The Passing of an Age

Leonard Nimoy's death represents a figurative passing of an age in a way that so many other's deaths cannot.  When I heard of Robin Williams death at his own hands a few months back, I burst immediately into tears.  It was such a shocking event, it was so hard to imagine a man who was so alive being able to take his own life like that. I was prepared for the news of Leonard's passing because of his announcement of suffering from COPD.

To be honest about this subject (which is what I try to be on the blog) his star was tarnished for me when he agreed to appear in the Abramanation. Had he died before 2009 I would have mourned his loss as heavily as the Wife did. She adored the man and his works in ways that made me look like a  passing fancier. I couldn't possibly compete with her devotion to him and Star Trek fandom in general. I've never felt that strongly about much of anything aside from architecture and archeology. I was and am so conflicted about this subject that I started this entry to commemorate Leonard's death a week after he died, and then didn't finish it until two and a half years later (the date I'm typing this at now) I thought at the time let's see what the effect of his death is before making a big deal about it, but in my heart I just couldn't speak ill of the dead so soon after their passing. So I left the paragraph above sitting all that time, and refused to delete it when I scrolled past it for two years running.

So I'm finishing it now.

I said in 2009,
I can't help but wonder what Leonard Nimoy (whom I will hold blameless) saw in this film to recommend his tacit approval and his venerable image to it. Spock prime stands in sharp contrast to the new cast, carrying with him into history a mantle of respect this revisioined Star Trek will never achieve. Because unlike Star Trek and it's 42 years of history, the Abramanation is just entertainment.
 But I'm pretty sure what he saw was money. And why not? He'd never gotten the wealth or admiration he deserved from Hollywood or his peers. Never received the acknowledgement for creating a character so adored by people everywhere that even today, fifty years later, few actors can even come close to achieving. Every attempt at a portrayal of the emotionless Vulcans Gene Roddenberry originally envisioned looks silly compared to Leonard Nimoy's Spock. Writers don't even know how to write those kinds of characters, as exampled by every single series since Gene's death. Stories in which Vulcan society is morphed into some kind of vindictive hellhole that looks a lot like humans trying to paint an alien world devoid of emotion, and failing at it spectacularly. I've read a lot of Star Trek novels over the years, few of them come close to imagining the kinds of Vulcan that I saw hinted at in Gene's canon.

The problem is that the world went somewhere else between 1967 and today than where it went in the future that Gene painted back then. Emotionlessness has become synonymous with sociopathy, with dark plottings of revenge, as if T'Pring was actually representational of all of Vulcan. Never mind that revenge is an emotion, too. We are so bathed in emotion as human beings we don't even know what it is to not have them; which is the genius of Nimoy's portrayal.

On the positive side of future history departing from Gene's vision, we didn't destroy ourselves with eugenics wars in the 1990's; on the negative side, we can't seem to recognize the ghost of eugenics when it raises it's ugly head and calls all Mexicans rapists. On the even more negative side, we still don't have a moon colony much less warp technology and transporters, which were always trappings of story-telling and not actual predictions of future technology. But not having a Moon colony yet? That's just blind human stupidity. There is absolutely no reason for that not happening aside from our inability to see our own impending doom.

Like a man happily puffing away on a cigarette for most of his life never realizing that he's destroying his own life-support mechanism and bringing a too early end to his own life in the process, humanity doesn't realize that all life on this little ball of mud can be snuffed out in an instant. Nature doesn't care about our petty little problems. The pale blue dot can be wiped away in an instant by some minor space collision or other, and the universe would never notice. Not even an artifact of humanity left over aside from a couple of probes we've managed to send beyond the influence of our sun. Is that our future?

I really hope it isn't. 

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 able to get commended for producing an entire project's documents in a single day, and get fired for being sick too much, all within the same 8 month period. 
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. Every time 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 were 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. I've never failed to file, I've 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, and I would be except for one tiny little problem.

Facebook Status Update
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.

I was born overseas to parents who were in the military, stationed overseas. The hospital on the base where my parents were stationed didn't have the ability to handle a premature birth, and I was early according to the doctor's charts. So my mom went to where the premature birth care was, a hospital off-base that wasn't considered part of US territory. All US military bases are considered part of the US, just as all embassies are considered part of the country they represent. I wasn't born on the base, I was born in England, at the hospital my mom had been sent to by the military doctors. As a consequence of this, I have dual citizenship.  I'm a limey (it explains my love of a cuppa) as well as a US citizen. 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 our paychecks every time we earn a wage.  It doesn't matter that both our parents are American citizens. What matters is the checkbox next to US citizen on the Social Security form. Believe it or not it is true. Foreigners can not qualify for benefits.

According to the computers at the Social Security Administration, I wasn't a citizen. We had stumbled across this fact earlier in the process and when it was noticed by the Social Security representative who filed my paperwork 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 my 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. This was a piece of paper I didn't' have.

The document I wished I had at that point.
At this point I started talking to immigration attorneys. 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.

A Council Record is an obscure reference for those who aren't up on all this legal mumbo-jumbo. I'll try my best to clear up the confusion here. The council (or counsel) in question in this instance is the United States ambassador to England and the United Kingdom. He is the councilor that has jurisdiction over births and deaths in the country that he is ambassador to, ergo Council Record. If you were born overseas you should have a document like the one above that says you were born to US citizens overseas. That is you US birth certificate, for all intents and purposes. Hang on to that document if you run across it. It is your lifeline to access government services.

I didn't have a council record. I had never seen said document before. I had no idea what it looked like, so I started talking to relatives. I talked to my mom first. 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. So I went back to the immigration attorney.

He told me it was possible to request a copy of the passport, if I was listed on the passport. So I found that form, filled it out, got it notarized and sent it in. Then I waited. I waited a long time, longer than any of the other times I waited on a government response. 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.

The government said congratulations citizen.  Here's your first check. Hang on now. This check is for one month. I've been working on this process to complete for nearly 4 years now. 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 or having sex with our women, that would be unthinkable.

Robert Allen, the reason
I'm stuck with Ray Anthony
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. He never replied, never attempted to get in touch with me. For all I knew he didn't even care if I was alive or not. I was raised by two different men instead of by my biological father and both of them tried to be dad and failed in various ways. I have never seen a page of correspondence from my biological father anywhere in any record 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. I don't know if he is still alive (not sure if I care either) I'm sure he had a Social Security number, I'm sure he was a citizen. I'm sure he has a military record.  I have no idea how that information is dredged up without contacting his family, which had also been tried previously and ended in failure.

So I asked the Social Security administration if they knew how to find his number, how to track down his military record. I started putting out feelers, once again trying to get that information, looking for his family to contact. At that point I finally had a stroke of luck. The Social Security administration came up with the information all by themselves, attaching his file to mine and approving the back payments without my having to do the costly and time consuming legwork of tracking down my father and armwrestling him for his Social Security number.

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 so they should give me money rather than try to take money away from me, 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 tried hardest to be dad, to care. 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. I loved him. I loved his family and their history. I was very sad to see him go.

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) she was suddenly struck with a memory. When they were going through the attic at gramma's house preparing 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 should probably see if I can remember what the appeals courts were called, track down the document numbers for the documents I submitted, just for clarity's sake.  But right now I just want to step back and admire the fact that I've written this damn thing.  It took me long enough. Longer than it took to get my disability approved? Just about.

Driver-less Cars Need Not Equate to Starving Drivers

Robert Reich Facebook status,
Uber just announced it’s partnering with Carnegie Mellon University to develop a driverless car (presumably in direct competition with Google’s soon-to-arrive driverless auto). So where will this leave Uber drivers? Uber didn’t say, of course, but we all know the answer: They’ll be replaced -- the same way Amazon Mechanical Turk workers, TaskRabbit taskers, HomeJoy cleaners, and 99design contestants, along with legions of lawyers, accountants, engineers, teachers, even doctors will be replaced -- by robots. We’ll be left with a single tiny iEverything that will able to do everything for everyone, but no one will be able to afford to buy it because no one will be employed.
...which is why the need for [Universal Basic Income] for all of us to legitimately claim that we have the right to not be left to starve in the streets, is so important.

This kind of anti-progress agitating is something that just sounds ignorant. Technology will not stop. Driver less cars will happen. Shovels made fewer diggers necessary, but that doesn't mean we should hire an army of diggers equipped with spoons. It means that maybe no one likes to dig and we'd like to have a machine do it for us. But that also doesn't mean that people who used to dig should simply roll over and die.

Uber is just one ride-sharing app. There are several. I think writing laws to combat how Uber does business is essentially wasting time, because there really isn't any functional way to stop people from ride-sharing. It's going to happen, and some of those people will exchange cash for the ride.  I really don't care about what Uber says they are doing, when faced with a full-court press against them. I didn't care what the music-sharing software companies said back when they were under attack. When that was the case, I observed that I didn't think making music sharing illegal was going to stop music sharing. It didn't. There is a serious vein of Luddite running along this anti-Uber rant I keep hearing. Which is why I pointed out that shovels put people out of work too. There needs to be a reality check involved when people start screaming about loosing their jobs. Loom workers and carriage makers lost their jobs too. Shall we de-automate that process? Go back to using horses? Seems silly to me.

Uber is flouting public transport regulations, I can grant that as a premise with no qualms in hindsight. All of the new internet services disrupt the previous social structures in some significant ways. Music sharing sites destroyed corporate music systems as they existed previously. There is big money behind taxi medallion holders in NYC. I think that's the only reason Uber is in the news at all. File sharing and corporate music was a similar situation, and the last thing we want is another DMCA that addresses cabbies. Crying for the poor taxi drivers is a front; because that's not what it's about. It is about gatekeepers and control, just like the music industry. There is far more music now, and better music, than there ever was when corporate gatekeepers had the lock on music. There are plenty of people (I'm one of them) who pay for things even though they don't have to, because I know that rewarding effort is how you get more of the things you like. Robert Reich in this instance is fighting against the tide of history. It's not been shown to be effective in any real way.

One final word. You might be able to take down Uber because they are for-profit. You cannot and will not take down the next app because it will be a grinder-like app that allows people simply to offer and accept open seats in vehicles going where they are going. That is where the demand is, and where the supply is wasted. That trade will continue in the absence of Uber and other profit-making companies.

...which is and was the point I've been trying to make.

Facebook status and resulting argument summarized and backdated for the blog. UBI replaces "dole" in the original post. UBI is what I meant at the time but hadn't stumbled across that concept then, or hadn't applied that label to the concept.

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.  We 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 today's apps, you seem to need a new phone.

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

Luckily there is a service for that, too; several of them, in fact.  I like Glyde.com, I 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. It is time for me to bite the bullet. Now or never.

About 12 hours ago, I jumped in with both feet. I 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.  Head scratcher.  I 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.



I received a brand new  Nexus 5 for my birthday, and that has kept me beautifully distracted since I got it. I can finally play some of the games I've been wanting to play and install several apps that just were too big for the HTC Evo Shift. My heartfelt thanks to the friends and family who made the gift possible.  It really was the only thing I wanted, one of the few things I can use while essentially bedridden for days at a time.