disks, not so with the Elitebooks. Slide a catch, and the entire bottom panel slides down and off, and you can get at just about anything inside - amazing, considering these Elitebooks are a little more than half the size of a "normal" 14" laptop. Not only that, if you spill a drink in your keyboard it'll drain out through a hole in the bottom, and the air intake vents are both in the front and in the bottom of the plate, so if you put this thing on a soft surface it can still ingest cooling air (which, with fast hot processors, it does need in gobs).

Why am I banging on about this? I used to buy (for private use, next to the employer provided laptop) an affordable laptop every few years, expanding that with a Windows upgrade, gobs of RAM and a large hard drive, basically to make sure I could never get in trouble using corporate equipment for personal use. Working for a regulated Fortune 50 corporation, and being in charge of IT departments for entire subsidiaries, that seemed the sensible thing to do, and you keep abreast of laptop development, as you really don't want to "play" with the company computer, so you know how your users are equipped, and what does and does not work for them. After retiring, I continued my laptop buying trends, always making sure I have two functional PCs, if only because when you trade stock you can't afford to be out of commission accessing your trading accounts. That can get expensive.

So what did I get out of all this? To begin with, I was able to move two large hard disks I already had into the HPs. I had bought a 2TB 2.5 inch SamsungSeagate drive when the HGST (Hitachi) 1TB drive in my Lenovo began to fail, but then that turned out still to be under warranty (the drive, not the laptop) and HGST replaced it free of charge. So one HP now has the huge drive, the other the big drive, and I upgraded both to 16 GB of memory. One came with Windows 7 Professional, but as I was able to take the Windows 8.1 Professional from the dead Lenovo and activate it in the HP 2560p, I had the Windows 7 spare, and that moved to the other HP. That came with Windows 10 Pro, but that needed extensive patching before it would run properly. After I finished that, I took it out, disk and all, it is now a spare operating system, and put Windows 7 Pro in that system.

If you are wondering what I want with an ancient operating system like Windows 7, after applying all of the Microsoft and HP operating system patches, it is pretty much what Windows 8 and 10 are, minus the one hundred ways Microsoft uses those to collect personal data from you. And Windows 7 has Media Center, which I have licenses for, and which allows me to view and record broadcast and cable television on a PC. And I was able to install my old copy of Dragon 10 Naturally Speaking, dictation software I had been using, but which Dragon will not allow to run under Windows 8 and 10, you havta "upgrade" ($$$$$). So this is kinda cool, I have a spare laptop, which has some functionality for me, as well as gobs of memory, and a big very fast wide bus hard disk.

The Windows story is, at least to me, interesting. Microsoft licenses some official PC refurbishers to load their products with various versions of Windows, for which they get official license keys (Windows 10 has a digital key, connected to the motherboard ID, which gets activated from their license database). But what I found, both with Windows 7 Pro and with Windows 10 Pro, is that the installs these refurbishers do are broken, once you have the system up not all functions work right. Windows 7 (I've seen this twice) won't update, while one version of Windows 10 wouldn't update, another would not create recovery disks or allow backup. I managed to fix all of the problems, but the process is not for the uninitiated, and finding the solutions on the internet, then trying which actually work, very time consuming. Then, you have to run various diagnostic tools Microsoft provides, to make sure all corrupt files are fixed, or you'll have the same problem next week. This alone is one reason why I like having two PCs, so when one goes into failure I can use the other to research solutions and load code on USB sticks.

September 26, 2016: Fitness: you sleep with it?

Keywords: JAMA, fitness tracker, Dexa scan, medical, health monitoring, heart failure, vital signs

Did you read the report on fitness trackers, and did you understand why the results were negative? I always am a bit perturbed when the lead scientist conjectures in interviews, unless, of course, he is a certified mind reader... but apart from that, there are more valid reasons why fitness trackers don't help improve a person's health.

pressure cuffs Fitness trackers have been proven to provide very unreliable results - a device strapped on your arm can't accurately read your vital signs, especially when you are working out, sweating, and your temperature is elevated - and there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all human being, every physique is different. I've seen several science programs recently, medically moderated, on British television, where fitness trackers, biometric weight scales, calory counting apps, and similar health aids have been shown to provide unreliable results. It was kind of funny to get researchers to hit the track wearing six different fitness trackers, and get six wildly diverging results, as some British doctors did. I've tested this myself with a commercial biometric scale, whose readings are as far away from a Dexa scan, the be-all and end-all of non-invasive tissue and bone analysis, as you can imagine - at which point, interestingly, my rheumatologist cautioned me to have all Dexa scans done on the same machine, as even Dexa scans using different $60,000 scanners have divergent readings. These are $60,000 machines operated by specialized trained medical personnel in hospitals that have trouble reading accurately. Who knew... So a simple wrist band can't read your skin temperature continuously accurately, let alone anything else. I have, under doctor's orders, been monitoring my vital signs for many years, more so after I developed cancer, and I maintain a spreadsheet going back years, partly simply out of curiousity. And as that means I have a record of change (and non-change) correlated with the medication I take, and my level of exercise, I can safely tell you that if a medication change does not show up in my averages until at least a week later, and sometimes never, there isn't a thing you do in a 24 hour period that a "tracker" can see the effect of. If you do see a sudden change, you probably ate some bad fish, but it isn't due to your workout. I often compare these things to the specialized drinks and nutrients avid sporters take, as if a protein in a water bottle knows how to get to whatever muscle you're working on that day. Nutrients are things your metabolism takes care of, distributes and directs, not you. So much hype, so from that perspective, the conclusion in the research that fitness trackers alter users' behaviour, and create a false sense of security, may well be right. If you have a tracker that tells you about differences in your biometrics compared with the same month last year, that's great, but chances are you don't.

My very much physically performing friend and former colleague and super healthy long distance cyclist and father and husband and scientist fell off his bike, one day, last year, when his heart simply stopped - as the person who found him said "his feet were still on the pedals". Undiagnosed cardiac condition, triple coronary artery blockage. With a superb medical plan, a good physician, and observant folks around him, nobody, including him, knew he had a dicky ticker. He had never had any symptoms he could recognize - which, when you think about it, is likely the case with many patients. You would not, normally, have anything to compare your particular situation with - especially not if you're a physically high performer. He'd biked halfway through the French Alps the year before, and at this point I can only assume his body compensated for the relative lack of blood flow in some way, and because he always pushed himself, he never noticed anything, until his heart simply couldn't do it any more. This is - apart from our wishing Al were still around, he got his Ph. D. only the year before - in many ways fascinating to me, because the state of Al's coronary arteries would have been very easy to determine - he even had lethal heart disease in his bloodline - and what is clear from all this is that we do not have any kind of medical care in place that can determine a person's general state of health, as they grow up and then age. Seriously - three clogged arteries, he does not notice, and neither do his doctors? Something somebody, or somebodies, missed, wouldn't you agree? Would a fitness tracker have prevented his death? I doubt it - besides, being an avid technologist, he probably used one, in a GPS. watch.

And so it is with fitness trackers. They don't track anything useful - apart from anything else, even if they were capable of making accurate readings, they have no intelligence that can analyze, meaningfully, what they're reading. Search for "fitness tracker" on Amazon, and you'll find some 7,754 results today - subtract 1,200 "accessory bands", and you will realize this is a fashion item, churned out by hundreds of factories in China, it is a money spinner, not a health aid. They have no clue that that heart spike that only happens after an hour, once, when the outside temperature is 67 degrees (I am making something up here!) means there's a bad valve in that heart. If medicine is not an exact science fitness trackers won't work - for the most part, today's fitness trackers could access the Cloud, so why don't they? Most medical data never gets entered into any database, because the doctor or medical professional does not know it is relevant to anything - not their fault, databases of readings aren't much use until they've been built over time, and until you know everything about what affects a reading. And we don't. On-the-spot readings, especially, unless they're taken by a massive computer with gobs of data, rely on the user's interpretation. And the user, by and large, is not a medical professional or a statistician. Besides, if all fitness trackers could talk to the same database, we might get some useful information - but the competition prohibits that, no co-opetition in the interest of science.

September 19, 2016: Did you get your backup computer?

Keywords: England, Brexit, UK, HP Elitebook, Windows 7, Windows 10

As I am writing this, I have the BBC going on another screen, and listen to folks debating Brexit on the news. It's sad, I have to tell you. Folks in England, Prime Minister May up front, seem to think Britain has something to offer the EU, something that will provide Britain with leverage in negotiations.

HP Elitebook 2570p I lived and worked in England for many years, beginning back when the UK made overtures to join the EU, and eventually did. When I first came to the UK, it had a rich "upper class" - terminology that Virgin Atlantic took from the real world - but I was aghast at the poverty in what I had thought was a Western European country. People had electricity meters you had to put coins in, there were small packages of food in supermarkets, designed especially for the poor and for old age pensioners, who couldn't afford to buy whole entire pints of milk, and an elderly couple came into the pub I worked at, in Earl's Court, to share one bottle of Guinness, once a week, it was all they could afford. Elderly folk froze to death every winter, as they couldn't afford to heat their homes - coal was cheap, but as coal was phased out the elderly couldn't afford to switch to electrical or gas heat, which were expensive. We received Luncheon Vouchers, at work, the typical sandwich you could get for that was a cucumber sandwich, typically two quarter slices of white bread with butter and slices of cucumber. Coming from The Netherlands, I sometimes got the feeling I had arrived in the Third World - we expats, in fact, had a joke to that effect: Britain would be the first country in the West to achieve Third World status. By the time I moved to the United States, in 1985, Britain was in the European Union, and wealth had improved significantly. I haven't got a clue why the British populace decided it wanted to leave the EU, but the more I look at China, the more I wonder if the West's reliance on democratic institutions isn't leading to, shall we say, "unexpected results"....

Wow. Buying the second (backup) HP Elitebook, this time a 2570p with an even faster processor, I find they've sent me one with a BIOS password set. "No, we don't know what it is" and "You could try HP" and I am pissed off and go back into Ebay and set it up for return-and-refund. You can't configure a convoluted laptop without being able to change BIOS settings. While I wait for the return approval, I post my predicament on an HP user forum, and then someone comes back to say "call HP", which is kind of a stupid answer, but I did ask, so I call. Much to my spurprise, after twenty minutes on hold Elizabeth tells me "Sure, we can fix that for you" and proceeds to take my information, and, much to my complete astonishment, her colleague Kim emails me a BIOS unlock file, complete with procedure, half an hour later. This for a used business notebook that is out of warranty by several years. And another fifteen minutes later, and two reboots, the BIOS password is history and I can do everything I want to. Jeez. Thanks guys, this is completely unexpected.

I mean, first Blinq won't take international credit cards at their website, then, when I figure out I can order from Blinq through Ebay, Blinq sends me a broken laptop, which their vendor laboriously replaces, then Ebay seller Kramden Institute sends me one with a locked BIOS, buying equipment on Ebay is very much a hit-and-miss proposition. If that isn't enough, the Windows 10 Pro loaded by Kramden Institute is broken, it misses Windows source files and is unable to create a recovery disk. I didn't need Windows 10, have enough Windows licenses, but at the same time it annoys me when something is shipped broken. Not only that, when I went to fix some of the scratches on the aluminium cover (which they had mentioned in the description) I discovered this laptop has no camera (which they did not mention in the description). With enough laptops with camera, this isn't a huge deal, I've got an external somewhere, I think, but Kramden Institute is a clearly defective vendor - I wanted the fast processor and USB 3.0 ports, but that, indeed, really is all I got. Even the 160GB hard disk was a replacement, not the Intel SSD HP normally installs. Had I not had the expertise I do this HP would have been a dud.

Blinq's vendor eventually managed to send me a working HP Elitebook in good shape, the HP from Kramden Institute I have to spend a couple of days fixing. The BIOS password was one thing, but fixing the cobbled-together version of Windows 10 Pro was another - it took me all day, and took me patching and cleaning up the loaded version, then running the Microsoft Windows 10 Anniversary update, which, kudos to them, eventually fixed the problem completely. The loaded version was so bad I was unable to clean up the image, using SFC or DISM, the Windows tools that usually do the trick. HP's Softpaq tool, which figures out what drivers and utility software are missing / out-of-date, did the rest.

Where Windows Vista, 7, and 8, were designed for PCs and laptops, Windows 10 is a truly different animal. Microsoft realized it needed to ensure its operating system could run well on tablets, and tablets do not have masses of memory, and large hard disks. Of late, processors have become more anemic, this to facilitate battery life, and Windows has followed suit. The consequence is that Win10 runs very well on an old Vaio - in fact, it runs better than Windows 8.1 did on my Lenovo laptop, which had much more memory and disk space, and a more powerful processor. So much for "progress"..... and, I am sure, an entirely unintended consequence of computer development. To be honest, having Windows do so much more with clearly fewer resources may be a worrying trend, because there is quite a bit of advanced computing you just can't do on a touch screen with an anemic processor, and you can't use touch screens and portability as an ongoing excuse to endlessly disembowel computers. The development of the "Cloud", which takes some of the processing into the server realm is one of those "solutions" - but if you run software on your server because you cannot run it locally you're tying yourself to bad hardware and increasingly expensive services - you're paying twice for your computing power. I spent some time shopping for a hybrid laptop with touch screen, assuming I would eventually find a reasonably affordable expandable system, but no such thing. And as much of what I do on a PC requires keyboarding, not having a touch screen isn't a hardship, having gobs of memory and a huge hard disk are more important.

So I now have two working HP Elitebooks, one for every day and a backup, next blog post I'll tell you what I did with the various bits that came with them, from software licenses to SSD drives.

September 8, 2016: Getting things to work right

Keywords: HP Elitebook, Windows 8.1 Pro, Windows 10 Pro, UEFI, SSD, Intel, Toshiba, USB3, eSATA

Toshiba Satellite C55While I have at least got the HP Elitebook up and running smoothly, I am not sure about the rest of my systems, like the Toshiba in the picture here. As far as the HP is concerned, I spent close to a week figuring out how the settings worked, experimenting with Windows 7 Pro so I could see the effects (HP put enough options in this series of business laptops to think you're on a multiprocessor server), then received a replacement with a working charging circuit, and as you read this I have managed to patch in all HP drivers for Windows 8.1, including the ones for features I don't really need, and I've even managed to turn on the UEFI boot facility in the BIOS, thanks, partly, to the EFI boot core built into Windows 8, I even managed to turn on boot protection in the system, something it insists can't be done. I just like it when things work. I did, along the way, make some discoveries about things that don't work, and found out you can actually easily retrofit USB 3.0 ports on older systems. That's majorly nice, because rather than the one 5 GB/s eSATA port, I now have two 6 GB/s USB ports, as well (tested, they really do work).

For one thing, recovering systems from backup has become increasingly problematical - as far as I can see, Microsoft has made it hard-if-not-impossible to recover a backup image from one system to another. And that is for Windows 8/8.1 - in Windows 10, it won't work at all. The Microsoft solution for that is that you have to link your Windows Activation to a Microsoft Mail address, which in itself is somewhat more complicated to do that it would seem.

Intel SSDI should probably explain that I never link my Windows installation to any kind of email address, Microsoft or otherwise, because doing so allows Microsoft to collect personal data from your system. That was bad in 8/8.1, in Windows 10 it is a disaster, as it is hard-to-impossible to turn off, and every time Microsoft provides a major update, it turns half the stuff you have painstakingly turned off back on. And after I found a blog explaining how you could link your MS Mail address to Windows 10 to facilitate a computer move, I followed the instructions and then the promised inclusion of the email address in the activation screen simply never happened. Until today, that is - two days later, and after I cloned the system's hard disk to the SSD I took out of my new HP (the SSD is fast but only 160GB, and I wanted a 2TB in the HP). Suddenly, Microsoft ran an update that easily took half an hour, and then changed the activation. The update installed a bunch of crap I hadn't asked for, as well, and I now need to find out what it installed, where it is, and how to get rid of it, which is beginning to be a pain.

Increasingly, it is beginning to look the only way to reliably back up a Windows PC is to clone the disk. Reliably - one problem with backups is that you don't know if they work unless you do a full restore. That can be painful, if you have 600GB of data on a laptop. After I moved the hard disk from my Lenovo to the new HP I was, thanks to Microsoft's re-activation telephone number, able to fully activate the Lenovo load on the HP, but when I then tried to restore the backup of that load, taken on the Lenovo, to a different disk in the HP, it complained the version of Restore was wrong for the destination system. As I tried various different Repair DVDs, I noticed that, at some point, they were no longer even seeing the latest backup, but a previous one, and that, too, would not restore. As I had a cloned drive, it wasn't a problem, but I had lost some graphics settings, and wanted to recover those.

Whatever the case may be, I've been able to move the Lenovo load to the HP, and install an Intel SSD in my Toshiba Satellite, which has made it quite a bit faster. This wasn't easy - not until I found an Intel provided cloning package was I able to get that to work, SSD's don't work exactly the same way regular hard disks do, and other cloning software simply would not work - Seagate, Western Digital and Intel all offer a custom version of Acronis' superb cloning software, but they only work when there is at least one "own brand" disk attached to the system, and I have only managed to get the drive recognition to work on systems with eSATA ports (my now deceased Lenovo had an external SATA port, and the new HP does, as well). The only exception is Intel's cloning software, which comes with a piece of software that is able to override the drive detection - that's how I was able to clone the Windows 10 Pro load on the Toshiba Satellite onto the Intel SSD. Runs like a bat out of hell, too, after some tweaking, interesting, considering that Toshiba is thoroughly anemic. I didn't realize this when I bought it, but it is so slow it doesn't even have a cooling fan....

September 3, 2016: More hiccups than laptops..

Keywords: HP Elitebook, Lenovo, Holland America Line, Snoqualmie, casino, Windows 7 Pro

Holland America Line The shot to the left shows the Magnolia Bridge, downtown, and beyond that Port of Seattle Pier 91, where I picked up my landlord and his family after their Holland America Alaska cruise, the other day. Alaska is kind of the "next stop up" from here, Canada begins maybe an hour up the road, and sail or drive long enough, and you're back in the United States, and the State of Alaska. Never made it up there, it is quite a trek and the winters, obviously, are a bit fierce, almost drove up there a couple of years ago, when I realized just the cost of the gas is horrendous, and then if you want to take your guns and hunt, the amount of paperwork the Canadians want just for transit is just ridiculous. There are ferrys, but they're not cheap either..

While I knew Snoqualmie is in the mountains, I drove across the pass when I came here from Virginia, I did not know the Snoqualmie Casino is rather beautifully located on a mountainside, in the middle of the Snoqualmie Indian reservation, constructed as a very oversized loghut, with stunning mountain views and RV parking. Friends who felt they owed me dinner took me there, for the Friday Seafood Buffet, and I can't say I was disappointed - the food was absolutely fresh and expertly prepared, I had some of the bloodiest rib you can imagine, delicious, and I was surprised it is only a little over an hour from the Northern Seattle coastal area, where I live. No matter it's been up to 95 by the shore, up in the mountains the snowcaps are forever, and they're close. Spectacular. Thanks C & T!

As I am getting ready to receive another HP Elitebook, to replace the one that does not charge, I am again moving disks between laptops - partly because I think the cooling in the Lenovo doesn't handle the fast Hitachi terabyte drives well (that may have killed the drive I had to replace last month), partly because I think the Lenovo could be my main online storage, as I just discovered that what I thought was its memory limit, 8GB, isn't. I had another 8GB memory chip sitting around, and wouldn't you know, the Lenovo B570 happily takes two of those. The specs, and Lenovo, say "NOT", but then I ran some new diagnostics, the other day, which said it can take 2x8, I thought the diagnostics were screwed up, but sure enough, that works just fine. So this older (May 2012) cheap laptop gets a new lease on life, with 16GB of RAM, a 2TB Seagate hard disk, and gigabyte Ethernet. Who knew. I was all set to semi retire the Lenovo, but with the HP being more portable and having more oompf and more interfaces, as well as double the WiFi bandwidth, I can use that for everyday stuff I don't want to use the Lenovo for, while that can continue recording TV, with more memory and more disk, backed up onto my NAS drive, it should last another good while. As I said, who knew... (Postscript: as I cloned the Lenovo's hard disk, and turned it down after the clone, it died, have not been able to turn it back on. Thankfully, I had the clone complete, and was able to activate that in the "new" HP, thanks to Microsoft's change systems. Phew.)

That HP Elitebook 2560p is an amazing little machine, but the way it is delivered really isn't. Mine arrived with a dead battery, an OEM version of Windows 7 Pro I was able to activate, but not update, and lots of other drivers missing - for me, good, because I know how to fix all that and get it to work "properly", but for the average amateur this is a disaster zone.

To begin with, though the laptop is in good shape, it is not "New, Open Box". It is used and reconditioned - when I opened mine up I found the hard disk labeled for its previous user, clearly a corporate off lease piece of equipment, hardly used, that much is true. And while I don't know how much you can really expect for $169 (including shipping), I continue to believe that a product has to be "as described" for it to be sold. We have language for what they've done, "as is" comes to mind.. At any rate, after they replaced the dead battery in the laptop, I found the new battery was working but the laptop won't charge it, so now the thing is really going back, hopefully swapped out for a fully functioning unit. I've done enough research and configuration on it that I don't want to waste that completely, and it is pretty fast, for a laptop, and very versatile. So bear with me while I wait for the replacement..

August 15, 2016: Have another one, just like...

Keywords: HP Elitebook, RAM, laptop, Trump, Clinton, Washington D.C.

If you're wondering why I have had little to say about politics and the economy and stuff, of late, just the Trump attempt at running for President has shut me right up, in terms of politics. It seems that what with the retirement of Jerry Seinfeld and David Letterman, the crazies are taking over real life. I think the man is a bit of a megalomaniac, admittedly there's no law against that, but when I listen to the bits of his speeches that are broadcast on the news I can only wonder why republicans give this man the time of day. Apart from being obnoxious, his campaign mostly consists of maligning everybody and their family, and I've not heard anything that tells us how he would want to run the country. If you're saying you're going to make "America great again", but you're not saying what exactly it is you're going to do to make our lives better...

Other than that, much of my Washington work life was during the Clinton administration, I can't count the number of times I was on the same US Air Shuttle Mrs. Clinton was commuting on, and I just don't think I need to comment beyond that - she's got the experience, she knows the place and the people, if you want a president who has actually been to the president school, you know who to vote for. And if that doesn't do it for you, please ship the idiot back to Del Boca Vista. Trumpectomy, kinda.

HP Elitebook 2560pIn the meantime, I had been looking for a new PC, one that has more oomph and can handle more memory (RAM) than my Lenovo can, and found that the vast majority of laptops I can afford suffer from the marketing syndrome - anemic processors, little memory, but they have a touch screen, some are two-in-one devices, where you can detach the keyboard and use them as tablets. Perhaps I am old style, by now, but a tablet is a tablet, I do own one, and I just can't do advanced computing stuff on a bloody touchscreen without memory. I know, I can hook one of my Bluetooth keyboards up to the tablet, but that still doesn't give me a large high resolution screen and, well, stuff. Cloud? That's the solution for working with anemic laptops, but you have to pay for cloud stuff, and then your data is never entirely secure, and accessing your stuff from rural Thailand is a pain. I recall sometimes being unable, in Chon Buri, to pay my mobile bill, order medication, or access my bank account - in many places because cookie traffic from Thailand to the United States and back to Thailand, and vice versa, can be so delayed it hangs the browser, while in some cases vendors stop you accessing their secure sites because you look like a hacker, considering where you are and what data you're accessing. So in many cases, I run my stuff locally, and in a server park that I lease bandwidth on.

So I am waiting for an HP Elitebook 2560p - the vendor says this is "New, Open Box" - something I doubt but we'll see. It has a fast full power 2.6GHz processor, should take 16GB of RAM, and it is cheap as it comes with an old Windows 7 Pro version, and a small hard disk. None of that bothers me much, as I have the Windows upgrade sitting on the shelf, and the two terabyte disk I bought the other day ready to roll. Not only that, I now have the equipment and software to do an immediate clone of the disk that comes in the HP, so I should be good to go if, indeed, the HP is in factory state. It does not have USB3, but otherwise has everything I need, including an external SATA port, a rare commodity these days, it has some other ports I haven't seen on a laptop in years, some advanced security stuff in the BIOS, and HD graphics that may let me play back Blu-ray disks (I discovered, th'other day, that I actually have software and a drive that will let me record video in high resolution on Blu-ray, which is kinda cool).

If you look at what is available on the laptop shelf, today, you may discover they mostly have anemic processors, no ability to install massive amounts of memory, and hard drives that aren't very large or very fast. A state of the art HP Envy laptop at Best Buy costs some $1,000, has no more memory than the old HP I am about to buy, a slower Intel processor, a slow 5400RPM hard disk, and is set up to make optimum use of the HDMI 1.4 graphics interface - assuming you bought one of the latest 4K displays, because it has no VGA output, and older 4K displays will tell you they don't like what it gives them. A laptop with low voltage processor and low voltage memory is going to be low speed computing, take my word for it. If you're a gamer, you will know how to tweak such a system, and use the NVDIA graphics with a separate fancy display, but if you're an ordinary jock about 70% of what this system can do is useless to you. In which case you could buy the $165 old HP Elitebook I am about to get, because that will probably give you slightly more performance - yes, the Envy processor has four cores, but neither Windows 10 nor most of the software you use really knows how to take advantage of that.

So fingers crossed the Elitebook, once I am done upgrading it, and updating its Windows, will let me do some stuff I currently can't do on the Lenovo, like playing Blu-ray disks. It probably is a bit tired, being in daily use, and on 24/7, since May 2012, when it replaced the HP Pavillion that died after only two years. I think the primary issue with the Lenovo is that it does not have enough RAM - it has 8GB, which is all the BIOS can handle, and it occasionally hangs on spurious interrupts, probably a design flaw in the motherboard. I've noticed IBM's diagnostics say it can take 16GB, so my guess is that Windows sometimes tries to use memory addresses the BIOS won't make available. Additionally, some of the Lenovo system management software isn't compatible with Windows 8.1, which is not actively supported on this machine. I love tinkering, and especially giving older PCs upgrades they're not supposed to have. For Microsoft to help prevent newer versions of Windows running on older hardware (which, by the way, does NOT seem to be the case with Windows 10) is asinine.

The time machine through August 2, 2016, with linkbacks to October, 2008, is here

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