© Menno E Aartsen October 8, 2019, and prior years. Disclaimer, Fair Use and Copyright statement at the bottom of the site home page. Most product links courtesy of Amazon Associates.

 

On September 11, 2001, at 8am, I was in the air between New York City and Washington, D.C., my regular commute for a number of years, on my way to a doctor's appointment - little did I know I would spend the next eight months working on the recovery of our networks and services, in Manhattan and Arlington. "9/11" became a determining factor in my life - I had offices in Manhattan and Arlington, VA, some of my customers, as well as my dentist, were in the Pentagon, and in the World Trade Center, where I would get my morning coffee and breakfast, when downtown. I make a point, now, of visiting, and communicating with, my friends and relatives as often as I can; and I finally left the cityscape, and now live in the country. I've written up some of my experiences of that day, and its aftermath, here. You can find a list of all killed and missing victims of the 9/11 attacks, some of whom I knew and worked with, at the Washington Post.


 







Home - China I - China II - India - Indonesia - resume - patents


The archive below runs to October 8, 2018, newer entries are here. The archives from before February 18, 2013, are here.


Friday June 7, 2013: Back from the front

Keywords: Thailand, Chon Buri, Bangkok

jackfruit I am restarting my blog, I've decided, back as I am from months overseas, but I have not decided exactly how. As a start, I have moved all of my past blog to the Archives, you can get there by clicking on "Archive", above. Then, I won't post the most recent blog entry at the top of this page, but at the bottom. You can speed scroll there by clicking on the "today" option above this entry.

Some of the pictures you see here are to do with my trip - the portraits at the top were taken at either end of my Thailand stay, the left a couple of days before I left, late February, and the right one the other day, back in the "cool", complete with summer tan.

The picture to the right I took in the garden of the house I stayed at. Only when processing it, yesterday, did I notice that in between the exotic fruit you can see the American flag at the neighbour's house. I didn't find out until recently they are jackfruit in English.

Although the area I was in (click here for the Google Map - for orientation, Pattaya is ten minutes left, Bangkok a couple of hours North, the Cambodian border five hours South East) is pretty much a British enclave, there is a smattering of Americans, mostly retired servicemen, who eventually decided living in Thailand is affordable and pleasant. The Brits joke about them "and their Filippino wives", but then they themselves have mostly Thai wives. Be that as it may, I can tell you from experience folks from the Philippines generally speak a lot more English than Thai people do. But then nobody ever bothered to colonize Thailand....

Monday July 8, 2013: Summer All Over

Keywords: travel, medication, heat, dengue, melanoma

Temperature reading CRV in PattayaVery strange year. I had not expected to spend three months abroad, but I love to travel, so no complaints there. But: going far, far away for three months meant taking three months' worth of refrigerated medication - I am fine without it for a few weeks, always carry steroids for an unexpected flareup, but three months is another matter. And as I returned to Seattle it was warm, and sunny, missed three months of grey weather and rain, I guess, and as I write this the temps area soaring into proper summery 'eighties...

I did not hesitate for a second, though. As I said to a Delta flight attendant whose pantry I was raiding for dry ice on the leg from Tokyo to Bangkok: "The other option is staying home, staring at the walls". She and her colleage responded they had never seen anybody travel with a cooler with that much medication, and emphasized the "never". ! The comment scared me a little bit, if your medication goes "off" for lack of cooling you can really get very sick. Add to that you're heading somewhere very tropical, and you really have not made refrigerator arrangements ahead of time, other than at the house you're heading for, and you've got the makings of something scary.

To my utter amazament, the $30 collapsible portable cooler I bought before leaving at Costco not only worked well, the gel packs I used, standard cool packs my mail order pharmacy uses when it ships me medication, were still 90% frozen when I arrived in Chon Buri. This was after 50 hours' travel, including three hours in the back of a truck in 95 degree heat!

With all that, it all went very well, the only thing that didn't work as intended was that prescription medication is very expensive in Thailand - those stories about heading for the high street pharmacy and getting cheap brand stuff? Hogwash - you end up going to a hospital pharmacy, and they get you three ways from Sunday - even if you have a prescription "from home", they charge you for a (fictitious) doctor visit. So beware.

Anyway, I am back, it all went swimmingly, Thailand is a wonderful country with friendly people and - if you're a tourist - a treacherous climate and dangerous skeeters. I can never understand why people tan - this is quite a dangerous practice in the tropics, I remember when we were filming a feature in Indonesia, years ago, and we had to ship two Dutch crew members home with heat stroke within weeks. Then, my white fair haired best friend spent several months on the island of Sumatra, went to have the spot on his back checked by a doctor, and died eight months later from a brain tumour triggered by malignant melanoma. "I regret everything I didn't get to do" he said to me, at 51, a few weeks before he passed. This year a member of my family came home from an Asia vacation with mosquito-borne Dengue fever - which, in Thailand alone, has affected 39,029 people in the year up to June 4, and killed 44. Scarily, mosquitos are developing an immunity to Deet, and there is no replacement you can put on your skin to ward them off, as of yet. And you know it is hot when you go for your cardio-vascular walk, and kind Thai folk driving by in their car pull up and ask if they can give you a lift, and point at the sun and your head. There aren't good statistics, but in Phuket alone, four heat related deaths were reported in the first half of April, one Thai man and three white tourists.

From what I read and have been told, summer temperatures are rising, with warnings extended for more than 40ºC, when no temperatures over 37.8ºC have ever been recorded in the area. That's 104ºF, and 100ºF, respectively. In the shade, folks, and if you compare that with the normal internal temperature of the human body - 98.6ºF or 37ºC - you can understand why these temperatures are dangerous, and can be lethal, especially if you have no experience dealing with the heat. If you think drinking ice water or cold coke helps, you're at risk, because that makes things worse. If you stop sweating, and your heart rate increases, get out of the sun, immediately stop moving, cool your body in whatever way you can, wherever you are, and tell someone near you're suffering from the heat... Sorry to go on about it like this, but I had never been anywhere as hot as Thailand, ever. And that includes the Philippines, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Singapore. I swear.

Tuesday July 23, 2013: Home away from Home

Keywords: England, journalism, globetrotting, car repair

test of flashgun on new tiresWould it confuse you if I tell you I got homesick for England and London when I was in Thailand? Never mind what that does to you, it confused me. It came at me completely unexpectedly, but worse, within days I was back in my English persona to the point that the Brits in Thailand assumed I was another British expat. At this point, I should say "let me explain", but I really can't. Not convincingly, anyway, not without appearing to be someone I am not.

You see, many years ago, roundabout 1979, I was a journalist based out of Amsterdam at the time, I decided to move to the United Kingdom. I'd been looking at the Anglo Saxon world for many years, at the time, having discovered there were a lot of people speaking English in the world, not so many speaking Dutch, and some of those weren't too politically popular.. I'd been invited to New York a few years earlier, realizing there were places where they neither dubbed nor subtitled Star Trek, 2001, and other movies and TV shows, and as the invitation had included a round trip on Concorde, it was clear to me these places weren't all that far away.

So I eventually moved to England, after a brief sojourn in Germany - the primary driver was my desire to "go abroad". Not because there was anything wrong with The Netherlands, but because my home country, at the time, had limited expansion capabilities. The European Union as you know it today had not been formed yet, the borders weren't "open", in order for me to go live in England, even, I needed a work permit or residence permit - IBM, where I had worked for many years, came in handy, I took a job in customer support in Croydon, and after a while got a work- and then a residence permit.

Something I wanted, in terms of my professional development, was to become fluent enough in English to become a writer and author, to "adopt" as it were, another language as my own. And this explains, perhaps, how I got close to "native" in English - to the point where a colleague in the pub where I began working, in London's Earls Court, accused me of "abandoning my identity". It was certainly true I was "unDutchifying" myself, as will be clear from the fact I've lived in the Anglo-Saxon world ever since, some 34 years now, that I did change persona, although I like to think this is my identity - nobody stays the same throughout their lives, though some live and die within fifteen miles of where they were born. Not me, probably....

Before I bang on about Thailand and England, let's stop briefly to see what's new. Nothing major, I've been playing with newer technologies, as I usually do, and trying to maintain my 2003 SUV so it can last and last... I've not done too badly out of a car I only bought to use when weather made my Camaro less practical - that went away, and so the Durango is what I now use for everyday transport.

Uhmm... wrote that a week ago, and then the car suddenly overheated on a run to Bellevue to get my office mail. Still don't know what caused it, I've ordered a new serpentine belt and that just got here, so I'll be trying to fix the problem over the next few days. I had this problem before, and it got cured when I had the A/C compressor replaced, and the last thing I did last week was charge the A/C, so here's hoping that was the cause. If it wasn't, I'm in $$ trouble. Wish me luck.

Sunday July 28, 2013: DIY

Keywords: England, business, career, expat, Thailand, Anglophile, Durango

Sony VAIO All-In-One running the BBC
                      iPlayer I was talking about England. I liked England, as a country to live in. London, especially. I left because, at the time, it was very hard to set up a business and expediently get venture capital, especially when foreign, and my accountant in Coral Gables, FL, said I should do "stuff like that" in the United States. So I did, and he was right. Before I knew it I had a position in a research lab, and was on my way to making all of the lovely money I've since lost. And my Italian car. And my French wife. Sometimes wonder what would have happened if I'd hung on to the wife and the Westchester white picket fence and.... but I am too restless, alwe ays looking for new challenges and more excitement.

You can't think like that, because there is no way of predicting the future, "what if" does not work, and Thailand is for the most part full of British expats my age who smoke, something they can't do at home any more. Unlike them, I've moved on, fish and chips really aren't health food, and I stopped smoking during an (unrelated) hospital stay, because I could and had support. They've recreated 1970s Britain in the tropics, and I can understand that, but it isn't good for them, nor is it good for Thailand.

I may write a piece about that sometime in the future, but right now I should finish my coke and go get coolant and rearrange my workshopthe garage so I can get at all of my tools. Fix the bloody car... ah.. and then there is a Morse I had not seen (wow!) and some more Bean..

Having been a bit of an Anglophile since well before I moved to the UK, in 1979, it is perhaps not surprising I still am - I've often said I don't think I'd have lived in the United States for as long as I have if it weren't for PBS and BBC America.

I am not quite sure how best to explain that, and especially not sure how to explain that without offending hundreds of millions of Americans, but I get a very strong impression that American television fairly represents the American populace - a strong working class influence.

That isn't a negative - I've done well out of what is America, I am not criticizing that, the United States - like everywhere - is what it is. But I sometimes miss some of the "culture" I grew up with, and worked in, back in Europe, and - saying that cautiously - that is because it is part of my makeup. I eventually found some of it shallow, when my lookout on life changed, but then I must say I can't help but prefer Benedict Cumberbatch over Bruce Willis. Having said that, I've certainly not been tempted to move back to Europe, although, when I watch the Routemaster (a London bus) documentary series on my BBC iPlayer, I can't help but want to go and produce some of that superb television (if you're tempted to let me, I haven't done any film-, TV- or theatre production since the 1970s, although I don't think the methodology has changed much, even if the technology, which I am up to snuff with, has).

Am I rambling already? Many of you will have never seen that type of TV, many of you don't have access to it because of our ridiculous licensing structure - "our" being the commercial world, not necessarily American society, although it has been Hollywood that's driven restrictive licensing.

Anyway. I am still hoping I can fix my Durango without major repairs - I managed to change the serpentine belt yesterday, which I think I should have done a couple of years ago, when I first had problems with the drive belt slipping due to a broken A/C compressor. When I checked the new and the old belt, it turned out the diameter of the old belt is maybe half an inch more than that of the new belt. It confused the heck out of my landlord, who expected the old belt, which has more than 90,000 miles on it, to be cracked or damaged or, in some way, show wear and tear. But it does not, it looks almost new, and so the only way to see it's been used is by measuring it, and even then, half an inch does not seem all that earth shattering. Then again, the belt drive system has an automatic tensioner, and there really isn't any way of knowing where its functional threshold lies. I know it was slipping when the A/C compressor went South, and from that you could surmise it may have ended up "out of spec", so to speak. I guess I'll find out.

I would find all this completely fascinating, except this is now my only car, and I desperately need it. With little savings, that knowledge kind of takes the fun out of things. One thing that gave me hope was that when I paid for my new tires, the Pep Boys manager said that my car "has fewer miles than most Durangos", which means these things not only get a lot of use, but are built for it.

Thursday August 1, 2013: Repair shop

Keywords: Windows 8, Blackberry, BYOD, Formula 1, Durango, car repair

Dodge 4.7 liter SOHC V-8 On the computer front, I can say I have Windows 8 running fantastically smoothly, on both my 2009 Sony Vaio desktop, and my 2012 Lenovo B570 laptop. The latter is pretty much a "mobile desktop", actually, it came to Thailand with me, but I really don't otherwise carry it around at all any more, I carry my Blackberry and the Blackberry Playbook tablet. There's just a lot of stuff you can't do on a tablet, and I really wonder whether all those folk who gravitate towards ever large mobile phones have a need to do things you do on a PC? It seems to me there is a desperate race on the part of device manufacturers to create software that will lock the user in to their device, when I can't believe that a "Bring Your Own Device" policy will, in the long term, lead to anything other than "Bring Your Own Disaster", as I saw it mentioned on LinkedIn, the other day. I don't necessarily want a larger screen - if anything keeps me happy and connected, it is my Blackberry Torch, and the fact it sits on my belt without problems. A larger phone would have to live in my backpack, or a jacket pocket, and that means more risk of losing and dropping it than I have now. I'd think that if you have a larger "handphone", the need for a tablet is almost nonexistent - just the idea of maintaining a phone, tablet and a PC seems silly. I do, to some extent, but the central repository for my data is my PC, backed up by some internet services, and my webserver. I know from when I was still actively involved with T-Mobile User Support that the number of people who lose vital data using their cellphone is astronomical. Yes, you can often back it up to your carrier, but then you're stuck having to get a smiliar model from that same carrier, when something goes wrong, which is when things get expen$ive.

When all is said and done, you see, you're much better off getting two "affordable" devices, rather than one brilliant "best deal" fancy piece of gear. Everybody used to get iPhones, now they're getting Galaxys, and I am still not tempted, especially not because both Apple (IOS) and Google (Android) make a living collecting data for the purpose of marketing to you. Blackberry does not - perhaps that is why they're not doing the best, but for me it is a reason to use their equipment. Duh.

OK, OK.... the car's cooling system seemed to work OK idling to hot: the thermostat opened, air bubbles bled off, so maybe I am good. I was going to drive around, warm her up, test, and go to Walmart to get stuff, but then I checked the internet and saw this guy going "you replaced the serpentine belt - and you cleaned the pulleys, of course?" to someone else. Right, dumbass - the old belt did 90,000 plus miles, on one set of pulleys, slipped for hundreds of miles... So no driving, I am walking to the auto parts store - two in my neighbourhood, lucky me - and getting non-chlorinated brake cleaner, which apparently is the ideal stuff for this. So: belt off, spray on the chemical, get out the pressure washer - again - and clean the front of the engine again. Apart from anything else, I should clean away the coolant I spilled while draining the radiator and filling the cooling system. Do it right the first time. OK. Then let her dry overnight, and put the new belt (which has not yet been revved) back on tomorrow. Good deal. As you can see, cleaning a ten year old engine makes 'er look good, too..

Ahh.. Lewis Hamilton has a well deserved win in F1 at the Hungaroring.. I managed to just catch the BBC highlights, guess they did not have the rights to the live stream, no matter, the highlights went out early Sunday Pacific time, good way to start the Sunday. And then A. mailed me to say the Asia project is on hold - that's good, because it means it isn't dead or has gone pearshaped, delays are part of our business. What project? Sorry, it is a bit hush, for now, I never breach confidences. It would be mahvelous if this happened, especially since I never counted on it at all.

Tuesday August 13, 2013: Repair shop II

Keywords: Durango, car repair, spark plugs, serpentine belt, SOHC V-8
Dodge 4.7 liter SOHC V-8 So, the culprit was a failed radiator cap, the cooling system could not build pressure, and boiled over. This was probably compounded by my not changing the serpentine belt in 2011, when my A/C compressor failed. My mechanic told me the belt was fine, but when I compared the old belt with the new belt I bought last week, I found the old belt looked OK, but had half an inch more diameter than a new belt. These things are pretty amazing - no sign of any damage, although it must have slipped, but I can tell the engine runs better with the new belt, and my guess is the old belt was slipping just a little, whenever some or the other device kicked in. Anyway, thankfully, I caught the problem before the engine really overheated - from the look of things, no damage. In the interim, troubleshooting and trying to prevent a trip to the garage has made me do much of the necessary maintenance, and in order to prevent any possibility of overheating I'll install a set of auxiliary radiator fans, and change the plugs. Those belts and plugs are things to watch - in my case, they're supposed to last a whopping 100,000 miles - that's substantial, don't you think?

Although changing the spark plugs is a bit of an operation on this car, I've ordered a new set, that's another one of those things that is on the official list for the 90,000 mile maintenance.

I did discover this engine runs hot, for a variety of reasons. One is that it sits high up in the engine compartment, right underneath the hood, which, in my case, is painted silver, and thus reflects heat back to the engine. This is compounded by there being no ventilation of any kind at the top, partly because there is a rubber strip that seals off the space between the hood and the window vents at the top of the firewall. Perhaps that strip is intended to prevent rain getting into the engine compartment, but its presence is a bit daft, as heat will go up, especially once the engine is turned off, and has nowhere to go. With tht slot now opened, and the new fans (which I'll wire so they will run independent of the ignition), there should be much less heat developing at the top of the engine.

Postscript: I back off installing the fans. After I had installed the thermostat that came with them, it looked to me that the engine ran a bit hotter than before, something I attribute to the 3/8" NPT probe being twice as long as the bleed plug for the radiator it replaced. That means that part of the probe sticks out into the coolant channel, and although it does not completely obstruct it, it is quite possible that the "obstacle" impairs the coolant flow. So I've taken the probe out again, and reinstalled the bleed plug - apart from anything else, the proble was oozing coolant under pressure, and I did not want to put Teflon tape in that channel, which is what the manual recommends. So I am now waiting for my new spark plugs, and then I'll test "as is" - installing the plugs entails removing the air filter housing and the throttle body damper, and so I will have a chance to clean those with compressed air. Bear with me, I am learning as I go along, it's been many years since I've worked on an engine, and never on a V8, and never on a car as computerized as this one - this despite it being ten years old. It'd be fun if this weren't my only car.

The location of the cooling thermostat, at the bottom of the engine block, doesn't help matters much, and I may swap the 195 degree thermostat with a 180, if the aforementioned measures don't help enough. But another issue I discovered is that the serpentine belt had stretched a bit, I mentioned it must have been slipping before, and it now looks as though the new belt and the unintended flushing have cleared the cooling system to the point that the thermostat is working better than before. Where previously the engine took a long time to warm up, and the gauge was often low, now the engine warms up in ten minutes or so, and the gauge comes right up to about 11 o'clock and then stays there, fluctuating slightly as the thermostat opens and closes. That freaked me out at first, but it seems to be the way it is supposed to work - before, the needle was often stuck around the ten o'clock position.

So, much to my amazement, after digging through reams and reams of car forums, I discovered that the computer systems in the vehicle adjust to everything that can go wrong, or is working "differently". Moving the original bleed plug back into the cooling system entailed some coolant spillage, I just rinsed that using the hose and thought no more of it. But: combining that with disconnecting the battery meant the ECU's decided to "relearn", and then there was a little slippage in the power steering pulley, which sits underneath the bleed plug, and the car decided, after "rough idling" for a bit, to run hotter than before. I have no clue why, but the combination of things I did must have sent some wrong signals to the computers. So, yesterday, I decided to reclean the entire front pulley system, but disconnect the battery and reset the PCM, and then not start and move and turn the car off, but start and let the car get used to idle, run and fast run, this after letting the pulley system (cleaned with brake cleaner and rinsed with a pressure washer) dry overnight, putting the belt back on, and reconnecting the battery. I figured all the futzing I had been doing confused the computer systems.

Sure enough, the engine came up as perfect as a 97,000 mile V-8 can get, smooth as a baby's bottom. It came up idling at 500 rpm, after a drive went to 550, and the temperature is now fractionally lower than the 200-ish I was seeing before.

Last but not least, to your left, the picture shows the same engine as above, but now with the throttle body removed, some lines rerouted, and the serpentine belt re-installed, in the middle of replacing spark plugs. This you can't see because they are sunk deep in the intake manifold, which I presume is a bit bog because this engine has, unlike many American V-8s, an overhead camshaft (SOHC). The engine compartment, by no means small, is actually pretty crowded and not that easy to work in.

Saturday August 17, 2013: Now, repair your brain

Keywords: Germany, UK, brain agility, aging, boomers, password change, mental training, early warning
Chinese granny in Seattle On a different note, let's talk about aging, and exercising that all important organ, the brain. I am writing this as I watch Justin and Bee Rowlatt try to discover Germany, on my BBC iPlayer - Germany, a country I know very well, understand, and in many ways would probably be more at home in than - dare I say it - here. "At home" being the operative terminology, and to be honest, I didn't think of this at all until just now, when I realized how familiar I am with the Germans, who are culturally very close to "we Dutch". If there is - I speak from experience - anything you can do to exercise your mind, it would be immersion into a different culture, even if that different culture is only a couple of hundred miles from home. Cultural differences between England and Germany are huge, despite their proximity. Again, I speak from, experience, the operative word being "immerse".

I digress. This is about training one's aging brain. Cardio-vascular for the grey cells. You may have read or watched some of the plethora of information being unleashed on the aging population, with "sound" advice, from drinking two cups of cocoa a day, to doing crossword puzzles every weekend. Somebody will, I have no doubt, come up with ways of making Bingo a good remedy to prevent Alzheimer's.

I have previously written about how I think making constant change in one's daily habits, forcing oneself to develop different habits, may be a good way to keep one's brain agile, but I've now added something to that: changing and learning passwords and telephone numbers, something we try to avoid as we get older. Let me 'splain.

It occurred to me when I was doing a translation assignment, last year, and I noticed that a coworker in my age group completely emulated the same work environment he had at home - same keyboard, same screen positioning, same mouse, and as much as possible the same screen layout and software, complete with configuration - something, BTW, the client did not exactly approve of.

The whole thing started because the client insisted on providing equipment and software - in this day and age of hyper-security and competitive secrecy, not an unreasonable way of doing things.

So now the question is why it took me a long time - I'd say two months - to learn this convoluted login sequence. Is that an age function? Or is it simply that the complexity is legitimately harder? It is a login sequence that consists of three elements (four, if you count the "hidden" URL): a numeric nine digit user ID, then an alphanumeric long password, and then a variable passcode, which changes every time you log on, using a few characters from yet another long password. The second and third passwords I had had had in memory for some time, but they were both my choice of words, but I could not remember the numeric user ID, which I normally never use. What I did was log in every day, until I had that by heart, and that happened a couple of days ago. I could have probably done it a little faster, but deliberately wanted to emulate a technique that is, I believe, natural: if you repeatedly use a number, code, or bit of information on a regular basis, you'll eventually know that by heart, like when someone you call regularly gets a new telephone number. We must remember, after all, that we now all have cellphones, and those learn the new numbers, not their users. So: my brain will still learn complex sequences, it is just a matter of forcing it. It is a complex issue - if this is a login you do not need every day, you're less likely to bother learning it as you get older and lazier. You have a computer and a smartphone, so you can look it up, and I believe most people do, which is why you see the discombobulated messages on Facebook when someone's phone is stolen or dies. I get the impression few people actually back up their phones - I do, diligently, if only because you never know when you're replacing your handset, and then the last thing you think of is transferring the data. Similarly, when I was still hanging out on T-Mobile forums there were multiple users every week losing their pictures and videos on memory cards going bad - don't happen if you back up your phone, for which manufacturers have software....

The picture to the right, a Gran in my Seattle neighbourhood, shows you, inadvertently, what not to do, I realized this as I was looking for an illustration to this post. Bringing over an elderly relative, who then likely does not, or barely, learn English, does the same things she did in China, even wears the same clothes, probably does not drive, is a surefire way to trigger brain deterioration in an older person. There is no new information for this grandma to process, she is, if you like (and that is where you come in) just being used as a glorified caretaker, all the while "being looked after". This reminds me of an acquaintance who asked me to help him figure out how to get to porn websites, but omitted to tell me that, at 74, he was still analfabetic, so could not type URLs. Not an age at which you need to be selfconscious, of course, but worse, I could have come up with half a dozen workarounds, had I known. It helped me understand why he put up with his wife not driving - she could read - symbiosis. We are, more often than not, our own worst enemies...

There are multiple advantages to doing things like learning a new login sequence. The first, obviously, is that you teach your brain to absorb new information in an area where it is retrievable (so you need to do this all the time, not just once a year). The second advantage is that is gives you a sense of achievement, it helps you feel better about yourself even if you can't walk as far as you used to - aging is not a pleasant job. And last, but not least: when you discover that you aren't able to learn new sequences easily any more, you can go talk to your doctor, because you now have an example for the doctor to work with. Doctors have a hard time diagnosing things they can't categorize, they need help in establishing what exactly it is that goes wrong. More about that in my next post.

Sunday August 25, 2013: Innovation it isn't

Keywords: innovation, development, Tesla, Elon Musk, Paypal, China, UPS
LED car replacement bulb In the era of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and the rest of it all, it is pretty amazing that most enterprises still use their tried-and-true advertising strategies, even though, when previously consumers would talk about an upcoming purchase with friends-and-family, they now communicate with hundreds of others to do their homework, including people they don't even know. So telling your prospective consumers, like Centurylink does, that their internet still costs $19.95 in five years' time simply does not work, since it does not and won't. Not advertising your smartphone product because "the carrier does that" is a lethal mistake - the carrier does not sell phones, but service, and the carrier only has one purpose - minimizing churn. Neither of those help the phone manufacturer sell hardware, which is their business.

You can see the effect in the marketplace - established companies are losing market share, and some only show profits because they go into ancillary marketplaces that have nothing to do with their product, a practice they were supposed to curb when the recession hit. All car companies, for instance, which should have gotten out of car financing, are firmly back in their old methodologies, which are largely based on fudging the finances so you can't see which parts of the business are profitable (IOW, no shareholders know whether profits are made on the actual manufacture of a particular car model). Apart from Tesla, you still cannot walk into a store and buy a car, over the counter, even though the cost of all those car dealerships makes a vehicle much more expensive than it needs to be. Having "competition" in car sales, the way we do it, is laughable - if we had just one Toyota sales point in the Greater Seattle area Toyotas would be a lot cheaper than they are now. Last year, I witnessed a car dealer sell a Toyota car to friends of mine, for them to discover, when they went to pick it up after doing the paperwork, that it had been sold to someone else after it had been sold to them. This is not possible, especially not if the car has been financed, so what the Fed likes to think is "competition" is actually a completely dysfunctional way of doing business, very likely costing money, not making it. And as always, that cost is yours, because all of the money these folks - dealership, bank, gas company, manufacturer - make, comes out of your wallet.

The same goes for telecommunications - for Centurylink to recruit Comcast customers, which then switch back to Comcast the year after, or forward to Fios the year after that, or vice versa, makes nobody money, it only costs. Getting people to change from their iPhone to a new Samsung Galaxy doesn't make money for anyone, since it requires huge amounts of research, development, and marketing to "outdo" the existing perfectly usable product, whose manufacturer will then start spending even more to win back the departing customers with largely useless features - I mean, Instagram and facial recognition are nice, but not something anybody actually needs to make calls, email, and Facebook. A consequence of all this is that nothing works particularly well. Apple's business model, after all, is based on your having an iTunes account and they having your credit card number, which is hugely smart marketing but does litte for your communications.

If, like many, you were hurt by the recession, maybe lost your house, or your job, or your savings, or all three, I have bad news for you: we're doing exactly the same things in the same way we were when the last collapse happened. Most manufacturers and sales organizations went back to their established busines models as quickly as they could, when the Fed stopped looking closely - the opportunity to invent new business models coming out of recession was wasted. With very few exceptions, Tesla comes to mind, there are no new business models. Elon Musk must have realized that if he set up a car company along the same lines other car manufacturers used, he'd soon be roped into one of the established marques, sales organizations, and finance engines. In that respect, this man is smart. You can compare this with Paypal, which he helped set up - Paypal is a highly effective bank-without-a-bank, which does not stray from its business model. And Mr. Musk said it in a televised interview about his "competition", the other day: "They are not innovating". He is absolutely right, look in China, look in Thailand, look in Indonesia, look in India, where "they" are inventing new methods and tools on a daily basis, then look at home, where the last time we reinvented wheels was the 1980s....

What's our current business model? Car manufacturers are attemtping to stop Tesla's independent sales, banks are trying to contain Paypal's spread, and telecommunications providers "bundle" internet in such a way that is is not possible for some 20% of the American population to get cheap internet, which is what we would need to fuel more innovation. It is sad and not a little bit scary, and makes a complete mockery of Facebook's announcement it is going to make internet more accessible to all of those abroad who don't have it - because the real money, for Facebook, would be in that American 20%, but Zuck doesn't have the wherewithall to take on the politicos and big carriers inside the United States he would have to engage to do that. He continuous to be unable to get his product into China, where they do have internet, but where he would have to work with a government, something he has shown a propensity for not doing.

The other day, I saw "three cartons, greenhouse" being delivered. They came from China, and the UPS driver who delivered them told me he'd never seen this type of thing being mail ordered in the twenty years he had been a UPS driver. That's quite something, considering mail order was invented here - you can now ship a box from Shenzen to Chicago just about as fast as you can run it from one end of town to the other, using techniques refined so the Chinese can sell us more, better, faster, with door-to-door tracking. And the replacement LED light bulbs I bought for my car on Amazon, the other day, came from China too. A set of four, they were $2 a piece. What worries me is that these are all things we can manufacture, build, ship domestically. We have the expertise to make them cheaply, too. But it seems we're not even trying to compete, instead trying to sell cars by convincing the public Honda understands hashtags. Hashtags? What's that got to do with driving to the store?

Sunday September 1, 2013: Please, not another Dubya

Keywords: Syria, civil war, vehicle alarm systems, vehicle insurance, GPS trackers, OBD II scanner
ELM5 vehicle scanner with OBDWiz I just can't get away from thinking that this is how the whole Saddam Hussein debacle began - he used chemical weapons on Kurdish civilians, he was reported to have "weapons of mass destruction", and it went from there. Why don't we ask the Russians and the Arabs and the Turks to deal with this? What happened to the "jury of your peers"? It is their part of the world, we have nothing to do with the area and the people, and we've got more important things to do than police the Middle East. We still have massive numbers of people who can't find any kind of work, and 20% of American households can't afford internet. We have to get this country back on track, and Ford cars with touch screens and voice control is not going to do that. I am serious, we're completely heading in the wrong direction, as I mentioned in my last post already. We're in a dysfunctional behavioural pattern we can't get out of, one that is a mirror image of the pattern that led to the last market collapse-cum-recession. Having a president in his second term, when he no longer wants to make major change, is not a good thing. Yes, we've achieved Dr. King's goal, there is a black guy in the White House, that's very very good, let's move on, more important stuff to do.

My car insurance guy said that, no, they no longer give a discount for alarm systems, unless the car is equipped with a GPS locator, so I've just ordered what looks very much like a DIY type unit from Amazon. It seems to do everything you'd want, but is cheap, since it is intended as "multi purpose" - you could use it in your handbag or on your bike, and thus have no external antennas and remote control.

But that suits me fine. the more complicated and elaborate units are very visible, bristling with antennae, and so are (methinks) an "invitation to disable", while this unit needs to be placed very carefully, so that it can "see" the sky through glass from inside the vehicle. Thankfully, I use a Bluetooth GPS antenna with my regular Nokia GPS handhelds, so I know where best to place such a unit. Because this is a GSM device (even has a microphone) as well as a GPS unit, my guess is it needs to live far away from the engine compartment, so basically leaves the rear hatch. I'll figure out where I can run a power line from, and take it from there. My estimation is that it should run from the battery, direct, 24/7, which means its red light may be an additional deterrent, but especially I could then test it is operational when the car is parked, even if I am two states away.

These units, supposedly, are capable of using both A-GPS (which uses cellular GSM tower GPS data, and can work inside garages and under overpasses) and GPS - the latter using the normal satellite signals, for which the unit must be able to see the sky. Programming is apparently via the cellular network, using SMS messaging, I'll let you know (when)(if) I have it working. When you read the comments on Amazon, it looks like lots of people can't get it to work right, not surprising, GPS and GSM/GPRS/SMS require a fair amount of expertise to understand, they are finicky asnd you cannot always tell which service is being used, and that affects the accuracy. Thankfully, I have that expertise, so I should be OK. If it really works well, I may even consider offering a service installing and activating these units, maybe hand in hand with the insurance guy. Shouldn't be rocket science. At any rate, the unit costs around $40, so if I can get that discount I it will pay for itself. Yeeh.

End of high summer, up here in the Pacific Northwest, me thinks - we've had the first bouts of rain, this since before I came back from Thailand, in May. The weather has been extraordinary, really can't complain, and Mother Nature is dying for a drink. You've seen the wildfires all over this part of the world, it is bone- and tinder dry all over. I've been watering like crazy, because the drought might have killed off C's veggies, had I not done that. Daytime temperatures are still up near 80, so summer isn't over yet...

I'll regale you more about my experience with the vehicle engine OBD II scanning tool I've been trying to get to work - took me some ten days to get all of the functions to work, and as I said to one of my buddies on Facebook: "You see this a lot with the cheaper Chinese gear, instructions aren't always sufficient. Bottom line, as with most USB devices: do not load software before connecting, make sure you're connected to the internet when you plug it in, then wait until Windows tells you it has or has not found the drivers, and when you install the software download the latest version from the support website and use that, don't bother with the disk (as in: do not install it or have it in the laptop unless absolutely nothing else works."

Last but not least: these devices need a fair amount of bandwidth, they push a lot of data through the port they use. So if you have that anemic old Intel Atom based netbook you were going to use to run this software, don't. If it has problems with Skype, it won't run anything else that needs bandwidth either. I bought and tested one, years ago, couldn't wait to give it away once I had it home from Beijing. More later, for now, have a great Labor Day!!

Sunday September 8, 2013: Do you know where your tracker is?

Keywords: Progressive, Snapshot, GPS tracker, vehicle alarm systems, vehicle insurance, OBD II scanner, GSM
GPS vehicle tracker As I am boxing Progressive's Snapshot device and returning it for being a noisy, useless and dangerously distracting behaviour modification device (rather than the passive data collection device "Flo" wants you to think it is) I've been looking into aftermarket GPS tracking for vehicles. There are some devices on the market that are cheap, and don't require subscriptions, so I decided to get one, to see whether they work in cars. Insurers, you see, no longer give discounts for alarm systems, unless they have GPS tracking - think Ontrack and Lojack, and I figured it should be possible to do that "on the cheap". Many of these devices need to be installed with separate antennas - I recall one from Radio Shack that came with a remote keyfob I had on the Camaro, that worked even in Manhattan - and I wanted to know if the smaller standalone version works inside a vehicle, hardwired into the battery. The picture to the left shows the device, after moving it around half a dozen times, when it originally would only get proper signal when on top of the car, I now have it working sitting on the dash - so far the only place it gets a decent GPS signal, though the cellular (GSM) component (you do need a SIM card) works wherever you put it.

I've moved the car around a bit, and it continues to report good signal:

class=gc-message-sms-from>Me:
class=gc-message-sms-text>checkxxxxxx
class=gc-message-sms-time>10:29 AM
class=gc-message-sms-from>Menno Aartsen:
class=gc-message-sms-text>GSM: 100% GPS: OK GPRS: ON BATTERY: 100%
class=gc-message-sms-time>10:29 AM


so my next step is to temporarily Velcro it up on the windshield, to see if it continues to "see" satellites. This is what you see in the picture, the test position I have just this morning begun using, so far so good, next step is to begin driving around with the electrics and the navigation and the rearview camera and the engine going, all of which use some of the same spectrum this tracker uses. Part of the reason many users moan on Amazon that the device does not work is that it uses wavelengths largely shared with wireless camera, Bluetooth, cellphones and WiFi - for most of these applications, there are only four wavebands permitted for use by the FCC, and just your average smartphone by itself uses all of them, all of the time. This, by the way, is another reason not to use the Progressive Snapshot - it communicates with AT&T's GSM network, effectively putting another transmitter in your car, and then it takes up the OBD II diagnostic port, which I happen to be using with the diagnostic software I recently bought. No, passthrough not provided, and you're supposed to leave that in there continually for six months, which is a joke.

You program the tracker via text messaging, certainly a novel experience, it is too small for a screen or even meaningful lights, and between the GSM and the GPRS it can report an approximate position even if it does not have GPS reception, like when you're parked in a building. Interesting. I had originally wanted to mount it as far from the engine as possible, but it seems to want to be in the front, rather than the back, although I've not yet tested it with the engine running. Where previously the electrical system had been quite noisy, signal wise, my new Bosch spark plugs have electrical noise suppression, I can only assume because the 4.7 litre Durango with the factory fitted Champions was known to be electrically noisy. So who knows.

GPS devices are finicky - sometimes you get off the plane 3,000 miles from home, and your GPS takes forever to figure out where the hell it is, because there's quite a bit of calculating that goes on to establish the GPS timing pattern when first establishing position. After that, it is usually quick and reliable, but the public generally is largely unaware GPS (the portion of it depending on satellites) works by correlating signal timing from multiple satellites, and its logic does this by working from its last known set of signals. One advantage of GPS cellular equipment is that has A-GPS, a.k.a. Assisted GPS, is that it incorporates cellular technology, normally GSM based, which is capable of reading the GPS server incorporated in most cellular towers, repeaters and switches. That can make it much faster for GPS to get a valid location, and is even capable of figuring out where it is even when it cannot "see" enough satelites. That positioning isn't as accurate as "pure" GPS, but it gives a general area, and is capable of being triangulated by the cellular provider.

Thursday September 12, 2013: The day after the year before

Keywords: Samsung, Galaxy, Android, psycho-analysis, geriatry, brain excercise, change
$12.99 supermarket orchidMy next project, by the way, is Paypal's "Here" device, the credit card reader Paypal makes available to business account holders for free. It needs an iPhone or an Android phone, so after a long search I've finally found a Samsung Galaxy model that has a sufficiently advanced version of Android, and is affordable, probably mostly because it is locked to a carrier, which most phone buyers don't like. It is a Pay-As-You-Go device, a moot point in my case as I have a spare postpaid line that should work just fine. This is a dual purpose project - it is high time I learned Android, something that, as an established UNIX developer, shouldn't be really hard for me, because that is, after all, what Android is, a UNIX/Linux derived operating system. Here is hoping I don't get to eat my words....

As I mentioned before in these pages, I believe that incessant change can be very beneficial in keeping an aging brain functioning properly. You may have read about the research done in California, where scientists inflicted a computer game on geriatric folk, with good results - I don't believe that that is a way to treat older people. Creating an artificial situation may always show results, but it is a methodology that isn't readily available to most folk. And all this time, the tools to work on brain agility are readily available to all and sundry - internet, cheap technology products. If I only look at the OBD II scanners and GPS trackers, some of which I recently bought - a scanner can be had for as little as $10, on Amazon, while the tracker was around $ 40. Amazon itself is a very good example of brain agility - the system has such a large selection of products that you can simply give people assignments to find particular products, and set parameters - go to Costco and find the cheapest sweetener, now figure out which Amazon sweetener is cheaper. For older people to learn database search techniques is, I firmly believe, a far more effective way of training the brain than to learn essentially useless games.

There are many ways of dealing with everyday "life issues" that we pay scant attention to - the above example, simply, is "how do you turn ordinary everyday activities into exercise" - and there are many methodologies. If we were to stop going to Costco, at least part of the time, and walk to the local supermarket to buy essentials in smaller amounts, that would provide exercise, and can even provide savings - buying stuff you won't need for another two months "because it is cheaper" actually makes those products more expensive, Costco and Sam's Club just have done a superb job of making you believe bulk buying saves money. And there is another benefit to walking - daylight. I've noticed that here, many Asians don't venture out into the sun, because, culturally, a tan on an Asian isn't the thing to have. It can lead to discrimination, but even more importantly, it is ingrained into the Asian psyche that a tanned person is a menial worker, one reason why you see so many women, particularly in China and Japan, outdoors with a parasol. Well, guess what, you need that sunlight for your health, and when folks move from tropical climes to our more temperate zones, and then keep avoiding the sun, they may not be doing their health any good. I remember having to use a Philips UV "sun lamp", as a child, as my colonial relatives were all too aware they weren't getting enough sunlight, in Europe, in winter. That wasn't about tan, but about health and vitamin D. Similarly, whites tan, often intensively, which is the unhealthy flipside, and they do not realize that a daily half hour walk in daylight provides, over the spring, summer, and fall, a moderate tan that is natural, has health benefits, and little risk of malignant melanoma.

So anyway. I mentioned change. Incessant change. Humans, especially older humans, are change averse. It scares me to make major change, even though I know from personal experience that change almost always has a beneficial effect on me and on my life. A new partner, a new town, a new position, it all "shakes things up", helps bring new ideas, perspectives, stuff. So how do we teach, train, people to seek change, to abandon the status quo, and enjoy the learning process? I'd love to do the research - I mean, I am doing my own research, but I can't "make change" and be my own observer. One is too biased, too self focused and prejudiced. Hmm.

I spent much of last year talking to an analyst, just to check whether or not I was labouring under a lot of misconceptions. If you can't find your way back into the workforce, insecurity is your lot, but I think I am, by now, pretty much convinced that the Seattle area, if you're not a 23 year old programmer from Bangalore, was probably not the right place for me to come lookin'. Having said that, coming here was change, so that part of it was good, I'd been floundering about on the East Coast for a while. But what I did not know is that the friends who invited me would be completely unconnected, and despite the offer of help had few connections that could be of use to me. As a consequence, I have largely stopped looking, I've got my resume "out there", so if anybody is looking for my skillset and expertise I am sure they will be in touch. I can't blame the friends for any of this, either - they did try, and you don't necessarily know what you don't know, they had not been a lot of places, professionally speaking.

I have completely removed myself from both Careerbuilder and Monster - Careerbuilder when they began selling member's personal information without any form of opt-out, and Monster more recently, when it became clear to me these systems are now so full of applicants with fake credentials that you can't possibly stand out from the crowd unless you list two Ph.D.'s you don't have. LinkedIn is pretty much heading the same way, so I've curtailed my activity there as well. I am certain there are a few companies looking for my considerable expertise and experience, and the fact they have not found me simply means the databases are now so large and convoluted, and the "promotions" so many, that nobody can find anybody or anything relevant to their needs. If you can pay LinkedIn so your listing comes up higher in searches, even LinkedIn is no longer about helping business connect with talent. Right?

Sunday September 22, 2013: Technology does not twerk by itself

Keywords: Samsung, Galaxy, Android, Facebook, T-Mobile, Amazon, Dodge Durango, OBDWiz
OBDWiz monitor screen I must say I am rather pleased with the work I have done on my Dodge Durango. I only finished the other day, eventually plucking up the courage to reset both ECU's with the diagnostic software I bought. Curiously, and I expect largely thanks to the Chinese, most of this stuff is cheap to the point just about anyone can afford it. The only thing I've not managed is to delete the freeze frame the software found in an ECU, I expected that would go away once I issued the reset - "clear codes" - command, but it is still in the memory. I assume it does not have any influence on the way the engine runs, but it would have been nice to be able to get rid of it, especially since the software tells me it is "old" and irrelevant.

Bare Facebook asses But for now, I am going to leave the thing run as is, and see how it (just too large to call it a "she") does, after the TLC I gave it. Next month, I should have the power train serviced - not doing that myself - and then in the spring, when I tentatively plan to move South, way South, I'll do the air intake and the shocks.

I am just the tiniest bit disappointed in the Android phenomenon. I've got the Samsung Galaxy cellphone I ordered (Samsung Galaxy Exhibit 4G), a prepaid T-Mobile device running Android Gingerbread 2.3.6. I've not done anything to it, primarily so I can get used to the OS and the touchscreen environment - no, I am not running it prepaid, as it turns out you can take a prepaid device, stick a postpaid SIM card in it, and have a fully functional smart-thing. I am waiting for my Paypal card reader to get here, that was the primary reason to get an Android phone, and obviously I want all that working properly before futzing with the OS. What does surprise me is the small size of the handset, and its ease of use. My Nokia and Blackberry handsets, though they both have touch screens, have buttons all around the sides, but Samsung has apparently decided that isn't the best way to build a handset, and I agree.

To be honest, I don't know that I'll ever "root" this thing, and update it to whatever the latest Androidphenom is, I spent too many years futzing with UNIX (professionally) and the prospect of programming something the size of two credit cards just no longer appeals to me. Don't get me wrong, I think it is brilliant what kids achieve on these devices, but there is a lot you can't do on them that I do need. And: much of what a smartphone can do depends on the individual manufacturer and the carrier, which only means you need to have several different devices.

Cool enough, as far as this Amazon vendor is concerned (find them through my reviews page on Amazon, the link is at the top of this page), is that the phone is an official T-Mobile branded product, with up-to-date firmware, in T-Mobile sealed packaging, and with a TMO SIM card should you need that. There are a lot of vendors on Amazon that try to take liberties with "new" and "refurbished", but this isn't one. That is important, because you cannot get carrier support for someone else's handset, nor could you get it unlocked, though the morons at T-Mobile, which normally unlocks my phones the minute I ask, want me to wait two billing cycles, this time. I checked - I spent $32,434.75 on T-Mobile since 2000, so I think I'll write to the morons' CEO, John Legere, with a copy of their email, see what happens.

On another note, you may have seen Facebook's annoucement regarding their new research project, which supposedly will make the way Facebook predicts what you want and do even better than it does today. Note (pic to the right) what Facebook has in its prime real estate - the right top part of your screen. Note that the top of the screen, and the left, aren't available to Facebook's advertisers - most of what Facebook puts on its screen is self-advertising, where it attempts to push you to groups or possible friends or whatever. Note how the advertising area begins with barely clad women's behinds - not something I have ever shown any Facebook interest in, nor have accessed or bought, so how does Facebook determine this is what I want? I don't even know what language that is.. I've noticed, recently, that Facebook actually will curtail your newsfeed if you won't give it personal information, and I've also noticed Facebook mines my browser history - not something I know is even legal.

All I am saying is this: if you, shareholder or advertiser, were to do some research into the rate of success of Facebook in terms of selling products, you'd soon discover that Facebook has no clue what the subscriber is interested in, unless the subscriber has specifically told Facebook to begin with, and you'd discover, as well, that advertising does not work, on the internet. Consumers already know what they want, and what they are looking for, and they will, at the most, do a Google search for a product or website. But mostly, they'll go directly to Amazon or Nextag or BestBuy, they'll go to a shopping site, which Facebook is not. There is little point in advertising your new Toyota Prius on Facebook, because nobody will ever go to Facebook to get information on electric vehicles. Me, I mostly go to edmunds.com, and then look for more information on the web. Facebook tries to force me to go where it wants me to go.... Here is a good example: when I key "Prius C" into Google, the first result is Toyota's Prius C website. In Facebook? I get the "Prius Club Malaysia"... they spent how much on their search engine? What it shows is that Facebook will go to any length to keep the subscriber within their ecosystem - no attempt of any kind at getting you what you are looking for, despite the Zuckerberg rhetoric.

Got money in Facebook? Try Tesla, or BMW. Or even Google. Forget the amateurs. What was that, Progressive? You're paying Facebook millions of dollars to appear on the exit page? Jeez... most people never go there, since they do not log out of Facebook, Facebook does not want them to so it can track where they go next. And you'll never get to the top of the subscriber page, because in Facebook, that is reserved for the Important News, consisting of "Hot and Sexy Girls". Sorry. If what I see in the advertising panels is the result of my using Facebook for many years, and hundreds of millions of dollars of human factors research, it really is time y'all pulled your heads out of your asses, and began to understand you're being massively deceived. Just let's analyze the ads you see to the right, which randomly popped up on my Facebook Newsfeed. Note that I have used Facebook for many years, so it should know a bit about me, and that I have noticed Facebook actually mined my browser history, as I have on occasion seen lots of ads pop up directly related to things I just researched or bought.

The "Hot & Sexy Girls". I am not an internet sex surfer, don't use dating sites, nor do I ever look at girlie or dating pages on Facebook. So, advertising them to me is useless. Then the "Fitness Lifestyle For Over 40". I never look at lifestyle sites, health sites, don't buy vitamins or pills or anything health related online, so advertising this to me is useless. Additionally, this particular ad is deceptive, which is why it does not tell you who is the advertiser, something it has in common with the first ad. Facebook allows this, it lets advertisers post anonymous ads, something it would not do if it cared about you. Worse, there is an entire generation of affluent consumers on the way that is very familiar with these type of deceptions, so utilizing them may backfire something awful. Then, Snickers. I don't ever buy or eat candy, doctor's orders, so putting this in front of me is a complete waste of Snickers' money. Additionally, I never look at candy websites, or snack food websites, anything of the sort. Lastly, QFC. I have never visited their website (or that of any other supermarket chain), I don't eat desserts any more than I eat candy, and there is no QFC close to me where I now live, much of the time I walk to the supermarkets in my area, exercise. So putting a QFC ad in front of me, again, is a complete waste of QFC's advertising dollars.

Capice? Tell me what y'all pay Facebook for? If you pay Facebook to put relevant advertising in front of my face, you're wasting your money. Facebook has no clue how to do that.

Sunday September 29, 2013: Fall is here, life hiccups

Keywords: marketing, autumn, Macy's, jobsites, Monster, Careerbuilder, LinkedIn, Lester Holt, Today Show, Virginia Mason, hashtags
Macy's Young Men's Recording four shows simultaneously while watching a fifth? And when are you supposed to watch the other four? You've got four hours queued for every hour you watch, then. So if you normally watch, say, four hours a day, already, today, you can now watch twenty hours a day. Forget going to work. Or shopping. Or sex. I am not even sure a standard cable feed can handle five HD feeds at the same time. It makes me think of all of the efforts put into car safety, and car manufacturers now routinely putting internet into vehicles, operated using a touch screen. I saw an interveiw with a Nissan woman, the other day, where apparently the Nissan approved argument was that this is perfectly safe, as long as you don't use it. So we're back where we were when I bought my first car with antilock brakes, which was European, as there weren't American cars with those: we're marketing products, like cable service and motor cars, that have technological add-ons that vary from useless to dangerous. And part of the problem we'll face in the next economic downturn will be that you can only buy those products, and that you effectively pay for features that vary from unusable to inadvisable. Yes, people text in cars. No, you do not need to encourage that. And recording two programs while watching a third gave you too much stuff to watch already, so there can't have been anyone asking for more. The kids have their own tablets and HD phones and TVs, so they're not using the X1, or whatever it is called. Cable or satellite in six rooms? What for? A touchscreen with email in your car, and other features that help you spend long hours in the car, when we need to (and technologically can) reduce the commute? "Voguey" Mayer has just put all of the Yahoos back in their cars... why? If they don't work at home they won't work in the office, Marissa.. and all the time I am seeing nothing we can export, make money with, all we're doing is self-fertilizing, well, a lot of it bleeds off to China. Think, people. Eharmony is now advertising they are behind every great relationship.

The weather is turning with a vengeance, temps dropping below seasonal average. Not that that is an issue, we need the water that is now coming down in buckets, and it is nice to see the grass returning to green. I noticed in myself and my landlord the change of season does "throw" one a bit - apart from anything else, I've not done my daily workout as religiously as I've been doing it all summer, but I suppose the up-and-down in medication while changing doctors may have had something to do with that. At any rate, I've more or less done everything I set out to do this summer, so now I have to figure out what's next. I recently "discovered" I never wrote a Thailand travelogue, after three months there, which is a bit unusual, I've always written up every major trip I took, and this certainly was a biggie. So, I've started work on that, although it'll probably take a week or more for me to get that finished. It is a bit different, though, considering none of my previous trips lasted a full three months, so this will be more about the country and the people than about the research I usually do.

In the meantime, I'd really like to find something to do, job, that sort of thing. I've stopped looking for a position, and actually removed my entries from Careerbuilder, Monster and Indeed, which I do believe are largely a useless waste of time. They are very large databases of jobseekers, whose data are being sold to third parties, no more, and I wonder whether LinkedIn is heading in the same direction. The rot there has set in - I note that people can now post completely irrelevant drivel in forums that members can no longer flag as "irrelevant" or "commercial spam". That's not good - what happened to moderators? I've certainly not enjoyed the masses of people "recommending" me for certain skillsets, an activity heavily promoted by LinkedIn. A skillset being promoted by your friend or your buddy or a former colleague - how does that help anyone? The idea behind LinkedIn was that your past achievements and history were somewhat vetted and certified, but from the look of things that has now gotten cluttered to the point it may become irrelevant.

So time for fall stuff. Replace some worn clothing - I do get attached to my "old" stuff - haircut, I need to get the transmission done but maybe next month, eye exam for my contact lenses, plenty of stuff to get on with, better get a bit of a budget together. That's the pic you see to the left, nothing to do with technology, love my Macy's card, four long sleeved shirts for $35 with tax, I don't know, there is something addictive about going into the store, buying discounted clothes, and then getting an additional discount that you don't know about beforehand. Probably stupid, but there you go, been buying my clothes at Macy's since I lived in New York, probably late '80s or thereabouts.

One of my all time gremlins, at least for the past fourty years or so, is medical treatment, and this fall is no exception, as I have decided to go through the usually gut wrenching experience of changing medical providers. I gave it some thought, but... Especially the primary care physician at Virginia Mason who took six months to order an exam, all the while insisting my complaint was spurious, only to have the radiologist eventually tell me my complaint was caused by the medication the primary care physician had prescribed, and was "a common side effect"... I was surprised at the number of medical facilities here in the Puget Sound area, but now I can't help but wonder whether the level of care and expertise I experience are related to an overdose of competition, on what the locals not so jokingly refer to as "Pill Hill". I went through five endocrinologists in two years with Virginia Mason, a turnover unlike any I have ever seen, anywhere, in any country.

I am watching Lester Holt's tenth anniversary stuff going on, wondering why he has not been picked up as primary anchor by another show. Playing second and third fiddle to the bozo's at the Today show must get pretty frustrating, when you really should know you're a better journalist and even, I think, a much nicer person. If they let me put a West Coast morning show together, he'd be my main man - we should have one, we should get one of the main station's morning TV transplanted here, this East Coast centric stuff is old hat, in the internet era, you would not believe how much news is broadcast here "fudged", to make it lok like it is live, when in fact it is on tape delay, and at minimum three hours old. West Coasters should revolt.

Hmm.. should I embed hashtags in my keywords? Can you do that? Let me take a look at that... be right back.

Yup. And maybe it is nicer to link to Twitter IDs than to websites, see "Lester Holt", above. The cool thing about #hashtags is that they are short, provide access to condensed information, and that you can "roll your own" - if one does not exist, you can make it up, making sure it conveys some meaning - for the medical bit above, I could start #badvirginiamason. It is a twitternewworld....

And the mood for today? Right here...

Wednesday October 9, 2013: Procrastination Station

Keywords: Samsung Galaxy, California living, San Diego, Android, Paypal Here, HSBC, moving

Samsung Galaxy with IPTV Samsung Galaxy with Paypal Here I haven't done half of what I set out to do. The weather doesn't help - it's been much colder than it is supposed to be, this time of year, which discombobulates, as I like to work out outside. But with the car finished, and nothing else seeming terribly urgent, it is easy to sink into a modicum of nothingness.

I actually should get on with my Thai travelogue - it could prove interesting, as I didn't do my "usual thing" in Thailand, and generally found a lot of issues in Thailand. It is curious that a country that wasn't ever colonized should make itself hugely dependent on the most fickle of monetary sources - Western pensioners with Thai "wives". It leads to strange and troublesome "relations", as you'll be able to read in my Thai report (once I write it).

Most importantly, though, I should do more research on Southern California, get in touch with people down there - not what I am best at - and see where I could afford to move, where I would be likely to find gainful employ, and where is a nice place to live. I am, for now, inclined to aim for San Diego, I think living in a city, rather than suburbia, is probably the better thing to do for me.

Of course, if you're Jeff Bezos, and you want me to run the venerable brilliant Washington Post, one of the world's best newspapers, for you, I'll be happy to commute between Seattle and D.C., that goes without saying

While I have never lived in California, I did manage a network team in California, after we bought GTE in 2000, and actually had an office in Thousand Oaks for a while, although I did not spend a lot of time there. But I've never been as far south as San Diego, I must admit, and my Spanish and Italian were rudimentary, way back in Europe, and by now are pretty much deceased. Having said that, I should be able to pick Spanish up once surrounded by it, which in an area once part of the Spanish Empire, and then Mexico, should be fairly densely available. It should be interesting.

But back to the phones, tablets and computers.. I've been trying to make sense of the "smartphone scene", but I gotta tell you I still don't see what the excitement is about. Yes, I know some people watch TV on their smartphone, but honestly, when I want to be mobile I use my 7" tablet, like the other day, when I watched Miranda Hart interview Bruce Forsyth on the Beeb while cooking dinner. The picture to the left has the Dutch NOS news program being IP-TV'd on the new Samsung I now have, while the other shot is the same Samsung Galaxy with the Paypal card reader and the Paypal application. That was the reason for me to get an Android device, Paypal, that card reader only works on iPhones and some Android phones. But then you start playing with it and find that even T-Mobile's "free" TV application only works when you have GPS turned on, because T-Mobile wants to know where you are. That's an issue, because you may be in your friend's rec room in the basement, and the phone won't be able to "see" any satelites.

This is what I like about Paypal, and don't like about T-Mobile, Facebook, Yahoo, even Google: these folks are obsessed by collecting marketing and demographic data to the point their collection often disables their own services and applications. This goes way further than you know - spending a few months in Thailand, earlier this year, in an upmarket area with (for Thailand) state-of-the-art broadband internet, I found that many of the websites and applications I normally use Stateside don't work in these "developing economies", because the number and localities of links and cookies is such that it can take five or six minutes before a remote website can even begin to load, and frequently the odd packet gets lost somewhere along the way, and the website will never finish loading. I can give you the technical stuff behind this, but what is most important is that the folks I mentioned to you earlier are far more interested in collecting data about American consumers than they are about serving foreign markets or growing business there. I am serious - they are doing this to growth markets, and their executives never sit anywhere on a 7/11 network in the Chennai suburbs with a tablet to see hows it works there. The mind boggles - the companies will forgo salesi n developing economies so they can collect data in the West. Data they believe predicts consumer behaviour, something I am very firmly convinced does not work.

Closer to home, the Facebook application on my Playbook would not work properly if it could not get access to the built-in camera. I could give you a long list of services and software that operate this way, and they all have one thing in common: I could never recommend any of them to a corporate client, because they have failure settings built in. Something you may need to use - GPS, Paypal, a messenger - needs to work when you turn it on. Yes, obviously, GPS needs a GPS chipset, but I use one that is external to a (Nokia) handset - you would not believe the number of handsets and GPS applications that will not work unless the phone's own GPS is turned on, something that sucks battery - my external Nokia Bluetooth GPS antenna lasts a week on its rechargeable and replaceable battery.

It seriously is beginning to be a very big deal, the incompatibility between devices. I am firmly convinced that both Google and Apple actively prevent applications from being made compatible with competing mobile operating systems - the Paypal application is an excellent example. If that ran on Nokia and Blackberry devices, Paypal could potentially make tens of millions more dollars worldwide, where the bulk of the not-so-smart phones are Blackberry and Nokia branded. But: the only OS's supported are iOS and Android, and only in the US, Japan, Hong Kong and Australia. Why? Lord knows. It makes absolutely no sense to reduce, deliberately, the size of your market. In all, you see whatever you get paid for doing that, in the end the money for this needs to come from the consumer. Are carriers involved in this? You don't need a functioning cellphone for Paypal Here to work, but it isn't even possible to use it on a tablet, with the exception of the iPad, why is that? None of these seemingly "designed" limitations seem to make an awful lot of sense.

And then I come across HSBC's Stephen King with a doom and gloom scenario that brings some reality to the strange market behaviour. Much like the collapse of the real estate markets made sense once you looked at the increase in house prices purely propelled by consumers going back to the bank to refinance multiple times. I did that once, to get rid of my original FHA loan, but even there you have to ask yourself why I needed a first time buyer loan to begin with - that process, the FHA loan, then the refinance, only cost money, to me and to the tax payer, and only made the banks money. There has to be a lesson to that.

Sunday October 20, 2013: Computerus Interruptus Microsoftus

Keywords: Thailand, medical, OBDII, Android, Samsung Galaxy, Windows 8.1, Microsoft, Bluetooth, rheumatology, Japanese food, sashimi

Samsung Galaxy OBD II scanner Japanese buffet food Nope, still no Thailand travelogue, I noticed the gap in my blog when I moved my blog archives around, the other day, if you've noticed the blog is rather short that is because I've moved recent stuff into the archives. The primary archive is now in the same format as this blog page, with the dates going forward, most recent at the bottom, rather than the other way around. Why? it just seems more logical to me, always has done, but I always compromized. I don't know how much of a difference it makes, I don't maintain an index, used to when I still used Wordpress, but abandoned that after I got hacked at domain level - Wordpress isn't that "secure", nothing using /cgi/bin really is. The picture to the left is really nothing to do with anything, friends took me to a Japanese buffet restaurant in Seattle, and by the time I got back to the table and had the waitress snap a picture of us, I realized my plate looked kinda pretty, the way only sculpted Japanese food can, and this is the result. FWIW..

Wednesday as I write this, I need to go and get the mail from my office address in Bellevue, check the brake lights on the Durango, run by the dump in Edmonds, chore day. It took two days for a hydrocortisone shot in a knuckle to take effect, not that that is unusual, you just don't realize how discombobulated you are if you only have 50% use of one of your hands. TG for rheumatologists.. but, as you can see, I can type again, we're almost back to normal.

Something that can really get annoying is the medical confusion when, as an existing patient with some long term conditions, you get older and more medical s**t happens. For one thing, growing older means normal, age related, ailments, but those can compound with existing ailments and really throw a spanner in the works. For another, if you've been on some medications for the better part of fifteen years, those medications may lose their efficacy, and it is really hard to figure out - not just for you, but for the doctor - which is which.

I tend to use a fairly scientific approach to this - have a symptom, change one drug, or a dosage, see what happens. But then my rheumatologist turned around and said he wanted to change everything at the same time, because I should return to a fairly pain free state as quickly as possible. And that set me thinking - and, of course, I did listen to him, and we changed everything, and that seems to be working.

Oops. Windows 8.1 is out, I back up my laptop, go to the Windows Store, do the download / install - and once done, my backup fails, completely out of the blue.

To begin with, Windows will not now let you install without using a Microsoft mail login. That's hard to get around, but after a force boot the system offers me a bypass. I do not want Microsoft to track everything I do on my PC, it is bad enough they do this on phones, Google started that with Android, but a PC has all of my life, and then some, and should not be trackable from Redmond. I think the United States government is beginning to dismally fail on citizen's privacy, and I'm not even talking about NSA and Pentagon style activities here.

Anyway, the backup software (I use AIS Backup) not working is serious - and then I discover that Microsoft has hidden its own Image Backup, this to force you to its File Recovery and Microsoft's Cloud, and then I find that once I find Image Backup, it won't talk to the drive it has always talked to. Microsoft has changed its disk drivers and the way it handles permissions in Windows, and I think there probably are some fairly serious mistakes in the code.

But forcing Windows users to log into Microsoft's servers as a condition of running Windows, and forcing Windows users to use Microsoft's Cloud to back up, so Microsoft can track your every move, and read your every file - I don't know that we need to worry about the NSA, when folks like Microsoft, which have much better programmers, start mining all of your computers, phones and storage. Honestly.

What I was doing, before Microsoft rudely interrupted me, was trying some of the vehicle monitoring Android apps that are supposed to work with Bluetooth OBDII adapters. That is dismal, kids - out of the twenty or so apps I tried on my Samsung Galaxy Exhibit 4G, which does not run the latest Android, only two - naye, three work, and so far only two work really well. Carista works well, but that is not intended to provide real time monitoring, Caroo seems to work very well, but I have to test that a bit more, bear with me, and OBD Car Doctor works well, but loses connection with the remote data after a while. I don't know why that is, so this is not to say there is anything wrong with the app - it can be the ELM327 unit, the Galaxy, or the app that are at fault. So far, it seems it works better when the handset is upright, we must remember there are a lot of devices that all use the same four stupid radio frequency bands Bluetooth uses. Keep you posted...

Monday October 28, 2013: Social Media aren't Sociable

Keywords: Google, Facebook, parsing, LED bulbs, automotive, CFL bulbs, parsing, algorithms

fall colours Puget Sound Increasingly, places like Google and Facebook are getting more corporate and profit oriented, and while that is understandable, they're losing their missions. This morning, a friend sent me a News Feed link in Facebook, which then insisted that I sent the linke to me.. and over the past few weeks, Facebook has reset all my "Friends" settings to "Most Updates" from "Only Important" - not once, but two or three times. It does this in conjuction with reducing my News Feed so I only get to see a couple of days of Friends' news, followed by an invitation to add more friends.

This goes way beyond enticing subscribers to be active, which should automatically lead to more activity - Facebook now has moved to a business model where the subscriber's capabilities in the system are actively reduced, as a sort of punishment, if the member does not behave in the way Facebook wants. What I am saying is that if this is the business model that now drives Facebook's profits, all it will take is a new, better Facebook and the system will be toast. It is still not providing any meaningful advertising, nor does its targeted advertising work, it is a matter of time until advertisers realize Facebook campaigns do not deliver sales. The only reason advertisers do not understand this is that, cleverly, Facebook provides no way for the customer to actually link the dollar value of particular sales to Facebook's campaigns.

If you sell something, you're better off using Walmart, Amazon and search engines - on Facebook, if you look for the "Prius C", Facebook does not send you to Toyota's car page, but to the "Prius Club Malaysia", because Facebook's first interest is to keep you within its ecosystem, not to get you where you need to be. Not for nothing do the links you see on your Facebook home page all point to Facebook facilities - imagine, if you are an advertiser and you pay Facebook you do not get the choice of a prominent placement on Facebook's home or web site (unless you want to be on the logout page, which most people never see, as most do not log out). I don't know how corporate America gets so stupid - since when does an advertising medium decide how you are presented? In the olden days, a newspaper would give you choices as to where your ad would go, depending on how much you were willing to pay - the same applies to television and radio, if it does not apply to Facebook we're still way too full of how "special" technology is. It's not.

old and new technology car bulbsGoogle is next on my list - you cannot now post video on Youtube without a copyright dispute if you shot something and somebody had a car radio going within earshot. This is completely amazing, since if you record something that has copyrighted material, like the voice of a GPS unit, that Youtube does not recognize, there isn't a copyright claim. So Youtube now arbitrarily censures your material. There certainly is a copyright issue if you put a sound track on your video, but if you are taping in your house where Channel 13 broadcasts President Obama - that would be a Fox copyright - where the TV just happened to be on, but not the subject, Youtube does not flag that. That's crazy - either you flag everything that's copyrighted, including the pictures on the wall and the T-short your wife is wearing, or you only flag abuse of copyright.

So I pulled my videos off Youtube, and I'll let you know what service I've found that does not go crazy. Because Google has. For a variety of professional reasons, copyright is important to me - but Google makes an ongoing mistake to rely on automation that can't deliver. The Google news feed? It sorts news items on their country of interest, but uses algorithms that are heavily compromised due to the speed with which they have to operate. Items about Pakistan end up in the British news feed, and Belgian and Dutch news items are completely intermixed at the Dutch and Belgian news feeds, Google's vaunted algorithms aren't able to distinguish between two countries that use the same language. When you see a Canadian, Australian or Indian news item in your American news feed, you don't need to look for the "American connection", there won't be any, unless you believe, like Google's "intelligence" does, that a Boeing aircraft making an emergency landing in Chennai is American news. Had the Indian editors said "777" instead of "Boeing", the item would not have shown up. It looks to me that Google stopped developing the intelligence in the parsers, at least until others do what I do - stop using the Google news pages, as their content is arbitrary. If you're going to use automation to flag copyrighted materials, you must then make a good faith effort to recognize everything - not only the 4% of stuff that is easy to recognize. That's neither science nor engineering.

I've told you the Samsung/T-Mobile Android device I bought works very well in running OBDII vehicle diagnostics - so much so that, using an application called "Caroo" and a windshield mount (something I had sworn I would never use) I am now both video recording as well as data collecting every mile I drive. It's the Russian dash cam videos that brought this on for me, it is easy to install a camera, and quite fun to view some of the stupid stuff you get to see. One of the first recordings I made was of a lawnmower, which rolled out of the back of a pickup truck that had just come out of a driveway. It was doubly funny, in that I saw in my rearview mirror that the lawnmower rolled back into the driveway the pickup had just come out of, although the camera did not catch what happened behind me.

I just wanted to know how easy it is to do this, originally with a rearview mirror fitted with video cameras. That worked, but the Android thingie does much better, and the mirror is retired and I may even put it on Ebay.

Another interesting exploit is replacing burned out incandescent vehicle bulbs with LED equivalents. This does not, surprisingly, work as well as you'd expect.

But look at the conventional bulbs at the top of the picture, as well as the fitting at the bottom, and you'll note there is more to this than just newer technology and power savings. The left bulb, by the way, is the one that blew, but you'll note the right bulb is not exactly in prime conition either. And you can see that the fitting is actually scorched - this even though these are small 12 VDC bulbs. I've checked other conventional bulbs as well, and they all, for the most part, show clearly there is a fire hazard to these types of light fittings. Yet nobody ever seems to flag this as a problem, same as with incandescent bulbs in the home. I am convinced there are hundreds, if not thousands, of fires that are caused by conventional technologies every year, and I would suggest that part of the reason for replacing conventional bulbs with new technology lights should be a huge insurance and public health issue. Of course, there's a problem there, since you'd have to ask Philips, Sylvania, GE and all those others to admit that their conventional products have been injurious to health and life for a hundred years or more. While that may have been fine when there were no alternatives, now that low energy bulbs are available it may need more attention, especially since the successor to CFL, the LED bulb, actually generates more heat than the CFL. I'd like to remind you I was an early adopter - had CFLs installed for years in my home in London before I moved to the US, in 1985, and that Consolidated Edison began to sell these bulbs in New York around that time, even though they really did not become generally available until the late 1980s.

I suppose I ought to just add that you should not more or less automatically buy 13, 14 or 15 watt CFLs just because those are the standard wattages. Especially if you have light fixtures that take multiple bulbs, you can be pleasantly surprised at the amount of light 5 and 7 watt CFL bulbs can provide. WalMart stocked those for a while, but I've notcied that the really cheap stuff you used to be able to get at WalMart, from bulbs to memory cards, is no longer available there. Not enough of a profit margin, I guess. So shop around, Costco, Sam's Club, maybe dollar stores, and experiment with the various different wattages. After all, if you are buying CFLs to save on energy, why not save even more by buying even lower wattage bulbs? Make sense?

The tree? Just pretty fall colours here in the Pacific Northwest, it gets pretty spectacular, even my friends from back East say so...

Friday November 15, 2013: One Disaster after the Other Calamity

Keywords: Samsung Galaxy, Caroproo, OBDII, automotive, China, Philippines, Visayas, Cebu

car monitoring OBDII It has taken me quite a while, but I finally managed to shoot a decent picture of my Samsung Galaxy Exhibit 4G, mounted in my car monitoring the ECU via the OBD connector, as well as performance, using both the phone's GPS and the engine information. The folks at Caroo have really done a very nice app for those who like to monitor this type of information. They're responsive too - their latest version loses Bluetooth connectivity, and they came back with a logging version for troubleshooting within the day.

Thankfully, the temperature has come up again - for a moment, when I saw the mercury drop to 33, I thought winter was really early. And it isn't supposed to get that cold up here, so.. Anyway, I am beginning to seriously think about California, the spring, and living in warmer climes, there's nothing keeping me here - although, the way my life usually works, something will happen three days before I move, it is what happened in Fredericksburg, although, by the time I had emptied the house, rented a trailer and done the paperwork to give it back to the bank, I decided to ignore it.

It is hard to test the cooling on my Durango, which I had been working on in the summer, over the past six weeks or so the engine has not been running warm at all, and I am able to keep an eye on it especially thanks to the Caroo application on my new Samsung Galaxy Android device. Yesterday, after I gave the car its last pre-winter wash, I let it idle for a while to warm up the heater core, and the auxiliary fan didn't even come on. Come spring, I will replace the air intake and throttle body with an aftermarket cold air intake, which should give me a few more horsepower, and I'll put an small auxiliary fan on the engine controlled by a thermostat right in the bleed plug, in the top of the heating system (the existing thermostat measures in the engine core, which means coolant temperatures above it can rise higher than calibrated). I just don't want to do another 1,000+ mile run with an overheating engine, I do think I know why that happened - apart from a slipping belt due to a failing A/C compressor, this V-8 runs as hot as possible to meet emissions requirements, and that means there is little margin for error. Not for nothing, there is, apparently, a version of this SUV with an auxiliary radiator, meant for heavy duty towing, it makes sense that, as is, the car is not well geared for a 3,000 mile towing job through lots of mountains in the middle of a heatwave. It is fun to learn some of this stuff... I never bought this as my primary vehicle, so never paid a lot of attention to its, ah, physique.. I do believe the Fredericksburg dealership that serviced my car before I moved out here really never did a good job - the first time I changed the oil myself I noticed crud coming out of the oil pan, while when I recently flushed the cooling system it took a lot more collant than I had expected - and no, it isn't leaking, I bought a diagnostics system and checked. Nothing like a bit of learning...

Cebu, Visayas, Philippines While I am not surprised the Chinese government is providing little support in the disaster going on next door, in the Philippines, I am always confused how such a large country with endless resources, as well as some of the true wisdom of the ages, behaves in such an "estranged" manner. It is as if husband China, in rapprochement to the rest of the world for decades, is being controlled by a nagging wife at home (forgive the analogy, I am sure a female writer would reverse that) who doesn't like the neighbours, won't cook foreign food, and hits the cooking wine when hubby's not home. We hear about Chinese learning English - the reverse is true, there isn't a concerted effort in China to teach the kids English - and English is the Lingua Franca of the business and scientific and engineering world, as we Dutch, traders by birth, discovered many hundreds of years ago. The Chinese have this "tri-chotomy", between their ancient culture, their political leanings, and the outside world, and I don't think they have the balance right. Perhaps understandable in a country that's been invaded so many times, and has had to battle its way to progress, but alienating your neighbours, when you're the size of Mother China, seems a positively silly thing to do.

The Philippines are a logistically very difficult country to provide with aid, and when that is compounded by the total destruction of infrastructure, the task gets to be Herculean. The USA was well aware of this, having operated bases in the country for many years, and so made sure they brought up the "firepower" to render effective assistance, presumably assisted by the many tens of thousands retired US service personnel living in the area. Hurricanes are unpredictable, and while the Philippine government has an effective response mechanism to storms in place (they get those a lot), this thing was just "too big to handle", especially if telecommunications and broadcast facilities, as well as power, are completely out, and you don't even know which island is going to "get it". The picture to the right is of a coastal road in Cebu, right behind Leyte in the path of the recent storm. Gorgeous, lovely, but not an infrastructure designed to handle weather - the Philippines are a poor country.

The American assistance is, by the way, a textbook example of a well managed relief effort - you bring up the logistics while getting intel, clear a couple of airfields, put the carrier in to provide air traffic control, and then begin bringing in transport first, then supplies and personnel, in stages. Doing that takes time, but in natural disasters, those who do not perish immediately can hang on for a week or so before their situation gets life threatening. I just wish the press would do a better job of covering the activities, instead of finding whining-children-who-speak-good-English. If the injured kid is on a bed with a drip in its arm it is getting medical care, don't you know, and let us, while we're at it, explain to Oxfam that sending bars of soap into a country where 60% of the population has no running water in normal times, probably means we need more real experts.

Sunday November 24, 2013: It is (almost) Free Roaming time!!

Keywords: insurance dongles, T-Mobile, international roaming, OBDII, Amazon, routers, WiFi, reviews, Blackberry

vehicle insurance dongle
                              information Insurance dongles are slowly a big issue - you can't even get Metromile insurance without one, and I am pretty sure other insurers will soon require new customers to use one. A diagnostic port - I use mine for an OBD II reader which tells an Android app how my car is doing, where the data is combined with video - is just that, a diagnostic port. If it were meant for insurance use, drawing power 24/7, because it communicates 24/7 via a wireless phone network with the insurance company, it would be called "insurance port". That would be separate from the diagnostic port, which is intended for owners and mechanics and emissions testing. If insurances want a port for this type of use, they need to build a dongle that has batteries, that gets turned off when the vehicle is off, and insurance companies should discuss that with automobile manufacturers, and probably the government. There are cars whose battery drains quickly - these dongles must be in and are powered permanently - because the car manufacturer has connections in the port the insurer does not know about, and then it is actually the vehicle computer that tells the insurer about hard acceleration and braking, that means that even a timely emergency stop that saved a life because some motorcyle moron ahead of you lost control of their bike is flagged to your insurer as "bad". I've actually had that happen, I've had my boss come off his motorbike after hitting another car, right in front of my car. As you can see in the pic, there is data coming out of the ECU that really is not intended for insurance companies, and fully ready for their mi$interpretation...

Much to my pleasant surprise, T-Mobile's new Simple Choice plan gives me some major advantages - apart from the 100 country free data-and-text deal, even my Blackberry plan got upgraded, all without it costing me an extra penny. I hadn't even planned on signing up for it, just looked for some way to roam in nearby Canada for the day without getting snookered, and got on the horn to, umm, "T-Mobile Jake in Missouri" (did they give up on Chennai and Manila?). I'll check, obviously, but I spent some time looking for the gotcha!, and it looks like there ain't one. I'll let you know how well it works once I see the bill after my day trip to Canada. It's always been an issue - one of the reasons I stuck with Blackberry phones is that they handle pretty much every GSM frequency know to man, and there's always been a way to get a $15 a month "extra" you could turn on that would cover email and web while you travel overseas. So that now becomes a moot point, if all is well. It'll be interesting to see how my new Samsung Android device does, newly unlocked by the kind folk at T-Mobile, as well.

For those interested in the peculiar USA/Canada traffic corridor, T-Mobile, like most American mobile carriers, has its own frequency spectrums, but uses the same as Canada's Rogers, so one should be able to 3G/4G on both sides of the border with a TMO phone.

Increasingly, I find myself turning to Amazon for technical support. As it turns out, over the years, the reviews of products have taken on massive proportions - and Amazon has added the capability to ask questions, if you're looking at a product but can't quite figure out whether or not something is what you're looking for. I've found that in more than 90% of my purchases, I'll buy things that have been reviewed - admittedly, many of the "reviews" serve mostly to show that buyers don't understand the product, can't read the manual, or are just sounding off, but some of the folks that do reviews really spread their expertise around. My latest useful encounter was with a reviewer of the TP-Link TL-WR702N WiFi router, a one port small device that works brilliantly, but I could not get it to talk to a PC so I could reprogram it. It automatically sets itself up as a bridge, and in doing so adopts an IP address from its host, which makes it impossible to access. From a security perspective, I should have changed its WPA2 encryption key, which is sort of easy to guess when you have the model number, but couldn't figure out how to get "into it".

One of the reviewers on Amazon, I found, outlined the setup steps, which in the Chinglish manual are so much gibberish, in excellent English, and so I finally managed to change the security setup, as well as update the firmware. Feel much better now... Brilliant little thing, you can power the TL-WR702N from a USB port, and set it up as a bridge or a repeater, with the additional security that gives you in public spaces and hotel rooms. Brilliant thing to carry. Smart people, dem Chinese.. Well, maybe not all of them - one vendor in Hong Kong, from whom I ordered despite the fact they did not yet have any reviews, managed to send me two different LED bulbs. Daft, that, if you have to yet establish your credentials..

Friday December 6, 2013: And it became Madiba Year

Keywords: Nelson Mandela, Robben Island, Suwetho, Xhosa, Martin Luther King, Barack Obama, Canada vehicle insurance, Android device locator

I was going to post all this on Thursday, and here I am watching Jimmy Kimmel, what happened? Ah, of course, Madiba, I sort of ended up glued to the screen - thank heavens for my BBC feed, America just kept watching its daytime drivel as if nothing had happened. Is TV getting worse, in this country? Do we really need "news" programs crammed full of moronic reporters telling us what they've seen on Youtube? While everybody is not watching them because they have their tablet in their lap? Paying Comcast $140 a month for TV they don't watch and a phone they don't use? I recently heard from a friend they ditched their cable, reduced their "Xfinity" bill to $70 a month, and then the "promotion" expired and the bill went up to $140 a month, without anybody telling them. This is more like "$finity"...

Canada insurance ID So if you want to drive in Canada with American auto insurance you need a Canadian insurance ID, something I did not know when I thought I'd run up to Vancouver to get some Bitcoin at the world's first Bitcoin ATM there. It isn't a huge issue, one call to the insurance and they put one in the mail, but still, you've gotta know. Glad I called.

On the vehicle front, frequent visitors will have noticed I was sorting out my engine monitoring capabilities, using the OBD II port, eventually finding an Android application that records relevant data, but adds to that GPS location, and links all that to video it records. Cool, I did need to point out to the good people at Caroo Pro that their latest software iteration does not work properly on smaller (older?) smartphones, like my Samsung Galaxy Exhibit 4G. This is the problem with amateur "app developers" - they make money doing this, but get carried away with the "latest greatest" and don't have the experience or the patience to properly test their work. I noticed at their Facebook page they're crowdsourcing their translation, another thing they should not be doing if they are charging for their application.

Android locatorBe that as it may, I've now gotten all I wanted out of the one device, at the cost of one T-Mobile line, one cheapish (US$125) Android device, and a US$4.50 piece of software. As it turns out, Google lets me locate the device, now permanently in the vehicle, via the Android Device Manager website, and so I have all I wanted in one fell swoop. It is currently testing to see if it doesn't croak in freezing temperatures, only one way to figure that out, but so far, so good. Every time we see a Russian dashcam shot I hear the anchors say that "all Russians seem to have that" - well, we can do too. So if you're a driver, you really need to start thinking that anybody around you can be filming traffic - yesterday, I drove behind a Dodge Caravan that consistently did not use indicators when turning - all it needs is that video on Youtube, or in an email to the cops, and you are toast. At this point, I am finding out whether or not the device survives the somewhat hard freeze we're having in the Seattle area - while not Alaskan, it is unusually cold for the region, it's been down to 24° Fahrenheit. So far so good, I am actually amazed at how well the battery holds up in this weather.

And then, Madiba passes. An inspiration to millions, Nelson Mandela did more for Africa than any man, dead or alive, South Africans have been flocking back to their homeland from Europe, to help build the future. I am glad they let him go, though, his death shouldn't be traumatic for the country he singlehandedly put on the path to civility. It may well be Barack Obama would not have made it to the White House if it weren't for Madiba.

And so we go on. I decided to stick a larger hard drive in my laptop, going from a 500GB 5400rpm drive to a 1TB 7200rpm drive - which should make the laptop significantly faster. This isn't just because of the faster rotation, but the larger the hard disk, given the same diameter, the faster Windows can do its memory management, which is heavily dependant on virtual memory and disk code swapping. So there. Now comes the hard part, trying to clone the Windows 8.1 disk in bootable format, more about that later, hopefully...

Tuesday December 10, 2013: You back up your laptop yet?

Keywords: laptop, PC, Seagate, Amazon, hard disk, backup, Dodge Durango, winter

Western Digital RAID assembly I have much more data than will fit on even a terabyte drive, so every time I buy a new system, or fit an existing system with a larger drive, I have to figure out what goes where in terms of backing up - or perhaps more to the point, in term of finding old data on my growing pile of backup devices. That's just become more of a headache than it already was - I bought a terabyte drive as an upgrade for my laptop, and I only have one backup disk that is larger, 2 terabytes, the others are all smaller, though not by much.

As much of my life is dependent on having a functioning computer, I have a backup for the computer, and I maintain four (two sets of two) backup drives. Two I alternate, they contain a full backup of my main system, and two on which I quick-backup just my datafiles. The additional two terabyte disk contains my "old stuff". What I am saying is that I am going to have to change the system I use.

While I am installing the Hitachi Travelstar terabyte drive with its 7200rpm and 32GB solid state cache to gain Windows speed - you gain more speed with a larger faster drive than with a faster processor - it does not make sense to let much of that big disk sit unused. Today, I have a 500GB disk in the laptop, and I am only using about 100GB of that. For one thing, running full backups of even that takes a lot of time, for another, I've always wanted to run Windows with plenty of space, since it moves crap all over the disk as it runs, and then there is the time it takes to run virus scans and disk optimization on a loaded disk. I know that the majority of computer users do not maintain their data and disk load very well, and that leads to a lot of people losing lots of data, often forever, ask any helpdesk person.

So, if I am going to take my active backup, some 400GB of it, and migrate that back to the computer, I am going to have to see how I am going to back that up, and run maintenance tasks on it. And then, I should migrate back from two full backups to just one full backup, and I guess using my AIS Backup software, which compresses the data into ZIP archives, should make it possible to use a 750GB external Seagate. I will not, after all, ever fill up the terabyte drive completely, so keeping some 25% of that free for maintenance tasks is probably a good deal. In order to compress and defrag and write spill files you need a fair amount of extra space. Then, I'll start using two 500GB drives for data backups, keep the two terabyte drive for aged data, and one Seagate for a Windows image, now that I have figured out how to do that under Windows 8.1, it isn't a facility in the control panel any longer.

Make sense? I am still working on the planning, but that should work. All it needs now is for Uncle Amazon to get the freakin' drive to me. Already..

It is more of a headache than I thought, though. While, in the past, I've always completely reinstalled Windows when replacing a drive, that is increasingly a huge amount of work, and, at the level of sophistication Windows is now at, probably unnecessary. And while I have not customized Windows' internals the way I used to, I have installed a workaround so I can use the OS without having to use a Microsoft email ID, which would automatically install all sorts of Microsoft tracking.

Durango 4.7 maintenanceAnyway, I digress. It is better to simply clone my hard disk, this after backing it up, but that isn't as easy as it sounds. I can't create a Windows 8.1 image, even though I found instructions to do that, an error comes back from Windows Powershell that tells me I don't have enough disk space (copying a 500GB drive to a 500GB drive shouldn't be an issue). So, I will now do a full AIS backup to that drive instead, and see if I can image the 500GB internal to an external 750GB. There are lots of variables - WBAdmin speaks of USB drives, I back up to a blindingly fast ESATA drive, could that be related? So we'll see - I do have Seagate cloning software, but that means a two step process, clone to the Seagate drive, then clone from the Seagate drive, the Seagate software, from trusted Acronis, won't work at all unless it sees a Seagate drive. And you can't sort of "slightly get it right" - you screw it up, that's it, you lost your data. So, another 18 hour backup is runnin, and next steps will be when that finishes. Gone are the days of "quick and dirty"...

Ahh... two days later, I have finally figure out where Windows' image facility got to, then, that this no longer works under Windows 8.1, and eventually, how to get it usable again. Not so good, what Microsoft has done to get Windows 8 on to tablets and phones, it has half disabled the PC operating system. Yes, nice, this Cloud thing, but I am not giving Microsoft access to my archives, even if they did offer me three free terabytes, but besides, that kind of data transfer would take forever, and that's in the Western world, with decent data rates, I don't even want to think how you'd get at your files in Ukraine or Myanmar or India. Microsoft, then, has given up on the computer user. Why you can't back up your Windows PC for full recovery? Microsoft does not want you to be able to copy Windows and install it on another machine. So there. I've got it sorted, will let you know in a few days if I can clone my drive, but this is not for the faint of heart, i.e., not for the average citizen. Good riddance, buy a tablet.

On a completely different note, my Dodge Durango, whose engine and cooling system I spent so much time, effort and money fixing this summer, runs better than I could have hoped. I noticed that in particular in the past few days, when temperatures here in the Northwest fell to an unusually low and frigid 15 degrees, some 10 degrees Celsius below freezing, but the new coolant, radiator cap, and my contrived engine oil mixture are really bearing up a treat. The work I did resulted in an engine that ran much more smoothly than before, something I really do not quite understand to this day, and even though she is a little rougher in this cold, that is still the case. Is it the non-OEM Bosch plugs? The ECU reprogramming? The reseated seals in the air handling system, and the cleaning thereof? I really do not know. The heating is especially pleasing - it looks like the computer system manages the engine to warm up optimally in this weather, and the car has no problem heating front and back of the SUV, which have separate circulation systems - I knew they worked, but you realy can't completely test that stuff until it gets properly cold. Well, it did. Brrr. And it's perfect. Teehee.

Sunday December 15, 2013: Laptop done?

Keywords: laptop, PC, Seagate, hard disk, backup, HGST, Western Digital, AIS Backup, Lenovo, eSATA

AIS backup to Seagate ESATASo, this is how it goes. First, a full AIS backup of C:, onto the Tivo drive. Then, a full image of C:, onto the images drive. Then, clone C: onto the free Seagate. Then, swap the C: drive out for the new Travelstar. Put C: to the side, in case I have to put it back. Now, boot from the Seagate, and clone that to the now internal Travelstar. Power down, disconnect Seagate, and boot from the new Travelstar. Expand, if the Seagate software has not donethat, the Travelstar's C: partition to take up the entire drive.

If all that worked, AIS back up the Travelstar to the Tivo drive, overwriting the existing backup. Now, robocopy the content of both Seagates to the Travelstar. Robocopy the Travelstar data to one of the Seagates, leaving the other spare. Seagate clone is spare at this point, as well. AIS backup the Travelstar to one Seagate, freeing up the Tivo drive.

Once all that is kosher, the 500GB drive that was in the laptop is available, and I can put that in the enclosure that currently holds the drive with OS images. So then... I'll have one 750GB Seagate, a 500GB Tivo drive, a 500GB Hitachi, and some bits and bobs. Perhaps I can move the Hitachi to capture surveillance images from the Vaio, that would give another 750GB Seagate. We shall see.

OK,so that won't work either. The Seagate software will copy onto a Seagate drive, but not from one. In terms of cloning. So I think I will need something else - I remember using Macrium before, just can't remember whether that is what came with one of the drives I bought in the past. But there is a free version which apparently will clone without restrictions. Better test that first...

OK, so that worked. It did a clean clone to a de-partitioned disk of the exact same size, and I think it booted from that secondary disk. I am saying "think" because once the second disk becomes primary it'll just show up as "C:", and the little light flashes anyway. So today (the 1TB Travelstar drive just got here, Friday the 13th 6:30pm, but still) I set up Macrium Reflect to "clone forensically", which means it copies every segment of the original disk, so the terabyte drive ands up as a 500GB, and then I'll stick that in the laptop and see if it will (a) boot and (b) let me expand the partition to span the full terabyte, minus the Windows boot bit. Then, I'll put the original disk somewhere safe (I have that, one full AIS backup of it, and one Windows C: drive image), and see if I can put my two Seagate data backups onto the terabyte. Fingers crossed.

Yeah, right. Perhaps I should have taken Macrium's advice, and created a rescue DVD. I mean, the clone worked (I did change the settings, and perhaps that, combined with cloning a 500GB disk to a 1TB disk had something to do with it), but the clone would not boot. I know this is how Microsoft likes it, so you don't steal their crap, but it is a pain. Middle of the night, I ended up finding my Windows 8 install disks, the freaking serial number (on the drive now no longer in the laptop....), and installing a quick-and-dirty Win8. Then, let trusty AIS restore the C: drive for me, and then - boot.

That worked, although I needed to do something ancillary to get the start menu to come up in its entirety - when you restore drive C: to something temporarily called drive D: some hard links get reset, and then when you boot E: as C: it can't find lots of stuff. Should have probably taken more time reassigning drive letters, but after an additional proper full shutdown, and coold boot, it rebuilds them. I hope....

I was going to restore the disk image I took with WBADMIN in Powershell, but could not figure out how to do that - it isn't obvious, I am going to have to go online to Microsoft Tech Support and figure that one out. I know that Windows Repair should find the image on a secondary drive, but it won't. It is all a bit annoying, but, look on the slightly bright side, of the three tools I had, and three full backups I took yesterday, one methodology worked. I guess I got wise, over the years. I do understand about copy protection, but if you disable your customers from upgrading their systems - that always was a Microsoft Hot Potato - I don't know that you're really that friendly. And the hackers in China (none of whom, in Beijing at least, would sell me an English Windows version laptop, apart from Dell, who are licensed) get around it bigtime. Come to think of it, UEFI probably disables most folks from doing sector-by-sector clones, because the BIOS shim is not on the disk. Clever, that.

Anyway, restore done, High Speed 1TB 7200RPM 32MB Solid State Cache Disk installed - Hitachi's Travelstar is now HGST Travelstar, owned by.. Western Digital - disk consolidation has been running since 3AM. Below some test results from Windows 8.1's internal performance measurent, showing, amongst others, that the numbers don't really match the perormance of the device, comparing is hard anyway, as one disk has a solid state cache, the other does not. The "sequential read" shows it best, you'll see that effect most in startup, launching programs, and doing searches and file openings - the latter provided you run automated disk maintenance in Windows every day. I now have a load of 524GB on my disk (leaving about 400GB of free space), that's the first time ever I've had my entire archive on the active disk, so backing up is now even more of the essence. For an old hand like myself, this is really scary - disks typically fail inside the first couple of weeks of use, then after very many years, so it won't be until after a month or so I'll be able to breathe again. Just backing up that load, in intermittent sections, may take three or four days, stopping in the evening so Windows and AVG can do their thing. From the looks of it, it may even take days for Windows to properly defrag this disk.

Old disk: 2.5 inch 7mm 5600rpm 500GB
DiskScore 5.8
AvgThroughput units="MB/s" score="5.8" ioSize="65536" kind="Sequential Read" 63.80625
AvgThroughput units="MB/s" score="3.3" ioSize="16384" kind="Random Read" 1.16000
New disk: 2.5 inch 9.5mm 7200rpm 1TB
DiskScore 5.9
AvgThroughput units="MB/s" score="6.6" ioSize="65536" kind="Sequential Read" 102.13750
AvgThroughput units="MB/s" score="3.9" ioSize="16384" kind="Random Read" 1.44000

It is probably safe to say that the increase in Sequential Read capacity is due to the disk packing twice as much data on the same surface area, meaning the heads do not have to travel as far, in combination with the higher rotation speed. The increase in Random Read capacity is more likely to be mostly due to the massive (32MB) Solid State cache the new disk has - while the disk mechanically finds data faster, what's already in the memory cache can be moved many times faster still. The cost, amazingly: US$76.60, UK£48.66, including 9% Washington State sales tax.

Wednesday December 18, 2013: This should be a time for change, but..

Keywords: laptop, PC, hard disk, backup, Lenovo, General Motors, Mary Barra, Inga Beale, fault tolerance

Camaro made in Canada
                                      financed by FordI am gobsmacked. General Motors, which in the end cost the American taxpayer some $10.5 billion to rescue, is now going to be run by an executive who has only ever had the one job with the one company, who helped GM lose all that money, has no industry experience of any kind, has never had a job interview (rolled in as an intern), has no competitive experience, and this is how we'll make America better? Is this a trend? The mind seriously boggles. We must have better people than that to help our industry compete in the marketplace.

It is as strange as appointing Marissa Mayer to run Yahoo, another one-job executive with little experience of competing in the marketplace, to rescue an ailing Internet company. You'd need someone with rescue experience for that - Google, while a very successful company, stepped into a niche in the market, and singlemindedly set about conquering that marketplace, and did that very well - sure, you can compare that with Paypal, except Paypal's founders then went on to do other significant stuff, see Elon Musk - they did what they had proven to be good at, start up other stuff. So that's what I would hire a Googler for, startups, not 9-1-1. GM is a different kettle of fish - someone with 33 years as, basically, a semi-civil servant.. Patents: Marissa Mayer: 15 (issued, 23 filed), me: 3 (issued, 5 filed), Elon Musk: 9 (issued, 11 filed), Mary Barra: 0 (issued, 0 filed). Not an inventor then. Can't find any papers she has written, either, if I inelegantly ignore her delivering the commencement address at her Alma Mater, Kettering. Perhaps an old school employer? Note Inga Beale, the new CEO of Lloyd's of London. 30 years in the industry, worked for Prudential, London, GE Insurance, Kansas City, GE Insurance, Paris, Frankona, Munich, Zurich, in Zurich, and Converium, Zug. Probably well rounded, would you not say? Been there, done that?

How General Motors thinks appointing a GM lifer as CEO after the Fed walked away absorbing a $10.5 billion loss on the bailout is going to help it get competitive is beyond me. Profitable? Being unable to buy back its stock at face value... I don't think so. If you have followed the goings-on at rescued Chrysler and GM, they've not even implemented all of the cost savings and brand closings they had committed to. "Not necessary" they say "we're doing good". "Not so" I say. We still (according to Elon Musk) have this ridiculous dealership system, which leads to dealers of a single brand competing with each other, something you pay for as the car manufacturers can act as banks, and take your money for purposes other than making cars without you noticing it. We could have cleaned the whole freaking thing up, and didn't. Mr. President, half the country is still out of work, the food service people are demonstrating in the streets because they cannot make ends meet even with two jobs, and Microsoft is continuing to import Indians wholesale "because we can't find programmers in the United States". With their wives and kids, that's the deal, they're standing in line at the ID issuance office in Bellevue every day. We cannot afford to drop $10.5 billion on car companies that make cars with touch screens that distract drivers, and serve no other function. Those don't sell cars, we're back to our old ways, guys, remember what happened last time?

Think about "as is". Comcast finishes building its nationwide network, decides to buy NBC, as the entire American population en masse buys huge smartphones and tablets, and no longer watches television. I mean, they're still on, these sets, people are buying larger and larger TVs as they get cheaper and cheaper, but they don't watch broadcast TV, and can, and do, Netflix on just about any device they own. Matt Lauer? Savannah Guthrie? History, introducing celebrity chefs with their latest tofurky recipe while giggling on the Today Show three hours per weekday. This morning, the Today show was all over a carjacking at the Shorthills Mall in Summit, NJ. I happen to know that well, the wife and I used to shop there at weekends when I lived in Manhattan, but that's the main national news for the East and West Coast? Dunno, I think they've lost it. Why Comcast didn't buy Google, Yahoo, Microsoft? Maybe they are run by the same folks that run General Motors, who think a touch screen is new vehicle technology, and somebody who has never worked for Toyota is excellent CEO material. Control centerYou probably think I've gone bonkers, making such a big deal of replacing a hard disk, but there is some method to my madness. You see, every few years I need to move my archives, just to make sure I can. Only yesterday, a friend mentioned he'd lost a decade or more of data because his fault tolerant box died, and he did not have that backed up. That has, knock on wood, never happened to me, I don't reply on any one piece of hardware to store my archives. He now stores "in the Cloud", but you see, I am one of the people who designed and built the first instances of what would become the Cloud, and one thing that's done for me is to help me understand how easy it is to lose an entire storage network setup. One one occasion, I've had (in the lab) an entire redundant disk array go south, because of one single wrong byte of data that traversed the network cards at exactly the same moment. Blooie.

It is a common mistake, relying on fault tolerant equipment to make sure you do not lose your data. While fault tolerance maintains multiple copies of your information, it does so in a single infrastructure, unless you get really fancy and have a full remote duplication of databases. But even that is no guarantee. On 9/11, we lost access to many pieces of network infrastructure, even well duplicated, because Manhattan is a small island, and a significant area of its infrastructure was destroyed, in mere hours. You could no longer get there from here. I had previously explained to my employers what the true cost of redundancy is, and later, to several of the Federal agencies that contacted me - very nicely, the same company that thought my solutions were too expensive and "excessive" before 9/11, reinstated my plans afterwards.

So, fault tolerance is not a backup solution. Fault tolerance allows you to continue accessing your data if your box has a catastrophic hardware failure. That includes redundant power supplies, with power not coming directly from the wall jack. But the way I now make sure I can work and access my data is simply by maintaining two PCs, and additionally, having all data duplicated on two devices. And now, I have much of that data on my primary PC as well, since that now has a huge hard disk. It always scared me to have all my data in one laptop, but these devices, provided they are maintained properly, are now reliable to the point that you can have a laptop running 24/7 with a huge hard disk installed. You may not feel that's safe, but this cheap Lenovo:
(5/19/2012: $426.95, with extra memory; I added an upgrade to Windows 8 Pro, @ $16.14, and now the disk upgrade, @ $76.60, which makes the total cost of the Lenovo today $519.69)
has been running 24/7 since 5/19/2012, or some 19 months. Umm... let's track it back, my Acer ($450.11) lasted from 11/9/2009 to late May 2010, when I gave it to mate Andy in Beijing. Alive but long in the tooth by the end of 2012, that was replaced with a Toshiba ($470.62) in March, 2013. When I returned in 2010 I bought the HP ($524.99) at Best Buy on 6/10, since the Dell I bought in Beijing ended up with cousin Ted in Jakarta and the Asus with niece Aagje in Utrecht, talk about a trip, that HP died in May 2012, and I made do with the 2009 Vaio desktop ($733.26) until I found the Lenovo, 5/19/2012, $426.95, with add-ons now worth $92.74.

24/7? you'll ask.. Well, yes, Windows needs to do maintenance, file system, Media Center, defragmentation, and AVG should virus scan every file, something I like to do. All that generally can't happen while you're using the PC, so I set it to run between 1am and 6am, generally - once I get up, I update my email, update my finances, do a quick incremental data backup, and reboot. If the maintenance run went without error messages, and the reboot did too, you know your PC is perfectly healthy, this is where your maintenance pays off in early warning signals when something goes wrong. All that without MyCleanPC and other software like it, which are more likely to harm your computer than help it. The most likely reasons why your PC slows down would be fragmentation, and/or an overly full hard disk, both of which you need to fix yourself, the third reason being someone else using your PC, a surefire cause for failure. They need to learn how to manage a PC so they can be gainfully employed and/or keep in touch with the grandkids anyway, let them get / give them their own, they're cheap.

When I am done redoing my backup schema, rather than two sets of backup disks, I'll have the laptop load, one full laptop backup, one full just-data backup, a secondary PC I can use to access the data if the laptop goes south, and copies of my installed software. Additionally, the hard disk in my laptop is an industry standard "mobile" hard disk, I could take it, stick it in another laptop, even a cheapie, and boot right off the disk. That is, in fact, what I did with the drive from the previous laptop - I stuck it in the Lenovo, after it failed, booted, did one final backup, installed Lenovo drivers over the HP drivers that were there (Windows took care of that itself, for the most part), rebooted, and cloned the HP load onto the (larger) Lenovo disk, which then went back inside the Lenovo. That will work, for as long as everything is "plain vanilla" - special drivers, unusual partitioning, custom disks, yada yada, and you are screwed.

That's the primary issue with survivability, something I learned between my New York lab, writing specs for phone company requirements, and living in rural Virginia: if you can't get it in the store in the nearest shopping center, whether that's Best Buy or Home Depot, don't use it. The more complex your solution, however well thought out, the more likely it is something will occur nobody had thought of. Like flying airplanes into the two tallest office buildings in the world. Shit happens.

Sunday December 22, 2013: OK, disk change done..

Keywords: Dodge, Durango, Dakota, Pep Boys, Definity, AIS backup, backup

2003 Durango with Pep
                                        Boys Definity tiresIf you need tires for your Dodge Dakota or Durango, I can now wholeheartedly recommend Pepboys' Definity product. I had them fitted in the summer, they have their own brand oversize All Terrain tire with M+S marking for my Durango, manufactured by Cooper, and after a lot of searching it turned out this was the best deal, (at the time) four for the price of three inclusive of installation, balancing, four wheel alignment, and a puncture warranty, $776.12, or just under $200 per installed tire, but they should last. The tires turn out to run very smoothly, but they have decreased my gas mileage slightly, this probably due to the combination of their oversize (a Dodge approved 265/70R16, 3% larger diameter than stock) and heavy duty tread, but boy do they grip. They are here. For folks in my age group antilock braking, which requires you to stomp on the brakes, and keep your foot down, when on a slippery road, is kind of counter-intuitive, we grew up pumping the brakes. So at the beginning of every winter, once there is snow and ice on the road, I find a quiet road or parking lot, and remind my brain how to brake in the slush, hard. Well, not with these tires - I did it today, roads in my neighbourhood covered with a mixture of slush and snow, but the antilock mechanism never activated. It's the tires' fault - their tread is so solid, the wheels never locked, the car just stopped dead. I drove around the block, found a different road, but after four tries just gave up. Teehee.

So what else is there? I've just gone through the health insurance databases, and now I am discombobulated why I am not seeing reimbursements from the company I am paying $400 a month to, on top of Medicare. There probably is a perfectly good explanation, but I think I am going to have to talk to some of these folks to understand. Huge amount of stuff to track, it feels like ten times what I needed to do a few years ago, but maybe my perspective changed. Dunno. Working on it.

In the interim I am still backing up my new hard disk, that is, backing up into a proper AIS Backup, my favourite tool, database. Intermittently, it has been going all week, the load on my laptop's hard disk is now around 507GB, that is, Windows 8.1, applications, and data, leaving 424GB available. Its eventual capacity will depend on how much I can back up to one 750GB Seagate, with AIS' ZIP compression that should work OK. I have several of those, so I should be able to clone the load I am creating, should that be necessary. You see, if you back up to a drive that you only have one of, and that begins to fail, you have no way of recovering...

The nice thing about AIS is that I have two full licensed copies, that they continually update the software, and that it can output to ZIP archives, which means that in an emergency you can pull a file from an archive, as opposed to having to do a restore. That's pretty brilliant. All of the other people I have backup software from either oblige you to "buy and upgrade" eventually, or will only work with their particular brand - Seagate's excellent software comes to mind, it won't work with other people's drives. Maybe logical, but that does not give me the ability to use "repurposed" drives. And, after all, it was AIS that helped me to move from the old laptop drive to the new drive, none of the other stuff actually worked. That is scary. You may think I am crazy I spent two days doing three backups, I did still have the original disk and load, but it did pay off, I was able to do a full reinstall, and this is the kind of stuff you only do once every.... bite tongue... well, this was the first time since May 19, 2012, when my previous system died, but this was self-inflicted. Or maybe it is once every couple years, now. That is a scary thought. Anyway, full backup done, on to the next project.

By the way, I really would appreciate it if we could move on from Nigella, she wanted fame and fortune, she got fame and fortune. Perhaps we can move even from the majority of cooking shows and celebrity cooks and the like. I find them utterly boring. And while I am at it, why would anybody buy a car for Christmas. Apart from those who would do that anyway, you don't really need to advertise to those... And why would anybody even think of buying as car that Michael Bolton can sing on top of? The Honda folks were doing pretty dysfunctional ads already, but they're slowly heading into the realm of craziness. I see the oversaturation and I can't help but think something's wrong, especially since no Hondas fit under living room trees.

Sunday December 29, 2013: Ford Financing and other Follies

Keywords: Camaro, General Motors, Ford Financing, RAID, disk arrays, backup, data security, PC recovery
deceased RAID device
                                        with DoD dataAfter I wrote my previous pieces around backing up, I got some responses that using RAID technology would be a good way to ensure data security, and that, of course, took me right back to my own lab days, and my experiments with RAID techologies. You can do this at home, if you like - a Windows PC with Vista or newer, and fitted with a couple of disk interfaces (not USB, that isn't RAID supported by Microsoft), will happily let you set up two similar disks in a variety of RAID configurations. Remember, then, that RAID is an emulator - it pretends to the computer it is an ordinary hard disk, but it is not, and that can cause problems. If nothing else, when you have a failed hard disk you can try and recover the data - when necessary, you can send it in to one of the places that specialize in data recovery. With a failed RAID array, there may not be anything to recover - and before you tell me, I've spent time testing this.

RAID proves quite handsomely that the more complicated your technology, the less secure you are - yes, if your PC blows up, you can set up another one, and recover the RAID array you built, but easy it isn't, and while your PC is not working, your data is perfectly safe, but perfectly inaccessible. I am not kidding - I have one friend whose RAID backup box, with decades of email archives, has been sitting in a box in his attic for years - one day it just sopped coming on. Something I have always found fascinating about this RAID story - I spent lab time figuring out what you need to build "five nine" environments, server and processing environments that are available 99.999% of the time - is that all drives in a RAID device are likely to fail around the same time, having been manufactured to the same standard, around the same time, to the same MTBF - they are normally from the same production batch, and may have the same flaws. That involves a huge extra risk, and that risk is compounded by the fact that no RAID device comes with a spare drive. In order to recover a failed RAID load, you'd normally have to have an extra drive, preferably the same model and firmware revision as the drives in the array. I don't know if you've ever called the manufacturer of your RAID device, six years after you bought the thing, to ask if they have another drive for your array, but the response will most likely be a hollow laugh, follwed by keystrokes, followed by a firm "no". And this isn't just about "homebrew", either - whether we're talking about large EMC arrays, of which I've had plenty installed in corporate environments, or about the "Cloud", the principle and the risks remain the same.

If you want to define "backup", there are two definitions in the world of computing. One is "backup" as a means of securing your data, the other is "backup" as a means of recovering your computing capabilities. Obviously, if you're a heavy Quicken user, and you manage your bank and credit accounts, as well as your investments and mortgage using that software, you're screwed if your computer is stolen or breaks. Admittedly, I have been managing my entire life on computer since the early 1980s, and that would not apply to most folks out there, but even so, folks who adopted computers more recently than that have, by now, amassed quite large archives.

Before I go off at a tangent, the point I am trying to make is that if you want to secure your data, you need a technically simple solution. A RAID device, which these days you can buy quite cheaply from Best Buy or Amazon, is way too complicated to rely on for backup. Yes, a RAID device can secure your data if one of its disks fail, but only if it is set up correctly, and if everything else in the RAID device that isn't a disk works, like the power supply and the cooling fan. I simply love the sophisticated RAID boxes with four disks, and ONE power supply. and ONE fan. Guess what, the fan runs 24/7, and if it fails, and you're at Auntie Jane's, your entire box can go South. Besides, for many, that NAS network device they now have on the network in the house can be used by multiple computers, not to mention that the kids may be streaming audio and video from it. I had a Fantom RAID device that actually suffered that fate, its single fan getting noisier and noisier until eventually the electronics (not the drives!) malfunctioned to the point the array became unusable. While I had that backed up, I was unable to wipe the drives before discarding the unit. I ended up (and that is the picture you see here) having to resort to a sledgehammer.

Camaro made in Canada
                                        financed by FordAnyway, my simple issue is that if you rely on your laptop for "essential life functions", I found you can most easily recover (and I actually did this) by reinstalling Windows on your hard disk, then restoring the backed up "C:" partition. That works, lots of other solutions do not - some stuff that works under Windows 7 and Windows 8 does not even work under Windows 8.1. Most importantly, the "free" Cloud storage you get from all and sundry is not enough to store your files over the years. You need a computer with a disk large enough to store everything you need this month, and a backup drive that is the same size, with a mirror of what you have on the PC.

The more I look at advertising today, the more I think I see desperation. The money Honda shelled out to produce and broadcast the Michael Bolton thing, now annoying even news anchors with mainstream broadcasters, and the money Dodge shelled out to do the "Anchorman" commercials, must surely go down in the annals of advertising as the most failed campaigns ever.

For one thing, the vast majority of car buyers do not wait until Christmas to go buy a new car. It kind of does not fit in with gift cards and Xboxes. But secondly, would anybody buy a car because Michael Bolton can sing on its roof? Or because Will Ferrell can mispronounce its brand name? It isn't as if car buyers aren't familiar with Honda or Dodge (wasn't that a brand that was going to go away because of the car manufacturers collapse?), so what is the purpose of these ads?

I believe advertisers are completely losing the connection between advertising and sales, due primarily to the huge proliferation of media to advertise in, and on. Television has fewer viewers, they're abandoning cable in favour of internet by the millions, and there are now so many channels that the next generation only watch programs they want to. They just don't watch the Today Show and the ABC News and the rest of the drivel, and the programmers and the advertisers don't notice because they have never encountered, and always ignored, people that do not watch television. You will have noticed there are fewer and fewer "popovers" on the World Wide Web, as well, the only thing advertisers have learned is that annoying consumers does not sell printers, but they do have not invented anything to take its place. Like the NSA, Facebook and Google have discovered that those vast amounts of personal information they collect do not enable them to predict people's behaviour. Their solution, collecting even more data, is bound to fail the same way.

Now what I'd really like to tell you is that I have a solution for all this, whining is one thing, creating another, and then somebody will call me after reading this, and I'll be in a new career, but I don't. I know that all of this advertising - have you noticed the number of infomercials on cable systems? - doesn't sell a thing, but I can only say that I think that entire advertising model we began at the dawn of commercial radio is deader than a doornail. I think each profit dollar made today, say on that Honda or that Dodge, actually costs significantly more than it brings, and car manufacturers just run around in circles pretending that operating car loan banks makes up the shortfall, and I know it doesn't. Even a few years ago, Chevy dealers were selling cars using Ford financing, which gave them a better margin than their own. That meant that part or all of the profits on a manufactured-in-Canada Camaro sale wouldn't go to General Motors, but to the competition.



Tuesday January 7, 2014: Connected to what?

Keywords: connected home, smartwatch, remote control, smart glasses, Windowd 7, Windows 8.1, bitlocker, encryption
GSM smartwatch 2008The "Connected Home"? It appears to be little understood that if the fridge can order its own groceries, due to, umm, amazing technologies, we'd have to invent, and pay for, an entire ecosystem that would enable the groceries to be collected, transported, and delivered to said refrigerator - you really want the UPS guy in your kitchen? Here in the United States, Federal Express and UPS ran out of capacity delivering shipments, for the first time ever, this holiday season. I would seriously suggest that before we do an "internet of things", we start thinking about the consequences and the implementation cost of new technologies - which, in my book, aren't all that new. The picture here is of a smart GSM wristwatch I bought in China in 2009, complete with everything you have in your smartphone today, including touch screen. They've been around for years, nice toys, otherwise useless. I recall our spending millions of dollars implementing speech recognition technologies into the telephone network, back in the '90s, only to find that the consumer was not going to pay for this magic, which became a marketing commodity leading to a smartphone technology nobody actually uses.. I may be desperately wrong, but I believe smart glasses and smart wristwatches are desperate attempts to find new markets for old technologies. Honestly, I ditched my glasses in 1975, we've had Lasik for many years, why would anybody retrograde into spectacles?

Seriously, I see so many writers banging on about the "Connected Home" - only today, some doozy in the New York Times said her mother can now control her Philips bulbs directly from her iPhone. Really? Apart from the technology having been available for decades, was Mum truly pining for the ability to dim the lights in her living room from Berlin? Or did the writer forget to tell us Mum has no legs, so she can't get up to get the remote? No, can't be that, she'd have artifical legs she can control from her iPhone. You don't even want to think about a hacker getting into that iPhone and confusing the lighting codes with the leg codes... although, maybe the daughter can dial into Mum's iPhone to make sure Mum gets her exercise. With the lights on so she can see where she's going.

Do these people have brains any more? Have the collective manufacturers told the collective journalists this is where they're taking the market, in 2014? Do the "journalists" even understand Google's Android device manager can't locate your phone reliably, will routinely "locate" it at a spot, today, where it actually left more than 24 hours ago?

Umm.. Briefly back to the backup stuff I have been boring you with, the past couple of weeks, and my attemtps to back up in some encrypted way... Bitlocker is not available in Windows 7 Pro, although I do have it in Windows 8 Pro (8.1, now). I was going to use it for additional security, having found out it lets you password protect external storage devices. It then encrypts the content, too, which is kind of an added bonus. There is some freeware stuff that does this, but having some unknownb futz with my data at bit level is scary.

Well, guess what. You cannot create an encrypted device under Bitlocker in Windows 7. But you can connect and read, in Windows 7 Pro, a device encrypted in Bitlocker under Windows 8. All I needed. My first attempt at encrypting an entire 750GB external drive failed, though, and I really do not know why, so now I have reinitialized and completely "pre-converted" said drive, and that seems to work OK. I recall using Bitlocker on a Thinkpad, I think under Vista Ultimate 64, but that was so slow - slower than Vista by itself - I eventually gave up, though it worked. I never liked it on my primary disk, because it is an extra step in disk management, and if you knew how much crap there is between you and your hard disk, already, you'd have palpitations, too. But drive access under Windows 8.1 is blisteringly fast, so perhaps Bitlocker is more useful now. Besides, I am planning to use it on backup devices only, so my primary access, to this lovely fast new Hitachi disk, will not be affected.

I am using Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 systems side-by-side, so the ability to swap backup disks is paramount for me. Should my laptop pack up, I can restore my data to the Sony Vaio, and continue work until I can fix or replace the laptop, you see. So much I do on the PC you can't do on a tablet or smartphone..

Saturday January 11, 2014: The location that wasn't

Keywords: Google, device manager, Android, device locating, Lindsey Vonn, internet equality, internet security
Google Android locator If you are using Google's Android device manager to locate your wireless device, do not count on it actually knowing where it is. The picture here shows you how Google located my car in a Costco gas station - more than 24 hours after it left there. And that didn't happen just once, it happens on a regular basis, over a period of several months. I am testing what all you can do with an Android wireless device, in terms of actually useful stuff, rather than it counting calories (only your body can do that, and you can probably do a better job with a calculator than an app can do with whatever the programmer did or did not know, when they wrote the code). I'll keep you posted, but if you have any kind of app that relies on Google reading your phone's network and GPS data to establish distance or locality, it is not (emphatically, and that is what I wanted to know) a reliable tool.

Am I Google-bashing? Not so... Google sells its services, in the corporate world, to governments and taxpayer funded organizations, and yet its services (there is no difference between what you get and what paying customers get) are not reliable. Gmail routinely pops legitimate mail into its spam box, so you never get to see it, even though it is mail from a regular source, Adroid routinely is unable to locate your phone, even though it has direct access to both the network and GPS sources that tell your handset where it is. It is clear to me why this happens, and while Google concentrates on collecting as much personal information as it can, routinely transgressing European privacy legislation, it no longer provides reliable services - and because most of its services are free, there is no watchdog to hold it to account.

Yes, Lindsey Vonn is a great athlete. But being interviewed on the Today Show, recovering from significant damage to her knee, walking on high heels... I think she lost her way, somewhere, and that is sad. I recall blowing off my spinal surgery because I was limping, going in, and didn't think that would allow me a good recovery. You gotta figure your priorities. Having said that, I wish her well with the recovery, I just hope she does not try to get back into (addictive) competition, which is likely to destroy her knee forever. I have some experience, both myself and with a ballerina ex-wife and her colleagues - there is only so much surgeons can do, bodies aren't designed to take that kind of punishment.

Apparently, Facebook is discontinuing "sponsored stories", where you're told in your timeline that a Facebook friend likes a particular product. To be honest, I occasionally see what other people like, and I can't help but wonder why the fact that Johnny clicked "like" in a Burger King ad would mean anything to me. He most likely clicked that because it netted him a discount voucher, but even if he didn't, who came up with the notion that friends have to like the same things? That makes about as much sense as lovers "having lots in common". There would not be remote control jokes in large volumes if that were the case. If Facebook indeed made US$ 200 million between January 2011 and August 2012 selling those ads, I'd love to hear from some of those advertisers about the sales the methodology generated. I mean, it seems like you could invent almost any novel way to deliver advertising, and get companies to fork over money. Yours, by the way.

I wonder if companies contacting potential employees and contractors are aware scammers now send out so many fake recruitment emails that I, at least, ignore practically all of them. And I am talking about those that get through the phishing filters - each time ISPs update their filters, scammers invent new ways around them. I noticed that some major Indian consulting agencies are trying to set up digital signatures to lock out the fakers, but I honestly wouldn't know how you'd recognize one. The vast majority of emails I get whose origin I don't recognize, I simply delete, without opening them, or looking at the HTML source. Even the mail scripts at my website gets regular visitors trying to inject malicious code into PHP. So to those who think we need "internet equality", I've got news for you. We need a secure internet. Screw the equality - the bottom line is that the "openness" that is inherent to today's internet benefits advertisers, not you, and it benefits criminals. Stop providing information to advertisers, and you stop providing information to criminals. It is as simple as that.

Wednesday January 28, 2014: From China to Sochi, they want your money

Keywords: Microsoft, Windows, shellfish, Safeway, Express-Scripts, medication, BBC
Frozen shellfish from
                                        China Those intrepid Chinese export lots of foods, especially fish, in bulk, and recently I've noticed bags of mixed frozen seafood, with crab, mussels, shrimp, clams, a mix of shellfish, quite reasonably priced, around $6 per bag or so. You defrost the bag in the fridge, and then you can do whatever, here is an example of a simple mix of seafood and veg. Season to taste, it is quickly cooked and should be healthier than burgers 'n stuff. As you look at what the Chinese make and export, you can tell their response to the global recession is one of innovation - until they came up with this I'd never seen mixed seafood like this, they tried it out last year, now there is a freezer section for it. The crab? Not surimi, but the Real Thing. That should send some seafood lovers running for Safeway, where I noticed it.

Urg. I think I need to reinstall Windows on that fancy new big disk, because I can no longer install updates. That's kind of the news of the week - I tried everything I know how (and there are a lot more tools today than even a year ago, to the point of confusion), but nothing worked. I have a sneaking suspicion that some of the changes Microsoft made to create Windows 8.1 to facilitate faster disk management may have something to do with this, possibly in combination with the way I moved my Windows install from the old disk to the new. When you try to use WBADMIN to create a system image, you find that it is no longer possible to create a full "bare metal" image, one that will let you fully reinstall. The command string that forces WBADMIN to back up your main partition as well as your boot partition no longer works. So what you end up doing is reinstalling Windows, and then moving the C: partition image back. Several folks on the Microsoft forums think that works, and it did - except now I've got a problem, although I don't know if that is or is not related. I did find a spurious user on my system that I can't place. That's always a problem - that could be a virus trying to "own" bits of the OS, it could be my other system, since I have now mounted my main disk on the other PC - perhaps I should not be doing that, and just export individual directories, rather than the entire root of C:. Hmm. Let's do that first - I mean, I do have to reinstall, but I might as well see what is different when I turn off the main "share". Windows is such a mess, after all of Microsoft's attempts at creating its own networking environment, over the years. Urgh.

Not, otherwise, a brilliant week for me. Especially having a hard time with the medicos and pharmacies - Medco, now Express-Scripts, in particular gives me a hard time. The latest episode has it that, as of last January 1st, Medicare D patients have to confirm they want a medication after it has been prepared. To make things hard, Express-Script's call automation does not work properly, and that means you get only the tail end of a voicemail message, without any indication who it is from - I'll see if I can post a link here.

Because Express-Scripts' subsidiary Accredo makes nuisance calls by the dozen, this to try and force the patient to order medication ahead of time, so they can bill your employer sooner, they use dozens of rotating numbers without caller ID, so you cannot program in who calls you. The consequence is that you don't get Express-Scripts' messages - "we can't by law mention your medication in a voicemail" - and they will not email about this. They will email you if your doctor has not renewed your prescription, they will email you when they ship something, but they will not email you if you need to confirm something. Especially their service calling you, for months on end, about medication you no longer take, is astonishing. They will happily ship you conflicting medications, even though, as a pharmacy, they are supposed to prevent that from happening, something high street pharmacists do routinely. I ought to really do some research about how much medication they ship unnecessarily, and, if they can manage it, without an order from the patient, a.k.a. the consumer.

Sochi. Watching Justin Rowlatt and Anita Rani trundle all over Mother Russia on BBC, I wonder, as I often do, how much Western folk really understand about Eastern cultures. Not just Russia, when I watch the China reporting I get the same feeling, both countries with a Marxist underpinning, both countries with a strong Asian ethnicity, which is very different from ours. I don't really have the words to explain this - that's an unusual thing for me to say - I suppose I could write a book, but I always feel that if you need more than a couple of paras to explain your point, you've just lost 98% of your audience. It is something I learned long ago, working in the Dutch journalistic elite, you're preaching to the converted, which is, basically, indescribably boring. Perhaps that is why the Jew does a mitzvah, when the deed counts, not the word. I've always liked that about Judaism, it is a practical religion, not that philosophical.

This disconnect is clear, though - and I must say again that our propensity to talk about democracy as if it is something we invented, and have ownership of, annoys the heck out of me. I think it is probably one of the most ill-defined philosophies extant, and when I see how our version of it shuts out vast armies of impoverished citizens from the basic needs of human society - basic technology, advanced education, medical care, healthy food - I can't say we do much better than all these folk we look down on.

Tuesday February 18, 2014: Windows is losing it

Keywords: Microsoft, Windows, Google, Motorola, Lenovo, IBM
Toshiba laptop Whether I contracted a virus, Microsoft distributed a contaminated update file, I made the same mistake myself on both my Vaio and my Lenovo, I'll probably never know. I had to completely reinstall both of my systems, not in itself a huge deal as I like maintaining that skillset, and have a very complete backup system. The reinstall even managed to fix some problems I was seeing on the Lenovo since I had upgraded that to a terabyte drive, problems likely due to the way I had tried to clone the original 500GB disk to the terabyte version. Since the reinstall, the disk is much happier, and I am able to run normal maintenance and diagnostics on it, as well as automated compression, something the new disk refused to do, so something worked.

One thing I have not done is re-upgrade to Windows 8.1. Having used that for six months or so, I found some of my old trusty windows tools were removed - no more Windows Image, no more performance measurements, and, in general, Windows 8.1 is aimed more at tablets than it is at laptops. Especially the inability to do a full Windows image, so you can reinstall your system, is a major bitch. While you can kind of kluge it using WBAdmin under Windows Powershell, that won't back up your disk hierarchy or your boot partition under 8.1, the mind really boggles what made Microsoft take that away. Not upgrading is not as easy as it sounds - once you're up under Win8, a banner will come up "inviting" you to upgrade to Windows 8.1, a banner you cannot turn off or bypass. It directs you to go to the Microsoft Store, which is on your desktop, from where you're supposed to upgrade. Turning off the reminder is not possible (unless you go into Windows' innards to change settings). Having done that update before, you lose so much functionality, not to mention being forced to connect to Microsoft with your Microsoft email address, that I have decided to decline for now - I need (and paid for) an operating system, not a personal information collection engine.

At any rate, whatever the problem was, I have now reinstalled both my computers, one with Windows 7, one with Windows 8 - the Windows 7 variant because I have several software packages that won't run under Windows 8, unless I spend money I don't have to upgrade them. Besides, when I ran Windows 8 on the Vaio I had to tweak a lot by hand, and noticed that, amongst others, the DVD drive would not get recorgnized. Before too long, the Vaio will expire - the motherboard battery died already - and then I'll be able to upgrade whatever I buy next to Windows 8 Pro, all payed up, backed up and waiting to be used.

So: Google sells Motorola, and Facebook makes massive profits on "mobile advertising" using bandwidth its users pay carriers and ISPs for. It all just boggles my mind. I never really understood why Google bought Motorola, at one time a serious contender in the mobile market, but then ours is not to reason why, Google branches into lots of fields just to test the waters, or so it seems. But then the mobile advertising... of course, I have to realize "mobile", these days, means smartphones that are almost as large as tablets, and tablets that are almost as large as laptops. And, probably, very many users have just the phone, or just a simple phone and the tablet, because having a PC as well likely gets a bit expensive. If you grow up "on" the smartphone you can pretty much do everything on that. Just because I don't means I haven't transferred certain functions to the mobile world. I do have Microsoft Office on one of my mobiles, I've just never had any inclination to use that on a small screen. All it gave me was an understanding why Microsoft eventually bought Nokia. Even Skype runs on my Nokia, which I think I got just before I moved to Washington State. That's right, I got the C7 in 2011, because it came with a free navigation application and free maps. I didn't want to drive right across the country with just one older (2007) GPS phone, and no backup.

Lenovo, the Chinese chappies who now bought Motorola, are a truly fascinating outfit. Buying IBM's PC division, back in 2004, was a bit of a coup, but they've gone from strength to strength, this without the apparently "tainted" financing that hampers other Chinese companies, Huawei is a good example. I am writing this on a Lenovo laptop, still with much of the IBM Thinkpad engineering that made that line such a hit, but too expensive for Big Blue to maintain.

But I cannot help but wsonder whether Nokia will leave Microsoft the same way Motorola left Google. Between the Surface tablet and Nokia, it seems Microsoft is positioning itself to become a player in the mobile space, but then Apple and Google, both of which have based their operating systems on UNIX, seem to have solid control in the mobile world, and all I can see for Microsoft is its bloated Windows operating system, great on servers and PCs, not so great on a small mobile device. The Windows 8.1 "hybrid" iteration is so horrendous I am not using it.

April 17, 2014: Another Blackberry, or...?

Keywords: Blackberry, Z10, Torch 9810, T-Mobile, Nokia, Android, 4G LTE, UMA, WiFi Calling, Bluetooth, VPN
Blackberry 9810 and Z10
                                        in holsters I normally have a backup for each vital piece of equipment - cellphone, laptop, etc. So, as I only have the one Blackberry - my last upgrade had a $50 discount provided I returned the "old" Blackberry I replaced - I had been thinking about getting another. An issue with Blackberry and T-Mobile is that only the Blackberrys T-Mobile sells itself have the AWS frequencies necessary to support 3G and 4G, not to mention its WiFi Calling (UMA) feature. I had been looking at the refurbished Z10s available from T-Mobile's website, but at almost $300 I found them a bit steep for my wallet, even though a new Z10 lists at $468. I was waiting for them to come down when RIM announced they would not renew their T-Mobile contract, and so April 25 turned out to be the cutoff date.

Like it or not, I ended up parting with $324, to make sure I had another Blackberry - part of the reason, if you're wondering, is that I have a Blackberry Playbook tablet, which talks to the handsets, so wanted to stay with the brand. Another reason is that I do not like the way Google has implemented Android - a phone whose every keystroke, call, location, word and sentence is reported to, and used by, Google is really a bit steep. I have a Galaxy in the car, one I use as a dashcam and engine monitor, it reports the car's location when I am not driving it, I don't have a problem with that level of reporting, but the idea that Google knows what I tell my friends, has their numbers and locations, and knows when I stop at what Starbucks for a coffee is way too much for me. It is actually anathema to me why there isn't more noise about this - the majority of consumers do not seem to care. As an aside, the picture on the right shows the way the Blackberry is worn, traditionally, in a belt holster that switches the handset to standby mode automatically. I love that - you never leave your phone somewhere, and it is hard to snatch,something that seems to be an increasing problem in major conurbations. One the left the Blackberry Z10 I just got, on the right my May 2012 Blackberry Torch 9810.

Starbacks Chaoyang
                                        Beijing For those interested, my T-Mobile lines are now all "paid up" - none are subject to contract any more, and I own the handsets on them. Unlike other carriers, T-Mobile switches its subscribers to month-to-month service when their contract is up, and they do not owe money on handsets, always has done. That means I don't have the very latest greatest Galaxys or iPhones, but then I really don't see what they would bring me. What apps I actually need I have on my Blackberry Z10 or Nokia C7 - one of the nice aspects of this is that I can use my Nokia as a GPS device, with Nokia's excellent maps, while still being able to use the Z10 to make calls while I am in the car. The concept of getting a super expensive smartphone on which I then have to do everything - dunno, ever tried to take a call while you're using your GPS device, which is downloading email at the same time? I can tell you, as a seasoned developer, that the people who write these apps do very shoddy work, don't test except on the highest end devices, and generally have little understanding of data security. I don't even want to get started on the amount of personal information they do not need their apps insist on, nevertheless - setting up LinkedIn, the other day, it insisted on having access to my phone book, and the details of my T-Mobile account - why?

I am not a good reviewer of smartphones, if you're looking for that, anyway - I have little interest in the gazillions of "apps" that are available, and think the news website reviews of apps are ridiculous - you can usefully review software if you use it all the time, for, say, six months, otherwise you have no idea how well it handles data, how good or bad the updates are, and so on. A friend show me an Andoid app that shows you crime in your local area, the other day - to be honest, that's something you can get from your local cop shop, carrying it around in your phone is completely useless, it isn't as if crime statistics change every other day. Similarly, I was using the Caroo vehicle performance monitoring app, only to find that update 11 or 12 no longer provided meaningful MPG numbers, for whatever reason, and the makers concentrate so much on large sized smartphones the app can no longer handle smaller screens, and that it was no longer possible to file reviews, because Google no longer lets you do that unless you do it via Google+. The latter is truly dysfunctional - you'd think that app reviews are important to all users, so if you restrict the number of people able to post reviews, your purpose is no longer information sharing and user support.

So, while in the olden days having the latest greatest handset on a carrier subscription might have made sense, today this Z10 gives me all the networking I need, considering my plan includes overseas service, high speed networking (4G LTE), Bluetooth tethering, and UMA (a.k.a. WiFi Calling), all without surcharge. It is something we've waited for for many years, mobile carriers in the United States, unlike their overseas counterparts, have been using partial surcharges for just about any service they could, from 4G to overseas email, etc. T-Mobile has broken that mold, although it remains to be seen whether the mold will stay broken, or is just a sales gimmick.

For any business, being the largest is an expensive exercise, because everybody is competing with you, and growing larger than largest only works by investing disproportionally. There is a segment of the population that will automatically gravitate to "largest", but then there is a segment of the population that will sit down with the calculator and figure out which service gives best value - the largest rarely do. Yes, getting service on the Queensboro Bridge is really important if you're a limo driver, but beyond that, if you can save $12 per month by not having service on the Queensboro bridge, but you have good service in Queens and Manhattan and on Roosevelt Island, saving $12 just might be acceptable.

Perhaps T-Mobile has understood that offering things others don't pays off, down the road. I've stuck with T-Mobile for a couple of reasons. First of all, they offer UMA, which meant I could make free calls to North American destinations from any WiFi network, whether at home or in Beijing, and additionally gives an encrypted VPN connection for data, at least on my older Blackberry using BIS. Secondly, for a monthly charge of $15 I could use unlimited data and email while traveling overseas, something I could turn on per trip. Nobody else offered this combo - especially UMA, which effectively turns every Starbucks on the planet into a free calling zone for the price of a cup of coffee (in Beijing, add an egg salad sandwich, which is otherwise impossible to get in China) is brilliant. I am afraid I don't actually have a picture of a Chinese egg salad sandwich, but I do have one of a Starbucks cappucino with a Starbucks fried egg breakfast sandwich, and yes, that was taken at the Beijing Chaoyang Starbucks, next to Sanlitun, as you can see from the mug they believe in customer service over there.

So, briefly back to the Blackberry Z10, and my first impressions... The thin battery lasts a day, barely, but a spare is just $7. There are barely any buttons on the casing, and none that are essential, which is magic, because I have (had) quite a few phones that let you accidentally push buttons without realizing it. And by now, "bedside mode" has been implemented, so I am not losing my trusted Blackberry alarm clock. While I have not been able to get the Bluetooth modem up, the Z10 has Bluetooth tethering built in, as wel as Hotspot functionality, and those works very well indeed - there are both a Bluetooth VPN and a Bluetooth Personal Area Network available, still working out how all that works. All that, by the way, is included in my T-Mobile plan, which is not bad at all.

April 30, 2014: Blackberry II

Keywords: Blackberry, Z10, T-Mobile, 4G LTE, Apple, UNIX, X-Windows, Samsung, BIS, BES
Blackberry Z10 taken
                                        with and without flash About the first thing that happened after I posted my below Blackberry piece was a response from a kind soul who thought I should switch to an iPhone (and throw out my Nokia and Galaxy and Windows PCs and and switch to Apple devices - to be honest, if I wanted to switch to a UNIX computer with X-Windows, which is what an Apple computer is, I could do that in a heartbeat, I worked on those as a developer for decades). That meant, of course, that the respondent hadn't really read my blog entry, as I did mention that I had actually bought the Blackberry Blighter, but underneath that, the person mentions, in machine-like fashion, all of the vapid marketing arguments Apple throws at the peeps. Yes, you can turn off and wipe a stolen iPhone remotely - but you can do that with an Android device and a Blackberry, too. Yes, there's Facetime - but Skype is vendor-independent - when is the last time you've seen a Facetime interview on broadcast television? And to be honest, you could throw out the "Apple" and put in "Samsung" and you'd have exactly the same marketing blurb. Most importantly - the consumer gets a "free" high end phone from the carrier, provided they extend their contract until 2084 or therabouts. And partake of the latest 1289G service plan, because that is "required" for these handsets.

Setting up the Z10, the first thing I noticed is that you can remove any and all apps you don't want. With Galaxys, iPhones and Nokias, there are quite a few apps that are "locked" in place, either by the manufacturer or by the carrier. Not so with the Blackberry, which lets you unclutter the screen to your heart's content. Wonderful. On my Galaxy it leads to five screens of mostly useless crap, which Google and Samsung think serves a purpose.

It is an issue, this marketing. Both Apple and Google have well over a million apps in their "stores". Do your math, and you'll find that in order to look at and test most of them, assuming you take 20 minutes or so per app, you'll need over 20 years of your life - continuously. Don't do this, and you may miss the majority of apps you might want or need to use... And it is important to emphasize that both the iPhone and Android devices require you to use their manufacturer login to use the device. Blackberry does not,a Blackberry will work regardless of whether you have a Blackberry ID, or use it. And if you do, Blackberry does not track your whereabouts more than necessary for BIS or BES to work, and certainly does not sell your information. Important to me, even if I no longer need the communications security the Blackberry offers, especially when traveling overseas. By the way, the Z10, and other new Blackberry handsets, no longer need BIS - BES is the secure network that Blackberrys use when a corporate owner runs its own Blackberry network.

Back to the Z10: there is an almost complete lack of buttons on the bezel. Most handsets have shortcut buttons all over, and I always end up accidentally pushing something and not knowing what I did. The Z10 needs to be able to be pushed into its holster, so this is a smart design - the button at the top is a wake-up or turn-off button, while those on the side are volume buttons that activate only when you play music or video, and otherwise do nothing - IOW, you can use the Z10 as an Ipod. Other than that, the Z10 isn't a "phablet" - it is not enormous, which I like - but then, I have a Blackberry Playbook tablet as well, which has a 7" screen, as opposed to the 4.2" screen the Z10 has, the handset itself has a 5.5" diagonal. The bezel, criticized by some, makes it possible to hold the phone by its edges without accidentally activating anything - touch screens that come right up to the edges of the handset make it hard to hold it.

Something I do miss is the ability to read and write email for the handset on the Playbook tablet - as I recall, that was the case when the Playbook was first introduced, but whether Blackberry will add it this time around... the Playbook, through the Blackberry link, does handle SMS and BBM messaging, and will let you answer calls into the Z10's speaker or headset mode, which is a cool new feature, answering calls without having to pick up the handset.

More about the Z10 as I discover it, and I'll come back on Blackberry as and when I get a better feel for where the company is heading. I am glad it "stuck in there", but I can't say I am seeing a well defined future, which is a shame, if you consider how well architected and designed their handsets are. Blackberry has unparallelled global network expertise, something it really never has been able to advertise... I recall getting off a plane at Tokyo Narita airport, and getting 3G roaming service on my Blackberry, when absolutely no other handset you could get in the West could do that.

T-Mobile, on "seeing" (in its systems) the activation of my new handset, turned off my data servioe - I had taken great care to not change my service as I put through the order, something you are able to do if you change handsets you own - BYOD, bring your own device. While that wasn't nice, Janet in Albuquerque, NM (I am so happy not to have to deal with Janet in Chennai, Tamil Nadu) sorted me out quickly and brilliantly, and I ended up with a $30 unlimited data package over 4G LTE. Teehee.

May 17, 2014: And on to Other Projects

Keywords: Blackberry, Z10, Dodge, Durango, OBD II, OBDWiz, air intake
Blackberry Z10 alarm
                                        cradle I even managed to eventually find a cradle, so I can use my Blackberry Z10 in night mode, as an alarm clock, with just the phone alert turned on. I've gotten used to that, over the years, although my last Blackberry, the Torch 2 9810, didn't have the cradle capability. So I am happy...

High flow Dodge Dakota
                                        2003 air intake for 4.7 liter
                                        V8 My next project is a new air intake assembly for the Durango. When I was servicing its 4.7 litre V8, last year, I noticed that the air intake assembly has an enormous amount of air filtering and noise reduction. That works well, at least the noise reduction does, I guess this being an overhead camshaft engine makes it noisier than what the Americans were used to - by the time this model Durango was built, Daimler had taken over Dodge owner Chrysler, and that brought a whole bunch of German engineering to these shores. Anyway, we'll find out soon enough - I need to do some video taping and data recording, but then I will install a high flow low resistance intake and see what, if any, the difference is, from intake manifold pressure to noise level. I'll post it all here.

This week (May 13) was the first week I really had the opportunity to test my engine repairs - by the time I finished working on the cooling system everything seemed to be working fine, but September, up here in the Pacific Northwest, isn't exactly hot, so I couldn't test properly. But by the time I left Bellevue today, it was 81°, pretty much the same warm sunny weather that made my engine run hot last year.

I'd had overheating problems with the engine before, all the way from Fredericksburg, VA, to Bellevue, WA, in 2011, when AutoNation Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Bellevue conned me out of close to $1,000 to replace the radiator, and the engine immediately overheated again. A mechanic friend of a friend figured out it wasn't the radiator at all, but the A/C compressor, which had seized, and that made the belt slip. That belt, in the Durango, drives the water pump as well as the fan, and so the engine doesn't get sufficient cooling, this exacerbated by the A/C heat exchanger, which, for reasons I don't really understand, is mounted in front of the radiator, where it adds heat where you don't want it - in my book, engine cooling comes first, then you start figuring out what else there is to cool, and how to do that. But even after the mechanic friend had replaced the A/C compressor, the engine kept running hot, although it no longer red-light overheated, so I set about figuring out what else was pear shaped.

It was a long litany of bad maintenance I ran up against, combined with a 4.7 liter Dodge engine engineered to run hot, because that is the way Dodge made the engine comply with Federal emissions clean air regulations - more about that later. To begin with, the replaced A/C compressor had not been charged properly, something I found out is a pain, and takes a long time, and really only can be done properly when the weather is hot, so the A/C works its tail off. Did that. Then I figured that when the mechanic friend said the belt didn't need replacing maybe I shouldn't have taken him at his word, and then I discovered a replacement belt cost only $18.44 on Amazon, so I bought that, and guess what: the old belt, which had probably done 90,000 miles, had stretched, and the new belt stopped all slippage I had encountered.

But that wasn't all.

I decided to replace the spark plugs, figuring they'd had 90,000 miles too. Again at Amazon, I found Bosch spark plugs that, according to the online documentation, were designed to run cooler than the factory installed Champions - they do this, allegedly, by conducting heat away from the combustion chamber more efficiently. Installing them, I discovered the existing Champions had not been tightened properly, and that could not have helped matters. Then, because I had had to remove much of the air intake and throttle body in order to replace all of the spark plugs, I discovered the air intake and throttle body weren't sitting in their seals properly, and were leaking excess air directly into into the air intake. So I fixed that, too, and the engine has run very smoothly since, even more so since I've flushed the oil a couple of times, discovering in the process the workshop in Virginia must have never properly drained the oil pan, as there was plenty of crud in there. I am now running on a regular / synthetic oil mix, a trick I learned from Alfa Romeo, which used to have a similar own brand mix in its 3 litre performance engines. I capped it all off by replacing much of the coolant, and properly bleeding the cooling system, not something I know had been done, discovering, in the process, that the radiator cap was not maintaining pressure properly, so I relaced that too, and reb-bled the cooling system.

Last but not least, I am now reinstalling the OBDWiz software that came with the OBD II engine monitor. Took me a couple of test drives before I had it running right, I remember now I had the same issue when I first bought it. It provides so much data that I will be better able to compare the old and new air intake performance, the Android monitor I normally use doesn't have that detailed a readout, although it does provide detail in real time. Now to do some trial runs, do data collection, and then I can start swapping out the air handling system.

May 28, 2014: It is all about security

Keywords: Blackberry, Z10, Dodge, Durango, OBD II, OBDScope, air intake
So far, so good... The Blackberry Z10 is working fine, batteries are all run in - takes about a week per battery - only UMA (Wi-Fi Calling) gave me some problems, but T-Mobile's technical support person Don sorted that out by uploading some code, without my even having to do anything to the phone, just one reboot. Magic. And I have to unfortunately say that technical support from Albuquerque, NM, beats that from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, by a mile. There's no two ways about it - people from a different culture who don't own a car or a broadband connected computer and live in what we would call a slum without running water or inside toilets cannot meaningfully converse about tethering or UMA, however well they're trained.

I must apologize for getting all excited about some of the Z10's features, as I have no way of knowing whether or not those features have been around in the Android- and iOS spheres since 1885. They're just new to me, by comparison with relatively recent Nokia and Blackberry phones, and I don't see them on my Android Samsung either, but then that does not run the latest version. I am talking about the encrypted Bluetooth VPN, and the Ethernet/WiFi networking the phone does with PCs running Blackberry Link on the same subnet. Those are, to a network nerd like myself, brilliant new tools, tools that provide a type of security not built into iOS and Android. iOS is all about the "closed shop" Apple wants, while Android concentrates more on collecting the user's personal information, which Google then sells to third parties. Even my Blackberry Playbook tablet does not need to use public internet in Starbucks - it will tether to the Z10 over Bluetooth, providing a secure, safe internet connection your average hacker doesn't even know to look for.

The Blackberry, to me, is all about security - even the Z10 fits in a holster on my hip, where it is reasonably impervious to both phone snatchers and getting dropped, and less susceptible to being put on a restaurant table, where it can be forgotten or stolen. Then, Blackberry's networking is built around data security - even the new smartphones use Blackberry's own secure network to manage the data connection the phone uses. The risk inherent to corporate and institutional use of the internet is such that I do hope enough IT folk continue building secure solutions around Blackberrys. Especially the ability to connect tablets and laptops via a secure encrypted Blackberry VPN is the best thing since sliced bread to me. BYOD? I don't think so. There is no rationale for putting everybody's toy on your corporate network. None.

On a different note....

Snags and delays abound with the Durango air intake manifold replacement - I haven't been able to get my diagnostics software to work reliably, and it looks like the intake manifold temperature sensor needs to come out of the throttle body. As I think that could damage it, I am ordering a replacement, so I don't get stuck with a dud engine - I noticed the local parts stores don't stock them, kind of brilliant you can check these things at their websites, these days. Always make sure you can put the original parts back in the car - for the air intake setup, if the new air intake affects the emissions, I may have to put the old intake back to keep the State of Washington happy - amazingly, the vehicle test center is within walking distance - and so I'd rather have that in one "plug-in" state. This way, I can leave the temperature sensor where it is.

I did find OBD II engine monitoring software that does seem to work, surprisingly, for my older Nokia C7 mobile phone - a device I normally use as a GPS unit, due to Nokia's excellent worldwide maps and free guidance software. The monitoring app, OBDScope, outputs the data from all PIDs it can see, 24 in the case of my Durango, to a comma delimited file, so it is easy to look at the entire run in a spreadsheet, afterwards. Rather than averages, I've gotten it to output two readings per second, pretty good for a relatively slow processor, the averaging I can do in the spreadsheet, although it does provide an MPG calculation online I have yet to set up.

June 4, 2014: Is the NSA listening to my Durango?

Keywords: Edward Snowden, NSA, Glenn Greenwald, Blackberry Z10, Nokia C7, Dodge Durango, OBD II, air intake, cooling
dental visit Before I move on to more mundane matters, Edward Snowden's defense of his actions sounds very much like a contrived and well rehearsed story to me, the kind of stuff Putin is known for, too. Snowden took off from his Hawaii station without even telling his girlfriend, holed up in Hong Kong, part of the PRC, where he knew the US government would not be able to even talk to him, and then headed for Moscow, where it looks like emperor Putin thought it was a good idea to put one over on the Americans. In the interim, Glenn Greenwald, a former Washington D.C. attourney living in Brazil, working for the Guardian, was recruited to interview him, even going so far as having his Brazilian boyfriend act as a clandestine information carrier. None of that boils down to being a patriot. Yes, it would have been hard to "spill the beans", but many of us know what the American security services get up to, and know that it isn't always kosher, and there are careful and safe folk working for the Washington Post or the New York Times Mr. Snowden could have spoken to with minimal risk. I fully assume that Snowden and Greenwald have been handsomely maintained by the Guardian, nothing wrong with that, and Greenwald's new blockbuster book, and speaking fees, will have certainly taken good care of both of them. There is little in Mr. Greenwald's background that could have provided him with informed insight in the workings of the security services, and with his US dollar journalistic work, and his boyfriend's income, Brazil is a very cheap place to live. I even am inclined to think Snowden didn't have that much "inside information" - he wasn't at the CIA for long enough, and folks like Snowden who have secret clearance become contractors to parlay their position and clearance into a lot more money than a civil service position would have paid. It is all a boringly common scenario.

I am still struggling with cellphones, to a large extent - the Blackberry Z10 somehow wiped out my Gmail contacts database, thankfully I had transferred the database from the BB Torch, and this is when you find out Google has made it as hard as possible to restore address books without losing half the data. Then, I find that only a Finnish application running on the Nokia C7 does a reasonable job of downloading engine data from the car's Powertrain Control Module, formerly known as ECU. But it keeps losing the Bluetooth connection, and I've been working for days on figuring out the correct settings, given that the C7 doesn't have that much of a processor.

Three days later - a Monday - I have finally gotten the Nokia OBD app to work properly, two full captures, one to Bellevue, one from there. Perfect. As it turns out it makes the Bluetooth talk to the OBDII dongle and a Nokia GPS antenna at the same time, which means it gets a location - even altitude - reading with every record. Impressive. The amount of information the OBD port retrieves from the ECU is stunning, and having it in a spreadsheet format, rather than something customized, is brilliant. So - I've done a full (60-ish mile) measuring run, and I've finally got all of the bits I needed - the Intake Manifold Air Temperature Sensor fits nicely in the air intake, they've done a reasonable job, the rest - mount, vacuum tube - I can't really test until the existing air intake is out, what with the sunny weather I'll likely start on that tomorrow. The way it is now set up I can put the old air intake right back, if something doesn't work, and because I have the manifold pressure and air temperature readings I can do a more or less immediate comparison. On one of the Dodge boards, an "expert" wrote that all these intakes do is make more noise, and that may well be the case, but when I see the air volume is restricted by the baffles, and the intake air temperature goes quite high, perhaps... Something quite clear is that the existing air intake completely obstructs cooling air over the top of the engine, and that is made even worse by a sealant strip at the top of the hood. There should be a lot more airflow once all that stuff is removed. What the designers clearly haven't realized is that if you restrict the airflow over the top of the engine, and remove any air exits behind and above the engine, you restrict the amount of air the engine gets to breathe. I have noticed the firewall, A/C ducts and even the instrument panel get quite warm during normal operation, and I can only assume that is because there isn't cooling air coming to the top or the back of the engine, it all goes down. I should soon be able to see if I have that right, anyway.

Why all the fuss? As I was fixing my engine, last year, I got interested in the design process of engines - so many bits appear to have been bolted on as new technologies or new regulations happen. My old Camaro had a mechanism in the gear change that made it automatically go from first to third gear - it was explained to me this was to make the car comply with emissions regulations. Weirdly, you could bypass this if you went high into the RPMs, which, in my book, would have been non-compliance, but apparently the Fed thought that was fine. Similarly, I've found the 4.7 litre V8 in the Durango is designed to run very hot, this to get to a combustion that is as complete as possible. The consequence, as you can see in the Dodge forums, and as I experienced driving cross-country with a trailer, is that the car overheats easily as it gets older, and gunk builds up in the cooling system and the oil pan - oil plays an important part in engine cooling, though more so in European engines than in American engines. So I am working on trying to control that a bit better, using some engineering tricks, just because I like to tinker. The DOT attendant told me last year that my engine was running cleaner (actually, so much cleaner he did a double take and then complimented me, which was really cool, given I knew little about car engines) than the year before, this being after I did the repairs, so I should have some margin. Ah yes, and the PCV valve, I will replace that, now that I know what, and where, it is.

June 10, 2014: Roaring down Route 99

Keywords: Blackberry Z10, Blackberry Link, Nokia C7, Dodge Durango, OBD II, air intake, cooling
High Velocity air intake
                                        Durango A bit of light at the end of the tunnel.. I am still working on the air intake, as it is a bit of a DIY unit without much of a manual, but I think I am just about there. As I mentioned, I wanted to make sure I could capture engine readings, and eventually managed to get OBDScope running reliably on a Nokia C7. While I bought that new, this proves that you can buy a used cellphone and use it for a particular piece of software, because running engine diagnostics on a cellphone that you use for everyday functionality like taking calls, email and perhaps navigation is not a good idea, if not a downright headache. This works brilliantly - I normally use the C7 as my home phone, and on the road for navigation, but I have found the navigation app on my new Blackberry Z10 is a worthy substitute. And after a fair amount of detail work, rerunning hoses and leads, and verifying everything is where it needs to be, the air intake is working well. I had to make some adjustments to install the air temperature gauge, which gets pulled back out of the intake if you leave the wiring the way it was installed at the factory, and I found the plastic vacuum hose that came with the intake is cheap crap, it kinks within hours, but Prestone makes a perfect fit sturdy rubber hose you can pull off the rack at your auto parts store.

original air intake
                                        Durango Apart from a finicky Bluetooth connection on the Nokia I am using for diagnostics, I think I am more or less done with the air intake. I need to make a few more miles before filling up the tank and establishing the MPG rating, but this morning I reset the PCM (Powertrain Control Module, the "brains" of the engine), which is now learning about the new air ratios and temperature and stuff. She runs nicely, I do notice a loud roar when accelerating on the highway, but that is as it is supposed to be. Other than that, the engine is quiet and runs smoothly, slightly louder than before. I do notice that the coolant temperature is slightly higher, but with less fluctuation - and that could mean I have more horsepower, which means less "strain" on the engine. The diagnostics tell me that when I accelerate up to highway speeds, the air intake temperature drops some 15 degrees, which is what a "cold air" intake is all about, I suppose. The whole "cold air" story is a bit of a misnomer. In the olden days, the air would be preheated in the carburetor, by a warm coolant line from the cooling system, as carburetors were prone to freezing - but those days are long gone, fuel injected engines don't have the type of fuel evaporation carbureted engines did.

Anyway, I'll tell you more once I've done some miles with the new intake, especially once I fill her up 'll be able to tell if there is a significant difference. Two things I know are very different: the engine can "breathe easier", gets more air; and I think there is more vacuum being drawn, and I don't know what the effect of that will be, I don't even really know what the vacuum is for - although, having replaced the PCV valve, I know vacuum lines suck a mixture of combustion gas and exhaust that "leaks" past the pistons into the crankcase and mixes with oil vapour back into the combustion zone. Kinda fun stuff, I am learning how modern engines work. Look at the new and the original air intake, above, and you'll see how large the difference is. All that extra plastic is there to reduce engine noise; amazingly, the nozzle that serves as the actual air intake faces a hole in the fender wall that has no connection to the outside. I do think that removing all that plastic will allow the cooling to run more efficiently, the passenger side of the engine was rather tightly packed...

Then, I almost accidentally looked at a share function on my new Blackberry Z10 - and found that, using Blackberry Link, I can access stuff on my laptop from the handset over the mobile network, using Blackberry's own secure network. Totally cool. While I understand Android and iOS have the capability too, the Z10 offers to install the link software the moment you connect the handset to a PC, it initially behaves like a USB drive, and once you've told it to go ahead the process is transparent, fetches the latest update during the install, and from that point on you can back up the handset to the PC, copy your pictures and videos over, and store or access anything you need on the handset. I keep forgetting to run a full test, I'll make a note for Monday, when I am the other side of Lake Washington.

June 21, 2014: Everything works if you want it to

Keywords: Blackberry, Z10, CarDav, Red Dwarf, Android, Google, Powertrain Control Module
Wotabitch. Once I had the Blackberry Z10 all installed and behaving itself (which means automatic connection to my laptop over the internet, even remotely, I am psyched) I found that when I tried to sync in my Blackberry Playbook, it wiped out my Google Contacts. As in, permanently, Google replicated an empty database into its own using CarDav. Asinine. And try as I might - I have my full contacts database in the Z10, copied from my Torch 9810 - I couldn't get the Z10 to replicate back to Google.

The T-Mobile Blackberry support folks in Albuquerque, NM, were beyond helpful, spending hours on the phone with me trying to find solutions, eventually turning BIS back on for another mobile number, which let me try to put the Torch back online, the new Blackberry 10 series does not use BIS. But even that did not work, Google would not synchronize into its database, whatever I tried. Eventually, one of the support people suggested something I really didn't want to get into, fixing a 917 record comma delimited backup file, which Google wouldn't "eat" either. And, of course, thank you T-Mobile, I found one large record I'd put in the phone so I could have my passwords in one place where nobody would look, a record that had only a note, and that was the problem. So now the Google database is back in place, although I am still testing whether I can now replicate to it, and I'll have to then go in and fix some stuff the Blackberry screwed up. Jeez. I would have never thought you could spend as much time fixing things in mobile phones as you do in PCs and laptops.

Ahhh... "Yes, Prime Minister" is back on the Beeb. Heaven. And.... OMG... is this true? Red Dwarf!!!

I cannot believe locating your Android phone via Android Devicemanager using Microsoft Internet Explorer is no longer possible. This can't have been what the gummint had in mind when it said we'd encourage competiton. Especially where Google just said it would install a "kill switch" in Android. It is there. Today. Google just has disabled it for many users, because they want you to use Chrome. It's not something we have not seen before, but please don't make announcements that make no sense. Google is no longer your everyman search engine.

Before BIS gets turned off again, I guess I'd better try to synchronize my Contacts database to the Playbook again, since I am, for now, able to replicate the Torch back to Google. Hop - this time it works. WTF.... I'll never really know how that database got wiped. And I haven't been able to restore it to full functionality where Google is concerned, I may have to manually go through the 917 or so records. $%^##*!!. Owell. At least I had a backup or two. As always. Now - better back up the Playbook....

Wallander... So how do the Scandinavians suddenly make such superb television? I would have to think it is the technological abilities we've developed, we no longer need a lot of artificial lighting (except when shooting for HD) and a camera capturing a person or persons can literally be anywhere, and be relatively unobtrusive. I've come away very impressed with Wallander, although developing Alzheimer's in three episodes is a bit much, well done though it is. And it is a lot better than the crap the American networks throw at their viewers, although some of it continues to be wildly popular. Just dunno why.

The Durango air intake is stabilizing, it is interesting to see how the engine is apparently adjusting since I reset the PCM, a.k.a. the ECU. Why the Engine Control Unit had its name changed to Powertrain Control Module is a bit beyond me, I guess the PCM controls the automatic gearbox as well. At any rate, the engine is stabilizing, which, amongst others, means it is getting noisier, which the internet boards seem to think is normal with a straight-in-and-out air intake. The roar when I put my foot down on the highway is rather fun, I suppose, that's new. I've not yet gotten a meaningful reading for the engine's efficiency, although a long run on 405 seems to indicate a mileage improvement, but it is too early to make a definite diagnosis. Another week or so, I think, fill 'er up, and then I'll do another week with the OBDScope software.

Couple weeks, I'll be housesitting again, and later in the year likely another stint in Thailand. I've not written that up in a trip report, as yet, as it involves a friend, and I have never involved other people in my blogs. I could ask approval, and have 'em vet the copy, but I've never done that. Only last week, an ex told me she worried about my using the photography and video I have of her, and that made me laugh - if I've not done that in the past decade, why would I suddenly start? Truth is, it is so easy to screw somebody up, or over, but I don't see how you get anything out of that. No, vindictive I am not, somebody screws me up I'll get right back to them, and that is it, off you go. Besides... anyway, never mind.

July 23, 2014: Finishing stuff

Keywords: Android, Samsung Galaxy, Durango, Caroo Pro, Sony Vaio, Tivo, UW
Open Vaio All-In-One Hmm. Next day. Weedwhacker fixed, hot water tank drained and its air intake fixed - no idea the insulation was obstructing that. Put a 500GB Western Digital drive in the Vaio, not the one I intended, it turned out there was a 5" drive in the thing, and I did not feel like getting a upsize caddy for the 2.5" drive I had available. Impatient. So I ripped the drive out of the Tivo enclosure I wasn't using for the Tivo anyway, and that works fine, actually very silent and seems to run at the same response time as the old one. Having said that, the Tivo won't boot off the new drive, so I bought drive creation software off the internet, but now I have a hard time getting the software to talk to the Linux drive designators. That shouldn't be a major issue, but I've never run UNIX on this Lenovo, so... maybe I'll disassemble the Vaio again, put the Tivo drive in there, and see if I can get that to act like a UNIX box. The Lenovo, with its SATA ports and other "stuff", is a headache in that respect. The Vaio, whose architecture is simpler, could be easier. Fingers crossed. You can see its innards on the picture here, not really easy to open up, but what the hey, I think the Tivo is not broken, just something went wrong with the original drive - which, on a Tivo, runs 24/7, in this case since 2009, and its cooling isn't brilliant. More to follow..

I have been using the CaroProo Android application for a while now, to record car engine performance via an OBDII Bluetooth dongle, while recording dahscam video at the same time. Last year, that went sour when their update would no longer provide legible MPG - in their quest to add functionality for high end Galaxys, CaroProo ruined their app for lower end Galaxys. They provided me with an older version of the software that works well - obviously, auto-update is off... Recently, they released a new version that did everything correctly, so I was really pleased. But then, occasionally, my Galaxy handset, which normally functions as my vahicle locator in case of theft, would drain its battery overnight - normally, it uses only 10% of battery or so, in 24 hours on standby. So, I investigatered. Turns out that CaroProo - even the older version - autostarts, even if you have autostart turned off in its menu. And the new version does something in your phone that eats battery. People in their Facebook forum complain about battery drain already, but as it turns out that combines with "standby" battery drain when there should not be any. I've now told Google, and the developers say they'll fix it. It is a real problem with applications, many run and collect data when they should not. #asinine

I am using a few apps for various different purposes, on various different handsets, under various different operating systems. In doing that, it has increasingly become unclear to me why anybody would consider "BYOD" schemes. A mobile phone is not a reliable computing environment, you have little or no control over what various applications do, the majority of application developers mine personal information they have no need to use, etc. It is truly amazing - the very first thing the LinkedIn app does is import your entire address book, without asking, and run that against its own database. While that brings up all of the LinkedIn IDs for your contacts, LinkedIn copies it into its cloud, and uses your contacts to make connection suggestions to other members, without any kind of permission. And that is just one app. Just don't think there are reputable companies any more, whether LinkedIn or Comcast, the majority will help themselves to information they've not asked permission to use.

So anyway. Finally, I've got the pesky Device Manager error message in Windows 7 64 on my Vaio gone, although it is unclear to me why it keeps "happening". I know it is an Intel motherboard driver, but why the driver for this board doesn't clear the error, and the driver for another Vaio will... Last time I cleared it I took no notes, then when I reinstalled the system I couldn't remember what to do, and this time it took me something like six months to (intermittently) troubleshoot it. Owell, it's fixed. I don't know how long this 2009 Vaio will still last, it is running fine, but I think I do need to take it to pieces and blow out its innards, which isn't easy, but I've seen it done once before, even have some shots from when a service technician swapped out its motherboard. While I am in there, I may even swap out the 320GB hard disk for a 500 I have lying around - and, if I can, replace the dead motherboard battery.

I must say I find the little T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy Exhibit 4G I have in the car an ideal piece of gear, serving as it does as a vehicle locator when I am not using it to monitor the engine while playing dashcam. Ideal, in that running it costs me $10 a month, in my T-Mobile package deal, and the thing itself only cost $125. I am unlikely to ever use it for anything else, considering the amount of information Google gets out of your using an Android device. Think about it - Google knows your address book, lock stock and barrel, and it knows when you go visit which friend - if you go to Denver, CO, call up a local GPS map, and you call your local friends there, Google knows where you are, and who you are with, maybe even which restaurant y'all are having lunch at, what hotel you're staying at, or that you're with your in-laws - and please understand Google knows they're your in-laws. I don't know about you, but that is a bit much to exchange for a phone you actually have to pay for. This doesn't help you, it provides Google with marketing data they don't pay you for. I think it is crazy. Read about the Facebook experiment with posting emotions and you can see how far these folks think they can go - especially considering they don't have a good understanding of what they're doing.

So I am going to try and put together some lectures, now that I have found the University of Washington has an "experimental college" that anyone can teach at. I've been wanting to teach, but I don't have the academic credentials. My landlord mentioned the Experimental College to me, the other day, I had no idea that existed. No requirements, put it together, go through an approval, for the most part for UW to establish it does not compete with what they're offering, and Bob's your uncle. This is, for me, a very good exercise. I realized that, in order to submit an outline, I simply have to write and exercise the entire lecture - and I do want to do this as a class, I don't know that an audience is best served by listening without participation. That, in turn, means I have to do all of the research, in anticipation of what questions might be asked. That is a good body of work - and I just realized I should have someone look over the paper - thankfully I have some excellent scientists among my circle of friends and former colleagues.

High Intensity LED
                                        bulbs Last but not least, I finished adjusting the new air intake on my Durango, and as luck would have it, we're in the midddle of a heatwave, here in the Northwest. I am emphasizing this because this entire saga began with me coming cross-continent in a heatwave, in a badly overheating Durango. It took me a while to figure out what the problems were, but I think I can safely say the work I did on it last summer, combined with the rest of the maintenance I did this year, certainly fixed the overheating, and as it turns out the cold air intake I installed gave me that extra little bit of power that really makes the engine "happy and smooth". Running the car with the A/C on high, in 90s temperatures, the engine not only doesn't run hot, with the A/C condensor fan kicked in the coolant temperature actually comes down, and the compressor cycles - IOW, the heat exchanger is getting plenty of cooling, even in high heat and full sun. That makes me really happy. An engine with more power will generate less heat for the same work effort, and that is clearly the case here. The coolant temperature is visibly lower, when driving around in the summer heat, even to the point the auxiliary electrical fan, which kicks in when the A/C comes on, as well as when the coolant temperature gets above 120° Fahrenheit, has not been needed, in regular urban driving.

It isn't just because I have been thinking about heading South, to warmer climes, but simply because I've learned so much about the types of engine, and about the multitude of remedies that can be applied when things aren't broken. I mean, the A/C compressor was broken, but after replacement the engine needed a lot of other TLC, and it was, in the final analysis, not hugely expensive, if you just ignore the amount of time I spent. One thing I could not do was test my fixes in the heat, and Mother Nature has now solved that problem handily - actually, I can do some more testing, because this heatwave will continue into next week, and I have plenty of mountains here to do some driving in thin air, it'll be in the 100's in the foothills, inland... So, cool, pardon the pun.

August 8, 2014: Putin and the Putains

Keywords: Vladimir Putin, Russia, Crimea, Ukraine, contact lenses, T-Mobile, Blackberry Z10, AIS, Google, Coopervision
Wash the dog So where does this Ukraine problem come from? It comes from our (the West) failure to push back on Putin when he took the Crimea. We decided that Putin could make a case for taking back the Crimea, that the place was full of "ethnic Russians" anyway (what the heck are those?), and so we let him push the Ukranians out of their own province.

You give a dog a bone, and he is going to remember where that came from. The dog will then come back for more. A dog, with wolf in its ancestry, is a dangerous animal, and because he thinks he is domesticated he can pretend to be a nice trustworthy animal. But kids, open the dog's mouth, and look at his teeth. Those were never intended for caressing, and they didn't get there by accident, and they have far less difficulty with rare steak than our choppers do. So this thing is our mistake, our stupidity, and there is presently no longer anything we can do to stop the dog, we invited him into the living room, and he has tasted blood. We know what to do with killer animals that have tasted blood, but there isn't the political will to do that with Putin - for the most part, politicians don't want to even acknowledge he is a carnivore (maybe that, too, is our own fault: store bought dog food commonly, stupidly, has vegetables in it - ever seen a dog hunt corn on the cob, or arugula?). So we're digging ourselves in deeper and deeper, and when even losing an entire civilian airplane doesn't galvanize us into action, and Putin's only response is to crave more blood, we're in for a heck of a ride. It is time to send Merkelchen to Moscow to discuss returning the Crimea to Ukraine - after all, she speaks Russisch. We now know why Snowden is in Russia, and why there are live missile batteries on the Russian border - the dog wants more. Let's feed him his own bones.

Next week: Monkeys

Contact lenses So: the problem I was having with Google Contacts and my new Blackberry Z10 had nothing to do with Blackberry or the Playbook or the Z10 or Moi. Because: I have not made any changes (other than reloading the Gmail account, which made no difference) but today, several weeks and posts (!!) later, it all suddenly works as advertised, Google Contacts sync automagically to the Z10's address book, and vice versa, this without there being BIS nor BES on my T-Mobile account. I do have an IP connection with RIM, but that is an optional thing, although it has networking benefits I would not want to do without. So: all sorted. And if you have problems with anything involving a Google product for heaven's sake blog about it, because they do read yer stuff. I've noticed this before with their products - Device tracker, notably, was all broken until I wrote about it. Which reminds me.. sheesh, Android Devicemanager now works from Microsoft Internet Explorer again! Woohoo! The Word is Blogmagic *grin*

Ah, now I understand. A month or so ago, when I was talking to T-Mobile technical support about the Google problems above, I mentioned wanting to unlock the new Blackberry - all of my phones are unlocked, I like having a phone with a local SIM when I travel abroad, next to my T-Mobile issue handset. The rep walked me through a check, and that indicated the handset was unlocked already. Yeehoo, and superduper, but the rep would request an unlock code anyway, just to make sure.

That apparently didn't happen, and then a couple of days ago my friends returned from Thailand, and brough me a spanking new micro-SIM for the Blackberry - that does not take regular SIMs, and so I had no way to test, or indeed to unlock, which you can only do after TMO provides a code, and you insert a "foreign" SIM. Sure enough, the handset wasn't unlocked - the rep had had me test against the TMO SIM, and that will show unlocked, since it is native. Go figure. Anyway, I called again, friendly helpful tech support person Paul apologized, said he'd get on it, and sure enough, two hours (that's a record!) later I had the unlock code, and the Z10 unlocked. Teehee. I mean, I bought the thing outright, so it should be unlocked, under the new Federal guidelines.

Something I can't recommend is changing your contact lens prescription yourself. But the other day, when I went into my contact lens provider's website, I noticed that British CooperVision had the same lens I always use, with an 8.6 curvature, for half the price they charge for my "normal" Ciba Air Optix Night&Day, extended wear lenses, I sleep in 'em, and take them out and put them in the cleaning soup once a week, after having a nassty experience when I used to wear them for a month at a time. Anyway: CooperVision has the same lens, for much less $$s, but not with the correct diameter - my prescription says 13.8(mm), and CooperVision only has a 14.0(mm) lens. Now if the diameter is 0.2mm larger, that's 0.1mm either side of your iris, is that really a significant difference? And then you check on the internet and people say that the larger diameter isn't good because it has a different curvature. That, of course, is bullshit - curvature is curvature, and if the lens had a 10 inch, 25 cm, diameter, it would still have the same curvature. The eyeball is curved perfectly itself, so the diamater is to do with the space between the eyelids - if the edge of the lens is permanently under an eyelid it will no longer move and rotate on the eyeball, which it has to be able to do for your eyeball to moisten and breathe.

Long story short, I decided 0.2mm in diameter is a really small differential (like 0.00078 inches), so I tried it. I got the CooperVision lenses at the end of May, it is now the end of July, and my eyes are happy, and my wallet is too - 2x6 Coopervision lenses cost exactly what 6 Ciba lenses would have cost. There is more to the story, but I'll save that until after I have seen my eye doctor. And remember: this is completely unsupported by any expert (then again, I have been wearing extended wear lenses since before I moved from Amsterdam to London, which was in 1979, so I have a little experience) so don't try it until my eye doctor tells me what's what. I am writing this on my laptop, so I can still see my screen *grin*.

August 19, 2014: That hurt!

Keywords: accident, dog attack, collapsed lung, hand fracture, ER, Swedish Medical Center

ERYep, that is me in the ER - dog lunged at me, lost my footing, hit the kerb - collapsed lung, facial injuries, compound hand fracture, the works. Brutal. With my left hand out of action, one hand typing makes updating this blog a pain, I'll see if I can find my dictation software. I am on the mend, so not to worry....

A new installation of Dragon NaturallySpeaking is a necessity, since my left hand is out of action. I need some way to write my blog, do website updates, and write letters, and am hoping the software can be made to work reliably. I do have some background noise from the window fan, it is after all summer, and am hoping that will be manageable. This actually does not look too bad, I'm going to have to do some more testing and make the necessary corrections, so that the software will understand my diction better, but it looks like things are going reasonably well, considering I originally couldn't get his microphone to work at all. I am currently working on an older Sony VAIO desktop, since this version of Dragon will not install under Windows 8, so I cannot run it on my Lenovo laptop any more. The VAIO runs Windows 7, which it seems to be happier with than Windows 8, which I backed out of it after a couple of weeks of trying.

September 25, 2014: My hand is back!

Keywords: Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Seiki 4K LED Ultra-HD, 2160p, NASA, SpaceX, Elon Musk, Boeing, ISS, Mars
Seiki U-HD 4K Remembering the last time I used Dragon NaturallySpeaking, using dictation meant you wrote a lot more than was comfortable to read in a blog. In other words, you can go on talking, dictating, whining, until you see blue in the face and dictation software will faithfully render it into your computer, by the bucketful. The latter, at least the way I look at it, is not pleasant for the reader, who I believe wants to read a paragraph or so, and then be able to choose whether to go on to the next paragraph, or to someplace else. So, at the present time, this is working well, and I can be writing decent text as the mood strikes me. I am at the present time sat in my room and the microphone has been set for mono sound, which is probably what I did wrong before. This headset, while cheap, certainly works well with Skype, and there is no reason why it would not function well with Dragon.

Of course, when I last dictated a paragraph I turned the microphone off and saved the file without making corrections, which prevents Dragon from learning what it got wrong and what the correct words were utterances might have been. That is, even for this older version of Dragon (I purchased this package in 2010) one of the really amazing capabilities of the software, that it will learn how you speak and express yourself, and then applies the corrections you make. That also means that using Dragon is a time-consuming affair because you have to allow it to get used to the way you speak and the way you form your sentences and the way you use grammar and language in general. But then it is nice to have a way of getting to a semblance of perfection, which makes it easier and quicker to dictate later on. So let me say this, make the necessary corrections and then go to Facebook to see if I can dictate into the Facebook comment box since I still need to reply to someone.

Waaa. The cast is off my left hand - in one form or another, it was on there since August 10. The hand is not working well, as of yet, but that is only to be expected, I am getting physicial therapy, even. But I have two hands to type with, so I can write this blog again. Teehee.

The picture at the top shows my new 39" 4K LED screen, one I discovered at Fred Meyer, recently. I salivated over it, at $399 before tax, but as I (and most everybody) don't have equipment that can output 3840x2160, 2160p, or four times the resolution of your living room HDTV, there didn't seem much point in buying it. Having said that, this set was barely more expensive than its 1080p equivalent, but when I went back, after two weeks of salivation, they'd run out. Except - they had a no-box return, for $359.99. Woof. I caved. I still don't have 2160p equipment, but I suppose I will, at some point. And the quality of this display is something else, never owned a monitor (I use it on my laptop) you can't see the pixels of.

After the recent announcement by the Federal Government that Elon Musk's SpaceX as well as Boeing will be given contracts to build the next generation of spacecraft to get to the ISS, speculation has begun about travel to Mars. To me, that's a joke. There is nothing on Mars that we need people, or should I say, “boots on the ground”, to do, we have robot technology that currently is driving around on that planet, and pretty soon we should be able to send robots that could bring stuff back if we want to do that. In terms of analysis, we seem to be doing a pretty good job of putting entire automated laboratories onto the planet. So, other than the understandable curiosity about putting people onto another planet, which in fact we have already done with the moon missions, I'm not seeing that this is a logical next step in terms of the development of space travel, and the interests of space exploration. Every time I look at the orbital station we have, what I see is an actual spacecraft, one that could travel to far away regions. Yes, it would require further development of the platform, we would need facilities to grow food, a fully equipped hospital on board, as well as a repair station, but those are not major concerns, we would need to build the prototypes, test and use them in a weightless environment, and then we would basically be ready. To me, vastly more interesting than sending a couple of guys in overpriced and otherwise useless spacesuits to Mars.

There is another factor, however. Since the distances we must traverse to get to the outer planets and beyond are vast, we would need families on board of a spacecraft, and we haven't even begun to think about how we would achieve that, let alone do the research and the trials. We don't have, as of yet, little spacesuits for the kids, and we seem to be sending older people up, rather than younger, and we certainly haven't put couples into space, let alone families. In order to advance mankind, and our knowledge, and push the envelope of scientific endeavour, this would be the next thing to do, scientifically vadtly more interesting than sending men to Mars. This is about people, survival, breaking new barriers. We have already been to another planet, we've already walked around on it, we have robots that can do that type of exploring for us, and none of that requires any physical input beyond that which already exists. But sending people "way out there", wouldn't that fascinate you?

October 5, 2014: Recovery: slowly but surely

Keywords: hand fracture, medical bills, AIS backup, Seagate, Lenovo, laptop backup, pro bono
noodles 'n chopsticksAlmost there... My hand out of the cast, I can use chopsticks again.. I had no idea that was that important to me?!

I had wanted to replace some parts on the Durango, having read that when you replace the serpentine belt, you should replace the belt tensioner and the idler pulley. That makes good sense, so I ordered them, but as my left pinkie is still healing, I really don't want to take the risk of damaging it. The orthopedic surgeon had it that the new bone, after almost two months in a cast, is still not fully hardened, and taking the belt off, and doing stuff that takes a fair amount of force, is probably too risky. I'd just like to get that over with while the weather is still warm, I hate working on metal parts in the cold, but I suppose there's always gloves.

Anyway, if that's my main problem, it isn't all that bad. I was worried about the medical bills, after my accident, but (apart from my disappeared front crown) they seem to be reasonable. But then, I have not had the hospital bills - yet... fingers crossed.

Anyway, what with two functioning hands I really must write up the accident report, and then find a pro bono attourney - or at least one willing to pursue the dog woman's insurance. I lost a crown from a front tooth, and certainly cannot afford to pay for the replacement. Besides, I should not paying any of the medical expenses, considering this was all someone else's fault.

If you consider my "accident" is almost two months ago, I must say I am not recovering half as fast as I would have expected. Perhaps that's normal - collapsed lung, hand fracture, broken tooth, chin laceration, which means my head took a hit, all a lot more damage than you'd expect from an ordinary fall. And in hindsight, I think I may have briefly lost consciousness, so all in all, I likely took some damage. Curious - I suppose, apart from my 2010 surgery, and the massive car accident I had when 24, I've never had an accident or major trauma. Well, this wasn't major trauma, but you get my drift. I find I am even having a hard time getting back to writing "normally" - blogging, and picking up writing the coursework I am planning to develop. Hence the aforegoing musings.

Next (as I write this) I am trying to figure out why my laptop kinda dies while doing a full backup to one of my large Seagate ESATA drives. I've sort of caused my own problems by installing a terabyte drive in the laptop, and restoring a good portion of my backups to it. It made little sense to put a very large drive in the Lenovo and then not use it, but that does mean I have to be really diligent about backing up. I've seen, over the years, how easily a hard disk can fail, and if you've got the better part of fifteen years of stuff on it, the results can be even more devastating.

While one of my AIS backups runs fine, the other failed, the other day, catastrophically, I wasn't able to recover it. That does, indeed, still leave me with one full backup, as well as a robocopy backup of my essential files, but I do want AIS to run to two drives. So, I've made some settings changes to Windows 8, and am now trying the backup for the third time. Somehow, it fails after 100 gigabytes or so - originally, the drive went into fault mode, but after exchanging its ESATA interface module, the laptop wouldn't come back from timeout. Can't figure out why not. So I've eliminated some more variables, and we'll see how that goes this time....

Next morning, the backup is still still going strong, but I did notice some truly weird behaviour in Windows 8 - I had upgraded to 8.1 previously, but when I found out that's more aimed at tablets than anything else, and it functions as a personal information collection machine for Microsoft, I backed it out last year. I get Windows errors, frequently, that refer to the User Interface login, and I have no idea where they come from. And then last night I noticed that you can turn off the screensaver-with-login all you like, it continues running. Even turning off Lenovo's fingerprint recognition makes no difference here. I think that since I bypassed Microsoft's user login (the one the operating system forces you to use, Windows Live based), for which there is no official turnoff, Windows continues to log into Microsoft, even if it does not have login credentials to do so. That would make sense - my worry now is that the forthcoming Windows 10 will do the same thing. It is one of the reasons why I don't, and won't, use an Android phone, or a Microsoft phone - they require the login, and collect personal information for their own use.

You see, backing up some 600GB in such a way that you have plenty of leftover space on your 750GB backup drive requires you to use a compression algorithm, and that slows your backup down. AIS Backup, a package I love, created ZIP archives, which lets you, in an emergency, access your files on the backup drive even if you don't have AIS loaded, something I think is clever. But starting up, of course, it says it'll need some 72 hours, and if you use your laptop while backing up you do run the risk of a crash, can't count the number of times that's happened to me on the fingers of one hand. Having said that, I never turned off my maintenance routines and antivirus stuff before, so perhaps that's all it takes. I'll keep you posted.

I hope F1 driver Jules Bianchi will recover, that was a horrendous crash at Suzuka. I suppose he is paying the price for the F1 circus - despite an approaching typhoon, and a driving rainstorm, the show must go on. I watched part of it, then went to bed, as this was more of a toe curling exercise than a proper race. Last year, there were quite a few British expats in Thailand emphatically not watching Formula 1, since it has become predictable and boring. More about that in another writeup.

October 10, 2014: Backing up is hard to do

Keywords: AIS backup, Seagate, Lenovo, laptop backup, hand fracture, blood oxygen, pulse oximeter
Western Digital terabyte
                                        driveOK... so that backup didn't work either. I have one suspicion, though - if you turn off your display, and the computer then tries to power its display connection down, could that cause it to hang? Necessary it isn't, I've discovered that if you lock your system it'll begin a turnoff sequence a few minutes later, so I've reset the full backup, and will try that next. I glanced over the Windows errors, but couldn't find anything that made sense here, other than (perhaps) the user interface login, which presumably fails because I have bypassed the Microsoft login setup. Sheesh.

Followup: I somehow managed to turn off the screensaver, though I don't know how. In order to eliminate all of the variables I turned off the virus software (I replaced AVG with Ad-Aware, the other day, as AVG is increasingly popping stuff up on your screen unasked), the scheduled disk compression (a CPU hog on a 1 terabyte drive), and the screen saver (but not the display turnoff), something that did not work last time I tried. I've also upped the CPU cycles AIS can use from 60% to 80%. So far, so good, after a night of running, and it is running faster than before. Removing the virus software has the benefit of it not reading files that are being accessed, which would be OK during a normal backup, but not when you're backing up an entire 600GB disk load - that's about how much I have on this disk. After a night's running, AIS reports it needs about another 47 hours - usually, it takes less than what it forecasts, but at least the system hasn't stopped responding to me.

pulse oximeterBy the end of the week, I should just about be back to normal. It is truly amazing how much is involved with the recovery from what should have been a simple fall.... I was able to bin the yard waste and put the bin by the kerb today, and by the end of the week I should be able to wack the weeds and mow the lawn. Since the cast came off, I've had to be really careful with my left hand, so there were lots of things I just didn't do, to reduce the risk of my pinkie breaking again - the bone had broken in three places, and the joint had split, don't ask me how.

Apart from that, after the surgeon at Swedish told me my lungs had "uncollapsed", I wasn't quite prepared to have every doctor I saw since go for his or her stethoscope, to check my lungs. Apparently, the aftermath of a collapsed lung is kind of a high risk exercise, with a chance of recurrence - apart from anything else, they won't let me fly for months. So, I went online and bought a pulse oximeter, which is what they used in the hospital. I always thought these things they clip on your finger just check your heart rate, but they actually check both your heart rate and your blood oxygen level. I found one at Amazon that has the capability to connect with the PC for $42.46, which I didn't think was too expensive (less advanced units cost as little as $25), so I can now check my blood oxygen, which I do in the morning. Because I have high blood pressure (like many people my age), I had been monitoring that, on my doctor's advice, for many years, and adding temperature, weight, and now blood oxygen, wasn't a big deal. It all goes in a spreadsheet, and when I have my quarterly medication checkup I take the averages in. I've actually never been in the "danger zone", but it is a good way to be alerted early should something be wrong. It is, I suppose, an early warning system that is good to have when you're aging, especially if you have a long term condition for which you take prescription medication.

Hah! The next day, and the backup has finished - AIS is now running a full verify, checksum style, so I have two full AIS backups, and the Seagate is running fine, with the interface replaced. I had one ESATA connector spare, had just never figured out where it was. By late night or morning, this will be done. The daily incremental backups don't normally cause problems, although I think I will, in the future, turn off the virus scanner during a backup, which normally takes only half an hour anyway. Yahoo! Yoohoo! Or whatever.. Update: Done. 48 hours 9 minutes 42 seconds. Phew.

October 19, 2014: Ebola, or How Sick Can You Get

Keywords: Ebola, Liberia, CDC, NIH, Homeland Security, 9/11, OFCOM, BBC, teens, blogging
This Ebola story reminds me, strongly, of 9/11. Days before that attack I saw off a friend from The Netherlands, returning home after a visit. She expressed amazement that in the US, anybody could still walk up to the gate, to welcome or say goodbye to a passenger, even at international airports, a practice terrorism had stopped in Europe in the 1970s. We all know what happened - four days later, on Tuesday 9/11/2001, terrorists did just that, and hijacked four passenger aircraft.

What I am saying is that the United States could have adopted security measures as terrorism began to happen at airports, in the 1970s. It was predictable that someone, at some point, would come to one of our airports. The U.S. chose not to, as it often does, with a view at commercial disadvantages. And I think Ebola is a perfect example of how we again have no adequate response - no, we don't know enough about how Ebola is transmitted, and infectious patients can just lie on a form in Liberia, or detour through Brussels, or call the CDC to get cleared so they can fly with the first symptoms of Ebola, having treated a patient from West Africa who died. You really can't go on stating "chances are very small", because that means they aren't zero. We have a plethora of consequences of "small chances" - look at New Orleans, and hurricane Katrina: 1500 people died, most unnecessarily. And we keep on doing things "this way".

This is not how you run a country, or security. Ebola is as bad as guys with guns, and we created Homeland Security, and Singapore and China built portals to scan passengers fully automatically during the SARS epidemic in 2002 and 2003, so how the fuck are we not ready, why is not everything we need to detect and isolate permanently installed at every international airport and seaport, why can we not make our citizens safe? Well, says Obama, we can't stop flights from West Africa coming in. Huh? Sure we can... and even if we don't want to do that, we can take over passenger security at their airports. We've done that in Western Europe and other places, after 9/11, inject TSA folk into foreign airports, so we can inject CDC and NIH teams into foreign airports. They can accept that, or no more passengers booked to the USA. Simple. C'mon. Mr. President, if you were to stop appointing retired Generals and Rear Admirals, and find people who really know how to deal with disasters - we do have those, me among them - we can save lives and stop hospital idiots in Dallas screwing things up. They're not to blame, they've never had this kind of stuff going on, but we can train them. Preferably ahead of time. Liberians in Dallas? And we did not know that? That's your job, Mr. President, perhaps the NSA should have been told to refocus, and that is your job. We spend billions of dollars on these folks, and they can't see an Ebola coming. That's.. the Mexicans had it right when they refused a cruise ship with an Ebola nurse into port. Why take the risk? Let's get this over with and then get back to "normal", whatever that is.

CBBC on a 39Onwards. So here, through the good services of OFCOM, as reported by the BBC, is your real issue: kids are abandoning watching the television set, opting to access the world on their tablets. I've thought this was coming, and here it is: never mind how big your TV is, and how connected it is (with, of course, a manufacturer mining your television for personal data), a new generation is using a connected device. No more television, no more telephone, the tablet will let you do all that, even use Skype and similar services, but for the most part this is a generation that has little need for talking, texting and messaging instead. Other research indicates that one in three people a teen meets is an original internet acquaintance. At which point some scientist opines that this is very risky, not realizing there are people you cannot get to know "in real life", simply because your physical paths would never intersect. Kids who grow up "on" the internet develop safety mechanisms that work as well as those we developed meeting people in bars and at parties, we're just in a transitional phase, IMHO. I've been lucky enough to have been meeting people on the internet since the late 1970's, and while I've been disappointed with some, I've never had major issues. One I actually married. I would say it is actually easier to do safety screening with an internet acquaintance than it is with a bar acquaintance - the article at the link above has some teens commenting on that. Your new friend does not come up in any searches? Fuggedaboutit.

To me, kids on tablets instead of TV is so cool, the only problem is that idiotic enterprises are spending billions of dollars marketing to platforms that will go away, and cannot connect you to advertising that will reach that generation. When you see the desperation with which the New York Times tries to force you to subscribe, and other agencies doing pop-over and slide-over and other disruptive and annoying advertising mechanisms, investors should keep a close eye on advertising revenues, because at some point Toyota and Hewlett Packard are going to get it through their thick heads they advertise in annoying ways, and their products are advertised on a TV that nobody watches, or they are being advertised in ways that are intrusive to the point the consumer gets annoyed. I have a hard time believing some advertisers use techniques that actually make it temporarily impossible for you to read or watch what you wanted, which makes you wonder if the executives controlling the $$s actually check what the agencies get up to.

In order for me to get this course together I planned to, I have to write, and if I look back at my blogging, of late (prior to the beginning of August, when I had my accident), I've not been as good at writing as I was before. Let's see... beginning of the year, I think, I ran out of steam, for no good reason. I have a three month gap in 2013, when I was in Thailand, but that was for legal reasons - a gap I can now close, when I get around to it, I have plenty of photography, and plenty to tell, in a travelogue sort of way.

So, let me try and get back to a higher blogging freqency, plenty going on in the world that bears commenting.

October 27, 2014: The Age of Devices

Keywords: Samsung flat panel TV, gun violence, smartphones, tablets, blogging, teens, learning, dashcam, Apple II
Samsung flat panel TVJeez. One moment you note an armed civilian in Canada taking down an armed assailant, and preventing much loss of life, and you think "Thank heavens for guns". And then a fourteen year old in Marysville, up the road from me, unloads a magazine on his friends at school, and then blows his own brain out. An American Indian with gun experience, an accomplished hunter, there seems to be no indication what made him snap. There isn't a solution to the American gun debate, anyway, there are enough guns in circulation in the United States to keep gun dealers in bread 'n butter for a hundred years. All you can do is teach children gun stuff when they are young, so they develop proper respect for firearms, and learn how to lock 'em up. Just because you have a carry permit, or you live in a state with open carry laws, doesn't mean you have to have a gun on you.

Caroo software on a
                                        SamsungI need to do a serious piece on data and device security. There is so much drivel being spouted on the airwaves, down to when you should or should not read your email, and whether or not you should control your kids' device use.. Email, at least fromn those accounts where you get your important email, should be coming to your smartphone - mine has for many years. So that beeps when I get email, and then I take a quick look, and if it is not important or answerable I delete it, and the rest I pull to my laptop when I get to my desk, and deal with it. Email is not something you can deal with once a day, not any more, email has superseded the telephone in terms of communication, to the point that some folks will call you because they don't want to commit their thoughts in writing. Important to know. Twitter? Facebook? Twitter is public, and therefore not a secure medium, and I personally think Facebook should not be used for work related communication, because the Facebook organization reads and parses everything that goes through their servers (and even stuff that doesn't). I cringe every time I see an article in the press accompanied by people's personal pictures or video, like those of that Ebola nurse Pham, that are copyrighted by Facebook or Twitter or Google. That's not right - we have copyright laws whose rules should not be able to be overridden by legal language in someone's terms & conditions. What's the point of a law if an organization can just do some legal language and "defang" the law by making you click on something that does not even state it is an approval process? Technically, the Post Office could redo its rules and say affixing a stamp gives them the right to open all your mail and use your private information, wouldn't you think? Because that is what Facebook and Google and Yahoo and Microsoft do 24/7...

And controlling kids... I think they should learn to deal with their lives in the best way possible, taking away their smartphone at night deprives them of the 24/7 connection with their friends, and make you look like an idiot. How are they going to learn to manage their time and activities when you do it for them? The idea is for a kid to learn to live, I know it is easy for me to say, and it probably is hard work, but it's gotta be done. I was at a friend's, a while ago, and their kids, early teens, had regular cellphones, not smartphones. Smartphones, tablets and laptops are what they're going to have to use at college, and later at work, so you can't get those for them soon enough, I opined. Once they had them, they did various pretty amazing things with them within days. That's learning, right? And that is when they learn about security and backing up, and updating software, where when they lose data it is not a life disaster with abducted social security numbers and things.

So perhaps the secret to my getting back to more frequent blogging is to put this in an allocated time slot. I used to write late at night, but somehow all I do, these days, late at night, is watch television. Hm.. but then I didn't use to have TV reception on my computers, nor did I have access to the BBC iPlayer on laptop and tablet, so TV was a separate device. My big Samsung TV is semi-retired, living in the garage, these days...

As I have mentioned before, the days of the television are over. A big screen is perhaps nice to watch a movie with the partner, that's what happens with Netflix, but all of the rest is fine on smartphone and tablet. But Netflix may be a generational service, I don't know that kids are that interested in movies. They game, and may want to transfer the game interactively to a big screen, but mostly, want tools that let them carry whatever it is they want to do. Screens have become communications devices, and you can't share a big screen, we're in the iPerson era. It is particularly fascinating to me, as I have seen the computer arrive, and take over the world. I was lucky enough to be involved with the introduction of the Apple II, arguably the first mass market PC, in the Netherlands and Belgium, and today.... umm, let's see, a PC, a laptop, a tablet, two smartphones on my desk, and another in the car.

That last phone is probably a good example of where the cellphone is going. When I am not using the car, that phone provides a location service, so if the car gets stolen, or towed, I can check where it is. And when I drive, that phone is a dashcam as wel as the engine performance monitor, all in one. and that's what it is, $100 and you have a dedicated device for whatever you need to do. No, there's no need for the "internet of things", you don't need to connect your washing machine to the internet. All you need is a port on the machine. If you want to control your washing machine remotely, you can hook a phone up to it, with a washing machine app, and talk to it from whatever device you want. Most people won't want to remote control refrigerators and dishwashers, so won't need the circuitry, and the computer to control those things is built in already anyway. Having hundreds of IP addresses in each household is folly, technologically speaking.

Think about it - the device on the left, from a hardware perspective, is capable of doing it all - TV, PC, phone, handheld communication device, you name it. It just isn't very good at doing it all at the same time - pretty much the same restriction that applies to the PC. But it is cheap enough that you can dedicate one to a particular use, and that will be the next step. Getting an iPhone and then using it for everything, that isn't going to fly, and in many ways, that's why Google, with its "free" Android UNIX knockoff, wins...

November 1, 2014: Medics must not run governments

Keywords: Ebola, Hickox, Bangladesh, CDC, India, epidemics, risk management, Sony Vaio, backup, AIS, ESATA, IPTV, WiFi
I don't quite understand what exactly these Western nurses are doing in Ebola, to be honest with you. The way this epidemic is going to be controlled is by a capable local administration, and it doesn't look like we're using the tools we have to force the local governments to step up to the plate. Western doctors and nurses going over to treat victims and then coming home with the disease, as has been the norm, does not help anybody in any way. The US and the UK sending military in to set up hospitals is perhaps useful, but even there, the local governments have not been able to set up health systems in their countries? Same as the Bangladeshi and Indian government cannot control the slave-like conditions their factory workers work and sometimes die in? A garment factory fire is not that different from an Ebola epidemic, is it? In both cases, the government is responsible for its citizens, not the World Health Organization. The WHO is supposed to help and support, it does not run local health systems, nor is it there to advise the governors of New Jersey, New York and Maine. C'mon. We have condoned Indian and Burkina Fasso and Liberian governments not taking care of their citizens for far too long, and then when a disaster happens, we send in "aid workers". Think about it, that's a joke. It doesn't solve any of their problems, and if the citizens of Burkina Fasso burn their parliament, you can bet your bottom dollar they don't have a hospital network and subsidized health care either. Time to start tackling this from the top down, not the bottom up. I can still smell the excrement I encountered in the early morning when taking the train from Chennai Railway Station, in a country that sends satellites to Mars, while when I see the Dutch all in a tizzy over a fire in a garment factory in Bangladesh, where the owners had locked the fire doors. I wonder why the Dutch government does not intercede with the Bangladeshi government, as they can stop all imports from Bangladesh with a single telephone call. No, Dutch citizens will boycot certain stores that sell stuff made in Bangladesh. So now the cloth is made in India. Is Apple responsible for the workers in the Chinese contract factories? No, the Chinese state is.

Anyway, you get my point, I am sure. We can force the Lamborghini guzzling governments in Third World countries to invest in infrastructure, we just don't have the political will. Sending nurses to Ebola is not going to solve anything, and I would suggest it doesn't really save a lot of lives, in countries where a life costs a quarter at the best of times, anyway. Aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières is today complaining they could have been more effective had adequate maps and demographics of the affected countries been available - well, guess what, you've had since 1971, when MSF was founded, to create those in the Third World countries where it was likely your help would be needed. Or the UN or the WHO could have done that, or helped. It would seem to me those maps and databases are as essential to medical aid as saline solution. I find it strange MSF is suddenly complaining about this now, when there have been dozens of epidemics, there's the forever battle with malaria and other parasitic diseases, all of which need this type of information. But the thing is, aid is aid, it is not, cannot be, medical care. I worry the epidemic will be contained, the aid people will leave, and what then? We start back up with nothing, redecorate the presidential palace and buy more Lamborgini's? Prolly.

As of today, doctor's offices in the United States apologetically tell you, when making an appointment, that they have to ask you if you've been to Ebola - oops, sorry, West Africa, in the past 21 days. Or your wife. Or your teacher. Or your friends. Even if the doctor isn't in New Joisey or Maine. This is way late, but I suppose it is better than it was with SARS. Or Mers. But even so, during SARS, and Bird Flu, in Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Chinese international airports, EVERY passenger was screened, wherever they came from, wherever they were going. The Singaporeans built ports to scan all passengers. Talk to the White House and the CDC and they will tell you that's excessive. Excessive? Reducing risk and preventing a potential epidemic "excessive"? Remember the American patient with drug-resistant TB who escaped quarantine abroad, flew to Canada and drove across the border, then to fly home? That's what people do, they get moronic. That sort of behaviour (the same behaviour nurse Hickox is exhibiting) can kill thousands. The mind boggles.

BBC iPlayer on a Sony VAIOI have found that when running IPTV over WiFi, where the source is in Europe (timing is an issue here), my Vaio displays more reliably from an 802.11G router than from my 802.11N router (the Vaio itself supports both). I should hastily add that the Vaio is running Windows 7, which it was not designed for - it is an older All-in-One flat panel PC, which still does very well, but I have had to manually tweak a few device drivers to get it to run without errors. Yes, I could get a newer PC or laptop, but I just love tweaking older but technically up-to-date equipment to see how well it does, with a reasonable amount of, but not too much, TLC. Not too long ago I completely disassembled it - first time since a motherboard replacement in 2010 - which wasn't easy, where would we be without Youtube, because it isn't possible to fully clean its innards from dust otherwise. I do "blow it out" and vacuum the slots, every month, but I can tell you this was a necessary exercise.

This PC is my spare, to use if my laptop conks out, so I have the same software installed on both, and all of my files (religiously) backed up on a daily basis. I recommend running something processor and memory intensive, periodically, and then listening to how hard your fan runs. If it starts imitating a 747, after a while, you do need to do the dusting thing. When I did the big clean, in the summer, I took the opportunity to replace the 325MB hard disk with a 500GB disk from an external Tivo drive - this being a Western Digital ECO drive designed to run 24/7 without external cooling. I figured that, too, might help the Vaio to run a bit cooler. It seems to do just that - I have not heard the Vaio's fan run at the high rate it sometimes used to, especially when watching recorded TV at the same time as recording another program using Microsoft Windows Media Center, which seems to be the most demanding application I have, brilliant though it is.

It is a bit disconcerting to see that even though most computer users have become very reliant on their PCs, they generally neither have a "hot" backup machine, meaning one they maintain and have the same software on as their primary, nor do they back up. If you know how much can go wrong inside a PC, and how easily you can lose all of the data on your hard disk, you'd "be better". I am lucky, of course, having run bunches of servers in my lab in New York, and having worked, as a systems designer, on high availability servers and networks. In that line of work, you beat up on your systems to such an extent that some will fail, and you learn why and how this happens. That is why I am anal about backing up and having duplicate systems, you probably think I am crazy maintaining one duplicate backup, and an additional drive with just my files on it. Both backups I do daily. That takes little time, especially since I use fast big drives, on a fast (3 Gbit/s ESATA) port on my laptop. Newer PCs may have the new fast USB 3.0 port, or even a Superspeed port, with up to 4 Gbit/s, although USB is a shared port, so the final throughput will depend on how much stuff you have on the other ports. You kind of don't tend to think about it, but on this particular machine I have a USB Bluetooth dongle that talks to my keyboard as well as an audio device, and that can take quite a bit of bandwidth. The ESATA port talks to the internal ESATA connector, which allows the internal harddisk to talk at 6 Gbit/s, both on the system bus, the fastest way to convey data - that is why the system thinks all drives on ESATA connectors are internal, i.e. native, devices, while anything on USB is considered a removable device.

Why am I going on about it? If you buy a USB 2.0 disk to back up to, like one of those nice cheap terabyte Seagates I see at Costco, your maximum throughput is effectively 280 Mbit/s, and unlike ESATA and USB 3.0, half duplex - so, backing up is going to be slow, or perhaps I ought to say, not fast. Additionally, these drives are mostly powered with 5VDC by the USB port, while ESATA drives have a separate 12VDC power supply. My average daily backup is 2 to 3 megabytes - using my AIS backup software, which creates zip archives, a backup takes 20 to 30 minutes, so while I finish my morning coffee and shower, my backup is done. On USB, I don't really know, but I will test that for you, as the drives I use have both ESATA and USB connectors.

So, anyway, I got here from IPTV - I have not spent much time analyzing the routers, but the most likely culprit is 802.11N's ability to "burst" traffic at high speeds, up to 300 Mbit/s, which is hard to maintain, and may confuse the receiving end in thinking it doesn't need to buffer. You read about the huge numbers of devices that can use WiFi, not to mention Bluetooth, but little mention is made of the lack of frequencies available for all of these devices to share. Stuff bounces between frequencies, I suppose. So if you like to stream things, but it hiccups, try, paradoxically, a slower router.

November 6, 2014: The Race to Advertise

Keywords: Formula One, Bernie Ecclestone, Lewis Hamilton, Rupert Murdoch, 911, VOIP, backup batteries, Comcast, Matt Lauer

When Washington State privatized liquor sales, supermarkets began selling liquor from their regular shelving. Recently, a number of supermarkets have moved liquor to separate supervised rooms, or to locked cabinets for which you need to summon an attendant.

In one, just one, supermarket, theft losses for the quarter were $273,000. After they locked up the liquor, theft loss for the month reduced to $12,000.... What I would like to know is if this means the taxes on the lost booze are lost as well?

4.7 litre V-8 with cold air
                                        intakeSo Formula 1, which had already been transforming itself into the most boring thing on Earth, with two guys from one team winning alternatingly they can drop the rest of the teams, is now in monetary decline, run by Bernie Ecclestone, who has amassed a fortune that is larger than the value of all teams together. When the Austin, TX race is run, the BBC and others cannot broadcast it live, they have to make do with excerpts, because Fox/Sky, Rupert Murdoch's playpen, own the rights to this one, and prevent other broadcasters in markets they are present in from carrying the race live. The net consequence of all that is that most people who could be interested and would watch it and see the advertising can't watch it and can't look at the Hamilton chappie driving his Blackberry Mercedes. Which, apparently, in our brave New World, is the new purpose of sponsoring, in the United States supported by the FCC: making sure many viewers can't watch something live. Doesn't matter if you pay for cable or taxes, you can be excluded if you have the wrong subscription. To be honest, Ecclestone should use some of his river of money to finance the ailing teams, and then go away and hand over the reigns to someone who is more attuned to the audience and has a future vision. I mean, think about it - circuits and cars and drivers carry advertising, and now we sell the rights to broadcast to someone for a lot of money, in such a way that the majority of people who could watch the advertising cannot.

Will I take a Sky or Fox subscription because I can watch three or four races I otherwise can't? I have to spend hours figuring out which channel I can watch this weekend's race on? I now need four different cable channel subscriptions to see all races? Maybe not, Rupert & Friends. What I find gratifying is that the Ruperts are competing themselves into oblivion, because the people that used to watch Formula One don't any more, it is too much of a hassle. That's the reason we have teams going bankrupt, not one, not two, five or six. Having hybrid cars that use less fuel when you have begun nighttime races that use huge amounts of electricity for lighting that can be seen from the ISS, and races in the tropics and the desert where open(!) stands are air conditioned... you've got to be kidding me. I would recommend advertisers band together and start pushing organizers to get live races in front of as many viewers as possible. Otherwise, why advertise, if someone else arbitrarily decides who gets to see your logo on that car or track?

Because, and I cannot say this often enough, there are lots of people coming to Formula 1 races, and lots of people watching them on television. But neither Ecclestone nor Mercedes nor Murky nor the other teams have any idea how many millions of people would be watching if F1 weren't insufferably boring. By the time you get to having to retune exhausts in Oz because "the engines don't sound right" you really have lost touch with reality

Ah, Mercedes won. Oops, no, make that Mercedes, I'm sorry. Formula One is so much more exciting now that we have two drivers competing.

Speech driven switchAs I am trying to get my head around putting a course together, to teach at UW, and how to do that - a lecture is one thing, that I know how to do, but I've never done a series, well, not intentionally, anyway - I come across the FCC talking about how to revamp 911, which appears to be somewhat in disrepair. And then I read that the FCC tries to figure out where the carrier responsibility starts, and the consumer's responsibility ends.

911 used to be a "protected, secure" service run over copper wires - I'll never forget flying back in from Germany, and being met by a limo on the tarmac because our new operator services system was not working right, in our trial office on Long Island. Another time, I got called out on Christmas day, for the same reason. Every telephone subscriber had a right to have their 911 call answered, by a human, within 45 seconds. And we did. Barring the odd mishap, when we did get million dollar fines. And internally yelled at by the client. Rightfully.

But the wireless and IP telephony universe have put paid to all that. The times when you could send out the craftspersons and fix the wiring, or me to fix the switch, are long, long gone. It was one of the first things the phone company taught me after I went to work in their research lab - 911, emergency services, we even created special software and servers to deal with this, which was exciting.

But the FCC needs to understand that making sure residential VOIP modems have backup batteries is not going to work, and not going to be able to be maintained. If I pull the power on my landlord's Comcast connection box everything goes out, including the phone, despite the battery - and no Comcast technician turns up after receiving an alarm from their Central Office, because they don't. I don't know why, but that is the reality - a standard Comcast customer premise device, and Comcast doesn't have the ability to monitor its functioning. How the FCC wants to cure this is beyond me. Way back when, of course, the wired telephone ran on batteries too - the big grey box on the left in the picture connects to the battery floor - an entire floor - in the Central Office. That worked, because it was maintained by union technicians who knew what they were doing. If you're going to mandate battery "at the customer prem", as we call it, FCC, you will need to provide a human based mechanism to maintain and replace those batteries. Comcast isn't going to do it - the way I look at it, they won't even do it if you tell them to. They're too busy enticing Matt Lauer to continue to giggle his way through the Today Show. You have that going on, why would you worry about your subscriber being able to call the fire department or an ambulance... plenty more where that came from.

November 10, 2014: Management of the Self, without Dr. Fuhrman's Vinegar

Keywords: gout, rheumatology, hospitalization, PBS, Dr. Fuhrman, David Perlmutter M.D., National Health, socialism, Obamacare, heart care, brain care, Walkman, iPod, Aardman Productions, Shawn the Sheep

Gout. I somehow developed gout, which I never suffered from before, last year, while house sitting for a friend in Thailand for three months. At the time, it was minor, but once back in the United States it hit me like a ton of bricks. Since then, I've been trying to find a way to "knock down" the very painful and disabling gout attacks, and guess what - I may have found a solution, after experimenting with medication for over a year and a half. Last three times, I was able to control the attack overnight, every time - to the point I was able to go for a two mile walk the day after. I need additional statistical proof, but once I have enough, I think I'll talk to my rheumatologist and see if we can make this work for other patients. That would be magic.

thyroid removal scarI do realize I very rarely post personal stuff like the gout episode, my recent hospitalization being somewhat of an exception. I think the last time I posted something like that was when I had cancer surgery and radiation treatment, back in 2010 (I survived, thank you) - but while I mentioned that hospitalization, I didn't mention much else, I've never been given to talk about "moi" a lot. But I am thinking that management of the self, to some extent, is risk management, and as I experience things, from being a 9/11 first responder, and being diagnosed with PTSD afterwards, many years of arthritis, thyroid cancer and the treatment of it, and generally the various stages of aging, I might as well write some of it up, and perhaps teach a class on it. No, I have no desire to give a loooooong talk on PBS on how to make your heart younger, I believe that is pretty much nonsense (sorry), but insofar as I can perhaps share some of my experiences, and perhaps help the odd person with similar experiences, sure, that'd be a good thing. I mean, I am a writer, photographer, I have film- and video experience, I have been a movie- and theatre producer, so perhaps I can put all that together a bit.

It is the problem I perceive with all of these folks PBS is so fond of plastering all over the airwaves - the great generalization. This even though we are all individuals, and need individual solutions to our individual problems. I should hastily add I never watch any of these shows, so perhaps my interpretation isn't relevant - after all, these folks spend a lifetime gathering data. But David Perlmutter, M.D., telling us about "the effects of wheat, sugar and carbohydrates on the human brain".. Really? On PBS? How about split peas? Or cherry ice cream? The idea behind Obamacare, or socialized medicine, or National Healthcare, which is what we call it where I come from, is that you can care for the health of every citizen, whether they have money or not. Dr. Perlmutter telling people who have time to watch this stuff how they can make their brain last forever is, in my book, hogwash. Not to mention "Dr. Fuhrman's End Dieting Forever" - does the absence of "M.D." mean the Dr. isn't a doctor? Shouldn't that then read "Ph.D."? Nope, he is an M.D. And he sells... books, DVDs, formula, capsules, vitamins, you name it. Board Certified. It is not clear to me why Bob Vila had to leave This Old House and PBS in disgrace over commercial ties, even if they were a bit more overt than Dr. Fuhrman's capsules. And did I mention his salad dressing, which he only ships FedEx? Or the ketchup... or the cereal bars... Yes, PBS funding has been reduced, over the years, and I understand they have to get more commercial than the original concept was. Just because the 1967 PBS concept was what it was, society changes, and we must change with it. But hours and hours of "heart health".... that is important for young folk, and they don't watch this stuff. They Facebook, with their friends and siblings. Get real.

Virginia Hospital CenterSo the populace need good, free, medical care, especially when they are young, and not the kind you get on TV. I don't think Dr. Fuhrman has capsules for indigent people - for the moment, his capsules cost 33 cents each, you can't get them from Costco, and you need internet and a credit card. I mean, uninsured people cost the taxpayer rivers of money, when they get old and sick. And the lack of free medical care actually kills people, lots of them - how can you justify that?

The older I get, the more I think it isn't the gurus we need, we need teams of knowledgeable folk, who share each other's experiences and supplement each other's brains, and train those who take care of everybody. Most importantly, no "Doctors" should be allowed on television unless they have found, recruited, and bring their successor, trainee and/or understudy, sharing their wealth and their fame with the next generation. There's no such thing as one gal or guy who knows everything, or almost everything, and I think it is actually Mercedes' team that is the Formula One champion, not Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg.

Make sense? Or am I rambling a little, or a lot?

I am trying to wrap my head around the return of things we could have let go a while ago - glasses, wristwatches, stuff we now think will get a new life due to digitalization. Think back with me for a moment, to the Walkman. That was a hugely successful product, it eventually ended up as a portable CD player, and then it died, until Steve Jobs downsized it, stuck a tiny hard disk in it and called it an iPod. Today, your smartphone plays your music, while it doubles as your photo camera, video recorder, messaging device and telephone. Talk about a multi-market killer. And it will soon be able to sense your vitals, so this exercise band is useless, and Google Glass may well die the same way, as soon as someone walks under a bus due to asymmetrical sensory overload. In other words, really nothing new, just things that either get smaller, or combined, and then both. But no new functionality - in many ways, Steve Jobs killed the music CD while filling Apple's iTune coffers. Other than that, music is music, right?

On another note, if the Republicans mess up now, they can shake it at the next election. We have the first ever black president, so my guess is the next may be a woman. It is a bit early for a gay president, although that might be interesting. An old white guy is a recipe for disaster. I have to say that I commend Obama for pushing through Obamacare, something previous presidents (and their wives) were never able to do. So good on you, Barack. In the fullness of time, this will prove to be one of the most important achievements of any president, ever, tracking closely behind FDR's 1937 Social Security Act. You just cannot continue to refer to the United States as "the richest country on earth" and not provide health care for Americans. Poor countries even do better.

Who? Rosberg? Ah, Hamilton spun. Just once. The excitement.

Insofar as you are familiar with the Aardman production company and the Wallace & Gromit claymation short films, not to mention the "Chicken Run" feature film, I recently discovered they make the "Shaun the Sheep" children's series for BBC - I have to tell you the stop motion action and the scenery are absolutely brilliant. The miniatures, the actions, and the way in which the Aardman folk create an understandable and very funny environment children can understand without dialogue - stunning. I wish I could do something with this - very labour intensive - technology in the adult world. As always, this is down to people - their warehouse burned down, sometime in the past, but they have not let that get them down.

November 17, 2014: Don't tell me we have to wait until he falls off the horse

Keywords: Russia, Putin, Ukraine, Brisbane, China, Soyuz, MH-17, Windows 8, Alibaba, Google Glass, Amazon, big data

What with all this Russian agression going on, I wonder if Putin drives it, or if the Russian population thinks this is all good and wonderful, and he is a Really Good Man.

From here, there isn't a lot you can say, the United States routinely does things that are very similar to what Russia does. I was sitting in the pub with a State Department analyst friend when George W Bush announced on TV the invasion of Iraq, and the analyst (whose responsiblities were in the Middle East) exclaimed "The guy is crazy!". And he wasn't talking about Dubya's choice of necktie... What that taught me was that Mr. Bush committed the United States to something some of his own experts didn't believe was warranted. Or useful. Is Putin doing things his own experts don't want him to do?

Chinese tea mugsHaving said that, Obama isn't doing any weird stuff, so the Bush monikers really do not apply to him. Back to Putin: is he following echoes of the Soviet era, which, after all, is where he came of age, or does the average Russian really want that old territory back? Even without Ukraine and Georgia and Estonia and whatever, Russia is still large enough that it takes over 60 hours to traverse it by train. Much of that is a bit frozen, but still, it is Russia. What is clear with Putin is that he is like the Iranians and the North Koreans: he won't negotiate. At this point in time, Mr. Putin has played his gas-and-oil card to the point European countries are beginning to source their energy elsewhere - it was nice while it lasted, they say, but using energy as a weapon is not what we signed up for. So that's there - everything Putin does seems belligerent - tanks to Ukraine, bombers and jets to Europe and soon over the Atlantic, but when all is said and done the income Russia was getting out of its gas and oil riches is dwindling, and we're going to make sure it will dwindle much more. Soon, we'll start sending our own crew capsules to the International Space Station, Elon Musk is just about ready to build those, and that will obsolete Vladimir even more.

It hasn't been talked about much, but we don't actually need Putin's Soyuz and Progress space capsules at all. The Europeans fly freighters to the ISS today, they're working on a crew version, so is Space-X, which has its own freighter in operation, and then there is Boeing. If we were to ask the Chinese, nicely, and offered them a bit more money than we are paying Vladimir, I am sure they'd be very happy to ferry astronauts to the ISS, they have their crew capsule flying, and have Russian docking ports. We may not be politically ready for that reality, but if Vladimir really gets uppity, that could change overnight. He may not have read his history books, but flying nuclear capable bombers over our shores is going to disappear our appetite for his rockets pretty quickly. Is that why he is doing what he is doing, because he understands Russia has lost the race, and it is his fault? Does he understand the Chinese are capable of setting up space-Uber overnight? Does he understand Russia doesn't sell Bluetooth headsets, doesn't ship an air filter for my Durango from Shenzen via the interconnected postal service?

It is not good for Russia, and I personally don't think that Mr. Putin's discussion with the Chinese will loosen their economic bond with the West - American kids learn Chinese, these days, only the military learn Russian.

It is the age old conundrum - what do you do with someone who won't negotiate? And does this stretch to the entire Russian political structure? I doubt there will be a new Cold War - those bombers are old, man - but I do think somebody will soon have to tell Putin where to get off. He should pay attention to the way Obama is tackling ISIS - we can now handle these operations almost 99% from the air, which takes longer but is just as effective. Putin's friends should realize that we can pick off their armoured cars, too, next time they want to annex a Crimea or someplace. There hasn't been the political will, but we must realize that Mrs. Merkel's speaking Russian has benefited nobody. Putin does not negotiate even with someone who speaks his language and grew up under his old political system, understands him better than any other head of state, and that perhaps it is time to begin delivering different messages. After all, we make the airplanes and the cars and develop the technology, Russia has a very long way to go on that score.

Let me put it this way: when the ethnic Russians in Ukraine shot down the Malaysian airliner, Putin could have stepped in, taken care of the matter, and shown us he cares. Instead, he chose to make a clear statement, troublesome coming from a neighbour: he doesn't give a shit. I think it is time to begin returning the favour. Putin probably isn't the civilized educated upper crust Russian we hoped he was.

I can't really whine about Windows 8, since I upgraded from Windows 7 Professional on a Lenovo that didn't officially support it, and I had to do a fair amount of "manual labour" to get it to run right - meaning there were a few drivers and devices that wouldn't run "out of the box". I backed out Windows 8.1, since that is tablet-centric, and completely oriented towards letting Microsoft gather your personal information, parse your files, basically turning Windows into a worse version of Gmail and Google's search engine. I understand the "big data" discussion, having worked in that environment for many years, but I must say I have never seen any big data operator provide meaningful information to advertisers. It is being bought, and paid for with massive dollars, but there isn't any evidence that any big data provider is capable of predicting anyone's behaviour. Think about it - if Google were able to predict what you will be buying, when, and where, which is what it purports it is able to do, Google wouldn't be doing research into self driving cars. Or leasing massive airfields. Google would not need to, if it had found the Holy Grail of Big Data. Nor would Microsoft. Or Yahoo. The only way Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft can know about you is if you log in, and tell them who you are and what you do. None of these folks otherwise have any way of recognizing you - the mobile apps all of these folks make have only one purpose: to track you, as a person, your mobile phone being the device that uniquely identifies you - hence the concentration on "mobile devices" - PCs don't travel.

Amazon sells stuff, and employs rivers of developers and scientists, but even Amazon has no clue what I am going to be buying next - Amazon's predictive algorithms don't get much beyond suggesting you buy your previous purchase again. I am not kidding you - Amazon spends millions of dollars on science and systems so it can suggest I reorder the liquid sweetener I've been buying. Guess what - I buy the sweetener on a regular basis because I really like it, and I order when I run out. None of that has anything to do with Amazon's "intelligent systems" and "big data". I read the other day Alibaba correlated Chinese women's bra size with purchasing behaviour during a Chinese holiday - guess what, prove that to me over a ten year period and I'll believe you.. It is crazy, Jack Ma, you're falling into the same programmer guided trap everybody else does. There is no reason to assume that two things that happen simultaneously are related, and the isn't a reason to assume that if they are, you know why. Go talk to a doctor about correlative symptoms, and you'll find there isn't much hard science when working with humans.

The only reason there is a "Google Glass" is that Google wants to use your vision concentration to do meaningful predictive stuff, but the bandwidth you would need to do that just isn't in the airwaves, today. And even if it were, the back end intelligence doesn't really understand "how humans work". Trust me, I'n an arche-nerd. Curiously, I wrote this a couple of days ago - today, Google announced the consumer version of Glass won't be available until 2015, at the earliest.

November 23, 2014: Incoming!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 29, 2014: It does not get easier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 5, 2014: Big Data Quivers

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So there. Happy 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 19, 2015: Toys and Freebies

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

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

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

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

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

January 25, 2015: 'member?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 6, 2015: Tax time, and saving time

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

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

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

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

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

February 15, 2015: Working out, and internetwork woes

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

Ah yes. I mean, no. Jeez.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 21, 2015: Another passport in the can

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 25, 2015: From medical woes to immigration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 8, 2015: Fresh fish and old passports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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...

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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 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.

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..

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 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 healthtap.com, 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 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,