This week I heard a surprising announcement from a regular guest on The Tech Night Owl LIVE. So we presented tech commentator Rob Pegoraro, who writes for USA Today, Yahoo Finance, Consumer Reports, Wirecutter and other publications. During this episode, Rob put the FCC’s decision to abandon net neutrality into perspective, and I’ll have more to say about that shortly. The main question, of course, is whether ISPs will begin to prioritize net traffic, or will the possibility of negative publicity and potential lawsuits postpone — or prevent — any changes for the near future? Rob also discussed the end of AIM, and how this pioneer instant messaging app influenced an entire industry? And do we really need lots of messaging apps to stay in touch with our contacts? Gene laughingly referred to Rob as a turncoat as he explained why he, a long time Mac user, recently purchased a PC notebook to replace his aging MacBook Air.
So why did Rob switch?
Well, his response was reasonable. He didn’t want to spend more money for a MacBook Pro, and the recent pathetic upgrade to the MacBook Air didn’t appeal to him. He chose, instead, an HP 2-in-1 notebook. And since, for the most part, he could use the same apps and services on both the macOS and Windows, it wasn’t so big a deal, at least so far. But will he feel the same a few months from now? He laughingly suggested turning it into a Hackintosh, by following the online instructions to induce it to run macOS. But that process may not work on an off-the-shelf PC notebook. Usually, it requires picking and choosing parts tested and found to be compatible, and outfitting a custom-built PC with them.
You also heard from tech journalist Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer. As the segment began, Jeff complained that his copy of Skype 7 for the Mac was upgraded to Skype 8 without his approval, and he doesn’t like the all-new interface. In an extended discussion of net neutrality, Gene pointed out that more and more cable companies are embedding Netflix into their set-top boxes, perhaps as a move to help reduce cord cutting. As the pair moved into pop culture mode, Gene mentioned the latest reported move by Apple to add original TV content, with a direct-to-series order for a new sci-fi series from producer Ronald D. Moore, whose previous shows include Battlestar Galactica. Jeff explained in great detail why the fabled Star Wars lightsaber would be impossible to use in a real world setting. Gene suggested that the DC Comics super heroes on TV are better than their movie counterparts. And what about having different actors portray such characters as the Flash and Superman?
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Alejandro Rojas of OpenMinds.tv for a 2017 retrospective and a preview of the 2018 International UFO Congress and Film Festival. Alejandro is the host for Open Minds UFO Radio show, and emcee for IUFOC. He is also a blogger for the Huffington Post. As a UFO/Paranormal researcher and journalist, Alejandro has spent many hours in the field investigating anomalous phenomena up close and personal. Gene and Chris will also talk shop with a focus on UFOs. There will also be a pop culture-related discussion about what both regard as the sad state of pop music.
GETTING IT WRONG ABOUT NET NEUTRALITY
Part and parcel of our polarized society is the feeling that, if we accept the other side’s approach, it may be the end of the world as we know it. They wish us ill, and are doing foolish and/or evil things to take us all down.
Now I’m not going to dwell on my political viewpoints about the crazy things that are going on in Washington, D.C. except for one thing, and that’s the promise — or threat — that net neutrality is ending soon.
As is often true, the facts are more nuanced, and whatever does happen can be overturned by a future FCC, and we start all over again.
So this past week, the Republican majority of the FCC decided to undo a move by its predecessor that, among the things, prevented ISPs from prioritizing Internet traffic. What this meant is that these companies could not demand that a high-traffic service pay extra to enter a fast lane.
Those who opposed net neutrality, including FCC chairman Ajit Pai, claimed that putting restrictions on ISPs would somehow prevent them from improving and expanding their services. Being forced to allow online traffic to flow freely was somehow an impediment to growth.
I’m not sure I see how, or any evidence that this could happen. But it’s unfortunate that the cable TV talking heads who interviewed Pai — or at least the ones I’ve seen — simply allowed him to repeat his unproven talking points without questioning the logic. There was no request for evidence that what he said was true.
Supporters of net neutrality also maintain that it’s not just about getting miserable performance from Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, with constant buffering even on a fast connection. What about the streaming startup, a company that wanted to someday compete with Netflix? If they had to pay extra to achieve good performance, it’s likely that they wouldn’t be able to attract venture capital to cover their costs.
This, too, may be an overwrought conclusion if we assume things will return to the way they were before the concept of net neutrality ever arose.
A key reason for government regulation is not that regulators just need something to do. It’s often in response to a need, to address abuses by private industry. That explains why there are rigid controls covering the approval of a new drug by the FDA in the U.S. It means that pharmaceutical companies have to subject new drugs to a rigid set of tests to make sure they actually perform as advertised without seriously endangering one’s life in the process. Or at least disclose the dire side effects so you know what you’re in for.
Net neutrality was a response to something the ISPs did, which was to slow down such services as Netflix, largely because they sucked up huge quantities of data.
As of now, Netflix consumes nearly 37% of all Internet traffic, and when you add all the streaming services it’s 70%. That also includes such services as YouTube, iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Dish Network’s Sling TV and DirecTV NOW.
That leaves 30% for the rest of online traffic.
From a business point of view, I suppose it made sense to focus on the worst abusers and see if there’s a way to manage the load without inconveniencing other customers. Back in 2014, there were reports that such ISPs as Comcast and Verizon were putting the brakes on Netflix. In turn, Netflix reportedly paid extra in order to deal with the situation, with reports of mixed success.
During that period, you may have experienced constant buffering from Netflix. Loads of complaints from customers and tech companies helped influence the previous FCC to reclassify an ISP as a Title II communications service, thus preserving net neutrality. Prior attempts were blocked in the courts.
Despite the new regulations, there were recent reports that Verizon, particularly through its high-speed FiOS service, was once again throttling Netflix and even YouTube. So it seems peculiar that the FCC would believe that ending net neutrality was a good idea.
But what’s also happening is even more interesting. It appears that Netflix is taking a “can’t beat them so join them” approach, which is to strike deals with some ISPs, so their app appears as just another premium channel on a cable set-top box, similar to HBO and Showtime. What this means is that the ISP would, in exchange for offering Netflix without speed restrictions, get a piece of the action. By being part of their regular cable service, the load on broadband bandwidth would be sharply reduced.
By including Netflix — and I suppose Hulu and other services can be offered in the same fashion — customers are being offered more attractive cable packages that might help stem the tide of cord cutting.
While an experiment with Netflix and DirecTV appears to have ended, you can get it on at least some cable boxes from Comcast, Cox, Verizon and other services. You’ll have to check with your cable company to see which hardware it’s offered on, and how much it costs.
Now when I checked with the cable company I use, Cox, it appears Netflix is available on their Contour 2 box, but is limited to HD. If you have a 4K TV, you’ll have to still depend on a smart TV or a streamer, such as an Apple TV 4K, and certain models from Roku and other companies. As it stands, the cable and satellite companies are only testing the 4K waters. Higher resolution means there is less space for other channels, so it may be a juggling act until capacity is boosted.
In any event, despite the FCC’s vote, net neutrality isn’t going away tomorrow. There’s a comment period, and the attorneys general of a number of states are planning to file lawsuits. So this matter may not be resolved for months or years, depending on court rulings and potential appeals. I suppose it’s possible that the U.S. Supreme Court will get involved.
After all is said and done, I doubt the ISPs are going to act hastily, knowing the political winds may likely change with the next administration. In the meantime, if more cable and possibly the satellite companies strike deals with Netflix and other services to offer them premium channels, that might sharply reduce the load on their systems.
So they wouldn’t have any motive to throttle anyone’s traffic, and it would also provide an additional revenue stream. Assuming Netflix’s 4K service comes to your cable box, would that influence your decision about cord cutting?
So it’s possible that the ISPs and streaming companies could work out reasonable solutions without harming anyone, assuming the price you pay doesn’t change too much. That said, net neutrality offered more than a few ounces of protection against the worst offenders. The suggestion that it may have stifled innovation is absurd. The move to embed Netflix on cable boxes clearly disproves that claim.
As the California Wildfires roar into a second week, those residents lucky enough to escape the flames worry what consequences could result in inhaling the smoke.
According to the EPA, smoke emanating from forest and community fires may include any of the following:
Carbon monoxide, which competes with oxygen in the blood
Carbon dioxide, a respiratory byproduct
Acrolein – used as a pesticide
Plastics, and those byproducts after incineration
and thousands of different respiratory irritants.
According to the EPA,
Smoke is composed primarily of carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, hydrocarbons and other organic chemicals, nitrogen oxides, trace minerals and several thousand other compounds. The actual composition of smok depends on the fuel type, the temperature of the fire, and the wind conditions. Different types of wood and vegetation are composed of varying amounts of cellulose, lignin, tannins and other polyphenolics, oils, fats, resins, waxes and starches, which produce different compounds when burned.
Some may have no idea they are breathing in harmful compounds that could affect their lungs and heart. However, many may experience:
Racing Heart (palpitations)
Exacerbation of their lung disease including COPD, asthma, chronic bronchitis
Exacerbation of heart conditions such as angina, heart attack, and cardiac arrhythmias.
Increased susceptibility to new lung infections as well as flu
PM2.5 are particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter that are present in pollution and wildfire smoke that can penetrate deeply into the lung linings. Larger, coarse particles 10 micrometers in diameter are called PM10. Both impair lung function as they inflame the lungs and interfere with the work of alveoli that need to oxygenate the blood. Moreover the small particles can use this pathway to enter the bloodstream. Although the direct health impacts of the fine particulate matter is not clearly defined it is believed that increased PM2.5 levels increase the risk of lung and heart disease as discussed above.
Symptoms may begin at levels greater than 55 µg/m3 .
Infants and Children
Those with chronic lung disease, including asthma and emphysema
Those at risk for heart disease and stroke
Those with diabetes
Those with chronic allergies
Avoiding the area of wildfires is paramount. Additionally, the following may be considered:
Avoid outdoors until air quality reports improve. Do not rely on how “clear” the air looks.
Take heed of wind and air quality advisories.
Recirculate the air in your home and car.
Keep windows closed.
Consult with your medical provider to monitor blood pressure, heart rhythm, lung function and refill any medications you may need BEFORE you feel symptoms.
Be wary of facemasks sold as PM2.5 safe as many do not protect against the very small particles. Respirator masks labelled N95 or N100 may provide SOME protection against particulates but not against the toxic fumes such as formaldehyde and acrolein.
After traveling from Boise, Idaho to Missoula, Montana to Orlando, Florida then onto Houston, Texas, we have tallied up about 150 ministry hours of driving over the last 6 weeks. With that, comes a toll on your physical body, and it caught up with one of my family members, at least for a minute. Let me explain.
Keep in mind, there is a balance between a natural/holistic remedy and western medicine. I have always been cautious when it comes to either side of the aisle. It seems that without fail, fear of not using either of their remedies is always what is pushed until you submit, and I for one will not go down that road.
During our final tour this last month, one of my family members had told me that her eyes were becoming blurry and that she could not see the road signs which were relatively close. Thinking that she only had to have her contacts replaced, she set up an appointment the following day when we would arrive at our next stop. Upon examination, the doctor stated that she had a drastic change in her visual tests. The doctor then said that the only time that she sees such a big change is when someone has diabetes, which we were not going to own. This family knows who the Healer is (Acts 10:38).
The doctor went and purchased a blood test, which revealed that her blood was up about 152 mg/dl higher than it should have been. After receiving her new contacts, the eye doctor then suggested going to the emergency room as soon as possible.
So, we set up an appointment the following Monday at the local clinic. Of course, by this time, I had plenty of time to ponder as to what was going on. Flags were already going up at every turn.
When we finally arrived for the scheduled appointment, the nurse wanted to take a blood test. The nurse took the first blood test and then suggested another, and we consented. After the blood tests were done, we were told that the blood needed to be sent to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, which was going to take at least a week for results to come back in.
Before we knew it, the nurse told us that she had good news for us.
She begins to tell us that she didn’t think that it was this or that, or even the other thing but that my family member has type one diabetes and that she will have to be on insulin for the rest of her life.
I asked, “What was good about that dim prognostication?”
Furthermore, I asked how she could have come up with a prognostication that she had type one or two diabetes and how it was that she could make that diagnosis without getting all the blood results?
At this point, we knew that she was taking directives from someone in that clinic. Sincere as she was, she was lost; she continuously stumbled over as to how she was making this unsubstantiated claim. She ended up seeing the point we were making with our questions.
A couple of minutes later, she comes in with a “deep concern” as to what might be happening with our family members pancreas and that she now needs to take a couple of pictures to see what may be blocking insulin from getting into her blood and wouldn’t you know it, out of nowhere comes in another nurse to start to “teach her how to use insulin twice a day for the rest of her life.”
At this point, I got on the phone with an EMT and a nurse that we trusted and told them what was going on. I discovered that though diabetes is not to be played with, we were dealing with a system that is not about healthcare, but rather looking to create productivity and to match and connect a diagnosis with insurance codes to tap into the money.
How many of these young, sincere nurses and doctors get out into their field only to find that they are being used to be salespeople for the pharmaceutical companies who make billions every year off the sicknesses that they simply misdiagnose and therefore, are guilty of creating?
At this point, I told this nurse, who by the way had no business bringing this grim diagnosis, what her suggestions were and that we were not going to do anything until we had more information.
Of course, more fear comes from this nurse as to the importance of getting hooked on their remedy because if not, our family member may become blind, and possibly may even die, which we were not buying.
The long of the short of it is that we got to an experienced and caring doctor who told us that this lady had no business giving any diagnosis, that insulin was not the answer, and it would be remedied after a little rest, a good diet and exercise.
So, before taking the doctor's word for any diagnosis that may come down the pipe (There is a reason that they call it “practice”) which pushes you to dependency on the medical and pharmaceutical industry, you may want to take a step back, read and listen carefully as to what the woman that pressed into Jesus knew from experience.
“And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any, came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood stanched. And Jesus said, Who touched me? When all denied, Peter and they that were with him said, Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me. And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately. And he said unto her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.” (Luke 8:43-48)
The lists of fraud in the medical industry are astounding, to say the least. Below are some incredible links for you to review.
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It’s fascinating to see how Apple’s entrance in a product category can change things so drastically. So for the longest period, we heard that smartwatches were the next great thing. There were models from a crowdfunded startup, Pebble, and such entrants as Samsung Galaxy Gear.
As with digital music players, smartphones and tablets, Apple seemed late to the party, very late.
That takes us to this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, featuring J.D. Levite, senior editor of Thrifter.com. Thrifter is a consumer site focused on tracking hot deals on tech and other products, special holiday promotions, etc. This discussion focused on finding the best deals for the holidays, including top grade 4K TVs and the key features that will maximize your enjoyment. Gene and J.D. also discussed the top gaming consoles, media streamers, such as Apple TV and Roku, Bluetooth speakers, and even drones and gear for the connected home. You also heard why Gene remains skeptical about the Internet of Things.
But when it came to smartwatches, J.D. said it was yesterday’s news. Few are really interested in them anymore. When you look at recent sales estimates, however, it appears that such wearables may not have gained much traction, except for one product, the Apple Watch. Despite all the skepticism, Apple claims double-digit sales increases in recent quarters. Industry analysts are reporting that the Apple Watch Series 3 is proving to be more popular than originally expected.
Apple won’t reveal actual sales, except in generalities because the actual results are buried in the Other Products category. Will that ever change? Maybe if the Apple Watch really takes off and hits a critical mass. Maybe never. I do see more and more people wearing them in my travels, however.
In a special encore segment, you also heard from Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer. In pop culture mode, Jeff mentioned The Shadow before moving to a pair of Fox TV genre shows, “The Orville,” a sci-fi series reminiscent of Star Trek with comedic elements, and “Gotham,” the Batman prequel. After Jeff admitted he hasn’t kept up on the superhero shows on The CW, he explained how he got up early in the morning to place an order for an iPhone X at AT&T’s site. Although he said he appears to have been successful in placing that order, it appeared there might be glitches in AT&T’s ordering system. After a brief discussion about the iPhone X’s most controversial features, such as the “notch,” the conversation moved to the future of the Mac mini. Just what sort of upgrade is Apple working on? Will it offer more powerful components to make it more suitable for use as a web server or a low-cost workstation? Does the delay in updating a product last refreshed in 2014 mean that Apple is working on a major redesign?
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a special episode featuring a “great debate” on the merits of the extraterrestrial theory for UFOs. It’s the prevailing theory, that we are being visited by beings from other planets. Does that theory hold up, or are there other valid possibilities as the source of the UFOs?What about hidden civilizations on Earth, other dimensions? You’ll hear about the ins and outs of the evidence and the issues that cause some to doubt that ET is here. The possibilities are vigorously debated by four long-time UFO researchers who are regulars in our forums, featuring Thomas R Morrison, Robert Brandstetter (forum name: Burnt State), Jason (forum name: marduk) and Mike Jones (forum name: mike).
APPLE AND HOME AUDIO
Once upon a time, I had a fairly sophisticated stereo sound system, worth well over ten thousand dollars. It consisted of a set of classic flat panel ribbon speakers, the Carver Amazing Platinum, in piano black, and several components bearing the Carver and Sunfire labels. The preamplifier even had tubes in it, so call me retro.
Alas, I sold it all in 2006 when I needed to raise cash. But I had reached the point where I seldom listened to it anyway. I spent more time listening to stuff on my TV set; I had a Bose home theater sound system in those days. True, the audio quality didn’t come close to matching that Carver/Sunfire system, but there was the added benefit of convenience. The main system was placed in the living room, and the family and I didn’t spend a whole lot of time there.
Since the advent of digital audio, and the amazing and unpredictable success of the original Apple iPod, more and more people listen to music on tiny earbuds. Some will spend money on higher quality gear, perhaps a full-sized set of earphones. But for traveling about, convenience rates above audio quality.
Of course, there is always your car’s audio system, and they have become much better in recent years. If you spend a lot of time driving from place to place, you might be pleased at how good they can be. For long trips, pairing it with your iPhone, the ultimate iPod, can give you access to up to millions of songs.
While Apple builds premium gear, it has not established a reputation for creating products with superior audio quality. Even the 2014 purchase of Beats Electronics for $3 billion didn’t convey the impression that Apple cared about high-quality audio. Beats headphones were legendary for bloated bass.
Indeed, the purchase was regarded as controversial. What did Apple stand to gain from buying a maker of overpriced headphones of questionable quality? Well, there was always the streaming services later rebranded as Apple Music.
Did the Beats acquisition result in improved sound quality for Apple gear? Well, I suppose recent iPhones, iPads and Macs can play louder without distortion. But you’d hardly call the audio rich and full. Even Apple’s best selling AirPods aren’t delivering state-of-the-art audio either, although they excel in other categories, such as the tiny size and the seamless integration with the Apple ecosystem.
That takes us to the HomePod, a smart speaker system, powered by Siri, which was supposed to debut this month for $349. It has since been postponed until early in 2018.
Ever since the first rumors about the HomePod appeared, the tech media has been working overtime comparing it to the Amazon Echo, low-priced speakers that use the Alexa personal assistant to accept commands and make it easier to buy stuff from the world’s largest online retailer.
Indeed, there have been privacy concerns that focus on the Echo, and the competing Google Assistant speakers hearing too much and making use of that data to learn which ads to send you.
Apple? Well, isn’t Siri inferior to the other digital assistants because of Apple’s policy of protecting our personal information? Indeed, the updated Siri that debuted in iOS 11, which uses machine learning to improve its ability to understand your commands, was compared unfairly to the competition from Amazon and Google even before it was released.
Despite sales estimates that are far below blowout, the Echo is regarded by the tech media as a huge success and the industry leader. Apple’s HomePod is dismissed as overpriced, even though only a small number of journalists have actually heard them, and then only for a brief period of time.
But what is HomePod anyway? Is it all about home automation, or, perish forbid, listening to music?
Few would argue that the audio quality of even the most expensive Echo is nowhere near state-of-the-art. It’s mostly about the digital assistant and not loudspeakers. True, the second generation Echo has pretensions of improved audio quality, with support for Dolby processing, although the specs don’t say which Dolby format is actually being used. Amazon also claims “crisp vocals and dynamic bass response,” but what level of audio quality can you expect in a gadget that lists for $100?
The specs of the Echo and the Echo Plus, listing for just under $150, mention a single 2.5-inch woofer and a tweeter. Not terribly impressive.
An article from AppleInsider’s Daniel Eran Dilger touts the “real” purpose of the HomePod, that it’s more about paving the way for the next generation of home audio rather than providing just another digital assistant.
According to Daniel, “HomePod uses a 4-inch driver with an incredible 20 mm excursion—possible because of dynamic modeling. This lets it create larger sound with far less distortion than a typical speaker. It also uses six microphones and seven beamforming tweeters to model the size and shape of the room and develop sound tuned specifically for its setting, canceling out echo and beamforming detection of your voice over playing music, all powered by Apple’s custom A8 Application Processor. This isn’t just a Bluetooth speaker with Siri.”
I wouldn’t for a moment expect audio quality to exceed that of those huge Carver Amazings that I used to own. That system offered scintillating highs and thundering bass, but it required loads of power to deliver the goods. But Apple is strongly emphasizing the “amazing” sound of the HomePod in its promotional materials.
The ability of the HomePod to tailor itself to your listening environment is impressive if true. If you recall the placement considerations of traditional loudspeakers, you’ll appreciate not having to waste time finding the ideal positioning for Apple’s forthcoming smart speaker system.
And the digital assistant?
As Daniel suggests, HomePod is very much about home audio. The other features are described in a section entitled, “Listen to what else it can do.” That’s where you learn about the capabilities of its Siri home assistant, and its ability to work with Apple’s HomeKit to manage home automation.
Above all, however, it’s about home audio. Indeed, I would love to see what my old friend, Bob Carver, who designed those Amazing loudspeakers and loads of traditional audio gear, thinks about HomePod.
Indeed, one of Bob’s early inventions, Sonic Holography, a precursor to Dolby surround sound, may well have been an inspiration for the sort of sonic processing that paved the way for the HomePod and other speakers that can tailor themselves to one’s listening environment.
To be sure, I don’t expect HomePod to be capable of replacing my long-departed stereo system. But I’m getting more and more curious about trying them out. Maybe it’s time for me to start putting spare change in a bottle to see how much cash I can raise in the next few months.
A hue and cry is mounting around the country that voting machines used on Election Day are eminently hackable. Congress is investigating charges by the Office of Homeland Security that Russia attempted to hack into voting machines in 21 different states. So is the integrity of our election system being undermined? Are computer hackers able to change election results? What gives?
Obviously, there is something fishy going on. It’s not just the election system being hacked. New reports have told us that computer systems of major companies like Sony, Equifax and even the U.S. Office of Personnel Management have been broken into. So how can we be sure that your vote cast the polls on Election Day is secure?
There is a recent push by election reformers to go back to, can you believe, paper ballots. That’s right. Just like the first American elections back in the 1800s. There is a non-profit group called Verify Voting that is telling state officials: “We have a single technology at our disposal that is invulnerable to hacking: paper.” So will elections officials do an about face and reinstitute the paper ballot system?
When I was elected as Louisiana Secretary of State back in 1979, there were a number of election fraud allegations. I formed an Election Integrity Commission and appointed former Secretary of State Wade O. Martin to head up the effort to weed out voter fraud. Were election shenanigans going on in the Bayou State? I often quoted former governor Earl Long, who once said: “Oh Lord, when I die, let me be buried in Louisiana. So I can stay active in politics.” Of course there was voter fraud back then using paper ballots.
As one retired local sheriff told me, you could make the election results dance with paper ballots during absentee voting. Here’s how one could beat the system. During the two-week absentee voting period, the sheriff would have his deputies pick up agreeable voters and bring them to the courthouse to vote.
A piece of paper was cut as the same size as the official ballot. The first voter was given the fake ballot and instructed go into the Clerk of Court’s office where absentee voting was taking place. He was instructed to drop the fake ballot into the voting box, put the real ballot into his pocket, bring it back out to the sheriff, where he was paid five or ten dollars, whatever the going rate was to buy votes back then.
Once the first official ballot was in hand, the vote buyer would mark the ballot for whoever he was supporting, give it to the next voter, tell the voter to put the official ballot into the ballot box, return with an unmarked ballot, and he would be paid for his effort. This could go on all day for the two-week voting period with hundreds of illegal votes being cast.
This scheme was used, particularly in rural areas in the state, by numerous candidates who were trying to beat the system. So no system at the present time seems to be foolproof. But elections officials should move cautiously about throwing the current system to the wind and go back to paper ballots.
Louisiana presently has some 10,000 voting machines in 64 parishes. Current Secretary of State Tom Schedler is confident that the present election system works in Louisiana. He’s done a commendable job so far. But he has his work cut out in the future in putting in place cybersecurity that protects the integrity of the ballot, but still makes it easy for citizens to cast their vote.
Peace and Justice
A new study suggests intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUDs) may fight off the virus that causes cervical cancer.
Researchers from the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine found the small T-shaped device may stimulate an immune response against the sexually transmitted Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) virus which causes cervical cancer.
IUDs are a favorite among women as they do not involve taking a daily hormone pill and can provide contraceptive protection for years. There are two main types:
The ParaGard IUD is a non hormonal implant made of copper. The copper wards of sperm allowing contraception up to 12 years.
Hormonal IUDs, such as Mirena, release progestin, a hormone similar to progesterone, to the local environment, thickening the cervical mucous to prevent sperm from reaching the egg. Hormonal IUDs may also prevent ovulation. Additionally, IUDs can alter the lining of the uterus such that if a fertilized egg does occur, it may not be able to nest in the uterus without proper lining.
But both IUDs can stimulate an immune response that is both a deterrent to sperm and now suggested to viruses such as HPV.
Vaccines against the HPV virus exist and are given to 11-12 year old girls with the maximum age at which one could receive the vaccine, 26 years old.
If more research confirms this is the case, then those women who have not been vaccinated or are too old to receive the vaccine against cervical cancer may benefit from using an IUD.
The uterus looks similar to a light bulb. The larger top portion being where the fetus develops, and the bottom, narrower area, the cervix. The cervix thins and dilates during childbirth, as you’ve heard in the movies “she’s only 7 cm!” and then after childbirth becomes narrow again. It affects nearly 12,000 and kills 4,000 women each year. It can affect women of any age but is more common between 20 and 50.
The most common cause is HPV (Human Papillomavirus), especially HPV-16 and HPV-18. This is acquired through unprotected sex, so condom use is encouraged. Thus its one of the most preventable causes of cancer. Additionally, there are 3 vaccines for HPV currently approved by the FDA, Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix.
Early cervical cancer may not be symptomatic but as it develops it may cause an odor, pain with urination, pelvic pain and bleeding. This bleeding may occur after sex, a pelvic exam, or intermittent bleeding not associated with a menstrual cycle.
Yes. Early detection is key and can be done by a Pap Smear, explained below. Multiple treatments are available including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted therapy such as Bevacizumab (Avastin®) which prevents new blood vessel growth that can feed a tumor.
Who should get screened for Cervical Cancer?
The USPSTF (United States Preventive Services Task Force) recommends the following:
Screening for cervical cancer in women age 21 to 65 years with cytology (Pap smear) every 3 years or, for women age 30 to 65 years who want to lengthen the screening interval, screening with a combination of cytology and human papillomavirus (HPV) testing every 5 years.
It is the cytology (cell analysis) of the cervix. Years ago, a cytobrush would collect the cells and the medical provider would “smear” it onto a slide, place fixative, and then send it to the laboratory for the pathologist to analyze it. Now ThinPrep® Pap tests are used more commonly as the cells from the brush are placed into a container with fixative, and this vial is sent to the pathologist to spin down and analyze.
In order to obtain the cells from the cervix, the medical provider needs to use a speculum to open the vaginal canal and allow access to the uterus. A woman may be in the lithotomy position…lying on one’s back on the exam table with her feet in stirrups and knees bent. During the speculum exam, the medical provider may take cultures to test for common vaginal infections such as yeast, bacteria vaginosis, or sexually transmitted illnesses such as gonorrhea and chlamydia. After the speculum exam, the provider may perform a pelvic exam with her gloved hand to examine the uterus and ovaries, evaluating for tenderness, shape, size and masses.
An HPV test can be done with the cells obtained during the Pap Smear. The laboratory evaluates the cells to see if the HPV virus that causes cervical cancer is present.
In summary the thousands of deaths that occur each year to cervical cancer can be prevented with simple testing, such as the Pap Smear. Discuss with your medical provider when cervical cancer screening is best for you.
For several years, you’ve been reading about efforts by tech companies and the major automakers to build fleets of cars that can literally drive themselves. Once the technology is perfected, you should be able to, in theory, enter the vehicle, state your destination to the presumed digital assistant, sit back and relax, and you’ll be taken to your destination, even with stops along the way, with comfort and safety.
Nothing to think about; well, except if you have any latent fears that such a system can ever work successfully.
In a published report, GM says it will be ready to put fleets of self-driving vehicles into a number of “dense urban environments” by 2019. Development is being spearheaded by Cruise Automation, a company GM acquired in 2016 to rev up development of autonomous vehicles.
Add to that the self-driving vehicles already being tested by such company’s as Alphabet, parent company of Google, Apple and even the largest ride hailing firm, Uber.
Indeed, I’ve already seen a few of those automated Uber vehicles, consisting of converted Volvo SUVs, on the roads in and around Tempe, Arizona.
Now according to GM, they hope to reduce the cost of running their self-driving vehicles to under $1 per mile by 2025, just eight years from now.
What’s GM’s end game? Well, they are planning on taking on Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hailing systems, with the promise that their self-driving vehicles will cost 40% less per mile than companies who use human drivers.
That’s just GM. It doesn’t take into account the fact that Uber and Lyft and other firms are planning on doing the same thing, only they haven’t quite been as specific about their game plans. But the goals are clear, and that is to put human drivers — and that includes taxi drivers — out of work.
Ultimately, there will also be fleets of self-driving trucks, meaning that you won’t need human drivers spending hours on end on the road, basically giving up real lives to sit in the cabs all day or night. Well, I suppose they might have some people helping to remove cargos, but you get the picture.
That’s then, this is now.
These days, several million people around the world, including your humble editor, are relying on Lyft and Uber to provide at least a part-time income to help pay the bills. Some use it for full-time work. Indeed, at a time when the economies of the world are in questionable shape, this is a productive way to generate some extra cash.
Right now, both Uber and Lyft claim (or pretend) to be trying to make life better for their drivers. Uber has been stung by corporate scandals, with its CEO, Travis Kalanick, being given his walking papers. It’s in the latter stages of implementing its “180 Days of Change” program, designed to improve life on the road.
So in-app support for tipping, something long offered by Lyft, was added several months ago. While drivers aren’t notified where a rider is going until they are picked up, they now notify you if the trip is expected to take more than 45 minutes. This and other new features are designed to potentially help drivers earn more cash.
Over the next few years, it may work out fine. But it’s clear that human drivers are going to be yesterday’s news some day. As with manufacturers who rely more on more on robots than people to assemble products, drivers are an endangered species.
At first, riders will have the option to choose humans over self-driving vehicles. But when they see much lower prices for the latter, only a few skeptics will choose the former.
It may not matter so much to me, as I fully expect to be too old to care when the time comes. But younger drivers have to realize they are engaged in a profession with a hard stop. As I said, that’s just as true with manufacturing. While we fret over the poor working conditions of all those factory workers in Asia who build iPhones and other tech gear, more and more of them are being replaced by machines. Some day, in the not-too-distant future, it may well be that these sprawling factories will be managed by a small number of people managing a huge system of assembly robots.
So hopes to bring back manufacturing to the United States, and thus give workers their jobs back, are probably not going to be fulfilled except in a limited number of cases.
Now other than the concerns about the fate of drivers for ride-hailing services, I do wonder if the predictions about huge fleets of self-driving vehicles might just be a tad optimistic. Tests so far have been in a limited number of cities with relatively predictable driving scenarios. To stretch that capability to cover entire countries may take a lot longer than the current three to five years.
What’s more, just what will it cost for you to buy one of those vehicles if you don’t want to just hail a ride? For its 2018 Cadillac CT6, you have to pay $5,000 extra for its Super Cruise feature, and that’s for a souped up lane and cruise control system that can only function on a small number of specially selected limited-access freeways. Even when the hardware and software are nailed down, questions of liability, the impact on auto insurance and other considerations, will have to be resolved.
So maybe Uber and Lyft drivers won’t be out of work quite as quickly as GM and other companies expect.
A new study out of India suggests both premature balding and graying are linked to heart disease.
Researchers from the UN Mehta Institute of Cardiology in Gujarat, India evaluated 2000 men (1200 healthy and 790 with heart disease) and found those who began to lose their hair and hair color before the age of 40 had the following risk elevation when it came to heart disease:
Premature balding 5.6 X risk
Premature graying 5.3 X risk
To put this into perspective, obesity was associated with a 4.1 greater risk. So alopecia (hair loss) and canities (graying/whitening of the hair) appeared to be more of a culprit than one of the most infamous risk factors there is.
This study therefore suggests those before age 40, showing early receding hair lines and gray hair, may want to be evaluated for cardiac risk factors.
In April, a study was presented at the EuroPrevent 2017 conference of the European Society of Cardiology suggested a link between how much a man grays or whitens when he ages and plaque buildup within the coronary arteries, the main arteries that supply the heart muscle.
Those researchers looked at 545 men and evaluated them by the degree of hair whitening where a 1 was given to those with all black hair, up to a 3 with equal amounts of black and gray/white hair, to a 5 where they had all gray/white hair. Computed tomography coronary angiography was used to evaluate the amount of atherosclerosis (plaque build up) in the coronary arteries.
Those men who scored 3 or more appeared to have higher risk of plaque build up. These findings were independent of cardiac risk factors such as age, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and family history of heart disease.
According to lead author in this earlier study, Dr. Irini Samuel, a cardiologist at Cairo University in Egypt stated,
“Atherosclerosis and hair graying occur through similar biological pathways and the incidence of both increases with age. Our findings suggest that, irrespective of chronological age, hair graying indicates biological age and could be a warning sign of increased cardiovascular risk.
More research is needed on cutaneous signs of risk that would enable us to intervene earlier in the cardiovascular disease process.”
She continued, “If our findings are confirmed, standardization of the scoring system for evaluation of hair graying could be used as a predictor for coronary artery disease.”
Our hair color is determined by our melanin production, a combination of pigments (eumelanin and pheomelanin) that can vary, with less eumelanin giving rise to blond hair, more giving rise to brunette hair and pheomelanin responsible for the red, auburn hues.
Melanocytes inject their pigment into the keratin cells that produce hair. As we age these may slow down. Another cause of “going gray” is hydrogen peroxide builds up in the hair follicle, causing oxidative stress, which in turn prevents rich colors from being displayed. The lack of pigment will cause hair to appear white.
Many of us begin to see gray hair in our 30’s. Some in our 20’s. Different ethnicities gray at different ages. If one is gray by age 20 that would be considered very premature.
We’ve heard about stress, hormones, and nutritional deficiencies being linked to loss of hair color, but studies have not been able to prove this definitively.
Researchers are still trying to determine why one would gray faster and what significance it has on our health.
Now one might say “If everyone grays then everyone is at risk for heart disease.” Heart disease is common and the number one killer and graying is almost ubiquitous in the older population. But this study starts to make one wonder if the amount, accelerating of….even the pattern of graying are significant, then this could clue us in on who is at risk for early, preventable, heart disease.
Hair is made in follicles within the skin and grows for about three years until it sheds and new hair grows. Hair loss (alopecia) occurs when hair follicles shrink and smaller, thinner hairs grow, lasting shorter and shorter times.
Genetics play a huge factor, with the most influential genes coming from mother’s X chromosome, which came from her father. So maternal and paternal genes can both be responsible for baldness.
Sex hormones, androgens, can cause male pattern baldness. Medications (such as anabolic steroids), illness such as low thyroid and diabetes, and cancer can cause hair loss as well. A recent study found Prostaglandin D2 protein may block hair growth in those who suffer male pattern baldness. It’s believed 80% of men under 70 will have some receding hairline.
Firstly, we must know our risk factors. These include:
Family history of heart disease
Personal history of heart disease
High Blood Pressure
Males over 40
Females who are post menopausal
and even short stature has been cited as a potential risk factor.
As you can see, many of us can be at risk for heart disease.
Therefore secondly, we should be evaluated with an EKG, echocardiogram and any other exams our medical provider and/or cardiologist deem necessary.
Thirdly, reduce your risk by the following:
Maintain a normal blood pressure
Maintain normal blood sugar
Maintain normal cholesterol and lipid levels
Maintain a balanced diet, rich in potassium-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables
Maintain a healthy weight.
It’s getting close to redistricting time for legislators, both in Louisiana and throughout the country. By federal law, all election districts must be reapportioned every 10 years to reflect the latest census figures. But should legislators, who have a vested interest in how the redistricting lines are drawn, actually be the ones to do the drawing, anyway?
The problem is one of gerrymandering, where district lines are not drawn to reflect geographical or political balance, but to favor the incumbent or some other partisan choice. When legislators do the redistricting, the norm seems to be that the state ends up with meandering footprints meticulously designed, it would seem, to ensure that no incumbent will face serious opposition, regardless of how the political winds are blowing. As one local political observer said, “Think about it this way. In elections, people choose their legislators. In reapportionment, legislators choose their people.”
Gerrymandering, by the way, means to manipulate the electoral boundaries for political gain so as to give undue influence to an incumbent or other favored candidate. The name comes from Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, who in 1812 created winding districts that looked like salamanders to favor incumbents. Thus the convoluted word – “gerrymandering.”
What most voters want to avoid is the self-dealing by legislators where voting districts slash across communities of interest and geography. A blatant example of winding, disjointed gerrymandering is the Louisiana third congressional district. It winds from the Mississippi border south of New Orleans though the southern part of Jefferson Parish and all the way through south Louisiana up to Lafayette, some 300 miles in length.
So the question for Louisiana voters is this: Are they that concerned that the legislature is, for all practical purposes, creating their own voters? Is this healthy in the Bayou State — or in any other state? Many think it’s not.
So what are the alternatives? What are other progressive states doing to transfer the power of redistricting to a system less driven by self-interest? Fourteen states have assigned the task to officials or panels outside the state legislature. And independent redistricting wears the cloak of good-government reform, as long as a consensus can be built on just who will serve on such panels. How do you pick the members? How can such a system be put in place that assures voters the final result will be fair, non-partisan, and keep local interests balanced?
Louisiana has a number of bright people with solid business and educational backgrounds that are capable of taking on this controversial task. There are several respected demographers in the Bayou state, and a number of well-qualified professors at Louisiana universities. Retired judges fit the category as well as representatives of some of the state’s good government groups.
When I was first elected to the Louisiana legislature back in 1971, legislative redistricting had taken place just months before. But the reapportionment plan did not pass federal court muster and was thrown out just weeks before the primary election date. Ed Steimel was head of the Public Affairs Research Council at the time and was appointed by federal judge Frank Polozola to serve as a “special master” to redraw the district lines. Based on Steimel’s rework, the old plan was thrown out and the new court-ordered plan was put in place. There was general agreement that the Steimel Plan was fair and kept the district more cohesive and less spread out. (It must have been good as I won my senate seat easily in the first primary.)
One idea would be to create a Louisiana Fair Reapportionment Practices Commission. Let nominations for serving on the Commission come from the legislature, the Supreme Court, the good government groups like PAR and CABL, the various college boards, and perhaps a key business group or two. Then put all the submissions in a hat and draw out eleven names to serve as members to begin their work right after the new census data is made available.
The goal for such a commission is simple – put the important issue of redistricting into the hands of those with non-partisan interests, instead of those who in the past have been allowed to define the terms of their own cartel. Simply put, it’s just wrong for legislators to draw these districts and then run in them. There needs to be a better way.
Peace and Justice
A study finds many Vietnam veterans may have contracted liver flukes decades ago that could now cause pancreatitis, liver disease and/or bile duct cancer.
The Department of Veterans Affairs commissioned a study that looked at bile duct cancer and liver flukes that may have been ingested by veterans while on tour in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.
This was in response to a story reported by the Associated Press in which 700 cases, of cholangiocarcinoma, bile duct cancer, were seen in VA facilities over the last 15 years.
The current small study looked at 50 blood samples, finding 20% of which to be positive for liver flukes. Most participants were not aware they were infected. If infection did later lead to cancer, symptoms would come late in the diagnosis.
Tropical medicine specialist, Sung-Tae Hong, from Seoul National University in South Korea, stated he was “surprised” by the results and admits to more research needing to be done.
Cholangiocarcinoma is still rare, however if Vietnam veterans are at increased risk due to their fish consumption while on duty, they need to be followed closely by their medical provider. Stool tests could be done to look for parasite eggs, and blood tests may look for antibodies fighting the infection.
Liver flukes are parasites that infect the liver and bile duct. There are multiple species. The disease Fasciola hepatica and Fasciola gigantica cause is called fascioliasis. Symptoms may range from none to severe liver disease. But the liver flukes associated with bile duct cancer include Opisthorchis viverrini, O. felineus, and Clonorchis sinensis. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs:
The irritation and scarring caused by liver fluke infection can lead to bile duct cancer.
Two parasites are commonly involved. One is Opisthorchis verrini, which is found in Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Vietnam, and Cambodia. The other is Clonorchis sinensis, which is common in rural areas of Korea and China.
Eating raw or undercooked fish infected with these parasites introduces the pathogen into the GI system where it can hide out in the liver and bile ducts for decades.
In 2007, Sripa et al discussed how close to 600 million people were at risk of being infected with liver flukes.
In 2011, Lim et al wrote, “More than 35 million people worldwide are infected. The exceptionally high incidence of cholangiocarcinoma in Thailand and Korea is attributed to the high prevalence of liver fluke infection in these areas.”
In addition to ingesting undercooked contaminated fish, liver flukes can infect multiple mammals, such that eating infected cattle or sheep liver (if undercooked) could transmit the parasite. Ingesting vegetables washed with contaminated water could introduce the fluke into a person as well.
Medical News Today recommends boiling all untreated water and to avoid water from a stream near where cattle and sheep live.
Although some people with liver flukes may exhibit no symptoms at all, some may incur:
Jaundice – yellowing of the skin and whites of eyes
According to cancer.net, the 5 year survival, meaning living 5 years past diagnosis, is 30%, assuming the cancer stays locally. If the cancer spreads to regional lymph nodes prognosis for 5 year survival drops to 24%. Distant spread of the cancer reduces the 5 year survival rate to 2%.
Anti-Parasitic medications, such as triclabendazole, have proven effective against Fasciola. Praziquantel has been effective in fighting Opisthorchis infections.