September 11th.

Imagine No Religion

Oh hey, it’s September already.

It’s been almost a month since my last post so I suppose I should post something. It’s not like I haven’t been meaning to, just like I’ve been meaning to do a vlog or a live stream or something along those lines, but I’m getting lazy in my old age.

Speaking of old age, I turned 52 on the 25th of August. I meant to post something then too, but that obviously didn’t happen. I’d like to think I’d have some wisdom to impart by now, but I got nothing that isn’t something someone else has already said. I did buy myself a handful of RPG video games from Humble Bundle for my birthday with the thought that maybe they’d make for amusing live streaming content, but I really need to sit down and figure out a time and day to do it regularly if I’m going to build up any kind of an audience.

So this is just a short post to say that I’m still alive and still thinking of posting something if I ever get off my ass and think of something to post. After doing this for almost two decades you’d think I’d be better at it than I am.

It’s 2019 and grown-ass adults have to be told not to drink bleach. Apparently.

Every now and then I stop to ponder how we, collectively as a country, could have been stupid enough to elect Donald Trump to the highest office in the land. A job he was clearly unqualified for to anyone who had more than two brain cells to rub together. Surely there aren’t that many drooling idiots out there that are so susceptible to Russian propaganda as to make such a thing possible. I know the results of the election show that, yes, clearly this must be true, but my brain struggles to accept the obvious conclusion.

Holy shit, don’t actually do this.

And then I come across a warning from the FDA telling these same people that, no, drinking bleach will not cure your AIDS/Cancer/Autism/Hepatitis/Flu and that they should stop drinking it and/or, even worse, making their kids drink it. You might think I’m kidding, but I am not:

Since 2010, the FDA has warned consumers about the dangers of Miracle or Master Mineral Solution, Miracle Mineral Supplement, MMS, Chlorine Dioxide (CD) Protocol, Water Purification Solution (WPS) and other similar products. Miracle Mineral Solution has not been approved by the FDA for any use, but these products continue to be promoted on social media as a remedy for treating autism, cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and flu, among other conditions. However, the solution, when mixed, develops into a dangerous bleach which has caused serious and potentially life-threatening side effects.

“The FDA’s drug approval process ensures that patients receive safe and effective drug products. Miracle Mineral Solution and similar products are not FDA-approved, and ingesting these products is the same as drinking bleach. Consumers should not use these products, and parents should not give these products to their children for any reason,” said FDA Acting Commissioner Ned Sharpless, M.D. “The FDA will continue to track those selling this dangerous product and take appropriate enforcement actions against those who attempt to evade FDA regulations and market unapproved and potentially dangerous products to the American public. Our top priority is to protect the public from products that place their health at risk, and we will send a strong and clear message that these products have the potential to cause serious harm.”

Source: FDA warns consumers about the dangerous and potentially life threatening side effects of Miracle Mineral Solution — U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Note that first sentence: “Since 2010.” Meaning people have been drinking bleach in hopes of curing various issues that largely do not have a cure for almost a fucking decade. I think this explains a lot about the current political environment in America today. It’s not the Russian propaganda all over Facebook and Twitter that is the problem, it’s the fact that enough people are drinking bleach as a miracle cure that the fucking FDA has had to repeatedly tell them to stop. Apparently to no avail.

Where the fuck did people get the idea that drinking bleach was somehow a miracle cure? From a religious nut, of course. A former Scientologist dude named “Jim Humble” (of course) founded and then declared himself the archbishop of The Genesis II Church of Health & Healing. Except it’s really not a religion as you don’t have to have any particular beliefs to join it — not even the ones espoused by the founder(s) — you just have to be able to cough up $35 and, voila, you’re a “church member” complete with an ID card spelling out all the advantages membership brings. Stuff like:

1. Protection against vaccinations, unwanted x-rays, scans, or health insurance mandated by human authority. We are a church and it is against our church’s beliefs. People have already used their membership cards to keep from being vaccinated, and from going through scans.

2. The ability to purchase health products of all kinds in any quantity including but not limited to food, plants, vitamins minerals, herbs and all remedies in any quantity necessary for yourself or your family. This protection will be more understood when the church has its own health food stores right in the church building. The belief includes the right to maintain these products in your own home.

3. The membership includes a picture membership card with these rights written on the back and a notice that anyone violating these rights will be prosecuted by the Church.

Wow! Not even Jesus promises the ability to purchase health products of all kinds in any quantity! Though the definition of “health products” is being very loosely applied here as one of the big things that Mr. Humble promotes is his Miracle Mineral Supplement which Big Pharma doesn’t want you to know about:

I want to tell you about a breakthrough that can save your life, or the life of a loved one. In 1996, while on a gold mining expedition in South America, I discovered that chlorine dioxide quickly eradicates malaria. Since that time, it has proven to restore partial or full health to hundreds of thousands of people suffering from a wide range of disease, including cancer, diabetes, hepatitis A, B, C, Lyme disease, MRSA, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, HIV/AIDS, malaria, autism, infections of all kinds, arthritis, high cholesterol, acid reflux, kidney or liver diseases, aches and pains, allergies, urinary tract infections, digestive problems, high blood pressure, obesity, parasites, tumors and cysts, depression, sinus problems, eye disease, ear infections, dengue fever, skin problems, dental issues, problems with prostate (high PSA), erectile dysfunction and the list goes on. This is by far not a comprehensive list. I know it sounds too good to be true, but according to feedback I have received over the last 20 years, I think it’s safe to say MMS has the potential to overcome most diseases known to mankind.

Repeat after me “anecdotes are not data.” He’s right about one thing though, it does sound too good to be true. Because it isn’t true.

Jim gives away the recipe to this miracle on his website for free which has lead to a shit load of unscrupulous people setting up websites and selling it on the Internet. Fortunately, the FDA is cracking down and prosecuting the folks peddling it. Which is good because drinking it can cause vomiting and severe diarrhea — which a lot of these websites will claim proves it’s working — and can cause much bigger problems like dangerously low blood pressure, damage to the digestive tract, acute liver failure, and kidney damage. Poison control centers across this country have seen almost 17,000 cases of idiots drinking chlorine dioxide — industrial fucking bleach — since 2014.

My cynical side says that this is the definition of a self-correcting problem. If enough idiots drink enough bleach then it’ll go away on its own. The issue is not only are they not drinking enough bleach, but they’re inflicting it on others who don’t have the ability to say no. I draw the line at people trying to sell it as a legit medicinal product and at you deciding to shove it down your kids’ throat because you can’t handle the fact that he/she is autistic.

However, It’s a free country and if you want to chug some industrial bleach in hopes it’ll cure your gout then more power to you. The recipe, as I said, is freely available on Jim (I’m so) Humble’s website. You’re an idiot, but you’re an idiot with the right to do stupid things to yourself if you really want to. That said, I would highly recommend that you consider the following bit of text at the bottom of the page that has the MMS recipe on it:

Disclaimer: The protocols described on this site are official sacraments of the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing. The reader accepts 100% responsibility for any and all use made of any information herein.

I don’t know about you, but any church that has to cover its ass with a disclaimer for its “miracle cure” is one I wouldn’t have much faith in. Bottoms up!

No, the Social Security Administration won’t call you about “suspicious activity.”

So my wife rings me up at work this morning to tell me about a strange phone call she’d just gotten. An automated voice claiming to be from the Social Security Administration was contacting her about suspicious activity involving her SSN that will result in an immediate suspension of her number if she doesn’t take steps to clear her name. The longer she listened to it the more she thought to herself, “This is bullshit,” and she hung up on the call.

She called me because there was just enough of a nagging doubt that she wanted to make sure she did the right thing. She did. It’s a scam that’s been growing since at least 2017. Here’s a recording of one of these calls:

Gotta admit that I can see how some folks would panic if they got a phone call like that one. It sounds legit enough and it doesn’t help that the scammers are spoofing the real phone number of the SSA (1-800-772-1213) on your Caller ID.

There are two basic types of these calls. One is to try and get you to “verify” your SSN by entering it into the phone so they can attempt Identity Theft. With the other type they try to get you to pay a fee by going out and buying gift cards and then reading off the codes to those cards to the scammer on the phone. This is basically the same scam as the IRS imposter scam that was making the rounds for a few years.

According to the FTC website:

In 2017, we heard from 3,200 people about SSA imposter scams, and those people reported losing nearly $210,000. So far THIS year: more than 35,000 people have reported the scam, and they tell us they’ve lost $10 million.

Source: This is what a Social Security scam sounds like – Federal Trade Commission

The page I’m quoting from was last updated in December of 2018 and it’s only gotten worse since then. From April 2018 to March 2019 the reported losses grew to $19 million.

Here’s the bit that I don’t get: How is it that folks are not recognizing this is a scam as soon as they’re told to go out and buy gift cards and then read the numbers off to the guy on the phone? How is that not a smack over the head that this is not a legit call?

I mean, I can understand falling for the request to verify your SSN because there are lots of occasions (banks, etc.) where you might be asked to do that, but who out there is so dumb to think that a government agency accepts payment by gift cards only or, worse, Bitcoin?

In an updated article about this from this past April, the FTC said:

Click to embiggen.

As the graphic shows, people reported the IRS scam (in blue) in huge numbers for many years, but the new SSA scam (in orange) is trending in the same direction – with a vengeance. People filed over 76,000 reports about Social Security imposters in the past 12 months, with reported losses of $19 million.1 Compare that to the $17 million in reported losses to the IRS scam in its peak year.2 About 36,000 reports and $6.7 million in reported losses are from the past two months alone.

Just 3.4% of people who report the Social Security scam tell us they lost money.3 Most people we hear from are just worried because they believe a scammer has their Social Security number. But when people do lose money, they lose a lot: the median individual reported loss last year was $1,500, four times higher than the median individual loss for all frauds.4 All age groups are reporting this scam in high numbers, with older and younger adults filing loss reports at similar rates.5

People report sending money in unconventional ways. Most often, people say they gave the scammer the PIN numbers on the back of gift cards. Virtual currencies like Bitcoin come in a distant second to gift cards: people say they withdrew money and fed cash into Bitcoin ATMs. With both methods, the scammer gets quick cash while staying anonymous, and the money people thought they were keeping safe is simply gone.

So let’s break a few things down:

  • No, your SSN is not about to be suspended, your bank accounts are not about to be seized, and you are not about to have an arrest warrant put out on you. This is bullshit, plain and simple.
  • The Social Security Administration will never contact you and tell you to wire them money, send cash, or (for crying out loud) give them gift cards or they’ll suspend your benefits. Never. Doesn’t happen.
  • You should never give out your SSN and/or personally identifying info to someone who has called you out of the blue even if you think it’s legit and the Called ID is the real number for whomever is calling. Hang up and call a number you know is associated with whatever you’re dealing with to make sure the request is legit first.
  • If you did do the above then go to https://www.identitytheft.gov/SSA to learn what steps you can take to protect yourself from Identity Theft.
  • Lastly, report government imposter scams to the FTC at FTC.gov/complaint. To learn more, visit ftc.gov/imposters.

As always, be vigilant. There are a lot of unscrupulous people in this world working hard to scam you out of your money. If something smells like bullshit to you then it’s probably bullshit and you should do some digging before handing over any info or money. Most importantly, remain calm. These assholes are relying on you freaking out to make it easier to get you to do something stupid. Don’t be stupid. Don’t freak out.

Vorticity 2 by Mike Olbinski

I love a good summer storm and the physics involved is always fascinating to me, but nothing quite brings home the sheer immensity and power of a storm like time lapse photography. Mike Olbinski spent two years putting together this compilation of storms he filmed into one incredible YouTube video in 4K.

I made the tough decision last year to save everything I shot that spring and combine it with whatever storms I captured in 2019 and make the best possible time-lapse film I could. It was incredibly difficult to sit on that collection of footage for over a year, but I’m glad I did. When you’ve done a few of these, at some point you gotta work even harder to top yourself and I did my best to make that happen. Even though I’ve lost all perspective at this point having watched this a million times during editing, I do feel it has some of the best footage I’ve ever compiled into one of these films. I had such a high bar set and many, many clips did not make the cut.

You really need to watch this full screen to appreciate it fully. Better yet, if you have a streaming device hooked to a big screen TV that will playback YouTube then watch it on that. This took my breath away. Best of all, it’s one of two:

You can read more about what he uses to capture these stunning events and see other clips at his YouTube channel.

That trailer for the “Cats” movie is… unnerving.

What unholy hellspawn gave birth to this abomination?

Seriously, who the hell saw the final result from the CGI tests and said, “This! This is what we want! Something that looks like a mad scientist’s fever dream of human/cat hybrids gone horribly wrong.”

To be fair, I’m not a fan of the Broadway musical of the same name. I’m familiar with the songs because people I know and love really like the musical and own the soundtracks and have played them many times over the years in my presence, but all I’ve seen of the stage play is the clips they use in the advertisements when it’s in town. I thought the play’s costumes were a little funky, but they worked.

This? This lands solidly in the uncanny valley which is weird because those are real humans prancing about that look like someone forcibly inserted an animatronic tail in their assholes while injecting them with the world’s worst hair growth formula. They look vaguely cat-ish with realistic ears, but they have human eyes and teeth. And I thought the CGI hedgehog in the upcoming Sonic movie looked disturbing. This takes it to a whole other level. The oddest part is that they somehow seem even more naked than if they were actually naked.

I suppose if you’re a fan of the Broadway show this will do nothing to dissuade you from seeing the movie, but at the same time this does nothing to lure non-fans into the theater.

What has been seen cannot be unseen so my only relief was to share my pain.

CBS News coverage of the Apollo 11 launch in 1969.

Fifty years ago on July 16th, 1969 American astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins took flight to the moon in a Saturn V rocket. I was just under two years old at the time so I don’t have any recollection of this historic event.

Fortunately for me, CBS News did a live stream of four and a half hours of coverage of the event — including the commercials aired at the time — and that live stream is still available to watch on YouTube. Or you can watch it right here:

Courtesy of CBS News YouTube Channel.

I have to admit that I find this interesting not just for the historic event itself, but for the slice of America that it preserves. Between the commercials, which are surprisingly calm and dulcet compared to many commercials today, and the newscast it really puts into perspective how much has changed in 50 years. Some of it good and some of it bad. What’s also amazing is just how much of an emotional experience it still is to watch the launch even after 50 years of routine space flight with the shuttles and the space stations.

You may not want to sit through the full four and a half hours, but it’s worth watching at least some of this video. Especially if, like me, you aren’t old enough to remember it first hand. It really is incredible that we pulled this off using onboard computers with way less computing power than what your phone you carry around with you is capable of.

Everyone’s using that Russian FaceApp to see what they’d look like old and I’m just sitting here being old.

Me, circa April this year in an early morning selfie. Click to embiggen.

Have you seen all the people on Facebook posting selfies of themselves after they’ve run it through the FaceApp? It’s all the rage right now probably because the results tend to err on the very flattering side. If this app is to be believed, everyone is going to look amazing. Just a few more wrinkles and lots of grey hair. Personally, I don’t need to use that FaceApp to see what I would look like as an old person because I am already an old person.

True story: On the way into work this morning I could not for the life of me remember my age. I knew I was 50-something, but I wasn’t sure if I would be turning 52 or 53 next month on my birthday. I had to literally do the math in my head while driving at 70 MPH on the freeway because it was bugging me so much that I couldn’t recall if I am currently 51 or 52 years old. (For the record, I am currently 51 about to turn 52.) I almost went as far as to ask Google because they almost certainly know my age, but I did the math instead because I didn’t want to interrupt the song streaming on Pandora at the time. So, yeah, I’m old. Not super old. Not even eligible for senior discounts at most places yet, but old enough to have the bloodhounds at AARP on my ass about signing up. I’ve got another three years before I outlive my biological father who died at 55, but I doubt I’ll match my great grandmother who died at 99.

Speaking of that FaceApp, you might want to think twice before playing with it depending on how much you care about your image potentially being sent to Russia for a foreign company to do whatever they want with it. The folks at Slate have a good write up on how worried you should be about the app with responses from the company that makes it:

Privacy Matters and several news outlets (some in rather alarming termspointed out that when you use the app, you grant Wireless Lab a lot of rights. That includes a “perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your User Content … without compensation to you.” That basically means FaceApp can do whatever it wants with your photos, according to New York Law School professor Ari Waldman. “You retain copyrights and photos that you upload, but you grant them the opportunity to pretty much do anything they want with the photos that are stored on their servers,” Waldman told me. And in many cases, it’s not just photos of the individual using the app—people upload images of their friends and families, too, meaning such a database of faces would be massive, and that same policy would apply regardless of who is in the photo. “It’s pretty broad, to say the least,” Waldman said.

Soure: How Worried Should You Be About FaceApp? — Slate


That’s a pretty permissive and vague terms and conditions, but to be fair to Wireless Lab, that’s true of a lot of apps because it covers their ass in case someone decides to sue for some stupid reason. Still, you should be aware that you are granting them these rights when you use the app. There was also a rumor going around that it wasn’t just uploading the picture you submitted to foreign servers, but grabbing your entire camera roll. Slate asked security expert Will Strafach to take a look at the app to see if that is true:

And, according to FaceApp’s creator Yaroslav Goncharov at Wireless Lab, that data doesn’t get sent to Russia at all unless you are in Russia:

Yaroslav Goncharov, FaceApp’s creator and Wireless Lab CEO, said in an emailed statement that no user data is transferred to Russia even though “the core R&D team is located” there, and he echoed that the entire camera roll is not tapped for upload. Forbes reported that FaceApp uses Amazon servers located in the U.S. and Australia. And, to be fair, FaceApp said it deletes most photos after 48 hours: “We might store an uploaded photo in the cloud. The main reason for that is performance and traffic: we want to make sure that the user doesn’t upload the photo repeatedly for every edit operation.” But, again, all we have here is its word. When I asked Goncharov what Wireless Lab uses the photos for, he didn’t say. “Privacy policies and terms are drafted by lawyers and they always prefer to be on the safe side,” Goncharov wrote in an email. “We are planning to do some improvements here.” I directly asked if the company actively uses personal data for commercial purposes, and he didn’t respond.

So, in the end, it’s entirely possible that FaceApp is an innocuous bit of mindless fun and the folks at Wireless Lab aren’t keeping your data for very long or doing anything with it you wouldn’t want them to. However, the potential for abuse is still there in that terms of service agreement and if they changed their minds because, say, Russian intelligence needed a shit ton of pics to train a facial recognition system with, well, you’d given them the rights to do just that. Even then it’s arguable whether that would have any real impact on you in the long run outside of having helped the Russians to train an A.I., but it’s something you should consider before using the app.

Then again you should probably stop to consider these things with any app you’re thinking of using. Considering I’m all over both Google, Facebook, and this blog I doubt my using FaceApp could do much more damage to my privacy than I’ve already done to myself. I still won’t use it, though, because I already know what I’d look like when I’m old. Now, if it could remember my age for me…

It’s July 4th, 2019 and it’s feeling a little fascist out there.

I’ve not blogged anything in awhile in part because my creative juices have dried up and in part because every day there’s so many new outrages to come out of the Trump administration that it’s hard to keep up without being overwhelmed. Children in concentration camps, his unqualified kids sticking their noises in at the G20 summit, and now his big Russian styled military parade for the 4th of July.

This is why the title doesn’t wish you a Happy 4th. There’s nothing to be happy about this year. It’s all starting to feel way too much like the dictatorships Trump loves to buddy up to. More worrying to me, however, is how Trump has shown the willingness of Republicans to tolerate a wanna-be Stalin so long as he’s a Republican giving them want they want. Trump has already done so many things that they would’ve tried to impeach Obama for if he had done them that it really does put to bed any credibility they might have had. There was one Republican who stood up and called for impeachment, but he’s announced that he’s leaving the party so they don’t even have him to point to anymore.

So, have a safe July 4th. That’s the best I can do this year.

I have been a homeowner for two years.

As of this past May 1st, I’ve officially owned a home for two years and we’ve lived in it for that long as of June 1st. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in that time it’s that I am not a great gardener or, for that matter, lawn up-keeper. I have a bad tendency of mowing the lawn once the grass has gone to seed which means that so far this year I’ve mowed it a grand total of three times. The lady we bought the house from was amazing at it. For example, when she was here our back yard looked like this:

So luscious! So colorful!

Today, our back yard looks like this:

Well, it’s at least green. Fortunately weeds are green.

The area behind the tree used to look like this:

Tidy-tastic!

And today it looks like this:

The opposite of tidy-tastic!

It’s probably for the best that I apologized to the neighbors the first time I met them. At least with all the rain stuff is relatively green compared to last summer when both front and back yards had a distinct brownness thanks to grass that had gone dormant from the heat. The front yard is still recovering from that and there are areas that are more weed than grass. The little kidney shaped flower garden has also lain fallow since we arrived.

Truth is, neither Anne or I are in much shape to be out on our hands and knees pulling weeds nor do I think we have the requisite skills to keeps things looking quite as good as the previous owner. I keep looking around to see if I can find someone I could hire to help whip things into shape, but you have to have surplus budget for that sort of thing.

You’ll note the difference in height pre and post-mow.

So, for now, I will continue to at least try to keep the grass at a reasonable height. I’m also trying to spray weed killer on the stuff growing in the cracks of the driveway and sidewalk, but I think I might have bought weed food instead of weed killer as it doesn’t seem to be having any impact. Frankly, I’m just glad we’ve made it through the first couple of years with the house still intact. The yard, not so much, but the house is still standing.