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Old stuff through April, 2015, with linkbacks all the way to October, 2008, is here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 2, 2016: I haven't yet figured out how to back up two terabytes

Keywords: Seagate, Samsung, hard disk, Windows 10, Unitek

Seagate Spinpoint I've sent the failing HGST disk off to its maker, and all I need to do now is test the other HGST terabyte drive I have, which lives in my Toshiba laptop. I have today re-installed the OS on that, since the free update to Windows 10 is still available, and backed it up, so I guess a CHKDSK and scrub test are next, just to make sure the drive problems with the Lenovo were just occasional, and not a whole bad series of devices. Losing a terabyte can be devastating, I got lucky hearing the disk beginning to fail, and understanding how to recover and get the data off. I must say that the new 2TB drive I put in the Lenovo, at the very reasonable sum of $106.48, has been a revelation, so far. While I have not tested it - you can really only test hard disks over time, and with fairly destructive tools - the unit, made by Seagate for Samsung, is running very smoothly. It is completely noiseless - thinking about it, I do not recall ever having a hard disk in a computer that I couldn't hear at all. While I was frequently able to hear the Lenovo laptop, late at night, now I am not hearing a thing. When the Lenovo was recording HDTV using the AverTV dongle attached to it, I would sometimes hear the hard disk making fairly frantic head movement noises, while the CPU got hot enough to kick the cooling fan into a higher speed. I always thought the CPU load was due to the dongle's processor requirements, but now I am not so sure - the new drive runs at 5400 rpm, rather than the 7200 the Travelstar ran at, and as both are 2.5 inch diameter drives, head movement in the new drive, at double the storage on the same platter size, may well be less. So it is possible that the new drive runs far less hot, and the total load just never gets to the point where the system gets (too?) hot. I realize this is somewhat of an "iffy" recommendation, as I can't yet prove this Samsung/Seagate product is so much "better", but you will hopefully accept I am a system engineer with some 40+ years of experience in tinkering with computer systems, and I did correctly surmise that the previous disk in this laptop was failing. Correctly, in that not only my own diagnostics said so, but HGST is now replacing the drive under warranty, it is almost three years old. They don't do that unless it is really broken.

In the interim, I took the opportunity to learn more about Windows 10, and reinstalled that on two systems, just to make sure I have clean installs and clean backups, and to try out the various different upgrade options Microsoft offers (I prefer the DVD ISO, without download during install). Windows 10 has digital licensing, my take on that is that once you lose your system, you can only recover from the backup, there no longer is a license key. Besides, I had a Pro license key for both systems, and I assume there isn't a way to use that in Windows 10 - I used mine in Windows 8.1, then upgraded to 10 (no Pro, no backup software!). But that all worked, on nice shiny new hard disks, and I think I can move those installs to new processors, when necessary, perhaps with an activation call to Microsoft. Of course, in the last few days when Windows 10 was still a free upgrade, Microsoft increased its level of system invasion - attempting to install Windows "upgrades" whose acceptance by the user simply constituted approval to install Windows 10. To be honest, I think the way Microsoft forced unsuspecting Windows users to accept an "upgrade" that is little more than a collector of personal information is beyond what should be legal, we have lost the clear view of what a manufacturer can do to a piece of equipment that you own, all things considered. It took me hours to find the dozens of places where Microsoft has, by default, provided applications and utilities whose sole purpose is to pass your data on to them. Having understood there are many people who won't use Microsoft's "free" mail systems, the new Windows 10 mail system will now allow anyone's POP or IMAP mail to be used - but Microsoft's mail application will parse everything you send and receive. Same with their Cloud, now severely size restricted in the free version. I've actually found three places in the operating system where Microsoft sets your permission for location services, turned on by default, so that maps, applications, browser windows and telephone applications can all find out where your PC is without your knowing it. For phones, I can see the point, for some tablets, I can see that too, but PCs, especially those that aren't mobile, there may not be a need. I have noticed quite a few websites that want to know where your system is, and to be honest, if they can mine that data, so can miscreants. Between the location of your IP address (if someone knows your router's IP address they can look up your location and often your street address your GPS coordinates, and your cellphone coordinates, there are now multiple ways to track you to your exact location. The majority of PC, tablet and mobile phone users are completely oblivious to the amount of information their devices send out to all and sundry. We should really be better, and be helped better, at connecting cause and effect: the more data software companies collect, the more data gets stolen by hackers, who put lots of nice little apps out on the internet, grabbing the same data from your device the large corporations take from you "legitimately".

As it turns out, the Unitek drive caddy gives me a lot of unexpected flexibility in terms of being able to back up and restore PCs. Where, in the past, I replaced hard disks in new(er) laptops with larger hard disks, and occasionally would buy an external drive enclosure for some of them, the Unitek caddy now lets me use any of the older drives at will. It handles both USB2 and USB3, so all I needed to do is dig up my obsolete drives, reformat and verify them, and I have backup devices for all of my systems and file setups. I am not sure how I never came acroas this unit before, it'll handle 2.5 as well as 3.5 inch drives, up to 8GB, so it is an ideal solution - I can back up the Toshiba I've just set up in about 20 minutes, this using USB 3.0 and an old 160GB drive that probably came from my old HP, long since deceased... I've done a full test and done a restore in this way, as well, works just fine. Loading a licensed version of Cyberlink on the Toshiba, I was able to copy/convert a series of private DVDs to an old hard disk, on the fast USB 3.0 interface, in half a day, and then move them to a backup drive, from where they get copied to my NAS drive. Now that I have that working really smoothly, I had better go through the rest of my DVD recordings, the DVD, as a medium, is slowly beginning to die of old age, and older DVDs do deteriorate. One thing that became painfully clear to me, over many years of data storage, is that optical drive formats change - gently, but they do, ten years later your new computers can't read all older disks, some disks magically acquire scratches or smudges, over the years, and generally, this stuff just isn't as reliable as you thought.

July 21, 2016: Check the warranty on your hard drive!

Keywords: Seagate, Western Digital, HGST, Travelstar, hard disk, disk tools, SATA, bad clusters, warranty, recovery

overheating laptopI don't really have a good handle on what is wrong with the 1TB 2.5 inch Hitachi Travelstar I've been replacing, and writing about, because while some runs of Microsoft's CHKDSK show bad clusters, and report no spare clusters are available, another run of the same software using a different version of Windows reports cluster replacement. While I could no longer boot from that drive, after the latest CHKDSK run I was again able to, so it looks like Windows 10's disk tools do better than the tools in Windows 8.1. I downloaded a disk management utility from the HGST website (Hitachi became HGST and then was aquired by Western Digital), and that does not report disk failure in its SMART test, so I am now going to run a low level erase on the disk, and will then run an extended test, then a low level format from Windows, and then another CHKDSK. If this confuses you, all disks come with bad sectors, which are, these days, mapped out by the drive firmware, the preloaded factory management software, and drives will move the data from new bad sectors to the spare sectors every disk comes with. Once it runs out of spare sectors, which my drive reported earlier, the drive is ready to be retired. But now, using a different operating system and a different drive interface, it reported it had found bad sectors, and moved the data to good sectors. So it would seem it is developing bad sectors as it runs, and that is no good. The reason I put a question mark to this is that the disk is three years old, and should not be failing that soon.

So I hope I am not confusing you, just checking if this is a bad drive, if the Travelstar 1TB series is bad (I have another one of those, in my Toshiba), or if something else is wrong, I've only had this happen on a Lenovo SATA interface. The Travelstar is very fast, at 7200 RPM with a SATA throughput of 6GB/sec, consumes a little more power at 800mA than do the more conservative drives that run at 5400 RPM / 3GB/sec / 700mA, and it is therefore perfectly possible the thing just gets too hot. I do know that especially when I am watching or recording HDTV using my ATI dongle, the fan in the Lenovo can run quite audibly fast. This doesn't just happen with the Lenovo - I have another HDTV dongle, different brand, on another system, and there, too, when HDTV is being viewed or recorded (when the dongles display HDTV they record st the same time), there, too the fans ramp up. As the Lenovo has Windows Media Center, and I do most of my TV recording there, it does warm up considerably. So it is quite possible the drive overheated, especially laptops have limited cooling capacity, as they have to be able to run the fan off a battery. And HDTV is processor intensive - a 90 minute episode with full HD and 6 channel digital Dolby receives, decodes and then stores just under 8GB of data.

The reason I am going on about this is that many laptop users experience their systems slowing down, and as you know there are a million people selling all sorts of software fixes that promise to "clean up your computer", with lots of crazy stories on how this happens. What they don't tell you is that the vast majority of laptops (and even desktops) slow down because they overheat - they're never cleaned internally, clog with dust, and when that happens the processor runs hot, and (as designed) slows down, while the fan speeds up. Especially if you use your laptop sitting on the blanket or bedspread, a tablecloth, a chair, it won't be able to get cooling air, which typically enters laptops from the vents on the underside. The picture to the right shows the fan of an Everex laptop I took apart and cleaned after it began overheating to the point it actually turned off, admittedly while sitting in the sun on a car seat. Note the crud on the heat exchanger above the fan housing (the processor is underneath the heat sink to the right). Leave it sitting on your desk for a few days, and you'll notice dust has collected underneath it - dust that gets sucked up by the fan. Then, it gets worse, because as the system gets warmer, dust will cake on its parts and the fan blades and the fins of the heat exchangers, etc. Engineers build and test nice, clean and shiny machines, they don't put them out in a dusty warehouse on the Gulf Coast to see what that does to them, or give 'em to a teen to park on a pillow during a four hour Facebook session.

Anyway... I decided to go the whole hog, removed all data and the partition from the drive, then ran a full erase using the HGST diagnostic software. That completed successfully, meaning the software was able to write zeros to every disk sector, then I repartitioned the drive and did a full format under Windows 10 (the "full" format, with "quick format" unchecked, reads every sector of the drive). That completed too, but then, again using the HGST software, I ran an extended read test, and that failed. So the drive is losing clusters, and is no longer reliable, but then I checked its warranty, and teehee!, that stretches into November of this year, and gave me, right there, an RMA number for me to get the drive replaced. I had no idea how long these warranties run, but this is longer than I had expected, so all that was worth the effort - you can't send for a warranty replacement if you can't prove the device is defective, and I now have a printout that says it is. And I was able to "fix" it for long enough to clone the disk without errors, so I guess I did it all correctly, and I was right thinking the drive noise meant it was failing. The new drive, now running for a week or so, continuously, is completely silent, so another lesson learned.

July 17, 2016: They fix an army quicker than I fix a disk

Keywords: Windows 10 Pro, Sony Vaio, Seagate, Western Digital, hard disk, disk tools, bad clusters, recovery

I can't remember any military coup taking less than a week, let alone less than a day. I kind of figured the Turkish population would be happy to get rid of Erdogan, but could not have been more mistaken. Strange... Anyway, Erdogan, like Putin, is old school, does not negotiate, and if he does not like the game, he'll change the rules. If the Russians and the Turks truly like that type of ruler, and it does seem that way, I have to wonder whether the middle ages are coming back. It has been pretty amazing to watch, on live television, until somebody sent in the snipers, you coud hear the high velocity rounds on Reuters' live feed, just before it shut down..

Not too shabby... apart from some minor cosmetics, the Vaio is all done, happily running Windows 10 Pro without complaints, with the older Sony driver set, which wasn't intended for W10, quite a good show. As it turns out - and this is important for folks with older PCs and laptops they want to continue using - Windows 10 uses fewer resources and runs faster than its predecessors, so if you have a version of Windows 7 or 8 or 8.1, you could well extend your system's life by upgrading to Windows 10 - free from Microsoft until the end of the month. My Vaio dates to 2009, just to give you an idea of what works. Having previously maxed out the memory in the Vaio, I replaced the 3.5 inch hard disk (originall came with 160 MB) with a new, larger, terabyte disk, replaced the BIOS battery (in the Vaio, this is a button cell, not a rechargeable) so it is fresh - not only does it lose its clock when the battery runs out, the system loses all of its settings. The drive - a Samsung branded Western Digital, WD bought the drives division from Samsung a while ago - is smooth, and noiseless, which I couldn't say for its WD "Green" predecessor. So far, so good, now all I need to do is decide whether to hang on to this box, or sell it. It is nice to have a spare, especially since it now turns out it runs well, and efficiently. Curiously, when newer operating systems didn't have drivers for older pieces of equipment, that's all changed now - drivers are made for the primary processor of a device, these days, and so all of the older bits of this Vaio, from the audio chipset to the rewritable DVD drive, are once again fully supported, without having to jump through hoops. Only a couple of years ago, I had to manually change driver settings to get everything to work, but no more...

Unitek USB/SATA drive dockReplacing the Lenovo's drive with a larger one has turned into a huge hassle. As I write this, I am running a backup from the cloned copy of my main hard disk, a clone I had to do twice before it "took". Let me explain - it is kind of important, because hard disks do break down, and once one does, you have only a small window of opportunity to rescue your "load". I did have a couple of full backups, but stupidly, I deleted the Windows 8.1 image I had, as when I tried to update that, Windows Image Backup reported errors, and that meant my existing image could have been compromised. The disk has some 600GB of data, much of my active archives, email etc., and what I wanted to do was clone it so I did not have to install a new version of Windows on my new (2 terabyte, where the original was 1 terabyte) drive, then restore the backup to that.

For a month or so, I had heard an occasional chirping noise coming from the laptop - not alarming, but audible, and that could have been the fan or the hard disk. Replacing the fan wasn't something I was willing to do, I would replace the entire laptop, and if I did that I might as well first clone the hard disk to a new, bigger one, one I could later install in a new laptop, once I found one that was affordable and had all the bells and whistles.

Anyway, I am banging on about this because I managed to recover all data on the "old" disk, and "repair" the bad sectors on that disk using tools Microsoft builds into Windows (at least into veriosn 8, 8.1 and 10). It is time consuming, and involves not using the PC or laptop while the diagnostics and repair tools are running - on my terabyte disk, the commands, chkdsk, sfc and dism, take from four hours to a night to run to completion - each. There is a geek website, click here, that tells you how to do this, and as I said, it can work, I managed to clean up the bad sectors, recover the damaged operating system files, and repair the Windows image. After that, I was able to use Seagate's Disc Wizard clone software - from their website, works with of their drives. This software works well - in my original clone run it reported bad sectors, and that confirmed that both the noise, and the occasional blue screens of death, were caused by a drive failure. But after the drive repair, the clone procedure ran without a hitch, and I am now happily working away on a new Samsung / Seagate 2TB laptop disk, which seems (hard to tell though) smoother and more silent than the Hitachi Travelstar is. I am not, at this point, entirely certain what the issue is with the "old" Travelstar drive - barely have I fixed that, and recovered its load, then cloned it to the new Samsung / Seagate, or I can no longer boot from the Travelstar. So I'll run some diagnostics, this time using a spare laptop running Windows 10, with the "bad" drive sitting in the Unitek drive caddy (pic to the left), ideal for formatting drives, running diagnostics, etc. It supposedly can clone drives, too, offline, but I must admit to finding that a bit scary, without display report. Maybe I can figure out what causes the failures, and if there is any way to "reformat" the drive. This uses, for the most part, Windows tools that are relatively new (just because they have the same name doesn't mean they work the way they used to), tools I have not used before "in earnest", so it is a useful learning curve. Disks are scary, as a failing disk loses your data, but I see comments from other on Amazon that indicate they can recover drive formats, so why not try. I have recovered all of my data and everything is now freshly backed up, so much risk there isn't...

I could have probably saved me some time if I had simply restored a backup to a new hard disk, this entire process, from software install and testing the new disk, to completion and first backup, took four whole days. Thing is, I just wanted to prove to myself I could still do a disk recovery, especially considering these drives are so large, as well as physically small, and the low level tools I used to use no longer work, on today's cached and translated drives. I said it when I moved to big (in terms of storage) drives, a few years ago, the bigger the drive, the more stuff you can lose, and that is a scary proposition. This was close, although, as I said, I had a backup, several, in fact. For me, this is one of the things I do to maintain my skillset, Windows, by virtue of it becoming "tabletised" is even more complicated now than it was before (and it was never easy) and when you work on it you need to divide your attention between the "old" Windows tools, dozens of them, and the new settings area, primarily aimed at graphical interface users, from where Microsoft manages its dozens of methods to collect your personal data. I found three different places where you need to turn off location information, lest websites and applications can query your system and network stack, and the fact that Windows now has two browsers, each of which has secure and insecure modes, does not help. I could go on, but suffice it to say that it generally takes me a working day to incapacitate the data gathering tools Microsoft turns on by default. You're not even safe if you don't use one of Microsoft's mail tools, now - Windows will recognize any type of email, and pass that on to its servers as being yours (even if it isn't...).

July 13, 2016: Broken drives, and then some

Keywords: Windows 10 Pro, Sony Vaio, Seagate, Western Digital, Tesla, Samsung, Top Gear, BBC

hard disk collectionOf course, then my system changeover plans don't work, still trying to figure out why not... I intended to do a full live backup of the Lenovo laptop, which I had been backing up to an external Seagate SATA drive, and overnight it just wouldn't "do it". By morning I saw it had reported a drive error, but didn't know whether it was the source or destination drive, and it took me much of today to get it working again. I removed the antivirus stuff, and while I was out shopping set it to do a full chkdsk - which takes time, there is some 600GB of data on the terabyte drive. No errors in any reports, but as of an hour ago, I was able to start a backup that didn't fail, so perhaps tomorrow I can do that for real.

Not a complete waste of a day, though, I did manage to replace the 500GB 3.5 inch drive in the old Vaio with a terabyte version - great deal, $49, Samsung branded but manufactured by Western Digital in its "Blue" series. 7200 rpm, and it is a lot less noisy than its predecessor, which was a low energy drive made by Western Digital for Tivo. The Vaio wasn't as easy as all that, either, though: when I restored the new Windows 10 Pro load, it grabbed half the hard disk, and then Drive Manager wouldn't let me add the other half of the disk to the main partition. I then grabbed Windows a Windows 8.1 backup, and that did the same thing. The culprit, possibly, is that I had initialized the terabyte drive as MBR architecture, not in the newer GPT format, so I ended up using a Linux utility to convert the drive, and then I was able to restore a Windows 7 Pro load, turn the drive into one large partition, so now I need to run the updates and then update that to Windows 10 Pro - again. I don't mind, you do learn this way, even if it is doing everything twice, or (as my East Indian friends like to say) thrice. I did manage to use the unit described below to initialize the new drive, opening up the Vaio is a bitch, so I don't want to do that more than once.

Hah! I bought a unit that will allow one or two 3.5 inch hard disks to be connected to a USB 3.0 port, primarily so I can copy stuff to obsolete disks that came from older systems, so I can use them to store backups on. I found the unit at Amazon (where else) but now discover that it can do a lot more than just make drives accessible. It'll clone drives offline, and, judging from what I read, can clone different sized and format drives, too. It isn't a facility I expect to use a lot, but, considering its other uses, certainly handy to have. And as it is able to handle 2.5 inch drives as well, it really is multi-functional. I have normally taken 2.5 inch laptop drives I replaced, and put them in external enclosures, but as I have three of those, at this point, and barely use them, this contraption seems a better solution. As soon as I finish putting a 2 terabyte drive in my Lenovo (which currently has a single terabyte) and copying the load onto that, I'll try out the caddy, to see how well or badly it deals with backups. One reason all of my flavours of Windows are "Pro" is that that allows the use of Windows' backup and recovery software, which, in combination with an external hard disk, is an efficient backup tool.

The idea behind the bigger disk in the Lenovo is twofold: first of all, I intend to buy a faster laptop with more memory, and once I do that I'll put the 2TB drive in it, as a way to easily transfer my files and software (under Windows 8.1). Secondly, what I want to do is then change the original 1TB disk over to Windows 10 Pro, before Microsoft's "free" offer expires, at the end of July. I can then sell the Lenovo, should I so desire, not much point in selling it with an older operating system.

Have to tell you Chris Evans' demise from Top Gear is largely due to the BBC management team simply casting the wrong guy. First of all, it is kind of impossible to find another Jeremy Clarkson, then, Jeremy's brand of racist blue collar obnoxiousness is now politically unacceptable (why do you think Nigel Farage stepped down?), and Chris made a gallant attempt to emulate Clarkson, but just couldn't be somebody he wasn't. Not his fault, in my opinion, and the rise of Matt LeBlanc to BBC show host, entirely unexpected, is the innovative outcome of all this. I still think they should have given the show to funnyman, actor and gearhead Rowan Atkinson, who could have made Top Gear into his own show. The BBC can still do that, and what with both he and LeBlanc being professional actors, who knows what could come out. Forget the gearheads - the Top Gear that made big worldwide fame, after all, wasn't a car show, and making it into one now is way off the mark. Way.

I suppose I have to clearly state I do like what Tesla does, Elon Musk seems an amazing technologist, and his concept of an electric vehicle clearly was way ahead of its time. Advanced enough that there are European cities obliging taxi owners to ditch the Mercedes and switch to Tesla's, it is clear this type of car found itself a huge hole in the market. Yes, easy enough in hindsight, electric cars are expensive to manufacture, and need enough room for batteries and drive trains, so building a luxury sedan instead of an "electric mini" makes a lot of sense. There are plenty of folks who can afford expensive cars, and selling small electric cars that oblige their owners to have a combustion engined car as well, because there are things you do with a car an electric doesn't have the reach for, somehow does not make an awful lot of sense.

So why did the Tesla have to have this automation, a "robot" that others are testing and experimenting with, but haven't put on the road, in the hands of the consumer? Is this overreach? The fact the Tesla S has far reaching automation hadn't even been discussed that much, but Joshua Brown's death has changed that, catastrophically. Read the press release, and you'll see Tesla blames the driver for using the automation, having been warned it is new technology. I don't think that's funny at all - a customer is not a guinea pig, and if you're installing new technologies in products you make, technologies that customers pay for, you have to make sure the technology can't kill the user - think Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. It isn't even slightly a question in my mind - the technology has to be better than the human in order for there to be a point to having it. I find Tesla's contention that Mr. Brown couldn't see the truck particularly offensive - he died in the "accident", so Tesla has no way of knowing what he did and did not see. Last but not least, from the police report it seems the vehicle did not notice the collision, and did not execute an emergency stop. That, if true, is a real problem - if your autopilot does not notice the roof being torn off the car it is utterly failed technology, and I would say Tesla must immediately disable it in all of its vehicles.

July 3, 2016: Brexit and old PCs

Keywords: Brexit, UK, EU, Windows 10, Sony Vaio, IOT

1970s UK IDs Actually, when the British decided they wanted no part of the Euro, we could have all come to the conclusion it would come to this. Not team players, as we say in the Anglo-Saxon world. Yes, they wanted the EU, but not really. This is what you get with island people, who are used to having things their own way, because they have to. It is hard to explain unless you've done it, but if you can drive to a border and cross it, you're much more connected than when you have to cross a bit of water. You've got neighbours, you can borrow a cup of sugar, and if you have to get in a boat and learn a different langue to do that, it's just not the same. Travelers had an interesting joke about England - when you flew from America to Ireland, you got to Europe. Then when you flew to England, you were back in the United States. And if you've lived in these places, you'll agree that it is true. It's the Brits' own fault - they never lost Empire aspirations, understandable, and never tried to integrate, even once the Chunnel was dug. I don't know what it is, you can't just put French language signs into St. Pancras and think you've done your filial duties. And speaking English, a Really Important Language, fluently, does not help.

Having experienced first hand the impoverished state Britain was in, when I moved there in the late 1970s, and having seen how well it has been doing since joining the Common Market, and later, the European Union, I am flabbergasted at the Brexit vote. I can understand why some Brits are concerned - many Europeans have had misgivings about letting impoverished nations at the edge of the EU join in. But then that discussion goes back all the way to the 1960s, when Greece, at the time a country where half the population didn't have telephones or running water, wanted to join the EU.

Lessee... Back in 2009, I bought a Sony Vaio All-in-One desktop computer, which I've been using as a backup PC, on and off, since. My primary computers have been laptops for many years, and the Vaio is not, but it was technologically advanced, and quite well designed. Last year I retired it, after its hard drive began to make noises. The unit itself in in physically good shape, and after I replaced it with a Toshiba laptop I put it back in its box in the garage. Then, recently, I sold a router on Ebay, in all of 40 minutes, and as I moved a broken Tivo to the e-cycling, began to wonder whether I'd be able to recover the Vaio, update the operating system to Windows 10, and put that on Ebay as well.

Windows 10 setup screenI had previously updated the Vaio from Windows Vista to Windows 7, with an upgrade to 7 Pro, but when I tried to go from there to Windows 8 I found I lost access to the DVD drive. I'd never found a way to sort that out, and as I was only using the Vaio to watch TV, using an HDTV dongle and Windows Media Center, it didn't much matter, and I had backed out to Windows 7 Pro. Of course, as soon as I resurrected the machine and reloaded Windows 8, the DVD drive disappeared again, and stayed absent under Windows 10. So I loaded Windows 7 back in, and spent more than a day doing research on the internet, until I found a solution I hadn't seen before, at a website run from India by Vishal Gupta, listed as, the VG being Vishal's initials. And sure enough, I learned something, and it got fixed - little did I know you can actually see hidden (that is, loaded but not active) device drivers in the Windows Device Manager, and you can delete the drivers that don't work or do not need to be there, then run a refresh, or, as I did, power down the machine, and restart it. Sure enough, it recreated the drivers, and this time, the DVD driver worked, and stayed working when I updated the operating system. Magic. And so I was able to fully load Windows 10 Pro, which I did from a DVD that Microsoft makes available if you don't want to run the update online. I had to do that now, Microsoft insists the free upgrade to Windows 10 (only from Windows 7 or 8/8.1) stops on July 29, and much to my surprise it loaded without complaints on the Vaio, which was built for Windows Vista, I didn't really expect Windows 10 to load without tweaking, as I'd had to do with Windows 7 and 8. But no complaints, no tweaking necessary, everything loaded in one fell swoop. Even my avoidance of using or creating a Microsoft email address for logging in didn't cause a hiccup, other than that some of Microsoft's apps won't work without one, but that's fine. I was (this being a "Pro" install, I had paid for that upgrade a while ago) even able to create a full operating system image backup, which only took three DVDs (Microsoft uses its own compression algorithm to back up to DVD, which roughly doubles the standard capacity of a disk). So all good... The hard drive is a bit noisy, so while I was at it I decided to replace that with a new terabyte drive, might as well give the old girl what new life I can, the bigger the drive, the faster she'll run (that goes for all Windows installs, by the way, provided you set the machine up to regularly optimize the drive, I let it do that every night on all of my PCs).

Much to my delight, several news outlets have recently begun to report that IOT - the Internet Of Things - isn't happening. I've said that from day one - read my comments about Nest, below - basically, because connecting some appliance to the internet really doesn't lead to anything meaningful. Yes, there are refrigerators that can order groceries - but that requires an infrastructure, a store, a delivery person with access to your home, a lot of communication, and in the final analysis has little to do with the internet. Similarly, internet thermostats, internet hot water heaters, and internet lights, are all dependent on giving the power company the right to control your home - not something anybody wants to really do. The idea behind the "smart meter" is that it can be told to turn off, or down, your air conditioners when the grid overloads - but I really haven't seen equipment that does that, and even fewer people willing to come home to a hot water heater that's been turned off by Con Edison, because they needed the power (the power you pay for) for someone else. Does the power company know your daughter takes these long piping hot baths? Isn't that what the Internet of Things, with its vaunted Artificial Intelligence, is supposed to figure out? Even if it did, what can the internet do about it? Turn off the hot water? Why would anybody want that?

June 18, 2016: New laptop means much more storage

Keywords: laptop NAS drive, storage, terabyte, gigabit ethernet, dashcam, Nest, Google, Amazon

Umm, OK, let's see - I thought my Lenovo was a bit unhappy, but as it turns out it won't use its WiFi interface when the Gigabit Ethernet is connected and active. I think that probably is a security feature, so it won't inadvertently bridge two networks, at any rate, after futzing with it for a couple of days it looks like all that works fine. I am using a lot of interrupts on that unit, so some of that not working would have been understandable, but clearly a false alarm... Nevertheless, I do hear it is getting a bit noisier, which may well be down to the fan. That's set to run at low power when I am not home or asleep, but even so, it tends to go off like crazy when Windows Media Center is recording HDTV. That, in combination with Digital Dolby's 5 channel audio, uses a lot of horsepower, especially with the 7200 RPM terabyte hard disk I have in there, and using gigabit Ethernet, which I hadn't used for any length of time before. That itself was strange - the hardwire network interface always ran at 100Kb, until I started working with the NAS drive, which connected to my router at a gigabit.

Samsung dashcam I then decided to test that on the laptop interface, re-installed the ethernet drivers, and sure enough, it came up, at first intermittently, at a gigabit too. Some changes in the networks setup, and it runs at that gigabit all the time, and do file transfers from the laptop at some 44Kb/second, which is a lot better than 11 Kbits... If it confuses you I didn't use the fast Ethernet, much of my network traffic goes to the internet, and my home internet runs at 30 Mb/sec, so there was little need to set up something faster than 802.11n, my wireless speed. But with the NAS drive, which I only got at the beginning of the year, that equation changed - the drives, today, have Gigabit ethernet ports, the routers do, and so having my "main machine" connected at a Gigabit, using hardwired Ethernet, makes sense. Apart from that, having my data drive, and my main backup drive, not accessible via WiFi provides some extra security, sitting, as they do, behind a double firewall.

Considering I bought the Lenovo in 2012, it really wouldn't be too alarming for it to die, so I am shopping around - but clearly, I would have to find something that will take 16 GB of RAM and has a touch screen for me to get an advantage. Interestingly, there are some faster, more expandable laptops around, but few with a touch screen, and if I want the replacement to last four or five years that really is a must. Other than that, I probably should get a two terabyte hard disk, because the one TB I use today may not be big enough to last another five years, now that I have begun to keep a full copy of all of my files on the laptop (duly backed up on a daily basis!). That may sound a bit premature, but in the past I have bought new laptops, then installed them, then bought memory and disk upgrades, and transferred the load and redone the setup, nd it occurs to me, as I shop for a new(er) laptop, that that's a little assbackwards. I probably should put a larger drive in my existing laptop, restore the current load to it, get that working right, and then move the bigger drive to the new laptop, and then install new drivers (which it likely will mostly do by itself). Because when I look at the 4TB NAS drive I bought in February, that has, at this point, just under 2TB of space left, half gone already - I use this drive as a mountable Unix-style NFS device, which means I am able to run various backup applications to its drive emulation, while I store dashcam video and recorded HDTV on it, as well, the latter so I can stream recorded TV to one of my devices. While I delete TV programs I've watched, that's not the case with dashcam video, you never know when that may come in handy. At this point, a couple of years worth of my dashcam video takes up some 290GB, all by itself.

Why am I going on about this? I've simply noticed that file and archive sizes keep growing, in my case even though I really don't have any major new devices, something that often leads to larger files, like new cameras. But even so, the dashcam is creating large archives, my HDTV archive is growing faster than I can watch (I used to use a Tivo, but a TV dongle on a laptop is actually much more convenient!), and, old IT hound that I am, I maintain two backups of everything, in two different formats. You see, keeping files for future reference is great, but then you do have to keep backups and/or copies, and if you do that you have to keep those in multiple places.

What with the seeming demise of Nest's Tony Fadell I couldn't help but think about this "intelligent" thermostat, especially since I ran across a display stand full of 'em at Home Depot, the other day. I've never understood why you'd need a remotely controllable wi-fi connected thermostat - part from anything else, remote controlled thermostats were widely available before, there were network connected thermostats (without Cloud connections, for the most part) and I've never felt the need to change my home temperature while driving around. These days, using your phone in the car could well be illegal, and I really don't know an awful lot of people in the USA who really can't wait until they get home or leave to adjust their thermostats. Most folks I know have a day- and a night setting, heating up or cooling down a whole house can cost a bundle, and apartments are often centrally or steam heated, for a fixed rate. People in Europe, where energy costs much more than it does in the US, probably needed Nest more than we did.

So, here again: Nest tells Google when you're home, how many people live in your house, whether you have A/C or not, what kind of smartphone you use - it does more for Google than it does for you. Right? In many ways, considering you pay for devices like Amazon's Echo and Google's Nest, we're going to have to seriously ask ourselves if they're actually delivering anything new, for the money. I have my doubts about this, as I am not seeing new functionality in the gadgets. To some extent, this goes back to smartphones, which may have made applications you used to have on your PC or laptop portable, but have added little that is actually new. Let me put it this way - you used to have to go to the living room to watch TV, then we got laptops and tablets and things that let us watch what we want where we are, but now we have to go to the living room again, to talk to The Device. This makes no sense. They keep trying to add stuff to the "living room", like 3D and 4K, while it should be clear, by now, that younger folk like their portable lives, let's face it, all sitting in one room watching what one person in that room decided we're all going to watch is so 1980s. We have choices, and devices, and the networks should take the lead and stop doing "family shows" that are only watched by old fogies, out of habit. Seriously.

June 7, 2016: Big Data is You

Keywords: Facebook, Google, Microsoft, AI, Artificial Intelligence, R&D, Hello Barbie, FCC, FTC

Stunningly, Facebook has announced it will read your messages, and try to understand what you're discussing, and will act on what it perceives. While Facebook's terms and conditions allow the company to use anything you post on the platform in whatever way it wants, the big question here is what makes these folks thinks it is OK to read over your shoulder during private conversations. The other question is what Facebook's rationale is for using you, its user, for research. Way back when, in my phone company R&D days, using, even playing back publicly, customer conversations was subject to severe restrictions. I recall one internal Operator Services meeting where we had intended to let the folks present, all staffers, listen in on a directory assistance call with speech recognition, and ended up with the lawyers telling us we could not legally do that. We got around it by having one of us make a couple of calls, into an offline workstation, but as of that day I was in and out of our in-house legal offices even more often. And considering the size and functionality of Facebook, it is beyond me why they are not subject to a modified version of the telecommunications act - even with no phones involved, communicating is what Facebook does, especially with Messenger (as I am writing this, Facebook announced further that Messenger will become a standalone application for mobiles, one you will have to load separately in order to use it at all. Is that related to the parsing, perhaps?). I think we should take a good look at this, especially since the laws and regulations for this have been around for decades, and there is plenty of legal expertise in them. I am not saying that what we did "was better", but experimenting using consumers unaware their actions are being used, and unaware what their actions are being used for, is a bit much. Apart from anything else, you really can't use someone for tests without their prior approval, and without paying them - after all, the research you do will benefit you commercially, and that means you have to pay participants, that is a long established maxim in the American world of R&D. This strongly reminds me of the problems Facebook encountered with its emotion manipulation trial in 2012 - in this new trial, some folks using Messenger will have Facebook take actions based on their utterances and interactions, and if that is not applied to all users, those unwittingly subjected to this algorithm, as well as those who aren't, are all part of an experiment Facebook didn't get anybody's permission for. There may be a grey area, but it is not normally a mile wide.. and the only reason Facebook and Google can more or less do as they please is that their services are "free" - the consumer does not pay, and in the United States that means the consumer has few rights.

Interestingly, Facebook states in its blog that its system, named "Deep Text", uses AI to understand language. This is where I have to tell you that a system whose creators designed the recognition, the front end and the back end of Facebook is a parser, not a self learning intelligence. Intelligence would not be limited to one particular system, created by the same people who made the parser, and limited to people interacting in ways that Facebook itself has delimited, and are therefore predictable and adjustable. Just as an example, if somebody emails a cousin, who speaks a different language, and then decides to have a Skype conversation with the cousin, Facebook would not know, nor would it have access to the Skype conversation, or the two Twitter messages that would be exchanged later. That would make it impossible for Facebook's "intelligence" to develop any kind of understanding of the way two humans interact, where the understanding of language is perhaps only 30% of the total interaction. Intelligence, you see, would figure this out - and intelligence living wholly inside Facebook would not be able to do that. Paraphrasing Facebook's developers, this in't about "deep learning", we're nowhere near that - this requires what I will call "wide learning". And within the container, not even being able to look over the rim, you can't do that.

I've said it before; it is high time we created a good definition for "intelligence", considering commercial scientists and developers think the system that controls a self driving car is "AI", and a system that reads messages is "AI". Apart from anything else, we need to stop using the word "artificial" in "AI", considering we don't use the term "natural intelligence" for anything definable. If we create a system able to learn and derive conclusions from its learning, we may well call that "intelligent", but there isn't anything artificial about it, since we created it. Whether the interloper was silicon based or carbon based is really not relevant. Unless, of course, the Creator meant to say that an "artificial" intelligence is inferior to a "natural" intelligence - of that I am reasonably sure. But again, just so we're clear: playing "Go" or playing chess does not require intelligence, just prodigious mathematical and computational abilities. Yes, that's special. No, it isn't Einstein.

A.I. systems are pervasive, Ms. Crawford, principal researcher at Microsoft, said, pointing to a doll like Hello Barbie, which speaks and listens. “You might think that’s a fantastic toy, that’s really wonderful,” she said. “What you don’t realize is that it is the front to this huge data ingestion machine that is taking all of those statements by that child and then using them for a whole range of purposes.”

What Ms. Crawford does not add is that the new devices from Google and Amazon, not unlike a previous iteration of Microsoft's own Xbox, aren't "speakers" - which is how they're advertised - but microphones, data collection devices. They listen 24/7, something they can do only when connected to their "home base" cloud, where their intelligence is based. And they indiscriminately record anything they hear, and try to interpret sounds into commands and controls. Anything. Grandma throwing up, two people fighting, children at play, a 10 year old having sex, a 15 year old trying Dad's whiskey, anything and everything. All the time. It is just a piece of furniture, you won't even notice. And there really isn't any legislation to cover these technologies - if a service provider wants to put a voice control device into your home, and provides some type of functionality with it, they would have to listen to de device all the time, to catch the activation. And while, if these were deemed telecommunications devices (which I personally think I could make work, legally), they'd be subject to severe restrictions as to what could be done with the input, they're not classed as such, but probably as remote control devices - which they really are not. If you can activate ordering software in the Amazon Cloud using the Echo, and make a purchase, it is not a remote control. Unfortunately, you'd have a better chance getting the EU to regulate these things, than expect the FCC or the FTC to step up; in the USA, the government seems more interested in development and financial progress than in privacy and reigning in corporations. That is, unless the banks start bankrupting people wholesale again, that's when everybody wakes up, a bit on the late side.

June 3, 2016: Is your Windows Update stuck?

Keywords: Facebook, Google, Microsoft, KB3035583, update, Windows 10, disk error, Windows Update

So really all you need is a Windows Update that won't install, one that turns out to be a full Windows 10 upgrade, and then when you start troubleshooting Windows loudly complains its mount partition is defective, none of the error messages make much sense, it hasn't been malfunctioning, but when an update won't install subsequent updates won't, either. So I had to fix that. The culprit was Microsoft's KB3035583, which, unbeknownst to me, has been around for at least a year, and is a forced upgrade to Windows 10, downloads 6 Gb of install code without your permission, hidden code, and impossible to remove unless you uninstall the update that downloaded it. Apparently, in Microsoft's zeal to update everybody to Windows 10 before they start charging for it, they're forcing the download onto all eligible Windows PCs and tablets, where they can start the upgrade without the user being able to prevent or stop it.

This is where big terabyte disk drives are a problem, because they take forever to scan. First I had to remove large numbers of temporary files, some of which I had no idea what caused them, one install clearly had not happened, and there are my HDTV temporary video files, and a temporary install that would not let itself be deleted under Windows, so I had to find a Linux boot drive and do the remove using AIS. Then, just the CHKDSK (drive level check) needed the night to run. Then, Microsoft's System File Checker took hours. Then, "dism" (Microft's Deployment Image Servicing and Management tool) took another couple of hours. Only then (we're effectively talking halfway into the next day) could I try to install the Windows 10 Pro update using an ISO image on a DVD. That took the rest of the day, well into the night, but at least it worked - although, of course, after that install finished Windows decided it needed more updates - those pushed out since the 'big" update was pushed out and failed, without telling me. On my other system, I needed to remove the update, and the Windows 10 installation files, because that runs Windows Media Center, which isn't compatible with Windows 10, and actually gets removed by the installer.

This is a big issue. 98% of consumers aren't able to do what I just did (98% of that 98% don't have the patience or the understanding that if they don't do these things their entire computer will eventually fail, likely with the loss of all stored files), and it is beyond me to understand why Microsoft thinks it is OK to unleash this crapola on their customers. Most have nowhere or nobody to get things fixed, and I am not even talking about those whose son or nephew or neighbour "know all about computers". I mean, do you know what an 'ISO file" is? And do you know how to burn an ISO file to DVD? And the reason behind the changes that make up Windows 10 (and especially this latest "upgrade", which is more of a reinstall) are, apart from various fixes and regular updates, additions to Windows to do two things:

Make Windows a multi-platform (phone, tablet, PC) operating system, a process that began with Windows 8.1; and
Make Windows a data collection engine, mining the user for every bit of personal and identifying information Microsoft can find.

This equally began in 8.1, but they've gotten much better at it now, to the point where Microsoft is putting back a lot of the tools it has taken out, over the years, like Mail and Calendar. Increasingly, Microsoft gives you applications and tools whose use require you to log in with a Microsoft email address, and under Microsoft's Terms & Conditions, which you agree to when you log in, they can then parse any of your information, and use your data for marketing purposes, and resell it to third parties.

Where Facebook and Google, in particular, are doing the data collection with abandon, and have been for years, Microsoft has not, in the past, had an emphasis on data mining, and that is now changing. Never mind that Microsoft does not have a marketing organization to sell personal information, you have to get it before you can sell it. Facebook can only be used if you log in and provide personal information, and that is what Microsoft is trying to bring about - you can bypass the login requirement on Windows devices, but it is not easy to figure out, and you forego a lot of functionality doing that. The waiting, then, is for the provider who figures out consumers are perfectly capable of figuring out where they want to get what - in many cases, they already have their favourite providers. It is safe to assume your provider has a pernicious and secondary motive when they install "finance" and "news" and "weather" on your computer without asking you. A decent provider would ask you what you'd like, build a script that lets you get what you want where you want it - it is only just now I've seen, in Windows, for the first time that you can set a third party mail provider in your mail application, in Windows - but then I check on the security of that and read that Microsoft will then automatically send that email address to its calendar application, and will add any mail addresses you use to the contacts database - again, automatically. I understand why that is a handy facility to have but - hey, Microsoft - for Microsoft to decide how I do what, and what with, is the usual Microsoft hubris. It installs so much crap, during the update, and turns on so many data sharing facilities that were turned off that it took me over half a day to verify everything and turn it off and (insofar as possible) uninstall it. When you wade through it, though, one thing is massively clear: this stuff is just there so Microsoft can figure out what you do on your computer.

Anyway, before I meander off into deep space, once you have a stuck update, doing a search at will lead you to a few fixes, at least one of which works fine. The fact that a Windows 10 "upgrade" package (IOW, much more than a regular update) sits in the Microsoft Update queue, not installing, without any kind of warning, is of major concern. That "update", you see, will stop any subsequent updates from installing. You won't know that anything is wrong, and any fixes, security updates and driver updates will now never come to your PC. As you can discern from the above, your average consumer is not going to be able to figure out, let alone, fix, this issue - recently, a neighbour was so unable to use his PC that he got his son to reinstall his PC, once it wouldn't boot any more, and I expect there will be a lot of folks like that - I saw, in just a few minutes, hundreds of folks with the same error as me, all over Microsoft Support, trying to figure out how to get things back on track. That's not good. Perhaps, Microsoft, you should not be trying to be all things to all people, while outGoogling Google. Not going to work, and you're wrecking a good operating system by loading it up with useless crap.

May 22, 2016: Artificial Intelligence is dying in the wings

Keywords: social media, Facebook, IBM, TJ Watson, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, virtual, AI, Artificial Intelligence, self driving cars, Siri, Cortana, Echo, Home, Einstein

So my question is whether Facebook has reached a growth limit, or whether it simply wants to take over the universe. It must have realized that the emphasis on mobile devices is beneficial because on most phones and small tablets, Facebook takes up the entire screen, or most of it. That means it leaves no room for other applications, and it becomes easier to use Facebook's messenger than the handset's own mail application. I am old school, came up with the PC, so I use my mobile phones, and even my tablet, more or less the same way I use a laptop. But because of my habits, I will do mail and Facebook sooner on the laptop than on the handset. In my particular case, I don't run any mobile apps that mine my address book, and if I have to use a mobile app, I do that on another handset, one that does not have my address book. In the case of Facebook, once I found you can't even disable the app from accessing your camera, I removed Facebook from every mobile device I own. I am extremely security conscious, partly because I spent so many years in secure telecommunications, supervised by a real military type, part of what I and my team did was service to our Federal clients, and it gets hammered home when you drive past the Pentagon twice a day, on your way to work and home. My webmaster came straight from the General Staff, when she retired from the military, she interviewed in uniform. I think the security that came baked into my job, once I was transferred from NYC to D.C., is a useful trait to have.

I vividly remember loading up LinkedIn when I got my latest Blackberry, only to discover that once you installed that, and logged in, LinkedIn immediately copied your address book, without asking. You can then turn that off, but that's kind of a moot point when the copy is made. LinkedIn, you may recall, got fined for sending email to folks whose addresses it had copied from user's smartphones. Apart from the fact that that is not legal, I have "sensitive" email addresses on my Blackberry, addresses I used to need access to in the course of my work. As it is still possible for Verizon management retirees to get called in for strike duty, these are addresses I may need, so I have them on my secure, protected device, on which I do not run apps that mine data - not that that is always easy to figure out. Check the permissions, and you can usually tell - if the app wants access to your address list, and you cannot turn that permission off, the maker of the app is going to copy your address list. This is one reason why folks get so much spam and phishing mail - their friends have given the spammers their email addresses and telephone numbers, and the social security numbers of their ex-spouses.

See, while we're being bombarded by tech providers advertising their AI, I see precious little proof. Facebook's "trending" column is suppsed to marry the latest popular items up with what you're particularly interested in - in my case, it never fails to produce either 2 or 3 (all) items that do not interest me. Penis transplant? Why is that "trending"? Apart from anything else, I'd be interested in a few months time, but here in the United States it would not be possible for a serious press, umm, "organ", to discuss the transplant, the therapy and its functioning. And singers falling off stages.... I have never shown any interest in artists on Facebook, save for one of my nieces who is a singer, and I can safely say that Facebook hasn't got a clue about what my interests are - while I've been around long enough for their AI to figure that out, if it worked. I know when it does work - as Google and Yahoo and Microsoft have figured out, unless you find some excuse to make people log into their service so they can monitor your browser while you surf, they haven't got a clue. This is why LinkedIn and Facebook require you to have third party cookies enabled, which is a huge security risk, and should not be allowed. So that is why I use the Tor browser, which masks my ISP, won't retain cookies beyond one session, and does not allow the social media provider to "see" what I am up to in the rest of my computing environment. LinkedIn is particularly bad - something that I really found out of order is that LinkedIn, which I have only ever used for business activities, and not as a social network, "found" relatives of mine I did not know I had. It is very unlikely they discovered these folks, whose names I did not know and who I had never been in contact with, using legitimate techniques. Worse, I've never had any family in my LinkedIn contact list...

And then I see a Google announcement that they're introducing their "Assistant", similar to Siri and Cortana, which will run on their upcoming Google Home device, similar to Amazon's Echo, as well. I have significant privacy misgivings about these services and devices, especially where households with underage children are concerned. These can be recognized by the services (Microsoft did this too, on some Xbox versions) and so Google and Amazon are able to silently collect data on minors, and resell that data to third parties. Why am I making this assumption? Microsoft, Google nor Amazon have ever introduced any of these services and provided a statement about the privacy, safety and security features built into the services. They tell the press what the new capabilities are, and it is clear that if they don't tell us what limitations are built in, there aren't any. It is the same for Facebook - once you give Facebook access to your camera, it can record from that camera whenever Facebook wants it to - on one tablet I have seen Fabook's app would not install without access to the camera.

Am I paranoid? I don't think so. The EU government is activating quite strict rules for these services, but the US government is - due to economic considerations - failing to do so. If it did, those rules would apply to the worldwide services of American corporations, and it would be much easier to control how and what is collected, and used, by the services. Access to your computer, your files, and your devices, should by default be turned off for all services, and you would be able to go into a menu to turn things on (and off) as you desire.

There can only be one reason why this is not implemented: the social networks surreptitiously collect personal data from your systems and devices, and do not want you to be aware of it. As someone pointed out the other day, Amazon does not have a logout option - instead, you have to go through menus to tell it you're "not that user". Facebook, on mobiles and tablets, equally makes it very hard to log out. Microsoft makes you come up "live" for chat, and you can only turn that off after they have advertised your login. Skype now is a tile in Windows 10, and logs you in all by itself, if you've told Windows 10 your Microsoft user name. You can opt not to do that, but the facility is built into the install so cleverly it looks like there is no other way to install or activate Windows. Once you've given it your login, you can ostensibly remove that, but that does not stop Windows from reporting what you do to Microsoft, regardless. The only reason I have Skype installed on my Windows machines is that I do not use my Microsoft email address in the application, and only use the desktop version.

So let's go back to the Artificial Intelligence that all of these providers, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, say they use in providing services to you - AI that can work only, they tell you, if you log into their systems before using them. Facebook has taken that the furthest - you can't use Facebook at all if you do not log in. Real AI, of course, would know who you are, and not need you to tell it - imagine you have to introduce yourself to your neighbour every single time you see her, so you can say "hello". In humans, that's called Alzheimers. Go to Wikipedia and look up "Artificial Intelligence", and you'll find that in the introduction, the examples given are two Google products, which means Google (and others) have usurped the term "AI" for marketing purposes. Because, you see, playing Go or Chess and beating a human player is something a computer can do - it requires computational ability, not intelligence. The same applies to self driving cars - they require prodigious computational ability, not intelligence. The telltale mistake in the sentence in Wikipedia is that the writer refers to "professional players". A professional player is somebody who makes a particular game their source of income, and that, again, has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence.

It may well be we've never really bothered to define intelligence properly, and perhaps that is something we need to work on. And then we need to define what we mean by "artificial intelligence", and perhaps come up with a different terminology for it. Yes, Albert Einstein had prodigious intelligence, probably best understood by saying he was able to conjecture things that could, originally, not be calculated, or seen. Stephen Hawking is, quite possibly, an even better demonstration of intelligence - he is able to think on a par with Einstein, but does so even though he is, indeed, profoundly disabled. I have, myself, worked on speech recognition, and can tell you from experience in my worldwide travels there are so many different flavours of natively spoken English, there is no speech recognition in existence today that can successfully understand even 30% of spoken English. My hair stands on end when I read (East) Indian newspapers, where I see they don't just change idiom and grammar, they've added a huge vocabulary of words that did not exist in traditional English - a necessity in a society where English is a primary language, that has a sixth of the world's population. These folks will eventually all become literate and educated, outnumber all other English speakers combined, and it is their English that will be the dominant language. The majority of folks working on speech recognition today are working on American English, which most definitely will not be the dominant form of English. Anybody working on Indian English as a research subject? Only IBM, as far as I know, all the rest think Indians can be taught "proper" English, not realizing India has its own English literature, and a worldwide workforce - what do you think programmers do? They write code, in a programming language - emphasis on "language". There are few non-Indian coders in the world today, does that suggest anything?

Anyway, it is, at this point, vitally important to begin letting the public know that 99% of what the non-scientific proponents say is Artificial Intelligence is, in fact, just fancy (and very clever, and very advanced) computing. What is probably most important to understand is that if any of the providers needs information from you to understand what you do, and where you're wanting to go, it does not possess any kind of intelligence. The comment one of Google's senior honchos made, the other day: "Google’s autocomplete feature that most of us use when doing a search can instantaneously touch 500 computers in several locations as it guesses what we are looking for" means they have a very advanced, fast, network. It also means a senior Google executive does not have a clue what intelligence is. How much data a system can gather to find information means it is basically, a completely stupid system. Yes, an intelligence can use previously gathered information in creating suppositions, conjecturing, and arriving at conclusions, but if that information is a prerequisite, we're looking at advanced computing, at clever algorithms, not at AI. There isn't even a fine line - if there were such a thing as Artificial Intelligence, your PC would have come with a free desktop application that gave you the capability to do "thinksheets", if I can propose a new piece of terminology. Writing this, I find it is rather difficult to come up with definitions and examples of what differentiates intelligence from calculation, more difficult than I expected it to be. IBM's Watson system (now running in distributed fashion in IBM's own cloud) comes perhaps closest to an Artificial Intelligence. Two bits of proof for that: IBM, at Watson's website, doesn't mention AI even once (they know what I know), and Watson is, unlike all these other systems at the social folks, dedicated only to research, learning and developing. IBM has long had a tradition in which it segregates pure research from development, something we used to have in telecommunications R&D, but alas, no more. At any rate, the primary aspect of artificial intelligence is that it is autonomous - it learns and operates by itself. Microsoft's infamous attempt at creating a chatbot is a perfect example - it learned only from those communicating with it, the rest of its "knowledge" was preloaded by developers, not garnered in the world. It didn't have AI, because it was not able to correct itself - an AI you do not take offline, because it cannot learn that way. Similarly, Google's AI is reading 2,865 romance novels "to be more conversational". Novels do not converse, and they do not use everyday speech language. Apart from anything else, written word is vastly different from commmunicative language, the only thing that will come out of this is that Google's AI may learn to write novels. I honestly, when I read these kinds of things, wonder whether these folks have sprung a leak, I wish we still had Monty Python and could do a skit about a Google Self Driving Car asking instructions from its passenger using Fatal Desire language. And that, I promise you, will happen. You willl one day get online to order printer paper and be connected to Julia Roberts drooling down the wire. Let me put it this way: if Microsoft's chatbot is AI, I don't want to even slightly think about AI driving cars.

Here is a good example: Amazon builds as much intelligence as it can into its sales and presentation software - Amazon is, unfortunately, contaminated by producing some of the products it sells, always a sure fire way of contaminating your search software, because its systems will, at some point, decide to try to sell one of its tablets to you, rather than whatever it is you're looking for. That aside, however, I purchased a couple of things, a while ago, that help me deal with my medical condition. One was a multi-vitamin with extra folic acid, something my doctor wants me to take, but labeled by its manufacturer as specially created for pregnant women. And then I tried several different kinds of vaseline based skin lotion. On the basis of these two bits of data Amazon has decided I have given birth, am a mother, and eligible to join its Mother's Club, whatever they call it. Their software should have long known I am male, and should also have long known I buy no children's things, at all, ever. Now I know Amazon doesn't purport its systems to use Artificial Intelligence, but it does state it has, uses, and sells the service of "machine learning", which is kind of the precursor to AI. From the above example you can easily discern that Amazon's intelligence does not work. If a system with predictive capabilities can't even figure out that a male customer cannot have children, and from there try to work out why this customer would buy those particular products, Amazon's voluminous and expensive efforts at injecting a form of AI into its sales platform are a sad failure. And the failure is at the back end, at the place in its software where verification of information is done. If there is such a place. Even if I look at Amazon today, logging into my account, the primary focus is on the Dash button (never bought toilet paper on Amazon) and "free movies with Amazon Prime" - I've not bought streaming movies on Amazon for years, ever since my Tivo packed up, and I've not bought Blu-Rays or HD-DVD disks for quite a while. Below the above, all Amazon tries to do is sell me things I bought before, which is a somewhat futile exercise. If you've got my screen real estate, and you don't put good stuff on it, your AI does not work for shit. On top of that, like with so many, Amazon's webserver formats its screens for tablets, even though it is easy to verify what type of device a login comes from - most of the time, I am on a laptop with a large 4K HD screen. I can do something with that, Amazon cannot.

All I am trying to say is that there is, as of yet, no such thing as Artificial Intelligence. Look at the recent fracas about Facebook's "News", and consider we now know a bunch of young non-journalists using an instruction book manage the feed. That means Facebook does not have functioning AI, because that would manage the News quite capably. Facebook is introverted to the point it hasn't hired any abundantly available well know journalists and editors, either. I've already mentioned the blithering nonsense we hear from Google's Diane Greene, who tells us that what AI does is "guessing". We know Microsoft can't keep a chatbot online or under control, and Amazon is not able to correlate the information it has available in abundance. Quite possibly Virtual Reality is getting the amount of press it does because the tech folks need to hide they have no functional AI yet, and the PR folks do an unfortunately terrific job calling everything AI that isn't, like self driving cars and speech recognition. Perhaps I should talk to the gummint and be given a team that can analyze all of those offerings, and provide a grading system to those projects that are legitimately on their way to AI, and figure out how far they've come, and what else they need to do. One thing is for sure: especially the commercial social networks do not have anything resembling AI, because intelligence caters for the needs of people, not for the sale of advertising - and that is what Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and most of the other want working AI for. They're not trying to predict your behaviour to improve you living environment, they want to know when you'll be ready for your next hamburger. In the long run, that is a recipe for disaster, as these folks are telling their advertisers they can tune into their users, when all they are really able to do is see their users go to Starbucks in the morning - which Starbucks already knows, and which Dunkin' Donuts knows it can't do anything about. And that's where it all ends.

May 13, 2016: Paying for results you can't measure is a business model

Keywords: social media, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, virtual, unreal

Funny, or perhaps just hard to understand, is that Facebook's fearless leader wants to consolidate control over what is now an empire. Being an innovator, I wonder if he should not be going on to invent other things and environments, as you can, for instance, see Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos do. Both are personally branching out into other enterprises, space, publishing, things that aren't related to, and run from, their primary enterprise. Zuckerberg, from what I can see and read, now just wants to be a mogul, it isn't that he hasn't earned the right to do that, but there must be so much more fun things he could be engaged with. Most importantly, I don't see him making much of an effort to fire up a new generation of entrepreneurs, and help them make their ideas and dreams come to fruition. The difference between a fruitcake and an entrepreneur, after all, is one person who believes in them. It would be a pity to see Zuck turn out to be a one trick pony. OTOH, maybe he is't really the inventor type, but an up-and-coming mogul. Looking at Facebook's performance, he is hard to fault.

It would seem both Microsoft and Facebook have set their sights on chatbots being the Next Best Thing. I've tried Cortana, but, at least on my Lumia, that gets things wrong much of the time - I suppose you can work with Cortana and Siri, which, after all, both say they learn from you - but the idea behind AI is that you should not have to train them (there are folks who think otherwise). Having said that, I am a database expert and so am much more at ease with Google Search and similar services - much of the time, I use Privatelee, which is the default engine for Seamonkey. That isn't necessarily the best, but I can always sidetrack to Google, it is just that I like Google not knowing everything about me. Having said that, Google is without a shadow of a doubt the best search engine around - both in terms of algorithm and database. And having said that, you have to ask yourself if, considering we're nowhere near perfect in resolving written queries, adding speech and voice recognition to that mix makes things better. Methinks not.

Well, no. The article in the Times didn't say people spend 50 minutes per day on Facebook. It said they spend 50 minutes per day on "Facebook, Instagram and Messenger". That's a diluted statement, and one that I have to wonder about. Facebook is a corporation, fine with me, but it "sells" multiple services, and those should be able to be analyzed separately. I am certain the numbers will be impressive even if split out, but Facebook has reached a size that it does not need to pad its numbers. So why does it? It this all in the clear quest of its CEO, seen in the recently announced new share class, to become a true mogul, the Donald Trump of the online universe, or is something else at play here? Regardless, when I look at Facebook, I note that traffic inside groups has become much less "intense", if that is the right word, although I must reasonably take into account that I and my existing "friends" all age, and that does change our focus. Having said that, this analysis seems to show Facebook can only grow now by getting members to spend more time online, so they can have more advertising put in front of them. I don't have a problem with that, but nobody has ever put a calculation in front of me that related advertising directly to products sold, as in "this particular ad went up on Tuesday, and we sold 24,000 more of these cars in the next couple of weeks". You could only do that if there were one particular model and brand car, for a specific price, that was advertised in one particular place, and things don't work that way in marketing. With cars especially it gets tough, because many "sold" cars go to buyers that have the car manufacturer finance their "purchase", and deals out of that obfuscate the financial picture. If you will, sales and marketing methodologies have made it impossible to analyze what exactly sells what (and if you think I'm off my head, I've seen plenty proof of this in the sales and leasing methodologies of telecommunications networks, but unfortunately am not at liberty to tell you about how that works, but it isn't essentially different, although with cars and shoes and ginger tea the picture gets even more "opaque".

I still don't get the virtual reality stuff. Look at 4K HDR, 3DTV, curved screens, and some other techological advances of the past decade, and it looks much like the consumer has little appetite for advanced technologies that do not provide major improvement beyond the HD everybody has, today.

Recording and transmission technology has not kept pace, is one restraint. You need programming for these formats, and few TV studios and TV cameras are equipped for them. You've maybe not thought about this, but a one hour Blu-Ray movie takes up some 25 gigabytes - compare that with the 5 or so gigabytes HD movies on DVD take, or the 5.5 gigabytes an HD broadcast (all of the above with full Dolby Digital audio) takes on disk. And I am not even talking about the file size of a 3D or 4K HD movie. The problem is that if you and your neighbours all take 3D and 4K cable subscriptions, the networks will simply grind to a complete halt. Yes, we have a fiber infrastructure that can support those kinds of data requirements, but the backbones (which are, to a large extent, shared between providers, offered to all by specialized folks like Level 3, who found out their fiber is deteriorating at a much fast rate than anyone had anticipated) do not. Because once high rate video is offered by one or two, the other 25 will start offering it too. We're behind Europe in delivery of data speeds, and if you think of multiple 25 GB/hour channels needing to be delivered to each individual household, you can easily discern that the 6GB/hour cable companies and other providers are delivering in the USA today does not come close.

So no, there is no programming to speak of, there is no way of delivering this stuff in volume (which is how money is made) and if Comcast tells you they can deliver 1GB/sec on their DOCSIS interface (which isn't as fast as it sounds), that isn't ctually the relevant bit of information. There are tools out there you can use to model the capacity of intercity fiber networks (MANs), and there are tools that you can use to see the delay introduced when you run a network test with a node in Vermont, or Virginia. Those are the relevant things to look at, as you have no control over where much of your data comes from, and there is a good chance your Netflix movie comes out of Northern Virginia, clogging up multiple networks while on its way to you, two or seven states away. That isn't an issue, that's what the networks and nodes and centers are built for, but taking anything more than 20% of their capacity, continuously, will kill them. Read about the new technologies, watch the news, by all means - and if you're a gamer, you'll be spending thousands of dollars on the new technologies, and an even faster network connection. For the rest of us, it will be a pipe dream for years to come.

Comcast, of course, is running ads on the local TV channels, here in Seattle, WA. The service person featured says she lives and works in "the greater Washington area". That's the other side of the country, Comcast, that's how they refer to D.C., over there, with the adjoining bits of Maryland and Virginia. We're in Washington State.

April 28, 2016: Facebook's security is so much hot air

Keywords: Facebook, ESET, Bratislava, malware, deception, Chetan Gowda

So, suddenly, Facebook tells me, as I log in, there is malware on my system and would I please click the link below and download their malware scanner, and run it. The scanning software is made by ESET, a company in Bratislava, Slovakia, and stands out by specifying in its Terms & Conditions it does not adhere to the international contract standards as agreed in the United Nations, and only goes by the rules of one district court in Bratislava. Facebook, of course, will not allow you to access your account unless you run this stuff.

I check on another browser. Same thing. I check on another computer, with a different flavour of Windows. Same thing. I check on two more browsers. Same thing (note that malware lives on a system, and it isn't likely to live on another system, especially if that other system has no mail handler). I check on a tablet, which doesn't run Windows. Same thing. I check on another browser on the tablet. Same thing. It is unlikely every device I have has malware. I scan all systems completely overnight. Next day, same thing.

Note that Facebook does not detect the malware until after I have completed logging in - this makes no sense, you detect malware on the browser, even before login. I move one system to another network, download the software and run it. It now begins scanning, and lets me access Facebook while it is doing that. This is even weirder - if you have a client with malware, you do not, and I really mean this, you do NOT give that client access to your server. Not. Never. You give them the software, tell them to take their computer off the internet, shut all browser windows, and then run the scan.

ESET now installs two processes - one is a Facebook Malware scanner, the other an ESET scanner, and the two go to work. After a while, the Facebook Malware Scanner terminates, does not tell you it has done so, does not tell you what it has found, nothing. In the interim you can now log into your Facebook account normally - including ON ALL OTHER SYSTEMS and devices that aren't being scanned and haven't been scanned. The ESET scanner never terminates, sits there and consumes some 50% of CPU cycles, and nobody ever say another word about the malware and what it was etc. The other systems and browsers and tablets that Facebook reported had malware and that have not been scanned now don't appear to have malware any more - magically, running the ESET scanner on just one computer has cleaned every single computer and device I own.

According to Chetan Gowda, a software engineer with Facebook’s Site Integrity Team: “You can run the scan, see the scan results, and disable the software all without logging out of Facebook—making it seamless and easy to clean up an infected device.” Not. I vacillate between calling this bullshit or nonsense - while I understand it is hard to police billions of users, many simultaneously, detecting non-existent malware, forcing people to use software without any kind of legal protection, then running spurious processes that don't do anything - really, Facebook, this has nothing to do with keeping your users safe, or even policing your "partners". I'd like to get Facebook to tell me, as well, what ESET does with the data they get off my system. According to their Terms, they can use this any way they see fit, again, only under the supervision of the Bratislava District Court.

April 17, 2016: Our brains do not work well enough to be digitized

Keywords: Google, artificial intelligence, misconception, medical, pill hill, chatbots, cancer

Medstar D.C. A recent article in the New York Times discusses Artificial Intelligence, but not, I fear, in a particularly meaningful way. Read this quote: "The A.I. resources Ms. Greene is opening up at Google are remarkable. Google’s autocomplete feature that most of us use when doing a search can instantaneously touch 500 computers in several locations as it guesses what we are looking for.". Diane B. Greene is the head of Google Compute Engine, who seems to believe that what I just quoted describes AI. Sorry, Ms. Greene, that has nothing to do with intelligence, artificial or otherwise. Building the systems, and making them work, certainly does, but what a very large computer system connected to lots of places collecting data does is not intelligence. Intelligence does not have data as a prerequisite. What you describe is advanced computing. The way Google and Microsoft and others try to tell us "intelligence" works is that you log into their system, where they have gathered as much data on and from you as they can, they now try and get more data, from your location and your network to your computing device and those around you, with all that data they now read what you're asking, and then they try and come up with an response based on all of the information they have. The clue is in Ms. Greene's use of the word "guessing". Intelligence is nothing to do with guessing. Guessing is what you do when you do not have enough information. Intelligence is what you use when you try to understand something. There is a chasm, a vast difference, between the two. Perhaps we need to start talking to the folks at Google and Microsoft and re-teach them what exactly intelligence is, and what it does. The recent Microsoft debacle, presenting the Tay bot, is probably the best example of how we neither understand nor are able to create AI. There is, with the resources and manpower this company has, absolutely no excuse to activate a malfunctioning bot, but then making things worse by not having a live team of troubleshooters online, and taking down a system just when you can be learning how it really works is unforgivable. The Head of Research should have been instantly taken out back and shot. There admittedly isn't a real "out back" on the Microsoft campus here, but I am sure they could have dealt with the failing executive in some other clever manner. Then again, that might have required intelligence...

Intelligence is when a brain, real or silicon based, conjectures, based on available knowledge, observation, as well as unavailable knowledge, and "fuzzy logic", and arrives at workable conclusions or solutions. What Google says, above, is that intelligence is when you have the ability to gather all the information you need. Sheesh - that means the First Boston Corporation brokerage workstation I was on the development team of, back in the 1980s, which collected information from four stock exchanges worldwide, simultaneously, was an Artificial Intelligence! Not, kids, not. You may have to ask yourself whether anything created with commerce in mind can have anything to do with intelligence. In the olden days, intelligence was related more to schooling, education, academia, and thought. It is conjecture, philosophy, religion, psychology, astronomy. It is not the development of new batteries, faster computers, or self driving cars. It is the explanation why we do not have intelligence, today, that can match our understanding, why there is no robot capable of understanding and transliterating languages. Even Google, as a search engine, is losing its way - "secure" (https) websites will receive a higher ranking than "non-secure" (http) websites. The simple purpose of a search engine is to find the information you are looking for, with the most relevant result position shown first. For years, and especially with this example, Google has found many reasons to give certain entities, technologies, and content preference over other results, even though those may be more relevant to your search. This is not intelligence, it is market driven deception, with Google pretending to "keep you safe". Did you ask them to do that, instead of finding an answer to your question? Google no longer finds information, it interprets information, with quite a few restrictive factors built into its algorithms, which is then presented to you based on what Google thinks is best for you. You are no longer in charge of your search, and will never be again. Google, in this respect, is not different from Microsoft, Facebook, and the Yellow Pages - rather than help you find the information you need, they all utilize commercial arguments to present you with the data that's "best for you" - advertisers pay for getting information in front of you, and they really do not care whether or not that information is relevant to you. This even though they all know little if anything about you, and the information they do have is never checked with you, and therefore prone to misinterpretation. On Facebook, you may encounter recommendations from your friends - even though they have never selected the products and services, and have no idea you're presented with them with their name(s) attached. If that is a form of intelligence, the definition of intelligence has just changed drastically. I recall very well when I joined NYNEX' research lab, back in the 1990s - we had an AI Lab, staffed with knowledgeable, brilliant people - but the entire thing eventually went away, because we determined AI would require computing resources and scientific and programming resources way beyond anything we'd every be able to get out of it in benefits. In many ways, the project I joined had an AI element - speech recognition of random callers into Operator Services, to determine what type of information they wanted. That, too, ended up being limited in scope - we could figure out what town they wanted informtion on, but nothing beynd that, simply because that would have required resources whose scope would have been so large we could not even calculate it.

To return, briefly, to my earlier narrative about cancer, illness, in short, about being human.... One thing I've discovered, over time, is that doctors, like most scientists, have hobby horses. With doctors, the problem is that they use them on patients, and that may send them down the garden path. My primary care provider in Virginia had a thing about diabetes, so he sent me on a wild goose chase - until my endocrinologist (that's the type of specialist who, amongst others, treats diabetes, and who I had been seeing about my thyroid cancer) ran all the tests in the universe, and couldn't come up with pre-pre-pre-pre-diabetes, let alone pre-diabetes. Here in Seattle, my endocrinologist opined that I didn't really have a lot of thyroid cancer - this after a team of doctors back East biopsied me positive, removed my thyroid, tested it, and after the surgery said I had actually been at stage 4, and gave me the test results in writing. Clearly, they can't both be right.

Here in the Seattle area, I originally went to see an endocrinologist at Virginia Mason, only to discover their endocrinology department was in such a mess I had to change doctors five times in two years. With some other mishaps there, in other disciplines, and an accounts person accusing me of fraud, I ended up leaving Virginia Mason's medical care, and have not looked back.

So, in many ways, perhaps we do not need Microsoft's chatbot, or Facebook's chatbot, but we do need a doctor bot. Bots are best when they can provide solutions to complex problems, and a chatbot in Facebook is not specialized enough to be useful, or even successful. If you were to confine a bot to dealing with known sick people, you vastly narrow the amount of expertise needed to make the bot work. And you can reduce that even further - we have ENT doctors who do just ears, noses and throats, and that has a reason - medicine is a very large area of knowledge for a single brain to comprehend, and if that goes for humans, it goes for bots. Having said that, if you had an intelligent agent, that agent would be able to determinewhether someone is sick in the first place...

In science, diverging opinions are the norm, no issue with that, but then again, this does not help a medical patient. Much. As a patient, you get to figure out what's "real", if you like, and what's the thing this doctor will talk to you about, but the next one won't. Having moved around a fair amount, I've had to change doctors on a number of occasions, and one thing I can tell you is that that isn't good for your health. For one thing, most independent doctors don't really have a boss who supervises them, and who you can complain to, and who decides their raise every year, depending on performance. By this I do not mean there are huge numbers of bad doctors out there, but at the same time, for instance when I look in the Seattle area, I see a lot more doctors than I think the local economy warrants. I am not quite sure why that is, and I haven't even properly done the research to prove it, but I am under the impression this region has more doctors and medical establishments per capita than anywhere else I have ever lived - and that includes New York City and the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area. There is a piece of downtown that is referred to as "pill hill" by the locals - that ought to tell you something...

March 28, 2016: It all reminds me too much of 9/11

Keywords: Zaventem, Brussels, terrorism, Jihad, French colonies, French, Obama, Havana, Cuba, Windows 10, Lenovo B570, Windows 8.1

carcinogens galore Startling, to see a woman police officer, in Belgium, telling people in the international departure area at Brussels Zaventem Airport, with gun drawn, to leave the terminal. She did not just walk over, she was there for the whole thing, and if this and other images broadcast live fom Brussels in recent days are anything to go by, Belgium is no longer the pleasant, quiet backwater it has always been for me. Some of the best restaurants on the planet are in Brussels. And I would always delight in taking extra time to return my rental car to Zaventem, because there are some really nice cafés serving wonderful Belgian draft beer in the villages that surround the airport. "Nog een pintje, menier?"

When I started writing this blog post, a few days ago, it began with a piece about Salah Abdeslam, after his capture in Brussels. We all know what happened next, and so much has been written about these attacks I am sure you don't need my comments added. But there is something I have, as a former resident of the European Union, always wondered about - how did these vast rivers of Middle Easterners and North Africans get permission to live in the EU in the first place? I know how the Turks got to Germamy and the Netherlands - they were invited to come as menial workers, following Italian, Spanish and Yugoslav "guest workers", and after a number of years were offered permanent residence, and later citizenship. But for the North Africans, who mostly came to France and Belgium, the road was more obscure, and I think it is largely because they came from former French colonies, and spoke French, that they were allowed in, again, to do the stuff the French and Belgians didn't have manpower for. But now we see they did not exactly integrate - the bombers and attackers in Paris and Brussels were, for the most part, born in Europe, of North African descent. They must have been pretty disenfranchised, to turn to a form of genocide to air their grievances, but I have to wonder how much their parents and extended families are culpable for how they turned out. I recall my former brother in law, born and bred French, falling in love with a Moroccan woman, in Paris, and being told in no uncertain terms by her family in Morocco he could either marry her, and convert(!), or he would have his throat cut. Admittedly, Christians too have done some weird stuff, I can tell you stories, and look at how Irish Catholics and Protestants do things to each other that are close to what the North Africans do, but to see this go on on such a large scale, while some Muslims in the Middle East are trying to start their very own country with medieval law, truly boggles the mind.

I do not envy my Belgian friends having to clean up Brussels, where the North Africans and their locally born offspring have had decades to build an infrastructure, local integration and hiding places, an infrastructure now being used as the explosive center of a murderous intolerance I have difficulty to understand. I was there on 9/11, worked on recovery, lost colleagues - and I am sorry to say it does not appear to have gotten any better, the murderers now coming not from Germany, but from Belgium. Perhaps it is time the Euopean Union made better headway with the integration of law enforcement - you still do not have to be bilingual, let alone trilingual, to become a cop in Belgium, and the French officers coming to Brussels to assist Belgian police do not speak Flemish. Belgian security services may have to comb through all of French speaking Belgium to root out the rest of the terrorists.

Obama's visit to Havana, violently eclipsed by the Brussels disaster, sounds a much brighter note - it is hard to imagine we've had this embargo going on since 1960, and I don't know that it had any use, other than impoverishing Cuba and its population. While clearly ideological differences remain, we should be able to open up a profitable trade relationship, once the Cubans have been able to save up some of the dollars American tourists will bring by the boatload. It was interesting to see the Prez brought his entire family, and his mother-in-law, but then she does live with the family. Clearly not so much a State visit, but an Official visit. I'll leave it to you to figure out what the difference is, but a good move it is. It was so much "under wraps" I had to follow the almost-real-time TV feed on BBC, as no broadcast channels here in the Puget sound were carrying it live, which was a bit strange. That and the rain....

I've had this excellent Lenovo laptop since 2012, and it's been better than good. I managed to upgrade it to Windows 8.1, for which it was not designed, but it is now working flawlessly (for most of that time it ran Windows 8), with its upgrade to 8GB of RAM and the 1 terabyte disk I put in it. Going through all of its settings after the recent upgrade from Windows 8 to 8.1, I realized that it was not talking to its WiFi interface - not in itself a disaster, as I am using it with wired Ethernet. But then I noticed its setting, during the upgrade, had defaulted to something marginal, and I was frequently losing networking, and having to do a reset on the interface. After some futzing, I noticed to my amazement it suddenly reported running at a gigabit/second, something it had never done before, but then after getting the WiFi to work it defaulted back to 100 MB/s on the wired interface. Then, I lost WiFi again, and only after reinstalling the drivers twice did I get that to work again. Then I redid (for safety's sake) the wired Ethernet drivers, and decided that for as long as I could get it all to work again I'd forgo the gigabit Ethernet, no point in breaking things again. Then, of course, it suddenly decided to work properly (I didn't know it had a Gigabit interface to begin with, but I know my new router does) and now I have good WiFi (which was never brilliant) and the Ethernet runs at a gigabit. Teehee. There is a true difference in the two settings - large multi-gigabyte files were transferring at around 11 MB/second, and now transfer at 44 MB/second (transfer rate rarely is multiplied proportionally when line speeds go up, this due to traffic information going back and forth on full duplex connections, especially when you use long Ethernet cables). It does show how inefficient our networks are - 1 gigabit should be 10 tmes as fast as 100 megabits, but transfers files only 4 times faster, and that is pretty much "as expected".

I do not normally recommend manual installs of drivers, in Windows, unless you are very good at keeping notes of what you did, to what, why and when, but this will be the exception, I had not ever seen this interface run at gigabit speed, and I know I tried before. It makes little difference to your average internet experience - few homes have an internet pipe that runs at speeds of 100 megabits or above, and even if they do, the backbone won't run that fast - but in my case, what with my new Cloud drive in the network, I may gain some speed internally. Now I am stuck with this driver, because if I let Windows Update install its "update", it'll go right back to 100 mbit/sec. It is the risk you take when you port an operating system to a PC that wasn't designed for it - you may have to figure out what drivers to use, for some devices, as Windows information (.inf) files may not know about the particular devices in the system. That's fun on the one hand, but can get messy on the other - wouldn't be the first time I've had to do a full reinstall of an operating system.

I may have been worried this laptop might be slowly dying, but it now runs at a gigabit, at 1920x1200x60 (rather than 1920x1080x75, which would be standard HD at a higher refresh rate) using the VGA port on a 4K UHD display, with TV recording and a Bluetooth dongle talking to both a keyboard and an audio device, on a fully compliant UEFI BIOS. I can't turn that off, it was an early design, but then there isn't a need to, and the shutdown run from a command window lets me restart into the BIOS, and I can run some stuff and turn off other stuff that Windows 10 won't allow. Can't complain.

March 17, 2016: Cancer, take 10, or why we need Universal Healthcare

Keywords: cancer, heart health, medical statistics, carcinogens, arrhytmia, Rome, vinegar, smallpox, hormones, regeneration, cures

carcinogens galoreSo no, if you think I led you down the garden path, last blog, if you smoke you have a statistically increased risk of getting cancer, this is without doubt. But you can get exactly the same cancer if you do not smoke, which scientifically means the cancer is not caused by the smoke, or the smoking. It is, at best, aggravated. Then again, former colleague science journalist Jan van Erp used to say "life causes cancer". On the one hand, scorched hamburgers contain more carcinogen than do non-scorched hamburgers, on the other hand, the human organism has a plethora of defenses against carcinogens. Possibly fewer where the carcinogens are relatively new - we've only been barbequeuing since 1768 or so, before that preparing meat over hot coals was more akin to slow cooking, at some point someone noticed that heated food spoiled more slowly, and HP sauce was invented to mask the taste of decay. We seem to forget perfume was invented because people thought washing with water caused disease (depending on where the water came from, back then, that's not at all impossible), so they stunk, and foods were served with onions or vinegar or pepper because that masked the smell and taste of decay in a day and age when refrigeration had been forgotten, previously only used by Romans, when they lived close enough to mountain ranges that they could use slaves to bring down large amounts of ice and snow to fill large concrete cisterns with (the Romans conveniently invented concrete, which is why we can still visit humongous Roman aqueducts in Southern France). At the same time as running clean water and closed sewers, cleanliness and hygiene became a lost art right through the middle ages. Fermented beverages containing alcohol, beer, used to be a safer alternative to natural drinking water from streams people used to wash their bottoms in. None of this is in the remote past. It is the human paradox - some people reuse paper towels, blissfully unaware that improvements in health are partly due to our ability to use disposable cleaning materials and strong chemicals - the strongest acid the Romans had was vinegar, the product of the fermentation of wine.

We're developing our world and ourselves at such breakneck speed that we forget our life expectancy has only recently increased to where humans now routinely last into their 8th and 9th decade. With that, and with our ability to cure illnesses and injuries that less than 100 years ago would have killed the patient or the victim. We recover from heart attacks, from strokes, from broken bones, and from infections. Aspirin didn't become a worldwide analgesic and anti-inflammatory until 1899. The first recorded cure using the new antibiotic penicillin dates back only to 1930. Before 1930, infections would often kill you. Before 1899, so would inflammations. All I am saying is that, for most of human history, we did not have any of the miracle cures that we have today, and so our evolution and our organism have not in any meaningful way adapted - yet. We have medication - but relatively few ways to change the cause of our multitude of illnesses. We're able to spend billions of dollars to blow ISIS "heads" away, using weapons that cost $10 million apiece, but we have no way of reaching and teaching ISIS' children human values and the folly of their elders' ways.

It has only recently become clear the Inca empire, long thought to have been destroyed by smallpox brought in by Spanish invaders, was in fact long in decline by the time the Spaniards came to look for gold. It has been suggested - but this may not be the ultimate answer - that the Spaniards might not have been able to overcome an Inca empire had it not been weakened by illnesses the Inca themselves had "imported" from Northern America. I am not suggesting this is "the answer", but it makes a lot more sense than assuming one slave with smallpox killed many millions of South Americans - who, by virtue of their origins in Eastern Asia, should have had some genetic exposure to illnesses from that part of the world - smallpox is, by some, supposed to have originated in tropical Central Asia.

So it probably is reasonable to assume that some of those children being cured of cancer in our hospitals would have, only recently, never even have made it to their first birthday. Which makes the calculation of meaningful health statistics a bit of a joke. If you like, the more children with devastating diseases like cancer are admitted into hospitals, the better that means our health has become. The human organism is a very complex system, and as it grows and regenerates continuously for some 80 to 90 years, some of those processes misfiring is very much to be expected. For example, ever since they took out my thyroid I have been taking an artificial hormone to replace the thyroid's output, and as it happens this product, levothyroxine sodium, is given in a constant dosage, where the thyroid would adjust thyroxine depending on the body's needs. So levothyroxine sodium can have side effects - if you're over-dosing, something you have no way of testing yourself, you could have a racing heart, or heart palpitations. The problem here is that the average patient would have no idea what is causing the heart symptoms, and until you have a full blood workup ordered by an endocrinolgist, you wouldn't know you're taking 74 micrograms per week (a microgram is one millionth of a gram, and there are a bit over 28 grams to an ounce) too much - doesn't seem like a lot, does it? I read the other day that in the Dutch health insurance system, patients on levothyroxine sodium are never checked for TSH and T4 levels, after their "ideal" dose is established. Here in the USA, I was checked every three months after my original surgery, for five years, then went to an annual regime - at which point it became clear that what was fine a year ago, is not now.

What I am saying is that medicine is not an exact science, and there is significantly more that we do not know about our organism, than there is that we do. In my case, if we assume my resting heart rate should be around 70, when it is in fact closer to 90, my heart is doing an extra 28,800 strokes of the pump per day, which is a staggering 10,512,000 extra beats per year. So does this mean it'll wear out faster? Maybe not - the heart self-regenerates and adapts, given time (another bit of information we've only known about for a short period of time), but what does that take? What are the possible consequences of the overuse this biological mechanism? Levothyroxine sodium has only been around for 50 years, so its effects, other than its beneficial effects, may not have been studied in depth. As I am writing this, the BBC's countryside emergency program(me) is featuring a young woman in the Isle of Man, who has been to see her doctor because of gastric discomfort, had a battery of tests, was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and was put on a gluten free diet. She must have gotten a bit fat, because the program has the Isle of Man ambulance racing to come to her aid, after she unexpectedly gave birth - she didn't know she was pregnant, went to the bathroom, and what came out was not what she expected. As I said - medicine is not an exact science, and why the doctor involved didn't run all the tests they should have, on a young woman, is very much an open question. The baby did not fall into the toilet, I gather, and all is well, even with the father, who went a bit pale on camera. I hope Dr. Ellingham did remember to change the diagnosis on the new mother's surgery record....

March 12, 2016: Data security, and medical misnomers

Keywords: Quicken, Cloud, Broken Windows, data security, cancer cells, miracle cures, heart health, diesel particulate, medical statistics

If you'd like to get to my next cancer installment, scroll down a bit, past the Cloud security.

Whether it is related to my recent Windows update or not, within days Quicken sprung a leak when attempting to install an online update - I am assuming the Windows update did it, I had not seen Quicken updates (I am using an older version) for a while. I backed up the data file (thank heavens that did not get corrupted), removed and re-installed Quicken (I always buy the disk version precisely to make sure I can do that without a hassle), and that cured the issue, thank heavens, the one thing I can't be without is my financial software. Just to make sure I am on the safe side, I ordered the latest Quicken version, again on disk, I don't like it when things start breaking. Better safe than sorry.... Thankfully, Amazon had a good discount on the current version of Quicken, and got it to me within two days, love those guys (I am not a Prime member!). That, of course, led to my having to run yet another full backup, and yet another Quicken install. After getting Quicken to understand I do not want their mobile version - I think many companies now "routinely" supply a mobile version of their software so they can mine your smartphone data - the installation was uneventful, apart from the curious email from Quicken thanking me for activating their mobile software - which I hadn't. Only their "Free Credit Score Report" so far does not work "server error" (as of 3/10, it magically began working). But the rest is fine, though the data sharing that is now automatic between Quicken and Turbotax makes me hope their security is better than best, because I am not seeing huge new security efforts on their part. Even their two stage Turbotax security seems to only be a ruse to get your mobile number, because it does not extend to Quicken, which you would expect if your security is their primary concern, right? Just to be on the safe side, I am not having Quicken export my data to, which it never ceases to offer, and I am not backing Quicken data up to their Cloud, either. Intuit already have more data on you, if you use Turbotax as well, than your bank does.

My recent installation of the Seagate Cloud drive had an unexpected boon to it - because I no longer need to back up to the 2TB drive I was using both as a file archive and a backup drive (the combined purpose overfilled it), I thought I'd take a look at changing that over to Bitlocker encryption. I had experimented with Bitlocker earlier, but as one of my systems was running Windows 7, I couldn't encrypt on that, although Windows 7 Professional, paradoxically, will read encrypted drives. And Bitlocker encryption and Windows Backup don't like each other either, so it was only now that I could see if I can use an encrypted disk both on a Windows 8.1 and a Windows 10 system. It took almost a day to encrypt the entire disk, but it works fine, on both systems, including when using the eSATA-to-USB3 conversion cable. I was never comfortable having a disk with a plain readable file archive - I can understand you may think I am a bit security anal, but I do have some archives that contain national security information, and it is a lot easier to encrypt your backups than to try and weed out what is and isn't "sensitive". I recall well the first time I had to go to China, and realized there were, by virtue of my being in charge of a significant number of Federal Government data circuits, quite a few workfiles that I carry with me 24/7/365, but now could not. This is more of an issue than you may think - I and some of my colleagues weren't allowed back into Manhattan for a week or so, after 9/11, due to the risk of another attack, and if I had not, at that time, had my network maps on my laptop with me, recovery work, especially on Wall Street, would have been severely impaired - had I not carried my databases, the NYSE would not have been back online on September 17, 6 days after the attacks. We all carried, by that time, all of our vital information on laptops in Lotus Notes databases, properly secured and passworded, of course, which is how the phone company was able to have senior managers manage multiple locales - laptops, airplanes and late nights. All I am saying is that it has become second nature for me to secure my data, and that is in the day and age of exploding cybercrime a good skill to have, and a good thing to do.

I now never carry information that is sensitive, or, in some countries, illegal. If I have to carry it with me it is on a separate, secured, encrypted drive, but most of the time, if I need access to it when I am traveling, it "hides out" on an internet facing secure server that only I have access to. And no, it is not "the Cloud". The Cloud is probably the most insecure space there is, to store things, Cloud providers parse your data for marketing purposes, just read the terms & conditions of the providers, and any hacker worth his salt can figure out in fifteen minutes what Cloud you use, and take it from there. And can I please re-emphasize that, although I use a Cloud device, I have disabled its internet facing feature - it is not accessible from the outside world. There are two issues with the technology.. For one, if you can log into Seagate or Western Digital and access your home Cloud, so can a hacker. And secondly, once your Cloud device talks to your Cloud device provider, your entire home network is open to the outside world, and to hackers. You recall all this noise about webcams being open to the world, and folks putting up websites where you could watch other people's home cams - it is the same with these Clouds. Seagate, Western Digital, and all these other manufacturers are in the business of selling products, their primary aim is not keeping your network safe. If it were, their device would set up beginning with security, and from the two I have, I can tell you they don't, their first interaction with you is with all doors wide open. They begin with you setting up your access account with their outside provider, using your email address, which then gives access to your device from the world. Especially if you've never dealth with this technology before, you're going to use your standard email, which is how you're known on Facebook and Amazon and Instagram and what have you, effectively advertising access to your network in the World Wide Phonebook.

But, back to cancer, as I promised. One of the pieces of persistent misinformation you get fed, as in the Independent article I just posted a link to, is that "Cancer tends to be a disease of older people". We need to take a look at what differentiates cancer from, say, a cold, or lung disease.

Cancer, unlike many other illnesses, grows. It takes hold in one of your cells, then spreads to another cell, then another, and it goes from there, if it does not get discovered. So if you were to look at it statistically, never a good idea in health, cancer obviously is in some way related to ageing, because cells grow, multiply, die, regenerate, and as that process sometimes goes wrong, you'll get cancer as you grow older. That does not mean you can't get cancer when you're young, there are specialist hospitals full of kids with cancer, and when I was at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Hospital, the other day, to get a (routine) chest scan, a lot of the patients there were young and middle aged. It was a bit scary, I'd never seen that many cancer patients in one place in one morning, ranging from kids to an Army officer in camo in her twenties all the way to older folk in wheelchairs. And me. So yes, the older people get, the more they'll get cancer, and that means exactly nothing, you get cancer when you get cancer.

So, while I am not an expert, nor a medical doctor, those articles you read about wonderful miracle cancer cures? Does not exist - there is no one single condition called "cancer". Prevention of cancer by eating meatballs, or stewed crabgrass, or blueberries with "free radicals"? Doesn't work - in few if any cases is there a side by side comparison of identical twins leading identical lives in identical towns living in identical houses doing identical work married to other identical twins living in... but you get the picture. With careful research, the medical profession can certainly indicate the likelihood of certain treatments having certain effects - the famous "heart health" 81 mg (or 75, or 80) Aspirin is a good example. But even there - it is now known that taking one of those every single day involves some risks - my rheumatologist (it gets confusing when you have many doctors looking after your one health) now thinks three a week is more than enough for heart health. Here is what my favourite illness information database, the Mayo Clinic, thinks.

My emphasis, here, is that wherever you see statistics used to recommend something to you, you need to take that with a bag of salt, and preferably talk to an expert to see what the statistic means - or if it even means anything at all. "an increased risk of heart attack or stroke of 10 percent or greater over the next 10 years", which the United States thinks is an indicator for aspirin therapy, means nothing to me. If you live and work in New York City you breathe in so much crap, 24/7, that I am sure you are at higher risk of cardiac problems than if you live and work in rural Minnesota, but then again the BBC has recently published statistics of the amount of diesel particulate bus drivers inhale, so what if you live in rural Minnesota and drive a bus? See what I mean? Those statistics may have meaning to scientists and doctors, but for us to manage our health and work on illness prevention we have to work much closer to home than spreadsheets.

The BBC article I just mentioned had a researcher measure his diesel particulate intake when commuting to work, partially on a bicycle, partially by public transport, in and around London, one of those horribly polluted plases with lots and lots of diesel funes, from when the government subidized diesel because it was so much better for the environment - half of everybody in Europe bought a small diesel car. But just to give you an idea of how these statistics do not work, the BBC article I just mentioned has some significant numbers for pollution measurement, but then goes on to give an impossibly high reading when the researcher is in the London Underground. That's where the is no diesel pollution, there are no diesel engines. Says an air quality lecturer that that is caused by oxidised iron particles from the train tracks. Really? If a device that is intended to measure diesel particulate measures oxidised iron, as well, what else does it measure? How could we possibly rely on data that clearly can be this skewed? All I am saying is that it is completely nonsensical to put this type of clearly incorrect information in front of the public to make a point. Bad science, bad journalism, bad medicine. And I see this a lot, so my recommendation to you is that if you read or view anything that makes recommendations by using numbers or statistics, talk to a doctor, a scientist, someone who can help make sense of the numbers, which, in many cases, like in this example, are completely meaningless. I mean, if there is such a high particulate rate in the London Underground (and likely other underground systems) we should follow the statistic logic and shut it down as a health hazard. Just the London underground carries 3.5 million people per day, and all you need to do when you've taken a single trip is stick a Q-tip up your nose and look at what comes out. Don't push it up to where it comes out red....

March 4, 2016: Cancer: cures aren't miracles

Keywords: cancer, surgery, radiation, cancer treatment, immune system, Windows 8.1, Lenovo, endocrinology

thyroid surgeryReading a recent Telegraph article about BBC news anchor George Alagiah and his battle with cancer reminded me of my own, although I tend to not refer to being ill as a "battle" - battles you can win, illness is something you, with your doctors, try to manage. Cancer, in particular, doesn't "go away", you don't really get "cured", once you've had it it stays, if all is well, always there, in the back of your mind.

I suppose I have, by now, gathered enough data about some illnesses I have been exposed to to publish my own "research" - one's personal involvement may skew one's view of things, that is true, but at the same time, as a former journalist and research scientist I should be able to not fall prey to the bias one may experience as a patient.

So here goes.

You are not, after cancer treatment and / or surgery, miraculously cured three weeks later. It isn't how cancer works. If we utilize the common scientific view that cancer is caused by out of control growth of malicious cells in the body, if you have been formally diagnosed with cancer, you're not out of the woods until the medical profession determines, statistically, that the chance of recurrence is so low as to be negligible. That still does not mean your cancer can't come back, all it takes is one cell, and no, that does not mean your doctors and analysts missed something, cancer cells can hide in places nobody looks - often, doctors haven't a clue where that one cell was, you just suddenly "get your cancer back". Apart from anything else, the vast majority of cancer treatments, including invasive surgery, affect your immune system, and that makes you more susceptible to a cancer recurrence, not less. For example, you know that fish oil is full of natural goodness, like Omega-3. But did you know that fish oil depresses the immune system? Wantonly imbibing fish oil can depress an already compromised immune system - and if you have, or had, cancer, and were treated for it, perhaps even take medication on a permanent basis, fish oil can actually mess with your immune system. Not for nothing some clinics, before invasive tests, and some hospitals, before surgery, require you to lay off the fish oil for several weeks, to give your immune system a chance to get back to full strength. The issue here is that we often aren't aware of these things, in this day and age of the internet kitchen cabinet solution. So the standard things one does, like a low dose heart health aspirin per day, and a fish oil capsule per day, should be moderated. Talk to your doctor, do your research, and hit the Mayo Clinic before hitting websites you had never heard of. The Mayo Clinic, itself a renowned medical institution, has some of the best online medical support websites in the English speaking world.

But back to cancer and cancer treatment, I digress.

What I thought I'd do is give you (assuming you're new to cancer, or just curious) an idea of what to look for, and an idea of how to "deal with it", mentally. For the entire five years after my surgery and radiation treatment, and the subsequent scan to determine if there were any detectable cancer cells left in my body, I had a quarterly ultrasound and blood tests. Although my doctors (I had several, due to moving from one side of the country to the other, then due to the absolutely horrendous turnover of endocrinologists at Virginia Mason in the Seattle area) had told me I was "clean", they never declared me "cured", or in remission - even now, after lowering the frequency of my checkups from quarterly to annually, no doctor will go beyond "looking good". Allegaya says pretty much the same thing in the Telegraph article - and of course, a good physician cannot guarantee you you are "cured", but, in my case, the endocrinologist wanting to only see me once a year is a good indication my risk of recurrence is very low. I said "low", not "non-existent". There is no such thing, and I still have the note from my original endocrinologist in Arlington, VA, who wrote, after my initial biopsy and the examination of the surgicaly removed tissue "Stage 4". For the patient, actually, the stage is pretty much meaningless, it indicates a statistical severity, but any "Stage" will happily kill you. Stage 1, 2, 3, or 4, in all cases it is a good idea to make your will, and listen to what your doctors want you to do - if necessary, you could get a second opinion, which I was lucky enough to be able to do in Beijing, on my way to visit a cousin in Jakarta who'd had a stroke, this after my surgeon cleared me to postpone my surgery by a few weeks to make the trip - the picture above right shows me after returning from Jakarta, having my surgery in Arlington, VA, back in 2010. As it turned out, I would not have seen Ted in Indonesia had I not made that trip - he passed away a few months later, while I was having post-surgery radiation treatment in Washington, D.C.

One thing I personally believe you should never do is go for the "alternative" stuff, read up on how Steve Jobs disregarded the medical advice he was given - here is an insighful New York Times article on Jobs' condition and treatment. There is no way of proving he'd have survived, of course, and that always makes it hard to have these conversations, but my father did the same thing, and he, too, died. All I can tell you is that I followed doctor's orders, and I am still alive, and disgustingly healthy, now a little over six years after my initial diagnosis. In fact, partly due to the Silver Sneakers program Verizon's health care program pays for, I am today on less medication and in better health than I have been in years.

I'll continue this treatise in my next blog installment - need to think about how to put what, that sort of thing. I suppose I've never written much of this down as I don't like talking about myself. But as I deal with some of this stuff it is increasingly clear that blogging is a good way of sharing your knowledge, perhaps my experience and observations can help others in similar "predicaments".

Back, for a moment, to Windows 8.1, as I recently reported re-installed, or re-upgraded, on my Lenovo laptop, I've been surprised by its smooth performance (by comparison with my previous upgrade attempt, by now almost two years ago). I've even hooked it back up to an external monitor, and, with some difficulties, managed to get it running at HD resolution - that, by itself, isn't that special, but it comes up with large characters and large icons, and it took me quite a while to figure out how to get the Intel display driver to reduce the character sets and graphics. On my other laptop, I had to resort to an S-VGA driver and VGA cable running at 70 cycles to get there - here, I am relegated to an HDMI cable, but the 4K Seiki cable I had in my collection did the trick - I know I tried this before, but with a "regular" HDMI cable, there is a difference between them, as it turns out. Not only that, auto-turnoff of the display works too, which I recall was not functioning before - it turned off, but then would not reboot when the mouse was moved. Now, that works. Can't complain - I think everything that wouldn't work before now does. The only problem is that one of my Bluetooth keyboards malfunctioned, but the vendor on Amazon tells me they'll have a replacement out to me by the weekend. Fingers crossed..

February 29, 2016: Cook is no Jobs

Keywords: Windows 8.1, Cloud, Windows troubleshooting, UEFI, BIOS, boot settings, Apple, DoJ, Telecommunications Act

I rarely blog politics, but Apple's antics are a bit beyond what I think is acceptable. Part of the reason I have a strong opinion on this is that I've been exposed to my fair share of telecommunications law, by virtue of my Verizon career and my status there as a compliance officer. By law, telecommunications must be "open" to the authorities, provided the requests are duly supported by suitable court orders, and I do not see how a manufacturer of telecommunications equipment can declare themselves above those laws and regulations. There is an especially strong "wrong" smell when I see Apple only wants to protect privacy and civil rights of their paying customers, and not those who use Samsung or Microsoft phones. Apple has the funds and the experts and the expertise, this is not about "creating back doors", but about an American company assisting the authorities in gathering intelligence about possible terrorist activities, under a Federal court order. The slippery slope is when an American CEO decides there are reasons not to assist government. Government isn't always nice, and its methodologies aren't even always legitimate. But refusing a court order by using vapid semantics that have little or nothing to do with the matter in hand.. no, civil rights aren't involved here, the original owner of the phone is dead, killed legitimately by the government in the process of committing a felony, a form of "governmental self defence". The government has a "compelling interest", and Mr. Cook must discontinue his grandstanding. Apple, Google and Facebook are in the technology sector, and as such have a similar status to manufacturers and service companies, except they provide services and products in the telecommunications industry, and as such, have less protection than McDonalds and Caterpillar.

So there.

Back to the computer front for a moment - the Seagate Cloud device is running smoothly, barely audible, except when it "wakes up" and spins up, but never annoyingly loud. It's been absolutely glitchless, not a single error message or anything else, I am backing up to it on a daily basis, and streaming recorded TV, flawlessly, although that is partly due to the router I use. I can't say often enough, if you are planning to use a network drive or a Cloud drive, you may want to upgrade your router first, if it is an older model. Make sure you have Gigabit Ethernet ports. I got lucky in that I got my hands on a Verizon FIOS router, which, because it is designed to handle both Ethernet and TV, has a very high internal bandwidth. I don't know that you can buy those in the stores, though.

The Windows 8.1 upgrade on my Lenovo laptop is a revelation - way back when, when 8.1 was first introduced, I installed it, noticed that it did extensive data gathering, it was very hard to install and not fully functional without a Microsoft mail identity, so I backed it out, and reverted back to 8.0. While 8.1 still tries to gather as much data as it can, it no longer insists on an identity it can share with Microsoft, enabling their marketeers to use your personal information, and the tools it uses to "see" what you're doing are much earier to turn off than before. You lose stuff like Microsoft's calendar, mail and Cloud, but you can use other tools for these things, if, like me, you're fussed about your privacy. And it is smooth - smoother than 8.0, I can't put my finger on exactly what it does differently, it certainly isn't faster, but it is very "easy" on the brain.

I am also not seeing the hiccups and sotware errors I've been seeing in 8.0, and, interestingly, I now notice that where 8.0 boots "clean" from the BIOS, 8.1 maintains UEFI boot code in the chipset, even though the BIOS in this Lenovo wasn't supposed to be UEFI compatible - at least, there was no mention of it in the Lenovo online help pages. I expect this model Lenovo was introduced as Intel was creating a chipset to handle UEFI boot code, and I ended up with an interim BIOS, which did not fully support all UEFI bells and whistles. No problem, I am not complaining, but I know there are plenty of users who don't understand why they can no longer get into their BIOS settings. The solution is simple: open a command window (swipe down from the top right hand corder of your display, click the "search" icon, enter "cmd") and enter into the command window "shutdown /s /t 0" (without the quotation marks). The system will power down, and if you now power back up you can press whatever on your system is the function key that lets you get into the BIOS setup, usually, the key is in a legend at the bottom of your screen, on some systems you have to have that key depressed before you hit the power button. With variations, one of these procedures lets you turn UEFI off in newer, UEFI-compliant systems, so in most cases you have the option to do old style BIOS boots, which may be necessary if you use other operating systems, such as Linux (which I haven't touched for a number of years, that may be UEFI compliant these days, as well). The Toshiba Satellite I bought last year, when my VAIO became a bit old, works like this. If you ever want to boot from an external device or a DVD or CD, you'll need access to the setup, unless you left CD/DVD/USB as default boot devices, which isn't a good idea, because that lets someone else break into your system. UEFI does have a couple of advantages you should take into account, though: it makes booting faster (there are some settings in Windows for this, as well) and it contains secure code that prevents miscreants from installing malicious bootcode in the BIOS. This isn't a clever invention from some security analyst - I've seen malicious boot code in the lab, both in PCs and in hard disks, it can have pretty devastating consequences.

February 25, 2016: Updating and Upgrading

Keywords: backup, Windows 8.1, WiFi, Cloud, Samsung, dashcam, OBDII, insurance dongle, Windows troubleshooting

Samsung as dashcam This, then, is the recently updated combination dashcam / engine monitor / vehicle tracker / vehicle locator / WiFi Hotspot for a lot less money than buying a Chevrolet Cruze, or some such, where I think you'd need to get an Ontrack subscription as well. Ontrack starts at $20 per month, but for that you don't get tracking or Hotspot or anything useful, unless you're planning to have an accident every month. It does allow General Motors and AT&T to know where you are, and how you're driving, 24/7/365. I think you need to spend a bit more money to get the useful bells and whistles, though not half as much as your cellular subscription gives you. My extra T-Mobile line for this $75 dollar Samsung handset with its one time $20 monitoring software costs me $5 a month. The OBDII (vehicle diagnostic port) dongle that lets the Samsung talk to my Dodge cost another $20.

The dongle, which must occupy the one OBDII port your vehicle has, is an important reason I don't use the Progressive or Allstate vehicle monitor - in fact, I switched insurance companies, and now pay $24 per month less, without dongle, than I paid Progressive with a dongle. There isn't any way I am going to allow anyone to install a monitoring device in my vehicle that must be connected 24/7/365 (using a port that has other uses!) and reports back to my insurer where I am and what I am doing with the vehicle at all times. Apart from anything else, when I tested Progressive's dongle I noticed very quickly (I have video proving this) that these dongles autonomously report hard braking and acceleration without any regard for the sensors installed, or the weight and mass of the vehicle. I don't want to go into the science here, but deceleration and acceleration can only be measured properly taking mass and other factors into account, which these dongles are not capable of doing. Put my 3 ton 4.7 liter V8 SUV and a Fiat 500 side by side, and the dongles will report totally different parameters. Even the sensors used in the vehicles are different, as is the software in the ECUs (a.k.a. the vehicle computer).

I owe you a quick update on my backup Cloud exploits - well, quick, as it turns out backing up my file archive using Windows 10's backup tool took 36 hours, but it did subsequently do an incremental backup, automagically, in an hour. The tool tells me I backed up 773GB into a 565GB database. That's pretty cool. It is a file archive, as distinct from my "normal" backups - I use a Robocopy script to back up all of my data directories to a separate 2TB external drive, a habit I got into when I realized that I could no longer maintain all of my files on the 1TB drive in my laptop. So now, I have that Robocopy, and that archive is duplicated to the Cloud drive, which means that if the 2TB drive ever fails, I can restore the archive to another drive. At this point, between backups and my recorded TV archive (I delete stuff as I watch it, so that shouldn't grow unduly) I have used 1.5 of 4 terabytes - for now, I am going to watch how fast or slow that grows, while I figure out how to back up the backup.

It took just about an entire day, after my early morning gym workout, but I managed to uneventfully update Windows 8 on my Lenovo laptop to Windows 8.1 (8.1 Pro, to be exact). That is as far as it goes, Windows 10 does not support the Windows Media Center, and as I understand it will actually remove it from your system when you update to W10. In fact, it did that today, too, but then allowed me to reinstall it, as I had an active license key. It wanted me to key in the Windows 8 license key as well, I'd had the foresight to dig up the license keys before I started, and did a full disk image backup - two, actually, one before, one immediately after, even before running updates. Haven't yet tested everything that was there before, the important applications all run fine, though. I ended up doing this because I had difficulties with the trackpad drivers earlier in the week, difficulties I eventually fixed, although I still do not know what it is I did that fixed it. But then I thought getting the latest version of Windows 8 installed might help prevent any recurrence. It was weird though, for almost a week I couldn't close browser and mail windows by clicking on the close box, sometimes sitting there with ten windows open on my laptop screen. I'd wondered whether I'd been hit by a virus, but my virusscanner said "no". Having had occasional additional problems with locking screensavers and the laptop not wanting to wake from its energy saver, it was probably time to see if the OS update could fix that. Those problems may be self inflicted, admittedly, I am running fingerprint recognition as well as facial recognition, and I have a sneaking suspicion those aren't supposed to be both running at the same time. We'll see - so far, so good, the system is running smoothly, and woke up from low energy status without a problem, this morning. Low energy status, at night, because that switches the fan to passive mode, which means it does not go off like a banshee when it starts to record TV. The unit lives not too far from my bed, and at least under Windows 8, the Windows Media Center taxes the processor something fierce. Not as bad as in my old Vaio, now retired, though, the All-in-One desktop variety, that sounded like a 747 when the Media Center kicked in.

February 19, 2016: Storage grows too fast

Keywords: Seagate, backup, disk drive, Windows, streaming, network, WiFi, Cloud, NAS

Early Spring in Puget Sound Spring came early in the Puget Sound, with snow storms pummeling th'other coast, I am thinking it is time to wash the car. In the driveway...

If you've followed my exploits installing a Cloud drive, you'll understand one of my concerns was that I didn't want the drive's contents available "publicly", and especially not facing the outside world, which is what these devices, software wise, are designed to do. In installing the Seagate, then, I turned off most of the services that are designed to facilitate social networking, and even removed the files and file structure intended for media services. Media services are built into various flavours of Windown, and it should be possible to run media from any storage device that can be shared on a network.

Anal, you say? Well, maybe, but I know from my many years of betwork management in the phone company that all it takes for your network to be breached is one single (tcp) port to be opened - that is enough for any hacker worth their salt to inject code into your network, and gain access to your systems. When you bring up the Seagate drive, one of the first things it tells you is the outside IP address of your network - because the device has to know that to tell the Seagate public cloud where and how to find your device. In my case, it sees the outside IP despite the fact I have two firewalled routers between it and the universe. That is a real issue, I think - we work to keep the public safe, and Seagate and Western Digital open a door to every network they're installed on. Scary stuff.

I had been streaming recorded ATSC TV from one laptop to the other using Windows Media Player, but for some reason that sometimes led to the originating PC crashing completely. Having moved those files to the Cloud device, however, I now find I can stream without problems, although I had to fake out the media player by adding the Cloud directory to an existing server - the media player by itself seems to only want to see DLNA sources, but you can link into those. In other words: brilliant, I can now stream my recorded TV to all of my devices on the home network, without the server crashing occasionally.

I've got to tell you, though, that if you're going to store your "stuff" on an affordable Cloud device, you are creating a problem. In my case, it is a 4 terabyte drive, so you're going to be tempted to back up to it (as I do) (if you don't back up, as is the case with the majority of computer users, no need to read on). So then you will end up with files you can't afford to lose on your Cloud device, that is, unless you're like one of my friends, who "has nothing he can't live without" on his PC, and who gets a relative over when the thing breaks. I can't do that, for one thing, much of my professional stuff, going back to something like 1980, only exists on computer, and I do all of my finances on computer, and have my accounts data going back to March, 1990 - in one database. No paper.

There's two issues here. For one thing, 4 terabytes, over a period of a few years, isn't even close to big enough to store your "stuff". I'll give you some statistics so you believe me, but before I do that, the second issue: disk drives break, and die, and you cannot generally recover the data on a broken drive, so: how are you going to back up that much data? Just the 600GB backup took 99 hours, so how about 2,000GB? How about 3,000GB? Umm - transferring 4TB would, at that rate, take 660 hours, continuously - that's 4 weeks. And that is a transfer over gigabit Ethernet to a fast 7200rpm hard drive, which is about the best home networking technology can deliver, these days.

It is a real, rather than perceived, conundrum: the more data you put on a drive, the greater the risk you'll lose all of it, and the harder it gets to keep a copy of it all. Even though I own two of these 4TB cloud devices, I've not found a way to back one up to the other, there does not appear to be a facility for these drives to transfer files directly to each other. I'll take a good look at Windows' Windows 7 File Recovery, there in Windows 8 Pro, disappeared in Windows 8.1, then reintroduced as "Backup and Restore" in the Control Panel in Windows 10, although both in Windows 8 and Windows 10 it is only included in the Pro version of the operating system, I expect Microsoft doesn't think ordinary folks need to back up for free. It isn't a real backup tool (although it can create a full system image), but it can incrementally back up changed user files, and I just noticed it'll handle external drives, so perhaps it is a solution. Apple has "time machine" - the issue with many of these tools is that they only support a specific version of an operating system, which means you may or may not be able to restore your data to another version of said OS. Increasingly, this is an issue - buy backup software, the manufacturer goes belly up five years later, whatchagonnado. Etc. I've increasingly used xcopy or robocopy in a script, in Windows, but now, with the new cloud drives, I find these utilities no longer support mounted (NFS) network drives.

So there it is. I am continuing to use AIS Backup for my daily backups, mercifully that supports the cloud drives, and as we speak I am in process of trying to use Windows Backup to back up my other laptop, complete with an attached backup drive, which I could only get to work on the Toshiba by buying an eSATA-to-USB3 dongle, without that I'd have been relegated to using USB 2.0, come back next year. Why am I fussy? On that external drive live some files I have removed from my laptops and backups - some are too sensitive to carry around, some might be illegal in some countries I trsvel to, others are just getting too voluminous, and I wanted to move them off my laptop disks, so I don't run the risk of filling up the drive. I had that happen, recently, on my Toshiba, when I discovered the TV application there creates temporary files whenever I watch TV, files it then does not clean up. I set the application so I could pause and replay live TV, DVR style functionality, so in hindsight it made sense it creates temporary files. What I had not anticipated is that HD stuff is large to the point that in a couple of months, those files would take up close to 900GB of disk space. You read that right - almost a terabyte of spill files. And the OS said nothing, it just started swapping like crazy. All of which only goes to say the risk is always there, and it is possible for a full hard disk to lose you all of whatever it is you have on that disk, there may not be recovery (I've seen that happen). So having a copy of every file you have is generally a good idea.

February 10, 2016: Mo' Better Backup

Keywords: Seagate, Amazon, Western Digital, backup, disk drive, Samsung, router, network, WiFi, Cloud, NAS

Seagate Cloud While the picture in my previous blog post shows a Samsung Galaxy handset, the astute reader will have noticed that that isn't what most of the post is about. I decided, though I had pictures of both the Seagate NAS and the Western Digital NAS (network drive) I talked about, that they really weren't that exciting to look at - though I must admit that Western Digital has done a terrific job of giving their storage devices a uniform look, now persisting for years already. It is distinctive, and I get the impression they may have copyrighted the "book look" to the point nobody else can use it. Good show, nice equipment, and I am more impressed with their soft- and firmware than with Seagate's. I do have more Seagate than WD drives, but that is, mostly, due to the Seagate price point, they're always a bit cheaper than any of the other major manufacturers - possibly with the exception of small laptop drives, where I have found Hitachi (now owned by, you guessed it, Western Digital), to be cheaper, and very very reliable - let's see, the first terabyte Hitachi (2.5 inch Travelstar) I bought has been running since June 2012, inside a Lenovo laptop, 24/7/365, and I since put one in a Toshiba laptop, as well. I do maintain those laptops - they periodically have their covers removed, and are vacuumed and cleaned with compressed air. Overheating, dust and debris, are the most common causes of computer failure, as the vast majority of laptops and desktops have no filters, and will eventually accumulate enough dust (and for smokers, gunk) to start slowing down and then die. If you hear your computer's fan run fast, periodically, fine, but if it does that a lot, you need to clean its innards, before it cleans your wallet.

The story of the Samsung phone is a bit different. I have had a Samsung prepaid handset in the car since 2013 - I had tried to install several tracking devices, so I could locate the car should it ever go missing, and eventually decided that none of these things worked very well. I had also worked on finding software that could monitor my car and its engine, and eventually figured out that some clever Android software, combined with a cheap cellphone, would probably do better than any other solution. The T-Mobile prepaid Samsung handset I bought to use with an existing T-Mobile line has worked very well, and has actually lived in the car since then, in use as monitor / dashcam when traveling, and as a locator device when parked.

Back in 2013, that Samsung cost $83; the one I just bought as a replacement was only $78, and I can report that those few years make a huge difference in features, speed, ease of use and display. Most importantly, when the dashcam resolution of the old Galaxy was only 640x480, in the new handset it is a respectable 1280x720, just one notch from "full HD". You really don't want any more, because the higher the resolution, the larger the video file, a 5 minute recording in the new Galaxy now takes almost 700MB, so I ended up having to get larger SD cards. I am now quite pleased I upgraded the phone, the new Galaxy is faster, and generally works better with the Caroo Pro software I use. I've also not had the new handset complain about low temperatures and a hot battery when charging while recording, something the old one did, now and again. With a larger display, it is easier for me to monitor engine performance, as well, although that's not a "must have" feature, that's more boy toy stuff. With the Bluetooth OBDII dongle I bought back in 2013, this new Galaxy is pretty solid, the old one occasionally had to be rebooted when it couldn't find the dongle, not with this one, and the assembly gives me the works - engine performance, car status, dashcam with autofocus, GPS location, audio, and a decent display - I've tested it, and I can even use it as a WiFi Hotspot while it does all the other stuff, so I don't have to buy a new car for that, that is certainly a nice feature to have for passengers. The "extra" line? I pay T-Mobile $4.86 a month for it, it uses little or no data (just for the GPS maps it downloads), and the Android device manager lets me locate the vehicle 24/7. Not a lot of money for security....

But, back to network drives for a moment, as I have set up the resurrected Seagate drive, and am running a massive backup to it. The reason I stopped using NAS drives (I owned two before, an Iomega (now EMC/Lenovo) and a Western Digital, both RAID devices. Before that, I had built my own RAID device, based on Seagate drives and a Windows desktop with eSATA interfaces. The latter actually worked, although it needed LCAA (loving care and attention), but the Iomega and the WD didn't, they hung, didn't take full backups, went inexplicably offline, and stuff. I don't necessarily think they were wholly to blame, router technology, a few years back, wasn't all it was cracked up to be either.

So, I am delighted to be able to report that today's NAS drive, in combination with a high speed fiber based router, does much better. As in, solid like a rock, I am surprised to hear myself say. This is all the more surprising as the Seagate Cloud device I am using arrived DOA, I plugged it in and the LED came on, and that was all that happened. I sent a pissed email to Amazon, after discovering the box had had its shrink wrap removed, and the seal was broken, bad on the vendor, but Amazon's folks ("shipped by Amazon") should have noticed. True to form, they mailed me hours later, they'd refund me straight away, absolutely this was their fault, don't ship it back, and we'll discount a replacement, and ship it overnight for free. Good on Amazon, and I ordered a Western Digital cloud device straight away, which arrived two days later, delivered by the Post Office on a Sunday. Teehee.

I decided to see if I could salvage the 4 terabyte drive from the Seagate device, since they didn't want it back, but after removing the covers, decided to plug it into a beefier (4 amps v. 2 amps) power supply, just to test. And you guessed it, off it went, LED came on, two minutes later the drive spun up, and another few minutes later the Ethernet port woke up. This being a NAS (network) device, you can't hook it up to a PC, can't see what's going on until it is completely up and its network interface recognized by your router. Long story short, the Seagate is up, powered by a UPS, you really can't run a Cloud without battery power, and I've managed to copy some 130GB of surveillance video to it, and back up an entire 600+GB hard disk to it, using a compression algorithm that ran, over the network, for almost an entire week (that's how long network backups take, if you were wondering, 99 hours in this case). Glitchless, pretty amazing. So far, so good, while I am battling the Amazon vendor of cheap-but-unreliable SD cards I bought to work with the Galaxy dashcam..

February 3, 2016: Cloud? Shared with who(m)?

Keywords: Seagate, Amazon, Western Digital, backup, disk drive, Samsung, router, network, WiFi, Cloud, NAS

Samsung Galaxy CoreRunning out of space on my 2 terabyte backup disk, I had little option but to buy a larger disk. This isn't as easy as it sounds - my laptops all have a terabyte drive installed, I have two active 750 GB and one 2 terabyte drives that I back up to, and another 1.5 GB of archives. Backing up is good practice anyway, this just means more of it. The primary issue with backups is that you end up relying on them working, and I have, from my lab days, the experience that backups are often not accessible when you need them. They sit there, on a disk, and deteriorate over time. I can give you a long story why this is so, but for now, just take my word for it. As my drives are all down to 100 or 200 MB of spare room, it was time to consider getting a bigger backup drive, and the only drives I could find that were big enough but affordable were NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices. After buying an older "but new" model Seagate NAS drive I found the vendor cheated, sent a broken device with broken seal out as new, and of course, it did not work. (I did eventually get it working, read my review at Amazon for that saga), but had to spend more money and get the Western Digital 4TB My Cloud Personal NAS. I am not going to be using it to stream video over my home network, so in terms of being able to use it for NTFS file services (a UNIX concept that lets you mount drives as file systems) one NAS drive should be as good as the other. If you're wondering why I am not going to use this to stream video, I do that from one laptop to the other already, and Windows' Media Center does not like storing on what Windows thinks are removable drives. Apart from that, video files can build up in size very quickly, and I would rather not have them sit on a device that has "essential" backups, as well. I've actually noticed this, to my detriment, fairly recently - on the laptop on which I watch television, I found the TotalMedia app stores temp files, and does not clean them up when you shut down the application, and I found that it had stored some 900 gigabytes (I kid you not) of video temp files on the hard disk in that laptop. That's major - right now, I am seeing some 12.2 GB of video files from just four days of watching stored - and that's just US HD ATSC, recorded in MPEG format, not the British IPTV I watch as well.

As an aside, there is a swiftly increasing "storage penalty" for video. The 12.2 GB of MPEG video I mentioned earlier represents a little over 3 hours of HD video. And I recently decided to upgrade my dashcam, consisting of a Samsung phone with the Caroo Pro application and a Bluetooth OBDII dongle, as the 2013 Samsung prepaid handset delivered only 640x480 video, and a new prepaid Samsung Galaxy core has the ability to de;liver 1280x720 pixel video - almost full HD. What does that mean? 600 MB is just 5 minutes of recording, meaning an hour's worth of compressed video is still 7.2 GB. As another example, the 31 broadcast TV programs I've not watched yet, most of which are half an hour long, take up 127 GB. Saving some for future reference is something I gave up a long time ago. Where is the average citizen going to store all that stuff? The cloud isn't an option, most "free" cloud storage is now size restricted, while internet upload speeds aren't anything to write home about, so you're really stuck with home storage, and even though it is 2016, that still requires expertise to set up. If you're interested, the Seagate Cloud Device I just bought has a lot of folks griping about it, as you can read in the Amazon reviews here. The main problem? Setting up and using networks and network devices requires expertise, and most consumers "don't have none". Seriously, that's all there is to it. We're selling technologies that try to be "all things to all people", and they're not. Attempts at standardization fail, because we don't enforce the rules, and manufacturers introduce new features without any attempt at integration, pretty much along the lines where Apple refused to conform to GSM Association rules with its iPhone. They wanted to be different, something totally embedded in Apple's psyche, it is how Steve Jobs killed himself. If you think that's a bit harsh, I got cancer too, followed doctor's orders, and am still alive, in remission, and doing well healthwise, six years later.

Having bought my first Samsung Android device for car monitoring in 2013, I've just now replaced that with the latest prepaid Samsung, and there is a difference of day and night - more about the prepaid Galaxy, T-Mobile accounts and Caroo Pro in the next blog. There is something very interesting about the use of an Android cellular device for a dedicated monitoring-and-computing purpose.

January 21, 2016: Confusion abounds

Keywords: Turbotax, Freefile, IRS, New York Times, wellness, technology adoption, change, adaptation, migrants, refugees, Angela Merkel, immigration law, migration, illegal aliens

Ah. I told you in my Janary 6 blog, below, that Turbotax now restricts the Freefile option, but that is not entirely true. You can still use that, but you have to get there (log in if you have one) through the IRS website. They've done a clever renaming of the facility, it is either Freefile or Freedom File or some such, but go through the IRS, on or after January 15, and you can do a free return, provided you didn't earn too much. After you set it up, you can go there direct. If you had set up the Freefile thing already, going through the IRS makes Turbotax make you wipe everything out, and start over. Duh.

I have a hard time wrapping my head around Mick Jagger's ex-wife being the eventual owner of the Wall Street Journal and the Times of London. You can't make this stuff up.

For those of you interested in the confluence area of wellness and medicine, the New York Times publishes a wealth of very useful information, larded, to some extent, with less useful statistics, a trend in the press in general I deplore. (When you read an article about how the Danes deal with migrants, and the author doesn't tell you Denmark is one of the smallest countries in the EU, half the population of even Belgium, you're not getting an important aspect of why the Danes worry about the aliens flooding their country.)

But back to Wellness, I recommend the Times' pages, they have much information on medicine that is immediately applicable to your daily life, and they spend a good few column inches on debunking common myths. Recommended.

Interestingly, and perhaps even a bit related to wellness, I came across an older couple, who had been in a car wreck on the Interstate, whose Toyota had then been declared a total loss by their insurance company, and who had been given a 5 series BMW loaner, complete with California tags, while the insurance did its assessment. I'd have enjoyed the Dickens out of that, but they did not. Why? The Bimmer turns its engine off when you stop, and they couldn't get over the fear it wouldn't start up again. I thought that was fascinating. Can you imagine how many more cars BMW might sell, to conservative older people, if you could turn that feature off?

So no, the "green stuff" is not as important to folks as we would like to think, when they themselves are subjected to the new "green" technologies. You could think that, since we have technology to turn half the engine off, on the highway, that you could compromise, and have the six cylinder Bimmer ticking over on two cylinders while at the lights, so that these folks would not become as alienated as they clearly did. They eventually went back to what they were used to, an upscale Toyota with chrome and bells and whistles, which is what Americans generically like. It is fascinating to think that General Motors' Northstar V-8 technology, now discontinued, could have been used to build more fuel efficient engines, through the simple expedient of turning off some cylinders when their power is not needed. It's always been puzzling to me why you'd use this technology solely so some very expensive cars could "limp home" without coolant, when buyers of these cars could probably afford AAA memberships and rental cars. This technology could have been applied on existing V-8 and V-6 engines, if you're willing to netertain my notion that a V-6 with 350 horsepower isn't "eco".

Think about it. I maybe don't think of this often enough, but there are people who get out of their comfort zone, faced with new technologies. A few years ago, I arrived at Amsterdam Airport, and Budget asked if I minded a small diesel engined rental - I jumped at the chance, I'd never driven a small diesel sedan before, so was interested to try the Renault Clio Diesel they gave me, Budget knew that I, long resident in the USA, had probably never driven a diesel before. But new technologies can make significant change, and so many folks won't even try them. It is something, being a technologist, I don't think of often enough - but way back when, when we introduced voice dialing into the landline network, nobody used it. Not only wasn't the consumer prepared to pay for it, they just weren't interested, for the most part. In hindsight, had we developed a system that would have recognized a voice, from any phone in our network, we might have done better. We did have the technology, but I do think the lawyers might not have let us. Even today, when most cellphones have voice dialing, I doubt many people use it. If you can use voice dialing on one device, but still have to have the number for others, it's not going to work.

Hard on the heels of warnings from some edge-of-Europe police forces about the cultural problems they expect with the millions of migrants and refugees, it looks like the inevitable has happened in Cologne and other central European cities. Middle Eastern and North African males, marooned in a Western society with which they have no connection, not even the ability to speak the language, explode into tribal behaviour - if that is what happened. We need to be careful here, make sure we have evidence, but there is really no other scenario that is even remotely feasible. And Germany, Scandinavia, Switzerland, really aren't countries where they have border experience with "other" cultures that, for instance, the Austrians, Italians and Yugoslavs have, and where some of the prior warnings have come from. So I am not surprised the assaults happened - what I am surprised about it Germany's insistence, until recently, it will take all comers, although it has recently moderated the rules somewhat. Perhaps Ms. Merkel is meeting her nemesis - democratically electred, she appears to have become somewhat of a president-for-life, as if the German democracy is not able to find someone else capable of running the country. She has been Chancellor, after all, from a decade - that's longer than a head of state can "sit" in many modern democracies. At any rate, "deporting" asylum seekers and refugees, back to the war zones they came from, is not legal under EU law, as well as logitically impossible, and that's been a problem in Germany and other EU countries for many years. There are quite a few convicted criminals who cannot be deported, and who simply end up back on the street, Mrs. Merkel knows this full well. Even the British have convicted terrorists they cannot deport because of family ties, and nobody in Europe is about to suggest to start doing concentration camps again, and the "migrants" know this. Interestingly, some European countries are beginning to use localized measures to stop the wanton influx - there is a passport check on the Øresund bridge, the Danes want to take all assets over 10,000 Danish crowns away from migrants, to pay for their cost, and Germany has begun to turn back migrants who have not requested asylum at the Austrian border - a first attempt at making "destination shopping" impossible.

January 6, 2016: Still some winter left

Keywords: winter, New Year, 2016, cold, snow, eSATA to USB, Turbotax, Freefile, gym, working out, Silver Sneakers, migrants, Greece, Turkey

Great. Turbotax software now restricts the types of income you can report through it, meaning I can't use it to report overseas payments, I have to "upgrade" to a more expensive version. I'll hit the IRS site on January 15 to see what else is available, but clearly, Intuit is no longer the great software it always was. Quicken, equally, is restricting the years of modeling you can do, forcing you to buy a newer version. There was always some "encouragement" from Intuit to upgrade, but after all these years, the company now intentionaly cripples its software, year-on-year. There will hopefully be a new company picking up where Intuit leaves off, yes, it is OK to make money, no, it is not OK to intentionally disable long term users, who have helped build your company to where it is today.

Heard on the news: Mindful self-compassion. WTF is that?

Snoqualmie While not necessarily an auspicious start to 2016 (best wishes to all, of course, enjoy that New Year smell while it lasts), neighbour D. and I went and worked out this morning, like we do most weekdays, and the odd Saturday or Sunday (for me). Gratifyingly, D. approached me, earlier in the year, as he and neighbour G. had noticed my losing weight, from when I took up the Silver Sneakers program, and began going to the gym, last January, and it turned out his "hurdle" was that he didn't really know how to work out in a gym. This is a tough one for some - gyms, especially in the suburbs, are a bit foreboding large places with lots of machines, vapid receptionists, and over-constructed folks who seem to enjoy maxing themselves out. So it was nice to be asked, and as I am older, have a couple of existing conditions, doctors I can ask questions about working out, and have been trained in safe physical therapy back in Europe years ago, I was able to help D. get a workout regime started that does not strain his body, and gives him all the benefits of aging healthily. Probably one of the riskiest aspects of going to the gym is injury - easy to avoid, but almost easier to inflict on yourself. As my rheumatologist commented when I told him I'd be joining a gym "don't do classes, for now, they make you compete and you will hurt yourself". Competing is in the nature of the beast, for most, and class instructors don't really have a way to track every member of their training class.

Anyway... as of the middle of 2015, D. and I now walk to the gym together, work out, and walk back home, the walk to-and-from being an important component of the exercise. Especially at the moment - it is bitterly cold again, the other day my thingamie read 19 degrees (-7 or so for the Centipedes). If nothing else that tells you if your body's built in heater is working OK....

One of the computer "problems" I needed to solve was that newer laptops come with a USB 3.0 interface, with the eSATA port I had been using for years being discontinued (except on the motherboard, of course). That's a bitch - I have a few eSATA drives, my backups live on those, and I need to somehow be able to use those drives with both computers. comes to the rescue with a USB 3.0 to eSATA Cable Adapter which runs at good speed (I think I am getting about 3GBps, half of the rated eSATA speed, but fast enough) and helps make these disk formats compatible. I've got a total of 8 terabytes of eSATA storage, so you can imagine the $30 or so was worth it - yes, the drives all have USB interfaces as well, but they are of the slow variety....

Having just watched BBC show more migrants with small children arriving in Greece from Turkey in what is now winter, I have to tell you the Turks aren't doing what they said they would, stopping these folks crossing their country, and we're not doing something we should have started a while ago: put all parents who bring children across the water in inhuman circumstances in jail, take their children away from them and send them back where they came from. We're crazy to play along to the type of blackmail the people smugglers use - and the Turkish government not alerting neighbouring countries there are some 100,000 people a week traveling through their country - how do you not notice this? How do people without identification get into your country? I am not really surprised jihadis and terrorists have unencumbered passage through Turkey, both ways, and if you see how the Turks deal with Kurds and Armenians, you can only come to the conclusion Erdogan likes unloading Middle Eastern masses on the EU. There are not our friends, they're not even allies... There's not much we need to do to stop this - as the White House now is deporting families back to their home countries in South America, they do have television down there. They'll stop spending $10,000 or $20,000, only to be shipped back home - with nothing. This is ridiculous. We're helping the people smugglers. Why?

December 30, 2015: Have A Happy!

Keywords: Christmas, Sinterklaas, Santa Claus, Miranda, O2 Arena, natural disasters, migrants, BBC, TV, Aardman, Downton Abbey, Donald Trump

Harley Santa I was lucky enough to come across this Santa in the middle of the pre-Xmas shopping frenzy, although I had to fight off a bunch of other road users using the "I'm bigger than you" technique, to get in position to get this shot, phone in one hand, 3 ton SUV in the other. It really does look like the recession is over, people are spending, long abandoned houses in the neighbourhood are being done up and sold, some razed, lots of new cars, money is flowing. Gas (here in the Seattle area) is down to $1.99 per gallon, in some places (that's €0.47 per liter, for the centipedes), that does wonders for the economy - and is expected to last.

As I write this, we have another Christmas in the can - with excessive flooding in England, tornadoes here in the South, the devastating brushfires in Australia, and the ongoing "migrant crisis" in Europe, though our own Homeland Security is now deporting entire families back to South America, as that seems to be he only way to get the folks down there to understand being smuggled here isn't a good idea. The Europeans are getting that message through as well - no longer are some European countries allowing "family reunion" visas, something migrants seem to be relying on - send a couple of small kids ahead, if they survive the journey, they can send for their parents - if nothing else, that makes it clear there seem to be a lot of planning and politics involved in this "refugee stuff". Dutch newspapers are following the exploits of several of those teens, in the Netherlands and Sweden, who are supposed to eventually bring their families over. But if you look at Austria, which got almost a million migrants, you see that there isn't housing for that much of an influx, not to mention unwillingness, especially in the tourist resorts, to bring people with a vastly different morality, which they are used to imposing on their environment, into their communities. Tourists in bikinis and strict Muslims do not mix, and yet they have to. I follow Austria a bit more closely than other countries, as my parents and sister used to live there, and I spent time there myself. Back in the 1970s, I ended up driving down from Amsterdam to Salzburg in a rented Volvo, to retrieve my sister, who'd had enough of the tender mercies of our abusive father, having left home myself a few years earlier.

Other than that, not much else is going on - the holidays are done, save for New Year's, although here in the United States life doesn't come to a standstill, as it does in Europe, with its extended holiday period. I never much enjoyed, that, a high pressure month, with, in The Netherlands, Santa Claus on December 5th, and then my and my sister's birthdays, and for whatever reason my Mom died in December, too. Here in the US, life goes back to normal much more quickly, and we don't do retrospectives on TV with quite the gusto the British do. Something I particularly enjoyed was the Aardman retrospective - the folks who put Claymation on the map, with Wallace and Gromit, even getting to where they made a major feature film, Chicken Run. And then there was the big show Miranda Hart put on at the O2 Arena, performing for a whopping 16,000 folks - and that was just too much. Miranda is an intimacy actress / comedian, and just the acoustics, amplified as they have to be in the Arena, preclude intimacy from being convincing. Before you think I am taking Ms. Hart down, she is a superb performer, and I am sure she has reached a stage in her career where when the Beeb goes "you're doing the O2", one does. England isn't America, and one's career depends, to some extent, on playing ball, I expect she gets significant leeway in the series she writes, produces and performs. Success, and the trappings thereof, have made Amanda gorgeous, although I think she can do without the "overweight" jokes, there's not an ounce on her that doesn't belong there. It's just not a spectacle I enjoy, and some people, say Jack Dee, carry an oversized audience better than others. But it is easy to criticize, I think my largest ever audience was some 400 people, and I don't think I could do more without shitting myself. So, good for you, Amanda, and what a career it is. I do hope she'll do some stuff Stateside, she is hilariously funny, and we love the accent, if Cleese can do it, so can you, lass, although you should get off the clapping breasts, already. For those of you who think I am not qualified, I spent years in the theatre, producing, managing artists, in what seems like a previous life, I can still sense what goes on in the wings when the curtains open, that has not really changed, methinks, though the scale certainly has. For most of you, the only band I've been involved with you may have heard of would be Focus, back in the 1970s, in Amsterdam, fronted, at the time, bij Thijs van Leer and Jan Akkerman. "Victoria" was in fact a bit composed on the piano in my flat, behind the management office in the basement of Amstel 69.

So British TV has been a bit boring, all we've had, in my book, that was really good, was the last ever episode of Downton Abbey, well executed and smooth like a gravy sandwich. They did well canning that when it was a going concern. East Enders' Christmas special I didn't watch, these days it is full of murder and mayhem, and who needs to watch that when they have Donald Trump on TV every day all day. I am not quite sure why the press intimates he might make president - this is the country that put a largely black man in the White House... Trump might make the Republican nomination, which would be a perfect demonstration that the right has really entered the realm of fantasy, but I cannot for the life of me believe anybody in their right mind would put Trump in the White House. The man no longer has a neck, and must spend a million a month just to look like he's still got it together, take his corset off and it'll all end up on the floor waiting for the hazmat crew. I cannot help it, but when I see or hear Trump I see the gold "T" on the tail of the ancient Boeing 727 he used to fly around in, parked at Laguardia. And it isn't that I think Hillary is the best man for the job, but she has the expertise and the control, and I think she is, right now, all we've got, a good cleaner-upper, and she knows better than to screw around.

And as I am unlikely to get another blog out before 2016, enjoy your celebrations (unless you're somewhere they've now prohibited "Christian" New Year's - you have my permission to have it on March 3rd, they won't see that one coming), and I hope you've changed what needed changing in 2015 already, because New Year's resolutions have a tendency not to work. Regardless - Have A Happy!

December 20, 2015: From Muslims and Migrants to Medical

Keywords: migration, Islam, refugees, European Union, climate, carbons, TV doctors, eczema

Muslims in Osdorp The picture has some of the previous Muslim migrant streams into the Netherlands - long time resident of the United States, I was startled realizing a significant part of the western part of Amsterdam is now a Muslim enclave, complete with women who aggressively accost you if you're taking a picture of the local market with them in it... And this was 2008, before large parts of the populations of Syria and Afghanistan are arriving. I understand refugees are currently holding public protests in towns across the country, as they feel they don't have enough privacy and creature comforts in their hastily assembled places of shelter. I understand homosexual refugees are having to be housed separately, as the "other" refugees have attacked snd hurt them. There are regular fights in the centers that have to be policed, between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

I am still very puzzled by this humongous influx of refugees into Western Europe. And when you read the local papers in some of the countries of the EU you see very weird things happening - some would-be migrants send their children, unaccompanied into the migrant exodus so they can become refugees (easier if you're a minor) and then bring over their parents under family reunion law later. Some European governments are beginning to disallow this practice. And other refugees, upon arrival in holding camps in the EU, discover it'll take a year or more before they can receive legal status, resettlement and a place to live - not strange considering the numbers - and book a flight home, unwilling to accept this, after the grueling trip. Add to this the ISIS fighters discovered among the refugees, and even the apparently radicalized Pakistani woman who, with her American husband, murdered 14 people in San Bernardino, CA, abandoning her six month old baby in the process, and you have to really start worrying about something that appears to not be what it seems.

Increasingly, voices in Western Europe are clamouring that the refugees have come for security, or perhaps for the standard of living, and build ghettos inside the EU where their values and ethics are law, with disregard for the local and regional cultures. After all, once this is all done, they'll be there in numbers sufficient to change the political landscape. I don't intrinsically have a problem with that, but when I see the previous wave of Turkish evacuees complain about the new wave of Syrian evacuees, you've got to task yourself if this is sustainable. After all, their numbers are larger than ever before. And it is clear the people smugglers are sending boats into the cold sea, with winter approaching, because they understand you can't stop the "refugees" now, because they would freeze to death if you did. That's not migration, it is a large money making crime syndicate, and the "refugees" understand full well what they're doing.

My only real comment on the climate negotiations in Paris is this: There is no such thing as "renewable" energy. Once energy has been converted to a different state or substance, there is no way to magically turn it back into its original state. The carbon issue is completely peripheral to what we should be focusing on: we consume energy without having any technology to create more. A solar panel reduces the heat reaching the surface it has been mounted on, with unknown results. A wind turbine reduces the velocity of the air flow that drives it, with unknown results. No "energies" can magically be "renewed". Energy is a finite resource, inasmuch as we are talking about forms of energy we are scientifically and technologically able to harvest.

So there.

Not long ago, I watched a new BBC series, following a doctor who goes to live with patient families to figure out what ails them, and guide them to better health. It is one of the better examples of reality television, if only because the families under scrutiny allow a relatively raw look into their intimate lives, which can't be easy. I particularly picked up on one comment, to do with skin disorders and exzema, where the doctor, referring to a child, said eczema is often caused by wheat and milk allergies, and by skin contact with artificial fabrics. One of the things he did was to change the child's bedlinen to cotton, and eliminate artifical fibers from the child's clothing.

I can't say I wear a lot of artificial fibers next to my skin, but I'd never paid much attenttion to my bedsheets and other linen, for as long as they weren't clearly made of cardboard. So I went and bought a 100% cotton sheet set to try, finding that the vast majority of the sheet sets at Wal-Mart and on Amazon named something stupid, like poly-cotton, microfiber, or cotton-rich, meaning they're either partly or wholly artificial. I mean, calling something "sateen" if it isn't satin is probably a long term stupid way of marketing.. You actually have to look specifically for 100% cotton, which is more expensive than the artificial stuff, which, I suppose, is one way to figure that out. But then I washed the new sheets, and put them on my bed, and then unexpectedly found my bed was a lot warmer than before. Later in the week, I am changing back to my original sheets, so until then I won't really know if this is actually true, because it seems a bit weird to me. What brought it all on is that I developed a skin itch a year or so ago, and two doctors gave me two different diagnoses (that seems to happen a lot, here in the Pacific Northwest), and while moisturizers help, I am constantly trying to find "whole body" solutions. It makes sense, kinda, you do spend six or seven or eight or whatever hours in skin contact with bedsheets. I'll keep you posted.

December 4, 2015: Nukular power, thyroids, and cooold...

Keywords: climate change, Peter Thiel, thyroid, nuclear power, solar power, wind power, Seattle cold, migration, TV manipulation, lip sewing

Staggering numbers in a BBC article about climate change: "The livestock sector produces about 15% of global greenhouse gases, roughly equivalent to all the exhaust emissions of every car, train, ship and aircraft on the planet."

Wot? Is this true? I wasn't aware it is as much as that, thought I'd quote it so you can check for yourselves.

cold at the gym Entrepreneur and billionaire and Paypal cofounder Peter Thiel recently wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times on power generation issues, in which he makes a case for nuclear power. Of course, as I write this lots of heads of state are meeting in Paris (imagine how much money and time they could have saved if they and their cohorts and other attendees could have simply used Skype) to discuss global warming, which leads me to begin to loudly wonder what actual actions will result from this gathering, when we can't even agree on better means to generate energy? Seriously, if you think we can use solar power and wind power and tidal power to power society, you probably have not really thought about what will happen to the environment if we begin converting heat radiation and wind energy and tidal forces on a very large scale to consumable energy, making significant and irreversible changes to our environment. There is no such thing as "renewable energy", even if we were to get it directly from the nuclear processes in our sun it wouldn't be "renewable". There is no such thing, peeps, as "renewing" wind power, "renewing" solar radiation, and "renewing" tidal energy. If you slow down the air flow around the Earth, it isn't magically going to speed itself up, afterwards. If you put a solar panel over your house, your house gets less energy from the sun. Same for a solar panel on a piece of land. Who thought of this nonsense "science"? Can we take 'em out back and and recycle them?

Converting one type of energy to another type of energy takes the original energy away from whatever it was doing before. We don't know what will happen if we manage to convert 20 or 30% of the world's wind energy into electricity, but it should be relatively easy to research. Air flow - wind - does things, it moves energy around the globe, it helps evaporate and distribute moisture, it does lots of stuff. That rain we need to grow veggies? If comes out of clouds, which are moved by wind. If we slow down the wind, or, worse, redistribute its direction, there is no telling where those clouds will ends up - or whether they will even form.

We are, as is clear from the effects of some coal powered and nuclear powered energy, quite destructive. To think that we can now stop being destructive by using the word "renewable" and pretending our "new" sources of energy suddenly, magically, will have no environmental consequences, is sticking our collective heads into the sand. The Sands of Paris, this week. We're even flying the heads of impoverished states to Paris, as if they have any way of stopping their citizens from destroying their environment. I've just this week read this series of articles about Malawi, where they ask for a solution to the lack of rain, caused by the disappearance fo rainforests they've already razed and burnt. Their hydro power isn't working any more, as the rains stay away, and with that, the water. I don't know what to tell you, folks, you will probably need to move to Germany, because we can't put your rainforests back, you burnt them, they're gone, forever. Nothing we can do. Nothing you can do. Flying to Paris for the week will only make it worse, we should even take your airplanes away, so you can stay home and fix your land, you don't need to go anywhere, you need to be where your problem is.

It's been ruddy cold up here, at least to my standards, so far down to 22 Fahrenheit, equivalent to -6 or so in centipedes. My being chilly may partially be caused by my lack of a thyroid, as I understand it the thyroid regulates all sorts of matters physical that I was never really aware of before they removed mine, and I find I am colder than I recall being before. Having said that, the temperatures here in the Seattle area have plunged, considering it isn't even December yet, and perhaps - hmm, that's possible - my losing some twenty pounds over the year may also be a factor. Judging by the weather forecast temps may be coming back up to normal next week, because normally this part of the world is quite mild, I've not seen snow like I used to in New York and Virginia, for instance, although I did replace the "touring" tires on my SUV with All Terrain tires, which are good for M+S, as well. You're, in winter, not required to mount chains to cross the mountain passes, here, if you have a four wheel drive with traction (a.k.a. M+S) tires, although you must have a set of chains in the vehicle.

I am not buying it - those Iranian men with naked torsos, sewn up lips, all over TV, it all looks to me like they're manipulating the media, and the media are playing ball. I hesitate to write this, but when I read there are now more migrants crossing into Germany than last month, and it is fall, cold, freezing here and there, the conclusion has to be that the smugglers know what they're doing, the various authorities of border countries can't be seen to let small children and old people freeze to death. And then the lip sewing, the self-mutilation... This is crazy, and the Europeans are sitting ducks. Iranian refugees? From what war? Pakistani refugees, Afghan refugees, from which wars? And then you have to assume these are all people who have somehow paid the people smugglers - what happened to the people who don't have $10,000 lying around? And yes, of course terrorist organizations have inserted some of those well built young men into the migrating crowds, they would have been stupid not to. They may not even have had to pay for the privilege, the smugglers probably understand that if they don't cooperate, if their charges don't make it to the other side, they'll be killed. I mean, that's what they do, the "nouveau Taliban". And aircraft and cruise missiles won't help, only boots on the ground can do that. Which we're not doing, so the migrant onslaught, and the danger, continue. It may even be in the interest of terrorist organizations to help the migration, destabilize the West.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 24, 2015: Seeing Better & Feeling Better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 13, 2015: Spam and backing up II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 24, 2015: Never an end to fixing things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 2, 2015: Wind and Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 24, 2015: Maintenance never stops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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