Finding Out You Are Wrong, Should Be the Best Feeling.

The human mind is a complex device, but it is not perfect. Everything we learn, we learn through a combination of comparison to previous experiences and then using learned logic techniques to extrapolate new information, which we then can use to compare to already learned information. This is not a simple process, and much of the information we learn is interpreted by filters before being made available to the comparative engines of the brain.

I’m simplifying everything of course, because this is a short blog and I’m an opinion that is based on my own experiences, comparisons and logic.

But simply this process is fraught with potential errors. It’s very easy to learn things which make no sense outside the framework you have already learned.

When you were a child you were taught many subtle things that were only designed to make your parents lives easier. They may well have not been true. Some of these you will encounter as a child and will cause you to question your earliest beliefs, but some will pass through your experience untested and will become true to you as an adult. If these are then proved to be wrong later in your life, you will have a very hard time deciding what is true.

If you believed Santa Claus was real through to your late teens, it’s very likely you would have a very hard time ever considering that he was not real. Imagine if you had received presents under the tree every year until you were 20, and had absolutely no reason to question where they came from, because no one had ever had that conversation with you. What would it take to then persuade you that it was just a story made up my marketing companies to sell more coke.

We all have our versions of Santa Claus; some believe people of a different skin color are a difference species; some believe that socialism in the form of social security or government run healthcare are inherently evil; some believe that their particular variant of religion is the only one that is “true” and everyone else is going to hell; some believe that their family and friends are superior because they all came from the same country in Europe and all became rich due to their grandparents work. And some beliefs are very subtle, but no less damaging to our ability to learn new ideas.

The basic issue is one of trying to change a “core belief”, something that was learned at a young age and has never been tested by your personal experience.

The way the brain works creates fixed pathways for specific situations that become impossible for you to think outside of.

As a species, we must continuously test core beliefs, and where we see evidence that contradicts what we inherently know to be true, we must be willing to look deeply at the evidence and question our own reticence.  It’s hard, but it’s how we become better people.

Here are some statements that cause this form of cognitive dissonance for some people:

  • The earth is round.
  • The earth revolves around the sun.
  • The moon is not a source of light, and revolves around the earth.
  • Evolution is the name of the process of random mutations providing variety that make some variants more likely to survive changing environmental conditions than others, and over very large timescales explains the variety of all life on earth.
  • Skin color is just a simple environmentally preferential variance in a subcutaneous dye found at a lower level in the skin and is not an indicator or any other attribute.
  • The universe was not created for the pleasure of one single species on one single planet out of billions, but is most probably one universe of billions in a much larger system than we can perceive.
  • Guns are dangerous, and their use should be carefully controlled.
  • Trickle-down economics doesn’t work.

At this point a lot of people’s brains may have exploded (of course since those people are unlikely to read my rant or care about my views, It’s not so much of an issue, but maybe some exploding brains (metaphorically speaking) would do the world some good)

When you challenge a core-belief and break its hold on you, you open a world of personal possibilities.

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Why Is A Politician Doing Exactly What They Promised So Terrible?

Democracy is not a perfect political system; it is just the best political system of all those that are known.

America is not a pure democracy, but a fragile psedo-democracy model that relies of the goodness of people to adhere to the spirit of a constitution written hundreds of years ago by a group of amazing people whose shared experiences lead them to a stunning series of ideals around freedom, equality and happiness (happiness, was never a political consideration before 1776, Anywhere in the world, what a truly amazing ideal!).

The process in the US is one of sharing aspirations aimed at like-minded voters during the primary cycle, which is then attenuated during the election cycle to try and draw more votes and then the winner again attenuates their ideas with those of all sides during their time in a role. The result is that everyone is mildly dissatisfied with government, but most people are not furious. It’s not a perfect system, just one that balances experience and power with need and desire.

What happens when a candidate points out that it’s a stupid system, sticks a finger in the air and decides to go all in to win and then do exactly what they said they would do?

What happens is the balance changes, the fragility of the conventions that allow for happiness, equality and freedom are put to the test.

It’s quite amazing that no one thought of it before. It’s a very high risk strategy, “all or nothing”. And we are living it today.

Global history indicates that it’s a bad idea, that the balance shifting in such dramatic ways will lead to hyper-changes to security, economics, the environment and society; not just in the USA but globally.

The security of the world is finely balanced. With borders maintained by a mix of weapons, physical barriers and most importantly economic interests.

The global economy is not based on natural resources, but promises. Currencies are no longer underwritten by gold and silver, but by a mesh of interconnected promises, treaties and subtle winks between national banks. If the largest economy decides to change these rules, every single nation will be looking to garner an advantage from the change, and it’s not clear who would win that battle.

Saying “fuck you” to the world may feel good (really good), but when you play a strategic game, it’s important to know how players will respond to your moves, and it’s not clear that’s the way it’s currently working.

The good thing is, that since no one thought the presidential election would go the way it went, it’s likely that no one built the brain trust to plan a response. So, it’s not just the USA running with scissors, the world is now doing it.

Donald Trump is either the smartest president that every existed in the history of history itself, or he is starting something he will quickly lose control of.

I’m rooting for the Donald to be everything he says he is, but as a scientist I like to see evidence, peer reviewed before agreeing with such a situation. I have seen the evidence of the last two weeks, I’ve listened to the peer reviews, and I’m beyond worried.

As a very smart comic character once said “with great power comes great responsibility”

Lower regulation doesn’t naturally translate to “better”, it can, but why would a business freed from a regulation do the right thing. It takes something else.

Lowering federal taxes, just increases state, local and hidden taxes.

Things that are likely to happen (not guaranteed, but more likely every day)

  • Hyper debt
  • Hyper inflation
  • Hyper unemployment
  • Less human rights
  • War
  • Shorter life span, and a lowering of the quality of life overall
  • A worse environment (air quality, water quality, farm land quality)
  • Less equality
  • Less government oversight
  • Less investment in happiness (the arts)
  • A greater gap between rich and poor
  • Higher overall taxes for the average person (fed, state, local, privatization and deregulation costs*)
  • Less global trade
  • Higher fuel prices and dirtier fuel processes
  • Lower wages
  • A less educated population

*Privatization and deregulation costs

  • Higher Healthcare costs
  • Higher drug costs
  • Higher food costs
  • Higher Road tolls
  • Higher safe water costs
  • Higher heating and cooling energy costs
  • Higher internet costs
  • Import taxes
  • Higher school costs
  • Higher local policing and fire safety costs
  • Uplifts of travel to pay for private security
  • Higher fuel prices
  • Higher train travel costs
  • Higher banking costs

We have become used to all politicians lying, and we know it is wrong.

But maybe a politician telling the truth may be a hell of a lot worse.

 

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Bury Bad News.

Political press officers have been using the technique of “burying bad news” for decades. It’s a powerful technique, you wait until something powerful and newsworthy happens and you release your bad news at the same time in a less powerful way. Most of the time your bad news will then get a lot less coverage.

The time journalists can spend on any single story continually get shorter, as the demand to fill airwaves and column inches increase. There are a lot less journalists each year, being paid a lot less and being asked to do a lot more. The result is exactly what we see, large volumes of lower quality content.

It is much easier to interview a “man on the street” or an “expert in her field” on their opinion on an event or the views of another pundit, than it is to deeply investigate a story.

In today’s climate, every single contentious comment from a politician is jumped upon with gusto. A moronic tweet at 3am can fill hours of TV and radio and many column inches on websites.

I subscribe to the New York Times, get a copy seven days a week, and this gives my access to their online content as well. Why do I subscribe? Well to be honest for two main reasons; One, my wife loves to do the crossword every day on the subway and two, I have a dog and so need a regular supply of paper. Oh, I read the paper online every day, but it’s one of many news sources I go to try and get a perspective of the world. Sure, the New York Times does seem to be one of the better news sources, and they clearly do continue in the tradition of in-depth journalism, but with thousands of news sources available everyone feels the need to check numerous ones to get a fuller perspective.

I’ve given up on TV as a news source. Fox news and MSNBC spend all their time discussing what they think, and not reporting news. CNN is too careful to show that they are not biased and so present all sides if each inane argument without ever making a journalistic assessment. The BBC world news still seems quite good though (but I may have a built-in bias there)

The Huffington post, the drudge report et al clearly have a bias, but their bias is around trying to attract a specific demographic and punch them in the face with as much advertising as they can, they clealy see news content as a means to an end, and not an end unto itself.

There are a bunch of sites that started as aggregators of content as a method of generating ad based revenue, and have since started to try and become valid news sources. But this is hard to do and their failures are becoming legendary (e.g. buzzfeed)

What these competing ad-funded news sources have in common, is that they will pounce of anything that brings in an audience. And contentious quotes are always going to be newsworthy.

Burying bad news has never been easier.

Politicians pass a law that will increase the national debt by billions. Oh, look over there, the president elect just insulted a transgender woman and is tweeting about it.

Voting rights are taken away from people who have the same name as other people in prison. Oh, look over here, a pundit just said we should nuke japan.

It takes a lot of effort to fully investigate and report on a story, and the organizations that are doing this good work must wait days, weeks or months to get all their facts in place, write the story and get comments from all relevant parties. But a pundit can spout an opinion and have it communicated in seconds.

We must slow down the process of news, to the speed of integrity and completeness. We can’t allow critical news to die just because someone let a nip slip or tweeted something stupid.

We need to hold everyone accountable, and this needs high integrity journalists working for long periods of time on each story.

Choose your news source(s) based on their integrity and their tenacity, and not their ability to reaffirm your pre-existing position. A great news source will look at every attempt to bury bad news, see it for what it is and look for what exactly they are trying to bury. When someone shows you a bright shiny new thing for no reason, ask why.

Yes I started getting the New York Times daily for spousal fun and canine sanitary reasons, but I’ve come to really enjoy it as an excellent news source, one of the best I’ve found anywhere in the world.

 

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Healthcare – A Root Cause Analysis

 

Ten years ago, I knew a woman who died of breast cancer, simply because she couldn’t get health insurance in time to save her life.

I know people who in the past could not get permanent employment simply because of a pre-existing condition (that had already been treated and they were again healthy) could have placed too high a burden on their prospective employers healthcare insurance plan.

Along came a government plan that tried to stop these situations from happening. Millions of people could get healthcare, and the government system was called the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and was quickly given the derogatory (or respectful) name of Obamacare.

Obamacare was an attempt to bridge the gap between the needs of healthcare product providers and the simple need of the USA population of not dying from stuff that the rest of the western world were protected from. It was a flawed first pass at the issue, but rather than fixing it, the opposition used it as a way of trying to destroy the first black president. Calls for making Obama a one-time president as the primary objective of the opposition became a rally cry, and hundreds of attempts were made to repeal the ACA. No attempt was made to improve it, and so the USA population limped along with a flawed, but slightly improved but very expensive healthcare system. Millions more people would receive healthcare, but the costs were crazy, and were underwritten by tax increases (which no one really likes).

Through all of this, the simple fact that the cost of healthcare in the USA is dramatically more expensive than any other western country was not addressed.

The laws in the USA favor health insurance companies and drug and device manufactures. Unlike any other contract entered, healthcare contracts in the US are legal when signed under stress or duress. It’s common for patients entering a hospital to have to sign blanket contracts that demand they will pay all charges that the healthcare provider decides to point their way, and if the insurance companies decide not to pay any part of it, the patient is directly responsible for it. Even the smallest medical procedure can lead to many thousands of dollars in unexpected charges, that the patient has to negotiate on a one to one basis with the legal behemoths employed by the healthcare industry.

The ACA did not do anything to change the closed-market, uncompetitive nature of healthcare.

It is illegal for a USA resident to purchase drugs from overseas. Even though these drugs may well be the same at the ones available in the USA, even in the same packaging from the same vendors, but just available at a significantly lower price.

It is against the law for the US government to negotiate lower prices on drugs or medical devices, by buying in volume.

Doctors in the USA must pay for very expensive indemnification insurance, because there is no control on what types of law suits anyone can file for medical malpractice, even though it is widely recognized that medicine is generally high risk. Costs which must be passed on to the consumer.

Medical professionals in the USA must spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to become registered professionals, and with a for-profit education system and for-profit student loans, they must spend decades paying it back. Costs which must be passed on to the consumer.

Healthcare in the USA is not just big business; it is the biggest of businesses. Generating billions of profits from trillions of revenues every year.

The “pay for influence” USA political system allows, and encourages the whole healthcare industry to spend a very small fraction of their revenue to buy influence at every level, ensuring that the preferential legal framework they have currently, continues.

The fix to the USA healthcare system is quite simple to see, but incredibly difficult to achieve. The costs must be taken out of the healthcare system. Government subsidies in the forms of tax breaks, and payments to consumers and healthcare companies must be reduced and so must the actual charged costs of healthcare. This means healthcare businesses will need to make a lot less money. This means changes to many parts of the law to cap costs, reduce the legal exposure for doctors and hospitals, change the education system, reduce the cost of drug and device development, and place strict cost goals on all purchased products that ensure that pricing is globally competitive. These things will take money out of the pockets of businesses that have been used to getting it, and will not happen without a fight. But while politicians can be effectively paid to take a position, it is virtually impossible.

Healthcare must be a human right. When you are sick you are not able to negotiate. It must be the most basic right of a civilized society. Healthcare must be part of a civilized society, it is social, and the word socialism has been usurped to mean evil and anti-American. Obviously social is not anti-American, unless you believe that the military is anti-American, along with fire departments, the police, power and water services are anti-American (and some people do believe this of course).

This is not a partisan issue; every party currently agrees. Unfortunately, they agree that it’s great that healthcare companies pay politicians huge amounts of money to stand with them and maintain the current model.

Who knows, maybe having a crazed orange thin-skinned self-centered egotist is exactly what is needed to destroy this status quo. Clearly having a Kenyan Muslim didn’t do it…… (you have to love (and laugh at) the propaganda of politics sometimes.

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Dealing with the Hidden Complexity of IoT Home Automation

The dream of automating a range of home systems is very close. Today you can turn every light switch, light bulb, fan, window blind, door lock, garage opener or air conditioner into an internet connected appliance, with the ability to turn on or off from your cellphone. And you can turn any wall socket into a remotely controlled on/off or dimmable device allowing any kitchen appliance to be controlled in the same way. There are ways of controlling your audio and TV devices from your phone as well, so it seems reasonable to assume that home automation is here. And yet, these devices and systems are still quite clunky unless you go to an expert company such as Crestron (who are today the rolls Royce of home automation both in terms of quality and price).

The challenge is that all the available home automation devices come from different companies, and so use slightly different methods of control. This means that without a lot of experience the average installer will create a complex system that is hard to control.

Convergence is on the way, with the likes of google, amazon, apple etc. starting to provide platforms for consistent control. But these systems are still for early adopters who are willing to live with significant limitations.

Controlling your light switches from your cellphone or by speaking specific terms sounds fun, but wait until your parents come to visit and can’t turn off the lights at night, you will quickly realize the limitations of the current technology.

Some companies do provide switches that look like classic wall switches and allow for more advanced workflow to be used. For example, a switch can be used to turn on a series of lights at specific levels of brightness, while double clicking the same switch could perform a different task. You may even choose to place light switches in different locations that turn on the same lights to different levels of brightness, so for example the switch your TV watching chair turns on the lights to TV watching levels and the one by main room door, turns on the light as bright as they will go. This would mean to the “uneducated” user the lights will work as expected, but to the “educated” user you can setup lights to work subtly as you prefer.

Not all home automation vendors offer all of the levels of subtlety I’m describing, but some do.

There are (of course) a lot more levels of complexity associated with home automation, even within the products of a single vendor, you may find that not all devices work the same way, and quite a lot of research is needed to choose exactly which components to use.

To provide a simple example of what I’m talking about, consider that most home automation light switches require three wires, a live, a neutral and an earth. If your house was built before the 1980’s it’s quite likely that your wall switches don’t have neutral wire, and this would mean that you are either are facing a major electricians bill for rewiring or you will need to specifically chose a home automation vendor that has light switches that work without a neutral. These devices to exist (for example Insteon have these as an option), but depending on your light fixture these switches may not work with certain kinds of light bulbs, or may not fully support dimming. There are ways around all these problems, but it takes a lot of investigation to work everything out, and if you don’t know what you don’t know, then you won’t find it out until you have an issue.

Home automation using modern IoT devices can provide a level of luxury that you will love, but it is still not simple and low cost. It can be low cost and complex or it can be high cost and simple. Alexa, Siri and Google have started to offer some interesting directions for future automation, but as of today they are in their infancy.

I haven’t even broached the subject of security yet, but suffice it to say that there are significant security issues with any device that is continually listening to every word spoken and is sending it across the internet to be processed looking for spoken commands. There are also issues with having every device in a house containing a processor and connected to the internet. Everything must be continually secured, and this takes experts working hard to keep ahead of hackers.

The world has changed around us, and IoT now means that millions (or even billions) of previously simple devices are now internet connected and can provide information and can allow remote control.  What damage can someone do my remotely controlling a light switch? Who knows; But if every light switch and every light bulb contains a microprocessor connected to the internet, that is a lot of processing power that if combined could be formidable. Already we have seen distributed denial of service attacks (DDOS) using a massive array of distributed home automation devices. And I can think of dozens more potential ways that IoT devices can be used for bad. Security will continue to be critical.

My advice – don’t enter home automation lightly, either use an expert or plan on becoming an expert.

 

 

 

 

(7)

US healthcare Makes Me Angry

The US has possibly the worst healthcare system in the world. Some may not agree, but here’s how I calculate the quality of healthcare:

  1. Is the population kept healthy?
  2. Is healthcare affordable?

Simple really, but for the US the answer to both questions is a resounding NO!

Let’s put the affordable healthcare act (ACA aka Obamacare) to the side for a second, and just look at the basics of US healthcare. Firstly, it is a for-profit system, which means that the system itself is designed to make healthcare as costly as possible, and where possible to provide the least amount of service, as these are the parameters used to maximize profit.

In the US, healthcare services are considered an exception to the normal rules of contract law. If you buy a product or service and at a point of no–return in the buying process the vendor sticks you with crazy last minute terms on a contract, the fact that the contract is not equitable is considered to have made the contract invalid, and yet when you enter a hospital for treatment, the hospital, your doctors, and a plethora of ancillary service staff are able to decide not to accept the payment from your insurance company and instead bill you for anything they like and you will be asked to sign this contract prior to them cutting you open to fix what is broken or you will die. There can be little doubt that an operating table signed contract is the ultimate form of stress and duress, and yet it is normal in the US. A whole industry exists to sue patients or their surviving relatives after medical operations, and anyone who has had even the smallest procedure must spend the following months fighting lawyers to protect themselves from health induced bankruptcy.

Tens of thousands of dollars a night for hospital stays are normal billing rates, and bills will explicitly list every single cotton bud and sheet of toilet paper at incredibly high prices, and while insurance companies may well negotiate significant discounts on the parts they cover, the patient is expected to pay list price for their responsibilities. And there is little advocacy available to help patients unless they choose to hire their own legal team to fight back.

Any company that is used to providing products or services to the US government is very aware of the standard clause in all contracts that states the US government will always be charged the lowest price for a product, wherever it is sold. But of course, this does not apply to healthcare products, where vendors can charge whatever they like with impunity. Every countries healthcare system in the world (except the USA) negotiates centrally, dramatically reducing the cost of products (drugs, devices etc.) as well as standard services. The US has no such central control on healthcare products, and so the costs in the US are exponentially higher. It doesn’t matter if it’s over the counter, Medicaid, Medicare or through insurance, the costs are much higher in the USA than anywhere else in the world. It makes no sense. Oh and (of course) the US government has made it illegal for someone in the USA to buy their drugs form abroad, because that would be free and open and we can’t have that!

Malpractice and medical mistake lawsuits in the USA also pay much higher payouts than anywhere else in the world, which drives up medical malpractice insurance, which in turn drives up healthcare costs. And there is a whole sector of the US legal marketplace focused on healthcare related class actions, pushing up the costs of healthcare related products with most of the costs going to just the lawyers.

Education costs much more in the US, and medical degrees are long, and so the loans doctors and nurses carry are very large, meaning they must earn a lot more to pay them off, again driving up healthcare costs.

Everywhere you look in the USA, healthcare costs are higher than anywhere else, and the whole ecosystem is designed to move money, not to provide quality and length of human life (the primary goal of healthcare).

While every other western country focuses on making and keeping people healthy as a way of driving down healthcare costs, the US does not. Doctors do not visit patients and preventative healthcare is seen as a cost to insurance companies and so is much more limited than anywhere else, so the population is generally less healthy than anywhere equivalent.

Drug development processes in the US are very similar to the rest of the world, but are used as an excuse to drive up costs. While the drugs and devices used may cost a lot less in the rest of the world, the US population is in effect subsidizing everyone else’s use of these products. Why you ask, because the US government has been paid by the healthcare industry to allow this to happen. There are no poor politicians in the USA, their salaries are not that large, and yet they all are wealthy, I wonder how that happened?

And then you have the ACA. A start at trying to change the healthcare in the USA. It started by putting controls on insurance companies to mean they couldn’t stop insuring people when then become ill, or refuse them cover because they had previously been ill, and provided a number of mechanisms to get more people insured. But it didn’t fix the for-profit nature of the US healthcare industry, and so made little long term sense. Ideally it would have been a start and would have gone through year after year of improvements, until it become more workable. And yet it was an easy task for healthcare companies to pay for access to politicians and push a for-profit agenda, which they have done incredibly effectively, to stop any real change that would drive down the overall cost of USA healthcare.

Healthcare in the USA today is more expensive and less efficient than anywhere else in the Western World. You can still go bankrupt from the cost of healthcare if you or anyone in your family becomes seriously ill.

People in the USA still die daily from curable conditions due to lack of available healthcare. If you are rich it may seem great, but if you are rich, healthcare everywhere in the world will be great. If you are not rich, the US system becomes a drag on your life and your family. Sick people will pay anything to not be sick, and the US system exploits this.

The frustration is that the amount of money involved is far too great for anyone to not want to take a slice of that action. Donkeys, Elephants and everyone in between has shown absolutely no interest in fixing this massive problem, just shuffling a couple of the pieces and trying to make it look like they are just good enough to vote for as opposed to the other person. The republican fixation with repealing Obamacare seems to be much more about earning their paychecks from lobbyists than providing a viable long term solution. And while the democrats talk a better game, they have shown no real interest in solving the underlying financial problems associated with healthcare.

The GOP make a very good point when they say that a country should run in the black not the red, but they also have no plan to make it happen. Cutting federal spending, just means that state spending goes up, and cutting state spending just means city spending goes up. So the family living in the burbs still ends up paying more every year. Anytime anyone suggests that healthcare companies make too much money, every politician’s head explodes with paid-for anger.

Until healthcare is considered a social right available to all and costs are controlled to make it affordable and of high quality nothing good can or will happen. And neither of the major parties have shown any sign of moving in that direction. Oh I know “socialism” is that big evil word, but insurance is a social mechanism, it demands high volume to make it work. If everyone pays in and only some need to use it, it’s cheaper per person, that’s just basic math. It’s not like there is some other type of math you can use to make it work differently.

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Home Automation for the other 99%

Those with enough money have for years had the option of creating levels of home automation to impress their visitors. Everything from automated window blinds and lights to massive display screens supplemented with hidden surround sound audio systems have been the mark of those with massive egos supported by enough free cash to pay experts to wire every inch of their show houses. These impressive implementations have been supported by custom control systems and can easily run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. For those living in multiple multi-million dollar houses around the world, this is a drop in the ocean.

But technology has moved on and it’s now practical for the average home owner or renter to build their own home automation system, tailored for their specific needs.

  • Multi-room cable systems connected to a single digital video recorder are now available from numerous cable companies or from the likes of TiVo.
  • Multi-room audio systems from companies like sonos or Bose, are simple to implement, and now that abode-spanning high speed Wi-Fi is common don’t require custom wiring systems.
  • Do-it-yourself stores and online outlets now offer a wide range of replacement light switch, power socket options as well as plug in control modules and even light bulbs that have integrated automation, making previously complex systems really easy.
  • Fan controllers, Automation IR repeaters and even automated window-blind motors are now available for prices not much more than their non-automated versions.
  • Room Thermostats, fire alarms and even water sensors are now all available internet connected.

So the components of full home automation are now available to the do-it-yourselfer, but is that enough?

No, it is not enough. The real power of a home automation system is to be able to interconnect all the sensors, actuators and controllers together. And that is where the millionaires their installation companies still are a step ahead.

It’s all very well to be able to replace light switches with ones that can be controlled from a remote control or your phone, but it is quite another to be able to press a single button, have the window blinds close, the lights dim, the TV turn on to your fav channel, the rooms temperature be set to 70 degrees and the sound system turn on, all when you relax in your chair.

But that is starting to become possible. Today all the consumer level automation devices come with their own method of control, and little integration, but this is changing. Companies such as Apple, Google and Amazon are starting to create integration between all the disparate devices.

There are still gaps, but it’s getting closer.

Today for a few hundred dollars you can buy all the components to pull most of your AV equipment together into a single controllable system. And for a few hundred more dollars you can interconnect your lights, light switches, fans, thermostats, fire and water sensors, A/C and heating units and window blinds together.

But connecting your AV systems and your environmental systems together are a bit more complex. It can be done in some ways using Amazon Alexa, Hey Google or Apple’s Siri, but this is still just a taste or what the millionaires can do.

The world is changing, and home automation is quickly going to become useful for the average home.

The challenge is that today’s DIY home automation choices are very poorly described. The googles/apple/amazons of the world want you to believe their latest knickknack is the way to go and want to amaze you with voice recognition systems. But these are only a small part of the solution. There are some incredibly powerful home automation offerings available, but you need to be willing to invest a lot of time to find out about them.

Here’s the best of what I’ve found over the last few years.

  1. For your TV and music the best system for total integration comes from Bose. The Bose lifestyle home theatre systems create a hub that allows all your sources (DVR, DVD, Roku, Apple TV’s etc) to be connected and a single HDMI cable to go to your TV. Then every device can be controlled from a SIMPLE single remote control that uses RF and not I.R. meaning that it can be entirely hidden from view. The Bose method of controlling devices from their single remote is the best I’ve seen from anyone. In my experience, it works perfectly and doesn’t require touch screens or complex programming. Bose pre-program their system for all the common devices you are likely to have, and it just works. Yes, Bose is expensive, and for the price there may be better sounding systems (depending on your tastes) but their systems sound great, and work simply, reliably and consistently. I’ve been using them for the last 10 years, and they just work, and despite what Bose will tell you, even their most basic lifestyle system from a couple of generations of tech back is just as good as the lastest one on sale today, there are some real bargains available if you hunt around on amazon or ebay.
  2. For lighting I use Insteon, not the most common vendor out there, but their range of devices includes everything you need to control lights, fans, blinds and AC/heat units, they are cost effective and also provide a range of remotes that mean you don’t have to use your phone to turn on the lights (but you can if you like). It works well, and the whole environment can be configured using a simple app on your phone or tablet to create any kind of macro you need, so a single switch can be made to do multiple things.

The future for home automation is clearly integration, and all the main vendors are starting to be supported by centralized control platforms from the amazon/google/apples of the world so quickly you will be able to setup systems that work and don’t annoy those who visit.

There are still gaps in what is available, but today you can automate big chunks of your home in ways almost identical to the ways millionaires have been doing for the past ten years, at a tiny fraction of the cost, and for the DIY-er in all of us, this is exciting.

 

 

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When gambling can be the best option

Imagine a roulette wheel with a million numbers on it. Spin the wheel and if you get double zero you will die of a terminal disease. Sounds like a stupid game doesn’t it, why would you play?

Now imagine that instead of betting on one number coming up, you bet on every number, and everyone bets on every number. The wheel is spun and someone’s version of double zero pops up.

Luckily for that person all the bets placed on every number went into a pot to pay for the treatment of those who are unwell, so now the unlucky soul will either be saved or at least be treated.

Everyone plays the game because in this way everyone is covered.

Now imagine that the wheel has 300,000,000 slots, one for every citizen in the USA, and imagine there are lots of people’s numbers that will come up every day. So long as there is enough cash in the pot, those who get sick can get covered.

But if some people choose not to play the game for whatever reasons, then the pot gets smaller, and it can become too small to pay for those who are sick.

And imagine if the croupier starts to charge a fee to allow you to place a bet, a really big fee. Suddenly it gets a lot harder to take care of everyone.

Some people decide to stop playing roulette and instead create a series of smaller games of craps, with very few people playing each game. Each game really doesn’t have enough cash to deal with those who lose. But more games means more croupiers, which is great if you happen to be a croupier. And each game can decide who can play, keeping those most likely to lose out of their games, or place really high limits on how much they can win.

As a casino, this is not a place worth going to play. As a healthcare system, it looks like a scam.

Well that’s what we have.

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The real lesson to take away from the US Presidential Election and the UK Brexit Vote.

I’ve worked in the marketing “industry” for several decades, and have been on the “buy-side” all that time. To those not in the industry that means I buy marketing services (creative and media) from companies who sell it. Those companies use very similar techniques as are used in politics to advise on the right message and mix of media, and I’ve found that the accuracy of those “techniques” has always been biased towards the exact services that those “sell-side” marketers are pushing.

During the election cycle we saw every single media outlet doing whatever they could to keep their revenue streams happy. On TV and radio this means keeping consumers watching/listening across ad-breaks, while in print and online it was to maximize their viewership by offering views that would be attractive to as wide an audience as possible.

So every issue was represented from both sides, every fact was questioned without facts and every bullshit idea was presented as equal to any fact. There was absolutely no interest in what any candidate actually was going to do, what was important was presenting every position as equal, allowing every party to just talk and talk.

Stolen information from emails, and candidly recorded audio was presented without any interest in its integrity and was presented as being as valid as formally recorded statements, creating a level of uncertainty around every piece of knowledge, facts and non-facts were melded, and it became hard to distinguish rumor from fact, so hard that most people gave up even trying to, “her lies” and “his misogyny, bigotry and bluster” was seen as equal, which I suspect in the cold hard light of history will be seen to not be so.

And then to support all of this, highly nuanced surveys and polls were continually captured and presented. I say highly nuanced, because polls and surveys always end up speaking to a small group of people who actually are willing to spend the time to answer questions. And when you pay someone to run a survey they quickly learn who they can rely on, and will go to the same people again and again, despite the clear data issue this generated, because that’s how they get paid.

The goal is to create content in support of revenue. Cheap content, presented as valuable beyond it’s true value. Low cost product generating high profit revenue is the dream of any business, including the media.

Polls, surveys, snippets of information then discussed by talking heads and bloggers, who then become the news source for more talking heads to discuss (just look at Foxnews, MSNBC, CNN, NBC, BBC News, Huffington post etc). The actual validity of the core data quickly gets lost in the process of generating “content”

In business the sell-side marketers are always pushing “facts” in support of the “buy-side” marketers case to spend more money. “buy-side” marketers are always under pressure to justify their budgets, and once they start to rely on the “sell-side facts” they are hooked into an addictive cycle that requires them to just double down on their committed plan, spending more and more.

This is exactly what the media do in every election cycle. The biggest measure of a campaign is seen as how much are they spending on ad’s. When in fact these adverts have almost no impact on the election, and yet every campaign buys into the bullshit. Every talking head, newspaper and blogger is writing about who has a bigger war chest, and who is spending more in this month’s cycle of ad’s. Every Ad is presented as a powerful new tool to swing the result, a tool that never produced the promised results, EVER!

The pain that businesses feel when they cannot see a direct relationship between their marketing investment and their business performance is EXACTLY the same as the pain that the electorate feel when the polls prove to be entirely devoid of reality.

The people who are marching up and down outside Trump buildings, should maybe think about marching up and down outside the “free presses” offices.

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Who Is Better at Making Mountains Out Of Molehills (Or Molehills Out Of Mountains)?

Politics is obviously a very dirty sport, the idea seems to be that the one covered in the biggest pile of crap loses. And so politicians of every affiliation do whatever they can to dig up and throw as much shit as they can, hoping some of it sticks.

Sometimes they dig up stuff that is factual, and sometimes they just make stuff up, with little or no basis in reality. And sometimes the stories are relevant to the role they are aiming to fill and other times it’s irrelevant and just personal or humorous.

The hope is that with so much shit being thrown around, it will be possible to make the other person look unelectable. Truth, relevance and the issues at hand actually get lost.

If you like your candidate you want to believe everything they are saying, and if you hate the other candidate(s) you want to disbelieve everything they are saying.

The roll of an independent press is supposed to be to weigh the merits of all this, check the facts and present a simpler and cleaner view of the positions taken. But that ideal has disappeared in a cloud of money. Today’s press is poor, and will do anything to increase their revenue. The simplest way to get people to read/watch/listen is to use every technique possible to keep their audience long enough to increase the ad revenue. They do this my replacing journalists with opinion editorial. The stories today are nearly all interviews with pundits talking about their views on the latest view of another pundit.

There are some notable exceptions to this normal, but in world of millions of news sources, the few that actually investigate just seem slower and are often overwhelmed by opinion. And when they try and compete by moving faster they risk giving away their advantage of credibility.

A candidate (or their team) will say something directly (or indirectly) about their opponent, and all the pundits will report it, and then talk about it. They don’t go and check it, just “report” that it was said, and then ask as many people as they can find about their opinion. These people will be a mix, it’s possible one or two may actually have facts, but it’s impossible to spot facts in a fog of disparate opinions.

According to Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump is an entitled, misogynist, racist, fraudster and a bigot with fascist tendencies. And according to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton is terminally ill, a liar and a murderer and should be in prison or hanged for treason.

If you support Hillary Clinton, you will be able to point to hundreds of comments that “The Donald” has said, that support your position about him, and if you are a Donald Trump supporter you can point to many articles written by publications and pundits you like that support his position. Neither group is likely to change their position, irrespective of any further stories about your opponent.

There are (in theory) a small group of people who have not made up their minds, and it is these people that can be swayed. I’m not sure if these people actually exist or are postulated by the poor media as a way of ensuring maximum spend takes place until the very last moment in the election cycle.

And while all this goes on there are issues that need to be solved, and each candidate has positions on each of these issues. Many of these positions are not going to be enacted whoever wins, due to the layers of checks and controls, money and influence designed to stop significant change. But each of these is terribly important.

I’ve read the proposals from each of the candidates (and filtered out what I believe to be hyperbole), and I have an opinion on which one makes most sense, and I will be voting based on that. Like most people I have a visceral dislike for one candidate and find the other candidate capable and acceptable and even likable.

I hope my candidate wins, and I will be unhappy if the other one wins. But whoever wins and whoever loses, the world will keep turning and I will live with and support the result. That’s the responsibility I have, in living in a democracy.

They say in a democracy you don’t get the government you need; you get the government you deserve.

 

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