Friday, June 30, 2017

Texas - A good way renew a driving license

Texas driving licences last 6 years, and after 6 years you can renew online, and after 12 years you have to go to the state center to have your eyes tested, get a new mug shot, and fresh set of thumb prints. 12 years ago you did not have to show you were a legal resident, now you do.

The GetInLine Online website was not working, so I got there 20 mins early, they open at 07:30, and joined a line of about 15 people. Ten minutes later, a happy guy comes out with a box and asks you what you are here for, and then gives you a clipboard with the correct form, and a pen with flowers sprouting out the end.

The doors opened on time.  The place is huge, but very organized, you are directed to a set of touch screens where you choose what you need and it prints out a paper with a number.

I sat in the waiting room just 5 minutes and my number came up. I was the first customer for the day, and was done in about 10 minutes, most of that waiting for the signature reader to connect to the computer.

Who can tell what it will be like in another 12 years.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Texas - The Guest House Bathroom Redo Surprise

I removed all the concrete, except for a strange slab in the corner, and when I hit it with a sledgehammer nothing happened, the hammer bounced, it was solid.

I was able to contract a company two days later, and it took a crew of three with a jackhammer, three hours to remove what was left.  It was 10 to 15 cm thick. Exposed was the rotted support beams underneath.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Culture - End time prophecies, the apocalyptic hadith

From:  Wood, Graeme. The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State 

The definitive account of the strategy, psychology, and fundamentalism driving the Islamic State

"Looking for a guide through this portion of the prophecy, I turned to my old friend Musa Cerantonio. After my last visit to Australia and before his arrest, Musa wrote and published a pamphlet speculating about the identity of “Rome” in the apocalyptic hadith. He agrees with the dominant interpretation that at the time of the Prophet, “Rome” meant the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire.

The Byzantines had their capital in Constantinople until it fell to the Ottomans in 1453. There are no more Byzantines, so the present-day meaning of “Rome” is obscure. Some Islamic State interpreters have implied that “Rome” now means any Christian army. Others specify Italy, NATO, Russia, or the United States. Musa says it refers not to any of these but to modern Turkey. The Ottomans were replaced by the Republic of Turkey— the same republic that ended the last self-identified caliphate, ninety years ago. “Rome,” under this interpretation, has gone through two costume changes, first into the Ottomans and now into the Turks. Here the eighty flags come into play: a coalition of nations will rally against the Muslims at Dabiq and will— according to most interpretations— be defeated.

Dabiq will also ruin the Roman army, throwing geopolitics out of balance and ushering in a new world disorder. Musa was more circumspect. The source “just says there will be a great battle,” he said. “It doesn’t say it will be a victory.” In the course of the battle, a third of the Muslims will flee, a third will die as martyrs, and a third will survive to lead an assault on “Rome.” Musa reads a hadith (“ They would fight a fight the likes of which had never been seen, so much so that even if a bird were to pass by their flanks, it would fall down dead before reaching the end of them”) as prophesying heavy aerial bombing.  Around this time, the world will begin facing unfathomable natural disasters and other weird phenomena. The Euphrates will divert itself and reveal mountains of gold.

Believers should not touch the gold or should take “only a small amount.” The twelfth issue of Dabiq quoted these prophecies on its back cover, adding that in squabbles over the gold, “Ninety-nine out of each one hundred will be killed, but every man amongst them will say, ‘Perhaps I myself will survive.’  ”  The earth will open up and swallow people, and smoke will appear. After the battle in Dabiq, the caliphate will sack “Rome.” In some interpretations, the city falls back to the Crusaders. A battle resembling World War III will take place— al malhama al kubra [the Great Slaughter], which pits the remaining Muslims against everyone else.

Some believe Mecca and Medina will fall to the caliphate’s forces— possibly before the Dabiq battle — and a Bolshevik-style coup will extinguish the royal line of the House of Saud. Some believe the caliphate will then cover the entire earth, but Musa suggests its tide may never reach beyond the Bosphorus. At that point, once the war has turned in the Muslims’ favor (or perhaps even been won by them), the first of the Greater Signs will appear: the Anti-Christ.

Who is the Anti-Christ? “We believe that he is alive and currently chained up on an island in the Red Sea,” Musa says. During the time of the Prophet, a group of Muslim seafarers, led by a Christian convert, Tamim al Dari, lost their way and went ashore on an island. “They saw someone who looked strange: hairy, and so ugly that you couldn’t tell his rear end from his face.” That man directed them to a monastery, and inside they found a gigantic man in chains— the Anti-Christ. He asked them whether the Prophet had conquered Mecca yet. They replied that he had, and the Anti-Christ said, “Good. My time is almost here.”

The Anti-Christ is known in Arabic as al masih al dajjal [the False Messiah], or just Dajjal. “His skin is sometimes described as reddish,” Musa says. “One of his eyes is defective, and the skin partially covers it. He’s blind in that eye. It protrudes and looks like a grape, as if to say there’s no color.” Written across his forehead is رفك, the root letters (K-F-R) of the word kafir, or infidel. Every Muslim, even children and the illiterate, will be able to read and understand these letters. Several omens will precede Dajjal’s arrival. One-third of the earth will go without rainfall for a year, and the next year two-thirds will go without. (Climate change, understandably, is a topic of speculation for Islamic State supporters.)

And then the Anti-Christ will appear, mysteriously, and present himself as the savior of the world’s starving masses. Millions or billions will fall at his feet in gratitude. God will grant him miracles. “Crops will fail, meat will be rare, and he will come with mountains of meat and food and whatnot,” Musa says. He will summon rain at will, and he will appear to raise the dead. “If your parents pass away— and I hope they don’t— they will appear to come back, and they will say, ‘Oh dear son, this is Allah. He has given us life. Follow him.’  ” Not everyone will be impressed. “A young boy will appear before him, and [the Anti-Christ] will ask: ‘Do you not believe that I am Allah?’ He will then chop the boy in two and walk between the two parts, then put him back together, and yet the boy will remain alive.” But the boy will say, “Now I’m more sure than ever that you’re al masih al dajjal!” The Anti-Christ will try to strangle him. God will protect his neck with a lead collar, so the Anti-Christ— now frustrated— will pick him up by the arms and legs and fling him into what looks like Hell. The vision of Hell will be an illusion, though, and the obstinate kid will be in Paradise.

The Anti-Christ will raise an army, and people will be drawn to it, especially women and Iranian Jews. The army will wander the planet, killing and conquering and sending Muslims into hiding. “What would you do if you saw him coming?” I asked Musa. “Leave immediately,” he said. “The Prophet says you should not fight him, because you will lose.” But he will find and kill many, many people, including Muslims who have tried to run away. Then, at long last, five thousand Muslim fighters will be cornered by the armies of the Anti-Christ in Jerusalem. They will take refuge within the gates of the city. At that point, their leader will be the last of the caliphs, Muhammad ibn ʿAbdullah al Qahtani, known as the Mahdi or “guided one.”

Their destruction will appear assured. But salvation will come from the heavens, in the form of Jesus. Muslims deny Jesus’s divinity, but they believe he did not die on the cross and instead ascended bodily to heaven. In this dark hour, they expect him to return. Wearing saffron robes, he will be borne down by two angels onto the white minaret of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. On arrival, he will make haste to Jerusalem and appear in the ranks of the Muslims at dawn prayers. Traditions say his hair will appear wet and will be long and curly. The merest whiff of his breath will kill infidels.

The precise choreography of what happens next is of particular interest to the Islamic State and is mentioned several times in its propaganda. The Muslims will identify Jesus as a stranger, and in hushed voices they will work out that he is Jesus himself. Then the Mahdi, about to lead prayers, will offer to let Jesus lead them instead. (In the story, the Mahdi sounds a bit like a young singer-songwriter who sees Bob Dylan in his audience and tries to persuade him to come onstage, borrow his guitar, and sing a song.) Jesus will refuse and will then take a place behind the Mahdi to pray, like any other Muslim. This brief pas de deux serves as evidence that Jesus will return not as a prophet (Muhammad was the last of these) but as a man. “Jesus and the Mahdi will be like Batman and Robin,” one Muslim told me.

Jesus will then call for the gates of the city to open, exposing the Muslims to the forces of the Anti-Christ. Before the fighters rush in to finish the Muslims off, Jesus— armed with lethal halitosis and a spear— will run at the Anti-Christ. The Anti-Christ will flee and, in his ignominious scramble, will melt away, like salt in water. But before he disappears, Jesus will catch him and pierce him fatally with his spear. Jesus will then raise the bloody spear above his head, and the Anti-Christ’s forces will surrender and submit to the Mahdi’s rule. The return of Jesus as a Muslim will spell the end of Christianity, and— since Christ himself will rebuke the Christians and direct them to follow Islam— also the end of the option of living as a jizya-paying Christian or Jew under Muslim rule.

Those who persist in disbelief will be annihilated, and the Jews in particular will face harsh comeuppance, with the stones and trees themselves crying out to Muslim warriors to reveal any Jews cowering behind them, vainly wishing to escape death. What happens next, as Musa admits, is foggy. The Islamic State will already have been reduced to a few thousand fighters. But then, under the Jesus-Mahdi partnership, the rule of Muslims will be glorious. For forty years they will reign— and then everything will get worse.

According to scripture, two fearsome peoples known as Gog and Magog [ya’juj wa ma’juj] are currently confined by an iron wall inside a mountain in Central Asia, as they have been for thousands of years. The people who make up these groups are depicted sometimes as large and sometimes as small, but they are always numerous and subhuman. They will break free during the second tour of Jesus on earth and will kill many people, ravaging the world and depleting its resources. They will invade Iraq and Palestine like a pestilence. Their thirst will drain rivers and the Sea of Galilee, and their hunger will consume crops. Many, many people will die, before God will command an insect or worm to burrow into the necks of Gog and Magog and kill them. Various other tribulations will take place. The corpses of Gog and Magog will rot, and the fumes will engulf the planet before God washes the mess away with heavy rains. Even believers find this sequence dreadful to imagine. A Twitter follower asked Musa whether he’d follow up his pamphlet on the identity of “Rome” with another on Gog and Magog. Musa replied that any such pamphlet would be “very short and consist mostly of the words Allahu ʿalim [God knows— i.e., ‘beats me’].” By the end of all this chaos and misery— wars among men, demons, and subhumans— few Arabs will survive, and most of the survivors will be “Romans” (in Musa’s telling, Turks). The course of events that will lead to this moment will be unimaginably awful. “I pray that [I] never learn how this comes to be,” Musa writes.

One creepy hadith says that during the apocalyptic decades, “whoever passes by a tomb [will] say: I wish to God that I were in the place of the one buried there.”  The remaining unbelievers— who will somehow not have figured out that Islam is the winning team— will still have a chance to submit to God. Humanity will be surrounded by fire. At the end of time, even the Muslims will die, their lives taken by a horrendous wind. On the last day, the sun will rise in the west, and God will stop accepting repentance.

The world will end. And that will be the story of us all."

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Culture - The 15 most educated Representative districts

There are 435 Representative districts in the US, listed are the 15 best educated districts. There are only 15 where more than 50% of inhabitants have a college degree. All but two are Democratic, the vote yesterday for number six was retained by the Republicans with +4 margin.

From the New York Times

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Culture - The hidden way to change governments

Zeynep Tufekci has studied the misuse of data mining.

Facebook has algorithms that can reliably determine many characteristics of a person from their Likes and other volunteered data, without using their Profile. Things such as, their five personality traits, sexual preference, religion or non belief, and voting preference.

How this data is used is unknown, as Facebook does not release the meta data.

When a manic person has an upswing, the data will show it before the person knows. When a person is more manic, they spend more, take more risks. A company could automatically target this sub-set of people at the right time with discount tickets to Las Vegas. They do not need to know who these people are, the algorithm chooses them and sends a targeted ad just to them.  It is hidden and hard to discover or monitor.

Another issue is using false issues and events to affect political voting or to suppress voting. It is out there and we do not know how persuasive. See the article from The Guardian from 2017 May: Revealed: Tory ‘dark’ ads targeted voters’ Facebook feeds in Welsh marginal seat

A public advert is unfocused and inefficient, but knowable. Targeted ads to people's Facebook pages are not. Targeting people when they are vulnerable for profit, or changing democracy with fake news are nasty practices. And who knows what else is going on?

Zeynep Tufekci is an associate professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with an affiliate appointment at the Department of Sociology. She is also a faculty associate at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and was previously a fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy at the Princeton University. Tufekci’s research interests revolve around the intersection of technology and society. Her academic work focuses on social movements and civics, privacy and surveillance, and social interaction.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Culture - Bubble Hopping

To some extent we all live in social bubbles, but Max Hawkins is developing a series of apps to randomize your life. The app will choose your destination in Uber, or it will choose a local public event, or even a foreign travel location. If you choose, you can opt out of making choices, and enjoy the ride.

"For the past two years I’ve been letting randomized computer programs decide what I do. I believe giving in to chance is a way to liberate yourself from personal and social programming that traps you in a narrow sense of self."

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Texas - Bee kidnapping in the dark

Our bees were relocated, after two years it became too difficult to live with them in a small garden. As BB King used to sing, "The thrill is gone."

Culture - The intractable issue of North Korea

From Thomas Friedman, New York Times

.... the whole situation reminds me of the medieval fable of the criminal hauled before the king to plead for his life and successfully does so by promising that if the king spared his life for a year he could teach the king’s favorite horse to sing. When the criminal got back to his cell, his cellmate scoffed at him: You could never teach the king’s horse to sing if you had a lifetime. And the man said: “No matter. I have a year now that I didn’t have before. And a lot of things can happen in a year. The king might die. The horse might die. I might die. And, who knows? Maybe the horse will sing.” 

And that is our North Korea policy. Waiting for something to solve this insoluble problem. Waiting for a horse to sing.

Full Article

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Culture - Aristides de Sousa Mendes

Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a Portuguese consul in WW2, and did something extraordinary, he realized he could not follow his directive to severely limit visas. The visa stamps were just marks paper, it is the belief and faith in what the marks mean that gives them meaning. He had the power to do a lot of good.

In 1939 the German's were attacking Western Europe, and thousands were fleeing German occupation and persecution, westwards to Portugal, a dictatorship at the time. The directives to the Portuguese border control was highly restrictive to Jews and others. Mendes ignored his official directive and set up a production line to approve as many people as possible while he could get away for it. Every visa stamp could save a life.

It is hard to know how many visas he issued, but he may have saved 30,000 lives.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Culture - Online security - what you can do

From Zeynep Tufekci and others

  • Always update your software, it is more effective than virus checkers 
  • Most logins use your main email, a week point if you are hacked.  Add a physical key authentication, a FIDO U2F key, $17.99 from Amazon. A second layer of protection to your email id, you have to click the button on the key, it cannot be done remotely.  Add it to your key chain.
  • Do no reuse passwords. Easier said than done. If you do not like using a password storage program such as Lastpass, write them down on paper, and hide it.
  • Use an Apple iPhone, it was built from the beginning for security. Android phones have not caught up yet, and are not updated as frequently.
  • Chromebooks, if you tweak the settings, are very hard to hack, and cheap.
  • Keep a copy of your essential files online, and also on a portable disc. Periodically copy your files to the portable disc and disconnect it. If you are attacked by Ransomware, they cannot get to your files disconnected from the internet.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Texas - House population +1

First it was a grass field, fill sand was added, and then a concrete slab was poured. And there it sat for a month, no construction.

This weekend a completed house had been placed on the slab, an old property, perhaps from the 1940s, had been towed and carefully placed on blocks on the slab. A perfect fit.

We spoke to the owner, it was late, but he was still inside the house. He does good work from the evidence of the first house he placed in the community, maybe four years ago.

It is just a shell, no electric, no plumbing, no A/C.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Maps - A great map of the Middle East

This map shows in detail the religions in the region, and helps us better understand the current issues. In other areas of the world a map of religions is not useful, but here it is.  Read the text in the top right.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Culture - Twenty lessons on Tyranny

A short and timely and excellent book by Timothy Snyder.

We are in a critical moment, and have little time.

The [US] Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.

Only $4 from Amazon 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Texas - The Guesthouse Bathroom Redo

The destruction is complete, and mysteries are revealed.  The large built in fiberglass shower has been removed.

Hidden by the shower was an old hatch the opened into the rear of the building. At one time this building was a manual service telephone exchange, was this the hatch where people came to pay their phone bill?

See the live power cable the comes from the garage to the kitchen, definitely not up to code.

And a minute scrap of paper, that seems to be a "time card" indicating 11:00 pm

A strange sharp concrete edge in the floor. This does not bode well, I hoped the wood floor was intact under the concrete covering, now I am less sure.