May 24, 2014
MOG is Dead - Long Live MOG!
I just wrote about MOG at the beginning of the month, and now its time to write about it once again. Here's the final update regarding the end of MOG. First of all, what 'was' MOG? MOG was an online music service, a blog network, and a social networking website where users could listen to, read about, and discover music. Music + Blog = MOG. I've enjoyed MOG music service from October of 2010 until 31 May, 2014. <rave>In my opinion, it was an excellent streaming music service. Offering a huge variety (16 million+ songs as of Sep, 2012) of songs. Given the fact that it started out featuring independent artists, it always had an excellent selection of my kind of music. It was available for free or pay. The service was available on numerous devices. I used to access the MOG music service using a Mac specific app on my desktop computer, on my Squeezebox (a portable streaming device), or any of the Roku boxes scattered about the house. The only thing I didn't pay for was the download capability (listening when I didn't have wi-fi or cell-connection, for use with iPhone/Mobile devices). That cost $9.99 a month (vice $4.99 a month), but I'm fine with the add free service for $4.99.</rave>
Based on the title of this article, and the number of times I said 'Was', you've probably figured out that MOG is no more... Sadly, it's true. MOG has ceased, closed its doors, been silenced. Here's a few more details: Back in July of 2012, Beats Electronics, LLC (Founded by hip-hop producer Andre "Dr. Dre" Young and Interscope-Geffen-A&M Records chairman Jimmy Iovine) bought MOG for $14 million. Beats bought MOG's music collection, but not it's blog and advertising network. The MOG Music Network (blog and advertising network) was sold to the radio and online media company Townsquare Media (in August of 2012) for a rumored amount of $10 million. So MOG was sold; divided into two parts. Recently, I received email confirmation from MOG that Beats Music is due to launch in Jan of 2014. Beats Music launched in January, but I didn't switch or sign up. MOG was still alive and kicking (at the time), and frankly, I didn't really like what I saw for the Beats Music service.
In one last bid to win over MOG users, all former MOG users were slated to receive two months of free service with Beats. <rant>If you're an AT&T mobile customer (like me), you might be eligible for 3 months of free service. Guess what? I'm not eligible, because I'm on a grand-fathered unlimited data plan. Yup - I'm being screwed by AT&T because I'm on an unlimited data plan. They don't like the unlimited data plan, and they're doing everything they can to move people off that 'unlimited' plan. So here's another example where a cellular provider promised something that they later regretted - Because they would much prefer charging people when they go over their limit on a 'limited' data plan.</rant>
I won't be signing up for the Beats music service. It seems too expensive for what you get, and it's future is too uncertain - considering the fact that it's been acquired by Apple. If Apple doesn't turn it around (release their own service built upon Beats and MOG) soon, I'll just go with rdio. I will miss the MOG music service. It did everything I wanted at a very low price. I will not switch over to Beats. I need to find a plan that fits my needs.
On the 27th of May, 2014, I learned (through the press/news and an email) that eBay has been hacked. Since I'm an eBay customer this concerns me. I hadn't received any official notification until March 27th! As a matter of fact, no one received any notification until well after the incident. Notifications this late in the game hurt stock prices, and they create negative stigma in the eyes of consumers. Customers wonder what happened, and eventually they settle on one of two conclusions: A - They didn't know that the hack occurred until months later, or B - They didn't care about my personal data. These are both bad things, and neither helps the company, but bad press (a hack occurred) seems to make people's brains hurt - Especially the knuckleheads at the company where the breach occurred. The executives eventually over-rule the legal departments. They argue that the loss in sales is greater than the legal ramifications. After all, they've got 'no fault' and 'forced arbitration' baked into their end user agreements and terms of service. Consumers couldn't possibly hold them responsible for the financial loses incurred as the result of a hack. They don't have any legal requirement to actually protect your credit card data...
Back to the story... I received an email from eBay. In that email message, they admitted that someone had executed an attack on their network. That someone had obtained a bunch of data. They're writing to let me know that nothing bad actually happened? Here's what the email said (reformatted for this web page):
IMPORTANT: PASSWORD UPDATE
Dear eBay Member,
To help ensure customers' trust and security on eBay, I am asking all eBay users to change their passwords.
Here's why: Recently, our company discovered a cyberattack on our corporate information network. This attack compromised a database containing eBay user passwords.
What's important for you to know: We have no evidence that your financial information was accessed or compromised. And your password was encrypted.
What I ask of you: Go to eBay and change your password. If you changed your password on May 21 or later, we do not need you to take any additional action at this time. Changing your password may be inconvenient. I realize that. We are doing everything we can to protect your data and changing your password is an extra precautionary step, in addition to the other security measures we have in place. If you have only visited eBay as a guest user, we do not have a password on file. If you used the same eBay password on any other site, I encourage you to change your password on those sites too. And if you are a PayPal user, we have no evidence that this attack affected your PayPal account or any PayPal financial information, which is encrypted and stored on a separate secure network.
Here are other steps we are taking: As always, we have strong protections in place for both buyers and sellers in the event of any unauthorized activity on your account. We are applying additional security to protect our customers. We are working with law enforcement and leading security experts to aggressively investigate the matter.
Here's what we know: This attack occurred between late February and early March and resulted in unauthorized access to a database of eBay users that includes customers' name, encrypted password, email address, physical address, phone number and date of birth. However, the file did not contain financial information. And, after conducting extensive testing and analysis of our systems, we have no evidence that any customer financial or credit card information was involved. We also have no indication of a significant spike in fraudulent activity on our site.
We apologize for any inconvenience or concern that this situation may cause you. As a global marketplace, nothing is more important to eBay than the security and trust of our customers. We know our customers have high expectations of us, and we are committed to ensuring a safe and secure online experience for you on any connected device.
Devin Wenig Signature / Devin Wenig
President, eBay Marketplaces
According to eBay, The attackers only took my eBay credentials, including email addresses, physical addresses, phone numbers, date of birth and the 'encrypted' passwords. How were the passwords encrypted? Exactly... As we learned in the Adobe hack of 2013), there are huge differences in the ways in which passwords can be 'encrypted'. Again, why didn't eBay simply reset our passwords or lock us out of our accounts until we reset the passwords ourselves? According to eBay, "if you use your eBay password on any other websites, you should change your password on those site too". In my opinion eBay should have aired on the side of caution and simply suspended/disabled all the affected accounts. I've got the feeling that we haven't heard the last on this matter...
eBay claims that the hackers didn't gain access to my PayPal information or any financial information. I sure hope this is true, because I certainly don't trust eBay to tell me the truth - Especially when it could have severe financial and legal implications. Especially if the hackers actually got our credit card/financial information. Time to change my password...
<rant>News Flash! eBay wants me to reset my password, but guess what?
I can't reset my password! Why not? Well, if you attempt to log in - You know, in order to change your password, right? No you can't really log in. When you attempt to log in, you are immediately directed to a 'Change your password Now!' web page.
You have three options for changing your password. 1 - We'll send you an email with details. 2 - We'll send a text to you with details. 3 - We'll call you with instructions. Hmmm - The phone number they've got is out of date. I haven't used that number for 9 months or so. I opt for the 'Send me an email' option... Of course that didn't work. Who knows? Maybe their servers are overloaded? I waited several hours and never received any email. Of course I tried more than once, as if that would actually help.
The email never arrives. I've waited minutes, hours, days! Should they be able to send me email? I don't see why not, they sent me the 'Change your password now!' email, and that's the same email they're using to send me my password reset details… Does that email address work? Yes it works! I just tested it using two different accounts (not the same as the domain/service that the email address is hosted on), and eBay already sent me an email to the same address!
Well - Why not use the other methods? 'Get a text' or 'Get a call'. If only I could use those. As it turns out, I've changed my phone number, but I never updated eBay. Great! So the email reset doesn't work, and the phone number they've got on file is old...
Here we go - It's 'Social Engineering' time: This is probably how the hackers stole all that data to begin with. How easy is it going to be for me to actually call eBay and convince them to 'reset my password' over the phone? I hope it doesn't get to that, but I clearly need to contact eBay as these reset methods aren't working for me.
First, I tried to contact eBay customer support via email. That was a mistake. It's impossible. They don't seem to have an email address? What? Yes, they literally don't have an email address. Or at least I couldn't find one, and I'm not the only one who can't find an eBay customer service email address. Seriously! You may not believe me, but give it a try yourself - Do a search on Google for: "Is it possible to contact eBay support via email?" or some similar string. You will soon discover - as I did - that you cannot contact eBay by email. Wow! Talk about ridiculous.
Alright - email is out, so let's call eBay. Finding a phone number wasn't easy or obvious. Of course it wasn't actually listed on the email they sent me. No of course not. You have to log in to get that information - Wait a minute, you can't log in, you have to change your password first - Brilliant! Why couldn't they just include the phone number on the email they sent me? Am I stupid or something? Doesn't it seem obvious that a company that wants you to call them would include their phone number in the email that solicits your phone call? After a ten minutes of google searches - Yup, can't find the phone number on the eBay site...
I call the live telephone support number. Yup, eBay doesn't offer email support. So I call the first tier of customer support. No answer, but some cheery information. Initially it said the wait time was three minutes, but I waited at least 10 minutes. When I finally get through to the customer support, I explain the issue. In detail, being patient, speaking slowly and calmly. Trying my best not to be irritated. She wants to help me reset my password and believes that we can get that done right away. After verifying my identity she sends me an email with instructions to reset my password. Did you receive it? No I didn't receive it. That's the problem, I'm not receiving the reset emails. Then she directs me to the website where I'm directed to choose one of the other options… YES I already told her that the phone numbers listed for the other two options are out of date.
She asks if I have other email addresses. Yes, I've got a lot of other email addresses. Great (I think), maybe we'll get this resolved. Then she transfers me to an 'account specialist' - What? That's when I was on hold for thirty minutes... I hang up the phone. If eBay's goal is frustration they're awesome! I'm quite frustrated and irritated at this point. The irritation must be an extra bonus sensation. I was on the phone for 45 minutes trying to reset my password. Was I able to? No. Will I have to call back again tomorrow? Yes - Will I ever be able to change my password?
Update: 30 May, 2014: eBay still blows - For not notifying people until way too much time has passed (incident(s) occurred two months ago!). For not having a functioning email password reset mechanism. For only having a phone support (with limited hours and a long wait time). For not hiring technically competent customer support. For transferring me to a non-existent 'specialist'.
Days later - I was finally able to update my eBay password on the 30th of May. My first call went through very quickly (wait of less than five minutes); followed by an announcement: "Hello, welcome to eBay customer service…". That's when I got disconnected. I called back, but I had to wait another ten minutes to get through the second time.
After someone answered my call I had to go through twenty minutes of troubleshooting. Repeating all the steps I've already gone through. Repeating everything I've already tried to the customer service rep. Who continually asked me to do things I've already done - and told them I already did. Can you please click on the 'Get An Email' icon?
The 'email' reset method only worked after I specifically whitelisted the <email@example.com> email address. Yes, I had to white-list that email address. I had '@ebay.com' whitelisted, but that wasn't good enough. Now that's strange. How did we figure this out? I indicated that I had the @ebay.com domain whitelisted, then the customer support indicated that I should put the email address <firstname.lastname@example.org> on my 'Safe Senders' list. EBay must be included in some serious anti-spam filters. That must be why the password reset emails were getting deleted before they hit my inbox.
After I finally got the email, I set my new password to a very difficult to guess password. eBay insists on a password with length of 8-12 characters with mixed case and special characters. I wish I could use more than 12 characters... I also updated my other contact information in order to avoid any future problems. I finally managed to reset my password after three days of effort - Imagine how much time the typical eBay user actually spent resetting their password. I wonder how many customers eBay lost due to this password reset fiasco? Number of people affected? Appx 145,000,000!
After I reset my password (and received a confirmation email), I continued to receive additional 'Reset your password' email for two more days!</rant>
What's your experience? Do you have an eBay account? When did you get notified? Have you reset your password? Which option did you use to reset - email, text, or phone?
Apple drops the ball on the Mac App Store:
Towards the end of May 2014 (I noticed it on the 25th of May, 2014), Apple forgot to update a very important SSL certificate. The SSL certificate which verified the App Store t5ransactions/domain was allowed to expire - Ooops! As a result of this oversight, no on could update software by way of the App Store on any Mac computer. Nice going Apple! I confirmed that it was affecting me on three of my computers (My iMac, my wife's MacBook Pro, and my MacBook Pro (I didn't check on my Mac-Mini). When attempting to update software via the App Store, the following error is noted:
At first I thought this was a problem with my computer, and I spent a few minutes verifying my connection to the internet. It didn't take long before I realized what the real problem was. I was surprised, but relieved at the same time. There wasn't anything wrong with my computer, but Apple definitely has a problem.
Apple really dropped the ball on this one. Without a valid SSL certificate no one can update their software. It's a pretty big blunder for a company as big as Apple. You would think that someone would be paid enough to make sure that this type of certificate wouldn't fail. One could easily set up a reminder (by way of Calendar and Mail) to make sure someone was updating the certificate with time to spare.
The outage didn't last long (24 - 27 May, 2014), but apparently the person responsible works days, because the outage lasted through the weekend. It didn't get fixed until Monday morning. It's a pretty big blunder, but thankfully it didn't result in any compromise of user/customer data. Someone probably got a serious talking to...
More Music in May:
Here's a list of some of the music I recently acquired. Where do I get all this stuff? Well, I used to find/discover a lot of free (actually free) music by visiting several of the new music web sites (Pandora, 3hive.com, musicalfamilytree.org) and several other music blogs (Analog Giant, Brooklyn Vegan, Fluxblog, Gorilla vs. Bear, etc) out there, and listening to a few different music podcasts. Used to... Now? Now (As of Oct of 2010) I subscribe to an online music streaming service called MOG, and I've recently (as of Sep 2011) started using eMusic 'Radio' stations for music discovery.
Here's a listing of some of the music I legally downloaded - and paid for!
iTunes Music Downloads:
Sometimes I purchase music from iTunes, and sometimes I take advantage of their free downloads (check it out on Tuesdays/That's when the major labels release their new recordings). iTunes is the King of the Hill when it comes to the bigger names, so sometimes I find that I have to pay the higher prices. Here's a few of the downloads I recently scored from the iTunes store.
* No Agenda - Short Fuze: (Single) When this song first became available it was only available via iTunes. As of today (20 Mar, 2016) it's also available on eMusic. No Agenda is my favorite podcast, and this song was produced by one of the listeners/producers. I bought a copy to support the show and the artist. Shortfuze has crafted an excellent song here. The music fits in the 'hip-hop', 'funk' or 'Rap' genres. The lyrics are a reflection of No Agenda themes; dark, paranoid and slightly explicit. If you're a fan of the podcast you'll probably like the song - You think I'm paranoid 'cause you don't like what I say!
This is one of the items I added to my music collection during this month. Since revamping my music collection back in September of 2005, I've been slowly adding, revising and updating the collection. If you have a comment, question or correction regarding my collection, please don't hesitate to send me an email. Please keep in mind that my collection isn't for sale, and I'm not interested in giving you any copyrighted materials. I'd rather not go to jail for music piracy. :-)
It's been a very long time since I've posted any D&D updates. Unfortunately, I doubt that I will be able to post many more for some time. During 2013, our D&D campaign saw at least six players announce their departure from our campaign. After dealing with all those changes, I still had one vacancy I was trying to fill. Keeping the campaign fully staffed is a full time endeavor. During/After that disruption in our campaign, I fell far behind on the "Rob's World!" website. I'm still updating, but I'm way, way, way behind. I'm writing this May 2014 entry in March of 2016, and catching up is something I may never do, but I'm trying. At the moment, I'm going through my notes and I see that I posted some new D&D material back in May of 2014.
3rd Edition Campaign:
I updated the date of our next meeting - Our next meeting will take place on the 12th of Mar, 2016 (It's a meeting that will happen in the future, as I'm writing this in the future... Sort of - Wow that would be difficult to explain, so just ignore these comments). The "3eCampaign" page is the first stop for information on the campaign that I'm currently running. Here you'll find information regarding our next meeting, some notes, and an index of web pages and documents that are important to our campaign. You can also check out the latest group photo - I know, it's out of date.
A new Feat/Flaw:
I added one new Feat/Flaw to our campaign feats document. This particular Feat/Flaw was introduced into our campaign at the suggestion of Jeremiah. His new character (Silent G. - Who is no longer part of our campaign, as Jeremiah left the group, and his character followed suit) is an interesting take on the 'Drunken Master' archetype. This new 'Feat' is a bit unusual. It's a combination Feat and Flaw in one. Taking this Feat is free, as doing so also imposes the Flaw features/limitations upon the character who takes the Feat. The Feat/Flaw is listed twice in the house rules document (once under Feats, once under Flaws). If you have any questions/comments regarding the Feat/Flaw (or the house rules document in general), please feel free to email me.
DRUNKEN BRAWLER [GENERAL]
(This particular Feat is a bit unusual. It's a combination Feat and Flaw in one. Taking this Feat is free, as doing so also imposes the Flaw features/limitations upon the character who takes the Feat) You need a little help from your friend alcohol in order to loosen up enough to truly excel at free-form martial fighting. An excellent Feat/Flaw combination for Monks and Warriors, but not those lacking unarmed/martial skills.
Prerequisite: Base attack bonus +1 and a stiff drink.
Benefit: When plied with alcohol, a character with this particular Feat/Flaw can use furniture, farm implements, or nearly anything else at hand to attack his foes. A character with this feat/flaw will stay affected whenever they have access to alcohol, steadily consuming at the rate of 36oz beer, 16oz wine, or 5oz distilled spirits per 8 hours of wakefulness. A DC15 will save is required once per day in order to not drink when alcohol is available (e.g saving the last bottle for combat). The character becomes sober 2 hours after their last drink. When sober, such as on awakening from a rest, a player must spend a standard action to drink enough to become affected. The benefits begins on the player's next turn.
A character with this Feat/Flaw, when affected by alcohol, wielding an improvised weapon deals as much damage as her unarmed strike plus an extra 1d4 points. The character's unarmed strike becomes the basis of the damage, not the improvised weapon.
Effect: Note that there is no 'in-game' effect for inebriation. It is handled entirely as a role-playing opportunity by the Players and DM. No consequences beyond the imagined social and physical effects, adjudicated ad-hoc should be imposed. Any player running an inebriated character should do his/her best to have the character behave in a manner appropriate to the situation.
Normal: Any creature that uses an improvised weapon in combat is considered to be non-proficient with it and takes a penalty on attack rolls made with that object (see house rules 'Weapon Non-Proficiency Penalties', pages 18-19).
Special: A character with this Feat/Flaw is not considered 'Non-Proficient' with improved weapons when they are under the influence of alcohol. See Complete Warrior, pages 158-159 for additional information on improvised weapons.
When a player rolls a natural 1 on an attack roll (while the affected/inebriated character is attacking with an improvised weapon) the improvised weapon breaks apart and becomes useless. This breakage occurs regardless of the fumble confirmation roll (see house rules 'Fumbles', page 30), although the roll still needs to be confirmed for fumble and additional consequences. (see house rules 'Fumbles', page 30 and 'Critical Success/Failures' pages 24-25).
Small and medium weapons have a DC10 Fumble DC/Dex check to avoid fumble damage, large improvised weapons (medium sized chair or larger) require a DC15 Fumble DC/Dex check to avoid fumble damage.
Improvised weapons with more than two protrusions (such as chairs) provide a +2 bonus on an opponents' disarm attempts. Finally, large objects with broad, flat surfaces (such as tables) can be held to become improvised tower shields (granting a +2 armor bonus to AC (provided the character is proficient with armor)). A table that is large enough to stand on its own can be used as cover (see PHB 'Cover', pages 150-152).
Characters who have taken this Feat/Flaw at least twice (see below) may use long improvised weapons (such as ladders) as reach weapons according to their length.
Most improvised weapons deal bludgeoning damage, although some (a broken glass bottle, for example) would deal piercing and/or slashing damage.
This Feat/Flaw can be taken more than once. It may be taken initially (for free) when a character's base attack bonus is +1. It may be taken a second time as a normal Feat selection when the character's base attack bonus is +4 or better; provided the character meets the BAB prerequisite and has already the Feat/Flaw once. If the Feat/Flaw is taken a second time, the damage bonus increases to 1d6. Characters who have taken this Feat/Flaw at least twice may use long improvised weapons (such as ladders) as reach weapons according to their length. The Feat/Flaw may be taken a third and final time when the character's base attack bonus is +7 or better; provided the character meets the BAB prerequisite and has already the Feat/Flaw twice previously. If the Feat/Flaw is taken a third time, the damage bonus increases to 1d8. A fighter classed character may select this Feat/Flaw (for the 2nd or 3rd time) as one of his/her 'bonus feats' as if it were a 'Fighter bonus feat' as listed on Table 5–1 of the Player's Handbook (See PHB page 90).
See Complete Warrior, pages 158-159 for additional information on improvised weapons.
Credit: Jeremiah Johnson and Robert Vaessen (Created May, 2014 - Used with permission), adapted from 'Improvised Weapons', 'Improved Improvised Weapons' and 'Greater class features in Complete Warrior's handbook. See the 'Drunken Master' prestige class, pages 28 and 29.
Jeremiah wrote up the Feat/Flaw, submitted it, and I revised/edited it for use in our campaign. We went back and forth a couple times in order to finalize the wording/rules. As a result of this addition (to our campaign's list of house rules), I have updated the '3enewfeats.pdf' document. The feats document contains campaign tailored skills, feats, traits and flaws. The feats listing is available for download by the members of our D&D campaign. It's a password protected pdf, so you'll need the password in order to read it. I encrypted the document because some of the materials are taken in whole directly from copyrighted game materials. It's not my stuff, and I don't have explicit permission to re-distribute it.
Recently (24 May, 2014), I added a bunch (five books) of new rule books to my D&D Books document/page. These are rule books for my favorite game. Acquired as gifts during Christmas of 2013, the latest acquisitions are:
* Fiendish Codex I - Hordes of the Abyss: An optional supplemental source book for the 3.5 edition of the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game. This book provides new Demons (Demons constitute a 'race' of bad guys from the 'Abyss', a plane of existence in the D&D game - Where creatures of Chaotic Evil alignment live), demon lords, feats, spells and adventure locations (including descriptions of several layers of the Abyss). Some of the material in this book comes from the 'Book of Vile Darkness' (another supplemental source book). Most of the demons are quite powerful, and I don't expect to use many of these monsters in my campaign; until the characters reach much higher levels.
* Fiendish Codex II - Tyrants of the Nine Hells: An optional supplemental source book for the 3.5 edition of the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game. This book provides new Devils (Devils constitute a 'race' of bad guys from the nine layers of 'Hell', a plane of existence in the D&D game - Where creatures of Lawful Evil alignment live). This supplement is the definitive resource for information about Devils and the Nine Hells of the D&D world.
* Draconomicon: The Draconomicon is an optional sourcebook for the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, providing supplementary game material focusing on Dragons. The book covers Dragon physiology and psychology, along with some Dragon specific feats, spells and prestige classes. Of course there are also new Dragons and dragon-related creatures detailed in the book. There are also rules for aerial combat and breath weapons. For players there are new feats, spells, magic items and prestige classes. Different versions of the Draconomicon have been printed over the years (for different versions of the game). This particular version was created for the 3rd edition of the game.
* Forgotten Realms - Lost Empires of Faerun: This book is a campaign supplement for the Forgotten Realms setting of the 3.5 edition Dungeons and Dragons fantasy roleplaying game. My campaign incorporates/makes use of the Forgotten Realms, so this 192 page book will likely be useful in my campaign development. The book contains details about many of the ancient realms of Faerun. New prestige classes, feats, spells magic items, monsters and locations.
* Enemies and Allies: An accessory rules-supplement for the 3rd edition of the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game. This soft-cover book contains statistics and descriptions for several NPCs (Non-player characters) of different types for use in a 3rd edition campaign. Many of the 3rd edition books are usable in the 3.5 version of the game. The book also contains a quick character generator 'tree', which can be used by the DM (Dungeon Master) in order to quickly create any type of character for use in the game.
That's a lot of new books. I've barely cracked them open, and I'm sure it'll take some time to integrate them into our campaign. After I've had a chance to read through them, and complete a review, I'll update the house rules for our game. These new books offer many new options for the players in our game, and several new rules variants for me (the Dungeonmaster). Hopefully it won't take too long to complete the review. As a result of these additions, I updated my D&D books page. I also rearranged the order of the books in the 3.5 listing. If you're a player in our campaign, you can expect a few more tricks up my sleeve, and a few more challenges in the dark corridors ahead!
These updates follow one of our meetings in May of 2014 (sort of). You can keep up to date with our adventures by continuing to visit "Rob's World!" for all the latest campaign info. I'm trying to keep these documents up to date for the benefit of our current players, former players and lurkers of all sorts. If you're enjoying the story of our adventurers, I encourage you to write me and let us know. Perhaps you've got an idea you'd like to share, some criticism or praise. Either way, it'll be earnestly appreciated.
ICANN does something to stop Spammers?
ICANN - The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICANN is a non-profit organization in charge of the Internet. They're responsible for coordinating the overall maintenance and methodology of the public internet. In charge of assigning, arranging and granting permission to registrars so that they can register, sell and maintain the domains, networks and websites that constitute the internet. Basically they're charged with keeping the internet stable and secure. Maintaining standards, databases, registrations, enforcing the standards and collecting the fees that keep it all running.
While ICANN isn't directly in charge of doing anything about spam, they are responsible for registrars, the companies that dole out, maintain and host various domain names. Names such as 'reallycheapcanadiandrugsforyou.com' and 'spankmybottomunderagehookers.com' (not real domains). When a company registers these domains, they are required to do so using verifiable and legitimate contact information. Like a real address and a real phone number and a real email address. If the organization registering the domain is planning (or currently engaged in) some nefarious activity, they might register the owners name as "Juan Carlos" or "Joe Smith" at "1234 Somewhere St., Anytown, CA 90012" phone number: (200) 837-5309" and an email address of <email@example.com> - If a registrar permits this sort of behavior, they're violating the rules/terms of service between them and ICANN. If someone complains that they can't contact the owners of the website: "spankmybottomunderagehookers.com", ICANN is required to conduct an investigation, demand compliance (from the registrar), fine the non-compliant operators and shut down those (registrars) that simply refuse to operate iaw the rules... So what could go wrong?
The answer? Plenty - (Note that this is all my opinion) If you rely on money to keep going - Just because its a "non-profit" doesn't mean they don't make any money - then you need and want money to keep going. If you cut off your supply of money you go out of business. If the biggest clients are also the biggest spammers, then you've got a big problem. How do you continue to take their money, when you should be shutting them down? I know - You pretend to be shutting them down! You pretend to do investigations, you cover for them any way you can. You point in the other direction. You blame the people who report problems. You hire people who aren't capable of doing investigations. You refuse to provide information. There's plenty of ways you could put on a show (again - this is just speculation and opinion).
I and others (members of KnujOn) have been sending email to the ICANN Ombudsman; someone who is supposed to act as a liaison between the general public and the bureaucratic miasma that is the internal machinations of ICANN. Someone who's supposed to bring our concerns (those of the unwashed masses) to the all-mighty rulers of the ICANN. (my opinion/interpretation). My letter basically asked ICANN to enforce the compliance of Registrar violations (in effect shut down those registrars who harbor spammers). At the end of my letter, I restated the problem and my request:
My name is Robert L. Vaessen. I am a domain registrant, an internet user, and a recipient of abuse at the hands of individuals who have taken advantage of lax 'internet enforcement' in order to send me spam, forge my email address, steal my identity, implicate me in spam messages sent to others, and target my domain hosting services for flood attacks. Spammers and criminals who hide behind false WHOIS registration information, lax enforcement (by ICANN) and complicit registrars are destroying the internet in order to profit off the sales of illicit services and illegal goods. The only authority in a position to stop these 'bad actors' is ICANN. Without strong oversight and enforcement by ICANN, we will never defeat this scourge of the internet.
Over the years, we've received lukewarm responses, ignorance, and silence. Now we're starting to receive some 'pushback' - You know you're having some effect when ICANN is actually complaining about the fact that we're complaining. What with all the pesky evidence piling up, it's making it difficult for them to simply ignore the spam favorable registrars that are blatantly ignoring and violating the ICANN rules. During the second week of May, 2014, Garth Bruen (principal investigator for KnujOn.com) was interviewed on Fox by Catherine Parrotta on the problem of illicit online drug traffic.
This was just one small step in the continued investigative efforts of KnujOn to disclose long running spammer campaigns that endorse, enhance and profit off various illegal activities, including: Human trafficking, illegal drug sales, underage porn, fake products, counterfeit products and many other illegal activities. This interview represented one of the investigations supported by KnujOn (which is in turn supported by member reports and submissions). In May of 2014, ICANN finally acted (in a positive manner) in response to one of the many reports submitted by KnujOn. On the 8th of May, 2014, ICANN finally submitted a 'Notice of Breach' to one of the registrars responsible for all the spam, porn and illegal pharmacies which funnel money to illegal operations around the world. ICANN found BizCN to be 'non-compliant' with its registrant responsibilities, and they 'requested' that BizCn cure the breaches by the 29th of May - Or else! Or else what? Or else ICANN might terminate BizCN's registrar status. Oooh, that sounds serious. These guys at ICANN. They can't even muster the fortitude to say 'Demand'. The wording of this letter almost reads like a jilted lover begging to get back with his estranged girl. Please make things right, so we can get back together. What wimps. how disgusting. After all the evidence and years of opportunities to correct the problems; now they get 'one more' chance.
I guarantee you that this 'Notice of Breach' only happened because of KnujOn and its supporters. The last thing ICANN wanted to do was engage in any kind of enforcement against this registrar. They've been a safe haven for spam, malware and consumer fraud for many years. This action only points to bigger issues, since this enforcement action is a complete reversal of ICANN's stated position on BizCn. KnujOn's first complaint about the problems with BizCn (based on samples submitted by KnujOn members) was filed in June of 2011.
ICANN did not process or investigate that complaint. When questioned about the issue, ICANN insisted that the BizCn data was valid because BizCn said so. While KnujOn continued to raise the issue at every opportunity, ICANN continued to maintain that the registrar was not in violation. Move along, nothing to see here. They also insisted they did not need to explain the process or reasoning. In response to transparency requests for specific documents relating to the case, ICANN claimed that their "special relationship" with BizCn prevented them from disclosing the documents; then they fired employees who were investigating the case. Shortly afterwards, KnujOn discovered a sexual assault site registered under BizCn. These ongoing problems became part of a comprehensive letter and report sent to the ICANN CEO, which he refused to discuss or respond to.
KnujOn never gave up. Partnering with a journalist from the Washington Post to dig into these issues further ICANN staff would not answer the phone to talk to the Post about this. Many KnujOn members (myself included) submitted complaints to the Ombudsman which were a further disappointment. Instead of conducting an investigation the Ombudsman made bizarre statements about KnujOn and its members. In his rejection of KnujOn member complaints he even made specific statements about BizCn which are now invalidated: "I also mention one registrar in particular which has been openly criticised, being Bizcn.com. As part of the monitoring by Compliance, scorecards of requests are kept. Compliance informed me that Bizcn.com is a registrar that is prompt & cooperative with Compliance inquiries, including Whois inaccuracy complaints." So what happened? Either compliance staff lied to the Ombudsman or the Ombudsman did not truly investigate the details. KnujOn will be following up on this to be sure. However, this is not the failure of a single person, it is an organizational failure. The fight continues!
Return of the Chinese Domain Name Scam (again!):
My first encounter with this particular scam occurred back in January of 2010. I had another encounter on the 29th of Mar, 2012, another on the 14th of May, 2012 and again on the 22nd of May 2014 - These clueless con-men/scammers sure are persistent! In all cases I received a suspicious email. Something that caused a mild concern (at this point after numerous such extortion/scare-tactics, I barely notice). This email indicated that someone is trying to register "robsworld" as an Internet Keyword and their China Domain Names (CN/ASIA)? Presumably, that should concerns me! I own the domain name 'RobsWorld.org', and this development could cause problems in the future. I don't think so. They've been trying to sell me on this confidence game since 2010, and their haven't been any issues since. This company (the one that sent me the unsolicited email) wants me to contact them regarding the matter. The use of English in the email certainly indicates that the originator isn't an English speaker. They claim to be a 'Domain Name Registration Center' in China. At the same time, some of the language felt out of place. The author used terms that are not applicable to the medium and or technical genre, and the tone of the email almost feels like extortion or some implied threat of intellectual property infringement. I got the feeling that something wasn't quite 'right' about the email. Being a skeptic, I started doing a little research (Isn't the Internet great!?).
The research/searches yielded a great deal of information regarding this domain (apidnr.hk in Jan of 2010, yiguangroup.com in Mar of 2012, ygnetworkltd.com in May of 2012, and now ygregistry.org.cn in May of 2014), similar emails, and the 'Scam' that these companies are engaging in. It's a scare tactic and an extortion racket. The fact that this email, and many like it, have gone out to several other domain name owners (as indicated by searches) indicates that it is a mass mailing email campaign (just like spam). They're not targeting me specifically, just targeting domain name registrants. I found numerous examples that were nearly identical to mine. Their email implies that someone is trying to register my domain name 'robsworld' as an 'Internet keyword'. I wasn't sure what that was to begin with (back in 2010), but I soon figured it out. They also insinuate that someone may be attempting to register the 'robsworld' domain with a .cn, .com.cn, .net.cn or some similar TLD (Top Level Domain). They also indicate that 'robsworld' refers to my 'company'. I don't have a trade mark, and I haven't incorporated anything under the domain name. Clearly they're trying to frighten me into taking some sort of 'preventive' action. If I had a trade mark or company name I would likely be concerned in a legal sense. This entire solicitation seems designed to make me call/contact them in order to prevent this 'third party' from using my trade mark or company name. As documented by other 'victims', once you email them back, a 'third party' (the one they mention in their initial email) conveniently gets involved in a further attempt to convince you that your domain/property is in jeopardy; unless you follow through with the only way to protect your property/domain name. You'll need to pay the 'legitimate' domain/keyword registration fees.
Domain name registration, trade marks and internet keywords are all different. This company is playing on fear and confusion in the hopes that I/others will become so concerned that we'll buy into their scam. Whatever it happens to be. One might speculate that they want me to register my domain with a Chinese TLD. Perhaps they want me to register my 'internet keyword' (something initiated by CNNIC (China Internet Network Information Center), the state run network information center of China), so that Chinese users will be directed to my website as opposed to a web site run by this mythical 'third party'. I'm not interested in registering any 'Internet Keywords' with a Chinese NIC; as these keywords are used as a means of internet censorship in China. The registration of 'Internet Keywords' is a costly proposition, that simply creates a second tier of domain name registration as a way of generating revenue for the Chinese state/corporations, and facilitating internet censorship. The only 'domain names' I'm interested in are the ones I've registered (through legitimate domain registrars). If I ever wanted a Chinese TLD (or internet keyword), I certainly wouldn't go through a company that sends me unsolicited email, full of unfounded, unproven, insinuations and speech designed to frighten me.
If you ever need any help hunting down a spammer, don't hesitate to ask for my help. I'm willing and eager to help. Just drop me an email. I'd put the email address here, but this email message is also posted online, where spammers could scrape the email off the web page. Damn those spammers!
SpamCop phishing expedition:
Recently (May of 2014), one of my favorite services (SpamCop.net) was getting 'attacked'. Someone attacked some of Spamcop's web based processes were attacked by scripts during the 3rd week of May 2014. The script attacked initiates password resets. This dictionary attack was targeted at Spamcop processes in order to reset the passwords of users. I was one of the affected users. While I was away (on vacation), I received a rather interesting email message (see below):
As you can see, the email appears to originate from the 'Spamcop' administrators, and it certainly looks like someone has reset my password. In fact, this email did originate from the Spamcop password reset services.
Someone initiated a reset of my password by attacking the web-based scripts I mentioned. In this image, I've obfuscated my 'spamcop' registered email address and the password issued. Someone actually initiated a reset of my password. That's not good. I should be the only one who can reset my password.
Of course I notified Spamcop regarding this incident, and their response indicated that the attack was some sort of dictionary attack... I don't think it was a simple dictionary attack.
How could they have known my email address? Specifically the address that I had registered for use with my Spamcop account? Guessing completely random email addresses (for a password reset) would be extremely difficult and ineffective. They must have a compromised list of Spamcop customers.
While the Spamcop administrators indicated that this wasn't an "orchestrated attack that suggested any type of security breech" - I wouldn't be so sure. It appears that they obtained a list of Spamcop registered users from somewhere. While they might have culled that list from open source web searches (forum searches), it is also possible that they may have obtained the list through a security breech. Intrusion into Spamcop servers (areas restricted to admins) may have occurred.
According to a Spamcop administrator (Richard): "We continue to investigate but at this point we're not sure what the purpose of the attack was other than to be an annoyance. We will let users know if we find anything different. At this point we have suspended a couple of our forms while our developers work to secure them from this type of attack."
Was there an attack underway? The SpamCop service is used by thousands of members to report instances of spam. These instances (spam/email messages) are parsed, analyzed and reported to the responsible ISPs, webhosts, registrars, interested parties, law enforcement, etc. The submitted spam also contributes analytical data to SpamCop's parent company (Cisco), where that data is used (as confirmed by Cisco) to improve, maintain, and drive their industry level spam filtering products (routers, firewalls, etc).
Spammers just never give up, so we (me, you, the SpamCop administrators) have to stay ever vigilant for their continuing attempts to thwart the filters and measures put in place to keep the barbarians at bay. If you ever need any help hunting down a spammer, don't hesitate to ask for my help. I'm willing and eager to help. Just drop me an email. I'd put the email address here, but this email message is also posted online, where spammers could scrape the email off my web page. Damn those spammers!
Vacation on the Island of Rota:
In May of 2014 (13-21 May), Kim and I went on a long vacation to the Island of Rota. It's a tiny (11.8x5 miles) island just north (40 miles) of Guam. It's a U.S. territory (part of the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands) just above (10 degrees) north of the equator. We went on this vacation for two reasons: A - To get away from it all. The hectic pace of work and city life was wearing us down and we needed a good long break. B - As a scouting trip for a possible retirement (still a long way off) location.
We had a fantastic time. No problems encountered during our vacation. The island was warm, tropical, friendly and full of interesting things to see and do. I hope we get to go back one day. Rota would be a great place to retire to. All I have to do is convince the other member of 'Team Vaessen'... Here's a brief(?) recap of our vacation. Notes I took while we were on the vacation. For more detail see the notes in my Rota photo album.
- Day 1: May 13/14 - Woke up at 0257MDT. Did some more packing for the trip. Ate an apple. Limo ride to airport. Depart Denver airport at 0600MDT.
- Arrive San Francisco airport at 0710PDT. Ate some breakfast. Two sandwiches and two coffee for ~$30. Depart SFO at 0900PDT.
- Arrive Honolulu airport at appx 1136HaST. Called mom, found a Quiznos and had a little lunch. Two sandwiches, chips and drinks cost ~$35.
- The stop in Hawaii is the last time we'll be able to use our AT&T service - Unless we want to pay the ridiculously high 'roaming' charges.
- Love that wood paneling everywhere (in the Hawaii/Honolulu departures lounge) - reminds me of the 70s!
- Depart Hawaii at appx 1415HaST. Plane trip from Hawaii to Guam on 777. Served food twice during 9 hour flight. Even had BBQ chicken with red rice.
- Day 2: May 15 - Got up at appx 0300. Couldn't sleep longer. Have to check out before noon. Watched a Netflix movie. The Sword of Doom (5 of 5); directed by Kihachi Okamoto, starring Kei Sato, Tatsuya Nakadai (Playing Ryunosuke) the Villain/Primary of the film), Toshiro Mifune, Yuzon Kayama and others. Some might think that the ending was no good, but I thought it was quite fitting. The villain gets no rest, his soul is damned to fight and be wounded forever.
- Planning to stay at airport prior to our 1735 departure to Rota.
- Ate breakfast at Days Inn 'Latte Bistro'. I had the 'Chamorro Breakfast' - two slices of spam, two eggs sunny side up, and rice. I heaped on the Tabasco; because Guam has the largest consumption (per person) of Tabasco on the planet - Awesome! Kim had French toast and two eggs. With drinks the total came to ~$15.00.
- Bought a prepaid flip phone from NTT Docomo. $29.95 w/$20.00 in minutes. At $0.30/minute to or from the states it sure isn't cheap, but it's way cheaper than AT&T. AT&T wants $2.50 for international voice calls out of network and $29.95/mb for data out of network.
- Stayed at the Days Inn for a few hours before our ride to the airport.
- We had to check out of the hotel by noon, but our flight to Rota doesn't depart until 1735.
- Arrived at the airport and had a little lunch. Two wraps w/chips and drinks for $15.
- As we made our way to customs, there was an alarm and announcement about an emergency. The announcement asked everyone to evacuate the building. We were the only ones who paid any attention to the announcement. I 'evacuated' the building. Kim came with me but she complained about it.
- We went through security, then proceeded to our departure area at the very end of the concourse. No monitors, no desk, no bathrooms, and all the seats were arranged as if someone had shampooed the carpeting but left the seats in disarray.
- Airport operations were a mess, with a strange arrivals and departures schedule where the center of the concourse was separated by movable partitions that they were constantly opening and closing to create barriers and openings as people arrived and departed from different parts of the world. There were a lot of Korean and Japanese visitors. We finally left Guam at 1736.
- We flew over Rota and Tinian before we finally arrived in Saipan at 1830. Of course I couldn't see anything out the window, because I was in an aisle seat - Again!
- It started raining while we were waiting in the plane. It rained very heavily, something we're unaccustomed to in Aurora, CO. After all the Saipan passengers disembarked we waited for more Rota and Guam passengers to get on the plane. It took a while, but eventually the plane was full again. We left Saipan for the Island of Rota at appx 1900.
- We finally arrived in Rota at 1936. We were tired, but it wasn't as bad as the day before.
- We got all our luggage from the carousel (only one), and made our way through customs. By this time we'd filled out forms for Hawaii, Guam and Rota, so we were ready for customs before they asked. 'Nothing to declare'; we're U.S. citizens so no need to get out our passports. The weird part was they didn't even ask to see any identification. Getting from the airport to the hotel wasn't a problem. When we left the airport, a shuttle was waiting to pick us up. There was a bit of shuffling around as we had to switch from one van to another. The Japanese guests couldn't get all their luggage, and there wasn't any reason for us to wait, so off we went in the second van.
- When we got to the Hotel - The Rota Resort & Country Club, we checked in at the front desk, dropped off our stuff in the room, and headed over to the restaurant, which was still open until 2100. We arrived at appx 2030, and ordered some food - Yup, these are hotel prices all right. A domestic beer is $4.00. Japanese beer is $5.00, and the food itself is Vail priced. $18.00 for a 14" Pizza! I had a Caesar salad with chunks of fish. I can't remember what Kim had. We ate light. As soon as we finished our meals we made our way to the room. We finally collapsed to sleep at appx 2130.
- Day 3: May 16 - I didn't sleep well due to the air conditioning. Kim had it turned up so high that I was freezing cold all night. So cold in this tropical climate that I had to crawl under the covers and curl up in a ball… If I had known how to adjust the thermostat I would have, but I was simply too tired to argue or complain. I did my best to cover my head and sleep.
- I woke up around 0300 because my back was hurting - Typical, but I was still tired. I eventually got back to sleep and didn't wake up until 0730! As a matter of fact, Kim was up before me. I showered, dressed and we headed off to the main desk.
- We were a bit disappointed to learn that there was no one available to give us a tour of the island. The person working the tour desk didn't show up for work. I later learned that this isn't all that unusual. Some people just show up for work when they feel like it. Imagine that in the states!
- We tried to rent a car, but that wouldn't be happening either. Apparently they're all rented out? How odd. O.k. we'll try for later today or tomorrow. We headed off to breakfast at appx 0845.
- We managed to make it for breakfast before they stopped serving (at 0900). This morning we had a big breakfast. I had another 'Chamorro style' breakfast. Fried rice with sausage (no spam this time) and eggs sunny side up. Kim had more pancakes. The restaurant was serving soup and salad with the breakfast (that's odd right? nowhere in the States do you get soup and salad with your breakfast). We managed to substitute fresh fruit for the soup and salad. The breakfast was $15.00 each (more of those resort hotel prices). We charged the meal to our room and headed back to the front desk.
- No rental cars available, so we'll try again tomorrow. How about a swim in the ocean? We've got 5 minutes before the van leaves for the Teteo beach. Crap! We scurry off to our rooms, change and head back to the front desk. Of course they haven't gone anywhere. We're the only customers who aren't playing golf, so they waited for us.
- The van takes us to Teteo beech. The beach is great! Kim and I take turns watching our belongings and exploring the beach. I spend way more time in the water than Kim. She forgot to pack her surf moccasins. She's got a pair of open toed sandals, but they've got velvet on them and she doesn't want to damage them, so she couldn't really get in the water, not without risking damage to her feet. She waded in the shallows, but had to be careful.
- We met Marshin at the beach. He's the head of security for the hotel, and we have a good conversation with him. He's got a Motorola radio that works via RF to connect to a repeater on the island (It's actually an iDEN service), from there he can make cell calls via an iConnect plan. We really need that rental car, so we can start exploring on our own terms.
- The hotel picks us up and takes us back to the front desk.. On the way back we drive through a rain shower. Apparently it's quite common to find yourself in the midst of a rain shower during this time of year. They come and go. They're quite intense (compared to our experience in the Denver/Aurora area).
- We're beginning to feel like a captive. I'd like to get out and explore, but there's no rental car. Kim won't hike it down to Song-Song with me - Well, I haven't asked her to, and given the humidity, I don't relish the idea of having to walk everywhere myself.
- We spend a little time exploring the Hotel's pool before we head back to the room. We clean up a little and head off to the restaurant for lunch. This time we opt to eat outside. There's a nice breeze, and the rain has cooled things off a bit. We meet Kay Christian, she lives here, has 'retired' to the island of Rota She's loaded with useful information. We could have talked for hours, but she was eating, my food was getting cold and she had an appointment. I ate a spicy seafood ramen bowl (and two beer) and Kim had fried chicken (and a banana shake). Afterwards, we head back to the room and take a little nap. Well, little for me, considerable for Kim. Unfortunately, I couldn't sleep because that damn AC is still trying to freeze me from head to toe.
- I got burnt from that little outing on the beech, so I'll have to start using sun screen and be a little more cautious in the sun. I finally woke Kim up after she slept for nearly three hours. I think the sun got to her too. After being burnt (by the sun) and frozen (by the AC), I decided to take a walk. to go on a hike around the property before we attempted to contact people in the outside world.
- The wi-fi works, and Rob G. is only one time zone away, so maybe we'll be able to contact him via FaceTime.
- The hike in the woods was only an hour long but I sure worked up a sweat. I followed a 'Nature Trail' to the Hotel's 'Farm'. As a farm it was quite disappointing. I was expecting something a bit better maintained and larger. This was more like a poorly maintained garden. I saw very little sign of any attention or maintenance. Weeds growing everywhere, plants cut down and left laying on the ground. There were many different plants in the garden, but I couldn't recognize most of them. I did recognize some of the fruit trees. Of course there were coconut trees, and banana plants, but there also some new ones I didn't initially recognize. Papaya, Breadfruit, Soursop (aka Graviola tree), and many others, which I tried to learn the names of, but for some reason all I could ever get/remember were names I can't pronounce or couldn't understand (Apiot, Apute, Summer hibiscus). In addition to the plants growing at the farm, there are an abundance of fruits growing wild all over the island.
- I attempted to continue my hike to the 'Lookout' point, but the trail was completely covered by the jungle. Instead, I cut through the banana plants to the golf course, and followed a golf cart trail along the greens until I got to a nice spot for pictures.
- Eventually, I turned around and headed back to the hotel. On my way back I came across 'Ayuyu' (pronounced 'Ah Ju Ju') a 'Coconut Crab'. It's a type of hermit crab that feeds on coconuts (and other things I imagine). It was small, brightly colored and carrying a large snail shell on its abdomen.
- While it didn't take long to make my way back to the hotel, the uphill hike was quite challenging in the humid environment. I'm used to hiking in the Rocky Mountains, where one can enjoy a leisurely climb in relative comfort. Here a twenty minute hike results in rivers of sweat pouring off the body.
- I got back to the hotel, took a quick shower. Afterwards, we relaxed for a bit before we fired up the wi-fi for a 'FaceTime' chat with one of our good friends who lives in Japan. The connection was o.k. He was using LTE from the place where he was working, so the bandwidth problems probably came from his end (no way to tell). We chatted for a while before Kim and I went to eat.
- Another great meal (the food is awesome) at the Rota Hotel restaurant puts another dent in our travel budget. The place is great, but its quite expensive. I for one really hope that we can get a hold of a rental car. Being trapped at the hotel is really starting to dampen our spirits.
- Day 4: May 17 - Sleeping is getting a bit easier, but I still haven't got the settings down correctly on that AC unit. Last night was too Hot! Hopefully I'll get it dialed in for tonight. On the morning of the 4th day we started our adventure with another expensive breakfast. Guess where? I had the Rota breakfast again. I guess I'll try something different tomorrow.
- After breakfast we went to the front desk in order to check on a rental vehicle. None available yet (the rental place hasn't called back). The attendant at the front desk indicated that she would call again when we get back for lunch - When we get back from our Island tour.
- We've scheduled an island tour for the entire day. Apparently the island time ideal doesn't necessarily apply to the Rota resort. So far the staff here has always been punctual and seemingly available at all times of the day. Our island tour is actually two tours. One of the South island and one of the North.
- Our tour guide for the day is 'Small Henry', he's friendly and packed full of useful information. I bombarded him with questions all day long. An endless stream of questions I'd stored up over the last few years (we've been planning this tour for appx 5 years).
- The South Island tour is basically a tour of attractions on the south end of the island, including Song Song village. We saw many of the hotels around the island. Unfortunately, most of the ones we passed are now closed… Rota Coconut Village - Closed, The Rota Hotel - Closed, Blue Peninsula Hotel - Closed, Jotina Inn - Closed.
- I'm not sure, but I think we only noticed three (or two?) hotels that are open (aside from the Rota Resort) - The Valentino Hotel (definitely open), the Bay View Hotel (probably open), and the Coral Garden Hotel (possibly open).
- The economy here is 'Very' depressed due to one over-riding fact. The lack of a suitable harbor for the reliable delivery of goods.
- There are two harbors on the island. The West Harbor and the East Harbor. The West harbor can be used by small pleasure craft and its relatively well protected, but it isn't dredged properly or protected properly for larger supply ships.
- The East harbor is deep enough (could be a bit deeper), for larger supply ships (that's where the diesel fuel is delivered for the islands power plant), but it isn't well protected. There are many days throughout the year when supply ships cannot dock at the island in order to deliver goods. Due to this fact, rationing and lack of a constant supply of goods make it very difficult to maintain any type of industry (outside tourism).
- If this island could solve this one big issue, they might be able to mount a comeback by ensuring a reliable form of delivery to/from the island. Then they could establish a ferry service, bring tourism and business in by sea (from Guam) and reduce the transportation costs associated with air travel and air shipment of goods.
- As I said, we spent the entire day exploring the entire island (I could write more here, but the Rota map and my photos) should serve as a good reminder for attractions when I type this all up for my photo journal.
- When we stopped back at the hotel - For lunch (included in the tour), we learned that a rental vehicle was available (we'd have it around 1600). We ate lunch - Predetermined by the tour/package. A deep fried chicken meal with iced tea and a pickled Japanese/Korean style plum (possibly the Apiot fruit?) side dish. Very good. Unfortunately, Kim had just eaten that meal last night, so she was less than thrilled about the pre-selected choice.
- After lunch we had our North island tour. A tour that was less about the people of Rota and more about the natural aspects of the island. We saw many plants, animals, natural wonders; again, the map and my photos should serve as excellent reminders as I reconstruct a photo journal of our adventure.
- I especially enjoyed the excursion to the 'Taka Stone Quarry' where Latte stones were created. I spent a lot of time speculating on how the natives built and excavated the Latte stones used throughout the Chamoran culture (unique to the Mariana islands).
- After our North island tour, we returned to the hotel, and cleaned up a little. Five minutes later the front desk called. Someone from Song Song village was here to take us to the airport - In order to pick up our rental car! Hooray. We'll be free from the confines of the hotel and able to explore on our own.
- We went down to the airport, picked up our rental car (apparently they were all out because of the funerals (which we noted during our South island tour) on the island).
- We ended up renting a Toyota Carolla (that was the only 'choice') for $55.00 per day. Way cheaper than the hotel told us ($89 - $94 per day?). Gasoline costs nearly $6.00 a gallon according to some reports, but then again; I've heard that the price is anywhere from $5 to $6 per gallon. Thankfully its a small island and we won't be going very far!
- The need for a vehicle is based primarily on sweat! Walking for an hour on this island would likely dehydrate a person quite quickly as every ounce of water would be drained away in the form of sweat. My skin feels great (all the dry spots (from Mountain living in the Rockies) have nearly disappeared), but the humidity is quite excessive.
- After we got our rental vehicle, we immediately got lost on an island with one main road! We have a map, but it's not all that accurate, and the roads have no names (of course).
- We drove around for a bit, looking for the hospital - I really need some aloe vera with lidocaine for my sunburn. The sunscreen simply won't stay put with all the sweat pouring off my body, and I'm definitely turning into lobster man!
- Kim's starting to get burnt as well. Our best defense at this point? Stay in the shade, wear a hat, and try to keep the sunscreen on.
- After our brief hospital trip - It was closed, so we'll try again tomorrow, we headed back to the hotel for another expensive meal.
- This time I had the 'Kelaguan Style sampler' It's a type of cooking that uses lemon juice to chemically cook meats. Add in some salt, a little vinegar, chile peppers, diced onion (green and white) and you have a spicy style of 'sushi' like cooking that I love. Although this dish was listed as an appetizer on the restaurant's menu, it was more than enough for an entree. I'm looking forward to more. I'm really hoping to get as much Chamoro style food as I can. Hopefully they'll have some at one of the restaurants in Song Song village.
- We finished up the evening by watching the sunset and watching a little local tv. We tried contacting people via FaceTime, but no one was 'home'.
- Day 5: May 18 - We finally got the AC dialed in correctly. I slept very comfortably last night, and Kim logged a record 11 hours! Today is our first day on our own. We're still planning to start our day at the Hotel restaurant, but we really need to get out of town (i.e. away from the hotel) and sample more of the local life. This hotel living is not what I was hoping for. We're planning to spend a lot of time at both towns (Song Song and Sinapalu village). I've even heard that there's a third village under development. Maybe we'll be able to find it?
- Our adventure started when Kim finally woke up. I had already showered, and I didn't want to waste much time. As soon as the queen was awake and had her blood circulating we headed out to breakfast. She wasn't ready to give up the known quantity of breakfast at the hotel, so once again it's the expensive way. This morning I opted for the 'Japanese' breakfast. With Mackarel and rice. As usual we charged the meal to our room. Kim had her pancake breakfast.
- After breakfast we loaded up the car - Yes we now have a rental car; Hooray, and headed down to Song Song village. This time we didn't get lost. It doesn't take long to get your bearings on an island that's only 11.8 miles long and 5 miles wide.
- We made it into town and proceeded directly to the hospital. We wanted to see whether there was any aloe vera (preferably with lidocaine) for a sunburn. Kim's taken to calling me "Lobster Man", due to my red hue. I'm certainly as white as a person born and raised in the great white north of Wisconsin (With Dutch, Polish and Irish heritage).
- The hospital was open (Daily from 0730-1600). We found our way inside (some doors were locked), and made our way to the nurses desk. Once there we learned the disappointing facts. The pharmacy is closed (it is Sunday), there are no doctors available right now (he's on call), and the only medicines available without calling in the doctor are in the 'night dispensary' - There is no 'Aloe Vera' anywhere to be had in the hospital…
- This is disappointing news. Apparently, we're the only tourists to ever come to the hospital complaining of sunburn!
- Seriously? Well, one of the 'nurses' made a well placed phone call, and she was quickly able to locate a supply of aloe vera for the tourists. We thanked them for the directions and made our way over to the 'Ace Hardware & Grocery' store.
- Yes - Hardware & Grocery. Since grocery/supply stores are on our list of places to check out, we managed to check four boxes with one trip. Aloe Vera (with lidocaine) obtained, hardware & grocery store investigated, and one real-estate lead.
- Part of our goal on this trip is investigating the local supplies of food and other commodities. To check out the prices on food and other such supplies. Personally, I think that the emphasis on how 'unreliable' the supply chain is to be a bit less of a concern for residents on the island who 'need' basic supplies.
- The stores seemed well stocked, and there seemed to be (just in Song Song village) and adequate supply; even if a temporary interruption (say a week or so) were to occur. A business trying to get orders out to the states on the other hand? No business could tolerate such a break in their shipping schedule.
- After leaving the hardware/grocery store we started looking for other grocery stores. We found three and investigated the 'bulletin boards' outside each. We're looking for signs of real-estate. We checked out many of all the bulletin boards, but so no signs of real-estate. No brokers ads, no for sale, for rent, for lease signs on any of the bulletin boards. We'll check out that lead later. For now it's beach time.
- I wanted to check out / swim at the Tweksberry beach; an area on the wedding cake peninsula at the south end of Song Song village. The drive there is quite pleasant as you drive through the coconut plantation - Provided you can ignore the bumpy unpaved roads (about 70% of the roads).
- Once again (like yesterday) we were all alone. No one else was using the beach. It's a large picnic area, with at least four shelters, and bathrooms. One of the awesome things about Rota is the accommodations. There are public rest rooms all over the place, and they all have running water. The water comes from a large, elevated water table. Apparently there's a limestone cave somewhere on the island and the fresh water flows out of that reservoir to thousands of homes and bathrooms all over the island. The water pressure is provided by the elevation of the water table, and the water is clean and potable. Perhaps we'll learn more about the water tomorrow?
- I wanted to get to the beach early as the tide is higher in the morning. If you wait too long you have to contend with rocky outcroppings and less water to swim in. Tweksberry beach is a reef fringed area protected on all sides from the open ocean, and the water is exceptionally clear and shallow. Unfortunately as I learned later in the day, this is also a favored habitat for the black sea cucumber.
- These strange looking animals resemble large black turds that filter feed through the sand around the island. That's why the sand in this area is so clean, there's a giant army of sea cucumbers keeping it clean.
- Constantly dodging the sea cucumbers made the 'swim' less enjoyable. Stepping on one results in the 'defensive' mechanism - which I refuse to discuss at this time.
- In either case I wasn't able to enjoy the swim due to two factors, the low water level. Despite the area being nearly 820 feet across, the depth never exceeded two meters.
- It's a nice beach to look at, but the sea cucumbers and shallow draft make for a less swimmable beach than the others. One other anecdote about Tweksberry beach. Apparently (according to our guide (from yesterday)) the far south end of the beach (where there's an outlet from the reefed area) is home to large numbers of sea urchins (very popular with the Japanese tourists (and me!)).
- The swim was quite brief and the sun burn doesn't get 'better' with prolonged exposure, so we packed up our belongings, showered (free flowing fresh water everywhere on the island), changed clothes and headed back into town in order to eat some food.
- It was noon, and we were getting a bit hungry. so we headed to the nearest restaurant in Song Song village - I think there's three restaurants. As Paris, Pizzeria, and Tokyo En.
- As Paris was the closest, so that's where we went. The proprietor is a Phillipino man in his mid to late 40s with a happy attitude and a very large menu. With a lot of different foods to offer, I chose another 'Kelaguen' style dish (shrimp), and Kim was adventurous enough to have stuffed squid.
- After paying (in Cash) for our meal we headed out to continue our exploration.
- Before we began our real-estate hunt, I wanted to check out the Angyuta Island. Its a nice little recreation spot just across from the West harbor. After a short drive, across an artificial pier, we took a couple minutes to take some pictures. This little island was crawling with local teenagers enjoying their Sunday. I felt a bit like the tourist invading their favorite spot, so we didn't hang around very long.
- Back to the real-estate exploration. This time we looked for the tell-tale signs of real estate activity. We proceeded to the 'For sale/rent' property that we learned about at the 'hardware/grocery' store. It's a really nice location - Provided there's never another typhoon. Its right across the street from the south shore of the East harbor (14.138369, 145.151850). It's a relatively small property, but it does have a great view.
- After checking out that property, we managed to find two more properties using the 'drive by' method of searching. All these properties appeared to be for rent or for sale (actually for lease…) by the owners.
- We never did see any signs of realty/real-estate offices (saw one closed office) on the island, so I'm not sure how one would go about getting into a lease on the island. It might be quite difficult. Kay indicated that she managed to find her property through a friend who knew of a pennies on the dollar foreclosure. A foreclosure might be the best way to go.
- After the real-estate hunt, we head back towards the hotel. The plan to begin our exploration of Sinapalo was derailed by an upset stomach and sore back. Kim wasn't feeling well, so we went back to the hotel and called it a day.
- We laid down and rested for a few hours before dinner (at 1930) and a movie. We started watching '2 Days in Paris' on Netflix - One good thing about the free wi-fi in the hotel is the speed of the wi-fi. Good enough to stream a movie via Netflix, and avoid a $20 rental fee ($10.00 for a movie and an additional $10.00 for a DVD player!).
- Day 6: May 19 - We started with breakfast at the Rota resort. I ordered the USA breakfast. Bacon (three slices), scrambled eggs (two eggs), four slices of toast (white bread w/jam and or butter), a plate of fresh fruit (substituted from soup & salad?) and coffee for $18.00. With Kim's breakfast our total came to $36.00. That includes a 10% 'Service Charge' aka gratuity, aka mandatory tip.
- Our first stop of the day was Song Song village where we tried to make a phone call to the states. After a half an hour of searching for a signal, we finally found one, after I stopped and 'selected' the appropriate network for the cell phone.
- The pre-paid flip phone that we bought was set to automatically select a cellular network. As we moved from area to are it was selecting the first network it could see. As there was an AT&T network (why didn't the AT&T people know about this?) in the area, it had 'automatically' selected that one over the NTT Docomo network. Even though the sim in the phone was tied to a pre-paid NTT Docomo plan.
- Since the phone was connected to an 'out-of-network' carrier, I couldn't make any calls. Every time I tried to make a phone call, I got an error message "emergency calls only". There were five 'bars' for signal strength, but no service? Eventually I changed the network configuration from 'automatic' to 'manual'. When I did that the phone went into a 'Searching' mode, located an NTT Docomo network, and I selected it. It connected to the NTT Docomo network and I was able to place a call.
- I spoke with my mother for approximately 16 minutes. Our $20.00 pre-paid phone started out with 66.66 minutes of call time (to the states at $0.30 / minute), and now we're down to appx 16 minutes remaining. We'll use those minutes when we get to Guam. We'll call our family to let them know that we made it back to Guam safely.
- I still don't know what sort of phone plan we should have had, but the NTT Docomo pre-paid phone worked, it just cost a bit. It was still way less than 'roaming' charges of $3.50 a minute, or $2.50 a minute if we used the phone in the hotel (to call the states).
- We called from the lookout spot above Song Song village. It's a great vantage point over the entire village, but an unnecessary drive considering the fact that our cell 'reception' problems had nothing to do with the location inside Song Song village. I wish I'd changed the network settings earlier.
- After we made our phone call we headed off on a little 'side' trip. I wanted to check out a feature I had noticed from the Google maps of Rota. On a hill side overlooking the East harbor was a 'circular' structure of some sort. It was either a 'water tower' or a large satellite dish of some sort. As both interested me, I decided to take a drive up to the site. We found the road and started following it up to the structure. Due to the dense vegetation we couldn't see anything until we were right outside the location. There were power lines, phone lines, and a very large calibre pipe leading away from the location.
- As we reached our destination we found the road blocked by a heavy chain and a shiny padlock - Drats! Our little side trip was thwarted. Given the facts, I believe the mystery structure must be a water tower or water processing facility of some sort. I just wish we could have gotten a closer look at it, or spoken with any workers about the facility. With that side trip thwarted, we headed off to our next destination. Sinapalu Village.
- The first stop in Sinapalu village is the airport. Easily the smallest airport we've ever flown into or out of. We parked the car and started looking for a place to eat, it was 1130, and we didn't really want to eat at the Rota Resort (again). Every meal at that place costs nearly double what a meal in town (Song Song village) costs.
- We found the snack bar/restaurant, and discovered two things. A: They don't take credit cards, and B: They really are a snack bar, as they don't prepare any food in the facility. Since our dinner plans didn't include a Snickers bar, we inquired about other places to eat - Places that might accept a credit card. According to the person working at the desk, no one in this area would accept a credit card… What the!? Hello people this is the 21st century. If you don't like the processing fees associated with the typical credit card processing equipment, get yourself a 'Square' or some similar solution.
- Leaving the 'airport' behind we started to head back to the Rota resort (the only place we know of that accepts credit cards).
- Kim recommended we stop at the 'Sunrise Hotel' before we look for lunch. I was a bit hesitant. It's already past noon, and 'we' don't like it when we don't eat lunch in a timely manner.
- We stopped at the hotel and found it nearly abandoned. After a bit of searching, we discovered two workers. One of them (Jackie) was very helpful. Not only did she provide us with the name/contact information of her husband (who's a realtor for Rota, Saipan and Tinian) and she helped us locate a place to eat. A place that takes credit cards.
- Apparently 'As Paris' doesn't accept credit cards at all. We were led to believe their ability to process was temporarily 'down', the Pizzeria is closed, the Bay View hotel (we didn't know they served food) isn't serving lunch today, and they don't take credit cards. Finally, the Tokyo En restaurant does take credit cards. So Jackie was a font of valuable information and very helpful. She saved us a lot of driving around, and we didn't have to eat at the Rota resort.
- We drove back down to Song Song village and ate at Tokyo En. We had Edamame as an appetizer, Yakisoba for an entrée and some Green Tea ice cream for dessert. We found Tokyo En's prices to be fairly reasonable. Considering the high cost of food on the island. After we finished our meal, we headed back up to Sinapalu to continue our exploration of that village.
- We drove around Sinapalu, looked at the various houses and accommodations. We found a hardware store, a large 'Safeway', a gas station, an automotive shop a convenience store a laundromat, a pizza place, a bar and that was pretty much all.
- Very little in the way of accommodations. The properties were large, but the homes were substandard in quality. Shack like would be the most appropriate way to describe them.
- I didn't really care for the exposed location on the high plateau in the islands interior, and there really wasn't any good views from up here. If we decide to lease any land on the island of Rota we certainly wouldn't want to live in this village. The West side of the island would be the best location - In my opinion.
- Our final destination in Sinapalu village is just outside the village. Back to the Taga stone quarry. I wanted to get a couple more photos of the Latte Stones. After we finished that we headed back to Song Song village to gas up the rental car. We needed to fill up the gas tank before we turned it in. Once again, Jackie provided us with the information we needed. The only gas station that accepts credit cards is the Mobile station near the East Harbor.
- Back again to Song Song village to gas up the rental vehicle. A half tank of 'unleaded' cost us $47.00 (appx 8 gallons at $6.00 a gallon!) Yowza. It's a good thing we're on a small island, and the Toyota gets really good mileage. We filled up the tank and headed back to the Rota resort (it's on the way to the airport). We got back to the hotel and relaxed for a bit.
- At 1930 we went over to the restaurant for our 'special' dinner. It's an odd story… The flyer indicated an immense amount of food for $50.00, but the amount of food was far more than any one person could eat. According to 'Little Henry' it was $50.00 per person, but as I indicated, the amount of food was way more than one person could eat.
- I made reservations for Kim and I to enjoy the special meal as our last dinner before we left Rota. There was considerable confusion over how much it cost per person and whether the price was for one person… Let's see… a salad, miso soup (one serving?), two kinds of rice, diced pickled daikon, sliced pickled turnip, kelaguen style chicken (w/several pieces of pita bread), grilled items: fish (x1), prawn (x2), green lipped mussel (x2), cob of corn (x1), taro (x1), vegetable kabob, pork medallion (x2), steak (x1), chicken kabob (x1), dessert: fruit and coconut pie, plus drinks. Cost? $56.00 (including tax and 10% tip). A very satisfying but confusingly priced meal. I was fully expecting to pay more.
- After the meal - It took us more than an hour to finish; we went back to the room and finished watching a movie on Netflix. 2 Days in Paris (a Netflix original), a romantic drama that we've both seen before. We enjoyed the movie and called it a night. Tomorrow's a lonnnnngg day.
- Day 7: May 20 - Had a restless sleep. It's typical when I'm traveling. Hopefully I can get some sleep during one of the flights. Dreamt about work - Of course! Finally got up around 0600. Took a shower and started packing for the flight. Have to wait until Kim gets up. She's sleeping in again. I think I'll skip breakfast, but we should definitely eat lunch before we turn in the keys and check out of the hotel.
- We headed over to the restaurant at 1100 and ate lunch. We both selected the Rota burger with fries. Two burgers, fries and drinks came to $51.50. That's the last $20.00 burger we'll be eating for a while.
- After lunch we went back to the room to freshen up. I brushed my teeth and we finished packing. We brought all the luggage down to the rental car, checked out at the front desk where they finalized our bill with all our charges.
- Five nights in the hotel, several meals and two island tours. The total originally came to $1995.00 but they have us a discount which put the total at $1707.00. We said our good-byes and headed out to the airport.
- We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. We turned in our rental vehicle ($165 for three days) and made our way to the departures lounge.
- Getting to Guam from Rota was a very confusing and nonsensical process. We're US citizens traveling from a US territory to a US territory. We had to get off the plane in Saipan and process through customs - Why?
- I showed my DoD ID card and the CBP agent asked me a bunch of questions.
- Then he said something about do you have a passport? I said yes I have a US passport. He said 'You should have showed your passport'. I asked why? I'm a US citizen traveling to a US territory. He said I 'need to provide proof of US citizenship'. He said I could 'show a US passport or a DoD card with orders'. He said that entry into Guam from Saipan requires proof of US citizenship. ...so why would I need a passport to travel from one US territory to another? I presented valid travel documents, but he claimed that wasn't good enough. Kim presented her passport. I'll ask again when we get back to the US.
- Eventually we got back on the plane, into our same seats and the flight to Guam resumed. A flight that should take appx 45 minutes (from Rota to Guam), ends up taking more than two hours as we transit through Saipan, disembark, process through customs, and reboard the aircraft. The temperature on the plane was easily 90 degrees and the arrivals process (going through customs) was very confusing.
- Took a taxi to the hotel (Days Inn in Tamuning, Guam); cost - $12.00. Kim gave the driver a $3 tip, but that's still less than the Days Inn shuttle. Then we arranged for him to pick us up at 0400.
- We stayed at the same hotel on our trip to Rota. This time we were booked in a room adjacent to a very busy road. The traffic noise was pretty bad. It's a good thing we've got ear plugs.
- We ordered piazza and settled in for the evening. We cranked up the AC and watched some TV before turning in for the night. Hopefully we can get some sleep before that 0330 wake up.
- Day 8: May 20/21 - Didn't sleep very well. The bed was very uncomfortable and the room was to cool. Woke up around 0200 and couldn't get back to sleep. Finally got up at 0300.
- The taxi that was supposed to pick us up never showed, so we called a different one. We made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare.
- We ate a little breakfast at Burger King and went through security two times. TSA and CBP. Once again they're asking US citizens for a passport. Why?!
- As we depart Guam, I showed my passport; no questions asked - Literally - He looked at my form (which said I had nothing to declare), never even looked at my face (as far as I know), stamped something, then handed me my passport back. I moved forward past him. I guess it's o.k. for me (A U.S. Citizen, to enter a U.S. territory (Hawaii) from a U.S. territory (Guam).
- Now in Hawaii, we proceeded to the gate and then we moved to a second waiting area, before we were finally allowed to board the plane. Good thing I brought my ear plugs as there's a screaming baby three seats away.
- In flight, once again the free movies don't work. United can't manage to get that working properly. It was broken on the way over (our flight to Guam back on the 13th/14th of May) and it's broken now. (www.united.com/appreciation flt 200/21 May Guam/Honolulu)
- Arriving in California, this time I showed my passport - No reason to 'rock the boat' - we transferred to another plane, and continued our flight to Denver.
- I had no idea that U.S. citizens in the territories (Outside the 48 contiguous states) were treated like cattle, slaves, and lesser forms of life. It's disgusting the way we and other U.S. citizens were treated. U.S. citizens traveling within U.S. territories should not be subject to these excessive screening measures. I could understand if our flights originated from 'outside' the U.S., but every flight we took originated in and landed in a U.S. territory.
- The fog of the last 40+ hours washes away as Kim and I enjoy the limo ride back to our house. Oh, yes, the snow was melted by the time we got home (on the 21st of May)!
Our great adventure is over. We had a wonderful time. There was excellent food, friendly people and awesome beaches. Unfortunately, some of the amenities that we've become accustomed to (as resident of the US Mainland) weren't available, and the facilities were a bit more primitive than we would care for in retirement. After some consideration (this blog entry written years later (Feb, 2016), it's agreed that we won't be retiring to the Island of Rota. It's a bit too remote for the two of us. Hopefully our next retirement scouting trip will provide a more likely destination for our retirement in ~15 years time.
May 11, 2014
No Way - Snow in May?!
It's officially spring now, but Colorado's Crazy Weather continues. We recently (on the 11th of May, 2014 (Mother's Day)) survived another one of those crazy weather fronts as it moved through our area (the Front Range of Colorado) - It's headed east, so you may see it soon. This time we got Snow! Yes, Snow in May... It happens, and when it does we all act astonished as if this has never happened before (see last year - May 1st, 2013). During the day our temperatures dropped from 65 degrees on the 10th, to a low of 30 degrees on the 11th (with rain changing over to snow), then finally down to 28 degrees Fahrenheit on the 12th. That's right we dropped more than 30 degrees over 24 hours. Guess what happened next? - You got it; it snowed! We started out with fog, then rain, then snow - Of course! The silly snow (appx 5" of heavy wet snow!) managed to cause a lot of damage to trees and plants throughout the area (as many/most trees and plants had leaves already), and it stuck around for a brief period of time. By the 13th most of it was gone, melted away as temps rose back up into the 50s. The temperature is historically 56 degrees by this time of year.
Thank goodness for the precipitation - Our state isn't 'officially' in a drought, but we can still use all the precipitation we get. All the snow was gone by the end of the week (according to our sources - we were gone too - on a vacation in the tropics!). This freeze thaw cycle really doesn't seem all that odd if you've lived through the last few years of crazy Colorado weather. These crazy weather swings seem to be normal for Colorado's Front Range. Stay tuned for more crazy weather in the days ahead.
My new Home Phone - Cost per month $7.84:
In October of 2013, I switched from a traditional POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) home phone to a 'do it yourself' VoIP (Voice Over IP) service. In the past I've bitched and moaned about the crappy state of home phone service in the U.S. I've made some claim... Like: "I'm definitely going to ditch the residential phone" Well, Hell hasn't frozen over, but I made good on my claims. As of 30 Oct, 2013, I officially freed myself from the U.S. Telecom scam known as the 'Home Phone' using conventional POTS (Plain Old Telephone System).
Back in October of 2013, I had to select a VoIP service provider. Google offers a VoIP service called Google Voice. Of course there are others as well; such as Anveo or Phone Power. There are several plans and the prices vary drastically. Keep in mind that these companies are very competitive, and this is your chance to save some money. In the end, I opted for Google Voice. It had all the features I needed, with the added benefit of costing $0.00 per month! Actually - That's not quite fair. To be honest, the cost for Google's VoIP service was $FREE. You pay nothing! Unfortunately, now it seems that Google Voice is going away. According to an email I recently received (from the makers of the OBi VoIP device/appliance that I purchased): Back at the end of October, 2013, Obihai announced Google would end its support for the XMPP communication protocol. This announcement came on the heels of Google's announcement that as of May 15th, XMPP would no longer be supported for third-party VoIP applications. The Google Voice service uses XMPP to connect the OBi to the service. With that, after May 15th Obihai will no longer support the Google Voice service on its OBi devices.
Also included in that email was an offer to sign up with one of the selected partners. I signed in to my OBiTalk account and reviewed the approved VoIP Service Providers. There were a lot of offers. Then I went and did some additional research into two of these providers (Anveo and Phone Power). I also researched three additional providers. It was somewhat exhilarating; being able to pick-and-choose. I get to pick which provider I sign with. Normally when you select a home phone provider you get one choice. That's right one choice, and somehow that doesn't qualify as a monopoly? Probably because you could choose a VoIP provider. Provided you can figure out how to do that. It certainly wasn't easy. It took considerable effort for me to finally cut that home phone cord. The Comcast/XFinity VoIP solution was a joke - which I rejected in under 24 hours, and I ended up 'rolling my own' VoIP service. In this case, I decided on Anveo.
With my new service from Anveo, I had to pay a $3.00 porting fee to Google in order to pull over the VoIP number they had assigned me. It's a number in the local area code, but since I'd already established it a little over a year ago, I didn't want to get a new one. $3.00 isn't bad. With the new service, I can:
- Make and Receive Calls Normally with my OBi Device (I own the hardware/a one time purchase). Make and receive calls in a vary large area (see below).
- 911 Emergency Calling Included with the Service. Yes 911 calling still works. You just have to configure it. It's not on by default.
- Outbound minutes per month - 1,000 (to/from callers in US, Canada, Mainland China, Singapore, Puerto Rico, Thailand)
- Low overage rates. 1 cent/min in the US, 0.5 cent/min in Canada.
- SMS texting in/out. 1 cent/min in the US. My home phone doesn't have an SMS capability, while I could send SMS from a web interface, I'm not sure what would happen if someone tried to send an SMS to my VoIP number.
- Free voicemail. Voicemail transcribed to email.
- Continue to Use Your Google Voice Phone Number or Get a New Number. I ended up getting another/new Google Voice number. This time I chose a number with a De Pere, WI area code. So that family in that area can call without incurring long distance charges.
- Port Your Number to the New Service. It cost me $3.00 to have my old (Aurora/Denver, CO area code) Google Voice number ported over to Anveo.
- Free Premium Services Like: 3-Way Calling, 2 concurrent incoming calls, Call Waiting, Caller ID number, Caller ID name, SIP status alerts, Online FAX, FAX to email. Free incoming FAX. Cheap outgoing FAX rates (Actually, it's free - provided the recipient is in the calling area(s) mentioned above).
- Amazingly Low International Calling Rates. Through Google Voice or Anveo. We're talking extremely low. $0.01 to $0.05 per minute.
It took me some effort to get the new Anveo VoIP service configured as my primary provider, and I was even able to configure the Google Voice service as my secondary provider (for that second phone number). The OBi device can be used with many Internet phone (VoIP) services. That's just one of the benefits of owning an OBi. A new service can be configured from the OBiTALK website and used on your OBi device in little time. Multiple offers are available - with some starting at under $3 per month. I ended up paying $94.00 for an entire year's worth of service (Including $10.00 worth of tech support. Just in case I need it). Compared to my previous bill for home phone service ($1,020.00 per year), I'm now paying approximately 91% less! Talk about a savings! How would you like to save $926.00 or more per year?
Once everything was up and running, I performed a series of tests. With my new VoIP service (Anveo) I'm able to make and receive phone calls to or from anywhere in the US, Canada and other select locations. International calls have a small charge (less than $0.01 - $0.05 / minute in many cases). The Google number also came with voice mail, email transcripts of voice calls, custom greetings, call forwarding, call recording and many other features. The pay service (Anveo) provided an even greater number of options with more customization. With the Anveo service, I was even able to get 911 service and fax support working. It took me a while to get everything configured properly, but now I've got an extremely cheap home phone service that I can customize to my hearts content. For the cost of the hardware - It cost me appx $100.00 to get it all set up with Google Voice - Now I've got a service that paid for itself in under two months. Whereas before, the crappy phone service was costing me $85.00 a month! So don't be daunted by the dread of technological difficulty. Setting up my own VoIP service (don't bother with those expensive solutions like Comcast VoIP or Vonage) was far easier than I had anticipated, and now I'm in charge of the service not someone else.
Killed another cold with Zicam!
On the 10th of May, I started to come down with a cold. My boss was sick at work from Tuesday through Thursday, on Friday she took the day off. I'm not saying that she was the vector, only that my coming down with a cold coincided with her being sick at work. It happens, sometimes people stay at work when they're sick. I know that I've done it in the past. I prefer not to, but sometimes you just don't have much of a choice. Sometimes there are deadlines that must be met.
<rave>I started getting sick on Wednesday evening. As soon as I got the chance, I used my favorite cold remedy. Now that the gel product has been banned (The product has been removed from stores, and I've run out) I find that the oral mist functions in much the same way that the nasal gel used to. Spraying the oral mist onto the back of my throat usually results in the elimination of any cold symptoms, and I don't get a cold. I took the Zicam every three hours through Saturday, and I never got sick! Did the Zicam prevent me from getting the cold, or did I have a cold that Zicam killed? It's hard to tell when the symptoms completely disappear within a couple days. Hunh? You're probably wondering, what the heck is Zicam? Well, it's a cold remedy. I've been using it for several years now, and I'm convinced. It's kicked ass on every cold I've 'almost' had in the last six years. When I feel a cold coming on - you know, that scratchy feeling in the back of your throat - I use Zicam. The results? No cold whatsoever, or a cold that's as mild as a slight allergy. Getting a cold sucks; thank goodness for Zicam!</rave>
Zicam's active ingredient is Zinc Gluconate - The zinc salt of gluconic acid. It is an ionic compound consisting of two moles of gluconate for each mole of zinc. Zicam comes in more than one form, and there are other products containing/based on Zinc Gluconate. Concerned about Zicam rumors? I'd recommend a search of Snopes.com - My favorite myth management website.
Zicam is a branded series of products marketed for cold and allergy relief whose original formulations included the element zinc. The Zicam name is derived from a portmanteau of the words "zinc" and "ICAM-1" (the receptor to which a rhinovirus binds in order to infect cells). It is labelled as an "unapproved homeopathic" product. I don't work for (in any way) Zicam, Mattrix Initiatives, or any company that profits by the sales of Zicam. They're not paying me, this isn't an advertisement, but it is an endorsement. Yes - I pay them for their product, and I'll continue to do so, as long as the product continues to perform.
Netflix is raising their prices again - Crap!
It's a service I can't live without - right, it's a first world problem - Netflix added video streaming in January of 2007. At that time, Netflix didn't charge anything extra to stream movies. That's right (in case you forgot) it was Free! (sort of). If you were already a rental-disc subscriber, your were allowed approximately one hour of streaming for each dollar you spent on your monthly subscription. If you were paying $16.99 per month, then you could stream 17 hours of streaming video (The $4.99 limited plan allowed 2 hours of streaming per month). In 2008 they lifted the restriction on the number of hours, and each disc-rental plan came with unlimited streaming. This went on for years; then, in 2011 they split the DVD and Streaming services into two separate services (a logical move). There were plenty of people who only wanted the streaming service, and the move allowed Netflix to create an entirely new service with a new revenue stream - A brilliant move actually. The new service started out costing $7.99 per month, and that made plenty of sense. I was happy to shell out my $7.99 for streaming, and $11.99 a month for two discs out at a time. I wrote about this increase back in July of 2011.
So, what's new? On the 9th of May, 2014, I received an email from Netflix. Notification about an upcoming increase in the price of my Netflix plan. According to the email:
In order to continue adding more movies and TV shows, we are increasing our price from $7.99 to $8.99 for new members. As a thank you for being a member of Netflix already, we guarantee that your streaming plan and price will not change for two years.
You can review your membership details at any time by visiting Your Account. As always, if you have questions, we are happy to answer them. Please call us at any time at 1-888-357-1516.
–The Netflix Team
So there you have it. Netflix is finally increasing the price of their streaming movie service. For me (a current member of Netflix) the price doesn't go up until May of 2016. That's quite a while - Five years since their last price increase. I'm happy with this news. It comes with plenty of notification, and as a current customer I get an extra 'grace period' before the fee increase. I think it's an equitable trade. Once again, this increase in price may open the door for more competition in the content streaming market. Who's going to step up and offer a plan that's more competitive than Netflix? How about Hulu? or Amazon? or Apple?
MOG will be shut down on the 31st of May, 2014:
It's been a while since I wrote about MOG. Here's an update regarding the end of MOG. First of all, what is MOG? MOG is an online music service, a blog network, and a social networking website where users can listen to, read about, and discover music. Music + Blog = MOG. I've been enjoying MOG music service since October of 2010. <rave>In my opinion, it's an excellent streaming music service. Offering a huge variety (16 million+ songs as of Sep, 2012) of songs, I'm seldom disappointed by the variety. Given the fact that it started out featuring independent artists, it still has an excellent selection of my kind of music. It's available for free or pay. The service is available on numerous devices. I can access the MOG music service using a Mac specific app on my desktop computer, on my Squeezebox (a portable streaming device), or any of the Roku boxes scattered about the house. The only thing I don't pay for is the download capability for iPhone/Mobile use. That's $9.99 a month, but I'm fine with the add free service for $4.99.</rave>
Back in July of 2012, Beats Electronics, LLC (Founded by hip-hop producer Andre "Dr. Dre" Young and Interscope-Geffen-A&M Records chairman Jimmy Iovine) bought MOG for $14 million. Beats bought MOG's music collection, but not it's blog and advertising network. The MOG Music Network (blog and advertising network) was sold to the radio and online media company Townsquare Media (in August of 2012) for a rumored amount of $10 million. So MOG has been sold; divided into two parts. This month I received email confirmation from MOG that Beats Music is due to launch in Jan of 2014. Beats Music launched in January, but I didn't switch or sign up. MOG was still alive and kicking (at the time), and frankly, I didn't really like what I saw for the Beats Music service.
On the 30th of Mar, 2014, I received an email from MOG:
| Here's the email I received:
The email was sent from <firstname.lastname@example.org>, but the Reply-To: address is set to: <email@example.com>; just in case you didn't know, MOG is going away. Here they are backing away from their April 15 shut down date.
Apparently they haven't completed the work necessary to transition MOG users/services over to the Beats service. This still leaves me with a lot of questions. None of which have been answered by their FAQ or their 'support' desk.
I've asked about a couple of things. The number one thing was price. Will Beats have a $4.99 tier the way that MOG did? No answers to be found for that question; which probably means 'No'. I really despise the way they respond by not responding. Have other questions been answered? Sure. Will they answer questions when the answer might make a user/users turn to another service? No - Just don't answer at all. We don't want to provide people with a reason to Not join Beats.
Smooth and seamless... The other thing I'm worried about is Beats music. What does the future hold for this new service? Will they be absorbed by another music service? Should I switch immediately? Should I wait?
On the 2nd of May, I received another email message. This time the email came from <firstname.lastname@example.org>. This message starts out with the following statement:
"We all knew the day would come when MOG streamed its last song. That day is upon us. On May 31st, MOG will shut down."
In preparation for the shutdown on the 31st of May, they will no longer be accepting new MOG registrations, billing will cease as of May 1st, and this email marks the end of MOG music.
Thankfully Beats music has decided to have 320kbps streaming (just like MOG), and you can transfer your play lists (I didn't have any). Unfortunately, they will not have a $4.99 streaming only option.
In one last bid to win over MOG users, all former MOG users will receive two months free service with Beats. If you're an AT&T mobile customer (like me), you might be eligible for 3 months of free service. Guess what? I'm not eligible, because I'm on a grand-fathered unlimited data plan. Yup - I'm being screwed by AT&T because I'm on an unlimited data plan. They don't like the unlimited data plan, and they're doing everything they can to move people off that 'unlimited' plan. So here's another example where a cellular provider promised something that they later regretted - Because they would much prefer charging people when they go over their limit on a 'limited' data plan.
I will miss the MOG music service. It did everything I wanted at a very low price. I will not switch over to Beats. I need to find a plan that fits my needs.
May's Music Madness:
Here's a list of some of the music I recently acquired. Where do I get all this stuff? Well, I used to find/discover a lot of free (actually free) music by visiting several music web sites (Pandora, 3hive.com, musicalfamilytree.org) and music blogs (Analog Giant, Brooklyn Vegan, Fluxblog, Gorilla vs. Bear, etc), and listening to a few different music podcasts. Used to... Now? Now (Starting in Oct of 2010) I subscribe to an online music streaming service called MOG, and I've recently (as of Sep 2011) started using eMusic 'Radio' stations for music discovery. Combined together, these two services provide full-play access to more than 35 million tracks! (16m on MOG (as of Sep, 2012), >19m on eMusic (as of Aug 2013)) Two fantastic ways to discover music, and no need for illegal downloads or pirated tracks. I occasionally use a few of the other methods (music blogs and podcasts), but MOG now serves as my Primary Music Discovery source.
Artists want you to Hear their music - If you like it, you'll buy it, or maybe you'll buy some concert tickets. The major labels of the music industry want you to pay for their product. - letting you hear it for free is contrary to their business model. Well, guess what? I won't buy the music if I can't listen to it first, and no one listens to the radio anymore (I don't because of all the advertising, interruptions, lack of new music and lack of information - you can never figure out who/what is being played) The major labels are killing themselves with their restrictive distribution and dissemination policies. If you like new music, you can do a web search to find your favorite artists web site, a new music web site, or an archive of free music. Free music is available - Legally! Don't believe the propaganda of the major labels - Not all free music is illegal. You can legally download and listen to all sorts of music for free (Have you heard of Pandora, Audiolizer, Presto, Jango or GrooveShark?). I download (purchase) most of my music from a couple of commercial sources (eMusic and iTunes), but I occasionally download tracks (legally) from various websites, newsgroups and blogs in order to satisfy my craving for music.
Here's a listing of some of the music I legally downloaded - and paid for!
eMusic monthly downloads:
Every month I download ~50 tracks from eMusic.com. This month (May of 2014) I downloaded 48 tracks (from eMusic) at the low cost of $22.90! Normally I pay a $19.99 monthly fee, which makes the tracks extremely cheaper - That's right I didn't actually pay $23.40, that was the price for non-subscribers. As a subscriber, I only paid $19.99 for my $22.90 worth of downloads. The price for these tracks came out at ~$0.42 per track - Way less than the cost on iTunes or Amazon.
* Mind Alter EP - Deastro: (11 tracks) I'm not sure how 11 tracks is an EP... Daestro is a musician (Randolph Chabot) I first discovered back in March of 2009. I first discovered Deastro (Not to be confused with Daestro, which is a different band - of course!) by downloading a single from the Pitchfork website. This band makes some good electro-pop with excellent instrumental work. I don't like the over-use of 'fuze' on this album.
* Total Life Forever - Foals: (11 songs) I try to mix it up when I'm listening to new music or downloading albums from emusic. Some old favorites some newly discovered talent. In this case I've downloaded a new discovery. I found this band by listening to MOG music recommendations. Foals makes Jangly, clean cut, upbeat pop-tunes in the tradition of Talking heads, Crowded House, The Police. It's catchy two-guitar tunes that make you want to get up and dance.
* Electric Warrior [Expanded and Remastered] - T. Rex: (18 tracks) I owned a copy of 'Electric Warrior' on cassette, and I played it until all the ferric oxide particles fell off the polyvinyl-plastic tape. Here I've purchased an 'Expanded and Remastered' version of that original album. I first started listening to T. Rex in the 80s. While the band was already defunct (After Marc Bolan's death in 1977) by the time I started listening, it was still one of the bands that influenced my appreciation for music. Electric Warrior was the band's sixth album and it also contained the top 10 hit 'Bang A Gong (Get It On)'. While most of America considered T. Rex a one hit wonder, I went on to purchase and listen to several of their albums. I recently rediscovered the band when their music was recommended by MOG music recommendations. Time to get it on!
* Metroland - Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark: (7 tracks) A seven track single, this release has six variations on one particular song (Metroland) and one other song: 'The Great White Silence' as a b-side. It's a single? We've certainly come a long way from the old paradigm of what makes something an EP or a Single. OMD is one of my all-time favorite bands. I've been listening since the early 80s, and the band is still producing excellent music. Metroland is the first single released in advance of their newest album 'English Electric'.
* Rebel Never Gets Old - David Bowie: (Single) A favorite artist. Here's a mash-up from that iconic master of the 80s new wave movement. Take two Bowie songs - 'Rebel Rebel' and 'Never Get Old' and mix 'em together. That's one way to create a new single. This promo single was made available via iTunes and various other outlets (including eMusic). Rock on David Bowie!
Unlike some music outlets, eMusic doesn't have any DRM and they don't insert unique track id's into the ID3 tags. Their terms of service are consumer friendly. eMusic allows you to burn as many CDs as you like and copy downloads to an unlimited number of your computers and portable MP3 players. At less than $.50 a track (I'm currently paying $19.99 for $22.99 worth of downloads per month). You don't have to be a member/monthly subscriber to access the site or buy music, and the membership prices (per album) are compared to the non-member prices right up front, so you can see how much you save as a monthly member. eMusic offers a really good value for your download dollar. iTunes and Amazon still charge more. eMusic offers more music for your money, and the variable bit rate recordings make for exceptionally high quality recordings. If you still want your own copies of the music, check out eMusic.
These are some of the items I added to my music collection during this month. Since revamping my music collection back in September of 2005, I've been slowly adding, revising and updating the collection. If you have a comment, question or correction regarding my music collection, please don't hesitate to send me an email. Please keep in mind that my collection isn't for sale, and I'm not interested in giving you any copyrighted materials. I'd rather not go to jail for music piracy. :-)