The Brave New World of text message spam

This year will be the 30th anniversary of the modern text message (SMS). It seems to also be the year of text message spam. I don’t remember receiving even a single spam or phishing text message prior to 2021 and in 2022 it is a near-daily occurrence. Here’s an example:

How is it supposed to work from here? I’m supposed to reply “My name isn’t Logan and here is my Visa card number…”?

Also, is it trivial for senders to spoof the from number? What if I call (304) 607-3405? Will that number belong to Logan, Selina, or Lucy? Or some person entirely unaware that his/her/zir/their phone number has been appropriated?

Why didn’t we get these before coronapanic?

Update from this evening… my uncles are looking out for me beyond the grave:

(In addition to being blind, Lisa will also be suffering from heatstroke if she wears that outfit on a date here in south Florida!)

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How to use a television as a digital picture frame? (2022 edition)

From 2012, Best LCD television for use as a digital photo display?:

  • must be programmable so that it comes on in “photo display” mode so that there is no need to monkey with a remote control after a power failure (or maybe default to photo display mode if a USB stick is plugged in); I have found the deep menus of modern HDTVs to be truly painful
  • must be programmable to shut itself off at midnight, for example, and back on at 8 am (to save power)
  • must be daylight-viewable (means LCD is better than plasma?)
  • must have low power consumption (implies LED-lit)?
  • [2022 addition] keep each image up for at least a few minutes

From 2010, Why don’t people use a small TV as a digital picture frame?

From 2014, Can Google Chromecast do a simple slide show?

What’s the answer to these questions today? I talked to some A/V installers who charge over $100,000 for a typical home setup and they couldn’t think of any way to have a TV turn itself on at the same time every day and start showing images of the consumer’s choice. Their only idea was the LG Gallery TV, but I think that is designed to show art and images from LG’s servers, not your own USB stick or local NAS share. Also, supposedly it is impossible to change the settings for transitioning from image to image, including both effects and timing.

I looked at the manual for the latest and great “Evo” LG OLED TV. It seems to have the same limitations as when I looked at Samsung and LG 10 years ago. The TV can turn itself on at the same time every day and tune to a particular channel or display a particular HDMI input.

(i.e., if you had a dongle that continuously went through the contents of a USB stick and turned it into 4K video, the TV could be programmed to show it)

How about the $4,300 Samsung “The Frame” TV? It doesn’t have an “on timer”, only an “off timer.” (But in theory it can turn itself on automatically via a motion detector?) It sounds as though displaying your own pictures can be done, but via a tedious importation process of one image at a time.

How about a $7,000 Sony 8K Mini LED TV that isn’t even available yet? The web-based manual suggests that it offers the same features as LG, i.e., to turn on and tune to a channel or input.

Since the TVs won’t do this for the $thousands that have been handled over by consumers, what about the dongle feeding an HDMI input idea? A December 2020 article on the subject says the dongles are called “media players” and describes the “Micca” product line, but these are limited to a feeble 1080p. The Amazon Fire TV stick might be able to do it with a cheap app that pulls images from Flickr. It will generate a 4K signal. China comes to the rescue with Rikomagic’s mini PCs and Android devices, sometimes with various apps, e.g., that can pull from Dropbox. All of Rikomagic’s products seem to have 4K HDMI output. I can already feel the pain of more devices to maintain, though, and also see this getting stuck and having to be rebooted. Not to mention lots of extra wires and periodic removal of the TV from the wall to get to the dongle, etc.

At this point, you’re thinking “Of course, the TVs can’t do this because who besides a handful of digital SLR nerds would ever want this?” In fact, however, a huge number of TVs are purchased for this exact role… in-store advertising, a.k.a., “digital signage.” Because, apparently, you can’t plug in a USB stick and have the TV do the rest, there are a lot of vendors happy to sell you the few lines of software that Samsung, LG, and Sony left out. Rise Vision is an example and it seems to be priced at about $120 per year per TV (i.e., over the life of a mid-priced mid-sized TV, more will be paid to Rise Vision than to the TV manufacturer).


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Special PIN to delete some applications and data when the police or school demand an unlock?

Some friends and I were discussing a kid who was kicked out of a school in Maskachusetts:

kids were caught vaping at school. Their phones were searched. The Man saw they bought it from [the kid who was kicked out]. Also an administrator suspended another kid for 1 day because the kid has called him a name in a text to the other kid.

This kicked off a discussion:

  • Me: The state that says marijuana is essential complains about vaping?
  • Friend 1: Private school. [A kid] was taken from school in handcuffs.
  • Friend 2: How’d they get into his phone?
  • Friend 1: They told the kids if they don’t let them search their phone they will be kicked out.
  • Ukrainian friend: so they searched and kicked them out! they are like the Russians
  • Friend 2: Use third party app. Delete that app when compromised.
  • Ukrainian: ambush PIN. if compromised, give out a special PIN to law enforcement, then pre-set up set of apps are erased in the background.

The “ambush PIN” idea seems to have been implemented to some extent on Android. See “Privacy Lock adds disk wiping unlock code to your Android device” (2015). But it leaves the phone in a suspiciously empty state. If the vape enthusiasts had agreed to use Signal or Telegram, for example, and these apps got deleted with their “ambush PIN”, the school authorities would find a typical teenager’s phone full of photos and innocent text messages.


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Monkeypox motivates Science to find something essential other than alcohol and marijuana

The Science-following states, e.g., Maskachusetts, California, and New York, closed public schools for 12-18 months while keeping alcohol and, at least in MA and CA, marijuana stores open as “essential.”

Let’s look at a recent tweet from one of America’s top scientists, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Medicine (smart enough to stop SARS-CoV-2 but not smart enough to notice an administrator stealing $40 million):

I think we can infer from the above that the bathhouse joins the marijuana and the liquor store in the “essential” category, as determined by Science.

Maybe Professor Gonsalves was always anti-lockdown? It is possible to search by date range within Twitter, e.g., “from:gregggonsalves school since:2020-08-15 until:2020-09-01”

In August 2020, Science wanted schools kept closed:

(the idea of “all schools open”, pushed by Donald Trump, was a mark of “surrender”)

And in July 2020:

Danger is everywhere, and especially in open schools:

So I think it is safe to say that, like in-person marijuana and alcohol retail, the bathhouse has been found by scientists to be more important than K-12 education.


  • “Monkeypox outbreaks across Europe linked to gay sauna and fetish festival” (PinkNews): Twenty-three new cases were confirmed in Spain on Friday (May 20), with regional health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero telling reporters that most of the cases had been traced from a single adult sauna, used by queer men for sex, according to Reuters. Authorities have also confirmed the first cases of monkeypox in Belgium, which have been linked to visitors of the Darklands fetish festival which took place from 4-9 May.
  • Darklands: Life is great, but it is even better in your favorite fetish gear. Darklands Belgium encourages visitors to explore their sexuality and develop a safe and sane interest for the many fetishes in our community. The event is a collaboration of different groups, organizations, clubs and over 150 volunteers. The various tribes in the gay fetish community (Leather, rubber, army, skinhead, puppies, …) come together to create a unique spectacle of fetish brotherhood. [i.e., it was “safe” except for the monkeypox]
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Xfinity xFi Pods mesh network review

One of the worst things about having moved from an apartment to a single-family house is that we were kicked out of the AT&T fiber 1 Gbps symmetric paradise and plunged into the dark pit of Xfinity cable Internet service (more money, 1/30th the upload speed). The good news is that the xFi Gateway (modem/router/WiFi base station) seems to provide reasonably good service through three walls, at least when one is not experiencing a complete service outage from Comcast. Beyond three walls it gets dicey and our old-school laser printer requires a Cat 5 connection.

Enter the xFi Pods. This is an official ISP-sold and -supported tri-band mesh network. Even more exciting, the pods include RJ45 jacks for dinosaurs who have laser printers requiring Cat 5 connections. At two for $200, the price is lower than shutting down the Xfinity WiFi network and building a new network with Eero or Netgear or similar. Carriers need to make everything idiot-proof so I imagined that setup would take mere minutes.

In case it helps others, this post is to report that the Xfinity system is

  • about one hour to set up (multiple attempts at configuration and repeating the same process about 6 times finally resulted in the Pods both affiliating with the Gateway)
  • not great at connecting clients to the closest wireless access point to the point that a phone will drop off WiFi altogether because it was trying to connect to the far-away Gateway and never discovered the alternative of a nearby Pod
  • prone to complete failures where both Pods will be offline and the only way to fix is to unplug everything, including the Gateway, and apply power sequentially

This is on top of the overall fragility of Xfinity, which fails at unpredictable times and fails hard after brief power outages (power cycling the gateway is insufficient; one needs to call Comcast and have them send a reset signal).

On the plus side, the Xfinity app is easy to use and it is easy to see which devices are connected to which access point (Pod or Gateway). Also, the Xfinity app gives you alerts when someone new connects.

With or without Pods, a deficiency of the whole Xfinity system is that, unlike with AT&T and Verizon fiber standard gear, there is no way to set up a guest network. Every service person who comes to the house will need to be supplied with your private network password (since Verizon doesn’t see fit to cover Jupiter, Florida, except on its fictional coverage map).

Here’s a question for network nerd readers: does the heavily promoted WiFi 6 standard have better protocols for ensuring that a client, e.g., smartphone, is always connected to the best wireless access point in a multi-point (but same SSID) system?


  • UniFi versus Araknis versus Ruckus (updated to reflect the fact that a lot of this stuff is certified to work only up to 40 degrees C and therefore shouldn’t live in an unairconditioned garage)
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Will masks for the general public work as well against monkeypox as they did against SARS-CoV-2?

“New Yorkers told to mask up again after local patient tests POSITIVE for same genus virus as monkeypox” (Daily Mail):

An NYC patient has tested positive for the same genus virus as monkeypox sparking calls from the health department for residents to wear masks indoors – just as New Yorkers were finally returning to mask-free normalcy after COVID-19.

The health department is encouraging New Yorkers to wear face masks to protect against the new virus outbreak, as well as COVID-19 and the flu. Monkeypox primarily spreads through physical contact but can also be transmitted through respiratory droplets in the air.

Why isn’t the best advice “Leave New York City, which is one of the world’s most crowded places”? The Science is strong with the NYC health department, but ordinarily a scientific conclusion is supported by evidence. What is the evidence that a monkeypox outbreak can be stopped by ordinary residents of a city wearing masks?

In a world obsessed with avoiding viral infection, I can’t figure out why cities like New York make sense (or why boosting population density in already-crowded cities via low-skill immigration makes sense). I have a lot more confidence that someone living in the suburbs can avoid monkeypox compared to someone living in a Manhattan studio apartment and going out to the stuff that used to make Manhattan attractive.

Combining these topics, a photo from June 2021:

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Coat the garage floor with polyaspartic or epoxy? Put in an air conditioner?

For the first time in my life, I live in a house with a reasonably nice garage. The floor is a concrete slab poured in 2003. For a lot of neighbors, however, this is apparently not sufficient. Because there are no basements in Florida, the garage is a critical storage facility and also sometimes the home of N-1 or N-2 cars (where N is the theoretical capacity of the garage in cars).

Does it make sense to put in a plastic floor? The cost is about $2,700 for a polyaspartic floor, which dries quickly and therefore enables the contractor to show up from 9 am to 2 pm and the homeowner to put everything back into the garage by 3 or 4 pm. The old religion was epoxy, which I think resulted in two days of downtime for the garage and two visits by the contractor, but Science now says that polyaspartic is better?

Readers who’ve done this: Why? And what material?

Also, I’m thinking that items stored in the garage will be in better shape if the temperature and humidity are limited to some extent. It will also help with my dream Internet system since the CAT5 wires all come back to a panel in the garage and typical modems and routers are rated to operate at temperatures no higher than 40C (104 degrees in the units that God prefers). Does it make sense to try to keep the garage to a maximum of 85 or 90 degrees with a split system?

Finally, if polyaspartic is the right choice, what color? The exterior has a lot of beige and the garage door is brown, so I was thinking of “Saddle Tan”. On the other hand, most of the ones that I’ve seen are gray (e.g., “Midnight” or “Smoke” below). “California Gray” can be ruled out since we don’t want to have to wear masks and show our vaccine papers in the garage. There is no “Blue Steel” or “Magnum”, sadly.

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Colorado Supreme Court forces hospital to deal with a consumer in a semi-reasonable way

News on one of my pet topics, the ability of hospitals to hit the unwary with bills for 5-10X what a service actually costs (i.e., what 95 percent of customers pay via insurance)… “She Was Told Surgery Would Cost About $1,300. Then the Bill Came: $229,000.” (NYT, May 21):

When Lisa Melody French needed back surgery after a car accident, she went to a hospital near her home outside Denver, which reviewed her insurance information and told her she would be personally responsible for paying about $1,337.

But after the surgery, the hospital claimed that it had “misread” her insurance card and that she was, in fact, an out-of-network patient, court papers said. As a result, Centura Health, which operated the hospital, billed her $229,112.13. When she didn’t pay, Centura sued her.

“I was scared about it,” said Ms. French, 60, a clerk at a trucking company, who eventually filed for bankruptcy. “I didn’t understand because I kind of relied on the hospital and my insurance company to work out what I needed to pay.”

This week, after a yearslong legal battle, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Ms. French did not have to pay nearly $230,000 for the spinal fusion surgery she underwent at St. Anthony North Hospital in Westminster, Colo., in 2014.

It took 8 years of litigation to shut down the conventional scam for this particular patient. How come?

Before her surgery, Ms. French signed two service agreements promising to pay “all charges of the hospital.”

Centura asserted that, because Ms. French was an out-of-network patient, those service agreements required her to pay the full rates, listed in a giant health system database known as a chargemaster — a catalog of the cost of every procedure and medical supply Centura provided.

In Centura’s view, the service agreements “were unambiguous and French’s agreement to pay ‘all charges’ ‘could only mean’ the predetermined rates set by Centura’s chargemaster,” the court said.

But the court found that Ms. French wasn’t responsible for paying those rates because she didn’t know the chargemaster even existed and hadn’t agreed to its terms.

Justice Gabriel pointed out that courts and commentators have noted that hospital chargemasters have become “increasingly arbitrary and, over time, have lost any direct connection to hospitals’ actual cost, reflecting, instead, inflated rates set to produce a targeted amount of profit for the hospitals after factoring in discounts negotiated with private and governmental insurers.”

“They have no basis in reality,” said Gerard F. Anderson, a professor of health policy and management and a professor of international health at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“The hospital cannot explain to anyone why they charge the prices they charge,” he said. “They are not based on costs. They are not based on accounting principles. They are fictitious instruments created by somebody in the hospitals.”

I still can’t figure out how the hospital’s behavior, despite being conventional nationwide, was ever considered legal in any state. It wouldn’t work for a car dealer to not tell a customer in advance how much a brake repair was going to cost and then charge that particular customer 5-10X what everyone else pays.

Some detail from the opinion:

Based on its understanding of the information that French had provided, Centura estimated that her surgeries would cost $57,601.77 and that after French’s insurance payment, she would personally be responsible for $1,336.90 of that amount.

Thereafter, and notwithstanding the fact that Centura had told French that her surgeries would cost $57,601.77 and that she would personally be responsible for $1,336.90 of that amount, Centura billed French $229,112.13, reflecting its full chargemaster rates. Centura did so because it determined that it had misread French’s insurance card and that she was, in fact, an out-of-network patient. Centura calculated the amount due after subtracting from the total charges the payment from French’s insurer of $73,597.35 and French’s payment of $1,000.00 (thus, the total amount that Centura charged was over $300,000.00, notwithstanding its pre-procedure estimate that the surgeries would cost $57,601.77)

The hospital’s victimization of this lady was far worse than the NYT article reports, in other words. Her insurance company actually paid the hospital more than the originally estimated fair cost of the services provided. But the hospital decided that it had found a clever opening to go after the patient for $229,000 extra.

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The grading curve at Harvard University

A friend was considering enrolling his high schoolers in a Harvard economics class. It costs a modest $7,000 per student. What does one receive in return? An A or a B, unless one happens to be in the bottom 10th percentile (source):

(The idea of grading on a curve is anathema to flight instructors, incidentally. At least in theory, everyone should be able to achieve proficiency and graduate with a decent grade. If everyone in a class meets the A standard, why can’t everyone in the class receive an A?)

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Department of First World Problems: the Tile tracker system

One of the good things about Florida is that you can walk out of your apartment or house without bothering to put on shoes or more clothing than gym shorts and a T-shirt. The downside is that you are often leaving wallets and keys somewhere inside, thus leading to a search challenge a few hours later when it is time to drive to a restaurant. Also, your typical Floridian may have at least three vehicles for which keys are required: car, pickup, golf cart. Putting these all on one huge keyring is cumbersome.

The New York Times/Wirecutter says that the choice of tracker should be limited to Apple AirTag and Tile.

If you’re already paying $1000+ per year to be part of the Apple ecosystem, why not Apple AirTags? They’re great if you lose things outside of the house because there are so many other people paying $1000+ per year to be part of the Apple ecosystem. They’re bad in every other way, though. You can’t put them on an existing keychain because there is no hole in an AirTag. You can’t put them in your wallet because there isn’t a version that is shaped like a credit card. The AirTag’s speaker isn’t as loud. If a heretic in your house decides to use Android, he/she/ze/they won’t be able to locate anything that is attached (using a proprietary Apple keychain that costs $29 to $449) to an AirTag.

The advantages of Tile:

  • thoughtful physical packaging (e.g., a hole for your existing keyrings)
  • no need to buy all new keyrings, wallets, etc.
  • a variety of physical packages (e.g., a “thick credit card” for your wallet, a small cylinder with included adhesive for sticking to TV remotes and similar)
  • there are a lot of devices that are already “tile enabled”. Laptops from HP, Dell, Lenovo, ASUS, for example
  • louder speaker to facilitate finding within the house or yard
  • multi-platform
  • press button on Tile to make your phone sound an alert even when it is on silent (i.e., if you’ve found your keys or wallet it will be easy to find your phone)
  • lifestyle video advertising the product includes a golden retriever on the couch (sadly, lower down on the page is a photo of a hipster)

With Apple there is no subscription service offered. With Tile you can use all of the core services without paying, but if you pay $30 per year (free for the first year) you get more location history, free battery replacements, and some insurance for lost items.

It took me about 5 minutes to download the Tile app for the iPhone, create and verify an account, and activate the the first tile. Additional tiles take about 1 minute to activate. Giving a tile a custom name, e.g., “Awesome Honda Odyssey Keys” instead of “Keys” takes a scroll and an extra press or two (would be nice if this were an option when activating, which it is if you select the “Other” category). The tiles are pretty rugged. I crammed one into the clip of a Stanley FatMax contractor-grade tape measure, which also includes a strong magnet, and it works perfectly. They’re spec’d to handle immersion in water for up to 30 minutes (IP67).

Now that I’ve played with the system one question that jumps out is “Why don’t car keys, all of which already have batteries, come with Tile built in?” Surely Honda, GM, Toyota, and Ford don’t want consumers to lose their keys. The list of Tile partners is extensive so plainly it wouldn’t be tough from a business or technical point of view to integrate Tile.



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