No No, Nexit

Looks like it will be up to France and Frexit to drive home the point about the EU on death watch.

Early returns on the vote in The Netherlands has the vote leaning to not much change:

http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/15/europe/netherlands-dutch-elections/index.html

The Hague, Netherlands (CNN)

Conservative Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has staved off a challenge from his far-right rival in an election widely seen as an indicator of populist sentiment in Europe, preliminary results indicated Wednesday.

The anti-immigrant firebrand Geert Wilders, who had promised to “de-Islamise” the Netherlands, was on course for a poorer than expected performance.

With more than half the votes counted, preliminary results showed Wilders tied for second place with two other parties, the mainstream Christian Democratic Appeal and D66. Rutte’s VVD party is projected to win 32 seats out of a total of 150.

The left-wing environmentalist GroenLinks (Green Left) party also appears likely to make big gains, while the PVDA (Labour) party, Rutte’s outgoing partners in a coalition, were on course for a historic defeat.

Turnout was 81%, a NOS exit poll said, the highest for three decades.

Looks like too big a margin to beat via any kind of last minute shift in the trend.

I’ll be up a while waiting to see if more solid results come in.

Expect rampant Crowing on CNN, MSNBC, etc. etc.

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Posted in Political Current Events | Tagged , , | 13 Comments

BREXIT Train Now Boarding!

Wooo Wooo!

h/t to Larry here:

https://chiefio.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/tips-march-2017/#comment-80749

Larry Ledwick says:
14 March 2017 at 3:23 am (Edit)

Theresa May FINALLY wins the power to trigger Article 50, expected to pull the trigger at the end of the month.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4308576/Tory-rebels-concede-defeat-EU-Bill.html

Which Daily Mail says:

Theresa May FINALLY wins the power to trigger Article 50 as historic Brexit Bill is sent to the Queen following climb-down by peers

No 10 today moved to end speculation of an immediate Article 50 trigger
May is expected to be handed power to do so tomorrow but will wait two weeks
Commons rejected both of the amendments to the Brexit Bill earlier tonight
House of Lords decided against defying the will of the elected chamber again

By James Tapsfield, Political Editor For Mailonline and Tim Sculthorpe, Deputy Political Editor and Chris Summers For Mailonline

Published: 07:20 EDT, 13 March 2017 | Updated: 20:01 EDT, 13 March 2017

Theresa May has finally won the power to trigger Article 50 after peers backed down and passed the Brexit Bill after two crucial votes in the Commons earlier.

MPs followed orders to delete an amendment on guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals, backing the Government 335 to 287, majority 48.

The Commons also defeated the second amendment on the timetabling of votes at the end of the negotiation by a majority of 45.

Peers then debated the deletions but did not offer any further resistance. It means the historic legislation will be law by tomorrow.

Viscount Hailsham, a Tory peer who voted in favour of the amendment last time, said tonight: ‘We have asked the Commons to think again, they have thought again, they have not taken our advice, and our role now I believe is not to insist.’

Despite the climb down by Remain supporters in Parliament, Mrs May will not trigger Article 50 tomorrow – despite expectations having risen she might.

No 10 today denied the Prime Minister had been spooked by Nicola Sturgeon’s shock announcement of plans for a second independence referendum.
[…]

Yeah, I’m sure the Scots moving to a 2nd “Run Away!” vote had nothing to do with it… /sarc;

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Posted in Political Current Events | Tagged | 27 Comments

Cord Cutting – Step 2 – Roku

Ooops!

An “unfortunate incident” happened today that pretty much changed everything I’d “planned to do” into “not getting done”.

My TV died.

It was an old 19 inch Philips / Magnavox from somewhere around 15? years ago. Who knows. I’d bought it for my daughter when she was of some age old enough to operate a TV and not so old as to be into computers and the internet. Standard tube NTSC TV. This year she gets married… Moved it to my bedroom when she moved out after college, that even some years back.

For the last few weeks the vertical deflection was failing. Sporadically it would just show a very bright line across the middle and the lower 1/2 of the screen normal. Jiggling the wires on the back would fix it (that indirectly jiggled the board inside). It slowly got worse, and today was just not giving me a usable image for more than a few seconds. I took the back off, cleaned out the accumulated precipitate of a decade and inspected. Nothing obvious failed. So either inside a chip somewhere or more likely leakage of “something” to “somewhere it shouldn’t be” through the dirty old wires. I wiped things down with damp paper towels to clean it all, and repositioned wires away from contact points that were not on any schematic ;-)

Upon drying and reassembly, it would power on briefly, give a horizontal line, and power off. OK, it was going to get there anyway I just accelerated the process. Most likely by about 2 days… Being a decade overdue for an upgrade anyway, it is now in the recycle pile.

But that meant that at 9 AM I was sans TV in my favored space. I could go to the living room, but… hard to hear that one from the office (next to the bedroom) and I mostly listen to TV news (dashing in to watch if something interesting pops up). Besides, I’d been plotting for about a decade to get HDTV “soon”… So off to do the “compare and contrast” on prices, features, and risks. That last category recently added…

On The Road Again

I shopped Costco, Walmart, and Best Buy.

Not too oddly, the Best Buy parking lot was surprisingly empty… And all their Geek Squad trucks were still parked. Something about the news saying they were spying on their customers for the FBI seems to have dampened business. Inside had about as many staff as customers. When I came out, my car was alone in its row, and the two rows each side of me were empty. I counted 25 cars in that lot (one of two) that included staff. Perhaps companies ought to consider that before bending over for The Feds Spying Operations…

Interesting too, was that in Costco I asked about the Smart vs Dumb TVs. The clerk (who was actually clueful) and I got to talking. Seems a LOT of folks were asking about “dumb TVs” as they didn’t want their TV to spy on them. Note to Samsung et. al.: You will see a large drop in Smart TV sales for a while. Perhaps a long while…

Now I’d planned to do this particular shop and buy in about 6 months (when I had about 6 months left on my AT&T / DirecTV lock-in contract) as I didn’t want to “upgrade” my Sat-TV boxes to HDTV and start another lock-in cycle (don’t know if they do that, but AT&T likes to start new lock-in cycles without telling you and frankly, I just was not interested in sending even one more dime or risking one more dime…) I complained about my being suddenly trust into the clutches of AT&T (when they bought DirecTV) and how a bait-and-switch got me (surprise!) a 2 year lock-in, and my intent to “cord cut” at expiration, in a posting here:

https://chiefio.wordpress.com/2015/06/08/cord-cutting-not-new/

But now I had to do the shopping and decision on an accelerated basis and without the prep work I’d planned.

Now the good news, if you can call it that, is that I’d planned to replace the Big TV in the living room. A big old Sony Tube thing that’s a “2 man lift”. The sound has started to get “buzzy” when there is text on the screen, so some crosstalk between the video driver and the sound. Since there usually isn’t too much text on the screen for what the spouse watches, not a major issue. For the “News and Finance” shows I watch, with lots of text and scrolling tickers, a big issue. A BIG replacement TV would be costly. The 19 inch job in the bedroom, a lot cheaper. Also, in the smaller sizes, you can’t really see the difference between 720p and 1080p. (Really, you can’t. Unless you are way too close to them, the eye can’t resolve that fine.) That’s cheaper still. So my risk in buying the wrong thing is reduced a lot. Having partial deafness also means that the generally poorer sound quality in the little ones just is not detectable by me anyway. So I set out to do the buy.

Going Shopping

First I measured both present TVs. Vertical, horizontal, diagonal. I wanted at least the same vertical size so that the non-HDTV Sat-box picture would be essentially unchanged. Diagonal doesn’t tell you that on different aspect ratios. 4:3 vs 16:9 IIRC. I’d need at least a 26 and preferably a 32 to get roughly the same image in the bedroom. A 40 inch would be OK in the living room, but bigger better. Since last I looked, the prices of 720p in under 40 inch sized sets has plunged, especially in “dumb” TVs. The big 1080p (and even worse, the 4k that you can’t see unless you have a whole wall TV…) prices are still rather high. Like $500 to $3000 high, depending on features. For THAT, I need to do very good homework. The 24″ to 32″ 720p jobs were down in the $120 to $280 range. OK, I can live with that.

Unless folks want to see my comparison spreadsheet of “store, model, price” I’m not going to post it. I doubt it is much use anywhere but here for anyone not buying a dinky TV. The “bottom line” is that I decided NOT to get a “smart TV” since there seems to be at least 3 main technological “lock-ins” and a lot of “no idea what you are buying” involved. I also like the idea of a Raspberry Pi or Odroid running my TV under my control and with the ability to filter what it sends, receives, and does.

One common “lock in” model has Roku built in. It tended to cost about $25 more than the same model without it. Another lock-in had “Chrome-cast” built in. Asking the Clueful Clerk at Costco, seems you MUST have a Chrome Device to ‘cast’ from for it to work. While I have devices that run Chrome, I don’t particularly want my TV to stop working if the tablet is with me at Starbucks, nor do I want the spouse to call me asking how to boot and configure the Pi Stack. Some others seemed to have “something else” but nobody could tell me what, but they were “Smart”! The box said so…

I decided to “go modular”.

Now, being partly deaf, and having a spouse who sometimes likes to not hear my TV, I like to plug in a headset or sometimes route sound through a stack of equipment. That, it seems, is now an unusual challenge… Samsung, in particular, seems to only have this strange square thing for “Digital Sound Out”. All the others seem to have that too. Now all my stuff has nice round RCA plugs, not a square glowing thing… Very few sets now seem to have either RCA sound out or headphone jacks. Maybe you get them in the $5000 sets… That pretty much eliminated the names I’d heard of before and anything “smart” too (as they were mostly Samsung at Costco and Samsung seems to hate sound out jacks). Walmart had several things I’d never heard of ( “Hisense” and “Element” )in boxes with essentially none of the essential information on the outside of the box. They were cheap though. $90 to $120 or so. For $240 range you got names you had heard of, but still no idea what was inside.

The key missing bits were: Anything technical. What goes-intas and goes-outas are on the back? Composite video? RCA Jack audio? Antenna? What? What tuners are built in? What does “Smart” mean? (Vendor lock, added costs when you try to use it, WiFi? Or is WiFi a goes-inta / goes-outa? etc. etc.) Heck, Walmart even had one that didn’t list the resolution at all. 720p or what? Best Buy had one with audio jack. “Insignia” brand. I’d not seen it before, so asked flat out “What brand is that? I’ve never heard of it.” The semi-clueful clerk (the 3rd one they brought over…) said it was their house brand, but couldn’t say the words “house brand” mumbling around the edges with things like “Oh, that’s a brand only we carry”… until cornered and pressed.

OK, I had my matrix with model numbers on it for the ones I thought had promise. Off to Starbucks to get the real info. Reviews. Specs. Etc. etc.

The Buy

In the end, I bought a mid-ranked TV from a maker I knew despite one guy panning it and saying the color was bad. It looked fine to me in the store. I got a Toshiba 32 inch from Best Buy for something like $130. Dumb 720p. It had a headphone jack (conveniently hidden in an inaccessible recess on the back…) and both NTSC and whatever the new one is ATSC? and QAM? The cable one. So I can get HDTV over the air (when I make / hook up an antenna) and it can understand the old school signal put out by things like my VCRs and DirecTV box. (One gets the R-W-Y RCA Composite jacks, the other daisy chains or comes in on NTSC… some plumbing required to get it all hooked up again).

A bit on impulse, and because I was spending about $150 less than I’d expected, I bought a ROKU Stick. $49. Why? Well, it’s a quad-core-in-a-stick and folks have rooted it:
http://lifehacker.com/you-can-probably-root-your-roku-but-you-cant-do-muc-1525366872
So someday when I’m not interested in it AS a Roku anymore, I can play around with hacking it. But mostly it was just to have SOME HDTV input “out the gate” without a lot of work. I had no idea if I would like it, if the cost of buying stations would be a pain, or what, but as some stations are free, figured “what the heck – at least it isn’t Google”.

Also, the overall impression I’d gotten was that “smart” TVs has essentially done a minimal “glue on” of Chromecast, or Roku (or maybe Amazon TV?) and basically it was the same thing but NOT built in. That makes it mobile so I can take it with me to hotels and friends houses. It also means I can unplug it and unplug power from it and be SURE it isn’t talking to anything when I’m not using it. I really really like being able to kill power and put an airgap in the connection to the TV.

The Setup

Brought it all home, and proceeded to spend a couple of hours taking apart the old stack, cleaning dust bunnies from the table top, carting things to the recycle pile, unboxing, attaching feet ( 4 screws ) and then hooking up cables again.

Power-up was uneventful and it politely auto-guides you through the basic setup. The “manual” is online, but I didn’t bother getting a copy yet. It worked FINE right out of the box and I didn’t have anything about it I didn’t like. (Remember where I was upgrading from, though…) The remote feels a bit light and cheesy, but works and the buttons are reasonably placed (if not as ideal as on a Sony). The picture is Very Nice. The DirecTV feed was much better than on the old set, even if not as good as HDTV. Also the “stretch your picture” choices of format on the TV let you take the squinched up things and stretch them out (like DW news and Big Bang Theory on one channel) getting a full HDTV aspect ratio out of the “16:9 squashed into 4:3” ugly thing. It also lets you take the “16:9” with bars above and below as they “letterboxed” it into 4:3, then vertical barred on the ends on the HDTV as it is a 4:3 image in a 16:9 native: then stretch it both ways to proper aspect ratio and full screen (like Fox Business). Turns out just being able to undo those distortions in the DirecTV feed was “worth it” to me ;-)

If all it did at that point was give me a better quality image and proper aspect of my exiting DirecTV 4:3 feed, that would be more than enough for $130. Oh, and the stereo sound was much better too ;-)

A Roku We Will Go

Then I plugged in the Roku. You just stick it in one of the HDTV holes and attach USB power (included). Put the TV on that HDTV for input and away you go. Everything is done through the Roku Remote (yup, another remote…)

It too has a nice auto-set up process. Entering the WiFi network is just a ‘click one’ but typing my fairly long complicated password via the “move cursor over box of letters then click” was a bit of a pain. But it all did “just work” and it all was self explanatory. One glitch: At the early ‘set up an account’ stage, it puts up a captcha challenge that did NOT show up on my Android Tablet at all. I had to go to the Debian with Browser to get it to go. That was the first I saw of the captch and only then knew why the “continue” button was ignoring me on the Tablet.

Some bits I was quasi-expecting, but had not prepared for quite enough. I think I did “OK”, but with some warning could have done better. No, not the technical bits, the “keeping them out of my information” bits…

First off, they insist on knowing your name, address and phone number. Having a pre-built alternative identity would have been better. I had already put in my real name (lucky for me it is effectively anonymous). For the address I used my pseudo-me PO Box. For the phone number, I’d let my burner phone expire. Here I could have been more prepared… Lucky for me, they didn’t object to AreaCode 555-1212 (BUT demand exactly and ONLY 10 digits – no space or dash; and don’t say why it fails). It also wants an email address, and my bogus-but-live-one had expired, so I had to use my ‘2nd tier’ real one. Then it DEMANDS a form of payment. Since I planned to only use “free stuff” I didn’t want to give it one. Not an option. OK, for that I was prepared. I used my Walmart Prepaid Debit Card that has the PO Box address and zip code. Now the bad thing is this connects that semi-pseudo me to my IP address. Oh Well. I mostly played with it all to see if it could be done, not to have a “real pseudo-me” (or I’d not have used my real name and real address on the box set-up stuff and gotten real-me mail there…) Bottom line is they have a debit card with between $5 and zero on it to play with. I’m good with that. IFF I ever want to buy something I’ll have to go put cash in it. I’m good with that, too.

They also have you set up an “account” with password and (optional) PIN for purchases.

Then you are up and running. ( I think. I may have forgotten some minor bits…)

It is a bit strange how you get “channels”. There are categories and you scroll them. Pick one and you get a block of station logos with dinky descriptions. Click one you get a bigger description and an “add me” choice. Some are free (rather a lot). Some have “commercials if you don’t pay”. Some gave up and just give you commercials. Some are “enter your cable or provider info” for access (presuming you have cable or Satellite and are on the road with your stick, I guess). And some are just flat out “pay up to get it”.

I’ve not bothered putting in my “provider information” as I’m interested in “cord cutting”, so want to see how happy I am without it. Sling-TV being my target replacement provider, I’m going to give them a trial in a few months to confirm I’m “good to go”. Until then I’m just using the Sat-Box at low res for those channels. IFF I get the big one in the front room set up, I’ll add the provider info so the spouse gets the HDTV version of the Satellite channels.

Then I spent somewhere over an hour adding channels to my “home” list…

Now realize that these “channels” are more like “networks”. Many of them have a series of things you can chose between (like Netflix with rows of topics and shows in the rows). Some are just one channel / show. Some are sporadic service, so just give a banner if the “event” isn’t on. I didn’t add ANY of the pay channels. I’ve still got more channels than I can possibly watch…

Now I’ve already got Netflix for watching on the road on the tablet. That, alone, covers a lot of turf. Then IF you are an Amazon Prime member (that I’m not) you get that too. There’s maybe a dozen local channels from all over the country, and several news channels. NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox are all there. PBS has a lot of stuff up on the PBS channel. Didn’t get to look exactly how much as I was busy “adding channels”. Then there are the foreign language channels. I have some from Brazil, plus one “learn Portuguese” channel. Several Spanish (there must be near a dozen) including from Columbia and Dominica and several other places. A load of India and Iranian that I did not add, and more. Sadly, while I found an Italian TV channel, I did not find a French language channel. Nor German. Also I did not find RT or Al Jazeera. (Then again, I’m not sure I’ve searched all of it…) There is a YouTube channel and a Firefox channel, but searching for things by hunt and peck on the checker board with a remote is going to be a pain.

UPDATE to correct an error

UPDATE: There are A LOT more channels than I had thought, including RT and Al Jazeera (English and Arabic). What I had thought was the full list of channels to select from, with a soft of subsets below (as most places do things) was in fact exactly backwards. The list above the line was a selected subset of most popular, while the list by genre below the line was in fact the full list. There were over 400 general and move channels alone, plus a whole section of News that included RT and AJ along with a dozen other that interested me (The Blaze and Info Wars at one extreme, The Economist, WSJ, Reuters and more at the other end. DW and France24 in the middle. Even TED talks! The “Religion” category was huge with over 1200 channels, including the Catholic one that the spouse wanted.

There is a whole section of non-English programming with everything from Africa to Vietnamese, including some French and German stations. Brazil was well represented, Latin America over represented, and Eastern Europe not so much (but a little).

At this point, I had selected to 474 channels and spent much of the evening whittling them down to 400. (Deciding I really didn’t need the Community Service channel from Canton, Ohio for example… and that the Loony Toons channel was not so interesting when they demanded money – remember I’m running ONLY the free channels (with commercials for some) at this point.) I think that sometime tomorrow I can likely get it down closer to 300, especially as I start sorting through the “old movie channels” and keeping the nicer ones, dumping the “me too” with the same out of copyright movies, or the ones that have annoying hoops or too many commercials before you get to the movie…

Basically, at this point, I’m swamped in channels. It will likely take me a month just to sort out what I really want to keep (which of the 4 retro-themed “radio” channels, for instance, or am I REALLY ever going to watch a Coptic Church service?…) Sometime long after that will come “what do I wish I had that isn’t here?” At this point it is largely just a couple of series on CBS that I can get with an antenna… and maybe a more full FOX TV feed. Often the “News Channels” don’t include all the shows, just snippets from some of them. This is mostly (only?) for networks that are heavy on Cable / Satellite and get pressure not to give it away… But it will take a long time to look though all this and figure out if I’m in need of anything specific / more. With that, back to the original posting.

End of the UPDATE.

Some things let you put apps on your phone or tablet to control them. Some even take added hardware to do things like send your own video to "your channel" and more. A couple let you turn your PC into your own DVR for broadcast stuff (some hardware buy required).

Then there are the weird ones. Some "Government to the People" channel from an odd Latin American country. Community channels from places in who knows where. Channels set up by a few folks like a Country Western channel that looks like maybe a half dozen folks decided they wanted it, so did it. Many channels for "gamers", but I didn't see a "game shows" channel (but maybe was moving too fast to sort them out…)

I picked a whole bunch of stuff and, over the next weeks, will watch them for a little while each, deleting the uninteresting ones. In the process driving their marketing and pigeon holing software a little bit daft… What do you do with a guy who watches snatches of everything in several languages?

Eventually, when I feel like it, I'll set up one of the Pi / Odroid things to drive the other HDMI input and see if I like it better with a keyboard and mouse ;-) Then I'll have my whole Internet TV batch from up top available on big screen in high-def. That, then, will be the moment when I decide if the Roku is a “keeper anyway” as it has lots of stuff I want, or was just a fun experiment and interim solution and becomes a target of “recreational hacking” ;-) Or it might just go “out front” to the spouse who is unlikely to appreciate using a keyboard and mouse to drive the TV via Linux 8-0

In Conclusion

At the end of the evening, having sampled several HDTV things over the internet and liked the results A Lot, and having watched my 4:3 Satellite feed and liked it A Lot (being larger, clearer, and with ability to fix the aspect ratio munging on some channels), and having loaded up a 100 ish “channels” to wander through in coming weeks (and ignoring more…) I’m thinking this was one of the best “under $200” I’ve spent in a long time. Even if it was an “unexpected expense”. And even if it did keep me AFK (Away From Keyboard) for the whole day.

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Posted in Human Interest, Tech Bits | Tagged , , , | 80 Comments

Dear Congress: How to Repeal & Replace Obamacare

Dear Congress,

I looked at the present proposal of Obamacare Lite and found it sadly wanting. The basic problem is that it attempts to continue the practice of mixing “health insurance” with “medical welfare”. Those two must be kept separate, even in your thinking about them, or the result will fail.

Since you seem to be having some difficulty crafting such a plan, I thought I might do it for you. Here is a simple, clean, and very functional Health Care Act of 2017:

1) The Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare) is repealed in total.

2) Each medical facility shall charge all their clients the same rate for the same service or product in any given year. Rates will be published at the start of each year on January 1.

3) Any people who file on a common tax return may choose to be on the same medical insurance policy, including dependents of any age.

4) Any pre-existing condition must be covered under medical insurance if there has been coverage in existence prior to any new policy, or commencing 1 year after the new policy is in force if the applicant is uninsured.

5) Health insurance may be sold in any State by any Health Insurance Company provided it conforms with the State laws of the respective States.

6) Any family unit (filing on the same tax return) who has medical expenses (exclusive of expenses paid by insurance providers) exceeding 1/3 of their Gross Income shall have those excess expenses paid from the General Revenue Fund. Implementation via Medicaid, Medicare, or other similar agency as the Executive Branch shall establish. 100% of all medical expenses paid shall be a tax deduction.

7) All provisions of this act shall take effect starting on Jan 1, 2018.

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Posted in News Related, Political Current Events | Tagged , , , , | 77 Comments

Wikileaks CIA Methods dump of 7 March 2017

This is just a skelton posting to be filled out a bit more later. A place to hang comments and discussions about the event while I try to catch up.

A couple of starter reads:

The topic broke out on another thread here, with some comments to catch up:

https://chiefio.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/trump-months-2-and-3/#comment-80370

Larry Ledwick says:
7 March 2017 at 5:22 pm (Edit)
This might need a new topic — Major Wikileaks release summary of the juicy bits.

A couple of headings from a quick search that looked interesting:

http://www.breitbart.com/tech/2017/03/07/wikileaks-releases-cia-data-dump-titled-vault-7-part-1/

WikiLeaks has released a CIA data dump titled “Vault 7 Part 1 “Year Zero”: Inside the CIA’s global hacking force.”
WikiLeaks sent out multiple tweets today in relation to a new batch of information set to be published following a press conference at 8AM ET. The release was given the codename “Year Zero” and related to what WikiLeaks called a “CIA global hacking force.”

http://www.pcworld.com/article/3177418/security/wikileaks-cia-document-dump-shows-agency-can-compromise-android-tvs.html

WikiLeaks’ CIA document dump shows agency can compromise Android and smart TVs
The website releases more than 8,700 documents it says are from a CIA cyber unit.

WikiLeaks has released more than 8,700 documents it says come from the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence, with some of the leaks saying the agency had 24 “weaponized” and previously undisclosed exploits for the Android operating system as of 2016.

Some of the Android exploits were developed by the CIA, while others came from the U.S. National Security Agency, U.K. intelligence agency GCHQ, and cyber arms dealers, according to the trove of documents released Tuesday.

Some smartphone attacks developed by the CIA allow the agency to bypass the encryption in WhatsApp, Confide, and other apps by collecting audio and message traffic before encryption is applied, according to the WikiLeaks analysis.

All from the “I’m not paranoid, it IS as bad as I thought” or the “I’m not paranoid, I just know what can be done” departments…

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Posted in News Related, Tech Bits | Tagged , , , | 119 Comments

Health Services – Capitulating Out The Gate

In the news today is that “The Republicans Have A Health Care Plan!”.

The problem is that it capitulates right out the gate. It is rightly, as Rand Paul calls it, “Obamacare Lite”.

The essential structure of Obamacare is kept, along with mandates and penalties, but gets tinkered around the edges with the dropping of some specific rules and having the penalty from the mandate be paid to the insurance companies rather than the government.

OK, “the question not asked”: Why in heck is the provision of Health Services (it isn’t “care”… it is a service provided by people paid wages) a U.S. Federal responsibility? Where is that in the Constitution?

IMHO, the only correct thing for the Federal government to do is to declare that Health Insurance Companies can sell in any State, doing business as they wish, and with each State having whatever the State government wants in terms of regulations, State provision, Subsidy, etc.

Wash the Federal Government hands of it and walk away.

The Federal Government does not provide my lawn mowing services, my car washing services, my car repair services, my home insurance, my auto insurance, my food services. It just is not their job to be a national service provider.

The Peculiar Problems Of Health Services

There are a few particular and peculiar aspects of Health Services that causes much of the “problem” in providing them. These issues lead to unequal distribution of outcomes and needs along with unequal access to services. They do need some kind of fix, but that “fix” is at core a welfare program. Money must be taken from one person (or company) and given to another for services that the Money-Bags does not get.

Most of the fight is over who is the Money-Bags and who gets the money.

The largest consumers of Health Services are those who are old, nearing the End Of Life (EOL), those with chronic (pre-existing) conditions, and those who suffer unexpected and catastrophic injury or illness (think car wreck or onset of ALS.

Of those three classes, two are very predictable. Old Age and Existing conditions. Insurance is NOT about paying for what is predictable, it is about paying for what is an individual surprise (but predictable on a statistical basis for a population). What is not insurance, is welfare. Transfer payments from the Money-Bags to the Money-Sinks.

To ignore that is to get the kind of crap that is Obamacare.

One example: I’ve been in an Ambulance once. My Mother-In-Law had not been in one at all by my age, that I know of. When she reached about 75, the Ambulance rides started. At least a dozen. Each followed by one or more days in the hospital. Sometimes intensive care, always the Emergency Room. That is a fairly typical Health Services consumption profile. Very little for the first 90% of life, a huge amount as EOL approaches.

Similarly, folks with Diabetes have a fairly clear health serviced consumption profile. “Prognosis” if you will. Ditto Cancer patients.

So what Obamacare does is force the young and healthy to buy incredibly expensive “insurance” that they do not need in order to fleece them for the money to provide welfare health services to those with EOL and Preexisting Conditions high expenditures. That isn’t insurance, that is welfare. It then layers on all sorts of stupid penalties, fees, whatever if you don’t “voluntarily” submit. Governments are not for the purpose of coercion of the voter, IMHO.

IF you want a Medical Services Welfare Program, go ahead and set it up and use general fund taxes to pay for it. Much of anything else is just a lie. Lies don’t work well in the long run.

Additional problems:

There is no limit on how much a person will spend for medical procedures when they are paid for by someone else. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars to add a day or two to an ending life. Few folks will voluntarily say no to more life. Similarly, the technology of “fixing things” pushes forward faster than the ability to pay for those fixes. We can now replace almost all the bones of the body. Synthetic organs are being developed. Total cost to repair someone as they wear out can exceed their lifetime ability to create. When that happens on a population basis, the nation goes bankrupt.

Letting the AMA practice Occupational Birth Control on the number of medical doctors is just a monopoly by a trade union. Build as many medical schools as can be filled with students and the cost of medical care WILL drop. There are many times more bright and gifted students who would make great doctors than there are medical school slots for them.

Letting malpractice lawyers game the system as an ersatz form of welfare / wealth redistribution is just crazy. It makes for many rich lawyers, some compensation for actual injuries, and astounding increases in medical costs. At one point I knew an anesthesiologist who had malpractice insurance costs equal to about 1/2 his annual pay. He was good at his job. But some folks DO die or have failures under anesthesia. The simple fact is that medicine is NOT a perfect technology. Instead of recognizing this and having each person accept their risks like adults, we have set up a system to “compensate” them in some kind of “social justice” way, while making lawyers rich in the process. Get that out of the system and costs will drop by about 1/2. IF you want such an injury compensation system, set one up but without the lawyers cut. Set standard payments for typical known bad outcomes and cut the checks. It would save all the legal costs AND eliminate the randomness of Lawyer Roulette for the injured parties.

Over the years, the billing practices at hospitals has evolved to “3rd Party” the costs from those who did not have enough money to those with private health insurance. This was another kind of back door welfare program, and it is why a “small tray” for the ER that ought to cost about $10 runs closer to $100 last I looked. (some minor bandages, scissors and tape and such). I worked in Patient Accounting for a couple of years, so got to see it up close. Medicare doesn’t pay enough? They pay $50 for “FOO” and you charge the private health insurance $150 to “make up the difference”. Simple fix: Mandate that ALL parties pay the same price for a service. A billing code has ONE price at any one facility. Private insurance costs will plummet and the true cost of welfare will be visible, and can be planned for properly.

Insurance companies try to dump anyone who costs too much (as do employers, BTW, so if you have a spouse with high medical costs and that raises the insurance rates, the employer knows and will try to remove that cost…) Now you have a choice. Let them not cover preexisting conditions and have lower insurance costs, or require that they take all applicants regardless of medical status and have higher insurance costs. Doing it 1/2 way like in Obamacare Lite is just silly. Force coverage for preexisting most of the time, but have a penalty if the insurance lapses? Punishes people who are ill, does NOT reduce costs (since they still get treatment and most folks will stay covered), adds red tape. Sigh. Either admit you are going to provide a welfare transfer payment to those folks, or leave them exposed to lack of treatment and / or high expenses.

The alternative is what is called “Adverse Selection”. Almost everyone with lots of expensive service demands will sign up for the “reduce my costs” welfare “insurance”, while those who don’t need it will buy none, paying out of pocket being cheaper, or go to a different provider if available (even if insurance companies are forbidden from offering lower cost plans to the healthy, Doctors can make pre-paid medical service contracts and select for the healthier clients). This eventually loads up the “insurance” with lots of excess costs and the company goes out of business (or leaves that market). To avoid Adverse Selection, you must either have some kind of preexisting condition exclusion or a clear Welfare provision. Trying to dodge that issue is what causes most of the mess in the present systems.

It is all about who pays and who gets treatment. The “Single Payer” approach says anyone in the tax rake pays and everyone gets treatment. The Free Market says everyone pays their own way for what they can afford. Real insurance says everyone pays according to their average statistical risk, and gets what is the usual payment for that expected risk if it hits them; everything else is excluded. Welfare says “soak somebody to pay the unfortunate”. Trying to mix those into one “system” is what creates chaos.

In Conclusion

I’ve lived under each of the major systems for some part of my life. The first few decades were “pay as you go” with no Medicare / Medicaid and few folks buying private health insurance. The local doctors had an office in the first floor of their home and lived upstairs. It worked reasonably well. “Indigents” got “free” medical care at the County Hospital. Some folks just did without medical services. Some folks paid for lots of stuff they didn’t need but wanted (rather like now…).

The major issue was folks at EOL running out of money and going bankrupt due to their unwillingness to say “I’m going to die in a year anyway, just let me go”. So we’ve instituted Medicare. The idea being to unburden the EOL folks from that worry.

Then we instituted Medicaid for the same reason for folks with chronic / surprise medical problems beyond their means.

That just left the folks who were a little moneyed, but not moneyed enough, hitting the wall (and paying the bills). As Medicare and Medicaid cut back how much they would pay for procedures (and the odd failure to pay) more of the costs got “3rd Partied” onto those with Private Insurance. I was working in Patient Accounting watching that happen. Private insurance costs began to rocket up.

Now we have Obamacare. The purpose of it was to force more healthy folks to pay into the Welfare System of Services while making it easier for those who wanted services to get them without paying (much). It also tried some ill advised Social Manipulation via things like mandating nuns get birth control coverage and pay for abortions. It is now in freefall due to the massive increase in costs to the system from all those folks with preexisting conditions and whatever getting welfare payments (as bill payments) and all the rest of us unable to actually use our “insurance” as the deductibles are incredible.

Essentially, it became “catastrophic coverage” for me. I had “Blue something”… Shield? Whatever… and the deductible went to $5000 per year plus some other things. I just don’t use $5000 a year of medical care. And that was AFTER paying about $8000? a year in premiums. Sorry, but I sure don’t need $1000 / month of medical services. Cheaper to just say no. Many folks did that math, and a whole lot of adverse selection set in.

So now we have a very complicated and very broken Medical Welfare System masquerading as “insurance”, festooned with a phonebook worth of rules, regulations, fees, mandates, PITA “savings accounts” (mixing the IRS and Income Taxes with Medical care? You think that’s a good idea?), whatever.

All because folks will not admit to the truth. It is a WELFARE system and a WELFARE problem, not a Medical Care problem. And certainly not insurance.

So the Republicans are continuing this lie with Obamacare Lite. It stinks.

IF you really want a national Medical Welfare System, admit it, and built a simple clean one.

IF you really do not want a national Medical Welfare System, don’t keep 1/2 of one around. Kill and bury it.

But be honest about what you are doing and stop calling welfare insurance.

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Hexanitrohexaazaisowurtzitane

You have got to be kidding me…

Hexanitrohexaazaisowurtzitane is a real compound? Who, what, wa… really?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hexanitrohexaazaisowurtzitane

Hexanitrohexaazaisowurtzitane /ˈhɛksɑːˈnaɪtroʊˈhɛksɑːˌæzɑːˌaɪsoʊˈvʊərtsɪteɪn/, also called HNIW and CL-20, is a nitroamine explosive with the formula C6H6N12O12. The structure of CL-20 was first proposed in 1979 by Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics. In 1980s, CL-20 was developed by the China Lake facility, primarily to be used in propellants. It has a better oxidizer-to-fuel ratio than conventional HMX or RDX. It releases 20% more energy than traditional HMX-based propellants, and is widely superior to conventional high-energy propellants and explosives.

Industrial production of CL-20 was achieved in China in 2011, and it was soon fielded in propellant of solid rockets. While most development of CL-20 has been fielded by the Thiokol Corporation, the US Navy (through ONR) has also been interested in CL-20 for use in rocket propellants, such as for missiles, as it has lower observability characteristics such as less visible smoke.

CL-20 has not yet been fielded in any production weapons system, but is undergoing testing for stability, production capabilities, and other weapons characteristics.

This stuff is just crazy. Two pentane rings (with nitrogen in them, so really azo something rings) and lots of oxidizer in the attached groups. Damn straight this will blow up. How in heck you make it is what would drive me around the bend.

Crazy ass explosive named Hexanitrohexaazaisowurtzitane

Crazy ass explosive named Hexanitrohexaazaisowurtzitane

First, benzylamine (1) is condensed with glyoxal (2) under acidic and dehydrating conditions to yield the first intermediate compound.(3). Four benzyl groups selectively undergo hydrogenolysis using palladium on carbon and hydrogen. The amino groups are then acetylated during the same step using acetic anhydride as the solvent. (4). Finally, compound 4 is reacted with nitronium tetrafluoroborate and nitrosonium tetrafluoroborate, resulting in HNIW.

Cocrystal product with HMX

In August 2012, Onas Bolton et al. published results showing that a cocrystal of 2 parts CL-20 and 1 part HMX had similar safety properties to HMX, but with a greater firing power closer to CL-20.

Cocrystal product with TNT

In August 2011, Adam Matzger and Onas Bolton published results showing that a cocrystal of CL-20 and TNT had twice the stability of CL-20—safe enough to transport, but when heated to 136 C the cocrystal may separate into liquid TNT and a crystal form of CL-20 with structural defects that is somewhat less stable than CL-20.

Oh. Sorry I asked…

OK, so it’s an improvement in solid rocket propellants (as long as it doesn’t blow up) and it can blow up nicely too. But really, would I want to be in the same county with something with that tight a ring with nitrogen in it, with two of them, with oxidizer on the vertices? Really?

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Posted in Science Bits | Tagged | 24 Comments