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November 24, 2015: That's it with the tests, and the Telegraph

Keywords: health insurance, low dose CT scan, medical, radiation, Telegraph blog, spam, comment spam, Wordpress

greenhouse @ 24 degrees It is cold, or has been cold, an early winter. This is the greenhouse, at 7am, frozen solid at 24 degrees. I must have seen this coming, because I dug the snow chains and snow boots out of the garage last week, though the forecasters all say there won't be much winter, as we're having El Niño coming in. Last year, we had all of two snowflakes, but this year... At any rate, as I write this the temperature is back up, fingers crossed.

What with the Paris attacks, the dreary fall weather, and me running around doing a battery of medical tests my health insurance more or less mandates (but thankfully pays for) this is a depressing November. I am not quite sure why exactly United Healthcare seems to suddenly want veritable batteries of exams - from vision and wellness and full physical to a number of ex-smoker scans - but I suppose I can't complain about preventative activities that are fully covered. It is just a lot of driving into Seattle, because, of course, none of it happens at one facility, on one day. I am told the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance now has a special low dose CT scanner for chest X-rays - those scanners normally liberally bathe you in X-rays, but as the Fed seems to have newly decided former heavy smokers must be screened annually until age 70, hospitals and treatment centers appear to have gone out and bought new equipment - here is a narrative from Swedish hospital. As I am being told this is much better (safer) than higher radation dose scans, I keep telling folks I am not that worried about the radiation, considering I've had radioactive iodine treatment, which, from a radiation perspective, is the real "killer", pardon the pun. That even made my ancient Army radiation detector go off. Although, to be honest, not worrying about it is probably the wrong attitude, but over the years I've had so many scans and X-rays, all of which were necessary, that I've stopped keeping track. You know, I could tell my doctor I don't see a need for the lung cancer screen, as I have no lung symptoms of any kind, but then you try and explain that to your health insurance. I wanted to know what all were the procedures the insurance covers for my annual physical, and ended up spending half an hour on the phone with an insurance nurse, which is terrific preventative service, but it then becomes quite clear you can't skip the tests, one thing you don't want is an unhappy insurer, health or automobile, regardless.

Anyway, the entire battery of tests is over with, went downtown to get the last CT scan this morning - quite an exercise, my GPS software hasn't quite kept up with the latest changes - which are somewhat weekly, here in Seattle, I don't think Microsoft is to blame, they are across the lake, after all - so while it finds its way, this involves driving around all over the place, even taking a sojourn in the wrong direction to get to an on-ramp going in the right direction, when I see that, even though it is mid-morning, traffic heading South is absolutely jammed. I decided, this morning, to avoid the highway, second time this week, I guess that was a bit of wisdom.

I have to tell you I've never seen as many sick and disabled people in one place as this morning, at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Horrendous. I guess that is, by and large, all they do, treat and diagnose cancer patients, it is just startling to visit a place where the vast majority of patients have some or the other kind of cancer. I normally go to multi-disciplinary hospitals, and they don't have that concentration of visibly ill patients, in many cases ill to the point that they need an escort or carer, more often than not a family member. The SCCA has its name embroidered around the top of the building, where, I am sure, you can see it well from the highway, but not at all when you drive past it. Only once you drive into the campus (which has a different name) is there a marker for the patient parking, which, unlike some other hospitals, you have to pay for. Having said that, the place is welcoming, friendly staff, shops and restaurants abound, airy, spacious, if you've got to be sick this is the place to do it in. Being able to compare medical care in NYC, the Washington, D.C., metro area, and Seattle, though, I see more competition here than I've ever seen anywhere else, in medical facilities, more hospitals per square mile than I've ever seen anywhere, and the spending here seems enormous, I really wonder whether this area warrants the investment in patient care - by comparison, both downstate New York and the Washington, D.C., metro area have greater needs, and as far as I can tell, fewer medical facilities. That probably goes for London, where I have lived in the past, as well, although the English National Health Service makes comparing hard.

On a different note, I've just canned the copy of this blog I maintained at the Daily Telegraph site. Between the constant comment spam in Wordpress, and extremely annoying abusive commenters in the main blog, people the Telegraph blog management team won't do anything about, I've had it. You can't remove comments - even Facebook lets you do that - and I and others got an avalanche of comments like these, from someone calling themselves "veteran09":

"The ONLY safe answer to stop humanity warring, is to reveal that THE CREATOR of all races is with Us Brits Incarnate in Our British Monarch. All the world can NOW be ONE - UNITED - UNITED THROUGH MEMBERSHIP OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF NATIONS !!! We Brits need to live according to Our Kingdom status - ie. THE MONARCH RULING. No longer letting the prime minister of a majority party ruling Us for 5 years or more. LET CHRIST BEGIN HIS PROMISED REIGN ON EARTH THROUGH HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II. GOD CAN HANDLE ANY CRISIS THAT ASSAULTS US. GOD SAVE OUR WORTHY TO RULE; CHRIST INCARNATE QUEEN."

Endlessly. Comments that bear no relation to the blogs they are posted in, by the hundreds, I would think this is a disturbed person, and as the Telegraph won't do anything about it I've stopped blogging there, and removed my stuff, Sad. It was, years ago, the primary reason why I stopped using Wordpress, you have to go and manage your comments section at least once a day, and I figured the professional blog managers at the Telegraph and with Disqus would have folks doing this. Not. And without blocking tools, I kind of got fed up having to do this all over again. So there. Even here, at my own site, I frequently get spam mails through the script I run, but as that removes code injection attempts they can't do harm.

November 6, 2015: End-of-year catching up

Keywords: health insurance, open enrollment, mobile apps, data giveaway, refugees, migrants, Affordable Care Plan, Medicare, Medicaid, people trafficking, contact lenses, Austria, weight scale, bone mass, body measurements

This is the time of year, in the USA, that we get to go through "open enrollment", meaning you can change your health and other benefit insurance plans outside of there being a "life event", like marriage or kids or things. Statistics I saw recently about Obama's Affordable Care initiative seem to indicate that in the states that have accepted the initivative, and in the states that have added to the existing Medicaid program, there are a lot more insured folks, although the statistics have it that a number of insurers have increased their pricing since last year, or made cheaper plans unavailable. I suppose that was bound to happen, I suppose I've been lucky to have my employer insurance, which, since my retirement, has been turned into a lifetime plan. It isn't free, but the employer participation is generous, so.. Ah, here it is, New York Times, of course.

I have to tell you, though, that I spent a good couple of hours on the phone with the insurance folks to figure out what was what, this despite the 200 page manual they sent me, and the time I spent going through that. That is on top of the Medicare PDF document I get from the Fed, which governs what these "Advantage" plans can legally do. It looked, for instance, as if I had two drug plans, until I found out there is the "regular" drug plan, and then there is a drug plan from the health insurer, which covers drugs provided as part of hospital treatment. I had no idea. And that's how I discovered, at the beginning of the year, I had this "Silver Sneakers" gym membership thrown in. And it is how I discovered my health plan covers an eye exam, additional to the vision plan in my benefits (which is more of a discount plan than anything else) I am, now that I've signed up for 2016, after two days wading through databases, not looking forward to getting the new manual, which will supersede this week's documentation once the New Year takes off. Phew. At least I get another Amazon shopping card after I have my annual checkup, next week. Hehe.

Every time I turn around there is yet another mobile app that does not shut down, sends all of your information to its creator, or avails itself of the sensors in your phone, or all of the above. The Weather Channel app collects the barometric pressure at your location, the LinkedIn app copies your entire phone book and sends everybody there emails from you, and I caught (and made them stop) CaroO Pro continuing to run, and send data to its Korean makers, after I shut the app down, draining my battery overnight. Facebook's app does the same thing. I've solved the problem by using different phones for different things, and generally staying away from apps, especially the Social Media apps, but I am beginning to think regulators should really begin to regulate these folks, especially considering the number of scammers that spend their days trying to break into these folks' databases. Occasionally, one gets caught, but I get the impression that's the exception, not so much the rule. I've been getting texts from T-Mobile I am sure don't come from T-Mobile, etc.

When you read some of the European news websites you come away thinking they're quietly going crazy, over there, with literally hundreds of thousands of "migrants" coming across Southern and Eastern borders. While I have no intel, I just can't believe these are mostly refugees - I think people traffickers have found themselves a humongous source of income, lots of petty criminals and smugglers and other miscreants have "retrained". I even get the impression that with the onset of fall they have stepped up their "shipments", as they full well know the European governments involved can't leave the people with children and older folk at the borders while the frost in the mountains sets in. This is completely crazy, and by now the numbers are so large I am certain terrorists are mixed in with the "refugees". I have a hard time believing parents will subject their toddlers and small children to these trips, which kills many, and the kids always die first. "Refugees" who pay smugglers $10,000, $20,000, per family? Citizens in Austria are so worried that where Vienna saw 10 weapons purchase applications in August, there have been 192 in October, according to the Austrian press, and an upward trend in other areas is reported. What has more Austrians spooked enough to need a gun in the house? How do, just in Austria, 4,000 to 6,000 refugees arrive at their borders, just at the weekend, in the freezing cold, literally throwing themselves at the barriers wih kids in their arms, forcing police and border guards to open the gates. I am not making that up.... the Austrians have plenty of clear video to back this up.

I mentioned contact lenses, in recent blogs - someone asked why I switched from 30 day wear to 6 day wear. An optometrist, a few years back, noted some vein growth in my corneas, nothing bad, but he said that indicated not enough oxygen was getting through my permeable lenses. I mean, who knew eyes breathe? And that if they can't get enough air they try to import a blood supply? It can mean many things - for one, I switched to a "more permeable" type of lens, but at the same time he and I decided I should not be wearing my contacts for the full 30 days "because you can". One risk with that is that you get so used to these things that you wear them for longer, the other that you don't take enough time without wearing lenses, so your eyes can't "rest" (just because the sterilizer says "six hours" does not mean that's enough time for your eyes to rest). So I throttled back to a fortnight, then to six days at a time, and glasses on the seventh, for a full 24 hours. An opthalmologist advised that using artifial tear drops, during that time, and not the ones with loads of preservatives, helps too. Using glasses isn't always pleasant, spectacles have a different correction from contacts, and you see "differently" with glasses, especially where depth perception is concerned. Besides, seeing well all the time, even when you fumble for the snooze button at o-dark-hundred hours, or being able to clearly see all of your partner while you're having sex, is a lot better than wearing glasses, which you take off at night. But you can't buy new eyes, so this makes sense to me, especially since I have bifocal glasses, but don't need bifocal contact lenses, with monovision (which does not work with glasses). So there's your answer..

And then there is the "biometric" scale I bought on Amazon, which provides clever readings, like body fat, bone mass and water content, apart from weight. I have no idea how good its readings are, at least, not until I see my rheumatologist, who is going to do some scans to make sure my bone structure is A-OK. I'll keep you posted as to the outcome of that, and as I said previously, I don't think these scales are anywhere near as realistic as the $100,000 scanners the hospital uses. Having said that, if the measurements the scale produces are consistent, it can be a valuable tool to signal changes in the body, which is how I use it. And I can report the scale is consistent - a nice bright ergonomic display, and repeated measurements are very much consistent. Since the online manual wants the soles of your feet to be "moist" (not a word about this in the manual in the box), I checked whether or not measurements before and after a shower show any difference - not with me. That may well be different if you have very dry skin, or very calloused feet, but I found the scale "accurate" - in quotes, as I have nothing to compare the readings with, I'll certainly let you know how that pans out. I should point out, however, as an engineer, that high frequency oscillation measurements may certainly provide useful readings - human body fat, and cell contained moisture, have quite specific resonation frequencies, and it appears to me quite a bit of research has been done by at least some manufacturers, to provide "reasonable" measurements. I wouldn't rely on these devices for medically applicable readings, but they certainly can provide you with a good view of body change. Buying one when you are starting on an exercise-and-diet regime may well help motivate, as you see the values get "better". I bought mine because I have reached a good weight measurement, but am now beginning (I suspect) to put on muscle mass, due to my frequent workouts, and so I no longer see my weight go down, paradoxically a good thing now. My only negative comment is that the display is made for younger eyes, and I have trouble discerning some of the smaller symbols. This is despite my brand new contact lenses and "measured" 20/20 vision, older eyes don't provide the acuity younger eyes do, and this is, in new digital products where the display emits light, often an issue, as the designers and the testers don't think of us oldies. So, guys, like with all other products - test them across age groups, ethnicities, cultures, the works. I recall the Philips designer, years ago, who told me they made two-head shavers for the Japanese market, as Japanese had "smaller faces" and didn't need three heads. That's what I am talking about.

October 24, 2015: Seeing Better & Feeling Better

Keywords: contact lens, optometrist, Air Optix, monovision, extended wear, Silver Sneakers, bone density, muscle mass, weight, gym

Air Optix AquaSo: if you're looking for a good optometrist who specializes in contact lenses, takes his time, doesn't charge the Earth, is prepared to be creative with your insurance plans, and you're in the Seattle area, try Tony Pool, O.D.. He is convenient to downtown, in that his office is half a mile from the Edmonds railway station, which is served by the Sounder train, Amtrak, and loads of metro buses, while his "other office", is at a Target store in Lake Stevens, WA (I have to admit I have no idea where that is...). The Edmonds office not only has free parking nearby, but even charging stations - a new one on me. Dr. Pool is clearly economical - he has no receptionist, and his offices are in the basement of an office building, meaning he doesn't have to pay for a shop front or a vapid person answering the phone. It may not help employment or the economy, but it sure helps my wallet. Edmonds, WA, by the way, is a cool little town, with an enjoyable waterfront and a cute downtown.

Why do I say Pool is a good optometrist? I suppose I've been seen by some 12 optometrists, in three diferent countries, over my contact lens wearing years. Pool, who I found in both my insurance plans' databases, got my monovision prescription bang right, hole in one. This isn't necessarily easy, you have to have a fair amount of experience, and he completely understood what I was after when I tested his correction using small lettering in a browser on my Blackberry Z10 phone. Getting continuous vision right from small lettering at 12 inches out to infinity is pretty impressive - and I've been wearing monovision lenses since the 2000's. He also (and no other optometrist ever did this) made me take my contact lenses out, and put new ones in, myself, while he watched. Others always did this themselves - and when you watch the patient, you can easily establish whether or not they are careful, and have the experience they say they have.

My contact lenses I get from a Brooklyn outfit - they may not take orders (even online) on the Shabbat or the High Holy Days, but their customer service is excellent, they have some rock bottom pricing, and ship quickly. After more than a decade, I have to yet find better pricing - my optometrist had it Costco has the best pricing on contacts, I went and checked and they do have very good pricing, even if the staff at the optical counter in my new local Costco is not exactly friendly, but at least on my Air Optix Aqua EZ Contacts beat even Costco, by a dollar per box, and no tax and no shipping charges.

I can't really give you a contact lens recommendation, as I don't know enough about the difference between different people's eyes, there really isn't a reason why what works for me would work for you. This especially since I've been wearing extended wear contacts since the 1980s, and monovision correction since the 2000's. Extended wear (these days I sleep in my contacts six nights, that used to be 30, but I am getting more careful with my eyes) is harder on the eye than a "normal" contact lens, monovision, I assume, adds strain to that, but I've used Purevision, Air Optics Night & Day, both for 30 nights, then switched to the cheaper 6 night Biofinity lenses, and now have switched to Air Optix "regular" Aqua, equally approved for 6 nights, which are cheaper still. Much to my delight, that is, because they're more comfortable for me than the Biofinity's.

Having said that, I wouldn't miss my monovision and extended wear for the world - the only advantage I've had is that I started, back in the 1970's, with ordinary "hard" contact lenses, and through time, first hard, then soft, then soft extended wear, learned to handle and sterilize contact lenses, put them in and take them out, and learned to touch my eyes, which isn't a natural thing for humans. You can really mess yourself up if you don't properly (read: very very cleanly) handle your lenses and eyes, and if you cut corners with lens cleaning and -sterilization. Something goes wrong, your eye hurts, your vision blurs, you run to the optometrist (a doctor of optometry, O.D.), or to the opthalmologist (a medical doctor, M.D., with eye surgery specialization).

Silver SneakersSince we're on "health and vision".. Although I ordered a scale that purports to measure body fat, hydration levels, bone mass and muscle mass, I've been tested for some of these things for years by doctors at medical facilities, and kind of don't expect my bone mass to be measurable by a scale, considering doctors measure these things with tests and equipment costing thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands. But I can perhaps compare some of this data with what my rheumatologist comes up with, using the clinic's scanner, and see what I myself can figure. I've now been working out, using my insurance's "free" Silver Sneakers program, since the beginning of the year, five to six days a week, and it probably is time to look at maintaining some kind of measurement, so I can track my progress. At the point, a couple of months ago, when a neighbour noticed I had lost weight (which probably is translatable as "body mass", as I am now putting on weight as muscle mass), and most of my jeans fall off my ass, even the 34's I bought recently, when that started, I guess I should be happy with progress.

I actually got a bit of a feather in my cap when another neighbour, a few months ago, asked about me helping him to get started working out at our local gym, then discovered his insurance did not cover Silver Sneakers, but then was given a membership by a family member. So I introduced him to my "gentle and easy" daily half hour workout, and since then he has been accompanying me to the gym three times a week. Quite nice, seeing someone take to this, and perking up. I myself am in much better shape, too - for both of us, walking is OK, but you really do need to exercise. And with the gym in walking distance, it is a double whammy - walk + workout makes for an hour of conditioning, which is manageable, and you don't have to do that every day (but once a week won't cut it). The simple secret is to do stuff you do naturally, rather than overbuild muscle that will end up as blubber when you get older. Hopefully the scale will help me distinguish between overeating weight and muscle weight - it is one thing to tell yourself "it is muscle", but that can be an excuse, right?

October 20, 2015: Backing up III, and seeing better

Keywords: backup software, Seagate, eSATA, contact lens, optometrist, Air Optix

In my last entry I mentioned contact lenses - just wanted to share what I have learned, recently, and from my new optometrist. Like many, I've simply followed optometrist's prescriptions, but now I am learning that when an optometrist specifies a brand and a diameter, those aren't necessarily your best options - like me, you may never have tried different brands, which often means, I now understand, different diameters, too. I did a little experiment, last year, buying different contact lenses from what my optometrist had stipulated, they were cheaper, but had a 14.0mm diameter, rather than 13.8. I figured 2/10th of a millimeter could not be a really significant difference, through there are folks on the internet that have it that a different diameter changes the curvature. I figured that could not be true, an 8.6 curvature has to be an 8.6 curvature, whatever the diameter, and sure enough, I was right. My optometrist has it the diameter simply, is determined by the manufacturer, the smaller ones aren't even made any more, and it is just what you feel comfortable with, doesn't irritate your eyes, and provides "good" vision. In the olden days, with hard contact lenses, that was different, I won't go into that here, but today - I am trying a pair of 14.2's as we speak - there is no difference in strength or curvature. So says my eye doctor, and that's why I am telling you, I am not the expert, but I did "try". And actually, the Air Optix 14.2's turn out to be more comfortable than the Biofinity 14.0's - for me, that is. Who knew. So forget the internet "advice" - especially that from eye doctor Richard Bensinger on, who has helped 30,514,929 people - that's 1,990 people per day, assuming he works weekends.... Do check with your optometrist, but if you don't ask specific questions, there's stuff you won't know, often, the appointments just don't allow enough time. The larger diameter lenses, for me, came about almost as an afterthought, after a sideways comment on my part, on my way out. As I said, who knew. And be careful - some folks post complete drivel in Q&A forums, and even if they get contradicted, you don't know who is right.

Blah. Not only did the disk backups fail (see previous blog posts below), after I resurrected them one drive completely lost its partition. In the middle of the backup the software reported "no drive", and that was that. I've reconfigured the drive and am trying to use it for a Windows image, but so far that has not worked. Thank heavens I run two backups, alternatingly.... So now I get to figure out why the Seagates failed - they're not new, I purchased four in 2008, but after a couple of years' duty in a self built RAID environment, I've only used them for backup purposes, so they can't be worn out. Having said that, I realized, as I was analyzing the failures, that I had not "slow formatted" these drives for many years, once you format the drive intially, you tend to do a "quick format" if you ever need to reinitialize them. The slow format, which rewrites every data block, can take four to six hours on a 750GB drive... so that was next, a full format (not to be confused with a low level format, something we used to do on hard disks, but the tools for that are not really available any more, and today's disks have translations that make that inadvisable anyway).

So anyway, I reformatted the offending drive under Windows 10, Seagate's diagnostics still thought there was something wrong on the SATA interface, but on the USB interface there were no errors - and then a Windows image run over said USB interface completed fine, down to the recovery disk recognizing that backup as valid. Next step, I guess, is backing up using AIS to a different type of drive, see if that completes successfully (as I write this, that backup, over 400 compressed GB using AIS to an external SATA 2TB Fantom Drive, is still running, in its verification phase - some 30 hours after starting, without errors). Puzzled, can't figure out what goes wrong, so one has to keep trying, but with the positive result to the Fantom it is looking more and more the Seagates are either nearing the end of their lives, or the microcode in their SATA interfaces is faulty. It's weird. Remember, though - if you cannot recover your backup, meaning you've not tested the recovery process, there isn't any point in backing up. Right? Now all I need to do is wait until the backkup is finished, so I can use my Lenovo again without risking to jinx it. Seriously. Once I have the fulll backup (like on "the other" Seagate) I can increment it, and not worry about backing up.... (just finished, 400 compressed GB in 41 hours...)

October 13, 2015: Spam and backing up II

Keywords: scam email, spam, backup software, Seagate, eSATA, blood pressure, NSAIDs, contact lens, optometrist

Amazingly, I received an email through my server script, this morning, pretending to be from someone I know, with a request to help an athlete find property. The phone number is fudged, and seemingly the only purpose is to get me to reply, to find out my email address, which the script doesn't have. Good luck with that, but it does seem, especially reading and watching the news, lately, internet scams are particularly on the rise - usually, spam mail through the script has fudged links they hope you'll click on, or attempts at self-launching scripts, but this was a novel approach. This particular mail came from a mail server in Russia, I've seen that before, all in immaculate English, of course, and quite "chatty". If you do get stuff that clearly isn't for you, do not be nice and respond to it, because that is its sole purpose - your mail header may not only have your mail path - all of it - but the public network side IP address of your router, and that's all they need for a hack. Don't forward stuff, don't open mail from addresses you do not recognize, etc.

Having recently had an occasional problem with my backups, which I (partly) do using AISBackup software, which I love and have used for years, suddenly both backups, to external Seagate 750GB drives, failed, with what seemed like a file writing error. The software reports it doesn't have permission to write to a directory, and that's that. Except, within a couple of days the other backup failed, as well. While AISBackup's excellent Brian is looking at the problem, I've managed to recover the databases, and "unlock" the process, but I am none the wiser about what caused it. I did switch from the eSATA interface to the USB 2.0 interface the Seagates offer as well, and Brian had seen eSATA disk powerdown errors, so we'll see. For now, I can back up again, and whether there will be more errors will only become clear over time, but I think I'll stick with USB, not to add more variables, while Brian is doing his thing. Last time I debugged a problem (years ago) the AIS guys gave me a free license, which I still use today.

blood checkerWell, it does say "don't try this at home", or words to that effect.. when I tried taking my blood pressure medication at night, just for a couple of days, that immediately led to heart palpitations in the evening. Before you think the two are related, I also take a thyroid hormone, and it is that hormone that has caused palpitations in the past, until we got the dosage right. So there may well be an interaction between the two, or even an interaction with a statin, and I find the palpitations uncomfortable. I absolutely know I have a heart, but I do not need to be reminded of it - I remember, after my thyroid surgery, waking up from the boom-boom in my chest, being too scared to go back to sleep. Having, at the same time, stopped smoking cold turkey, after 40 years, didn't help either, probably... *grin*

I had recently spent some time (at my doctor's instigation) taking a prescription version of Aleve, and that had kicked my blood pressure way up, while it didn't work half as well as the NSAID I had been on before. So I'd been trying to get my blood pressure - normally nicely controlled - back down anyway... The drawback when you check your vitals every day is that when they seem anomalous, you get alarmed, even though the human organism undergoes changes all the time, and there generally isn't an issue until you see a trend develop, over a period of time. So, back to where we were before, let's see if we can get things normalized. It is generally never a bright idea to experiment with medication, and besides, it is the thyroid hormone whose uptake is most important, I spent quite a bit of time, a few years ago, adjusting my routine so there would be no effect on that from "other" medication.

Speaking of matters medical, I did slowly need to find a new optometrist, so, after some searching, found one here in Edmonds who takes both of my insurance plans, and turns out to be professional, and frugal to boot, by which I mean he runs a small basement office in Edmonds, without receptionist, more power to him. I'll post his details once he is done dealing with the insurance, and I know how much (or, hopefully, little) he's charging me beyond the "standard" $50 contact lens prescription charge. I came away with the full thorough eye checkup, as of this year part of my "main" health plan, a changed contact lens prescription, my regular Biofinity lenses brand, but a set of test lenses made by Air Optix which may turn out to be better than the Biofinity lenses. I think so, anyway, I use extended wear contacts, so can't really tell until I've slept in them for a few nights, then try the new Biofinity's to sleep in, etc. I think I know the answer already, but you've got to be careful with these things, only one pair of eyes and all that. Interestingly, I had previously been wearing Air Optix Night & Day extended wear lenses, and had always assumed the "regular" Air Optix weren't approved for extended wear. Not so, they are, says my optometrist... The difference seems to be that the "Night & Day" variety can be worn for 30 days and nights, while the "regulars" are approved for "only" 6 days and nights. As I stopped wearing contact lenses for a full month, when someone mentioned that was fairly high risk, years ago, I don't need the more expensive variety. Shows ya how hard it is to get that information - the extended wear list of contacts at the Walmart website aren't all approved for extended wear, even. Or, I should say, that was last week. This week, I can't find that page. And they now have their own (cheaper) brand contact lenses. And so it goes...

October 4, 2015: We still blog.. do you?

Keywords: blogging, writing, intelligence, artificial intelligence, IBM, Google, VW, diesel engines, emissions, brakes

When I look at what other bloggers do... Actually, I don't follow a lot of other bloggers. Apart from a Dutchwoman who was one of the first real bloggers "over there", I've only viewed a couple of former colleagues, one now retired, the other now at Google, and the latter seems to have ground to a halt. The former, long at IBM's T.J. Watson - actually, they both were - is going off with a vengeance, musing about AI, Artificial Intelligence. Which interests me, if only because I think there is no such thing. Intelligence, methinks, is a typical human thing, perhaps only an attempt at defining what it is that makes us human. If there is anything that isn't possible, I think, it is transmuting intelligence into machines. Transmuting machines into humans, maybe.

macro of flowerUmm, this picture I rather liked - I was trying to shoot the recent eclipse / blood moon, forgot it had gotten cold at night, so my lens assembly couldn't get it together, as I didn't go outside until the thing was well and truly started. I then took the 300mm and my doubler out into the sunny afternoon, to see if I could still do cool stuff with it, and that's when I shot this flower, against the light, in macro setting. The picture is rather large, so if it loads slowly, don't be surprised. As always, you can click on it to get the full size view, depending on your browser. So I think I am OK, just need to use my brain and pay attention. OK. Back to AI..

For one thing, for the most part, our machines are digital, and we are not, we are analog, we have shades of gray. That alone precludes bringing intelligence into the realm of machines. While the success of the computer didn't occur until we developed digital binary electronics, the original "computers", such as the slide rule, were all analog, and all had a specific purpose - even if they were "programmable", they only functioned with a specific task. Not until the need occurred, when complex encryption codes needed to be reverse engineered in WWII, did the binary digital computer make its entry. And we've barely progressed from there - we have enhanced the speed, the memory, and multi-tasking, we have embedded computers inside computers, but it is still a game of noughts and crosses. The amount of calculating required to attempt "intelligence" is simply horrendous. Remember - and this was part of my development work, in the past - the reason we work on "speech recognition" and "voice recognition" (two distinct disciplines) is that we don't have machines that can understand the meaning of speech, a machine can take an order for bran muffins only if it's been taught what a bran muffin is. We can feel, smell, view, taste and eat a bran muffin - machines can't. And if we teach them to do all that, all we end up with is learned behaviour, not intelligence. Some say, of course, that intelligence is learned behaviour - I am not qualified to prove or disprove that, but I do not think it is, having spent untold hours in the lab figuring out why machines do what they do, in the way they do it. In development, often, the workaround becomes the solution, not a good way to "understand".

I'll come back to this, promise, need to sort my thoughts on that a bit further.

And on the score of learned behaviour... The VW scandal? Some learned engineer, a software engineer, someone with access to the code in the ignition system, must have figured out how to make the engine run truly frugally and cleanly. So far, so good - what is not being discussed is that Volkswagen has software to make diesel engines run like a clean-dream. So, once you figure out whodunnit, who in management, if anyone, permitted that to go forward (there are plenty of engineers that are roque-by-themselves), and finally, if the clean version of the software can be made commercially viable. Should be simple enough. And likely, if a VW ingenieur figured out how to do this, other "frugal" German cars will have the same software "tweak" - these guys talk to each other, nobody else understands them to conversational level... as it now stands, Skoda and Audi diesel vehicles are included in the "tweak" software installations. It isn't really that surprising, or unusual - Toyota had a "sticking accelerator pedal", which led to scandal, fines and deaths, and GM had the faulty ignition switch, again, scandal, fines and deaths. Volkswagens un-anticipated extra diesel pollution will have killed people, as well, though proving that will not really be possible. Fraud, simply put, and we fine but don't send the perpetrators and senior executives to jail, so it'll happen again...

"Running in" the new brake pads on my SUV, after correcting my mistakes, seems to be going well - I am doubly cautious as these are the front brakes on a 3 ton vehicle, you're not so much putting yourself at risk, as you are other road users with less or no steel around them. But so far, so good, I can feel a slight vibration now and again, but that likely is caused by the brake pad surfaces "settling in" on the rotors. In the past, service stations I went to did whatever when necessary, or so they said, although I realized later I never checked pads and rotors, even though I often rotated my own wheels, and on my old Camaro changed over annually from the slicks I used to spend the summer on. At any rate, I finally did a sixty mile round trip, and all seems well, braking is actually smoother than before, so the new pads were needed. Car wash 'n wax is next, I guess, before the fall sets in in earnest, time to get the pressure washer out on a Sunny Sunday..

September 24, 2015: Never an end to fixing things

Keywords: brake repair, car maintenance, SUV, jack stands, Microsoft, Windows Update, Windows 8, Windows 10, Forticlient

I had the worst attack of insecurity of my life, or so it felt, after screwing up mounting new brake pads, a job I didn't really feel competent to tackle to begin with, but Pep Boys, who have done a good job on my tires and transmission, wanted some $700 to do the brakes, and I just can't afford that, and I figured it couldn't be that hard, from what I saw on Youtube and other online places. Wronk.. I installed one the wrong way around, I drove like that for a few days, figuring the noises were the new pads settling in. Duh. I ordered new pads, got new clips, yadayada, and now I hope I've not done lasting damage that will cost me dolares I do not have. How is it possible to inverse a brake pad? Most parts can only be installed one way, but not so for brake pads, lesson learned, I guess. Thanks, neighbour G, for helping out.

brake maintenanceI am checking the other side, which I didn't mess up, today, just to make sure I have the same brake pads and properly mounted clips on both sides. Not helped by the Youtube help videos on the internet, none of which appear to apply completely to my SUV. It is a bummer when you get the car on the stands and then everything looks just a little bit different from what you've seen, so then you have to figure out how to do it by yourself, not knowing nuttin' about heavy duty front end disk brakes. I've got to go back to the video and see if perhaps that wasn't a four wheel drive.

That, and then the fact I've seen accidents happen with cars up on jack stands. Actually, I think the kid (a sixteen year old neighbour in Virginia) just put it on a jack, no stands, and while trying to fix his brakes the car came off the jack, and split his head in half, he was not discovered until later that day. We buried him at the end of that week, in the cemetery up the road - this was not an affluent family so we (every family in my sixteen household street) wrote checks to the church, which pitched in as well. While I am a lot more careful than your average sixteen year old, I just can't get that closed-coffin image out of my head. But hopefully, I am getting everything right, this time, and no, it has not shown any signs of wanting to fall over. I am just too aware it is three tons of steel you're messing with....

I switched my antivirus software to Forticlient a while ago, and while that runs quietly and doesn't continually offer paid upgrades and disables things I need without asking me, it stops (on both my machines) Windows Update from doing its thing, on a regular basis. On my Windows 8 machine, where I run manual updates (because I like to), that's a manageable pain, but Windows 10 is a different story. Windows 10 runs updates automagically, and that means that if you quickly want to reboot, you can get stuck in a half hour loop, because the update won't install, and Mr. Nadella's MSBoys won't let you break out, and then you have to do a reboot and disable Forticlient and retry the update. Yes, it makes sense to update automatically, but not being able to bypass or stop that process is not nice - as I am sitting here, I've managed to install one update after stopping Forticlient, but now Windows found another (for Defender, which I don't use) and just sits there on 0%. This is a pain, Mr. Nadella - for one thing, your OS should be constructed so these security upgrades aren't necessary (I am talking about three a week), for another, if your client's system becomes (temporarily) unusable because of something you do, you need to provide a simple workaround. This is my computer, not yours - a syndrome Microsoft has always had. Now I can't even tell Windows I don't want an update - at this point, my Toshiba has not been usable for 40 minutes. Shhh... I don't mind Microsoft doing its thing, but when you can't reboot quickly, and there's nothing to tell you this is about to happen, that's not customer friendly. And I just know what happens when the average noncom wants to start their computer and can't.

I've actually had to spend several hours "fixing" my Windows 8 machine, which now has fewer problems because I enabled the Administrator login, which, for some reason, was disabled (you may remember that enabling that was a setup option in older Windows - no more). Kudos, though, that the solution to the update problem was out there in the helpfiles, not-so-happy a problem I've not been able to solve for quite a while was there in the first place. I am going to have to see if that problem exists on the Win10 machine, too. Waste of my time. And again, for many people not a possibility. Umm, checking.... yes, on Windows 10 the Administrator login is disabled too, by default, I guess that is why Windows 10 reports that "some updates are not permitted by your company" - I am my company. And once I reset the Administrator login (an old artifact from Windows NT days) things run much more smoothly.. Go into your Control Panel -> Administrative Tools -> Computer Management -> System Tools - Local Users and Groups -> Users, and if you then don't know what to do, don't try, because you can really hurt your system futzing with these settings. The above sequence works in Windows 7, 8, 8.1, and 10, the Pro versions, the rest I don't know. What I do know is that my 8.0 laptop would not let me make changes to the update routine before, and now it will, apparently because some of its scripts need an enabled Administrator login. On the Win10 laptop I've not yet been able to test the effect, although I was able to finish a couple of updates that would consistently fail before. The problem with Windows is that failing updates may cause subsequent failures - besides, I've not seen updates fail "hard" for at least a couple of years. But they do now, and this is a true pain in the Windows. I'll keep you posted.

September 17, 2015: You have the Cloud, so why back up?

Keywords: laptop, terabyte, Windows Media Center, HDTV, Seagate, hard drives, eSATA, USB, Windows Disk Image

While on my "second" laptop I can back up to a half terabyte external drive, that no longer works on my "primary" Lenovo. I've put terabyte drives in both laptops, for a variety of reasons, but the Lenovo's drive now has some 700 GB of data on it, which means I can only back part of it up to my 750 GB Seagate backup drives (you back up incrementally, so you end up with more data than your primary drive holds). I've got some 200 GB of recorded TV on that drive, out of Windows Media Center, and while I don't necessarily need to back this up, as I don't retain it, I can't create a complete disk image without it. And a disk image, taken periodically, is the easiest way to recover the entire system, just in case - in some cases, it is the only way yo recover a computer load. If you're wondering what I am doing with 200 GB of TV on a laptop, I use Windows Media to record stuff I might be interested in watching, periodically weed out what I don't want, periodically watch the rest, but HDTV has hugely impacted the amount of disk space TV recordings take up. Just as an example, a single one hour episode of Doc Martin from PBS in .wtv format takes up 5.5 gigabytes. So what used to take a small portion of a hard disk now becomes a major storage consumer - and keeping recordings for posterity is impossible. Even a recordable Blu-Ray disk, 25 GB, could only take four one hour episodes and a half hour of This Old House.

Even so, the Lenovo has the major part of my data files, something like a decade's worth. So that load isn't surprising. But look at my Toshiba, and the picture gets worse - the Toshiba, now running Windows 10 Pro, has a load of 545 GB - and of that, only 85 GB or so is data. The rest is software, and the majority of the software I use is not even on that system, which I mostly use for watching TV. So Windows 10 (and I removed the Windows 8.1 files that were left on that system after I ascertained that the upgrade had installed correctly, and I could "live with" Windows 10) is huge.

Seagate and Blu-RayYou still here? Sorry if I get a bit involved... The main problem, then, is that I had to free up my old two terabyte backup drive, which meant laboriously transferring its aged load to a couple of the Seagates. And this is where you find that the ports available on laptops, be they USB2, eSATA, or USB3, take hours transferring very large amounts of data. Worse, those ports sometimes stop working when the screen savers cut in, so it can be more than a pain. It is transferring 250GB at a time, then transferring that again to another backup, and so on, and so forth. I've so far been moving data for the better part of a week. Almost done, to be sure, but this isn't something you want to do every other month.

Just sayin'.. A larger drive provides faster access, better virtual memory, etc., but you do want to use all that lovely space, and that means you have to find some way of backing it all up, and that means your backup drive has to be double the size of your primary drive. Consumers buy laptops with terabyte drives, but don't then buy drives that will take a full backup. Is that necessary? That depends - if your system blows up and you want to be back on line quickly, you need a full disk image. And that means you have to be able to restore up to a terabyte in one fell swoop, and you can then "superimpose" a recent incremental backup on that restored image. Do it any other way, and you'll spend a couple of weeks restoring your operating system, applications and data. I guarantee. Apart from any other considerations, if you have a laptop or PC with only USB 2.0 ports, backing up or transferring 500 GB of data easily takes the better part of a day - and you're best off not using that computer while the transfer is active, and turn off screen savers and the like, otherwise there is a good chance your transfer will fail. For this reason, I am satisfied the majority of consumers with newer computers with large disks don't back up. They may save important files, but largely never even test whether they can restore their system to "reasonable functionality". Especially with the security Microsoft builds into its Windows, you have no way of recovering your Windows license if you don't have a full backup. Gone are the days of CDs/DVDs and license stickers... Even if you knew what you installed last year, you're likely to have the installs on the disk you never backed up because it is too large, or takes too much time to back up.

Once I've finished reorganizing my backups, I'll have 1.5 terabytes of aged data on two Seagates, incremental backups on two more Seagates, a small image on a half terabyte disk, and an image and a file copy on a two terabyte Fantom. Maintaining that isn't a huge job, provided I back up every day, but most importantly, I can restore either laptop to yesterday's load inside of a workday. Teehee.

Backing up to the cloud? Last year, when I was traveling for several months, I copied all of the files I might need to my webserver, just in case I had a mishap with my laptop and would need to replace it and reload it, and I can tell you it took me the better part of a week to transfer stuff via our reasonably fast fiber internet. The issue would have been retrieving all those files, using the slow link that passes for broadband in much of South East Asia. That would have been murder, but it is better than nothing, or taking a backup drive that can get stolen or lost. The cloud is brilliant for backing up new files, email, and pictures and video, while you're traveling, so you can't lose anything.

Yes, I am a compulsive backer-upper, but in my lab days I've seen how easily you can lose entire disks - and that was when a really really big disk had 50GB. Today, my financial file is 95 MB in size, and my email archive is a cool gigabyte. Why is this important? Files only get bigger, affordable hard disks are not keeping pace, in terms of size, and, at least in the United States, internet speeds aren't keeping pace either. The cheapest 2TB laptop drive I see on Amazon costs $89 plus shipping, but those are the slower 5400RPM drives, and a slow drive, however small, looking for data in a terabyte or more... I can tell how even my faster 7200RPM terabyte drives sometimes struggle, Windows, after all, is a true multitasker, and that means that five applications may simulaneously be looking for data on what is, essentially, a sequential device. Postscript: the disk image of the Lenovo laptop, at 750GB, turned out to be 675GB in Microsoft recoverable size, and using the 2 TB drive on an external eSATA 1.6GB/s port, took just under three hours to do. That's not bad, and considering I don't need to do this a lot - maybe once a month? - manageable. Overnight, I'll add an incremental ROBOCOPY of changed files, something I can do really quickly every day. To conclude what seems to be turning into a small manual, the Robocopy of all vital data directories (I store data in specific directories, rather than where the software wants to put it) took another 250 GB or so, effectively the "full" backup of the Lenovo is some 900 GB in size, leaving me with a spare terabyte on the Fantom drive. Good thing I bought that, all those years ago, at the time for aged storage, but now it is the only drive I have that can handle a "full" backup. The Windows disk image lets me restore my entire hard disk at any time (or restore to a new hard disk or computer), just at the press of a button, and I can then do an incremental recovery of data stored since the image was taken. I have two full backups on 750 GB Seagates as well, using a compressed format made by AIS Backup, which is minus the Windows Media video files. I just checked the storage for those, it boggles the mind, one single Bond HD movie is some 8.5 GB in size. As I mentioned, no point in even trying to store all that stuff - these days, I go into the video storage once a week, and delete what I don't want to watch or have already watched. Even after the cleanup, there's some 170 GB of (mostly HD) TV in the media directory. Tsk, tsk.

So far, so good. eSATA, of course, is pretty much obsolete, when even cheap laptops have USB 3.0 ports, they're pretty quick, but you may need to do some configuring, which with eSATA isn't the case. Anyway, I just finished transferring and backing up this morning, moving the old backups, making new backups, creating a new storage system, and cleaning up both laptops took a full week, though not full time. Have at it, you never know...

September 2, 2015: Wind and Water

Keywords: Seattle storm, power outage, Safeway, perishables, working out, dehydration, overdrinking, Silver Sneakers

I've been through a few massive power failures, over the years, but usually they were due to hurricanes or tornados, on the other coast, and they rarely lasted more than a few hours, with the exception of the hurricane that tore through Virginia, when I lost power and phones for a full week. Cellphones, however, worked soon again, and so I had a modicum of internet, until out-of-state pole crews helped the local folk restore the network. I couldn't go to work, as the roads were blocked and the gas stations had no power.

Safeway after the stormSo last week's storm-and-outage here in the greater Seattle area came as a bad surprise - we were without power for 30 hours, and for much of that time, had no cell service either. Lots of trees down, and though someone told me that was because of the drought, that doesn't work for me. One of the problems in urban areas, you see, is that trees stand, by themselves, in lawns, and as the lawns are watered the trees develop shallow root systems. In nature, trees normally have to dig deep for water, while they reach high for light, and they grow in huge clusters, but the urban environment changes all that, considerably. Add to that the lack of right-of-way maintenance - in rural Virginia, and suburban New York, utility crews come by every year to trim trees down and back from the power lines and -poles - and you're ready for disaster when a really powerful storm strikes. I've not seen that here, and I have seen people grow trees and shrubbery right underneath power lines. We need to manage our greenery much more diligently, here in the Pugent Sound. Perhaps the enormous wildfires, larger than anything we've ever seen here before, have some bearing on that, as well. The fires are nature taking care of itself, but we build in that, now - same as Californians build in the desert, and used to water it so they can grow stuff. Well, that's done now. We need a good scientific team to work on connecting this storm with the fires and the weather and stuff. You know? The picture shows the morning after the night before - Safeway manager Bob, around 10am, restocking perishable shelves, I think he started with yoghurt.

Whenever I look at people working out, I see them carry bottles of water - some of the die-hards at my gym do the protein drink stuff activity, worse, but let's pass by that for now. I don't necessarily dispense a lot of medical advice, in these pages, as I am not qualified, but stubborn as I am, I've never understood why the fear of dehydration. Surely, I thought, your body will tell you when you're dehydrated, this assuming that, like me, you work out normally, and aren't an athlete. I am writing this today as I worked on my car in the sun, much of the afternoon, and ended up soaked with sweat from top to bottom, at which point I remembered some New York Times articles about hydration I'd read, recently. When you click on this link, by the way, make sure you go to some of the links at the bottom of the article, as they contain additional important information - dare I say it, science, even.

So, as it turns out, I was right all along, and I think there may even be a risk, not discussed in the Times, of bottles that aren't sterilized properly, or frequently. If you're not particularly big on hygiene, carrying a plastic bottle that you use all the time and rinse occasionally is asking for trouble. It is, to some extent, an all pervasive syndrome in today's health environment, attempting to prevent complaints, illnesses and adverse conditions ahead of time. Yes, indeed, there is generally no way of predicting how much fluid an "average" human requires, at intervals, and we do have a system built into our organism that tells us we need some sort of sustenance, and when. Pre-feeding your body liquids (which require significant amounts of energy to digest and distribute), or anything else, for that matter, can then be counter-productive. You probably confuse your metabolism by putting more water than you need into your body, as you know you're going to have a future need for it. Actually, your body already knows it will need fluids, and stores them, so you shouldn't have to anticipate the need. That is, unless you go somewhere you can't get water, but even there, you can train your body to store fluids, as desert dwellers in Arabia and Southern Africa can tell you. It's a bit like the substances you can buy that can help you build muscle, as if your body knows what to do with these compounds, where to direct them. It doesn't, and I think you do yourself a lot more harm than good by ingesting "Muscle Milk" and the like.

So much for that... I do remember that when you push yourself, in working out, hard and consistently, it becomes an addiction, and you end up with more muscle and condition than you need, and you end up with injuries. So now that I am working out again I do it differently - it is hard, though, to walk that tightrope between "lazy" and "overtrain". So far - and I've been "at it" since early January, thanks to former employer Verizon and the Silver Sneakers program they pay for. So far so good, though, I have aches and pains, but they go away, sometimes with the help of anti-inflammatories. My rheumatologist has managed to convince me to switch from one prescription NSAID to a less harmful one, but as I write this, you have to realize that no NSAID is completely safe. The trick is that injuries damage bone, cartilage, yada yada, but NSAIDs do a number on liver, kidneys, and other organs, and it is hard to find the "modicum". When you read this, remember I am a cancer survivor, and have a couple of immune conditions my doctors and I manage, so I pay more attention to this stuff than you may do. I think I am doing OK, especially considering my immune system went haywire when I was in my twenties, and I had to wait until the science caught up for many years - one medication that has proved a godsend to me didn't get invented until the 1990s, and released in the early 2000's. I recall driving out of the hospital parking lot in Arlington, VA, half an hour after getting my first ever immune system modifier (TNF blocker) injection, and my jaw dropped when I realized my brake foot didn't hurt when braking, for the first time in over a decade. In the last few years living in downstate New York, before moving to D.C., I'd been taking NSAIDs with steroids to be able to mow the lawn and walk down (and back up) the hill. I kid you not.

If youre tempted to tell me I shouldn't have bothered with the lawn, considering I could have asked my then wife to do that, or gotten a kid from up the road, it was important to me to lead as "normal" a life as possible - and for me, pushing a mower around the postage stamp that passes for a lawn in Westchester County was part and parcel of "normal", and not being able to do that because my feet hurt so much wasn't acceptable. That's why the drug cocktail, I don't know if it was the smart thing to do, but if you have a permanent condition part of your goal is to lead as "normal" a life as you can. Well, part of my goal, at least...

There are certainly things I gave up on, over the years, if you're wondering - I no longer ride a bicycle, that's just too high risk an activity for me, I no longer run, that would truly mess up my feet and knees, and I am sure there are some other things I gave up on. But there's a huge difference between lawn mowing and bike riding, so one is acceptable, the other is not. Apart from which, I rode bicyles in The Netherlands every day until I moved abroad, in 1979 - riding a bicycle in the UK and the US has always been a high risk low reward activity, the car gets a scratch, you get three months of hospital, type of thing. There are plenty of ways to excercise that don't involve traffic risks.

August 26, 2015: Data security? Privacy? We got rid of it..

Keywords: Spotify, privacy, big data, migrants, human trafficking, Windows 10, Microsoft, Nokia, Lumia, Toshiba Satellite, Lenovo, Nokia Here

Nokia Lumia Windows 8.1Believe it or not, Spotify has made the incredibly stupid move to incorporate a requirement for you to hand over your contacts' private information stored on your mobile device, and added to that a requirement you obtain your contacts' consent to do so. It was only a matter of time before some idiot, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Spotify, realized they're helping themselves to your smartphone database, and that is not exactly legal, so some out-of-control lawyer tried to devise legalese that makes you responsible to Spotify to legally provide it with information that isn't yours.

From Spotify: With your permission, we may collect information stored on your mobile device, such as contacts, photos, or media files. Local law may require that you seek the consent of your contacts to provide their personal information to Spotify, which may use that information for the purposes specified in this Privacy Policy.

Actually, there's no law, anywhere on the planet, that requires you to hand over information given to you by others for your personal use, to a third party, like Spotify. There's no law, anywhere on the planet, that allows you to give Spotify permission to mine information you do not own, whether that resides on your mobile device or in the back pocket of your jeans. The fact that information is stored on your personal mobile device does not mean it is yours to distribute... and it emphatically does not mean that if Spotify finds it there, it can use it, just by virtue of it being there. Information you don't own isn't yours, and you can't intentionally give it to someone else to use, especially not if that someone else wants to use it for commercial gain.

"Big Data" is getting out of hand, people. "Big" time. These people are bonkers. What's next? "Migrants" in boats waving toddlers at news cameras? "Migrants" with new tents and backpacks and swim vests and shoes and SIM cards that have roaming minutes abroad so they can call the BBC and CNN?

On the subjects of migrants, it is dawning on me their agression stems from two causes: they have paid smugglers, or made a financial commitment to smugglers, and so have no option but to get to somewhere they can make that money; and they've burned their bridges, they have no way of going back. I assume it is the smugglers, the traders in human flotsam, that make sure the migrants cannot return. And so, they're desperate, and seem to be prepared to die, because if they attempted to return, they would die, would be killed. It then follows that unless we send specialized military into the places these migrants come from, and locate and arrest (or kill) the smugglers, they will continue to do their trade. Even if they only cash in 30% of what the migrants have signed up for, that's still tens of millions of dollars. They probably have a deal with the migrants that says if the migrants talk about them, identify them to "our" authorities, the families they left behind will be maimed or killed. It is the ultimate blackmail. Only the Ozzies found the answer - they make sure the migrants don't get to where they intend to go, and that (at the expense of migrants now in camps) works. Much of the flow of "migrants" to Australia has ceased. Send them to holding camps, where they can't make money, and the smugglers don't get paid. Simple, effective, and I think the Australian population is coming around to accepting this solution. The cost of absorbing millions of migrants, something the taxpayer must sign on to, is just unbelievable. Just compare it with the pirates that used to hijack all those ships - we had to send the military in to take care of the root problem, the organizers. Find and shoot a few, and they lose their taste for adventure. Same for the people smugglers, we just need to pull up our socks and do it.

Last but not least, yes, it is true Windows 10 is an information collection engine - your information. After installing it, I spent a good four hours going through the myriad of places Microsoft buries settings and permissions, not helped by those places having been moved around, by comparison with Windows 8/8.1. But it is possible, and you can install Windows 10 without providing your Microsoft email address, so it can't identify you. That does mean you can't use the Cloud, Mail, and some of the other Microsoft goodies, which does not bother me, but it may bother you. I "roll my own", mostly for privacy reasons, and that does include my own "Cloud". Being one of the folks that bult the first redundant server arrays in the lab, I know enough about the technology to be able to set up my own remote capabilities - besides, I am not comfortable leaving my data storage to third parties, not to mention my need for data security. Only this morning I found a spurious copy of Microsoft's malignant software tracker on my Lenovo, in a place it shouldn't be, and without a valid signature. Dem's scary zings, peeple.

So take your time, and dig through Windows 10 with a fine toothcomb, if nothing else it will help you understand the operating system. "10" is remarkably stable, runs (so far) everything I throw at it, and runs very well on the anemic cheap Toshiba Satellite I have it running on. Unfortunately, it won't run Windows Media Center, so, for now at least, I can't install it on my Lenovo, but I guess you can't win them all. The longer I do this, the more my adage is: use different devices for different purposes, they're cheap, and there is no such thing as "all things to all people". I do email and recording on one laptop, watch TV and IPTV on another, run email mostly through my Blackberry first, then to store what I need to keep on a laptop, an use a Nokia Windows mobile for my home phone and GPS device (Nokia Here is one of the best GPS databases on the planet, though it has now been sold to a group of German car manufacturers, so we'll see). The Nokia Lumia lets me block up to 1,000 numbers, so that makes it a functional phone for me *smile*. A cheap Android phone lets me monitor where my car is, the extra line costs only $10 per month, think of it as insurance.

August 21, 2015: "Big Data" means United Healthcare gets your care wrong, on behalf of the Fed

Keywords: United Healthcare, Medicare, health insurance, UW Medical, Sociale Zaken, Sociale Verzekeringsbank, Windows 10, Microsoft, Linux, Tivo

United Healthcare Don't you hate it when that happens? United Healthcare, my insurer, has incorrect medical information on file, and I just know that if I call them they're going to ask for the correct information, when what I want to know is how and from whom they got this stuff, and what else they have that is incorrect. I had a similar situation with University of Washington Medical, the other day, when they flatly refused to work with me to find out how they had incorrect insurance information on file. When I filed a formal complaint, they figured out what had happened, waived all of my outstanding copay, and sent a nice letter, but that isn't a replacement for a simple patient advocate, called in by a customer service agent when they can't solve your problem. Considering the number of people employed in health care, patient advocates could keep patients happy and save rivers of money in providing adequate solutions, instead of having to redo procedures, and deal with unhappy customers and unhappy staff. Then I have a stupid letter from the Dutch Department of Social Services, which states that something I have recorded proof of didn't happen, along the lines of "what-are-you-talking-about". So I now should follow that up, as well, as soon as I have sufficient statistical evidence. I just hate having to do any of that stuff, but if I don't, the problems won't go away - especially my medical insurance having completely erroneous medical information on file is a concern. Similarly, I was being cyberstalked by an ex for a year, until I finally involved the police, which took care of the problem. Why are these things necessary?

So, umm, no, you can't upgrade to Windows 10 and retain Windows Media Center, says Microsoft. I do have some TV dongle software, and there is a public domain version out there, but I kinda like Windows Media Center, which does a very good job of providing (free) programming schedules, recording broadcast TV as well as cable TV, so I am in a quandary as to what to do. I think I actually paid for the Windows Media Center update for Windows 8, and generally, Windows 10, which I do run on my Toshiba, doesn't really provide anything I don't have in my Windows 8 install - which I must admit I tweaked. Interestingly, Toshiba only this morning came up with a BIOS update and driver upgrades to support Windows 10 - not that I had problems before, the only somewhat annoying feature of Windows 10 is that it (seemingly randomly) pops up the taskbar at the bottom of the screen. Normally, that means something is wrong somewhere, but, unlike previous versions of Windows, Win10 doesn't tell you what's wrong with one of those little balloons. Annoying, though not a major issue. Intel, too, has provided some updated drivers, though I can't really see what they do differently. It is running smoothly, just the icons are a bit rudimentary.

Perhaps I ought to have another go at reloading the Tivo software on my Tivo. It blew its hard disk, I have another (bigger) disk ready, but need to get the Toaster software to work, which so far I have not been able to do. This is mostly due to my trying to use my old Vaio, which, at the time, I was still using, but now that it has been retired, I really don't need to worry about its original disk load, so can just reset the BIOS, install just a blank hard disk, and start a load, which involves a DVD with Linux on it, and an internal 5" "big disk". Previously, I attempted to mount the disk using a USB port, but could not get Linux to recognize it. Being a former UNIX developer, getting the Linux to run should not be an issue - now that I don't have to worry about keeping the VAIO in working order. So there. I really ought to, if only to prove to myself I can still do this stuff. Eh? Besides, the Tivo is not only a rather clever machine, it can take an antenna ATSC feed.

August 9, 2015: I didn't lose Michael's yarmulka after all

Keywords: heat wave, A/C, air conditioning, Windows 10, Media Center, Alexandra Palace, Jewish London, yarmulka, keppeltje

At least the summer heat has abated somewhat - it isn't just that the past few summers have been much hotter than is customary, up here in the Pacific Northwest, but I've never lived in a house without airconditioning, since coming to the United States. I did buy one of those small LG "portable" units, which I can at least use in the evenings to cool down my bedroom before sleep time. Refurbished. $100 off. Owell.

I am trying to move my recorded television (Windows Media Center) to an external disk. When I play back recordings made on one laptop on the other, via my network, it sometimes is simply too much for it to handle, and there isn't any reason to have the recordings on the Lenovo anyway, I am not planning to keep them, just until I feel like watching them. So if they're on an external disk I can.... Oops, I just realized, when I take the external drive off the Lenovo it won't then record things. Perhaps I'll just transfer the recordings to the Toshiba, which I bought for TV viewing, it'll be easier to manage the disk space as well. The Toshiba, talking to a Seiki 4K HD monitor/TV, does very well, now that I have it running at 75Hz the image is stunning, and a lot better than a 60Hz "standard" American TV image.

Having upgraded the Toshiba to Windows 10, I wonder what Windows 10 will do to my Lenovo - particularly, whether it'll try to take Windows Media Center away. The aftermarket TV software I installed on the Toshiba is still there, and actually working better than it did under 8.1, but one never knows. Actually, one does. Microsoft says it uninstalls Media Center. So perhaps I won't upgrade the Lenovo. Or get my Tivo working again. It is just nice to be able to record off air broadcasting, and watch it when convenient. The alternative would be to move somewhere my Australian Philips DVR will work... *grin*

yarmulkaMany years ago, I lived in North London, with a partner from the Orthodox Jewish community, we ran a business there together. To all intents and purposes, the family treated me as a son-in-law, unusually, since they weren't exactly Liberal, and I am not exactly Jewish - when relatives visited from Israel they would not break bread with the family with me at the table, going into the next room instead, to loudly say Shabbath prayers while we lit the candles. The patriarch, Michael, a Bulgarian Jew who had made it to Vienna, then managed to get a permit to leave from there to London, where he joined the British merchant navy, had seen enough discrimination that he would not deny his daughter her life - his son, too, had married a gentile. He told me the SS guard who endorsed his passport with a "May Not Return" stamp had said "You're lucky, if it were up to me I'd pull you off this train".

In 1986, Michael was suddenly taken ill, and soon passed away in a London Hospital. As his sole male heir was abroad, and couldn't make it back in time for the funeral, I was asked to perform burial rites, and Michael's widow gave me his yarmulka after the ceremony.

That yarmulka has always been one of my most prized possessions, always in the top drawer in my nightstand, but after I closed my house in Virginia, and moved to Seattle, in 2011, I could not find it again.

That is, until last Sunday, when I was going through a fancy leather shoulder bag I use on the odd occasion I need to take a laptop - since the advent of the tablet and the smartphone, that bag has not seen much use. Out fell a crumpled black piece of fabric - Michael's "keppeltje", as we call a yarmulka in The Netherlands. Turns out it's been with me all along. I have no idea what it means, I am not exactly Jewish, although I spent many years in the Jewish community, and with Jewish partners, in both Amsterdam and London, but I am very happy it decided to come back to me. Curiously, on the rare occasion I've had to wear it, it has always fit me like a glove, never even needed a clip.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 24, 2015: Maintenance never stops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 8, 2015: Fresh fish and old passports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 25, 2015: From medical woes to immigration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 21, 2015: Another passport in the can

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 15, 2015: Working out, and internetwork woes

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

Ah yes. I mean, no. Jeez.

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

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

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

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

February 6, 2015: Tax time, and saving time

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

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

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

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

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

January 25, 2015: 'member?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 19, 2015: Toys and Freebies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So there. Happy 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 5, 2014: Big Data Quivers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 29, 2014: It does not get easier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 23, 2014: Incoming!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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