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

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

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

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

r134a A/C chargeI did overcharge the A/C in my Dodge (June 22, below) - ambient temperature was still in the 70's, in June, it is in the 90's now, and sure enough, the system had overpressure, kept cycling continuously. IOW, you are best off checking and recharging your A/C during high summer. I had never checked how to bleed pressure off an automotive A/C system, but one thing the website warned about was the effect of R-134a refrigerant on the skin and your breathing. For safety's sake, I wrapped the low pressure valve in an old towel - just as well, but with the excess refrigerant - ice cold - came a ton of fluorescent dye - one of the cans I bought had a mix of leak indicator/sealer, as well as lubricant and refrigerant. I expect I used too much of that mix - I later switched to refrigerant-only - because the towel now looks largely fluorescent, but the A/C worked just fine, this morning. In a week or so, I'll re-test the pressure, but as you can see, the current pressure is a little over 45 psi at an ambient temperature of around 85 degrees, this measured with a hot engine, and the A/C at cold / recirculate / highest fan speed. Hopefully, the overcharge did not do any damage - I saw some leakage from the engine I could not explain, hopefully the system drained off the over pressure, had it blown an A/C seal I guess there'd been more leakage, and it would not have worked well today at all. One hopes.

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

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

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

July 12, 2018: No more drone flying in Seattle

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

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

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

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

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

June 29, 2018: Restoring Windows 10? Fuggedaboutit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For me, personally, another T-Mobile handset (the refurb Priv is available for multiple carriers, from Amazon and Ebay and likely others) lets me use T-Mobile's WiFi calling - not that vital as I have unlimited minutes, but when traveling overseas you can make calls to the United States with it, still charged as a local US-based call, as far as I know, local, as the call is made not from the country you're in, but via the internet, from Snoqualmie, WA, where the head end is. And T-Mobile does well on the tethering and hotspot front, where especially the hotspot, using dual band 802.ac WiFi, is blisteringly fast (mind what kind of allowance your account has, though). I don't use it often, but during outages, and while traveling, carrying your own fast router is a Godsend, and the Priv is much faster than the Z10, which is no slouch - 300 Mbps versus 75. And having the slide-out keyboard (picture below) is convenient, though a full function screen touch keyboard is provided. I tell you, at the price (I balk at shelling out $700 or more for a cellphone) this unit is state-of-the-art and very user friendly. My only criticism, though it really isn't wrong, is that the screen is hi-res to the point that pages in smaller fonts are hard to read, as the handset renders very small type as if you've got the eyes of a twelve year old. So if you're in bifocal age, expect to spend time zooming..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 17, 2018: Supplements as Insurance?

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

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

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

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

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

May 8, 2018: Mosey on down

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 28, 2018: Starbucks in Pyongyang next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 10, 2018: That's the dentist done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 21, 2018: Random Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 11, 2018: Things keep breaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 4, 2018: Maintenance on all fronts

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

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

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

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

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

February 28, 2018: Sliding into Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 21, 2018: Memory, real and virtual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 12, 2018: Things break, quick or slowly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Backing Up

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

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

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

February 3, 2018: Internet and security are mutually exclusive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 31, 2018: Cancer and other Maintenance

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

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

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

ASUS Blu-ray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 30, 2017: Almost there

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 24, 2017: Too Much Holiday

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

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

Windows 10 needs lots of tweaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How do you lose a quarter of your staff?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Autonomous Design

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

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

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

Sunday December 10, 2017: Life and Liberties

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

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

Omega 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All they updated was their data collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memory needs New Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday November 7, 2017: Winter? Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday October 30, 2017: Spreading Wings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intelligence can't be Artificial

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

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

Sunday October 22, 2017: Tidying up

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

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

Home Surveillance Setup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday October 9, 2017: The marketing is mostly fake

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

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

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

Cars are not electric

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

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

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

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

Wednesday October 4, 2017: NFL? A Closed Club

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

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

Ouch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arthritis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

90 degree days

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

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

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

September 16, 2017: Summer always ends..

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

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

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

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

Irma

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

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

September 10, 2017: Cooling off

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 31, 2017: Busywork

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

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

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

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

One Trumpectomy a week

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

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

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

August 13, 2017: Summer and Haggling

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 3, 2017: Not Fake News, Fake Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Microsoft gets harder every week

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

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

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

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

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

July 23, 2017: Trying to not get confused

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

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

Trumpectomy

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

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

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

July 16, 2017: More Shop, More Car

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

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

More oil

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

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

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

0.1% has always been a rounding error Why Walmart and Amazon aren't really in competition? Amazon owns cyberspace, I just checked: Walmart thinks consumers buy from them because they bombard them with emails. I blocked Walmart in Gmail, but see Walmart sent fifteen marketing emails in six days. Every six days. For no reason - there aren't emails about products I've ever expressed an interest in, or bought, this is just an email machinegun going off "because they can". These people haven't a clue - as in, they're stuck in a formula they can't get away from, because senior executives have no courage to change. There is a simple formula for implementing technologies - invent something, develop it, then try it out in a limited demographic, in such a way that you can track its effectiveness. I continue to wonder if email is a marketing tool - I personally don't think so, as tens of thousands of merchants, when they see a purchase from you, bombard you with emails, and there honestly are few people that spend an hour or more a day wading through emails they haven't asked for. This on top of the spam and the phishing, etc. E-stores I buy from on a regular basis do not do this, and that is psrt of the reason I am their customer. Even the memberships are marketing machines - AARP doesn't charge you very much because they make rivers of money selling your information - they otherwise, as far as I can see, don't actually provide you with much value. It is fascinating, if you check the Reuters link above, to see how, in one article, analysts both say retail is down - and up! It is the danger of lumping everything together, then breaking it out again - Costco and Walmart, both of which like large suburban properties, let you buy cheap(er) gas if you come to their megastores - but as I discovered, last year, the AM/PM - Arco gas stations here in the Pacific Northwest sell gas at the same prices, provided you pay cash, I now diligently make sure I have $50 in my pocket so I can fill my car up. The cost? For my V-8 Dodge Durango, which gets around 11mpg, I spend an average of $1.81 per day, on gas - post-Costco, where I used to buy my gas, when I spent $2.07 per day. My software tells me I spend less on groceries, and then there is the $55 membership - now up to $60, so even Costco is suffering, remember that when an organization wants more "members", they will lower the membership fee. When they increase the membership fee, they're not making the money they were needing to make, in whatever spreadsheet whoever used. The difference? I spent, in the 12 months after discontinuing my Costco membership, $1,000 LESS on groceries than I did in the previous year. Just groceries, for just me. That is $2.74 per day. I love the way I track my expenses, tell ya. That's just groceries, not the membership, not the Costco gas, not the LED bulbs and the hard disks and the vitamins and the contact lens fluids and the "stuff". Who knew?

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

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

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

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

They still do paper books

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

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

June 22, 2017: The lunatics are loose

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

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

Procrastination Station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mayday

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

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

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

I started this blog entry with my doctor visits - while some of those are my regular semi-annual specialist checkups, the Fed (Medicare) and my corporate health plan are adding a few things "here and there". All without additional charges, but ex-smokers now get an annual low dose chest scan, my insurers insist on "wellness visits", which they actually send gift cards for, nice they pay some of my Amazon purchases, and I haven't even mentioned my "free" gym membership. That makes the total numbers of medical checkups a bit more than I really think I need, but not doing the stuff your insurance wants you to could backfire, financially, I guess a few more tests than you actually need doesn't hurt. After all, it was during one of those routine annuals that my doctor in Virginia discovered the swollen thyroid, the sort of thing you ignore and think it'll go away, except it didn't. So all good, although I've set up my December appointments all for one day, driving into downtown Seattle is getting harder and lengthier by the month.
The time machine through June 8, 2017, with linkbacks to October, 2008, is here

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