Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Adventures With Malware

I've been testing running Windows as a smart consumer for the last couple of years. Rather than installing 15 different programs to sniff all my information exchanges from the various networks I utilize, I decided that I would rely on the native scanners and firewalls that come with Windows now.

Confession time.  I don't actually run Windows 8, 8.1 or whatever they're calling the new Windows these days. Microsoft, cleverly figuring out that consumers skip every other release of their OS's, have skipped calling their new 0S Windows 9 even though that should be the number on the release, and are calling it Windows 10.  Now, I haven't figured out what version of Windows that Microsoft will deem LTS (long term support) next, so I'm not spending any of my limited funds on an OS that they put out simply to smother some fire that they inadvertently started.

I run what was on the system when it was sold to me (although I'm in the process of converting the laptop to Linux) and that version is Windows 7. I liked XP, stuck with it for as long as I could. XP was the last version of the OS that Microsoft deemed LTS, as was Windows 2000 before that.  Windows 7 has been a nice stable platform for several years, so I've stuck with it.

Starting in Windows 7 there were native malware and virus detectors.  If this wasn't the first time, then it was definitely the first time I noticed them or was willing to rely on them.  Virus scanners seem to be in bed with malware writers of late; witness McAfee being offered on sites that are clearly on the fringe of respectability, when McAfee once upon a time was a legitimate virus scanner that I couldn't live without.  Now if you rely on them or a Norton product, you'd be better off not finding the internet, if either of them actually let you on it.  So relying on a native Windows application that offered to screen malware and viruses seems as legitimate as actually paying someone else to keep your system virus free these days.

Realizing I was giving up ever visiting a porn site, or sharing a music file, video or anything more sophisticated than email, I set to work.  The native program in Windows was/is called Microsoft Security Essentials, and for the last two years, that has been the only program that I've run on this system that does anything related to malware screening or virus scanning.

When I go anywhere on the internet, I use a third party application to do it.  I never allow Windows to do anything aside from run programs which are native to this computer. This is a habit formed since I first started using Windows back in the 3.11 days.  Internet Exploder, er Explorer, has always been the most utilized vector for spreading malware, so I never use it on a website that I don't trust completely.  Trust like the vault at my bank (and I don't bank) So I use Firefox or Chrome, or whatever non-native browser that looks promising today, to go to websites.

Having been an MMO player for the last 5 years, I haven't had a lot of use for porn or music anyway. MMO's (Massive Multiplayer Online games) are notorious for sucking up all your free time.  The most challenging vector to manage, when dealing with online gaming, is how you get your addons updated. This is because every game has some cheat or other that you have to add to it in order to make it easy enough to complain about in online forums.  This process required a bit of legwork and investigation each time I changed addons or games.  There are addon managers that aren't too shady, so if you are careful about what you click, read everything and check every toggle before you agree, you can generally lease your entire life to online games and not worry about anyone else stealing it.

Lately I've noticed that I'm beginning to have trouble reading.  This is the biggest challenge I face, being a compulsive reader.  Every now and then the eyes fail to track properly, the mind wanders and I miss a paragraph of text, forcing me to curse loudly, backtrack and start over.  Consequently I've taken to downloading a lot of content from Audible and various streaming media sites, taking care to make sure that the programs I'm using are pretty solid.

Most audio is only available if you buy it in advance. This is a battle I've been fighting since the days of MP3.com and corporate music's foolish belief that they could stand in the way of file sharing.  To this day I strip audio that has restrictions on it, if I have a need to move it from some system that is recognized to one that is not.  Fortunately for Audible and my limited non-MMO free time, most of the systems I fiddle with these days are recognized by Audible or have Audible apps on them.  Consequently their heads-entirely-up-their-asses DRM remains on many of the latest works that I've purchased from them.  I don't know why they still keep DRM on their files, Amazon has offered native unprotected MP3's for years, which is why Amazon is about the only place I will buy music (rumor has it that iTunes now has unprotected MP3's as well.  Too late Apple!) and Amazon now owns Audible.

But they do and I roll my eyes and live with the frustration.

Still, it presents an obstacle to sharing files with family members once you've purchased them.  Technically you can share them, according to Audible.  But you have to share them on systems that are recognized, and you have to authorize the hardware with the software, hold your mouth the right way, sacrifice your newborn and leave a pint of blood.  Just a bit of a hassle.

Consequently I have resisted buying audible content that I actually have credits for, if I know I'm going to want to share that content with family members later.  That resistance has now officially ended my Microsoft only malware testing period.

The Wife expressed an interest in a particular work recently. Having just given a pint of blood last week trying to share an Audible file, I went out and found an unprotected copy of the work she wanted, rather than try that again. I did notice some odd behavior in the dialogs, but that reading problem I mentioned caused me to miss exactly what the prompts said.

Hilarity ensued, if hilarity involves 30 plus hours of digging malware out by the roots.  Malware writers are a humorous bunch. They piggy-backed a lovely bit of work in on my foolishness.  Calls itself Unideal. But it's not just Unideal. It's also Youtubeadblocker and a few other names aside.  Installed itself as a false virus scanner under yet another name. Runs banner ads across websites sponsored by Robin Hood. Specifically places ads in areas that Ad Blocker takes ads out of.

Courtesy Defectivebydesign.org
What is the moral of this story?  I don't think there is one.  File sharing was never a crime for me, because the things I share I either end up paying for anyway, or never would have paid for in the first place because it wasn't something I wanted after listening to it once.  The one time I've been caught torrenting (by HBO) was the time I was a paid subscriber (won't be doing that again) who couldn't actually watch the programs I was paying for due to faulty transmission by my cable provider. If you enjoy HBOGO now, you should write me a thank you letter. That service exists because of people like me.

Were it not for DRM on Audible books, I would have simply used credits that I have on my Audible account to purchase the work my wife was interested in directly. But because of suspicion and doubt, the nagging insistence that if payment is not secured in advance no payment will be made, you must step outside of the protected boundaries of commerce and make back-alley deals with less than desirable types.

Were it not for the backwards nature of copyrighted works, and the DMCA that protects them, it would be possible to take material that the copyright owner has abandoned on a previous format, update it to current formats and be able to charge for the time and effort spent transcribing the material (a service which does have value) without opening oneself up to punishing fines for daring to think that abandoned works deserve to be preserved.

Perhaps there is a lesson here about keeping your software and hardware up to date, but as a disabled person living on a fixed income, it's a bit much to ask me to purchase new hardware and software every few years just so I can keep current.  I have a test license for Windows 10 which has been made available to me, and in the next few days I may be testing that software after I get my second drive running a version of Linux I can count on.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Warlords of Draenor Fails to Hold Interest

This player has had a rocky relationship with World of Warcraft almost since the day I first started playing.  I really never understood what the hell was going on until I was well into Wrath of the Lich King, an expansion that I thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end. I found myself able to live within the restrictions the game placed on me in that version of the game, without feeling like I was artificially constrained.

Then there was Cataclysm.  That was where the love/hate relationship I had with the game really came to light.  Starting with the changes to healing that the developers first introduced and then abandoned almost immediately, and progressing through most of that expansion pack the time wasting nature of most of the effort involved in the game which came to be summarized with the word Murglesnout.  I almost canceled my script during that expansion pack, and I only stayed because I really wanted to finish my long quest, something I have finally done.

Through all of Cataclysm there was one thing I actually liked; I could fly (there were a few other things as well, but)  I could fly all the time, everywhere. Well I couldn't fly in the world PvP areas, but then PvP is my least favorite part of the game and don't even level toons on PvP servers.  But I could fly everywhere else in the game, and that suited me fine.

Then came Mists of Pandaria. Once again, like at the beginning of Wrath of Lich King, the artificial limitation of required ground movement was imposed on the players, and this time that limitation wasn't lifted for alternate characters on the same account, making the grind of leveling characters a grind in truth.  At least flight was allowed for endgame characters, so I could purchase flight capability for all 22 of my toons by the end of that expansion.

When Warlords of Draenor was announced, I started hearing some troubling rumblings on the forums. Rumors that the developers might not include flight in this expansion pack, not even for endgame characters. As far as I was concerned, this was completely the wrong direction for game development, and I took to the forums again with a few choice posts;

Allow Flight in WoD From the Beginning (this link is leads nowhere. Fair warning)
For my nickel, I consider it poor programming to continue to ground flying mounts just because the programmers can't figure out how to make flying available without removing the challenge of the game.  As it is I don't see the point in paying for faster flight (ever) since I won't be allowed to fly at all until Blizzard decides we've paid them long enough to make it worth their while to give flight back to us.
It's simple enough to knock players off of riding mounts, I don't see the problem with knocking them off flying mounts, aside from the same frustration that is incurred from allowing players to be knocked off mounts at all. Either you have to fly so high you can't see the terrain, or you dive low enough to risk being knocked off by whatever. It's a game. Rez and run, it isn't painful. 
Funny thing; I remember when this used to happen in Outland. Rather than complain to GM's about my own stupidity at flying where I shouldn't be, I learned to pay attention to where I was on the map so as to avoid being dismounted. Problem solved, all it takes is not being stupid. 
Same case here. I get that it's a pain to have to fight when dismounted, or die when dismounted in the air if you can't damage mitigate. Now I could whine and cry about it and demand they make the game easier and thusly be bored sooner, or I could stick to my original suggestion that they not cripple the game by disabling functions that I see as an essential part of gameplay.
What I'd like is for the developers to treat flying as part of the game experience and not a perk to be handed out to endgame players. 
What I want is for them to finally embrace the fact that flying is part of WoW and stop pretending we have to plod in order to be immersed (whatever that is. Covered in flies, mud and sweat?) in the game world. The most annoying part of play in Mists of Pandaria was seeing areas that I could not get to because perfectly usable flying mounts were not allowed to be used until reaching 90 because someone was convinced the game was more fun seen from the ground. It's grindy-er and more boring that way, not more fun.
 None of this content still exists on the forums.  Tons and tons of feedback that could have profited the game developers was deleted carte blanche by the forum moderators in vain attempts to mute complaints by disgruntled beta players.  Players like Jandarus who posted the following;
You *can* design a world where flying is an option. It's more complex, more expensive, but Blizzard have both the time and the funding to do it. They *choose* not to, because the fastest and easiest route for them is to simply disable flying.

Imagine a tower with an objective inside. Players on ground mounts ride up to the doors and fight their way through the rooms in order. Stealthy players get the option to evade the mobs, but have challenges around timing of patrols and mobs that can detect stealthed players. Flyers get to fly in to the top floor and fight a different set of mobs to the objective. Maybe with anti-flyer guns on the way.
But the expansion rolled out just as it was presented in the beta version, including the highly inadequate improvements to my characters that I documented during the beta.  I did eventually find acceptable new faces for most of my toons, however the cosmetic problems with the game are far outweighed by the other structural changes to the game.

Don't get me wrong.  I really wanted to like this version of the game.  Being essentially a retcon of content first imagined in the expansion for Warcraft II, Warlords of Draenor goes into more depth than was ever possible given the limitations of the far more primitive computer systems available in the mid-90's, and the constraints of a strictly RTS game.  It really is engaging gameplay, and the changes to the various classes all seem to be pretty well balanced and streamline spell usage and rotations.

However, they've broken professions in their attempts to simplify gameplay.  None of the professions offer perks for having them unless you are into rare mounts.  Since you are limited to three crafted items equipped at the same time, maintaining professions that were useful for gearing in past expansions is pointless.  I now have upwards of nine Engineers in game, since engineering provides repair and resupply NPC's as part of the profession.  It is really the only profession worth pursuing any longer in a general sense.

Don't even get me started when it comes to the fresh hell that they've turned Cooking, Fishing and First Aid into.  First off, you can't just go and learn new cooking recopies, you have to taste them or cook something else to get them (randomly) so forget just cooking things you need.  But let's say you decide you want to fish and then cook that. That's a funny thought, really. I learned cooking while fishing with most of my original toons. Now you can't cook fish; or rather, you can't cook them until you clean them, and you can't clean just one. No, you have to catch 5, 10 or 20 fish of a particular size and type, and then you can clean that pile of fish.  Then you have to hope you have a recipe for them (if it's Saberfish you will) and then you can cook those fish. Some fish turn into first aid items so you'll need those fish to level that secondary prof, which is actually more useful if more maddening. Why maddening?  Because you can't just make bandaids as you did in all other versions of the game. No, you need to catch those fish and make them into healing tonic to level. Never mind there really isn't cloth drops any longer, now it's a fur from beasts but I don't want to go down that rabbit hole just now.

Suffice it to say that my pastime for 6 years, fishing, is something I just don't do any longer.  Which is too bad because there are some really nice rare drops if you have the infinite patience required to find them.

The one good thing about professions is that the rest of them are so useless now, Archaeology is almost interesting by contrast.  So there is that bright shining moment to enjoy. The only reason to play multiple toons (characters) now is to test the various classes and playstyles. Not really motivation enough for me.

Garrisons was another facet of the game that the developers pinned a lot of hopes on. That too seems to have backfired.  There is now no reason to ever leave your garrison. Most players never do except to get into group efforts, which returns you directly back to your garrison as soon as the group event is done. The garrisons themselves are entertaining for awhile. Some of the buildings (especially the engineering building that gives you a perk each day) are quite fun to to fiddle with and give valuable gear for you and your followers.

...Followers being one of the more puzzling introductions to this game, almost as if it wants to be an RTS like it's original version was. I just don't understand their purpose in the game, but it is entertaining sending them all out on quests then running out of your HQ to watch them all file out the gates and play the game for you.

The first official patch (6.1) for this expansion went live this Tuesday.  I have yet to really log on and do anything beyond snooping through a few toons burning cooldowns; pretty much all I do anymore. There are some nice improvements in this patch.  More skins for the improved character models.  A way to share the heirloom gear that radically speeds up leveling for alternate toons. Improved heirlooms that now can be used through level 100.

Don't really care.

I have a 100 for both factions now. I've played through both sides of the game, explored most of the garrison buildings, run the LFR for the first raid. I'll eventually run the LFR for the second raid, and dabble in the PvP before I finally do what I threatened to do in Cataclysm. I'm canceling my subscription to World of Warcraft for the first time in 5 years. I have better things to do with the monthly premium for server access if I'm not going to play the game content; and it has become clear that I'm not.

I did log on and spend eighty thousand gold on heirloom upgrades for the toons that I haven't leveled to 100, current endgame level. I will make that confession. I have (had) upwards of 400 thousand gold in game across 22+ toons. I think it was a good investment considering what unspent money in a game you aren't playing is actually worth.

I have the distinct feeling that the game developers are resting on the games popularity, not pushing themselves to actually find the boundaries of gameplay with the new systems and faster internet speeds.  World of Warcraft remains essentially the same game it was more than a decade ago, and I think I've played that game long enough.  Time for something new.

The Astonishing History of Vibrators

The title is identical to a article I saved on delicious way back in 2008.  Originally hosted on TBD, written by one Michael Castleman for that site. It has since been taken down and can be found archived on the Wayback Machine.  I found the story and book it was taken from to be quite entertaining.  I am placing it in my blog for preservation purposes only, having been forced to go looking for the information I thought would still be available but is now gone less than a decade later.   
None of what follows outside of italics is mine beyond the placing of links and images where they appear in the article. All copyrights revert to the original authors if they choose to assert them.
More information on the subject can be found at the Antique Vibrator Museum.  There is also a documentary on the subject of the book titled Passion & Power: The Technology of the Orgasm a clip of which can be found on Youtube.
I find the repression of sexual information which pervades US culture almost intolerable. If we ever want to get past pornography dominating all our information services, the US is going to have to come to grips with the reality of sexuality in all its various forms. The place to start is to admit that women like sex, need sex, just like men do. 

Mention vibrators, and most people think of women's sexual pleasure. But that was the furthest thing from the minds of the male doctors who invented them more than a century ago. They were more interested in a labor-saving device to spare their own hands the fatigue caused by treating "female hysteria." This condition involved a number of vague, chronic complaints in adult women, including: anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, nervousness, erotic fantasies, and moisture inside the vagina. Female hysteria was actually women's sexual frustration. The history of vibrators is a strange tale that provides insights into both the history of sex toys, and cultural notions about women's sexuality.

Until the 20th century, American and European men believed that women were incapable of sexual desire and pleasure. Women of that era basically concurred. They were socialized to believe that "ladies" had no sex drive, and were merely passive receptacles for men's unbridled lust, which they had to endure to hang on to their husbands and have children. Not surprisingly, these beliefs led to a great deal of sexual frustration on the part of women.

Over the centuries, doctors prescribed various remedies for hysteria (named for the Greek for "uterus"). In the 13th century, physicians advised women to use dildos. In the 16th century, they told married hysterics to encourage the lust of their husbands. Unfortunately, that probably didn't help too many wives, because modern sexuality research clearly shows that most women rarely experience orgasm from intercourse, but need direct clitoral stimulation. For hysteria unrelieved by husbandly lust, and for widows, and single and unhappily married women, doctors advised horseback riding, which, in some cases, provided enough clitoral stimulation to trigger orgasm.

But many women found little relief from horseback riding, and by the 17th century, dildos were less of an option because the arbiters of decency had succeeded in demonizing masturbation as "self-abuse." Fortunately, an acceptable, reliable treatment emerged: having a doctor or midwife "massage the genitalia with one finger inside, using oil of lilies or crocus" as a lubricant. With enough genital massage, hysterical women could experience sudden, dramatic relief through "paroxysm," which virtually no medical authority called orgasm, because, of course, everyone knew that women did not have sexual feelings, so they could not possibly experience sexual climax.

By the 19th century, physician-assisted paroxysm was firmly entrenched in Europe and the U.S. It was a godsend for many doctors. At that time, the public viewed physicians with tremendous distrust. Most doctors had little or no scientific training, and they had few treatments that worked. But thanks to genital massage, hysteria was a condition doctors could treat with great success. This produced large numbers of grateful women, who returned faithfully and regularly, eager to pay for additional treatment.

But treating hysteria also had a downside for doctors? tired fingers from all that massage. Nineteenth-century medical journals lamented that many hysterics taxed their doctors' stamina. Physicians complained of having trouble maintaining therapeutic massage long enough to produce the desired result. (For a look at 19th century treatment of female hysteria, see the film, The Road to Wellville.)

Courtesy Gizmodo.com
Necessity being the mother of invention, physicians began experimenting with mechanical substitutes for their hands. They tried a number of genital massage contraptions, among them water-driven devices (the forerunners of today's shower massagers), and steam-driven pumping dildos. But these machines were cumbersome, messy, often unreliable, and sometimes dangerous.

In the late 19th century, electricity became available for home use and the first electric appliances were invented: the sewing machine, the electric fan, and the toaster. These were followed soon after, around 1880, by the electromechanical vibrator, patented by an enterprising British physician, Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville. The electric vibrator was invented more than a decade before the vacuum cleaner and the electric iron.

Electric vibrators were an immediate hit. They produced paroxysm quickly, safely, reliably, and inexpensively and as often as women might desire it. By the dawn of the 20th century, doctors had lost their monopoly on vibrators and hysteria treatment as women began buying the devices themselves. Advertisements appearing in such magazines as "Women's Home Companion," "Needlecraft," and the Amazon.com of that era, the "Sears & Roebuck Catalogue" ("...such a delightful companion....all the pleasures of youth...will throb within you....").

Electricity gave women vibrators, but ironically, within a few decades, electricity almost took the devices away from them. With the invention of motion pictures, vibrators started turning up in pornography and gained an unsavory reputation. By the 1920s, they had become socially unacceptable. Vibrator ads disappeared from the consumer media. From the late 1920s and well into the 1970s, they were difficult to find.

But some inventions are so useful that they survive despite attempts at suppression. Today, an estimated 25 percent of women own vibrators, and 10 percent of American couples use them in partner sex. Just think, we owe the world's most popular sex toy to physicians' fatigued fingers.

For more on the history of vibrators, read "The Technology of Orgasm: 'Hysteria,' The Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction," by Rachel Maines (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999).
If you are more of a youtuber, or just want to explore the subject of sex with someone who clearly enjoys talking about the subject, let me suggest a further resource;

 (H/T to Point of Inquiry)
If it makes you feel better you can pretend that this old man did not laugh his ass off watching Laci Green explain about the history of the vibrator.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Getting Disability; a Record of the Process.

I've been meaning to write this post for years.  When I started the process in 2005, I never dreamed that it would take me several years and multiple advocates just to secure the disability income that I had paid for through my taxes for my entire life. But it did, and when it was finally finished my then attorney said "you should write this all down so that other people can find out how this is done.  I'll even refer my clients to it" (going to hold her to that one) but months turned into years, memory fades, depression is an evil beast, and procrastination is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A few days ago a Facebook friend of mine posted a link to an article about Alecia Pennington. Now, I don't know how much of her story is true, but her tale of being denied basic services due to lack of documentation reminded me of the troubles I went through getting my disability approved.

...and it all started with the lack of a US birth certificate.  Well, actually it started with a friend of a friend who said he could act as my advocate for my Social Security claim, but several years later it ended with my getting my own passport.

I gave up working very grudgingly. I had been out of work for months before my last job, I worked some contracts but mostly just looked for work and wished I could get hired on somewhere. This went on for at least a year, and then I was offered two jobs simultaneously. One in Las Vegas that would have required me to move the whole family (I'm actually glad I didn't take that one now) and one here in Austin working for an architect who was adamant he needed me.  Knew what I was good at, was aware of what my health was like, needed me to save his business (this was how he phrased it to me) So I agreed to go work for him and turned down more money from the Las Vegas job.

I spent eight months working for him.  Eight months of learning another CAD system (I think that's 5 different CAD platforms) documenting the tools for other users in the firm, automating the process of modeling and document production as much as possible, and producing finish-out drawings for an office space in less than a day to demonstrate how the process could be completed quickly. That work, the kind of managerial design work I loved getting into, coupled with spending an excessive amount of time on paper getting to that point, through weekly active vertigo and the accompanying brain fog that slows mental processes most of the time. I spent months finishing the modeling and documentation on the building that was my primary responsibility, when it probably should have been finished in weeks. That fumble that I couldn't explain outside of sickness ultimately left me jobless again with a family to feed and even fewer possibilities than I had a year previously.

I was literally hopeless at that point.  I didn't know what else I could do, and the bills kept coming in, with my health care incurring mounting costs of its own. I was spending a lot of time helping a wheelchair bound family friend then, and she suggested I contact a friend of hers to see if disability was a possibility.  Given that the only remaining choice that appeared to me was life insurance coupled with a fatal accident, I figured I'd give the government a chance to own up to the promise that I could rely on it to be there when I was in need. So I called her friend, and we started the process.

First off, you have to have doctors on your side.  You have to have a medical finding, in writing, that you have an illness which is covered as a disability.  Luckily for me Meniere's is one of those illnesses, and I had an ENT who was happy to back up my disability claim. We filled out and filed the documents and waited.

You do a lot of waiting when dealing with the government. Everytime I mention filing or documents, you should understand that at least a month goes by before there is a response.  That is if you are lucky.  If you aren't lucky they lose your paperwork and you have to refile and wait another month.  It's also worth noting that every single application for disability will be denied the first time. So if you don't intend to appeal, don't even start.

So we appealed and went to the scheduled meeting. The appeal was denied. This was the point when I realized that what I needed wasn't just an advocate for my Social Security disability claim.  I needed an attorney, because the advocate I had just shrugged and told me he tried.

After finding a reputable disability attorney (if you are thinking of pursuing disability, start by getting an attorney on your side and save yourself some time) we started another application through the process.  This one had secondary documentation and signed affidavits from witnesses. This one was also denied the first time through. It was appealed. It was denied.  It was appealed again. Ultimately my attorney called me one day and told me "the Meniere's isn't enough".  She paused for a bit.  "Do you think you are depressed?"

Am I depressed? Well, I couldn't very well admit that suicide was my only other alternative to government assistance (not without ruining the viability of that option) if I wanted to see my family fed, so I had to admit that I was struggling with just a little bit of depression. The entire tone of the conversation changed at that point.  She said something like that will make it much easier for me and got back to work on my case.

I had almost given up the faint hope that disability would offer, when the approval for my claim finally came through.  After two years of applications, denials and appeals, I was approved for disability payments.  Just in time, because we had scraped out the last of our savings and was in the process of hocking valuable items in order to get the bills paid that month.

Just one problem.  One tiny little hitch.  Hardly worth the bother, really.  See here, Ray Anthony Steele, you aren't really a U.S. citizen.

Excuse me

I've paid taxes my entire working life, starting at age sixteen. Never failed to file, never failed to pay. I even paid twice some years. Every time that the IRS audited me I wrote them another check, and they audited me every year that I was a card-carrying member of the Libertarian Party.  I've paid my dues for 30 years, I think I'm a member of this club.

Except for one tiny little problem.

When getting a Social Security card, make sure that you bring with you all the documentation required to prove US citizenship; do not, under any circumstances, allow the person handling your application to harbor any illusions that you are not 100% a US citizen or allow them to submit the application without insuring that the box "US citizen" is checked.  This is of paramount importance.

The base hospital where my parents were stationed didn't have care for babies that were delivered early, and I was early according to the charts. So mom went to where the prenatal care was at, a hospital off-base that wasn't considered part of US territory.  Consequently I have dual citizenship.  I'm a limey (it explains my love of a cuppa) I have one of those birth certificates that makes conservatives sleep poorly at night knowing I live next to them.

When I got my Social Security card back in the dark ages before computers, we went in with my British birth certificate.  They told us no problem and marked me down as not a US citizen. Forty years later, it really is a problem after all.  It's a problem because that little notation on my Social Security record means I can't claim benefits from the US government. So long, don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.  It matters not at all that taxes are deducted from your paycheck every time you earn a wage.  It doesn't matter that both your parents are American citizens. What matters is the checkbox next to US citizen on the Social Security form.

According to the computers at the Social Security Administration, I wasn't a citizen. We had stumbled across this fact early in the process, but I was assured that if the claim was validated, the citizenship problem wouldn't be an issue. I believe the phrase not a problem was repeated then, too. Except it was.  Because the birth certificate is British.  Very clearly British and not American.  What was needed to clear this up was a record from the embassy in London stating that I was an American citizen born to US parents. That piece of paper I didn't' have.

I started talking to immigration attorneys, because immigration law is a tangled jungle of lies and deception; and nobody, not even non-immigration attorneys have a clue how immigration decisions are rendered. I'm not even sure immigration attorneys know.  I did find out that the specific document I needed was called a council record.  If I could find that document it would prove that I was an American citizen born abroad, and I would qualify for disability.

Didn't have it. No idea what it looked like even (it's blue. I'll tell you about it at the end) so I started talking to relatives. Mom, specifically. She remembered that I came into the country on her passport, that I was listed as a US citizen when I entered the country. Unfortunately she couldn't find that old passport, it had been lost somewhere in the 20 or so family moves that had occurred since the 1960's. Back to the immigration attorney.

Well, it was possible to request a copy of the passport be sent to me, if I was indeed listed on the passport. Found that form. Filled it out, got it notarized and sent it in. Waited. Waited a long time. They eventually did find and mail the passport record back to me, and I was able to use that record to apply for my own passport, and that passport made me a citizen.  Congratulations, citizen.  Here's your first check.

Hang on now. This check is for one month. I've been working on this for nearly 4 years. Am I not owed disability since the date of my first application?

Well, yes that would be true if I had been a citizen when I first applied. But you see this date on your passport, the one saying it was issued last month? That is when you became a citizen. Once again, have a nice day, don't let the door...   Nothing doing. Four years I've been at this. Four fucking years. I'm not stopping till I get my four years of blood back.

At this point I'm trying to exude patience and understanding, just to see if I can get through to the bureaucrat on the other side of the desk.  I have this passport because my mother brought me back to the US on her passport back in the 1960's.  That passport makes me a citizen. Says so right on this document.

Well, that might be true, but that just means your mother was a citizen and she brought you home with her.  Was your father a citizen?

Was my father a citizen? Was my father a citizen? Well, he was in the US military at the time I was conceived, so for all of our sakes I hope he was. I mean, we don't want any foreigners fighting in our ranks, that would be unthinkable.

I don't know my biological father. I sent the man an invitation to my high school graduation even though I had never met him in living memory. I was raised by several different men in succession, all of which tried to be dad and failed in various ways. He never replied to my invitation. I have never seen a page of correspondence from him anywhere in records that I kept or my mother kept.  He's a cipher to me. A complete unknown. I wouldn't know where to even contact him at this point.  Don't even know if he is still alive. I'm sure he had a Social Security number. I'm sure he has a military record.  No idea how that information is dredged up without contacting his family, which is also an unknown to us.

So I asked the Social Security administration if they knew how to find his number, how to track down his military record. Started putting out feelers for getting that information, looking for his family to contact. As luck would have it, the Social Security administration blinked at that point, and came up with the information themselves, attaching his file to mine and approving the back payments.

There was a year or two of argument about paying my attorney and discovering that they had withheld two attorneys worth of money from my back payments that followed the admission that I really was a citizen since birth; but at least I got them to admit that I really was a citizen after all. That (and the money) was satisfaction enough.

Then my dad died.  Not the cipher, the man I never knew. The man who spent the most time with me. The man I could rely on even though he wasn't married to my mom anymore. He died after a decade of battle with cancer. He made up for his earlier failures, and I accepted his apologies and considered him my dad for a good number of years before the end, even though his genes are not mine.

While we were in Colorado preparing for the funeral, going through old records and photos, reminiscing about the past, his last wife (my second mom. I think I have 4 now. Maybe even 5. Well, mom is mom, but then there are other moms. Yes, it's confusing) was suddenly struck with a memory. Going through the attic at gramma's house as they prepared it for sale, they stumbled across a box of stuff that had been shipped back to the US from England when mom moved back to the States with me. There was a document about me in the box, and she didn't know if it was important but she thought I'd want to keep it. After rummaging around in a drawer for a few minutes, she produced the Council Record that would have saved me years of work had I only known who to talk to about it. I just thanked her and gave her a hug. What else are you going to do, at that point?

That's it.  That's my disability story finally written.  I'm sure I'll re-edit it at some point, add some photos probably. Put in the names of the appeals courts I went to, the documents I submitted, just for clarities sake.  But right now, I just want to step back and admire the fact that I've written this damn thing.  Took me long enough. Longer than it took to get my disability approved? Just about.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Rooting Android

The Wife's phone is dying. She's insisted she didn't need a smartphone for decades, but now she wants one.  One problem; we're dead broke.  Had to steal from Peter to pay Paul this month in the first place. Large phone expenditures aren't in the works for us.  If you want a phone that works well with todays apps, you seem to need a new phone.

There are actually multiple problems here. We found a service called Ting.com awhile back, saves us serious amounts of cash on cellphones; makes them cheaper per line than standard wired service if you don't spend hours on the phone every day. Here's the problem; you have to provide your own hardware.

Well luckily there is a service for that, too.  Several of them.  I like Glyde.com, bought my current HTC device from them. My first foray into this strange world of buying used phones, I bought a different device, only to discover that the memory constraints on the phone were so limited I couldn't update the phone to the current software. Couldn't unlock the bootloader (whatever that was) much less root it. I picked HTC the second time out because HTC allows you to unlock the bootloader right on their website. Gave the first phone to my son. His first cell phone. That he leaves everywhere except in his pocket. Perfect phone for him.

Bootloaders. Rooting. It was a whole new language that I had resigned myself to learning, so I began exploring exactly how to even talk about what I wanted to do to the device, trying to figure out what the verb rooting really meant outside of swine behavior.  I apparently needed a new rom to flash after this rooting thing; and I was certain I wanted to avoid bricking the phone, because that sounded bad.  I mean, you can't call with a brick, even the rocks know that.

I quickly discovered that it's a minefield out there. Even if you find the right boards, half the links don't work. Even if you find links that work, most of them lead to shady back-alley websites that I wouldn't want to visit without protection; much less disable security on my phone and engage in behavior that my phone warns me I shouldn't do even with people I know.

I'm under time pressure here.  The Wife wants an iPhone. The cheapest one is twice what I could pay for a comparable android device. She's listened to me whine about this HTC device for months now, I've convinced her that you can't fix old phones to do the things we want them to do, and I haven't even gotten to the point of trying to modify my phone. Time to bite the bullet.

So about 12 hours ago, I jumped in with both feet. Got my token from HTC, Unlocked the bootloader. Rebooted. Yep, there goes all those old text messages.  Glad I didn't want to save those. Well, it doesn't seem like I did anything else.  Headscratcher.  Scrounge around for old links.  Hey, what's this? I can just download one program from xdadevelopers and it'll root my phone? Well, getting superuser status on the phone is the next step (what rooting means. SU, superuser. Known to those of us who Linux. Yeah, I knew that) so that's probably the right thing.  Xda's users seem to be some of the more knowledgeable types out there, so I'll bite. 

Works like a charm. Now what?  Can I delete apps? No. All that damn garbage like Sports & Racing apps still clogging up the system. I really, really don't want to go find a rom (image) to flash (load) while under time pressure.  That is the kind of thing you do to phones you're not counting on using for a bit, altering all the interfaces and playing around trying to break the software.  I just want a program.  An app.  Something that will delete crap I want gone, move crap that I want somewhere else so that the 500 megs of phone memory stays as open as I can get it. Back to the Google. Wait, there's a root uninstaller? Really? On the Google store, even?  Nice.

Bye bye Tweeter. Sports you are out of here. Racing, go drive somewhere else. All you old pre-installs for Twitter, Facebook, etc.  All of you are now uninstalled. I'm going pro with this app. Hey, I can move stuff to the card with this puppy.  This is what I'm talking about! Where was this power months ago? I feel like a programmer, which is a dangerous delusion for me.

I've been tweaking, deleting, and tweaking again for the last 12 hours. Convinced The Wife that we could save a few dollars on a second HTC device, and I can make it do what she wants it to do (fingers crossed now) so the time pressure is off.  Now I'll have a play phone for a few days at least. Time to find an alternate rom I want to play with.  And backup.  I need to find a rom builder.  Back to the Google.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Treating Meniere's & It's Symptoms

I get this sort of question a lot "what do you do to combat Menieres?" or "What symptoms do you have?" The latter is asked because not everyone diagnosed with Meniere's actually has all the symptoms associated with the disease. The former is usually asked because; rather than there being no information available on the subject online, there is a lot of contradictory information from a myriad of sources.

Let me tell you about my Meniere's, since I haven't done a thorough reporting of symptoms (ever) and really haven't talked about the disease since I first started this blog in 2005.

When I was a working stiff, starting about 2002, I would be subject to bouts of rotational vertigo that came on quite suddenly.  At first they seemed to be related to allergies and those times of year (spring and fall) but as time progressed they became more generalized and could be brought on by high pressure weather, or just turning my head the wrong way.  These bouts of vertigo seemed to last anywhere from 6 hours to a full day, and caused me to miss two days of work. Towards the end of my work life I was getting vertigo about once a week, which meant my work week was 3 days. Not enough work for the average boss to accept. Consequently I was fired from my last job for being sick too much, even though I accepted the job with the stipulation that I was frequently ill.

Now that I am on disability and free to manage stress for myself I'm lucky if I can go a month or two without vertigo, which I consider a huge success.

But the vertigo is just the most visible symptom of the disease.  Almost as debilitating is the constant tinnitus, which comes close to drowning out normal conversation and makes concentration very difficult.  The tinnitus never stops.  Sometimes it is loud, sometimes it is soft, and sometimes it causes the affected ear to amplify what little sound it hears (which I've heard referred to as hypertussive) making even the smallest of sounds painful and generally sending me into a room by myself so that I can keep things as quiet as possible.

Then there is the pressure in the ear. Like the tinnitus this varies in discomfort, sometimes a nagging ache, other times a stabbing pain as if some fluid containing vessel in the ear is about to burst. The pressure in the ear is often a precursor to vertigo.  If I get a metallic taste that goes with it, I hit the medication immediately.  Paying attention to how I'm feeling on any given day is how I've managed to keep the vertigo to a minimum.

The ENT has informed me that hearing in my affected ear (left ear) is about half of what it should be.  That is apparently the point that most sufferers opt to have procedures done in order to alleviate symptoms.  There are a couple of options available to me, but neither of them offer better than 60% chance of long-term relief, so I'm not jumping up and down to have my left ear permanently silenced.

I have light dizziness and disorientation almost constantly.  Disorientation brings on the brain fog on bad days, more pronounced after vertigo attacks. There are good days and bad days, but turning corners always carries the risk of colliding with objects I know are there and thought I would miss. The last symptom that I can tie to meniere's is a seriously vicious migraine headache.  Last year I was getting them about every 4 days, but a trip to the GP where I finally admitted the headaches were that frequent got me a daily script that has reduced the migraines to something I only enjoy during allergy seasons.

Treating Meniere's runs something like this for me.  Behaviorally, I avoid stress and allergens as often as I can. That means getting enough sleep first and foremost, since stress is directly related to the amount of sleep that you get versus how much you need. This is one of the hardest things to do in this culture, the US culture, justify getting a full night's sleep.  Never mind a full night, I frequently can and do sleep for longer than 12 hours. I have found that 8 hours is more than enough if I can get them from 10 pm to 6 am, but the problem is getting to bed before midnight (as I'm sure most people will agree) and staying asleep for the full 8 hours.

I walk everyday, or as close to everyday as I can manage, regular exercise (sadly) being another facet of stress reduction. Walking puts me afoul of my allergies for almost anything that grows, so I have to do some of it indoors on a treadmill. I prefer to be outside whenever I can manage it, so allergy medications are something I tend to take frequently.

If the ear is bugging me and I don't have vertigo yet, I take pseudoephedrine/guaifenesin, that usually reduces the pressure. If allergies are acting up, I add fexofenadine (most people prefer Loratadine. I find it dries the sinuses too much, inhibiting drainage) If the migraine is kicking in, I take prescription doses of ibuprofen and acetaminophen together.

Avoiding salt was something I was already doing for hypertension, and my hypertension medication contains a diuretic, which was the first medication suggested by my ENT.  I haven't really noticed any dietary triggers, to be honest.  Caffiene I avoid because it keeps me awake, not because it makes me dizzy.  I know many sufferers have found they have dietary triggers though, so I felt it was worth noting diet as part of this blog entry.

Vertigo treatment starts with meclizine (dramamine) which is what I normally take. Serc or betahistine isn't anything my doctors have ever recommended but is apparently common in Britain. If the nausea has already started, I take phenergan which requires a prescription. If the vertigo doesn't respond to the meclizine (which happens sometimes) then I take valium or some other prescription drug that will let me sleep.

Flying is the fun part. I have to be medicated to fly. I used to take phenergan and valium, but my ENT gave me a prescription for xanax the last time I flew.  I much prefer the xanax because I don't sleep, but I have to have supervision because it makes me a bit fearless, while not actually giving me better balance. Just an accident waiting to happen then, but at least I can sit through the flight without freaking out at every movement, getting queasy and vertiginous.

Drugs all have different effects for different people and this fact can not be overstressed. These medicines work for me, and I'm thankful that they do. Treating Meniere's means finding your trigger, and then doing your best to avoid it. My triggers seem to be stress or allergy related. However, it is a trial and error process finding what will work for you.

If you are reading this because you to have Meniere's, then I am truly sorry.  I have often said that I wouldn't wish this disease on my worst enemy.  Being disabled has made me question many of my assumptions.  Things that I thought were real turned out to be delusion. Problems that I thought were paramount now seem trivial. Services I complained about paying for are now essential. Seeing life from this viewpoint has made me a better person, but there has to be easier ways of getting this insight. Ways that don't rob you of hope, of purpose, permanently.

I miss architecture and drafting nearly every day. Those were my purposes in life prior to this debilitating disease. More than a decade later, I still have dreams involving architecture; admittedly, the last one involved all my drafting tools being ruined because they had been piled in a trailer for ten years, but still the dreams persist. I have them almost nightly, reliving events from my productive past only to wake up to the reality I face now.

So if you are a fellow sufferer, please know you have my utmost support.  We all need people we can rely on now, because there are times when we really are helpless and won't survive without them. While that has always been true of everybody, most people go through their lives never admitting this fact. Cherish those around you who are there when you need them. That is what it truly means to be human.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

JFK Conspiracy

One of the most widely accepted conspiracy theories in the US remains the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Just last week I heard someone suggest that Oswald didn't act alone.  Statistics show that more than half of US residents agree with this statement, and are convinced to this day that Oswald was a patsy, silenced by Jack Ruby a few days after the assassination.

For many, many years I was one of those people. I read several books on the subject, watched every documentary, even went to Dealey Plaza once simply to stand next to the spot where Kennedy was shot. In many ways the assassination of JFK was the lynchpin for all of my conspiratorial thinking; it was the first conspiracy theory I had ever heard, it was the most solidly defensible of any of the many popular conspiracies that cropped up later (so much so that even the US government has agreed there was a conspiracy, contradicting the findings of it's own commission that investigated the assassination) and once I was led to question that theory, my belief in all those other theories also crumbled.

Why shouldn't they, when they didn't even have a magic bullet to hide behind?

The trip to reality was long and arduous for me. It started about the time I started writing this blog, and continues to this day.  Every single thing I read these days sends me off looking for corroborating sources and counter-arguments, just so that I can be sure I'm dealing with real facts and not some fever dream of the magical thinking majority.

I wish I had access to Case Closed when I was a young man looking for facts on the JFK assassination.  The depth of investigative research that Gerald Posner has gone to is unequaled amongst the many different authors on the subject.  Here is an interview with Posner from 2013, discussing the mountains of evidence linking Oswald to the killing, and detailing the kind of man Oswald was.





If Case Closed had been available to me when I first started looking into this subject, I never would have started down that rabbit hole of conspiratorial thinking in the first place.  Would have simply come to the conclusion ah, Oswald shot Kennedy and left it at that.  But I didn't have access to that book back in the 70's when I was into the subject.  I don't even remember the titles of the books I did read; but I do remember The Men Who Killed Kennedy documentary being something I watched and rewatched many times, as well as the Oliver Stone film JFK which I remember receiving quite credibly.

Except for one thing.  The repeated mantra back and to the right which Stone puts in Garrison's mouth in the film. I actually went back and reviewed the Zapruder film because of this, and discovered that the motion he insists is there really isn't there at all.  The film clearly shows the headshot coming from the back and above, just as Posner says in the video.

But I didn't have Posner.  Never ran across his book until recently, while listening to back episodes of the SGU (like so many good skeptical habits I have picked up) what I had was my own inability to ignore evidence when it is presented to me. What I stumbled across was this re-enactment (one of several) proving that the magic bullet was nothing of the kind. That the trajectory of the bullet is mappable and repeatable given an accurate reproduction of the events of that day.

First off is The Kennedy Assassination - Beyond Conspiracy clips of which are assembled here;




The second source of video was a very detailed recreation of the exact poses of the victims taken from Zapruder film footage, that were mocked up by Anatomical Surrogates Technologies for the  documentary JFK: Beyond The Magic Bullet(full video available in three parts here) While the shot does appear to strike too low, the trajectory is almost identical to the bullet on that fateful day.






Lastly we have the recreation of the headshot showing that the direction that Oswald fired from was indeed the only direction where the damage seen to the President's head can be replicated.  For those who simply aren't convinced by the replication of the magic bullet's trajectory.





Conspiracy theorists will of course come up with reasons why this proves nothing. Personally I see no reason to continue pretending that Oswald did not kill Kennedy.  If you feel the forensic tests are simply not enough evidence, then I encourage you to pick up a copy of Case Closed.  If none of this suffices, then I suggest you look to your own mental barricades. If your beliefs cannot be falsified, that just means that you dare not have them refuted.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

In It For the Power Alone

Confession time; I enjoy the State of the Union address.  I watch it every year, without fail. Some years I can watch it straight; others I have to watch through a comedic lens. I genuinely appreciate a good speech. I enjoy the pageantry of the State of the Union, and unlike others who think it should be retired, I think this country would be less than it is without the President appearing to talk to us about his perceptions of the union, and his plans for the next year.



The last six years have been enjoyable times.  Compared to the Presidents who preceded him, Barack Obama shines when he is speaking. Neither W nor Clinton could hold a candle to this man when he has a message and wants to talk to you about it.  Reagan is the only President in my living memory who comes anywhere close to being as magnetic a personality as our sitting President is.

Still, there is a part of the current State of the Union that I really disapprove of, and once I describe this to you, I'm betting you'll agree with it.

I'm sitting there watching the speech, and I hear the President get to the subject of equal pay for women, and John Boehner doesn't stand up for it. None of the Republicans stand up for it.  By their actions, they appear to be opposed to all of the policies which the President set forth, many of which deserved applause.  I was just rewatching the Nightly Show from the night of the speech; and during the "Keeping it 100" segment, Amy Holmes says she would not support the President's call for equal pay by standing for it. She apparently thinks she should be paid less than a man for doing the same job.  Or is there another factor at play here?


There is an obvious conclusion that the unbiased viewer will draw to from these displays of disdain for populist causes.  They sit on their hands because they don't want to give approval to the party in power, that much is clearly true.  They sit on their hands because they want to hold the power for themselves. That is also true.  It's all about the power, wielding the power. It isn't about what is good for the country, or what is good for the people in general, it is about the power and the power alone.

I can hear you now dear reader The Democrats Are No Different! and if they fail to stand and applaud for populist causes, for things which will be for the good of the nation, then they are just as craven and should also face rejection at the polls. Having viewed the State of the Union as I have for decades, I haven't noticed that the Democratic party fails to applaud proposals they agree with.  Only the Republicans appear to feel the need to openly crave power in this fashion.

So it makes me wonder. Why exactly should we vote for these people who are in it for the power alone? Maybe we should elect people who go there to represent us?  Just a thought.