ideatrash

Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

It's a decision: Your life and health means less than profit statements

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My amour has a prescription jumping from $40/month to $130/month... making the third maintenance medication that she's on that's in that range.

A friend of mine has a generic version of the maintenance medication she's on jumping to $450/month.

Neither is referring to a particularly obscure or new medication.

Both of them are citing prices with insurance.

They aren't the only people I know who have this problem. Not by a long shot.


When I see my friends and loved ones share this information on social media, there's usually two types of replies that show up.

The first suggests workarounds:  physician samples, discount cards, and ways to somehow make things work.

The second is purely sympathetic, for example:  "I'm sorry that's going on."


Both types of replies miss the point. 

They mean well, but still, they miss the point.

Because this is not a "situation".  This is not some act of God, some natural phenomenon.

No.

This is deliberate.  Each and every instance of the price of your medication skyrocketing, every time you're told you can't have the medication that actually works for you, it was designed and crafted by other people.

They try to hide behind charts and graphs.  They try to hide behind the names of corporations and closed board meetings and excuses about shareholders and profit statements.

But someone decided.

Someone - let's say a group of someones, even a whole damn corporation of someones - decided that you shouldn't be able to afford the medications you need to keep yourself healthy.  That you shouldn't even be able to get the medications you need to keep yourself healthy.

They decided your life, your health, was less important than making a bigger profit.

Maybe it's not hit you yet.  Maybe it's affected just a friend, or a loved one.  But sooner or later, all of us are going to be affected by this.

Sooner or later, all of us will discover that to them, our life is less important than a hedge fund making a couple extra bucks in dividends.

Are you angry yet?

Good.

Angry gets shit done.




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The GOP Dishonored Itself Last Night. Will Republicans Care?

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Never tell me there is no difference between the parties in the United States again.

Never.

Never tell me that your third-party vote for President - at least until the third parties have strong local and state representation - is anything other than handing a vote to the other party.

The events of last night - the cowardly and dishonorable late-night no-vetting attempt to get rid of the Affordable Care Act (y'know, that policy that was originally created by a right-wing think tank and whose "failures" largely rest with states who have refused to participate) make it clear that there is a hugely stark difference between the parties.

There are problems with the Affordable Care Act. But - unlike the bill that was up before the Senate last night - it doesn't allow employers to stop covering you. The bill last night would - according to the Congressional Budget Office - lead to 20% increases in all insurance premiums year after year and a massive increase in the number of people who are no longer insured.

That bill would have led to medical jobs going away.  That bill would have reduced your access to healthcare.

That bill would have killed American citizens.

NOT PRETEND that the now (strangely) lauded McCain is somehow on board with making sure that people are covered. Read his statement: his concern was that Democrats weren't on board with it.

It wasn't so much that people wouldn't be covered.


It was that the optics were bad.


This is the time, RIGHT NOW, to talk to your friends and loved ones. This is the time to talk to those Republicans who still believe the party of Eisenhower is still in there. 
 
Because I can believe that there are Republicans who still believe in the values of the party of Eisenhower.  Who believe in taking care of people while practicing fiscal conservatism.

But the politicians of the GOP have not been the party of Eisenhower for at least a decade now.  

And even if you believe that the ACA needs to be replaced or reformed, I'm willing to bet that the honorable Republicans out there think that their ideas are strong enough to stand the test of daylight.

I'm willing to bet that honorable Republicans think that their ideas should be tested and challenged so that they can be stronger.

I'm willing to bet that honorable Republicans realize that the actions of the GOP last night - trying to sneak a bill literally written on lunch break through in the middle of the night, with no chance for public input, examination, or debate - are the actions of those who do not believe in honor, decency, or the rule of law.

This is your moment, you average citizens who hold the values of Eisenhower.  

This is your moment, those of you who still believe in the GOP's "big tent".

This is your moment to scream through the phone lines and faxes and e-mail lists at your representatives.

Because they have dishonored the Republican Party.

And by association, have dishonored you.

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Sometimes we're all sociopathic. That doesn't mean it's okay.

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The person who sets off fireworks all night long on the 4th of July (or the weeks before or after it) is the same sort of sociopath who wears too much cologne or turns up the car radio to 11 and rolls down the window when their jam comes on.

That is to say, that person is all of us, sometimes.

That doesn't mean it's okay.  I totally understand fireworks on the 4th of July (or even the weekend closest).  Even until midnight.

But this year, for example, the fireworks went on that weeknight pretty much all night.  And the week before.  And they're still going on sporadically over two weeks later.

And I bet those people who are setting them off are thinking about nothing except how cool the fireworks are.  How enjoyable they are.

They aren't thinking about, for example, my dog cowering and afraid to go out after dark during the summer.


Again, there's nothing wrong with enjoying fireworks.  Or your cologne. Or your favorite jam while in the car.

But there is something wrong with being so selfish that you don't stop to consider how what you're doing is effecting all those around you.

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Flash Writing Challege This Weekend! Prompt at 8PM EST TODAY! FREE! NO EXCUSES!

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Several of us have started our own, self-hosted, flash fiction challenge over at a website we're calling Obsidian Flash.  It's on a forum behind a password, so that anything you write and submit is considered unpublished.  Registration is quick, free, and pretty painless.




Seriously, this thing is the perfect thing for you to do if you think writing is hard (or finding time for writing is hard), and especially if you haven't been writing for a while:

1. Challenges like this are great for stimulating creativity.
2. You're supposed to write for an hour (ish); you can make that time.
3. You don't have the time to critique yourself.
4. You'll get helpful feedback from published authors and editors like myself, Donna Munro, Anton Cancre, and more.
5. We are friendly, despite all appearances to the contrary. 


The next challenge is scheduled for THIS weekend.  The prompt will go up this Friday (THAT'S TODAY, FOLKS) at 8pm EST.  Author, and editor Sarah Hans is our flashmaster!

Go sign up now at http://obsidianflash.com/forum and we'll see you writing this weekend!

Here are the rules:

1. All stories should be complete, written and posted within 24 hours of the prompt being posted, and can be anywhere from one sentence to 1,000 words in length.  Typically the prompt is posted by 8pm EST on Friday, and stories are posted by 8pm EST on Saturday.

2. You may choose to write your story in any genre.

3. Your story must be built around the restrictions—words, themes, photo prompts, word limits, etc.—provided by the Flashmaster at the beginning of the challenge.

4. Once the participants’ work is posted, the voting and comment session begins and continues until all votes are in. Time limit for voting will be determined on the spot, depending on how many people finish the challenge.  Typically this is within 24 hours of the end of the writing portion, or 8pm EST on Sunday.

5. The winner becomes Flashmaster and chooses the prompt(s) for the next contest.  Also, you get all the Internet Bragging Points you think you can get away with.

Don't wait - get going and register at http://obsidianflash.com/forum right now and join us!

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And look, I'm getting e-mails from Grammarly asking me to take down pages again!

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If you've been around for a couple of years, you might remember when I talked about Grammarly.  My review of the service was that it wasn't worth the price, though my girlfriend at the time (who teaches college level English) gave it a much more scathing review:
I would NOT recommend such a program for my students or my school for a bunch of reasons. First, I can't see the quality of the feedback provided. If I can't see an actual sample, I wouldn't ever endorse its use. Period.

Second, the program appears to give A LOT of commentary on work, as if quantity indicates quality. Students need help not only finding problems but also PRIORITIZING them. An omitted Oxford comma is a stylistic choice; pervasive run-on sentences are a much more pressing issue.

Third, this program should be used ONLY under the guidance of competent real-live writing teachers. But admini$trator$ will see $12 a month as a wonderfully cheap way to get a new "teacher"; they'll get what they pay for. And without guidance as to HOW to use the comments, students may think that a properly edited piece of writing is GOOD, that the correctness somehow proves their content is okay. However, editing isn't revision. If I could give students grades based solely on where they placed their commas, my job would be much simpler and grading much more efficient.

There's a body of research out there, and more being conducted all the time, about computer-assisted writing assessment on products such as Criterion and My Access, which purport to assess content as well as correctness. Do they work? Finding of most researchers indicate, in short, that they don't.

Now, I'm back to grading. And not only for the commas.

But aside from the quality of the service, I also took exception with their scammy PR tactics, where they (under the guidance of Nick Baron) tried to essentially bribe me and other bloggers to get positive linkbacks and reviews, and then trying to get people to take down their negative reactions to said tactics.

That was four years ago.  You'd think they would learn, right?

Nope.

Karen Hertzberg, Grammarly's current "content specialist", sent me this e-mail today:
Karen from Grammarly’s team here with a quick request. We’re working on cleaning up our backlink profile, and part of that process involves removing certain links pointing to our site. Would you help us out by removing the Grammarly hyperlink on the following page?
 
ideatrash.net/2013/06/a-pr-person-from-grammarly-wanted-pr.html

Understand that we’re not questioning your website’s quality; we’re just doing all we can to comply with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. I’d be grateful if you’d email me to let me know when the link has been removed.
Thanks in advance for your help!
So once again, Grammarly is wanting folks to take down negative reviews (and reminders about their history of scammy promotion tactics).  But rather than being straightforward about it, they're claiming it's because of Google's Webmaster Guidelines.

Maybe - just MAYBE - they've hired a new PR person who is going back and undoing the damage that was done.  But considering that my response was as follows:
Are you kidding me?  Oh man, going about trying to get a negative article about you removed by pretending it is just complying with Google...oh wow.

Hell, you're gonna get another link now, detailing this conversation. 
You'd expect that they'd respond with a clarification that they were trying to walk the straight and narrow now instead of... well, silence.

So maybe Grammarly is trying to go back and remove all the scammy and spammy backlinks they generated years ago.  But if so, they're going about it in a particularly tone-deaf way. 

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Review: RimWorld

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RimWorld isn't your normal kind of game. The official description gives you a
hint of this:
RimWorld follows three survivors from a crashed space liner as they build a colony on a frontier world at the rim of known space. Inspired by the space western vibe of Firefly, the deep simulation of Dwarf Fortress, and the epic scale of Dune and Warhammer 40,000.
But before you think this is just another game like so many others, there's a big twist:
In RimWorld, your colonists are not professional settlers – they’re survivors from a crashed passenger liner. They'll be accountants, homemakers, journalists, cooks, nobles, urchins, and soldiers.
There's a lot to like about this game - though it's technically still in alpha (and has been since its first release at the end of 2013), it's more polished and developed than many other independent final releases. It's also very actively developed, with new releases bringing performance and feature improvements. Like many indie games, graphics aren't its biggest draw, but they're stylized and quite acceptable.

It's crossplatform - Windows, Mac, and Linux - and whether you use Steam or a direct download, there's an active modding community which lets you tweak and enhance gameplay significantly.

RimWorld has aspects of worldbuilding, RTS, and 4x games, and should appeal most to those who enjoy those kinds of games.

Rimworld is $30 (which includes all updates and the final game), and is well worth it.

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You don't seem too happy to see me.

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"You don't seem too happy to see me."

There are some phrases where tone of voice is everything.

This is one of them.

Admittedly it's disconcerting when someone you care about doesn't react the way you expect. Especially when you haven't seen them for a while.

It's possible to say this in a caring way.  If your loved one seems out of sorts, there's probably a reason. Saying this in a caring tone gives you an opportunity to find out what's wrong and to help.

The other way, though, is something completely different.  The other way is a demand for an emotional performance. It's a demand borne out of a sense of entitlement.

And that sense of entitlement is a giant red flag.

It might seem that the difference between the two tones is obvious, but too often our caring natures makes us want to excuse the latter. 

Don't. 

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When a hate site claims it's not a hate site, because religion

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The site linked to at the bottom is - and you've been warned - some concentrated, distilled, and purified self-righteous fuckery dressed up and pretending that it's a follower of an itinerant Jewish rabbi that lived two thousand years ago. 
 
There's almost too much on this page to really get it in one go.  From the predictable gender policing and anti-feminism to '9/11 was an inside job' to anti-Catholicism to the insistence that (somehow) only King James's version of the Bible is the only accurate translation (which also posits that English somehow hasn't changed since that time, but anyway).

But it's worth taking an eyeball-searing look at this yes quite probably triggering supposedly "Christian" website.  Especially if you're a Christian.
 
First, because It's stunning and horrifying and worth reminding yourself that yes, people like this actually exist. 
 
But the more important thing is easily missed if you don't scroll to the bottom.  There's a link where they claim "This is NOT a hate site" and "explain" how it's really a "love" site. I'm reminded of one of the street preachers who explained to me that since he was "born again", it was impossible for him to sin, since that would mean he wasn't actually born again.
 
And that's terrifying

It is not difficult at all to see how this kind of zealotry leads to extremism, or how prominent quotations of "...Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here" can become dog-whistles to violence.  (Christian terrorism in the US is a thing)

The dominant Christian narrative in the United States keeps claiming that Christianity is different than "those" religions.  They keep claiming - implicitly or explicitly - that it is a difference in the quality of the religions.

Sites like this do serve a valuable purpose: They show, quite clearly, that extremism isn't about which faith tradition or religion you follow. It's about the people following that religion.

With that warning: http://jesus-is-savior.com/

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TELL EVERYONE: If you're not freaking out about Net Neutrality, you're not paying attention.

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Imagine your grocery store only carried the brand of soda (or bread or soup or...) you hated. Or, worse, they'd let you get the kind you wanted - but only if you paid an extra fee.

And worse - you'd have to go to the next town over (or two towns over, or more) to find a grocery store that didn't stiff you like that.

That's what a world without Net Neutrality would be like - except with your e-mail, your web browser, your games, your music, your shopping, and more.


TODAY (12 July) is the Internet-wide day of action to support Net Neutrality.

It doesn't matter what your politics, views, or lifestyle is; you want net neutrality.

Help preserve Net Neutrality by heading to https://www.battleforthenet.com and letting your representatives know that you value a truly competitive free market and the ability to choose how you communicate rather than having someone else dictate it to you.

Also go to the FCC's site and leave a comment at http://gofccyourself.com (thanks to John Oliver gets you right to where you need to be) and click "Express". If you'd rather have directions (with pictures), those are here:

https://techcrunch.com/2017/04/27/how-to-comment-on-the-fccs-proposal-to-revoke-net-neutrality/

Fight for Net Neutrality! Fight for Imgur!

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ACT NOW to preserve the freedom of the Internet. (Yes, YOU)

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TODAY (12 July) is the Internet-wide day of action to support Net Neutrality.

It doesn't matter what your politics, views, or lifestyle is; you want net neutrality.

Help preserve Net Neutrality by heading to https://www.battleforthenet.com and letting your representatives know that you value a truly competitive free market and the ability to choose how you communicate rather than having someone else dictate it to you.

Also go to the FCC's site and leave a comment at http://gofccyourself.com (thanks to John Oliver gets you right to where you need to be) and click "Express". If you'd rather have directions (with pictures), those are here:

https://techcrunch.com/2017/04/27/how-to-comment-on-the-fccs-proposal-to-revoke-net-neutrality/


Fight For The Future - Net Neutrality from Nimblebot on Vimeo.

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Internet Day of Action for Net Neutrality is TOMORROW (12 July)

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Tomorrow (12 July) is the Internet-wide day of action to support Net Neutrality.

It doesn't matter what your politics, views, or lifestyle is; you want net neutrality.

Help preserve Net Neutrality by heading to https://www.battleforthenet.com and letting your representatives know that you value a truly competitive free market and the ability to choose how you communicate rather than having someone else dictate it to you.

Also go to the FCC's site and leave a comment at http://gofccyourself.com (thanks to John Oliver gets you right to where you need to be) and click "Express".  If you'd rather have directions (with pictures), those are here:

https://techcrunch.com/2017/04/27/how-to-comment-on-the-fccs-proposal-to-revoke-net-neutrality/

Giffing for Net Neutrality

Flash Challenge: THIS WEEKEND. FREE. NO EXCUSES. PROMPT AT 8PM TODAY EST.

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Several of us have started our own, self-hosted, flash fiction challenge over at a website we're calling Obsidian Flash.  It's on a forum behind a password, so that anything you write and submit is considered unpublished.  Registration is quick, free, and pretty painless.



So what? NO EXCUSES.

Seriously, this thing is the perfect thing for you to do if you think writing is hard (or finding time for writing is hard), and especially if you haven't been writing for a while:

1. Challenges like this are great for stimulating creativity.
2. You're supposed to write for an hour (ish); you can make that time.
2. You don't have the time to critique yourself.
3. You'll get helpful feedback from published authors and editors like myself, Donna Munro, Anton Cancre, and more.




The next challenge is scheduled for THIS weekend.  The prompt will go up this Friday (THAT'S TODAY, FOLKS) at 8pm EST.  Poet, author, and editor Anton Cancre is our flashmaster!

Go sign up now at http://obsidianflash.com/forum and we'll see you writing this weekend!

Here are the rules:

1. All stories should be complete, written and posted within 24 hours of the prompt being posted, and can be anywhere from one sentence to 1,000 words in length.  Typically the prompt is posted by 8pm EST on Friday, and stories are posted by 8pm EST on Saturday. 

2. You may choose to write your story in any genre.

3. Your story must be built around the restrictions—words, themes, photo prompts, word limits, etc.—provided by the Flashmaster at the beginning of the challenge.

4. Once the participants’ work is posted, the voting and comment session begins and continues until all votes are in. Time limit for voting will be determined on the spot, depending on how many people finish the challenge.  Typically this is within 24 hours of the end of the writing portion, or 8pm EST on Sunday.

5. The winner becomes Flashmaster and chooses the prompt(s) for the next contest.  Also, you get all the Internet Bragging Points you think you can get away with.

Don't wait - get going and register at http://obsidianflash.com/forum right now and join us!

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The one economic principle politicians ignore when immigrants are involved

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Look at your politicians.

See how many of them have championed the "free market".

Realize that the free market includes the idea that labor - that is, workers - is mobile, able to move freely to wherever the work is.

Realize that this means migration.  Realize that this means immigration

Realize that restrictions on immigration are quite literally restrictions on the "free market".

Look at your politicians.

See how many of them are hypocrites.

See how many only espouse the "free market" when it benefits them or their donors.

I've long held that politicians only read the first chapter of the economics textbook - the one where they spell out the "ideal" situation - and ignore the second chapter where it talks about how it doesn't work in real life.

But now, their racism and greed makes it clear they don't even give a damn about the first chapter.

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YOU must be the advocate for upgrading the OS at your day job; here's a script to help.

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With multiple exploits of older versions of Windows operating systems in the wild, I finally wrote up a quick primer to get folks up to speed at my day job and to help my superiors make the case that these threats must be taken seriously.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, that means you ABSOLUTELY must read this too.

There's really only one viable long-term solution: upgrade your operating system to either a more recent version of Windows or a version of *nix that is supported, patched, upgraded (I've talked about a  real-life example before.)   Unfortunately, many places (like my day job) have computer systems that are part of a vendor product, and therefore are not under the purview of our IT department.

Regardless: the short, and most important take-away is this:  You cannot leave your computers unpatched and unupgraded.  This is just as vital and important as the drive to install antivirus software was last decade.

I do suggest a couple of stop-gap solutions that might protect you... but only temporarily.

I hope the following outline/precis helps you make that case to the people who administer your computer systems as well.

Problem:  

    Multiple computers used to run systems are running outdated and unpatched versions of Windows

    In the our department there are [NUMBER] boxes running Windows XP, and [NUMBER] boxes running Windows 2000.

    These are provided by multiple vendors, including [LIST VENDORS HERE]

    Multiple threats in the last few months have been exploiting unpatched Windows systems

    WannaCry: Reuters. Ars Technica

    Petya: Microsoft TechNet

    These threats not only spread through user interaction, but spread via SMB on ports 139 and 445.

    These ports are actively open and listening on at least some of the systems, verified using the following command at a shell prompt

    netstat –ano | grep "LISTENING" | grep -e ":445" grep -e ":139"

    Boxes like these that are not directly connected to the internet may be at risk because of how these worms spread through networks.

    These vendor-supplied boxes are unlikely to be patched by the vendor without significant expenditures.

    Patching software on boxes used in [INDUSTRY] may void any validity testing.

    Windows XP and Windows 2000 are both beyond "End of Support": Microsoft

    There is a special patch for XP due to the worms in #2: Microsoft

Solutions

    Reach out to vendors to provide security upgrades to the OS (not to the applications)

    Determine if applying the security patch from Microsoft to the OS will void validity testing

    If not, acquire and install patches manually.

    Provide a router for camera systems that restricts access


Stop-gap Solutions  


    Determine if any processes on these systems require SMB; if not, uninstall it.

    Utilize Windows Firewall to block TCP/UDP 139 and TCP/UDP 445

    Utilize a restrictive HOSTS file; an example is here. If you don't know how to install a HOSTS file, you definitely shouldn't be trying this.

    4. Have ports 445 and 139 blocked at the router level across the LAN.

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