I am reading I Am A Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter [and enjoying it]. Something in one of his discussions of feedback reminded me of the time when I was learning about pointers in the C programming language… when I discovered that you could have a pointer to another pointer it blew my mind, realizing that the level of indirection could continue almost forever.

medicare live chat

——————- Live Chat Transcript ————
[09:48:09 am]: Thank you for contacting Live Chat.
[09:48:11 am]: frank: I am considering switching from medicare advantage to plan D plus medigap. Before enrolling in a plan D I want to confirm there is an affordable medigap plan which covers my existing primary care physician (under my existing medicare advantage plan). Is there an online list of medigap providers that will give me this information, that I can review before enrolling in a plan D?
[09:48:12 am]: Please wait while you are connected to an agent.
[09:48:18 am]: You are now connected with Live Chat.

Thank you for contacting Live Chat. My name is Shaquana. For privacy purposes, please do not disclose any personal information such as your Social Security Number, Medicare ID, or any other sensitive medical or personal information.
[09:48:36 am]: frank: ok
[09:50:01 am]: Shaquana: I’ll be more than happy to assist you with how to find medigap policies on
[09:50:38 am]: frank: ok
[09:51:54 am]: Shaquana: On the website it only covers general estimates of the cost of the plans and coverage.
[09:52:29 am]: Shaquana: If you want more specific information you would have to contact the medigap policy directly.
[09:52:37 am]: frank: Is there anywhere I can find if a plan includes my existing primary care physician and/or his clinic?
[09:53:15 am]: frank: So are you saying that I need to call each policy individually in order to find out?
[09:53:26 am]: frank: Sounds tedious
[09:53:43 am]: Shaquana: If you’re thinking about going back to original Medicare you just want to make sure the physician accepts your Medicare.
[09:54:05 am]: frank: Right. Call my physician i guess.
[09:54:51 am]: Shaquana: I can assist you with viewing the medigap policies on the website.
[09:55:01 am]: frank: Maybe they have a list of medigap plans they accept?
[09:55:57 am]: Shaquana: You would have to check with them. Sometimes it only matters who the supplemental insurance is.
[09:56:03 am]: frank: Or is medigap for something other than primary physician?
[09:56:52 am]: Shaquana: A Medigap policy is also known as Medicare supplemental insurance and is sold by private insurance companies to fill the “gaps” in Original Medicare.
[09:57:23 am]: frank: What’s the main difference between medigap and medicare advantage plans?
[09:57:47 am]: frank: Why choose one over the other?
[09:59:08 am]: Shaquana: A Medicare Advantage plan, or an MA plan, is a health plan offered by private insurance companies approved by Medicare. MA plans are not Medigap policies or supplemental insurance plans.
[09:59:17 am]: Shaquana: A Medicare Advantage plan is another way for you to get your Medicare coverage.
[09:59:54 am]: frank: What’s the main difference between medigap and medicare advantage plans? Why choose one over the other?
[10:00:31 am]: Shaquana: A Medigap policy is different from a Medicare Advantage plan. Medicare Advantage plans offer another way to get Medicare benefits, while Medigap policies only supplement your Original Medicare benefits. If you have both Original Medicare and a Medigap policy, Medicare will pay its share of covered services first and then your Medigap policy will pay its share.
[10:02:22 am]: frank: Which way is better?
[10:03:20 am]: frank: Are there any issues to look out for with either one? Like ‘gotcha’s?
[10:05:52 am]: Shaquana: Thank you. One moment please while I look that up.
[10:06:01 am]: frank: ok
[10:07:42 am]: Shaquana: I can help you with questions about how to use the Medicare Plan Finder, but I can’t give my opinions or advice about your health care decisions. Instead, I can help you understand what your choices are.
[10:07:59 am]: Shaquana: We do have the State health insurance assistance programs, also known as SHIPs, provide free, in-depth, one-on-one insurance counseling and assistance to people with Medicare and their families, friends, and caregivers.
[10:08:41 am]: frank: OK, can I find the SHIP for Washington state online?
[10:10:05 am]: Shaquana: Yes, but I can give you their phone number.
[10:11:11 am]: frank: ok I found it, thank you for your help Shaquana
[10:11:22 am]: Shaquana: You’re welcome.

mac os cd ripper

I am an avid collector of recorded music. Admittedly my avidity has decreased over the years, but I still purchase actual CDs and vinyl records [gasp!] and one of the first things I do after obtaining a new recording is rip it. I run an mpd server so can access my digitized collection using my phone, which is darn convenient.

One more little preface note: my home desktop computer is a Mac, and Apple has graciously notified us Mac users that they will be discontinuing support for 32-bit apps as of the next OS upgrade. The app I’ve been using to rip CDs [Max] is 32 bits, and I see no sign that the developer plans to release a 64-bit version.

TLDR; I found a nifty replacement app — XLD which is 64 bits and seems to do all I need. Even better, the source code is available on SourceForge so I can tinker if the spirit moves.

browser kludge

firefox icon safari icon

Firefox’s newest update — version 64 is it? — has dropped support for what they call ‘live bookmarks’ — bookmarks which subscribe to RSS feeds that is. This was my favorite feature in Firefox, so now that it’s gone I am experimenting with using Safari as my main browser instead.

My biggest problem with Safari so far is it’s lame cookie management. I had configured Firefox to delete all cookies when I closed the browser session. Call me paranoid but I’m an old graybeard IT guy so whatever — it makes me feel safer. Needless to say Apple doesn’t have any such setting. You can manually delete all cookies but that’s a pain in the arse isn’t it?

Tonight my kluge was born: I used Automator to record a workflow which performs the manual steps of deleting all cookies and then quitting Safari. I then wrote a one-line bash script which runs the automator workflow from the command line. Since I always have a terminal window open, I now cmd-tab to that and run my little script to quit Safari. Slightly more annoying than hitting cmd-Q, but the tradeoff is worth it for now.

iPhone vs Android: the smackdown

It’s not actually a smackdown, that’s just to get your attention. But there are screenshots!

My smartphone — an LG G4 — is over 3 years old, so I started thinking about a replacement. The current generation LG G7 has received positive reviews, so I was tempted to get that one, as I have been mostly happy with my G4.

I have been bothered lately about how much data Google collects about me: droid network connections

Just one of many typical screens of mysterious Android and Google network connections (note: Google Play app is not open).

I figure one thing I could do to narrow Google’s firehose is to switch from an Android phone [which runs an OS owned and developed by Google] to an iPhone [which runs an OS owned and developed by Apple].

Apple’s new model XR is tempting, as the price is more affordable than their other new models, and it has [mostly] Apple’s latest tech. I’m not unfamiliar with iOS, having used an iPad for years. So I jumped.

The following comparison is based on a week of daily use of the iPhone [after 3.5 years of daily use of the G4].

Surprisingly, I cannot think of a single thing which the XR does better than the G4, other than it boots faster. Of course most 2018 phones would boot faster than a 2015 phone.

There are however numerous things which G4 does better. Herewith some details:

1. The keyboard. A basic part of the OS on a texting device, Apple’s keyboard layout only displays alphabetic characters plus backspace and spacebar — in order to type numbers or even basic punctuation, you have to switch to another keyboard. This switching back-and-forth quickly gets annoying when one is used to having all the alpha-numeric and punctuation characters on the same keyboard. Compare the following two screenshots:

apple keyboard android keyboard
iPhone keyboard G4 keyboard

2. SMS texting. Apple locks you into using their builtin messaging app for SMS. Android lets you choose an alternate — I used an app called Signal on Android because it encrypts text messages when both parties are using the app. If one side does not use Signal then it defaults to standard SMS. Perfectly reasonable, but while there is a Signal app for iPhone, Apple refuses to allow it to be the default SMS app. So I have to navigate between two texting apps — annoying!

3. Custom ringtones. Android lets you assign custom ringtones for notifications and incoming calls. Rather sensibly it lets you select any mp3 file you like. Apple makes it insanely difficult to add ringtones to their builtin list, and won’t allow changing ringtones at all for other notification apps [Signal for instance].

4. Calendar. The default G4 calendar shows you your appointments in month view; Apple’s month view does not show appointments — you have to switch to week or day view to see them. I had to search Apple’s app store for a 3rd-party app which displays appointments in month view.

5. MPD client. Android has two MPD client apps: MpDroid and M.A.L.P. Both have decent GUIs, and both are free. Apple has two MPD client apps: MPDluxe and Glider — both are paid apps. Glider is crippleware, which only works for 10 minutes before demanding a paid subscription. MPDluxe doesn’t require a subscription but has a very primitive GUI — you can only browse the file system, it doesn’t read tags to let you browse by artist or album or genre. Like both of the Android apps do. The file system shouldn’t matter; what I’m interested in is the contents and metadata.

MPDluxe browser MPDroid browser
MPDluxe browser on iPhone MPDroid browser on G4

MPDluxe artist listing MPDroid artist listing
MPDluxe artist’s listing on iPhone MPDroid artist’s listing on G4

6. Quick settings. Android has a quick pull-down menu which lets you toggle on/off services such as wifi, location, bluetooth, airplane mode and more. What’s more, it lets you edit the services in this list. Apple’s similar pull-down is Control Center, but it has a shorter list of services which you can add. Sadly, location is not one — you need to open Settings, then click Privacy, then from there you can toggle Location. Oh well, at least you can do it.

7. File transfer. Android’s file transfer app lets you select files using a standard detail view file listing, and lets you drag and drop them to the destination folder on your computer. Apple does let you select multiple files — at least, in the photos app — but there’s no way to see a detail view…so you are forced to select each photo one-by-one. And you can’t choose the destination — transfers go to your Downloads folder, period. Android’s listing is way faster and more flexible.

In summary, Apple’s phone covers all the basics — as expected since it invented the smartphone category. But it seems inferior in so many ways — I am surprised that it doesn’t hold up better in comparison.

As a long-time Android user it’s expected that I will be used to the Android way of doing things. Hopefully I will discover more to like about the iPhone the more that I use it. And I am also hoping that Apple doesn’t collect as much information about me from their phone as Google seems to from theirs. But I can’t tell because so far I haven’t found an iPhone app equivalent to Android’s ‘Network Connections’ app. So sad!

Is privacy possible?

Lately I have been thinking about trying to minimize my exposure to Google. I’m considering switching from Android to Apple phones, and from gmail to other email providers.

But will that really make a difference? Many transactions [e.g. purchasing airline tickets] require you to divulge your phone number. And of course your credit card number. How much sharing of these identifying numbers goes on behind the scenes?

I’m wondering if slowing Google’s firehose of data which can be tagged as mine is enough to matter anymore. Is it too late? Will records of my personal transactions continue accumulating and being shared by invisible behemoths [love that phrase] as the march of marketing machines moves ever forward?

Wish I could ask a security professional about this.

32-bit OSX apps: the clock is ticking

Apple recently released the latest new version of OSX [10.14 ‘Mojave’]. Reading Ars Technica’s review I was particularly struck by how this is the last version to support 32-bit apps.

A quick scan of my Mac mini turned up six 32-bit apps that I still use:

Android file transfer agent 1.0
Audacity v 2.2.2
Burn v 2.5.1
GoPanda 2 v 2.4
Max v 0.9.1
LWS [logitech webcam software]

I use Android file xfer mainly to copy photos from my phone to my file server. Bluetooth doesn’t work between android and mac [thanks, Apple!]. And Google hasn’t updated their file transfer agent software since version 1.0 [thanks, Google!]. I’ll need to find a replacement for this one.

I use Audacity for ripping vinyl to digital, and occasionally editing audio files. It’s old but still popular so maybe their developers will be motivated to roll out a 64-bit build?

I use Burn to burn CDs [duh]. I asked about 64-bit plans on their sourceforge forum.

GoPanda 2 is a client for playing and viewing go games on the Pandanet internet go server.

I use Max to rip CDs. This is another oldie, no surprise, you can almost guarantee any 32-bit apps are old. Will need a replacement for this too.

Logitech webcam — I’ll have to see if it’s the driver or just some front-end stuff. If it’s the driver, it will need to be updated or replaced. It’s a shame to discard perfectly good hardware because the manufacturer won’t upgrade the driver… can you say ‘planned obsolescence’?

These are the main ones I’ve found so far, I will add to this list if necessary. If anyone has recommendations for replacements for any of these, I’d appreciate hearing from you.

wordpress dev baby steps

OK I admit it upfront: while I’ve authored a few web pages in my day, I was never a fulltime webmaster. I never learned jQuery [or AJAX for that matter]. So now that I’m adding a custom page to a WordPress site, my lack of experience is causing some delays [aka ‘biting me’].

Today I discovered that the page I had so happily completed yesterday was broken. WTH? I tried reverting the backend PHP; no joy. I tried switching to an older template; no joy. I tried enabling debug messages inside my PHP; no joy.

It turns out that the last thing I did after finishing my wonderful page was changing it’s visibility from public to private. To keep away from prying eyes who don’t need to be messing with it etc.

Of course that’s what broke my page. It wasn’t my code, in any of it’s locations. WordPress in it’s wisdom breaks this page when it’s made private. I need to research why this happens, but the easy fix is to just keep the darn page public for now.