Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Buying a modern laptop

There are a lot of  bargain laptops for sale,  but many use old technology that you should avoid. Watch out for laptops with:

1. less than 4 GB of RAM, a trick Apple Computer uses to cut costs.

2.  Celeron Processors

3. Parallel ATA hard dives.

4. other 32-bit processors

Modern laptops and PCs use 64-bit processors such as the AMD x86 64 bit processor. These processors can address up to 8 MB or RAM while 32-bit processors can only address 4 GB.

The Celeron technology works with all 32-bit processors, but not with all 64-bit.

Celeron processors can run all IA-32 computer programs, but their performance is often significantly lower when compared to similar CPUs with higher-priced Intel CPU brands. For example, the Celeron brand will often have less (L2) cache memory, or have advanced features purposely disabled. These missing features can have a variable impact on performance, but is often very substantial.

It gets worse because the older laptops use the parallel ATA hard drives that are slow. Modern hard drives are Serial ATA hard drives that run at 7200 RPM instead of the older PATA speeds which run at 5400 RPM. The newer SATA controllers also improve HD performance 

The new SATA drives do not use a ribbon cable to connect to a laptop or a PC. Both the power supply and data cables are different on the newer HDs, 

 Old school PATA connectors are on the top and the new school SATA HD connectors are at the bottom. 

The newest hard drives are not mechanical, but sold state dives (SSD). The larger SSD's require a serial ATA connection. Some of these drives are hybrid and have both a solid state and mechanical sdies. Unfortunately, the largest SSD drives with a PATA interface is 128 GB. Anything larger uses the newer SATA interface. The minimum HD space to install Windows 7 and 8 is 20 GB for the 64-bit operating system. Linux requires far less space. 
SD cards

Realistically Windows need about 30-60 GB of HD space. Linux can run on a 128 GB SSD drive because it is a meaner and leaner OS.The writer is using about 150 GB on a Linux laptop, A 128 SSD drive It would work but I would have to place most of my data files on a USB thumb drive or a secure digital  (SD) card. 

If you purchase a laptop, buy one with a 64-bt CPU and operating system, at least 4 MB of RAM and a SATA HD.  

This will allow you to upgrade RAM up to 8 MB and also install a a large SSD or hybrid drive at a later date. This will extend the life of your laptop. 

Most of the earlier generation laptops have few upgrade options.


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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Veteran Affairs Dependent Indemnity Compensation

The Veteran Affairs Dependent Indemnity Compensation (DIC) program works like this. If a veteran has service-connected disability and dies from that particular disability, he widow, widower or parents may be eligible for DIC compensation.

There are many ifs, and and buts. For example, if the surviving spouse receives compensation under the Department of Defense Survivor Benefit Program (SBP), the DIC benefits usually become a tax offset. You cannot normally get both SPB entitlements and DIC benefits.

If the surviving spouse remarries, DIC benefits may be terminated at the date of that marriage. In addition, parents of a decreased veteran my be able to receive DIC benefits,but there are income restrictions.

"A surviving spouse who remarries on or after December 16, 2003, and on or after attaining age 57, is entitled to continue to receive DIC."

Social Security has no offsets for compensation or pensions received from the VA. One person who contacted the writer is saying that the VA has a means test for DIC, but the writer  was not able to find any information on means tests except for parent's applying for DIC.

As mentioned earlier, there are DIC offsets for spouses  who receive entitlements from SBP as the spouses of deceased retired vets from the armed services.

Likewise, if a spouse receives DIC and remarries, the DIC benefits will terminate in certain circumstances.

Now that gay couples can marry in the majority of US states, these couple need to aware that a gay marriage could result in the termination of DIC.

This is a complex area and survivors are encourage to contact counselors in VA veteran centers, veteran service officers or attorneys for assistance. To see more:

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Printing a GMail message from Linux

I send messages to and receive messages from the Veterans Administration using the IRIS Inquiry System.

Have found that suggestions and complaints work better using IRIS than opening an Congressional inquiry which can slow down a claim.The link to IRIS follows.


However, printing the IRIS inquires and responses has been a problem in GMail and many other email systems like Outlook Express in Windows. Even researched this on the Internet and did not find any solutions. Tried fixing the problem with some GMail FireFox add-on extensions, but that didn't work either.

Thought perhaps I had a printer problem, so I opened my Administrative Settings | Printers and clicked on my laser printer, the Canon MF4700.

Under Print Option i changed the Special Print Adjustment to OFF after trying the other modes of 1,2, 3 and 4. Mode 2 is the default.

Finally, my margins on the right were not cut off when printing. The printed message even had a GMail logo on top and the thread included the full date time groups.

Would imagine there is a corresponding option that can be changed in Windows.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Watch out for this VPN hack!

Have been using Virtual Private Network (VPN) on and off for a couple of years. Until recently, had major problems getting a VPN to work on Linux. Inclined to believe that Brighthouse was blocking the well known Open DNS ports.  Astrill VPN changed all of that.

Open VPN is more secure than the ancient Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) and the Cisco Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) which is aged, too.

One way to check the integrity of a VPN is to use the DNS leak test at

Astrill VPN appeared to have some issues with the DNS leak test. Suspect someone. probably the federal government, has developed a technique, to track or hack VPN activity.
After installing the Astrill VPN, I noticed both Yahoo and Google DNS servers were aware of the VPN. After attempting to block these servers in my firewall, I used,  which identified a CIDR address for the Yahoo network.

Unless you have an WAN networking background, you are unlikely to know what a CIDR address is. The CIDR address allowed me to block the entire offending networks from the VPN. 

I used the Astrill Settings | Site Filter | Exclude These Sites option and added these addresses:, and

After making the change, the DNS leak test indicated the VPN was functioning normally.

Of interest, this solution worked on both Windows Mint 17.1 and Windows 7 laptops.

BTW the belongs to PSI Net, an old Darpanet contractor that has worked with NSA for many years. PSI net developed Dropbox,a a program that Ed Snowden suggests Internet users should avoid.

While writing this article another VPN interloper popped up, with the 174.125.00/16 network address. The first CIDR address ( keeps out of my VPN.

Think of the VPN network as all of the connections between your PC and VPN server.  Blocking Yahoo and Google addresses in the VPN connection will not prevent you from getting to the Yahoo web site or from receiving Gmail.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

UBEE DVW3201B is an excellent and inexpensive cable modem.

The Motorola/ARRIS cable modems are often unreliable

Had been using a Motorola SBG6580 SURFboard Wireless Cable Modem which always seem to run slow. I have Brighthouse Lightening service that is supposed to run at 60 mbs, but the Motorola modem ran at about half that speed. 

One of the Brighthouse call center techs indicated the SGB6580 has an upgrade. The newer units have a metal plate on the back suggesting the 6580G may have some sort of radio frequency (RF) leakage problem. 

Bought one of these modems because I wanted to be able to configure it and to disable wireless on the unit. 

When you buy a cable modem, you can set the firewall to high, disable the wireless and password protect the unit. When a cable company installs its unit, you are at its mercy. 

Of interest, most cable modems have a user password and an administrative (admin) password that only the cable companies know. Try this for the admin login and password: The admin login is the last 8 characters of your MAC address (no colons) with c0nf1gur3m3 as the password

Also tried the MOTOROLA SB6121 SURFboard Cable Modem. This unit is less expensive and only has one Ethernet port while the 6580 has four. The Internet frequently stopped working after installing this unit.  The transmit and receive lights would blink orange on the 6121 and then the Internet would stop. So the unit was returned for a refund. 

The UBEE DVW3201B has none of these problems. It has four Ethernet ports and two voice (RJ-11) ports. Need two Voice over IP (VOIP) lines: one for a landline and the other for faxing. 

 This UBEE unit is large: 9 x 9 x 2  inches

In the past Brighthouse would have to install a second voice modem on a coax splitter if you needed a second voice line.  "A multimedia terminal adapter (MTA), or Home Phone modem, operates much the same as a cable modem, but an MTA can deliver home phone service in addition to high speed Internet."

Four Ethernet and two voice ports on the UBEE DVW3201B

The UBEE  DVW3201B provides both Internet data and two voice ports. Called BrightHouse technical support who referred the call  to the Road Runner help desk. It took about one hour to provision the unit for both voice and data. 

Now no longer need the splitter for two modems. This UBEE does it all and my Internet is running above 60 mbs. 

Best of all, you can purchase one of these UBEE cable modems for about $16 on The 'used" unit I purchased appeared to be brand new. Although this is a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem, UBEE has newer models out today, so perhaps the company is trying to liquidate the older units. 

Buy one before they are gone.


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Friday, December 5, 2014

A home entertainment system for about $1000

The new 4K LCD/LED TVs are popular and coupled with a 4K DVD player and a 5:1 soundbar, you can  have a very capable home entrainment system.

The 4K TVS are ahead of their time, so finding 4k media can be a challenge, Have found less than 50 4K DVDS for sale on and Ebay. Found two 4k streaming videos on Amazon Prime and about 25 on Netflix.

The best media broadcasts in the US are 1080P and likely to stay that way for many years. In Korea, 4K broadcasts have been compressed and broadcast over conventional HD (1080P) . However, you would need a special setup box or TV tuner for this to work. The broadcast would have to be compressed and decompressed, causing latency in the video stream.

You don't need a Smart TV unless they are a better deal than a dumb TV.  Why,? Because smart TVS are inferior  in many ways to media on a a Roku appliance that features Netflix, Amazon prime and many other apps and news media.

A 4K Samsung Smart TV has the same functionality as a Smart DVD player such as the Samsung BD-F7500 4K Upscaling 3D Wi-Fi Blu-ray Disc Player. The DVD player costs far less than the cost of the TV. So if you want Roku functionality without buying a Roku unit, buy the 4K upscaling DVD player

Watched Ghostbusters I tonight on one of these upscaling  DVD players and it was amazing. The point is if you want to get much out of a UHDTV, you will need streaming 4k media from the Internet  or some 4k mastered DVDs. You will need a 4k Blu ray DVD player for 4k DVDs.

Be aware too that 4K TVs are really Ultra High Definition (UHDTVs). UHDTV is is 3840 pixels wide by 2160 pixels tall (8.29 megapixels). There is even a higher resolution 8K Super Hi-vison TV in Japan.

To finish off you home entertainment system,  check out a 5:1 soundbar. The VIZIO S4251w-B4 5.1 Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer and Satellite Speakers is an excellent system that has a fiber optic TOS interface to a UHD or HDTV. It connects using Bluetooth to a remote subwoofer that has wired connections to two rear speakers. 

Once I got the subwoofer powered up, the subwoofer and the two remotes started to work. Be aware that both your home router and Bluetooth enabled PC can interfere with the Bluetooth connection between the soundbar and the subwoofer. 

You can have such a system for about $1000 depending on what you pay for the UHDTV or HDTV.  An upscaling 4K or UHD DVD player should cost about $200 or less. The 42 inch Vizio Soundbar was on sale for about $200 on Cyber Monday, it is now a $100 more, but watch for a price drop.


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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Once you receive a disability, don't let the VA Medical Center reopen the case.

After a 10 year ordeal,  I was given a disability rating  by the CW Bill Young Veterans Affairs Regional Office (VARO) about 10 months ago. The was after two Board of Veteran Appeals (BVA) hearings, four remands and a Decision Review Officer (DRO) Hearing. 

During the claims period I probably wrote more than 1000 pages of documentation, got 12 letters from board certified physicians and also filed several Disability Benefits Questionnaires. The BVA's Veteran Law Judge described my testimony as a highly credible. Even went through the Social Security disability process at the BVA's recommendation  and prevailed there, too.

Finally got the disability rating I deserved, Oh, what a relief it is!

The lifestyle of my spouse and I greatly improved in the past 10 months. We have been able to do lot more for out three children. Have been helping one of my son's start a salt water aquarium business. 

Thought the disability ordeal was over, but found out on my last appointment at Bay Pines that it was not. The old head of the department had transferred to another location and I was given an appointment with a new specialist.

The appointment was peculiar and conducted more like a compensation and pension (C&P) exam.  Had to provide a lot of background information that was in my claim file (c-file) to the doctor. My wife has a great memory for dates so we were able to provide the doctor a history of my medical conditions including dates. The appointment broke down when the physician wanted an additional MRI scan, another diagnostic blood test and another procedure, all of which had already been completed.

Had i agreed to the tests, it would probably have reopened the claim. Since my disabilities are permanent and total, I viewed additional testing as a fool's errand. Told the doctor he was trying to "reinvent the wheel." Said that wheel was already rolling. The appointment started to "go south" down at that point.

The physician had an epiphany and realized his patient was not a fool and then asked me what my last occupation was. Told him IT and intelligence while i was in the Air Force. At this point we had been in the office nearly 1.5 hours and he wanted to move on to another patient.

Game over! 

After the appointment, checked my medication list on MyHealthEVet. Two of my meds were gone, and one was life essential. It appeared the physicians was being vindictive and had canceled the medications. The next day I checked my medication history and found that the physician had actually deleted four of my medications.

I called CW Bill Young Patient Advocates office the next day and reported the bizarre appointment and the deletion of my meds, one of which is life sustaining. I was refereed to the Assistant Direct of Medical something, by a woman named Danielle. She said she would  file a report to the head of the department in question.

The day after the appointment,I was able get the physician’s progress notes of the meeting. Found a lot of things in the progress notes that were peculiar. Called Danielle again and told her about the four meds that had been deleted and some of the concerns in the progress notes. Danielle said she would add this info to the report that going to the head of the department. Danielle seemed to irritated during the second call.

Was getting ready to fire off a a complaint via the IRIS Inquiry system when the acting head of the clinic called. She was far more polished than the other physician and indicated doctors have their different styles and that my meds really weren’t deleted, the pharmacy  just hadn't "released" the medications yet. One of my meds is refrigerated and my spouse returned a call to the pharmacy about the meds today. The pharmacy indicated that many of my meds, indeed.  had been deleted.

So I opted out of care from that CW Bill Young clinic today. This is not an option that everyone has. Fortunately I have a alternative source for pharmacy meds so i don't need the annual clinic visit to recertify those particular meds.

I still have a primary care doctor at the Palm Harbor Outpatient clinic so I can get most generic meds reauthorized there.

For some vets who have specialists and a primary care provider, you will need an annual visit to both the specialist clinic and the primary care clinic to keep you medicine  current, 

If you are a vet, don't let a VA primary care physician, specialist or clinician talk you into tests that reinvent the wheel once you have been awarded a disability. This could result in you disability being downgraded or taken away altogether. Just politely say 'no."

According the the CW Bill Young VARO senior counselor, it was unlikely that the VA would ever try to change my disability. My disability has been rated permanent and total. Have no interest in enabling a redo nor should you.

Sometimes you just have to say, "No." 

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Conservatives take away options from women, minoroties and the LGBT community

Lawrence Kohlberg's theory of Moral development has been used to explain the difference between liberals and conservatives on several occasions in this blog.

In Charles  Hampden-Turner's early work, Radical Man,  he equated conventional thinking to conservatism and post-conventional thought to liberalism.

In the graphic, the top two layers of the pyramid are the post conventional levels

The next two levels are conventional. This graphic that follows explains this in more detail.

Conventionals also have two levels and the two levels explain why there is infighting among conservatives. The lower functioning Stage 3 conservatives, which are usually associated with groups, have the social relationship perspective of that peer-group. Most Christian conservatives, Rush Limbaugh ditto-heads, Tea Party and libertarians are Stage 3 conservatives.

The Establishment Conservatives are the big picture Stage 4s who are more focused on law and order and defending the nation-state's values.

Stage 3s and 4s are at odds with each other over the size of government and defence spending. For example, most libertarians are anarchist or minarchist and want the smallest possible government. These groups are also sceptical about defence spending and US military adventurism.

Likewise, the militia are anti-government people who think their function is protect other conservatives from the government.

The Stage 4s want to control the government. For example, GW Bush actually increased the size of government by creating the Department of Homeland Security and by increasing defence spending by 47 per cent. This is why Rush Limbaugh is suspicious of Establishment Republicans.

The Stage 5 post-conventionals view government as a social contract that can be changed.

The founders gave us a legislature to draft new laws that meet the circumstances of the day. This is also why we have democratic traditions in the US that allow people to elect new legislators.

A good way to contrast State 4 and Stage 5 was an article in which the conservative author stated the Second Amendment was in concrete.

The Bill of Rights was an afterthought and it was not in the original US Constitution. The Bill of Rights is actually the first 10 amendments to the Constitution.

Besides that the second amendment being poorly written and ambiguous, the Constitution has a rigorous  amendment process that would allow this amendment to be rescinded. The Establishment Clause or the first amendment could also be rescinded. Nothing in the US legal system is really in concrete.

Of course, many conservatives will argue otherwise and erect granite monuments of the 10 Commandments in front of court houses. Even monuments can be broken into pieces or removed. A man recently rammed a controversial 10 Commandments monument in Oklahoma with an automobile. The Devil made him do it.

Conservatives want to limit options for women, minorities and the LGBT people.
If a women marries an conservative, the husband may try to subordinate her to himself as the biblical head of household. A conservative  state government may deny the women the right to an abortion and birth control. If a man is a gay, the state may deny him the right to marry another man.

Minorities may have their right to vote suppressed by cutting back voting periods, locking bathrooms near polls, deleting voting locations in precincts and by sequestering minority voters into certain districts using gerrymanders. US Congressional Districts 13 and 15 are examples of this.
In Florida, if you commit a felony, you lose your right to vote permanently. "In 2007 Florida moved to restore voting rights to convicted felons. In March 2011, however, Republican Governor Rick Scott reversed the 2007 reforms, making Florida the state with the most punitive law in terms of disenfranchising citizens with past felony convictions."


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Monday, October 13, 2014

Medicare, Tricare and CHAMPVA.

If you retire from the armed services, you and your dependents are eligible for Tricare medical . The two main flavors are Tricare Standard, that is equivalent to an Health Maintenance Organization (HMO), and Tricare Prime, that is equivalent to a Preferred Provider Option (PPO).

Tricare is similar to Medicare, but it also provides prescription drug coverage. Once you reach age 65, you are eligible for Medicare. Medicare Part A covers hospital care and it is provided automatically. To maintain Tricare, you must accept Medicare part B which covers doctor visits. You are then given Tricare for Life as secondary insurance. Your spouse will continue to be covered by Tricare Prime until he or she reaches age 65. Then the spouse will be covered by Tricare for Life, too assuming Medicare Part B is accepted.

With Medicare as primary insurance and Tricare is secondary, there is no need for Medicare Part C or D that provide prescription dug coverage. Tricare for Life covers prescription drugs.

CHAMPVA is very similar to Tricare. In fact, Tricare was originally called CHAMPUS. To be eligible for CHAMPVA:

  1. the spouse or child of a veteran who has been rated for total and permanent disability due to service-connected disability by the VA (that is, a VA regional office)
  2. the widow/widower or child of a veteran who passed away due to a service-connected disability rated by the VA
  3. the widow/widower or child of a veteran who at the time of death, was rated as permanently and totally disabled due to a service-connected disability
  4. the widow/widower or child of a military man or woman who was killed in the line of duty (but not due to bad conduct– often though these will be TRICARE eligible rather than CHAMPVA)
Notice that dependents must have a sponsor who is (100 per cent) totally and permanently disabled or the sponsor passed away from service-connected disability (less than 100 per cent.).

If a vet never received a service connected disability, the survivors would not eligible for CHAMPVA. Of course, the death must be be related to the specific service-connected (SC) disability the VA has awarded.

Likewise the spouse and children may be eligible for Dependent Indemnity Compensation.(DIC) when a disabled veteran passes. The criteria are similar to those for CHAMPVA eligibility.

If a vet dies while a claim is being adjudicated, the survivors of a pending SC claim must open a new Accrued Claim.

Why would a survivor want to reopen an Accrued Claim? If the death is related to the claimed condition, the survivors may be eligible for both CHAMPVA a medical coverage and DIC. Even if the claimed condition is not related to the cause of death, the survivors could receive disability compensation in the form of lump sum payment.

Accrued benefits are only payable if the VA Form 21-534 was filed within one year after the veteran's death.

Once a dependent reached age 65, CHMAPVA becomes secondary insurance as is the case for Tricare. It is called CHAMPVA for Life.

Thee are also Medicare part C & D. Medicare part D does provide prescription coverage, but this private program will become more expensive in the next 10 years. This is because the program was never properly funded by the Congress and it was being subsidized by Standard Medicare FICA payroll tax receipts.

Obama removed the $10 billion subsidy form Part D and rolled the projected revenues into ACA. Medicare Part C that insurers also sell is similar to Part D.

Any vet who has either Tricare for Life or CHAMPVA as secondary insurance does not need Medicare Part C or D.

You an also purchase Medicare Supplemental or MediGap insurance to cover Medicare co-pays. This may be a better and lower cost option than Medicare Part C and D for people who need secondary insurance.

Your local Social Security office should be able to answer any questions you have on Medicare or Medigap. As a retired armed services person or disabled vet, you may have some extra medical entitlements when you reach age 65.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

The two kinds of Republicans are very different, but both are dangerous

The Republican party has a dichotomy and it is very apparent that the Establishment Republicans and the Tea Party Wing don't get along that well.

When Micheal Steele was the RNC chair, a copy of an RNC presentation was left behind in a room. This graphic is revealing because it shows the GOP was aware of the dichotomy even before he rise of the Tea Party.
The major donors are the Establishments Republicans. Many Americans think of them as the one per cent, but is probably closer to the top 8-10 per cent of American families.

Many of these people are the sons and daughters of wealthy Americans. Both the Bush and Romney families are examples.

Most of the Establishment Republicans have two major goals.

Business should be able to do whatever the hell it wants to do without government interference or regulation. Many of these elitists believe they are on equal footing with the government. This view has been around since the rise of the trusts.

It was Republican Theodore Roosevelt who made it clear that corporations were subordinate to the government and the public good. Teddy broke up the trusts and opened the door to unionization in the US.

The Establishment Republicans also believe in privatization which serves two objectives. First, it expands the private sector and makes it more profitable. Second, it reduces the size of government making regulation even harder.

It's not a coincidence that the GOP cuts the budget of IRS every chance it gets. During the GW Bush administration the budget for Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was cut which curtailed about 50 per cent of safety inspections Some huge mine and refinery disasters followed after years of corporate neglect and no federal safety inspections. 

The other side of the Republican coin can be described as the the true believers. These are the crazies who fear the sky is falling and hold reactionary views. Politicans like Michelle Bachmann, Ted Cruz, Louie Gohmert, Rick Santorum, and Steve King and Blake Fahrenholdt` are good examples. Many are Christo-fascists who are certain the US is a Christan nation.

You can also include Rush Limbaugh's, ditto heads, the Tea Party, libertarians and the militia movement in the true believer wing. At the bottom feeder end, there are the Sovereign Citizen anarchists. The FBI considers the Sovereign Citizens to biggest terroist threat in the US.

Judson Phillips, one of the funders of the Tea Party, wants to return the US to "classic liberalism" ot he late 1700s. Phillips thinks the governors should appoint senators and only people who own propriety should be able to vote.

In colonial times, women and blacks couldn't vote, women could not own property and only about 12-16 per cent of the American population could vote. Property was defined differently in each state. In Massachusetts, a mule would suffice for voting. 

Why are the GOP emotives upset with Establishment Republicans. The Great recession wiped out their 401Ks when they lost their jobs. Many also lost their homes. The Great American Dream was over for them.

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