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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 25, 2018: Technologically, we are moving backwards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 12, 2018: Xmas on the way

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

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

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

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

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

November 6, 2018: Data and Server Security

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 28, 2018: From Small World to Defence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 20, 2018: Boring medical, mostly

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 11, 2018: Sicker!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 24, 2018: Fall comes with Moving and Maintenance

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 17, 2018: Amazon has had its day

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 11, 2018: Busywork

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 31, 2018: Death with Dignity

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 25, 2018: Out with the old

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 20, 2018: Trump and online shopping

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

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

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

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

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

August 13, 2018: How long can you push?

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 8, 2018: Sport is not exercise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 3, 2018: Old Toys, New Toys

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

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

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

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

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

July 23, 2018: Should politicians get educatered?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 12, 2018: No more drone flying in Seattle

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

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

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

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

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

June 29, 2018: Restoring Windows 10? Fuggedaboutit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 17, 2018: Supplements as Insurance?

Keywords: webhosting, DNS, heating/cooling, A/C, thermostat, calcium, supplements, salmon, Omega-3, aging

Indian ayurveda compounds It has been such a long time I worked on internet domain parameters, I've forgotten how to point things at other things. Partly that's Godaddy's fault - they've written a custom interface that makes things easier, but when you move back to the standard nameserver format, you're lost. If you do it all the time, sure, but it's been years since I've pointed domains at other domains. Must say all other settings using Hostinglah's standard interface are fine - it is possible I never even pointed the spare business domains at anything, after moving away from Network Solutions. Don't know. I can ask the excellent Steven at Hostinglah, of course, but I have this tip-of-the-tongue feeling about the settings. Owell.

In the interim, it is May, and the heat is back - 86 degrees in the yard, 30 in Centipedes. Brand new heat pump (September 16 / 20, below) now has a new, external, thermostat - I have an older model thermostat that works OK, but needing a backup, I've found a new model thermostat, with external sensors, that works very well. I found during testing, last year, that these heat pumps, when in cooling mode, have a continuously running fan (in heat mode, that turns on and off, no, I don't know why either..), but they work well if you control them with an external thermostat - it takes a couple of minutes for the compressor to kick in, but I had one running in test for weeks on end, and that seems to have no detrimental effect. I am, again, very pleasantly surprised how efficient these things are, by comparison with portable heat pumps I've owned in years past. At any rate, this Inkbird controller can handle up to 13 amps, it does not have a clock, so does not need batteries, and the manufacturer has sensors other than a temperature sensor for it, like a cooking sensor and a humidity sensor. It lets you (off)set measurement values, probably good for the lobster tank too.. without a sensor plugged in, it can serve as a timer.

raw wild caught Pacific Keta Salmon Increasingly, I note that there is some actual science being done on the efficacy of supplements, and increasingly, they don't turn out to do much of anything. Omega-3 is one of those things I don't see confirming scientific research for, Turmeric (curcuma) is another. The Turmeric research, reported by the BBC, was interesting in that it pointed to turmeric powder, as a cooking ingredient in Asian dishes prepared with oil, having a beneficial effect on DNA, where no other turmeric preparation did anything. While no longer term research has yet been completed, it shows up one interesting aspect of beneficial foods: turmeric root has been used as a colouring agent and as a spice in Asia for (probably) millenia. It would not be strange for Asians to have recognized beneficial effects of, say, curcuma based curries over the years, it is one of the spices on the long list of herbal medicines in India, medical agents used before modern medicine developed, some of which may well have shown experience based benefits.. I would not, though, want you to think I am one of those who think Ayurveda, Yoga, and other Asian remedies are the Holy Grail - they come from a part of the world where, until recently, the vast majority of inhabitants were peasants, and the vast majority of peasants struggled to reach age 60 - one of my staff in India once told me the reason why Westerners were held in high regard was simple: we would arrive with technology and knowledge and a work drive, many of us at at a middle age where the Indian worker, of the same age, would be elderly.

All I am saying is that it is beginning to look like we need to pay more attention to the way in which our ancestors consumed the things we know may have beneficial components. Calcium tablets are now known not to be as effective as cow's milk (we've even developed lactose tolerance to be able to drink it!). The best vehicle for Omega-3 is oily fish - I've found a supplier who sells 2 lb packs of frozen wild caught pacific keta salmon, at my local Winco for under $10, and so I have a piece, fridge-defrosted, raw, with olive oil and shallots on a fresh wholeweat roll several times a week. Nicer than the capsules, packed with essential nutrients, and very likely much more effective. Those supplements have become a kind of medical insurance for people, many of whom Google things, but don't scroll down a couple of pages, to see what other information is available that is worth looking for.

May 8, 2018: Mosey on down

Keywords: bankruptcy, moving, SHA, Imxingzhe, HRM, fitness monitor, Bluetooth 4.0, Firecuda, Windows 120, UEFI, HP

Spring.. I don't like this waiting game, especially since I've played it for quite a while already, and all I do now is taking it slow and saving money while waiting for an apartment. Don't get me wrong, I am lucky I can, I am lucky I drug myself out of the 'mire, until a year ago, I was not sure I'd be able to avoid filing for bankruptcy, but I have. It doesn't feel like an achievement, losing most of everything, and surviving, but I suppose it is. Still have one car, with insurance and tax paid. How lucky can you get.

At any rate, it looks like, after I pay my dentist (done!), who kindly restored a cosmetic front cap without insisting on the unnecessary root canal, I have enough baksheesh in savings to finance my move, get some furniture - I didn't take any from Virginia, as I'd have had to store that, which I could not really afford, at the time. It is still strange to me I ended up in Seattle, of all places, which was truly not on my list, but there is life for you. I am just hoping the Housing Authority will manage to come through in the next few months, it is beginning to feel my life is on hold - it isn't, but it's been a long slog, and that has not quite ended yet. Just sayin'..

Much to my delight, after doing an update on Windows 10 Pro (no, not the April Windows 10 update, too many problems with that, I created an ISO disk, but turned off updates for Windows, for now), converting the BIOS to full UEFI, and reinstalling the hybrid (both SSD and HD) Seagate Firecuda, the HP Elitebook is running like never before. Very pleasing, does not seem to ramp up the fan as much, and I can "amply" multitask. Right now, I am running a backup, streaming IPTV, and editing, and there is little impact. CPU (2.9GHz i7) is running at 22%, RAM usage is 23% of 16GB, and ethernet is running up to 16Mbps, or under 2%, with two external HD displays active. Magic. Previously, and with a conventional hard disk, I couldn't really do anything else while running a (Windows 7) backup..

imxingzhe heart rate monitor Having a hard time getting my Bluetooth heart rate monitor to work, I ended up ordering another one - Bluetooth is hard to diagnose, as in the interim, I had changed phones and applications as well. Applications, as my previous version of Endomondo ran under Windows Phone, and I've changed to an Android handset, and that version of Endomondo is much more elaborate. So the Imxingzhe HRM arrives, and that has the latest Bluetooth version (4.0 I think). Which, of course, won't work with Endomondo. So then I had to figure out whether to return it, or find another app. Found "Cardio Training", that works with the new HR, not as elaborate as Endomondo, but with one advantage - it does not require a registered cloud account that it saves all my workouts to, it lets me record the workout on the local device, and even email it in the form of a spreadsheet. So I'll give it a few days to see if it all works as advertised - I did have to set Greenify to kill the app when I don't use it - and relegate the old monitor to spare. That monitor - which I got in December, 2016 - was a cheapie, so could easily have died, I was pretty amazed it lasted a year on a button battery, so replacing it with another cheapie was the easiest way of testing it. Besides, the newer "smart" Bluetooth 4 technology makes it unnecessary to pair a device with the phone. That isn't a big issue, but sometimes "unpairing" a device when it no longer works can be a pain, especially with laptops. Take my advice: if you no longer need to use a "paired" device, or may not use it for a while, something like that, "unpair" or "remove" it. Removing it once it can no longer talk to your laptop or PC or mobile device, it broke, you gave it away, may or may not work! And again: those "smart" Bluetooth devices you do not need to pair with your phone or PC. The application usually does it for you - only if that does not work, try and "pair" to the device, and connect it as a non-smart device.

While there is not, intrinsically, anything wrong with being a TV quizmaster, I note that Jeremy Clarkson, famously fired by the BBC for beating a staffer, then going on to make too much money at Bezos' Amazon TV, has now finally been adopted by ITV to present a revamp of "Who wants to be a Millionaire?". Quiz shows I have studiously avoided watching, with the exception of "Mastermind", but I've made an exception to see how Jezza takes to the platform. More money in his pocketses, good luck to him, that's a talent right there, but I only lasted five minutes. 'nuff said.

April 28, 2018: Starbucks in Pyongyang next?

Keywords: Emmanuel Macron, France, Brexit, Firecuda, SSHD, UEFI, BIOS, HP

That was a bit stunning - Kim Jong-un stepping into South Korea, crossing the demilitarized zone. Is this another Berlin Wall moment? This stuff gets weirder by the week..

Watching the French Prime Minister, Emmanuel Macron, do his thing with Donald Trump and in front of Congress, I have to ask myself if he is, perhaps, playing EU politics, and putting one over on Brexiteer Theresa May. I do not recall ever seeing a French President fluent in English - to the point he cracked puns! - giving an impassioned speech with full-on audience interaction. The world has changed - and to be honest, France, which, by itself, offers more than Britain does, could now be deemed to be the front Monsieur of the European Union, something Theresa May can no longer aspire to. She fronts a British car industry owned by the Chinese, Indians, and Germans, and as I have said, HP sauce is made in The Netherlands and owned by Americans. I am sitting here watching an episode of the Morse prequel Endeavour, good TV, but it is shown here on PBS, not on a commercial broadcast channel. TBS, a large mortgage-provider-turned-bank, in the process of divorcing from Lloyd's Bank, which itself needed to be rescued by the British Government, has now found that its brand new IT system isn't working - not something that is rocket science, a banking IT system, not if you provide banking in English, this has been done, here in the US, hundreds of times, on a far larger scale. So that failure is truly beyond stupid. I've done that myself, turning up an IT system that served millions of customers, and failed - but you don't do that without the proper precautions, which includes a way to fall back on the old system. In our case, it took maybe a minute to back it out - and the affected customers were disconnected and could call/log straight back in, and do their business.

Back to Macron, though, he seems almost un-French - or have the French changed so much? I was married to one, once, upmarket professional background, I just (from my own background) couldn't quite work out how a modern surgeon and his wife could not speak or understand English. Where I come from, if you are a professional and don't have English, half of what happens in the world goes right past you, you're dependent on what someone decides is important to translate (I am not criticizing my ex-inlaws, just showing my own disconnect from The Real World). Same for the Germans, don't get me wrong, they dub TV series over in German to this day, the best way to make sure the kids don't learn other languages, as they can't get the sounds. Lucky me, in small countries like The Netherlands and Denmark and Belgium, dubbing is way too expensive, so we "made do" with subtitles, learning to speak foreign in the process. In Berlin, Captain Picard speaks German, if you follow me. In Paris, French.

Look below, February 21, and you'll see I was trying to install Seagate's 2TB Firecuda SSHD - a hybrid drive, with both a large traditional hard drive, and 8GB of silicon memory "to speed things up"(not a cache, but with drive integration). That drive was intended to replace an older Hitachi (HGST) drive, I'd bought several of those, and they all failed prematurely. The Firecuda did not run as well as I would have hoped, had to do a Windows recover a couple of times, so eventually swapped a 2TB traditional Seagate back in. All the while, I could not figure out where my drive errors came from, testing divulged no problems with the drives, but the Elitebook laptop repeatedly hiccupped for no real reason.

Recently, though, I ran a Windows 10 major update, not the way Microsoft wants it, but from a DVD (ISO load). In the process, Windows gave me an opportunity to do a full UEFI restore / install, this after I updated the HP's BIOS to the latest iteration - and that, too, had a UEFI install. That install, magically, converted my disk format fully to UEFI, maintaining my original Windows installation, and let me do a full UEFI boot (which I need, if I am to completely cxonvert this laptop to Bitlocker security), with the system board settings fully UEFI boot compliant. If nothing else, this means I can now use boot drives larger than 2TB (which I'll eventually do, I am sure), and do a fully encrypted, passphrase secured, boot routine, where the laptop canot be broken into, and the hard disk can only be accessed from this laptop, with the right passcode, and can't be read by anything else. I must say the levels of security available on this HP with this version of Windows is little short of amazing - and this is without the HP Protect Tools suite installed, which would at this point just be overkill.

(One week later) - yes, the UEFI BIOS, combined with the removal of HP's Protect Tools (sorry gang) has, at least with the latest version of Windows 10 Pro with whatever Creators thing they last unleashed, did the trick. Now she is stable as a rock, using the hybrid drive, I no longer have login problems, haven't had a BSOD, although I must admit I have had to remove the 360 Total Security virus protection. That interferes too much with Windows, especially when I discovered it will prevent boot library changes, and if it does that while you're not watcging your screen, the message times out and you won't know it just denied something you could have manually accepted. Pity, I liked it, I don't neccessarily want to use the very invasive Microsoft Defender, but there isn't anything else that isn't bloatware. 360 has a scaled down "Essentials" package, that I liked. Pity. Lioke Protect Tools does, Windows can now natively check if your paired Bluetooth device is close, and prevent anyone logging in if it isn't - HP's software lets you marry that with the finger scanner, but this Elitebook does not have that. That is probably good, as I am running out of interrupts as it is.

April 20, 2018: Facebook? Just train the people..

Keywords: T-Mobile, Frontier, ASUS, AOL, USB, TPM, Bitlocker, memory, dementia, dual band

One of those non-days. Booting my primary laptop, it had trouble talking to my external Bitlocker encrypted drive, and the scan it wanted didn't complete, so I ended up disconnecting all external devices, and booting from a repair DVD. The interesting part - apart from the recovery costing me half the morning - is that this was the first time ever I used a UEFI boot DVD for recovery, and I had no idea if that would work, or how. But it did, though it said it couldn't repair, then offered to roll the install back to its previous restore point, and when I told it to go ahead, it did the repair instead. Go figure. I do know the failure probably was my fault - I had moved a phone back onto USB, and I think I have run out of interrupts on this unit. So no more (no additional) USB devices... Between USB2, USB3, and eSATA, there just aren't enough interrupts. 2TB disks don't help, either. I've taken the webcam offline, too - one nice thing about this HP Elitebook is that it is one of the "secure" laptops for corporate use - nothing added to hack or break into, and it has a more sophisticated T(rusted) P(latform) M(odule) than my other Elitebook, which did come with camera and fingerprint sensor. In hindsight, this is the laptop to carry overseas, once I have Bitlockered the boot drive - with only a code in my head, nobody can break into this thing (for as long as I don't use my birthday..).

Why am I working on this security stuff? I am kinda hoping that once I settle back into my own apartment, I'll be able to find some enterprises out there that have need for this type of security. It interests me, in my Verizon guise I had been in charge of data security for many years, and I have the tools and time to learn this stuff. Step by step, sometimes I have to wait until I can buy new gear, but that's OK too.

Avid readers of my musings may recall I've been trying to track the functionality of my aging brain, not that I expect dementia to set in next week, but it is one of those health related things you're supposed to keep an eye on. I track some of the agility of my grey cells by checking how many passwords, in illogical sequences, I can remember. When I moved the routers around I decided to begin using a ten digit alpha-numeric password I had not used in at least four years, and much to my surprise I found I still have that in memory, and no, it isn't one of those that begins with your mother-in-law's last name. So that's good. I try to kind of follow the research on aging, but there is rather a lot of it, and I must say much that is published does not make a lot of sense, and much "research" is very partial, and really only intended to help researchers apply for new grants, for which they must publish. It is very interesting that mice remember to run in their little treadmills, but I've never met a rodent with a gym membership, nor have I ever met a rodent with a cognitive understanding of the word "exercise", if you follow my drift. It is getting annoying - in the science sections of major newspaper / news sources, half the "science" is to do with smartphones and apps, the other half has nothing to do with science - space is a commercial venture, today, not experimental, and, apparently, archeology isn't "sexy" any more.

Well, Comey's book will sell. I am not sure I'd have given this much of an interview, in his shoes, there must be really bad blood between Comey and Trump, this clearly was not an ordinary firing. Having said that, this is the former head of the FBI, who still has more credit in the government and the political world than Trump will ever have. And Comey clearly has his pension sorted.

Years ago, I bought a Blackberry Playbook tablet, and one of the apps I decided to try was Facebook. That try was very shortlived. I discovered Facebook would not run if it could not access the built-in camera - strange in itself, the Facebook app discovered itself there were cameras, that was not something it asked me, nor did it give me a choice. So, as quickly as I installed it, I uninstalled it - but to this day, Facebook maintains Blackberry permissions, and the few times I accessed Facebook on the tablet using a browser it wanted to re-install the app - it knew where it was.

That's been Facebook's mission from day one - make itself inescapable, take over your computing environment, and most of all, manipulate users into accepting it as "all things to all people". AOL did that before, and AOL might have become Facebook if it had accepted its network would morph into the World Wide Web. It didn't - AOL tried to "keep" its users confined to its infrastructure, separate from the Web, and lost that battle. Facebook came a lot further - hundreds of millions of people do all of their communicating and relating through Facebook - it cannibalized the Internet, the smartphone "desktop", websites that used to get lots of traffic now no longer do, and moving their activities to Facebook means giving that company their intellectual property and the information on their members and visitors. Institutions are only now discovering that having a Facebook button at their website means they're sharing all of the information they have paid for gathering with Facebook - without any Return On Investment. If you're an avid Facebook user, ask yourself this: you start their app on your phone, do you ever log out, and do you know that if you log out it'll still run, hidden from you, in the background? Because if you don't want thing running in the background, you're going to have to go into Settings, and set that up - Google / Android enables that by default, and not because you need it..

Swapping routers, I am getting complaints from the housemates, apparently the Frontier / FIOS router is giving them anemic performance, by comparison with the ASUS that was there before. It isn't surprising - the Frontier router is older, and it is a multi-purpose device, it is designed to deliver both TV and internet. Whether or not you use the TV (we don't) the device still allocates bandwidth to all possible uses, and unlike my newer ASUS, isn't designed for streaming audio and video. Not a conundrum, is speed is an issue (and they might not have noticed if I hadn't let them use my router for over a year), they'll have to get a more state-of-the-art router. Technology standards change every year now - the older router provides "only" 2.4Ghz, the newer router provides both 2.4 and 5Ghz - and 5Ghz is faster, but has less reach, falling back on 2.4Ghz over longer distances. It is a known problem with telco's and cable companies - they buy these devices in large volumes, and by the time they reach the end of their stock, the design is pretty much outdated or even obsolete. Frontier, today, no longer installs these model routers, or even the type of fiber interface that sits in their termination.

April 10, 2018: That's the dentist done

Keywords: T-Mobile, Frontier, ASUS, Brexit, BBC, Telz, VOIP, Hennessey

T-Mobile wireless router On one router, internet blocking for a device is done in a filter, on another, it is in the "parental settings" - time was when router manufacturers used similar language, but no more. And some of the settings in my T-Mobile / ASUS router I only figure out now, when moving it to a secondary position, preparing to take it when I move. The other router is really the landlord's FIOS primary, it gets to stay. No, it isn't that my move is imminent, but because I do not know when an apartment will come through, it seems best to prepare for that eventual eventuality. Never done a move this well planned, I am even able to more or less plan down to the nearest dollar. Not bad, I just hope it will happen this summer. Thankfully, Seattle isn't like London, New York or Amsterdam, where it can take ten years to qualify for rent controlled apartments, I realize.

All in all, it took me some five hours to swap the routers out - this now becomes a bit of an ordeal, because WiFi "devices" like my printer and the IP cameras have to be reprogrammed while they're still active on the old router, as you can't access them once the router comes down. So programming the new router information, and then changing them to DHCP, is vital. They can be reset and reprogrammed, but that is a fair amount of work, and avoidable - and in all cases, requires an "app" that helps itself to your contacts and device information for no reason. I managed to reprogram and swap the primary router, but the secondary took more of an effort, although I don't really understand why. Once reprogrammed, it talked to the firewall router, said it was internet-connected, but not until a half hour later could I actually convince my laptops to connect to the internet, even though they were talking to both routers. I have a sneaking suspicion the firewalls just shut down when the network parameters change, for a while, although I can't really prove that. Assigning a static IP address outside the DHCP range helped too, though, again, I don't really know why. Anyway, it is all working, and in the morning I'll check that my IP camera cloud setup (not their cloud, my own) is working, while I am at the gym. I am really pleased with the way iSpy detects and alerts on motion, so you can do that completely independently from the camera, which often will only send alerts to the programmer's grandma in Shenzen. The firewalling, then, is vital, and as the firewalls on the routers work differently, it isn't just a matter of transferring settings - you have to figure out how to assign ports and destinations on the new device - where the old device used IP addresses, the new device uses the domain with the UDP port, and that just isn't easily translatable. Etc.

Following the Brexit developments in Britain, mostly on the BBC, it occurs to me the British spend inordinate amounts of time broadcasting American news, even though that often is not at all relevant to England and the English. Every time Donald Trump sneezes, the BBC broadcasts it live - there are probably more BBC correspondents based in Washington, D.C., than in Belfast. Yet, when something happens in France or Spain or Thailand, where hundreds of thousands of Britons live, if it isn't a terror attack, it does not get reported. I am increasingly getting the impression that the Brits confuse language with love - Americans like Britain, but our evening news is not peppered with traffic accidents in Luton or Glasgow. It is increasingly unclear to me where this obsession with things American comes from, but if the British are abandoning the alliance with their neighbours in favour of an alliance with the USA, I think they're barking up the wrong tree. In the EU, Brits could live and work in the EU at will - in an alliance with the USA, they're going to have to stand in line with the Afghans and the Pakistanis to get work permits and green cards - as much as I like the UK, they're not making anything the world is pining for, they've largely sold off the family silver, and you really can't build an export economy on Stilton, whiskey and HP sauce (now made in The Netherlands). Just sayin..

While I got some outdoorsy stuff done yesterday, in a lovely sun, today that rain is back, it is chilly, I don't even feel like replacing the left brake light bulb I discovered yesterday was part dead. I do need to get the oil done, but have now decided to go to Pep Boys, as they owe me a free wheel rotation, time for that. Need to weed whack the back, as well...

Of course, after the Windows updates, I need to update my backup laptop as well, not a good idea to access the same file with different version applications. Every time you make a change, you create more work for yourself - it is almost busywork. By the way - I recently discovered Google Voice has increased its call charges to The Netherlands from 1 cent a minute to 18 cents a minute - so I looked for an alternative, and found Telz for Android, which charges less than even that penny-per-minute. Works well, too, it can do either VOIP from your smartphone, or use a callback. Clean audio, slight voice delay, but nice uninterrupted half hour call. Cheapest I could find that appears reliable, secure, you can set individual permissions for the app, and it tells the callee your real number, cool. The pleasant experience was repeated this morning, when I unexpectedly had to call my bank in Europe, and the customer service person - unbid - remarked that the line was so clear. Calls from cellphones can often be choppy, but Telz' VOIP over my Blü WiFi has remarkable quality.

crown fitting Finally scraped enough money together to have one of my front teeth fixed, a crown that came off when I fell on my face after being attacked by a dog. Part of the problem was that three consecutive dentists wanted to do a root canal on that perfectly healthy tooth - the crown (really a cap) had come off, but there was no damage to the tooth, as far as I was aware, the crown was there for purely cosmetic reasons. The root canal would have added some $1,000 to the treatment, and I didn't know whether the dentist in D.C. who placed the crowns - for purely cosmetic reasons - had done a root canal, or whether that was really necessary. My new dentist, Ted Hennessey, DDS, in Lynnwood, was the first who said it wasn't necessary, there was no damage to the tooth, so I went ahead with his recommendation. As I mentioned, I finally had enough in the kitty for the crown insurance copay, now at the point where I have sufficient savings, with enough to spare for my upcoming move, and emergencies. Phew.

Dr. Hennessey built up the tooth, anchored the buildup under the gums, a bit of a procedure, put a temporary crown on to keep the gums from shrinking back, left that for two weeks, and today the "real crown" went on. Happy, but at the same time a bit of an anticlimax, as I had been waiting and saving for so long - delayed by a molar that had to be surgically removed last year, which cost even more - again delayed by a dental surgeon whose office didn't tell me they were not on my insurance approved list. Surgically removed, as I had long term osteoporosis treatment in the past, with Fosamax, and just pulling it would have been a fairly high risk. But all went well, and as of today I have a "natural" smile again. Teehee. If you are in the Seattle area, this is a good dentist, and one who has no inclination to rip you off. I must say I've seen four, in succession, who all padded the bill, tried to do unnecessary procedures, it is a real racket. You're completely dependent on the dentist's advice, but Hennessey doesn't screw you over - when I told him about my past osteoporosis treatment, he immediately referred me to a dental surgeon, rather than talk me into having him pull the tooth, and make the money. As I have decent dental insurance, this man understands being reasonable and caring will make me come back. Simple. Expect smiling selfies again..

April 1, 2018: Security is what YOU make of it

Keywords: Windows 10, Cloud, ITV, Opera, financial management, VPN, secure browser

secure digital lock Of course, when you reinstall Windows 10, with the latest bells and whistles, you find some of your favourite applications have "new-versioned", and there really isn't any point not using the latest, so that adds a learning curve to the day or so spent turning off everything in Windows you don't want to use. One real problem with Windows (and Facebook, and Google, and.. and.. and..) is that its built-in "apps" all want to use Microsoft's Cloud to store things in, where, despite Microsoft's best intentions, your information is available to Microsoft to sleuthe through, and any cybercriminal worth their salt. I know all of these folks do their best to keep their networks secure, but you can read in the "tech" section of every newspaper which system got hacked this week. It is pretty much horrendous. And giving Facebook more "security" information, like pictures, phone numbers, and trusted friends, only results in Facebook having more information about you. Information that can be hacked, stolen, and sold. So I don't know about you, but I don't. I don't use anybody's Cloud, and few "free" services.

Hmm.. A while ago, (British) ITV, when I was no longer able to access their programming, said in its helpfiles they only now supported Google Chrome, and I duly installed that, worked OK. Recently, though, playback on Chrome began to hiccup, and in the transition from program to ad to program hung. Forever. Trying Microsoft Explorer, which I had been using before, just now, I discovered that now works with ITV again. No idea why - in most browsers, ITV is forever complaining I run an ad blocker, which I don't use, although I have every browser set up to reject third party cookies (which anybody can push onto your system!), and to stop popup windows - but no (plugin) ad blockers. Hmm. Do I dump Chrome now? With Seamonkey, I know I am using an older browser, but when editing my own website I have always wanted to make sure it is compatible with anything, you have no way of knowing what people access your server with. Seamonkey lets me examine and troubleshoot my HTML, which is a nice facility to have if you "roll your own".

secure digital lock So I had a look at the Opera browser, whose existence I was aware of, but never used until I bought the Blü smartphone, which came with it pre-installed. I've now found out Opera's Windows compatible browser actually has a VPN built in, so you can surf using a remote IP address, without immediately showing websites who and where you are. Between the VPN and Opera's "secure" mode, I've got exactly what I wanted Chrome and the Tor browser for, so I was able to dump them both. I did install the Tor network stack (that link goes directly to the Tor expert bundle download!), which lets you insert a Tor sox proxy in your internet settings, but then any application using the primary IP will go through Tor, and many sites, like Google and Yahoo, go completely crazy when you use that. Google pretends it is looking after your internet security when it refuses to let you access your account when your IP address changes, so even when you use a tablet as well as a laptop as well as a smartphone, Google forces you to divulge every network you use to them, even though changing networks all the time is one of the very good ways for you to be untraceable and thus safe. Using one network stack and IP address all the time, which Google wants you to do, is actually very unsafe.

Tracking my finances was a bit precarious, the past year, as I had added a credit card to the mix (my first since losing most of my money in 2008, and the rest, my health and my house in 2010), and so, from March 2017, I was not able to compare apples with apples, as there was no debt account before. Now that it is March again, that "problem" is solved, and my software not only compares deposit account values, but debit account values, and I am back in "known territory". I had forged some workarounds, but the predictive algorithm in the software can't work when it compares different numbers of accounts, with different functionalities. Now, like it is supposed to, it adds all of it up, above and below the line, and I end up with a balance, and a past-year comparison. You'll probably want to suggest I just do it on a bit of paper, but that does not give me a time-based comparison. Using financial software is kind of a reward type activity, when you see a consistent upward trend graphic developing you know you're on the way up, and that keeps you on your toes in terms of being frugal, because you want it to look like that the next month, and the next quarter. I've come a fairly long way since making it here, and with the debts paid and my credit restored - actually, I am in the middle of having my front crown re-installed, lost through an accidental fall, and hopefully the Seattle apartment is not far off. So there. I've gotten anal to the point I even add gift cards to my balances, after all, if you get an Amazon reward card from your health insurance you're going to use that money for something you'd otherwise use credit for, so it has to be in the mix. And while I am not worried I'll go crazy using credit, been there, done that, I want to make absolutely sure my software offsetss future earnings against current outgoings, as credit gets paid in the future. Actually spent untold hours getting the financial software to faithfully predict - round robin, if you're not comparing apples with apples, over time it won't work.

March 27, 2018: What if I said: "UEFI!"?

Keywords: UEFI, Windows 10, GPT, HP, BIOS, Secure Boot, TPM, Amsterdam, bacon wrapped chicken, Amsterdam, Seamonkey

stuffed chicken wrap At a discounted $3 per pound, stuffed bacon wrapped chicken breast is a good freezer deal, any more, and I could do it myself. $2.40 per one meal portion, in other words. The only reason this picture is here is that, in doing a full reinstall of Windows 10 Pro, I replaced some applications with newer versions, like the XnView media handler, which meant I wanted to take a picture and process it down for this webpage. Embedded copyright was an issue - at this point, I still don't know if that worked, or not. FWIW, here it is...

A full reinstall of Windows may be a bit of a headache, but Microsoft seems to be getting the message: a customer must be allowed to reload whatever Windows came with their hardware, or whatever Windows they paid for, and privacy really is important to a lot of consumers - well, I guess especially after the recent Facebook data abuse, this is being hammered home. It is nobody's fault but their own - making Facebook users personal information accessible is Facebook's idea, not anybody else's. It is like the gun argument - sell people firearms, and some will use those to kill with, because the honour system cannot be guaranteed to work. In the case of Facebook, if you use people's information to manipulate them, opportunists will notice and use your tools for their own purposes. Consumers should take the blame, too - you make information available, you're putting yourself in harm's way.

If you are using what started out as an older version of Windows - the updates are not fully able to bring your Windows 10 Pro up to scratch, although they will work fine. In this particular re-install, I found out HP's BIOS code for the Elitebook 2570p wasn't fully UEFI "cognizant" - UEFI being the PC firmware technology that secures your boot drive to its motherboard, as well as providing the ability to use drives larger than 2 terabytes in a PC or laptop. I don't have laptop drives larger than that, but I do have some other, larger drives, and I should imagine I'll eventually go to 4 terabyte mobile drives, once they become widely available. More importantly, with UEFI and a Trusted Processing Module I can fully encrypt my system with Bitlocker, with nobody ever being able to use the disk, use the motherboard, or read the data on the disk. Well.. ever - but it'll be a while before someone can process through the signature and encryption.

Amsterdam snow 2012 So when I wanted to reinstall the drive, and ran HP's BIOS update to full UEFI just before, Microsoft no longer recognized my Digital License - worse, it disabled my activation code, so I couldn't even teach it who I was. Only the Microsoft email registration was able save the day, and re-register this Windows 10 install. I realized, too, that if I set up a separate, non-Microsoft registered login, and disabled Windows' use of Microsoft email through Windows' policy settings, Microsoft wouldn't receive data from anything in that login - I am not using their "apps" or anything in their store. Long story short, the reinstall, this time, went very smoothly, and from a security perspective, this HP notebook is completely up to snuff. Now I can finish the last couple of applications, then back up, restore onto the hybrid Seagate drive I wanted in here, and encrypt the boot drive. Haha.

Wow. Now, even the Secure Boot, part of GPT format and UEFI boot, works. Seems all perfect - though I just looked at the TPM, and that now wants resetting. It'll have to wait until I have a complete recover image ready. But all in all, a lot of stuff simply works, even the latest VLC, strike three, still working on Bluray though. No, I am not. I pulled version 2.8.8, reinstalled version 3.0.1, which I couldn't get to work before, but it does fine with recorded TV now, and after re-installing the Bluray keys, I was able to watch Ender's Game. Teehee - done! I really did not expect the reinstall to be his smooth, nor did I expect it to solve as many problems as it has. Psyched. The "proof of the pudding" will be when I get this install back on the hybrid Seagate Firecuda drive where it started, that gave nothing but problems, though I still do not believe it has anything to do with the hybrid drive architecture.

The picture to the right has nothing to do with any of this. Well. A little, mebbe. With some of my applications changed, and my webpage editor changed (I was using Seamonkey Composer before, but on the HP 2560p under Windows 8.1, it was slow), I need to find a different way to embed copyright notices in picture files, both inside the code, and on the picture, and I picked this 2012 picture I shot near my sister's apartment in Amsterdam. Pretty. I've been talking to her more than usual, as she recently had pretty invasive surgery, coping well, thank heavens. Memories...

March 21, 2018: Random Thoughts

Keywords: Manhattan, New York, D.C., Pentagon, Wall Street, 140 West St., Canal Street, broadcast TV, IP TV, probate, legal, Durango, oil change

I worried a bit about watching older comedy and police series all the time, but then I realized I am just fussy. I just keyed up Endeavour, the prequel to Inspector Morse, on British ITV, and that certainly qualifies as current. Much of the rest of the current fare just doesn't agree with me, simple as that. A lot of the TV series I don't like are just too fictitious - having said that, not everybody has spent years on Wall Street, in the ascendance of the World Wide Web, in the ascendance (and invented some) of the cloud, gone through 9/11 as a "participant", flew on Concorde, stayed at the Waldorf Astoria, and took 747-400 shuttles to buy deodorant in Singapore when they ran out in Kemang. I really can't say I am pining for more exitement, or that there are some experiences I've not had, that are high on my bucket list.

That isn't meant for bragging, but I don't watch TV just because there are things there I would like to experience. I never made it to JPL, even though one of my friends at NASA in Maryland was really rooting for it, but there were so many other things I fell in on, and couldn't really let go of - have you ever been put in charge of the high speed data networks on Wall Street and at the Pentagon at the same time? So I moved to an office - a secure office with military types and a safe room - across from the Arlington, VA, Courthouse, with a view of Arlington National Cemetery. Ah yes, and I got married at the New York State Supreme Court, the building you see Law & Order's Jack McCoy walk in and out of, on Centre Street. My employer provided the stretch limousines, with New York license plates Wall 1, Wall 2 and Wall 3, a bit of a trader tradition on Wall Street. I moved to D.C. from 140 West St, the building across the street from where the World Trade Center was, and hired the webmaster of the Joint Chiefs, who was retiring from the Pentagon, as my webmaster. Then they hit both downtown Manhattan and the Pentagon, postponing my September 11 doctor's appointment for 8 months.

You can't make that stuff up, I guess, and there isn't a blockbuster movie I can watch that outscores the movie that will play in my head until the day I die. Not just because of what I got to witness, but because what I lived through was connected with people I knew, worked with, bought breakfast with, talked to in the elevator. Having a Warthog buzz my office after pulling out of a Missing Man during a funeral at Arlington became routine.

Anyway, this isn't a whine, I was just thinking out loud. It does, now that I think about it, explain why these fictional two hour movies don't really appeal to me. And I think the fiction has become more fictitious, over the years - someone fist fighting three other guys, and not having to go to the emergency room with a broken jaw, after, just spoils my appetite for the narrative based on that. Additionally, having to pay Amazon, Netflix as well as Comcast or Verizon for movies - I know how much some folks' cable bill is, that's just ridiculous. Well, methinks.

All of a sudden I am up to my ears in legal things - a deceased relative's probate, a complaint I should file against a foreign government's illegal practices, a complaint I should file against a medical practitioner, it isn't my favourite activity, but if I don't do it, nothing will happen, the time I have. A buddy I need to talk to about 9/11, stuff. I don't think I used to procrastinate like this - anyway, let me see, tomorrow, if the weather is a good as today, and change my oil. Car is doing fine, but on an older V-8, you need to keep it up.

Ah yes. And then the drain plug won't turn, and I nearly stripped the edges, so I had better get to O'Reilly's, get a new one, and then try again. If that doesn't work, to Pep Boys for an oil change. Darn. Don't know if my arthritis is interfering with the strength in my hands, either, I think I need to talk to my rheumatologist about a change in medication. The current combo doesn't cut it, just too much pain and probably some inflammation.

Having said that, it is Spring, I've cut the grass, and the daytimes are warming up so I can start on the outdoors chores and car stuff. Not bad. Humidity dropped to 50% this afternoon, way below what is was the past few months - my new weather station has indoor and outdoor humidity readings, helpful if you don't have a thyroid, and your body response isn't regulated the way the good Lord intended it. Being able to see both temperature and humidity means I can tell whether it is cold or I am cold, and crank up the heating - or soon: cooling - a bit.

The lawyers want me to prove I spent more than 48 hours below Canal Street, after 9/11. I can't for the life of me remember who I met with, who I talked to, what I did, and without my Lotus Notes I have no way of putting it all together. I didn't even think of my email, sheesh, I should talk to someone about this.

March 11, 2018: Things keep breaking

Keywords: Frontier, Bluetooth, Blackberry, fiber, UW Medicine, Polyclinic, UOKOO, IP cam, iSpy

trouble ticketIt is unusual for the internet to go down, and even more unsual for the provider to make no attempt to fix it. While the Frontier call center person said he'd get an engineer involved, this on Saturday early evening, by Sunday morning nobody had looked at it at all, according to another call center person. Not only that, the original complaint translated into a service call scheduled for Monday, the third day - this even though, according to my router, there was an active Ethernet connection to the fiber CPE, the Frontier head end was just not providing DHCP, it wasn't generating an IP address. Frontier being a regulated telecommunications company, not providing 24 hour service is just not on, and the support person, this morning, wasn't even able to escalate the trouble report. Eventually, am email tells me the repair visit is scheduled for Monday 7pm (by which time I doubt there is cover at the Central Office, should they need it) - a full 48 hours after the initial report - this is a regulated phone company?

Using my slower Bluetooth connection on the Blackberry, I mostly notice that many websites simply won't work on slower internet connections, between the overload of information their try to present, and the megabytes of data they try to pull from your surfing and clicking, they don't even have the basic capability to adjust their output to the speed of the viewer. That's awful. I can switch to "hotspot" mode on the Blackberry, and get decent throughput, but then I tend to use a lot of data, so much of the time Bluetooth is best, to, umm, protect me from myself. I am glad I have that backup - it is one of the reasons why I keep the Blackberry Z10 around, that is much data-faster than any of the Android devices.

Eventually, after an almost 48 hour outage, a technician came and swapped out the fiber modem, I had not expected that to go South inside of three years, especially since this is a CPE that can be mounted outside, though ours is not. Worse: fixed on Monday, on Wednesday the internet service died again. Frontier sent a technician the next day, this time, and he soon found that in the "outside plant", the neigbourhood connection box that hooks homes up to a fiber aggregator, someone had removed and re-used our connector, thinking we were out of service. Easily fixed, but ba-a-a-ad...

Uokoo surveillance camera It kind of messes up my week, already filled with doctor's appointments, this after a technician at UW Medicine messed up my blood tests, I think it is kind of amazing they don't really teach these folks communication skills. I went in asking for one test my doctor wanted me to take, and the technician added another I was supposed to take later, without telling me. This occasionally happens at the Polyclinic too, but the folks there at least discuss these things, and pick up the phone to check with the doctor's office. Not so at UW Medicine, where they even perform tests not authorized by Medicare, which then have to be taken off the bill later, when I complain.

Anyway, the sun is here, it is, after cold and wet and snow, time for Spring. Wasn't a bad winter, but it gets in your bones, you know what I mean?

I found a small and inexpensive ($32.99) IP camera that I think will make a wonderful front door spy cam. If I can get it working the way I like, it should provide motion activated recording the way the bigger camera described below (January 8) does, as well as alert me to the presence of a hu-man on the porch, as well as let me see (and talk to) whoever rings the doorbell. That'd be cool. Let me actually check if it will talk to the application I set up on the Toshiba, all I should have to do is change the IP address. Be right back.

Yep. That worked. Tomorrow first thing I'll run a data capture, see how this - more wide angle - lens works with the iSpy application, that will be great. Yes, it could be stolen (as in, broken off) from the front door, but then the thief would capture him- or herself while doing the deed, and the video and stills will be on my Singapore server by the time they realize they're on candid camera. I just need to set the motion detection sensitivity in iSpy, I could conceivably get an alert with a picture when someone is at my door, whether I am home or not. If you think that's expensive - dunno, $40 camera, $200 old "retired" laptop, and if, like me, you do not want to use the manufacturer's cloud, a website with ftp, which I pay $35 a year for, can in principle be had for free at Freeservers. I'll actually test this camera with Freeserver space and ftp, see what gives. By the way, I was futzing with video files, the other day, and to my astonishment noticed I can stream video from my new hosting server. In the past, I was never able to, and have kind of always assumed you had to pay more and get additional facilities to stream. But Hostinglah lets me, seemingly without issues (depending, of course, on the speed of your internet and the caching ability of your browser). Try here.

Hmm. Hearing test, now part of my insurance-standard annual series of checks. I've intermittenty had some hearing problems, mostly related to a tinnitus - buy a new gun, go home, get your hearing protection before you test it, all it needs is not having it just once - that seems to be getting worse - after fifteen years or so. Test wasn't that good, ENT specialist next, I guess. Blah. The audiologist managed to not send me the results, as "our system does not support PDFs". That system, in use by some of the major medical establishments in the Puget Sound area, has never supported PDF documents, and for Ms. Hutchison to pretend this is unusual, when she must have spent years not e-sending her test results to patients, is beyond the pale. If you know your document is not going to make it, why send a patient an empty message? Could she email it to me? No, she says, has to be USPS, no explanation. Preposterous.

March 4, 2018: Maintenance on all fronts

Keywords: Edgestar, heat pump, A/C filters, thyroid hormone, levothyroxine, Dodge, surging V-8

Edgestar filter pack An in-between day, I guess, though I should be working on my correspondence. Housework first, though, and I've changed the filter pack in my heat pump - a somewhat self-concocted filter pack. The heat pump itself comes only with a plastic mesh filter, but it is built in such a way that it can take a carbon filter, which I noticed a different brand from the same manufacturer actually has. So I added a half inch filter pack, consisting of two cut-it-yourself filters, one of the fiber kind you can get in sheets at Walmart, another a layer of thin active carbon material. The pack works well, and even though it offers more air resistance than the mesh by itself does, it appears not to impact performance - if anything, it may be working better. Slowing the air down gets it warmed - or cooled - more intensely, and that does not seem to bother the compressor / heat exchanger. I did notice the fiber filter caught more dust, beyond what the mesh filter does, and that helps keep the heat exchanger clean.

Warg. I do run out of energy, occasionally, and that is likely the effect of the hyroid hormone I have to take. Or the lack of effect. While the thyroid gland makes its hormone "on demand", there is no such mechanism with the medication, and as I noticed in someone's posting, it can take a long time to establish a "median" dose for the patient. I didn't really know this, despite the voluminous documentation given to me, and that probably is entirely my own fault. Heart arrythmia is probably the most unpleasant side effect, especially being woken up by it. It continues to surprise me how much punishment the heart, of which we only have one, can take, when you wake up in the middle of the night with a sewing machine going off in your chest you can't help but wonder when this thing is going to wear out. This especially since you then have to get blood tests, then adjust the dosage, then wait for three months before your levels have stabilized enough for another test. Etc. Etc. It is discombobulating. This is not, don't get me wrong, a complaint, it is just something I have to live with, whining about it isn't going to do anybody any good. I recall, after the initial surgery and radioactive iodine treatment, sitting up in bed with the lights on, being shit scared, at one point taking out my contact lenses, not seeing well, gave me panic attacks. You know, I tucked that (2010) back so far I only just remembered the feeling.

Dodge 4.7 liter V-8 I got to this rant because I do so well working out - only this morning I realized that it is so much of a routine it is automatic, I never don't want to go to the gym. Obviously, my medical condition is that powerful motivator, and I must say it takes a long time for the full long term effect to set in, in my case complicated by the discomfort caused by an unrelated arthritis. Gotta tell you, if you have arthritis, work out. Don't overdo it, but work out, all the time, your body will, over time, learn to combat your ailment. Most importantly, unaffected joints and muscles will begin to compensate for the ones that don't work well. Trust me, I've been doing this dance a long time, the body learns, slowly, but it learns.

Having spent a lot of time, and a good amount of money, trying to figure out why the 4.7l V-8 in my Durango was "surging" while idling, I have not really figured out what caused it. I replaced all sorts of vacuum and throttle control parts in the air intake and throttle body - in the picture to the right, that is the unit at the right end of the chrome (aftermarket) air intake tube on top of the engine (click on the picture to see an enlarged version). I ran cleaning agents through the fuel system, replaced various components that, under control of the ECU (engine computer), manage air and fuel mix, and idle and running RPM, but every time it either didn't help, or the surging came back. Now, at least since sometime January, it seems to have cured itself, and I can't figure out why. I stopped putting an octane additive in my gasoline, I was always doing that, and there is a shield underneath the front of the engine I removed, as I need to change my oil, and with the shield in place I can't get at the oil filter, to replace that. Now, the engine is smooth as a gravy sandwich, at this point, not even vibrating, no surging, nothing. So I guess I'll change the oil, then put the shield back, and see if we keep running fine. Just wish I understood what is causing the difference, there are so many different causes on the internet, that all it does is cause confusion. Ah, yes, I've replaced the OBDII Bluetooth ELM327 scanner as well, the one I bought back in 2013 was getting erratic, considering it had lived in the car, winter and summer, not a surprising event for a $10 device. It is always possible a "bad" OBDII device, which is capable of resetting the transmission control unit and the ECU, was sending wrong signals to the computer. Unlikely, but possible. Yes, the new OBDII scanner has been in since mid-January, so there is another variable. Pff. I just don't like engineering things I don't understand... not used to that.

February 28, 2018: Sliding into Spring

Keywords: rice table, Medicare, health insurance, Windows 10, Creators Update, Microsoft, AIS, AISBackup, Hostinglah, webserver

Indonesian food While most of today's writing is technical, the picture to the left is not - I just decided to cook something Indonesian - luckily, Asian stores here have the spice mixes, and stock the ingredients I remember from growing up with an Indo Grandma in the house. This is my variant of Ayam Opor, a spicy chicken stew - the recipe is here. The picture lower right is me at the gym, something I faithfully do now, four times a week, without fail, ever since Verizon gave me a "free" membership with my health plan. I liked this shot, as it has one of my Singapore Tees - all bought at Changi Airport, where they even had some they're not allowed to sell in town - next to the on-roof open air smoking zone-with-pool-and-bar...

What I never knew about these United States, is that after-65 health care is reasonably elaborate - in my case, due to my corporate retiree benefits-cum-Medicare, it can get very elaborate. Annual vision exam, hearing exam, annual wellness exam, just to get you in the doctor's office - which the insurance not only fully covers, but pays you (by way of a gift card) for taking. Talking to a relative overseas, the other day, who had taken a spill and now needs a new shoulder, I realized she had not been to see her GP in over five years. Thing is, as you get older, deterioration, if any, creeps up on you, it is usually not a sudden occurrence, unless you have an illness or an accident. I am, of course, the perfect example - my GP in Virginia noticed a swollen thyroid gland during a routine annual medical, sent me for tests, and that likely saved my life - it was stage four. As I just made a slew of appointments with various clinics to get all my tests done, it was just a reminder that these things are well taken care of, here. While in countries with socialized health care folks don't need to worry about insurance, a Canadian friend and I were reminding ourselves that the level of preventive care in our home countries isn't half as good as it is here - rarely, even if you aren't rich. True, if I had not made a boat load of money in fifteen or so years my Medicare would not have been paid up, so I suppose I am one of the lucky ones. Whatever you do, kids, pay into Medicare, you never know if you're going to need it, and without some kind of insurance you are pretty much toast.

Windows 10 "Creators Update" (I have the Pro version) is not stable. There is too much stuff in it, and if you go in and manually turn off the things you do not want, it gets squirrelly. I am talking about legitimate changes, nothing hacked, but the number of variables is so large I cannot imagine they caught everything, in development. Not only that, Microplod put this together so quick there are settings you can change in three or four different places. Having said that, I myself add variables I probably should not do, some of which I have little control over. Take the new 2TB hard disk, for instance, with an 8GB incorporated SSD, I could have just gotten a (cheaper) regular 2TB drive, I've noticed that when the silicon needs to fetch or put something on the real disk, it can slow the disk access process in ways Windows does not like. Then again, these hybrid technologies interest me, and I plainly cannot afford a 2TB SSD - mind you, they do come down in price, a 2TB 2.5" SSD now costs $385 - only a few months ago that would have set you back the better part of $1,000. That's amazing. Kinda makes sense, I suppose, I read today's webservers have mostly SSD storage as well - I know my new Singapore hoster does.

LA FitnessI wanted to secure the ability to move my Windows 10 install to a different system, something I have done a few times before, but mostly always using the license key Microsoft provides for the purpose. I am actually keeping a couple of rarely used installs around just on old PCs so I can upgrade a new system, should I need one, buying a laptop with an aged version of Windows can save loads of money, and I know how to update that. But today, Windows uses a digital license, which is tied to the motherboard it is installed on - frequently, changing the hard drive or the memory can lead to an installation failure. Microsoft's solution is to marry the install up to a Microsoft ID (email address) - but I don't want to send the detail of my day-to-day use of the operating system to them - apart from anything else, it is an invitation to hackers, as that email address crops up in lots of places on the internet. The only way to take care of this, it seems, is to create a separate Windows login, one you don't normally use, but which lets you reinstall. I tried marrying my Administrator login to an MS ID, but that simply does not work. Life is a compromise.

I am still backing up my new install, anyway, so I can't change this system over to Bitlocker until that is done. It is the one drawback of using a third party backup application to a network (NAS) drive - it can take days. AISBackup creates zipped archives, which is a slow process, but works very well. Once you have an entire drive backed up this way, incrementals aren't a big deal, and the way it handles its database is exemplary - I include the ability to retain a copy of each deleted file, which I think is invaluable. I had an opportunity, recently, to do a full AIS restore over a running Windows install, and it did that to perfection, including replacing read-only operating system files during the final reboot. It isn't commonly done, but you should really always test a backup, and a backup application, by doing a full restore, you don't want to find out the hard way. It'll create a Linux boot drive on USB or memory stick that allows you to access the hard disk and mess with things Windows won't, and that will do a restore too. Anyway, let me finish that, I think I have the system otherwise 98% behaving... And I do like this Elitebook, especially since it lacks some of the gas guzzling "extras" the other Elitebook has. And more than ever, running a high end business notebook is badly affected by the battle between HP, Intel and Microsoft, which often duplicate each other's functionality for no good reason. An excellent example is the Mobile Data Protection Sensor in HP's hardware, which protects the hard disk from damage if the laptop is dropped or bumped while in operation. Protected, I should say, Windows 10 Creator's Update incorporated some drivers that disable the sensor - it is there, but can no longer talk to the operating system. No solution, which would have to come from Microsoft.

In the interim, I have moved three expiring internet domains to my Singapore hoster, saving myself yet more money over Godaddy. To be honest, seeing the recent goings-on, I don't know that I want to be paying Danica Patrick any more. Godaddy is more and more consumer oriented (I mean, good luck to them), their screens are enormous - fine on a tablet or smartphone, not fine on my 40" - and they don't scale, I can't get all of the relevant information in one Window. which really should not be rocket science. Godaddy's level of customization - so they can sell you facilities they've taken out - is huge, and I find Hostinglah has a - for me - much more friendly, scalable, interface, and provides all of the standard tools for free, complete with the privacy protection and the secure certificates Godaddy wants money for. That's how it should be - with the amount of cyber-criminality around, protection should be built in, Godaddy deals with it as if you bought a house, but you have to pay extra if you want a lock in your front door. So I am glad I am out of there - besides, I just paid $85 for what Godaddy wants $185 for, this year, and I have probably twice the facilities I had. In all honesty, I now have "only" 50GB of storage space, instead of the 100GB I had, but I don't have that much to store, so it is not an issue. Once I set up some secure space, I can at least put locked encrypted stuff on my server space. I am still finetuning AISBackup's FTP facility, but that really works a treat, although backing up lots of data would take lots of time. This is partially because I throttle the process, but with worldwide internet connections, pushing things to their limits ensures the processes break, you want control and recoverability, and AIS has been around long enough that it is more or less unbreakable, it recovers from most failures, by itself - you can't run unattended if that is not the case.

February 21, 2018: Memory, real and virtual

Keywords: Acronis, Firecuda, UEFI, GPT, TPM, Trusted Platform Module, memory, dementia, brain training, Ph.D.

Hah! The cold again... snow, freeze, we were kinda hoping winter was over, but no, it bounced right back. Not a biggie, it happens, I still managed the walk to the gym and back, thankfully clear skies and cold wind also mean sunshine.

While rivers of scientific articles are available on the main news outlets, many of those are reports by science writers about largely meaningless research papers - meaningless, because testing 17 people over 2 weeks does not provide statistically meaningful results. These papers are, more often than not, written by scientists needing to produce sufficient numbers of published papers to receive more funding. That is, for them, a valid exploit, but it is a step on their ladder, not a publishable or meaningful result. This New York Times article relates research where a "brain implant" can stimulate parts of the brain to improve memory capability, with the conclusion that this would help treat dementia. This goes from the assumption that memory lapses are a symptom of dementia, for which there is no scientific evidence, it could just as easily be the other way around. Dementia is one of those catch-all conditions that don't have a clearly defined cause-and-effect diagnosis, there isn't a "dementia blood test". And, there is currently no treatment that can cure or improve dementia, and that means there is no way to do a comparative study. Maybe a 60+ year old woman can now "remember more than a hundred words in the correct order", but I can't say that that is in any way meaningful to me. Go ahead and get a 12 year old to remember "more than a hundred words in the correct order" - if that is the criterium, the 12 year old surely has dementia too. The concept that being able to remember more than a hundred words in the correct order has scientific meaning and medical value is unproven and artificial.

Back when I started my IT career with IBM, I was able to learn 42 digit numbers by heart. Why? Apart from obviously having that ability, which not everybody does, there was a need to use 42 digit codes in our customer support system, and after a while, I found I didn't need to look them up any more. What's lost in that narrative is that you have to have a need for that memory - it isn't a game or research, it was a useful skill in my job. I did not set out to memorise long numbers, I just noticed I had that skill, at some point. The minute I stopped working with that system, I never did it any more, and while I train myself today to remember "illogical" logins and long passwords (the longest password I currently use is a 13 digit alpha-numeric jumble, one of about a dozen different passwords I use concurrently), I certainly couldn't "remember" the way I in my twenties. And you can do this too - if you use different logins and passwords for all of your online accounts, get rid of all the password remembering apps, you'll find that after three to six months you will cleanly remember them all, nobody can steal 'em because they're not stored anywhere, and for your brain, this is real excercise, like weight lifting is for muscles.

What I am saying is that I believe brain training, and memory training, have to be done with subjects - like bank account numbers, logins, passwords, addresses - that you need, that the brain classes as "essential" - under breathing, but above sex. I do not believe that Bingo, as a memory exercise, improves brain function in the elderly. And we need to ask ourselves if "improving brain function" is even necessary - it may well be that, as one gets older, memory portions of the brain fill up, and other brain areas are used to store more memory, and that just doesn't work as well, or works differently. These days, if your research goes off the beaten path, you'll find funding and approvals are harder to come by, and you do want that Ph.D.

I have a friend who uses a word game to keep his mind sharp - guess what, that does not work, repeating things you have used all your life does absolutely nothing for your brain. Learning new things is exercise, and doing that again and again is too. I invited my friend to join me in learning to fly a drone, something neither I nor he have ever done before - he declined, stating he was concerned he might damage it. Guess what - so am I, but you have to teach yourself new tricks, the mind is a bioactive organ that builds new cells and synapses every day. If nothing else, if you use your memory the way I just described every day, deliberately, you will have early warning when your memory begins to fail.

Anyway, back to that hard disk.. Normally, I scrub a new or re-purposed hard disk by doing a full write/erase. That not only hits every single sector,but cleans up any sectors that might be marginal, drives move data off those, automatically, to known good sectors. Obviously, with an SSD, which has no physical sectors, this is not necessary, depending on the tooll it may even be harmful, but I really don't know what to do with a hybrid drive, like the Seagate SSHD I just installed. So I've done nothing, while I do research and maybe ask Seagate for advice - it is, of course, a new drive, so I doubt it will let itself get damaged by older tools. I've used Seagates' Acronis cloning software, which I assume is aware of the architecture, and took maybe half an hour too clone the terabyte HGST to the 2 terabyte Seagate. It went into the HP without problems, although the first boot took a very long time, presumably Windows adjusting to the different drive architecture. Interestingly, the HP BIOS thought it still had the old drive, until I did a BIOS parameter rewrite and reboot. But then it blew (again?). It being new-out-of-the-box, it wasn't likely there was a malfunction, and I do not know, of course, how it is architected, remembering I had trouble getting the Intel SSD that was in the HP working properly in another laptop.

I am still battling the Firecuda laptop drive, though, again, I don't know if I am having drive- or Windows problems. I think I need to convert this puppy to UEFI and GPT first, I did that on the other HP Elitebook, but this one is newer and has so many more security bells and whistles, the mind boggles. It turned out Acronis actually has an uninstall routine - one of the problems was that neither Seagate nor Acronis will let you completely uninstall drive management software. As this particular combo will only work with Seagate manufactured drives, there isn't a point in having it installed. Funny way to try and lock a customer into your brand of disk. Annoying and dysfunctional - and to be honest, I don't know that there hasn't been a tug-of-war between Windows 10 and Seagate/Acronis, over control of the disk subsystem. Now that I have all of their crap out of the OS, I guess the next step has to be an image scan, then the UEFI and GPT conversion, that is, after all, what the HP chipset was designed for, and once that is stable I can Bitlocker the lot.

Hmm. First time I cloned the drive, using Seagate's version of Acronis' cloning software. That re-sizes the partitions, to match a different drive architecture. It took a lomg time to come up, after I swapped the drives, but it booted and ran. Whether something went wrong there, or I have a fault in the motherboard of the HP, I don't know, but after another reboot, the next day, the new drive would not come up, first runnning a CHKDSK, then with another (but different from before) Windows boot error. Eventually, I left the new drive in the HP, but booted from a Windows 10 repair disk, which worked this time, and restored the most recent image back to the new drive (my HPs have an external eSATA port, with just USB it gets more complicated). Then, I resized the primary partition, which Windows Backup had restored to the original 1GB size. I am wondering if my Windows load is corrupt, perhaps I need to run Microsoft's SFC routine, check the health of my Windows filesystem. New clone first, though, for safety's sake. For now, it is working.

February 12, 2018: Things break, quick or slowly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Backing Up

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

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

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

February 3, 2018: Internet and security are mutually exclusive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 31, 2018: Cancer and other Maintenance

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

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

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

ASUS Blu-ray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 30, 2017: Almost there

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 24, 2017: Too Much Holiday

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

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

Windows 10 needs lots of tweaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you lose a quarter of your staff?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Autonomous Design

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

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

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

Sunday December 10, 2017: Life and Liberties

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

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

Omega 3

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

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

Switching my two HP Elitebooks was a good move. The 2570p with the fast processor has more oomph than the 2560p, itself no slouch, and running Windows Media Center on it continuously really made it harder to do other tasks. It still does that, but is no longer used for anything else, except storage. And I just managed to get the 2570p to play BluRay disks using VLC, something I had not managed before, and that means I can record those, too, with the Buffalo external BD writer I have. Kewl. Just played a bit of Ender's Game, and must say on my Seiki 4K-UHD screen that looks fantabulous. And the laptop isn't going off like a fan heater on fire, despite driving two hi-res screens. Now, if I can get the older version of PowerDVD with a patch running, so I can play my HD-DVDs, I'd be even happier. Necessary it isn't, but I would like to reinstall the Cyberlink Suite I bought years ago, as that will write BD's (BluRay disks), although I have only the one drive, and so have never used those for storage. My experience with optical drives has been varied - I had a magneto-optical jukebox in the lab that worked great for years, but where self-writing optical drives are concerned, you don't know that they have failed until you lose your data, and with the BD disks, that can be 25GB. That's a lot. And at the same time, not enough for any kind of a full backup. Say what you like, magnetic hard drive technology has become very reliable - make sure they're level and don't overheat, and you are fine for many years - I have, in recent years, only had one 1TB Hitachi drive go south on me, and as it announced its impending demise by getting noisy, Acronis and its built-in error correction were able to correct and recover every last byte of data from it. I still believe that its failure may have been caused by the Lenovo laptop it lived in running hot, caused mostly by Microsoft's Windows Media Center. Only recently have I begun running Media Center on a separate, dedicated laptop, not on my main production machine (where it would not run under Windows 10 anyway).
The time machine through December 5, 2017, with linkbacks to October, 2008, is here

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