January 12, 2021

CDC mortality data for all causes and natural causes

In an earlier post I described how to download CDC weekly mortality data for the years 2014 through 2020 and import them into a MySQL database.

The first interesting piece of data I looked at was the number of deaths by all causes and by natural causes for each year:

year all causes natural causes
2014 2422841 2234024
2015 2541452 2336303
2016 2561148 2339197
2017 2632472 2397635
2018 2669694 2436463
2019 2678618 2440590
2020 2999326 2763829

There are several things to be learned from this:

  1. The deaths by natural causes make up the great majority of all deaths (92% in 2020, 91% in 2019).
  2. Total deaths by all causes were 320708 higher in 2020 than in 2019, an increase of 17%.
  3. Deaths by natural causes were 323239 higher in 2020 than in 2019, an increase of 13%.

It is surprising that deaths by natural causes increased by such a large amount, much greater than the increases for previous years. Because natural deaths make up most of all deaths, and because the increase in natural deaths was almost the same (actual slightly greater) in absolute numbers as the increase in all deaths, it seems likely that they account for most of the increase in all deaths. It will be necessary to examine the other causes of death to see if this is true.

December 23, 2020

How to use CDC mortality data without the Internet

The CDC mortality data for the last two years is difficult to find, but thanks to a posting on Lockdown Sceptics I was able to go directly to the data on the CDC site. This site contains death data for all of 2019 and 2020. But the site is bit clunky to use, and some filter condition operators (such as <=) aren’t supported. So I decided to download the raw data and import it into MySQL so that I could run my queries directly. Here’s how I did that:

December 13, 2020

Fallen leaves

Fallen leaves on hill above my house, two months ago.

December 12, 2020

Fixing Guest Session on Linux Mint 20

It appears that out of the box, the guest session feature of Linux Mint 20 (and Ubuntu 20.04) is broken. In the Mate edition of Mint, this feature is enabled in the Login Window portion of the Control Center. But if you attempt to login as a guest, an error dialog pops up saying “Could not update ICEauthority file /run/user/999/ICEauthority”. The desktop eventually appears, but only after a very long delay.

The fix is described in this forum post. The following two commands are all that is necessary:

sudo apt-get install apparmor-utils
sudo aa-complain /usr/lib/lightdm/lightdm-guest-session

December 11, 2020

Fixing UEFI boot order on HP Stream 14

I’m in the process of installing Linux Mint 19 on our little library’s several Windows computers. The latest candidate was an HP Stream 14, a small, lightweight laptop that is crippled in various ways, so I wouldn’t recommended it except as a cheap toy. I was finally able to get Mint and Windows 10 to dual-boot successfully, but it took a day’s worth of internet searching combined with lots of trial and error.

November 27, 2020

ThinkPad T450s boots slowly after RAM upgrade

After I installed an 8 GB RAM stick in the single DIMM slot in a ThinkPad T450s, the system didn’t seem to be powering on successfully. The usual ThinkPad logo didn’t appear within a few seconds. Instead, the screen remained black for quite a long time. I powered off the system and tried reseating the DIMM, but the problem remained.

It turns out that I wasn’t patient enough. According to a Lenovo forum post, it may take a couple of minutes for the system to boot the first time after a RAM upgrade, as it “checks timings and configures the slots.” Subsequent boots go quickly, as expected.

November 21, 2020

Fear and Loathing on the Hiking Trail

Back in early September, I went hiking in the early morning at a nearby state park. There were no other cars at the trailhead when I started out. Just before I returned to the car an hour and half later, I encountered two young women hiking up the trail towards me. They freaked out a little and scurried over to the side of the trail. One of them quickly put on a mask, and the other pulled her shirt up over her face. They apologized as I walk by.

This is what the all-pervasive narrative about fear of the unknown has done to us. Even in a safe situation, miles from civilization, in the outdoors, people are so consumed by fear that they engage in irrational, mindless behavior.

Other examples I’ve seen in the last few days:

  • People wearing masks while driving alone in their own cars

  • People wearing masks while walking down streets in town far from any other person

  • A man so panicked by my entering the post office just ahead of him that he refused to come inside at first, even though we were both wearing masks. I had to plead with him to enter and not stand outside in the cold.

November 19, 2020


That was then:

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

–Franklin D. Roosevelt

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.”

–Frank Herbert, Dune

This is now:

“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.”

–Hermann Göring

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

–Rahm Emanuel

October 30, 2020

Call forwarding on Tracfone / AT&T

Update: I no longer recommend this procedure. It worked for a while, but eventually AT&T permanently forwarded my phone and wouldn’t allow me to disable the forwarding. Every attempt to do so, either dialing the special code #21# or using the settings menu in the phone app, resulted in “connection error or invalid MMI code” or “unexpected response from network”. Buying a new SIM card had no effect. Tracfone support was unable to help, so I’m being forced to move the phone to another provider who understands the problem and knows how to fix it. This is an emergency phone now, not a primary phone, and it’s turned off 99% of the time, but it’s still annoying to have to deal with this problem.

Recent (at least the last five years) Android phones have a call forwarding option in the settings of the built-in phone app. But it’s very inconvenient: once you enable “always forward” and enter a phone number, the phone loses the additional settings for “when busy”, “when unanswered”, and “when unreachable”. These settings normally point to the regional voicemail access number. So when you later turn off “always forward”, you have to re-enter those three addtional settings, by typing the voicemail number three times.

A better solution is to use the provider’s call forwarding “star codes”, which operate independently of the phone’s own settings, and which preserve the voicemail forwarding settings. I use Tracfone on the AT&T network, and it took some trial and error to learn the correct star codes for call forwarding: many web pages have incorrect information that didn’t work for me. The one that finally provided the right information was this one from Florida State University. Here’s a summary:

To turn on call forwarding, dial **21*, followed by the destination ten digit phone number, followed by #, then press Send. On my phone, this resulted in a confirmation notification, but then the phone app appeared to freeze. I had to return to the home screen to unfreeze the phone app.

To disable call forwarding, dial #21#, then press Send. On my phone, this also resulted in a confirmation and a freeze of the phone app.

To make this easier to use in the future, I assigned each of these star code sequences to its own contact in the phone app, one called “Forward To Home”, and the other called “Disable Forwarding”.

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