Sleep Apnea, the Not-So-Silent Killer

and what to do about it:

When I was in my early 20′s, in good shape and not in the least bit overweight, my partner asked me one day, “Did you know you stop breathing when you sleep?”

No, I didn’t.

“What do you mean?  How can you tell,” I queried.

“You stop breathing, and then about 20 seconds later, you make this <insert very strained, dramatic returning-to-life gasping sound> sound.”

Odd, I thought.  I knew I snored badly (“Have you considered suicide as an alternative to your snoring,” a very unrested Judy asked one morning,)  but nobody had ever said anything about not breathing.  Back in those days, nobody seemed to be saying much about sleep apnea, and I figured so long as I didn’t stop permanently, it really didn’t much matter.  What could I do about it anyway?

As the years went by, lovers of any consequence became accustomed to the snoring and didn’t object, and the revelation was forgotten.  Then I started nodding off very easily, pretty much anywhere and everywhere, at any time.  I’d even sometimes find myself with closed lids at a long stoplight on warm days… but hadn’t run off the road or anything, so it’s okay, right?  I mean, people do nod off while driving, that’s why they teach us to pull over and stop and take a nap if we feel tired… right?

Pic of unobstructed airway

This shows how most people sleep and get oxygen through the night.

Jump on ahead to my later 40′s.  The love handles stopped coming off the following spring/summer back around 33, and I became more portly, even though I was active… and the snoring got worse.  Now people WERE talking about sleep apnea, thanks to the Internet.  And doctors were saying that it takes 10 years off of your life, increases your risk of heart attacks, etc. — and that’s IF you don’t fall asleep at the wheel, get into a wreck and kill yourself and half a dozen other people first.  So I was taking it seriously.  I checked into those CPAP machine thingies, but it seemed the AMA had a firm fist wrapped around them, even though it’s just a little bit of air being pushed into your mouth/throat to keep the airway open.  Frankly, SCUBA diving (another activity of mine, NAUI, for those who know who they are,) is far more dangerous a machine like that.  So why the fist-lock?  Why the prescription necessary?  To be honest, there is no GOOD reason why, except that they are the gatekeepers, and you must pay to enter.

Now for a bit of info: Sleep apnea (ceasing to breathe while sleeping) has two causes:

  • One, the less common, is called Central, and refers to one’s central nervous system (CNS) not sending the right signals while one is sleeping, causing you to stop breathing, until such time as the blood oxygen level gets low enough that the body sends a much more urgent signal, “BREATHE, DAMN YOU!”
  • The other, called Obstructive, refers to the airway becoming blocked as your throat relaxes while sleeping. Your tongue or other parts of your anatomy contribute to the blockage, which causes snoring as well.  Not all who snore stop breathing, but all who have obstructive apnea snore.  And from time to time, we get really loud about sucking air back in, especially after not having breathed for anywhere from 10 seconds to a minute.  Breathing is important.

As one experiences apnea, the body is not getting enough oxygen, and each time one stops breathing, one wakes a bit (though the waking is not remembered.)  The lower oxygen is already bad, but the lack of deep and proper restful sleep is huge.  Together, these two traits of sleep apnea cause hypertension (high blood pressure), heart failure, stress, irritability and a shorter lifespan.  Sleep apnea has also been linked to type-two diabetes (anther gem I now deal with) and can be said to decrease one’s health overall.

795px-Sleeping_with_obstruction

No oxygen in, no carbon dioxide out; you’re suffocating as you sleep.

There are a few different treatments for this disorder.  The most commonly prescribed is losing weight and a CPAP machine, which supplies constant air pressure to your airway, keeping it open.  Also employed are surgery (about 40% success, and often recurs within 4-6 years, having made matters worse), a dental piece that changes the position of your mouth as you sleep, and a “collar” to do the same thing.  There are always advancements on the horizon, but that’s what we’ve got at this time.

Now back to the journey I’m sharing with you: So I checked into all of this, and was told that a doctor would need to write me a prescription for a CPAP machine, which is the de facto treatment for 0bstructive sleep apnea (OSA).  To do that, I would have to have a Sleep Study done.   But OSA only happens to people who are obese, I thought, and I’ve had this since I was young and lean, so it can’t be me.  Mine must be Central.

But I kept on nodding off anywhere and everywhere, and became more concerned with the snoring and shortening of years.  So how much is that sleep study, anyway?  $2500.  “Could you say that again?”  Twenty-five hundred dollars.  “For one night of monitoring my breathing?  I can already tell you that I stop breathing when I sleep!  I may as well have been objecting to the Great Wall of China — from here in Colorado.  I did eventually find out that Canada’s sleep studies run about $500, and are separate of their medical system, so that settled it.  No way was I giving those greedy bastids $2500 (even if I had it) when the Canadians can do the exact same thing for a far more sane $500.  I’d just wait til I could take that trip to Canada and get it done there.  The Canadians were much nicer about everything anyway.

Meanwhile, I find an old CPAP at a garage sale for $20, and some med tech guy gives me a hose and mask for it, and I’m ready to go.  My friend Pete told me that he felt the effects immediately, the very first night, so I figured this would solve the question once and for all.  I set it up pretty well, and the mask didn’t bother me all that much, but aside from a dry throat from all that dry air, I didn’t notice anything.  Besides, I’ve had this since I was young and thin.  See, mine is Central, so a CPAP won’t help anyway, even if I could afford it or insurance.  Hell with it.  And that was that.

Until my current partner and I couldn’t even sleep in the same room because the snoring was so bad.  Still didn’t have $500+ a month for insurance anyway, let alone all those deductibles and such.  Just deal.  There are lots of people with sleep apnea and they’re not dead yet.  (Yeah, and then there’s my cousin, Artie, a jock all his life, dropped dead at 40 of a heart attack, and nobody back then knew why… but I digress.)

Another effect of aging is that health insurance costs go up, even if you’re healthy as a horse.  Get the dreaded D diagnosis (diabetes) of ANY kind, and the insurance companies ran from you and refused to insure you, even if you’re Type-Two and your medication amounted to less than $20 a month.  They lumped Type-Two diabetics in with the $1600 a month Type-Ones.  Not at all the same disorder, but why take any chances, right?  Enter the Affordable (Health)Care Act.  In the initial stage, which kicked in last year, the insurance companies were prohibited from refusing to insure someone or show bias based on Pre-existing Conditions.  But the insurance was STILL over $500 a month for this non-smoker, non-drinker technically Single over-50 male.

Then came January 1, 2014, and the next stage of the implementation of the GOP-hated “Obamacare.”  (Ain’t it funny how all of the 500+ members of Congress “worked” on the bill for over a year and a half, and yet they tried to make it a bad thing by naming it after the Democratic POTUS?)  I knew I HAD to get health insurance now.  But for  some reason, even though I’m poor as a church mouse, the website was insisting that I made too much money for any discounted programs, and would have to come up with $467 a month.  This is insane, I thought.  No wonder everyone is so up in arms.  That’s my RENT, how the hell can anyone afford that rate for ONE person, let alone a full household?  Finally, in desperation, I phoned in and got ahold of someone.  Twice.  The first time, though she acknowledged that it didn’t make sense and I SHOULD qualify, she didn’t shed any light on the actual problem.  The second lady figured it out.  The software was doubling my income, and then deciding that I could afford up to 10% of THAT amount, so I was on my own!   A few quick keystrokes correcting the error, and I was set!  The papers came in the mail a few days later, confirming that I was now eligible for coverage — at no cost!

Until you’ve been dealing with diabetes, a compressed Ulnar nerve relocation surgery, a smushed AC joint, the effects of aging, and the like, and doing it all without any sort of healthcare insurance, you really have no clue how frightening the future can be.  Getting the Ulnar Nerve relocation surgery was a big deal, but if I didn’t do so, I would lose the use of my left ring and pinkie finger altogether.  For a writer and life-long musician, that is absolutely terrifying.  Then the diabetes (which happened as a direct result of that surgery,) and not being able to get into a doctor at all for months, and then having to figure out ways to pay the $400 initial office visit, etc. … Let’s just say it’s been a real nightmare, and cost me even more sleep than I was already losing.  In hindsight, it’s a wonder I could function at all.

Next step?  Find a physician who would accept Medicaid.  That was daunting.  Many of them won’t take it at all (presumably because it doesn’t pay them enough.) The few that did, they had waiting lists a couple months long, because they could only afford to treat so many Medicaid patients at a time without becoming an unfunded charity.  FINALLY, a lovely lady at Dr. Waln’s office heard the frustration and desperation in my voice, and talked with her boss for me.  She called back the next day, asking if I’d be able to come in to see the doctor next Monday.  “In five days?  ABSOLUTELY,” I exclaimed, nearly pinching myself.  An Internal Medicine doc was going to take me?  I have been dealing with diabetes for over five years now without even once seeing an Internal Medicine specialist, and they’re properly the ONLY type of doctor a diabetic should have in charge of his care.

In short, Dr. Curtis Waln, his staff, and all of Banner Health (a non-profit medical group, imagine that) have been not one bit shy of amazing.  Dr. Waln forgot more than the past 5 years of docs and Physician’s Assistants (PAs) combined.  Sharp, quick, and experienced, he got to the heart of the matter, ordered the tests, referred to the specialists, and didn’t miss even one complaint or concern in seeing me onto the road to healthy.  His staff arranged for other specialists to accept my coverage, and Banner Healthcare opened their arms to me just because I’m one of his patients.  Thank you, very sincerely and from the depths of my heart on up, all of you.  And thank you, President Obama and Congress, for the years of life and health and potential for prosperity.  I won’t let you down; I’ll make good use of the time and health.   Okay, we’ll put away the tissues now; time to get back to summing this up.

The sleep study performed by Banner at the request of Dr. Waln documented that I stop breathing 56 times an hour,  for anywhere from 10 to 46 seconds at a time, and that my blood oxygen level goes down to less than 75 percent.  It is mostly obstructive.  (I also learned you don’t have to be overweight to have obstruction,) with 5 or less Central apnea events per hour.  In short, very severe OSA, and the doctor who reviewed the test results prescribed a self-adjusting CPAP machine.  I picked it up two days ago, slept with it for the first time last night.

CPAP Machine

The first GOOD nights sleep in 4 decades, and the first night of the rest of my life.

Yep, it will take some getting used to.  But as I awoke, even my muscles felt energized, pumped up from the 100% oxygen that I was getting while sleeping for the first time in 40 years!  Still tired?  Yes I imagine it’ll be at least a couple of weeks before I catch up from all of that lost sleep.  Waking up once a minute plays hell on your REM state!

Thinking on it, I wonder what I was thinking of, waiting for so long to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.  And then I realize that I wasn’t really thinking of anything.  I was simply accepting the reality that I couldn’t afford the healthcare insurance or the treatment, so I soldiered on without it, like so many other millions of people in this, the greatest, most powerful country on earth.

How many of us have lived with unacceptable standards of health, without proper care and treatment, because we just couldn’t afford that AND food and rent, car insurance, utilities, and all the rest?  If it doesn’t come with your job chances are good that you don’t have health insurance either.  Or you didn’t until Obamacare.  And the GOP and Tea Party folk say that like it’s a BAD thing — unless they’re the ones benefiting from it, of course.

Sleep apnea is the very loud killer.  It stresses and kills relationships.  It shortens lives and tempers.  It leaves about 5 percent of the country sleep-deprived, irritable, unhealthy, stressed, and desperate for a nap any time they can get one.  It even causes memory loss.  I have no idea how much better I’ll eventually feel, but I know that I already feel better after just one night with the CPAP.  If that’s any sign of things to come, now that I’m actually getting real sleep and health, I should be taking over the world by the end of summer.   And that, too, is good for these United States of America.

Which begs the question: WHY is the GOP so opposed to “Obamacare” when it will result in a better country?   Certainly a healthier citizenship is going to be more productive, and even pay more taxes.  And all that newfound health will also spur the economy.  But wait, wasn’t it Romney who implemented nearly the same thing in Mass., where he was governor?  Maybe, just maybe, they’re so opposed to it because it will be a MASSIVE success for the Democrats, and they couldn’t possibly allow that, even if it means we all suffer.  They wouldn’t stoop that low, would they?

Don’t wait.  Get it checked out.  Get Affordable Care.  The life you save most definitely is your own.   Your loved ones will thank you.  You will thank you.  And life will be much better.  That’s it.  Gonna go put on my mask and get another full, sound, full night of sleep.  Good night!

Why Does Christie Hate Freedom — er, Tesla — So Much?

fatter christieChris Christie (R,)  the morbidly obese Governor of New Jersey, has been one mixed up puppy for quite some time now.  In August of 2010, he signed off on their Offshore Wind Economic Development Act (OWEDA), which encourages private companies to develop wind farms off the coast of New Jersey.  When President Obama visited with him after his state suffered catastrophe from a Climate Change storm, he started to sound like a Democrat for a while — a very brief while.  Though Conservatives have always criticized him for not being narrow-minded enough, Christie has provided plenty of reasons to deny suggestions that he might be converting, switching teams, becoming a bit of a Democrat.  Like I said he’s one confused puppy.

Obama brings NJ Disaster Relief funds.Like many other GOP leaders and legislators his philosophy is confusing.  He loudly professes that the Federal government should be smaller, do less, spend less — until he and his were receiving Federal aid.  And it’s easy to see the motivation for those flip-flops, but that still doesn’t explain why New Jersey legislators and Chris Christie hate Tesla so much.

Indeed, why would an avowed and open defender of the Free Market system, signing a bill to prohibit Tesla’s electric cars from being sold within New Jersey?  Like most such contradictions, when looking for the real reason, it’s wise to follow the money.

Map showing the locations of Tesla's several direct sales showrooms.

Tesla has showrooms in these locations, selling their cars factory-direct.

 

The ban targets Tesla, which started selling cars in New Jersey about a year ago — without an auto dealership middleman.  And now we come to the crux of the problem.  Tesla sells their vehicles directly to the consumer, from their own showrooms there in New Jersey, to reduce costs, to make an expensive proposition more affordable.  New Jersey issued them two licenses to do so, and Tesla already has showrooms in the state.  It’s a bit late to be trying to pull the plug on that investment.

New Jersey isn’t the only state spitting their dummy out (having a hissy fit) about direct sales.  The auto dealer industry is BIG money.  (You didn’t really believe they supported that huge showroom, lot and salaries while making just $500 on a $25k car, did you?)  The dealers want “their” piece of the pie.  And Christie, outspoken proponent of the Free Market system, is flip-flopping hard on this one.  Arizona, Georgia, New York, Minnesota and Ohio have also set their sights on a piece of the pie.

Picture of a Tesla showroom in a  mall.

Tesla has showrooms in malls and standalone buildings all across the country.  The staff are knowledgeable and provide direct link between you and your car’s manufacturer.

How big a piece?  Boston Globe‘s Tom Keane wrote, “Every state requires auto sales be handled by independently owned auto dealers. Manufacturers are prohibited from selling their own products. That alone means that auto prices are about 6 to 9 percent higher than need be, according to a 2009 report by the Department of Justice…”  He goes on to point out that even after the auto dealers’ association lost in court in Massachusetts, they continue to put pressure on the state’s legislature to attempt to make such restrictions into law.  Six to nine percent, that’s not chump change for a parasitic role.  $1500-$2250 on an average $25k car.  But Tesla’s are four times that much, meaning at least $9k a piece, more with the dealerships’ “value added” scams.

Since when is it part of the American way to force a distributor down our throats?  Start by looking at the origins of the law.  It goes back to Prohibition days… and today, your alcohol has to go through a distributor in several states.  Goods imported into the U.S. have to go through a customs broker, even though he may not actually DO anything.  How can that happen?  Lobbyists. There’s a LOT of money in such parasitic middle-man action.  It amounts to another layer of taxes, but this isn’t funding anything for the People, it’s just lining some fat cat’s pockets.

Does this put Tesla out of business in New Jersey?  Not at all.  Even if they have to close up their showrooms in that state, people can still buy the car from another state. And, of course, NJ will be more than happy to sell you title, license and registration.  They might even be cheeky enough to demand that you pay sales tax on the vehicle.  But you will have saved yourself that nine-percent.

Where are we headed with this sort of thing?  Since when did it become American for  Free Market to be forced to have middle-men?  If I want to sell my widget directly, that’s my right, isn’t it?

The cost is higher than just that 9%, and we’re all paying for it.  Christie paved the way for offshore passive energy.  Makes sense to have electric cars in such a state.  But people are going to be less motivated to go with a Tesla if they have to travel an hour or three each way to buy it or gain service on it… and that hits us all — every one of us — right in the lungs.  And in acidic ocean, which is yet another cost of the fossil fuels.

Will e-signing a petition or three change anything?  Should we even bother to expend the energy to try, or shall we just let Free Market show them how things really work in the United States?  Suing for protection under the Constitution would be expensive, and Tesla shouldn’t be the only one footing the bill on something like Free Market.

Tesla is not without cause for steering clear of auto dealerships either.  When you’re selling a $75k or $100k vehicle with special and new technologies, it takes a different sort of team than the usual “I was slinging fries at McDonald’s last week” salesmen to represent your company and product properly.  Add that to the 9%, and it amounts to Tesla losing precious sales — a mistake they cannot and should not be made to make.

New Jersey and the other states need an attitude adjustment.  The arguments of the auto dealers’ associations are weak at best.  They cry that they employ many people, bring in money, etc.  That’s true.  But if I don’t want their “services” that’s got to be my prerogative as well.  I HATE being told I have to go through a middleman, whether it’s a car, a guitar, a laptop or a widget.  And if I’m shelling out $100,000 for a car, I require direct contact with the manufacturer.

When the day comes that one can’t sell one’s widgets directly, this country will have lost her last vestige of strength.  If we say nothing, we shouldn’t be surprised when they DO nothing to protect our right to self-determination.  What say you?

JT
SpectreWriter

P.S. Just as I write this, it’s coming out on the wire that New Mexico’s governor is considering calling for a special session to try to sway Tesla into putting their battery manufacturing plant in NM, rather than  Arizona, Nevada or Texas.  (After Arizona’s ban on direct sales, one would expect their state would no longer be in the running, eh?)  Isn’t it funny how it’s always all about the money?  Let’s hope Tesla only gives that contract to a state that doesn’t refuse to let them sell directly. — JT

 

*This nation has a Constitutional principle referred to as the Interstate Commerce clause.  There shall be no restriction against interstate commerce.  It has been summoned up many times and in many ways.  I can recall it being summoned up to defend a falconer who had lawfully purchased a bird from New York and was bringing it into his home state of California, but Celeste Cushman refused to issue the permit to do so in timely fashion, and then cited the man when he brought the bird in with him.  It was deemed a restriction of Interstate Commerce and the citation was dismissed.  Over the years, there have been many cases, usually in larger commercial applications.  For example, some states have attempted to claim the right to sell only their milk within their state — an error which the US Supreme Court rectified by decision.

Toshiba’s 13.3″ Chromebook Raises The Bar!

If you read my last post, you already know how I feel about Chromebooks, now that I’ve done the research and decided on one.  This is a review of that one, the winner, the Holy Grail of Chromebooks, the Toshiba CB35-A3120 13.3″ Chromebook.  Yes, there are already a couple of reviews out there for it, and you can easily grab the specs from one of them, or from Amazon.com   Bluntly put, though, they are perfunctory at best, just a techie going by the manufacturer’s specs.  I’ve been working and living with mine for a few weeks now, so I’m adding the real-world experience and correcting some of the mistakes found in those reviews.  To summarize, they’ve sold the most excellent Toshiba 13.3″ Chromebook short.

Toshiba's 13.3" Chromebook is the clear winner

Toshiba’s 13.3″ Chromebook is the clear winner

For example, they correctly state that the native screen resolution is at 1366×768, but fail to mention that the graphics card can easily handle delivering full 1080p to your HD TV via the HDMI port.  Yep, it can make your 46″ TV a second screen, or mirror the laptop screen — your choice!  And yes, the card supports full sound and subtitles as well.   Some reviewers have taken Toshiba to task for providing “only” 16 gigabytes of SSD storage and 2 GB of RAM.  It’s true that 2 GB of RAM is something you’re stuck with, but I’ve yet to find it inadequate.  As to the SSD storage, simply add a USB Flash Drive and you’ve got virtually unlimited storage, if the 100 GB of free cloud server storage isn’t providing you with everything you need.  You can get a USB 3.0 spec 32 GB flash drive from $18.99.  Want a faster transfer rate?  Get a USB 3 32GB drive that is THREE TIMES AS FAST for $34.28  USB 2 flash drives run about the same as USB 3, but if you’ve got the Chromebook, why not use the speed of those USB 3 ports, right?

Enough with the tech specs though.  What really matters is how well it works, how good and comfortable and familiar a tool it is.  In that last article, I made mention of all the computers I’ve got here.  After starting this article, I did a little test.  For the past month, the aforementioned 17″ dual-core laptop has been sitting on my nightstand, posing as a giant paperweight.  So I fired it up last night and did some surfing, browsing and writing on it.  It didn’t take long at all to start missing the Chromebook.  For starters, compared to the Chromebook, that thing is BRICK-heavy!  The keys aren’t as subtle or responsive as those on the Chromebook either, so I ended up typing slower… and the bulky side of it, which was so prized a couple years ago, is now just obtrusive to me, in the way.  Turns out, 13.3 inches is just about the perfect size for viewing as well. AND, the Chromebook does Gestures, so I can use two-finger swipes to scroll, further reinforcing the notion that I’m much better off with this $299 Chromebook beneath my fingers than the $850 (refurb price) boat anchor.  NOTE: This link and the one at the top of this article takes you to Amazon, where you can get this laptop for just $278.99 with NO tax and FREE shipping!

What about the word processing software that I’ve grown so fond of (OpenOffice, for those still wondering)?  I’m discovering that other software works just as well.  But if I really want OpenOffice beneath my fingertips, Rollapp.com claims to have a clever answer.  They operate popular software on a virtual server, so you’re interacting with their Windows server’s copy right there on your screen.  You can tolerate video ads, or pay just 99 cents per month for their service.  Sounds great, right?  On paper.  But, for example, I just launched OpenOffice via RollApp.  Sure enough, there’s an OpenOffice window just waiting for me.  So I Command-A and then Command-C this post as it is thus far, switch to the RollApp window, Command-V, and … Nothing.  Not a damned thing.  Since you’re working on a remote virtual machine, the machine actually running OpenOffice has no idea what’s in your buffer, what you copied.  In summary, I can originate text in RollApp, copy and paste it to this window, but I can’t grab this text, take it to their window (to make editing easier and more familiar) and then bring it back.  In short, it’s just easier to type right here in the WordPress app window than to launch RollApp and hassle with a virtual server’s limitations.

Toshiba Chromebook keyboard

Toshiba’s 13.3″ Chromebook Keyboard from above

One of the other nifty things that the other reviews failed to mention is that the seeming lack of a CapsLock key (see the magnifying glass where it would be?) is that simply holding down the Alt Key while pressing it toggles CapsLock on and off. Sure enough, when it is on, there’s an icon in the lower right corner of the screen to let you know. Turning it back off is also done by simply pressing the Shift key. Brilliant, really.

2 USB 3 ports, 1 HDMI port, and a headphone jack on the right.

2 USB 3 ports, 1 HDMI port & a headphone jack on the right.  Notice that I’ve got an 8-GB USB stick in there?

There are more than a few handy dandy tricks up this Chromebook’s sleeve.   Notice the Logitech dongle in the second USB slot?  That’s their Unifying Remote.  You can use it for a mouse, a wireless keyboard, or any combination of devices.  The trick that nobody is telling about is that if you want to use more than one device, you’ll need to put that little plug into a PC, Mac or standard Linux/Unix box, and then download the Logitech Unifying Remote software to “pair” the keyboard, mouse, etc. with that Unifying Receiver.  Once it has been paired, it can be put into the Chromebook and will work flawlessly, since it remembers the pairing.  Why does this matter?  Let’s say you want to use your Chromebook with Netflix.  Plug a HDMI cable into your Chromebook and TV, and you’re set, right?  But you have to go back to your computer to start and stop, etc.  Not if you’ve got a wireless keyboard you don’t!

Logitech Wireless Touch Keyboard K400

Logitech Wireless Touch Keyboard K400

This model, the Wireless Touch Keyboard K400, includes a touchpad. I find that handy, but the positioning of the arrow keys can frustrate one’s reach for the shift key. Some may prefer a separate mouse & keyboard.  NOTE: There is a newer model, the K400R, but some of the “improvements” leave me preferring the original K400, and you can get it for $5 less by following the link.

They say the proof is in the pudding.  That being the case, there’s no question that I LOVE this Chromebook!  The battery life was spec’d at 9 hours, but the first time I used it, it gave me eleven hours of full-time use, including streaming video, from one charge.  Recharging took just 1.75 hours — using it while plugged in!

 

What about the Down-Sides?  They’re few, and I imagine many of those will be resolved in the near future.  For example, Logitech may be among the many to start providing software for Chromebooks, eliminating the need for a standard PC or Mac to pair their remote devices with the receiver.  And Google has opened up development for all manner of 3rd Party Developers, so there are going to be a LOT more apps written for Chromebook in the very near future, and some of them will most certainly be better than the ones we’ve gotten used to.  On a long-term basis, I wonder how well the lithium ion batteries will hold up, and if someone is going to make it possible to replace them.  For now, I’m content with having bought a Square Trade warranty for mine. Three years of coverage ran me just under $50, including accidental damage protection, with the readily available 30% off coupon code.  Things are looking very good for Chromebooks, and I expect the future to only get brighter.

Oh, and that pudding?  Put it this way.  If you know of anyone who wants a Dell Inspiron 1721 17″ laptop, let me know.  I won’t have much use for it anymore!

To Chromebook, Or Not To Chromebook?

There are several articles out covering features and such on the various models.  This post is about the decision to get one at all, and the logical process I followed in making that decision.

At first, the idea of spending money on a Chromebook didn’t appeal to me much.  After all, I already have a Windows desktop and 17″ laptop as well as a 24″ iMac, so what would I need another computer for?

Well, let’s see:  That wonderful 17″ laptop’s battery hasn’t been good for more than about 45 minutes in years, so it’s mostly something for me to use when I’m in a room that doesn’t have a desktop machine.  Even on their best days, laptops get a few hours max.  One could hardly call that portable.  I considered the iMac Air, with its newfangled 10-hour (supposed) battery life.  But at $1100+/-?  I’m just not willing to invest quite that much in a battery.

What about tablets?  Sorry, but Apple greatly overstates the iPad’s usefulness for creative types.  What about Steve Jobs’ impressive demonstration of the words auto-wrapping around the picture of a giraffe?  Try it in the real world sometime, when you’ve got an hour or so to waste.  So an iPad for word processing?  Not so much — and that’s even ignoring the price of the iPad and software.     What about an Android tablet?  Even they aren’t offering much more than my Galaxy S4, so… pass on that, too.  But I do want something to write on, something I can take with me and write on all day long when I go to the mountains.  Paper and pen?  Well, yeah, but then I still have to type it all in when I get back home (which seldom actually happens).  Besides, even I can’t read my own handwriting very well anymore!

Chrome
Chromebook.  Cloud-based.  Google apps.  11 inches.  Ugh-yuck!  So for the past year or so, I’ve resigned myself to … well, to NOT writing anywhere but home.  And it shows in the infrequent blog posts.  Jump ahead to January, 2014:

Enter Toshiba.  Literally their entry into Chromebooks, they raised the bar — a LOT.  Start with a 13.3″ screen, rather than the dinky useless 11-inch toys.  This allows a proper keyboard and the ability to watch movies, to see webpages in sane dimensions…  Dual-core Intel processor, HDMI port, 2 USB ports, and — wait for it — a NINE hour battery life — all for $299.  Where’s the catch?  Truth be told, there isn’t one.  I went on Amazon and picked one up for $279, including 2nd-day shipping (thank you, Amazon Prime!)  I also added an Amazon Basics case for an extra $14, because the whole point of a portable is to be able to take it with you, right?

That was a month ago, and I’ve never looked back.  I’m typing this on it right now, on my back, on the couch, in my robe.  It weighs next to nothing, and the keyboard’s extremely responsive, the track pad (and gestures) a dream!  More on the Toshiba 13.3″ Chromebook in the next post, soon to follow.

To Chromebook or not to Chromebook?  I think you know my answer: HELL YEAH!

Does Abortion = Murder? A Rational Argument

Is abortion the same thing as murder, or simply a woman exercising the choice and control over her own body?  The intent of this blog is to approach that question from a rational perspective, absent of religious perspectives, as should be the case for citizens living under a secular government.

The distinction boils down to whether you see a fetus as a child or merely potential.  When recognized as potential, one may then choose different paths with that potential.  That choice then becomes whether or not to become a parent.  When a male masturbates or a female ovulates, those are half-potentials headed down the drain.

Just because we can’t make, another life from a chemistry kit dies not make life a miracle.  Put a sperm cell together with a ripe egg cell at the right temperature and Ph, and you have the recipe for conception.  That conception is a bio-chemical event.  It is not anyone’s son or daughter. It is mere potential, and the difference between that fetus and the aforementioned sperm and egg cells is negligible.

What it comes down to is still potential, nothing more. Remove the fetus from the host’s warm, moist environment or detach it from its parasitic umbilical cord, and it goes down the drain just as invisibly as the spent jizz of a teenage boy. Do we call him a father for masturbation? Is she a murderer because she menstruates?

If one asks the two biological origins “Do you intend to create and support a life for the next 18.75 years, nearly all will say “Hell no, we are only having sex!” And so, that is all they are agreeing to… and all they SHOULD be held accountable for. If your friend asks you for a ride to the bank and the grocery store, says “just wait here, I’ll be right back out and we’ll go on to the supermarket,” but ends up getting into a fight and kills someone, are you an accomplice, or just someone giving a friend a ride? Should you go to prison alongside your friend? Of course not. Intent matters, and a you INTENDED to do, all you AGREED to do was to give your friend a ride.
This demonstrates why it is wrong to make a boy responsible for a girl’s choice to keep a conception which the boy did not want or agree to. It is also the sane reasoning behind it being a woman’s choice — and hers alone — as to whether to allow a conception to develop inside her body, to leach off of her for the next 18.75 years.

If a person is going to be financially, morally and criminally responsible for the decision to become a parent, then s/he needs to make a willing, conscious decision to do exactly that. Agreeing to sex is NOT agreeing to those obligations… nor should that decision be made by any aspect of duress, including being labeled a murderer, baby killer, etc.

The choice and responsibility both lie with each individual SEPARATELY. It is wrong on all levels to saddle EITHER of them with anything more than their agreement to have sex.  Whether or not to become a parent is a separate individual choice.

Rip-Offs, Focus: Waste Management, Inc.

Here in lovely Colorado, a multi-national corporation, Waste Management, has the contract for trash and landfill operations. All local companies picking up trash eventually hand it over to Waste Management, which charges them a fee to dispose of what is in that truck.

Waste Management doesn’t believe in undercutting their competition, it would seem. (In fact, I’m reasonably sure they are glad there are residential pickup companies, as that SEEMS to protect them against claims of a monopoly.) They want $21.87 a month, whereas Norther Colorado charges only $20 a month. But that is for household trash only.

Waste Management Truck, Clean & Pretty

What they WANT us to think they are.

Carpet is considered construction debris. (Really?!) That will cost you an additional $50 a room (or so) to haul away — AFTER you cut it into 4′ wide strips, roll and tie it into logs no more than 1′ in diameter. Nevermind that most homes have carpet and that carpet needs to be changed regularly, is not hazardous waste, etc.

Recycling programs are available. That will cost an extra $6 a month, and comes out every OTHER week. Yep, they’ll take the same trash and put it in the dump, but if you want to have it recycled (no guarantees as to that it goes anywhere other than the rest of the garbage) that warm fuzzy feeling will cost you 20-some percent more.

Sure, everything costs money. But it doesn’t have to go this way. In 29 Palms, CA, there is a county waste/landfill site. Residents can bring their stuff there and household (non-commercial) volumes are generally free of charge. But this is Colorado, and it seems like most everything out here reminds me of Thenardier (with his “Extra for the lice, extra for the mice, 2% for looking in the mirror twice” way of running up the hotel bill.) There’s always some verbal/written excuse/reason given, but it is seldom reasonable, when you step back and look at it.

Dirty Waste Management Truck

What it actually looks like.

How did this happen? Bureaucrats and monopolies. Somehow, Waste Management, Inc. managed to get contracts for all of Colorado and Utah. (They also have a Canadian company, and even one in Puerto Rico.) So even though there are companies picking up the trash from your homes at lower rates, the price is finally determined by however much Waste Management chooses to bilk those companies (and you) for. In my research, most companies are passing on EXACTLY what Waste Management is charging them… which is so overpriced already that there probably isn’t any room for a profit for them.

With that sort of exclusive right to sell and control a public service comes responsibility — and a lot of it. IMO, you give up the right to run your business as you see fit, to charge whatever you want, when you get such privilege. Why? Because realistically, people no longer have the ability to choose to go elsewhere if they don’t like the prices. Free Market no longer exists… and while none of us has a problem with a company making a REASONABLE profit, nobody’s going to be okay with such a company gouging while they have you by a man’s proverbial gonads. 

Commercial garbage truck dumping in an open field

Charge too much and THIS is what happens!

The reason for outrage goes beyond getting ripped off though.  It’s downright dangerous to the environment.  People aren’t going to pay an extra 20-some percent to recycle — especially when it comes to economically repressed regions and there is no social impetus behind such a program.  And they’re not going to be keen on paying 2.5 months of weekly trash pickup to gather one room of carpet — AFTER cutting it up and bundling it neatly.  Instead, they’re going to dump it along the roadside somewhere.  And that’s not even going to harm the environment in and of itself.  But it promotes the idea of dumping whatever wherever.  “May as well dump this old engine oil while I’m at it,” comes to mind, and becomes a reasonable decision.  All the world’s an ashtray to many smokers, too.  We’ve come too far to start going backwards.

The problem started with the bureaucrats and politicians.  The latter got payola.  We got a mindless machine.  Now we’re stuck with Waste Management, a company that can’t even answer their phones at the disposal site.  What’s wrong with this picture?  Some might say it’s business as usual in 2013.  I’d say it’s high time we took matters back into our own hands.  What do YOU say?

Is Google Truly Evil, or Just Another Drug Dealer?

When Google first came out, they were a very cool company.  Searches that actually worked, no nonsense, accurate results, Boolean logic, hip thematic and topical artwork that celebrated diversity and history…  free storage, free phone numbers (VOIP, Google Voice)… They seemed very much like a company for the everyman.  Then the darkness started creeping in.

First the paid ads started showing up above the actual search results.  In the beginning, it was just an ad or three, and they were clearly marked, with obvious delineations between sponsored ads and the actual results,  so it was no big deal.  Then the lines began to blur.  Nowadays, we have to wade through as much as a full page of spam to get to the real search results when we Google something.

Then came the news about Google’s NSA contract, and it SHOULD make you uncomfortable to know that they made a deal with the NSA — yes, the same NSA which was recently outed for doing illegal email and wire tapping.  News of that deal came out a couple of years ago.  Now comes Gmail Tabs, and I’m starting to think that Google may actually be the devil.

Like a drug dealer (the first one is always free… or Facebook, for that matter,) Google has seduced us into trusting them.  We have our Gmail on there, and even bring all of our other email accounts’ data into our homes through Gmail.  They offered us free storage, so we took ‘em up on it.  Then there were the apps.  Word processing, and they even store the data all for free on their backed up servers!  But that data was being mined for the NSA all along.  Google Voice — another FREE service… but they’re also gaining knowledge of our phone numbers, acquaintances, even our voice and text messages and contacts’ phone numbers!  And now Google Tabs?

What are Google Tabs?  They are going to start dividing our email into categories, Primary, Social, and Promotions, for example.  That SOUNDS like a good thing… right?  Maybe.  Maybe the Promotions folder of today is the Spam Filter of the past, allowing us to read the promos we want WHEN we want to, instead of having to weed through them to get to the truly important stuff.  But I’ve got a birdie whispering in my ear (or perhaps that’s me talking to myself) suggesting that it won’t take them very long at all to start offering to put XYZ Corp’s sales pitch in your Primary folder — for a fee, of course.

I resisted Gmail for a long time.  Though it’s a hassle, I kept my own emails on my own hard drive.  That meant that if I wasn’t at the very same computer, I couldn’t even get to the old emails.  And gone was forever.  So then I tried leaving them on the server… until I overloaded my servers’ capacities with old spam that never got deleted.  Along comes Gmail to the rescue!  And for a while, it truly was bliss.  Just one email addy to log into, the rest of them being fetched to that one account… having it all with me no matter where I went was a virtual godsend.  And then things started getting sticky.

As I step back, I know that I don’t trust Google or Gmail any more.  But I don’t know how to replace them.  They’ve seduced me with their candy, and I don’t want to lose the conveniences… but I don’t think I want to keep feeding them my private info.  Not that I have anything to hide, per se, but I’d rather not have prying eyes making a mountain out of literally nothing.

Is Google truly evil, or just another drug dealer trying to make a living while spreading the happiness?  Jury’s still out.  We may not know for some time (if ever) whether their eyes are on the everyman’s data… but we’re destined to repeat history until we learn from it.  I invite your thoughts; What do YOU think?

JT, SpectreWriter

The First Amendment on Trial? No, Repeal the Patriot Act!

Edward Snowden, a 29 year old NSA employee, very recently blew the whistle on that government agency’s flagrant abuse of power in the form of tapping our cell phone conversations and reading our emails without warrant, cause or permission.  No one had to rat him out.  Mr. Snowden came forward voluntarily, openly identifying himself as he rightly claimed that he has nothing to hide (or be ashamed of.)  In the time to come, there will be those who accuse him of attempting to undermine the safety of the United States and her citizens.  The plain truth is just the opposite; What undermines this nation to its very foundations is the so-called Patriot Act, and the abuses inherent in such unbridled power.

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  

Most all of us have heard that expression.  We inherently know it to be true.  Here in the States (and in most of the free world) our governing system is one of checks and balances, designed to ensure that tyrants do not arise by limiting their powers.  The Patriot Act flies in the face of that sage wisdom, allowing Homeland Security and all its many tendrils to act with impunity.  They are not even obligated to answer to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Merely playing the “National Security” card allows them to do literally anything, and not even have to explain why they needed to do so.  Of course abuses of that power are going to exist… but tapping everyone’s phones and other communications is just too much a Big Brother move, even for them, an action we cannot ignore or allow.

When news of this action first came out, my reaction was muted.  If you have nothing to hide, why would you care, I asked to myself, rationalizing their repugnant actions.  Many of us may take that initial perspective, desensitized as we have become to our government’s intrusions.  Yesterday, though, I had an encounter that brought home the significance.  A trio of campus security guards, none of them peace officers, decided it was their right to detain me “to find out what’s up with you,” when I did nothing suspicious, other than to not bow to their presumed authority.  Subsequently, one of them elected to order another to park her vehicle behind mine, not allow me to leave — after I told them that if they were not peace officers our discussion was over and I’d be leaving.  A little power is a dangerous thing.  I had to call the REAL police and have them explain to these rent-a-cops that they do not have any authority to detain me, let alone to effectively confiscate my property (the car.)  At most, they could have taken the plate number and phoned the police.

ac·qui·esce  

/ˌakwēˈes/

 Verb: Accept something reluctantly but without protest.

Synonyms: consent, agree, assent, accede, comply

Even as those events with the security guards transpired, my boyfriend (who happens to be from a newer generation,) thought that they had the authority to demand that I stop and answer them.  Moreover, he saw it as expedient to simply acquisce.  He might have been right.  It might have taken less time (though I doubt it, as one of those “guards” was bound and determined to bandy about his presumed authority.)  But allowing someone to do so is tantamount to gracing them with the right to do so.  As Pogo wrote, “what we permit, we allow.”

This is the extent to which our society has slowly been groomed, taught to obey “authority” and to do as we’re told by most anyone in a uniform.  It was then, with that incident and my boyfriend’s reaction, that it dawned on me how crucial it is to our nation that we undo that programming, remain vigilant against such usurping and abuses of power.  No one has the right to listen in on someone’s private conversations in this country, unless a legitimate  judge issues a warrant based on evidence that justifies further investigation.  A JUDGE, not a supervisor, not a police officer, and certainly not the secretive NSA.  Allowing any individual or agency to act without checks and balances is bound to result in abuses.  Our right to privacy is essential to a free society.

Also essential to liberty is the right to speak out, to raise objections when our government is not acting within the scope of that authority which We The People allow them in our Constitution.  While the 1st Amendment does not allow one to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater when there is none, it exists specifically so that a courageous soul can do so when a danger exists that the People are unaware of.  The latter is precisely what Edward Snowden has done.  We should thank him for that service, and must stand fast alongside him, supporting his choice of action.  We all have both the right and civic duty to blow the whistle, to sound the alarm.  Indeed, it is the NSA which must be held accountable for their actions, not the patriot who calls attention on their misdeeds.

Similarly with Bradly Manning, the young soldier who leaked video of American soldiers murdering civilians.  What he leaked posed no legitimate inherent threat to our nation’s security.  He wasn’t giving away the passwords to the NSA’s computer systems.  He was simply revealing what some are doing with our money and power abroad, letting us and the world know that innocents were being murdered in the streets by indifferent agents of our government.  For doing so, they have had him incarcerated, punishing him before he has even been convicted, and plan to try to throw the book at him.  It would seem our government doesn’t like the light of truth being cast upon their misdeeds.

Regardless of a whistle-blower’s actions, the fault remains with the agent or agency which is perpetrating the unconstitutional act.  The fault is NOT with the one shedding light on that crime, and it does not matter what agency or cause may be presented to justify that crime.  The real threat to our nation is found in those who would punish the whistle-blower, attempt to squelch and silence others in the future by making examples of these today.  The treason was not done by Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden.  Treason was performed by the NSA.  The danger to our troops was not caused by Bradley Manning’s leaks.  It was caused by those who would gun down civilians, thereby giving ever greater footholds to those who are our true enemies.

The enemy of Liberty is not Truth.  We must never allow our government to persecute these whistle-blowers for performing their civic duty.

State of the Union 2013

Congress SOTU 2013

Credit: Politico.com

As I watched the honored members of Congress, Supreme Court and the President’s cabinet file into the room, the question that demanded my attention was “This is the best our nation has to offer?  These are the best and brightest?”  The answer is clear: No, they are not.  They are the cream of what has risen to the middle.

 

SOTU 2013

Listening to the President, I became mindful of some good news.  They don’t need to be the best or the brightest.  They only need to be willing and determined to make progress for *us* rather than themselves and those who have lined their pockets.

President Obama is a very gifted speaker; his speech was inspiring.  Listening to him, I made a few notes, noted a few key points:

  • He dared to call it “drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next.”  That was courageous.
  • Next, a point I had to disagree on.  Our nation’s North Star is not JOBS. It is a greater Gross National Product; we need to be MAKING things here.  THAT drives the jobs and prosperity.
  • 3-D printing, this has come at me twice in a week, the second time by our President, so I’d say it’s very much worth investigating, learning about and shouldering up to this manufacturing process.
  • Fact check: Our cars do NOT now go twice the distance on a gallon of gas.  The 1980′s Geo Metro, powered by a 3-cylinder Suzuki engine, driven by a manual transmission, got 45-53 MPG — THIRTY YEARS AGO, Mr. President.  We need to get back to basics in many ways, when it comes to transportation, Mr. President.And “aging infrastructure”?  To be sure, we’re behind Europe and other civilized places, but our entire nation is yet in its infancy.  Much of the infrastructure is simply too recent to be called “aging.”  Europe has banisters still in use that are older than our entire country.  What we need is modernization.  That doesn’t mean repairing 70,000 bridges.  It means rebuilding that infrastructure with modern means and tactics.  Cars shouldn’t be waiting for trains to pass.  Both should either travel together or above and below each other.
  • It’s a noble aspiration, making quality pre-school available to every child in the U.S., but if the cost is $200 per week, it’s also obviously not obtainable.  How about just improving what start they DO get, and maybe starting them sooner.  Because this is just PART of why Europe’s young people are ahead of our own.  Another key aspect is that Europeans don’t take time off of school every time the wind blows.  Their dedicated job is to study, to LEARN.  School isn’t just a daytime babysitter in Europe.  LEARNING must be the goal.  Then our high school students will catch up with Europe’s.  But let’s set the goal higher.  Let’s figure out how to surpass them.
  • The President has repeatedly stated that the promise of America is that if one works hard, one can get ahead.  No, sir, Mr. President.  If one works SMART one gets ahead.  No respect to the hard-working, but that doesn’t get one ahead.  That just gets by.  Fortune favors the bold… and the clever.
  • A point I feel very strongly about: Tax credits are NOT money.  What good do tax credits do a company if it has no profits, no money to be paying taxes ON?  Saying “we’ll take less from you” doesn’t provide that small business with the funding needed to grow.  So let’s lay off the empty rhetoric.
  • Credit Agency LogosSame thing with housing loans.  The responsible home owners with good credit ratings?  Rather, let’s take a good honest look at the credit rating SYSTEM that the banks are using.  It isn’t designed to decide what a person can or will afford.  It’s designed to frighten people into towing the mark set by the banks, into paying whatever they want to charge, whether that money is deserved or not.  Fix the process, that aspect, the banking system, Mr. President.  Rein them in, and rid us of the credit rating system as it is now.  Most everyone who is actually out there in the world has credit RATING problems somewhere, even if they are credit-worthy.  Then again, so long as tax credits are thought of as the same as money, it’s only to be expected that there will be confusion between who can pay and who will do so.

Those were the points of contention.  On the whole, it was an inspiring speech, and the news was favorable.  I’ll close with quotes from President Obama:  “We are CITIZENS”… and that means more than just a legal status.  It’s what we are, it’s what we do… when we are at our best, being responsible for each other.  And Congress wasn’t sent to Washington to be perfect.  We sent them there to make progress, to do the best they can.  Together, we and our representatives are now writing the next chapter of this nation’s tale, he said.  Right you are, Mr. President.  So, elected representatives, see to it that this is a glorious, triumphant chapter that sees ALL people empowered.

Thank you.  Gawd bless these United States of America.

I leave you with this, from the other side of the world, so we remember that the United States is far from the only nation that matters, nor is it the only one with beauty we can learn from:

 

What the HELL are we doing to our kids?

What we’re eating, the meat and milk so full of growth hormones, combined with the stresses of the way we’ve let our lives go haywire, have taken their toll across the board, with people of all ages. So what will it take for us to recognize the pattern, see the writing on the wall and start DOING something about it?

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