Friday, 14 April 2017

09:02 – It was 55.2F (13C) when I took Colin out at 0715 this morning, with heavy fog. Our back fence line and the trees along it were barely visible, but everything beyond it was a uniform gray.

More and more web sites are now on my no-visit list, as they implement anti-ad/script-blocking measures. I run Adblock Plus and NoScript on Firefox. I happened to use Firefox yesterday afternoon to visit one of those sites. The main page looked normal, but clicking on any of the articles displayed an error page that said there was either a problem with my internet connection or I was running an ad or script blocker and that I should disable it. Yeah, right, like that’s gonna happen. Instead, I took the action that most of their former readers will take and removed them from my bookmarks. Anyone who allows ads to display or scripts to run on a website is just asking to be infected with malware or other serious problems.

Attempts to block adblockers and script blockers have become rampant over the last few months. I blame it on Trump, since it seems to have started right around then. Facebook famously tried to implement blocking of ad/script blockers and failed miserably. The same is true of other sites. But the thing is, even if a site somehow succeeds, all it’s doing is driving off most of its readers. The problem is that sites regard ad revenue as the only way to pay their costs, while readers regard ads and scripts as completely unacceptable. There simply are NO acceptable ads. If you want to monetize your site, put up a paywall or a tip jar.

If that drives you out of business, so be it. Die gracefully instead of polluting your readers’ screens. Just be aware that most readers don’t consider your content to be worth paying for at all, let alone by letting obnoxious, dangerous ads be displayed on their systems. And only a tiny fraction will donate via tip jar, let alone by subscribing. You simply don’t have any content that is worth paying for. And by “paying for” I include such minimal things as giving you a valid email address.

There’s apparently a new report out that has panicked commercial websites. In Germany, 40% of internet users use ad/script blockers; in France, it’s 30%; in the US, it’s still under 20%. It’s time for us all to strike back. Those figures need to be 100%. For many years, every time I install or degrunge someone’s computer, the first thing I do is install AdBlock Plus and NoScript. We should all be doing this. Every time you see someone’s computer running without blockers, tell them of the dangers of running barefoot and offer to install blockers for them and show them how they work. If everyone with basic computer smarts does this for all of his friends and acquaintances, we can get the percentage of systems running blockers up much closer to 100%, making it impossible for parasitic web sites like The Atlantic, Facebook, etc. to earn money from ads. Any web site owner who thinks ads are an acceptable way to generate revenue needs to be awakened rudely. Let’s drive them out of business.

And, yes, I’m looking at you, Google.

I got another one of “those” emails overnight. I periodically get emails, sometimes from long-time readers, who think I’m not just expecting a TEOTWAWKI event but actually looking forward to it. They’re wrong on both counts.

On the first, I’ve said over and over that I’m not expecting a TEOTWAWKI event but instead a gradual (or not-so-gradual) slide toward dystopia. Yes, a TEOTWAWKI event is possible. In fact, it’s likely, depending on your time frame. I’ve guesstimated the probability of such an event at 0.03/year, so over the long term it’s more likely than not to occur. But if my guesstimate is correct, that also means that the probability of things continuing pretty much as they are is 0.97/year. So our preparations focus on that 0.97 probability, with just a nod when possible to the 0.03.

As to the second point, not only am I not looking forward to a world-ending catastrophe, I dread it as much as any sane person does. Probably for different reasons than most people. I’m not concerned with the humanity thing. I don’t really care if 100 million Americans die, except to the extent that such an event affects me, my family, and my friends. Yes, if I could wave a magic wand and cause every prog/neocon/politician/bankster to cease to exist, I’d do so, but only if it didn’t inconvenience me and mine. That’s not an option, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed that no such event occurs.

* * * * *

Friday, 31 March 2017

09:14 – It was 53.5F (12C) when I took Colin out around 0715 this morning, foggy and raining. We had several deluges overnight. The electronic rain gauge claimed we had 1.62 inches (4.1 cm) total, but it reads very low, particularly when we get heavy rains. We don’t have the tube gauge outside now because freezing weather fractures them, but my guess is that we had somewhere between 2 and 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) total. And it’s still raining. Things have been pretty dry since late January, and now it looks as though we’ll get an entire month’s worth in a couple of days.

I was disturbed this morning when I turned on my Kindle Fire HD7 and the splash screen told me that Alexa had been installed and needed to be activated. I never asked for Alexa. I don’t want it on my tablet, listening to everything we say and sending it to Amazon’s cloud servers. Several times in the past I’ve thought about rooting the Fire and installing Android, but this latest outrage by Amazon may actually be the final straw. If I brick it, it’s no great loss. I think I paid $69 for it. Once I figure out how to install Android on my HD7, I’ll also install it on Barbara’s HDX7. I really resent vendors like Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple, who seem to think that they’re entitled to use other people’s hardware and resources for their own purposes, especially when those purposes are against the user’s interests.

Speaking of annoying software, LibreOffice has gotten worse and worse with each update. For the last several months, it’s been crashing periodically, taking down all instances on the taskbar. Lately, it’s also started hanging frequently. I’ll save a document or send it to the printer, and LO hangs for 30 seconds or a minute before it brings up the save or print dialog. To make matters worse, yesterday the LO rendering went wonky. When I scrolled up or down in a document, it became unreadable.

So yesterday, I decided to uninstall and reinstall LO to see if that’d help. My Linux Mint installation doesn’t offer an option to nuke all of LO; I had to remove each of the applications separately. When I finished doing that, there were no instances of anything LO-related showing as installed. I use only the word processor and spreadsheet, so I installed those individually rather than installing the whole package. When I finished doing that, I rebooted the system, just to be safe.

When I then clicked on a document file in File Manager, it came up normally, albeit ugly looking and with a different color scheme than I’d had–blue rather than Linux Mint green. But the real PITA was that when I minimized that document, it didn’t show up on the task bar. That makes switching between/among open documents very difficult, since it appears that there are no open documents. I can still use Alt-Tab to toggle through the open (but invisible) tabs, but that’s very awkward.

So I downloaded Apache OpenOffice, which, like LO, is a fork of the discontinued OOo, this one sponsored by IBM. I haven’t had time to install it but it may come to that.


* * * * *

Sunday, 26 March 2017

09:44 – It was 51.9F (11C) when I took Colin out around 0715 this morning. We’re supposed to get rain pretty much all day today, and well above average temperatures for the next several days.

I’m about ready to bag Firefox. It’s slow, bloated, and has a lot of other issues. I’ve had Vivaldi installed for several months and have been using it from time to time. Barbara has also been having minor nagging issues with Firefox on her notebook, so yesterday I installed Vivaldi for her and imported all her Firefox data. We’ll see how she likes it.

I’ve been thinking about our medical preps and looking at various prepping sites for ideas. What strikes me immediately is that many preppers are going about things the wrong way. I try to apply systematized decision making, using a simplified type of n-dimensional multivariate analysis to decision making.

For prepping decisions, the n-dimensional part is 3-dimensional:

  1. How likely is an event?
  2. How easy or difficult is it to take measures against that event?
  3. How much will it cost in time/money to take those measures?

When you finish your analysis, you end up with each event ranked as likely/unlikely, easy/difficult, and cheap/expensive. Deal with the likely/easy/cheap ones first and the unlikely/difficult/expensive ones last, if at all.

With regard to medical preps, a lot of people have built what amount to trauma kits, which fall into the unlikely/difficult/expensive class, but have ignored the likely/easy/cheap ones. It’s all well and good to have what you need to deal with gunshot wounds, assuming you have the skills to do so, but gunshot wounds are definitely in the unlikely group. Sure, it might happen, but it’s not the first thing you should be preparing for medically. Unless you’re a physician or a trauma nurse, you’re as likely to kill the patient as help him.

GI problems on the other hand, are not just likely but almost certain. Between greatly elevated stress levels and less than ideal sanitation, you’re going to be dealing with diarrhea and constipation, not just occasionally but regularly. The former can kill the patient; the latter will just make them wish they were dead.

Fortunately, both problems are probably going to be pretty easy to deal with. Stock up on loperamide for minor diarrhea and oral rehydration salts for more severe cases. Both are cheap and effective. (By the way, unless you really know what you’re doing and have the resources to culture and identify STEC versus non-STEC bacteria, NEVER EVER treat even the most severe diarrhea with antibiotics; doing so may kill the patient.)

As to constipation, stock up on laxatives. The cheapest and one of the most reliable is the saline laxative Epson salts. One tablespoon in a glass of water normally works within a few hours. You can buy a large retort bag of the stuff at Costco or Sam’s for a few bucks. PEG laxatives are also safe and effective. Costco sells a 3-pack with 90 daily doses for about $20 in stores and on-line.

In med school, one of the first things they teach is that when you hear hoofbeats, don’t think about zebras. In other words, consider the most likely cause, horses, first and only after you’ve eliminated the likely causes should you consider the unlikely ones. The same is true for prepping, medical or otherwise.

* * * * *

Sunday, 5 March 2017

09:13 – It was 30.4F (-1C) when when I took Colin out this morning, with light winds. Barbara is cleaning house this morning. This afternoon we’ll be doing more kit stuff, including filling a bunch of chemical bottles.

Barbara’s notebook is now happily running Linux, with all her data transferred over to it. The system is noticeably snappier with the SSD and Linux than it ever was with Windows. She’s just happy that it works, as am I.

* * * * *


Friday, 3 March 2017

08:56 – It was 29.1F (-1.6C) when when I took Colin out this morning, with snow flurries and light winds. Barbara is off to the gym and supermarket this morning, and plans to take Bonnie, our next-door neighbor, out for lunch. Bonnie turns 89 years old today.

The SSD for Barbara’s notebook is supposed to show up with the mail this morning, so I’ll spend some time today getting her notebook running on the SSD with Linux Mint 18.1 LTS. I’ve been using the Cinnamon environment for years, but I think I’ll install the KDE version for Barbara since she’s used to MS Windows.

Finally. The price of powdered eggs skyrocketed when the chicken plague struck, and has stayed high since then. When I last bought powdered eggs, right before the plague, I paid $17.50 for a 33-ounce #10 can. Almost overnight, that price doubled, and finally reached about $50/can. It’s gradually declined since then, but as of even a week ago it was still at $27/can or so. When I checked Walmart yesterday around dinnertime, they had Augason #10 cans of powdered eggs for $12.99.

At first, I figured they were actually going to ship the #2.5 cans rather than the #10 cans they were advertising, but I checked Amazon, which also had the #10 cans for $12.99. Obviously, the new, much lower price of eggs has kicked in. So I ordered four more #10 cans, which is just under 24 dozen eggs.

Augason rates the shelf life as 10 years, but as usual that’s imaginary. I remember in 1979 spending the night with a prepper friend. The next morning, his wife made bacon and scrambled eggs for breakfast. After breakfast, he handed me a #10 can, which was military-issue from 1944. I’d just eaten 35-year-old eggs reconstituted from powder, but I noticed nothing out of the ordinary. I’m sure these Augason powdered eggs will be as good decades from now as they would be if I opened them today.

At $12.99 per can, if you need powdered eggs to add to your preps, now is the time to grab them. I’m not storing enough eggs to have scrambled egg breakfasts, but they’re also useful for cooking and baking.

* * * * *

09:58 – Here’s an interesting datum about the longevity of writable optical media. I just downloaded Linux Mint 18.1 (I decided on Cinnamon for Barbara because it’s not the pig that KDE is) and was looking around for a disc to burn it to. There was a stack of old Verbatim DVD+RW discs just lying in a pile, so I grabbed one. It had last been written on 14 May 2006, almost 11 years ago. It read fine. The last six digits of the checksum, which were all I’d recorded, checked out. I just wrote and verified LM to the disc without error. Understand, this pile of discs wasn’t even on a spindle, just a random disc I grabbed from a random pile of old discs. So maybe there’s hope for very old writable discs.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

09:16 – It was right at freezing when I took Colin out this morning, with winds gusting to about 50 MPH (80 KPH). The next couple days are to be the coldest since mid-February, but still well above normal.

Barbara’s Windows notebook has been giving her fits. Have I ever mentioned just how much I hate Windows? It’s a progressive operating system, versus the libertarian Linux. The latest problem is that Windows insists on changing “connect to WiFi automatically” to “connect to WiFi manually”.

Enough is enough. Barbara’s and my notebooks are identical, and I run Linux Mint on mine without any problems. So I’m going to switch her over to Linux Mint. Rather than install Linux on her hard disk, I decided to pull her hard drive, put it on the shelf, and install an SSD. She doesn’t use the system for much other than reading email, browsing the web, keeping her blog, and keeping checkbook register spreadsheets and personal documents. Her current Windows installation takes only 52 GB of disk space, most of which is probably bloat. I was about to order her a 240 GB SSD, but upon reflection I decided that a 120 GB SSD was more than large enough. So I ordered her a SanDisk 120 GB unit, which is to arrive tomorrow.

When it arrives, I’ll pull a backup of all her data, pull the old hard drive and put it on the shelf, install the SSD, install Linux Mint, and restore her data. She’s already running Libre Office, Firefox, and Thunderbird, so there won’t be much work involved in getting her up and running.

* * * * *

Saturday, 18 February 2017

09:50 – It was 45F (7C) when I took Colin out this morning, without much wind. Today is devoted to taxes.

I got the Netgear AC1200 R6220 router installed yesterday, which took about 10 minutes start to finish. I left the SSID and password at default. The coverage and speed are at least as good as we had with the D-Link unit. This one adds 5G capability. As it turns out, the only clients in the house that speak 5G are Barbara’s Fire HDX and the Roku. I never was able to get Wi-Fi working with the Roku when we were using the D-Link DIR-615. It just didn’t see it. When I got the R6220 up and running, the Roku immediately offered me the choice of hard-wired and either 2.4G or 5G Wi-Fi. All three options work fine. I wish the Roku would let me choose to use all three simultaneously and pick the best of the three, but it insists I pick one of the three.

We’re currently re-watching One Tree Hill on Netflix streaming, Everwood on DVD, and Endeavor on Amazon Prime streaming. We also added Dr. Quinn, Medicine Girl to our Prime Video queue and watched a couple episodes of it. It’s corny and mediocre, but it has the same small-town, costume-drama feel as Little House on the Prairie, which is incompetently plotted and written, and sugary enough to put a diabetic into sugar shock.

As expected, the progs and neocons (but I repeat myself) are fighting Trump every step of the way. At least he’s getting some of his nominees approved, most recently the head of the EPA. I’m hoping against hope that these new agency heads, particularly Education and EPA to start with, come in and clean house with fire and sword. They could start by firing every employee who’s a GS-10 or higher.

The promise to repeal ObamaCare is now being hedged. In reality, they could fix the problems overnight by letting the free market take care of it. Repeal the individual mandate and employer mandate to start with. Allow health insurance companies to offer whatever policies they wish with whatever exclusions or limitations they wish, and allow them to do so across state lines. Most particularly, again allow insurance companies to exclude pre-existing conditions. The states, if they wish, can create assigned risk pools, just as they do for auto insurance. Repeal EMTALA, and allow emergency rooms to refuse to treat anyone who can’t pay. Repeal Medicaid, and allow states to handle it themselves if they wish. Better yet, allow churches and private charities to establish clinics for the indigent. Station ICE agents in emergency rooms, tasked with gathering up illegals and exporting them back to Mexico or wherever they initially crossed the border illegally. And so on.

* * * * *


Tuesday, 14 February 2017

09:39 – It was 33F (0.5C) when I took Colin out this morning, with a light breeze. Barbara is volunteering most of today, and preparing to leave tomorrow morning for Winston. She’ll spend the night with Frances and Al and then drive back up to Sparta Thursday. It’ll be wild women and parties for Colin and me while she’s gone.

Our Wi-Fi router has started acting hinky over the last few days. It locks up and I have to go downstairs to do a power reset. I’m almost certain it’s not a cable problem. Both the Wi-Fi and 100BaseT ports lock up, so the only cable it could be is the one running to the fiber optic TA, which I’ve swapped out more than once.

The problem router is a D-Link DIR-615, which I bought as a spare in May 2015, and swapped out for an older DIR-615 that had started to misbehave several months ago. I also had a DIR-826L router purchased in late 2013 sitting there as a spare. The short story is that neither of the DIR-615’s now works reliably and the DIR-826L is apparently completely dead. It doesn’t even light up when I connect it to power.

D-Link used to be a good brand–one of the Big Three along with LinkSys and NetGear–but given my recent experience I decided to buy something else to replace the D-Links. I ended up ordering a Netgear AC1200, which is to arrive tomorrow.

Just out of curiosity, I opened a #10 can of Nestle Nido dry whole milk powder the other day. It was purchased 1 June 2015 and had a best-by date of 31 March 2016. Since this isn’t non-fat dry milk, I was concerned that the fats in it might cause rancidity. When I opened it, I sniffed it, but I’m not sure how full-fat whole dry milk is supposed to smell. It had a distinct odor, but it didn’t seem to be rancid. I had Barbara sniff it, and she said it didn’t smell like milk, but it didn’t smell rancid either. So I mixed up a quart by adding 120 grams of the powder to a quart of warm tap water. The result just smelled milky to me, but Barbara said it didn’t smell like her fresh 2% milk and she wouldn’t drink it. I tasted it, but I’m not a milk drinker, so I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to taste like. It wasn’t bitter or anything. I used a pint of it last night to make a milkshake, which tasted fine. So the upshot is that I’m not sure whether or not I can consider Nido to be a long-term storage product.

* * * * *

Monday, 23 January 2017

09:29 – Yesterday was one of those days with a continuing series of problems. It started with the USPS Click-and-Ship website misbehaving while I was trying to print a label for a shipment to Canada. Ordinarily, I fill out the first page, which has me enter the total weight of the package. I filled in the correct weight, 5 pounds 8 ounces, and then clicked Continue. On the second page, I have to give details about the details of the shipment, including for some reason the net weight, which was 4 pounds, thirteen ounces. At the point, it told me that the net weight was more than the gross weight and refused to continue. After numerous retries, starting from scratch each time, I finally got it to accept that 4-13 was in fact less than 5-8. I then paid for the postage label and it displayed the label as a PDF, as usual.

So I put a sheet of half-page labels in the manual feed slot of my Brother HL-5250DN laser printer and told it to print. The label jammed, which made a real mess. So I cleared the jam, inserted a new label, and told it to print again. It jammed again. I cleared the jam and told it to print again, this time with plain paper from the paper tray. That time, the sheet of paper made it half-way out the printer and then jammed again. At least I had a usable label, after I forcibly pulled it out of the printer.

This obviously wasn’t working, so I disconnected the HL-5250DN and moved it out of the way. When we moved up to Sparta in December, 2015, I’d originally tried to install the newer Brother HL-3070CW laser printer, but it refused to connect with USB so I’d stuck it in storage, intending to troubleshoot it later. I never got around to that until now, so I set it up and used a new USB cable to connect it. Once again, Linux didn’t see the printer. Okay, it looked like the USB interface on the printer was dead. That printer also has an Ethernet interface, so I went downstairs, grabbed an Ethernet cable, and brought it back upstairs to try getting the printer working with a direct Ethernet connection.

The Ethernet cable wouldn’t fit into the jack on the printer. Huh? I was working in a very tight space, but we finally got the printer turned so that I could actually see the USB and Ethernet jacks on the back. Duh. I’d plugged the USB cable into the Ethernet jack. No wonder it hadn’t worked, this time or a year ago, when I must have made the same mistake. So I pulled the USB cable out of the Ethernet jack and plugged it into the correct jack. Linux recognized the printer instantly, and I was back in business.

So I proceeded to connect to the USPS site again to generate postage labels for US shipments. The postage didn’t look right for the first one I processed. Well, that’s because postage rates just went up as of yesterday. Duh, again.

I knew postage rates were going to increase, but after the huge increase a year ago, I was expecting a pretty minor jump. Not so, unfortunately. Since January a year ago, I’d been paying $17.09 to send a Regional Rate B box to the west coast. That had jumped from $17.09 to $20.41, a 19.4% increase. Fortunately, the rate for a Large Flat Rate box had increased from $18.75 to only $18.85, so I just put the RRB box inside a LFR box and paid the $18.85. Even so, that amounts to a $1.76 (10.3%) increase. Geez.

* * * * *

As I mentioned last week, doing a copy-edit pass on Franklin Horton’s latest book in his Borrowed World series got me to wondering, not for the first time, if I could write fiction myself. So I decided to sit down and give it a try.

Writing fiction turns out to be very different from writing non-fiction. The main difference is that I can just sit down and write fiction. It just flows. With non-fiction, I spend literally 50% to 95% of my “writing” time checking facts and researching stuff on the fly. I suppose that’s why Jerry Pournelle writes fiction in his Monk’s Cell, with no Internet access.

The most obvious difference is in word count. With non-fiction, I average maybe 1,000 to 1,200 words per day. My all-time record was probably 5,000 or 6,000 words, and that was working heads-down for 14 hours or so. And the days when I could write heads-down for 14 hours straight are long gone. Nowadays, I’m lucky if I can get in six solid hours of writing per day. Writing fiction, I can crank out a first-draft at about 1,000 words PER HOUR.

But no writer can judge his own writing, so I decided to let people look at my first fiction efforts. As I promised last week, I’ve converted what I’ve done so far to a PDF that I’ll send to anyone who wants to take a look at it and give me his opinion. Can I write fiction? Tell me what you think of my work on a 1 to 10 or A to F scale.

I’ll emphasize that this is very much a first, rough draft. I haven’t even read it, let alone done a first editing pass on it. It’s just a collection of chapters, and partial scenes. I’m sure there are lots of clangers in there. I probably even have characters changing names in mid-narrative. This document is at the level that I wouldn’t ordinarily let even Barbara see, let alone friends or editors.

I’m not looking for any kind of corrections, suggestions, or edits from anyone. All I want to know from anyone who takes the time to read it is whether or not I can write fiction.

If you’d like to take a look at it, send me email at thompson at ttgnet dot com with the subject line “your fiction book”. I’ll send you a PDF of the document. Please be completely honest in your feedback. You’re not going to hurt my feelings. I’m looking for brutal honesty here, not an attaboy. If the general consensus is that my fiction writing has potential, I’ll continue working on the book until it’s finished and then self-publish it on Amazon. If the general consensus is that I am to PA fiction writing what Zsa Zsa Gabor was to acting, I’ll give up on it.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

12:01 – I’m getting very tired of Amazon’s walled garden for the Fire. Some time ago, I downgraded my Fire HD7 from FOS5 to FOS4 because I couldn’t stand the control icons in landscape mode being fixed at the bottom of the screen rather than on the right side. But I’ve really had it with Silk, which is the worst excuse for a browser ever, and now that Opera is a Chinese outfit, it’s not suitable as an alternative either. I could find no way to get Firefox installed and stable on FOS4, so I just upgraded my Fire to FOS5. I had Firefox running on it before and thought it’d be easy to get it running (with uBlock Origin for adblocking), but it turns out that Amazon’s walled garden is making that very difficult. When I have time over the winter, I’m going to blow away all things Amazon on this Fire and install Android. Amazon says that voids the warranty, which has expired anyway. Never doubt that Amazon always, without exception, puts the interests of the customer in far-distant last place.

I’ve gotten really, really tired of seeing all these headlines about election polls, none of which agree on anything. So I decided to run my own poll, which I absolutely guarantee is accurate, and the last poll you’ll ever need to look at. I surveyed five people who are registered voters. One doesn’t intend to vote, so I excluded her from the results. Those results are:

Trump — 100.00%
Clinton — 0.00%
Johnson — 0.00%
Stein —- 0.00%

The margin of error is ±70%, give or take. This is very, very bad news for Clinton. Someone needs to wrap a baseball bat with barbed wire, name it Lucille, and beat her to death with it so that she can avoid this embarrassment. Or, since she really is Walking Dead, they could just ram a piece of rebar through her face and out the back of her head. They’d be doing her a favor, and the rest of us a huge favor. (Barbara was walking around the kitchen yesterday, making sounds like a Walker. I shouted in to her to stop trying to do a Clinton impression.)