Nov 30, 2014

Windows for the home - 2014Windows for Home - 2014:
Windows for the Home 2014 - I bought a copy of Windows... Not! Sorry, I couldn't resist. I'm not talking about an Operating System for the computer, I'm talking about actual windows. Windows for my home. Earlier this year, in June of 2014, our area experienced some strong low pressure fronts; from the 22nd through the 27th of June. Those low pressure fronts moved through our area, dropped a barrage of rain and hail. The days were gloomy, chilly and overcast. My bones and joints were aching almost non-stop. On the 26th of June, we endured an epic hail storm. The hail caused a considerable amount of damage to our home. This wicked storm hit our house from all four sides, but most of the damage happened on the south side. The east and west sides of our house are partially covered/protected by fences and other houses, but the south and north fronts are exposed to the weather. As this storm hammered our house, we sheltered in the basement - Yes, we thought we might get hit by a tornado, there were sitings and the sirens went off.

Afterwards, we inspected the visible damage. There was visible damage everywhere. Every side of the house showed some visible damage. I even climbed up on the roof to look at the shingles. I saw signs that I thought might be damage, but I'm not really an expert in that regard. The south side of the house really took a beating. The screens and frames around all our windows really got smashed up, but the glass didn't break - Probably because of the special type of coating on the glass in the panes (more on that later). Even the fence in our back yard took some damage. The siding was undamaged, because it's that 'concrete' impregnated kind. The siding (in some spots) will probably need some paint touch-ups here and there.

Time to call the insurance company! The insurance company (USAA) arranged to have an inspector (RJMW - Jay Tuomey) visit our home, and we started looking for a company that could manage the repairs. It took us a while (several weeks), but we eventually found a reputable company that was acceptable (Advanced Exteriors, Inc.). The insurance inspector presented a rather grim tally. The damage certainly was extensive, and our home isn't made of 'cheap' materials. Getting it back the way it was before the storm would definitely cost us a bit. Thankfully we have a great insurance company. Going over all the damage caused and the necessary repairs would take a considerable amount of time and bore the crap out of most people, so I'll skip to one of the highlights - Our Windows. The windows on our home are a bit specialized. We live in a hazardous area, it's an approach corridor for DIA (Denver International Airport) and it's also part of the Buckley Air Force Base flight maneuvers area (former Lowery bombing and gunnery range). The windows have a energy, sound and projectile resistant coating. It helps keep our house cool in the summer, warm in the winter, quiet when the jets are flying overhead, and resistant to shattering in the event of an impact or pressure wave (from a crashing and/or exploding airplane - I sure hope that never happens).

The windows themselves actually constituted the most expensive part of the repairs. The roof work; replacing shingles, converting ventilation to ridge style, etc. was completed earlier this year (October), but it took a lot longer to get the windows replaced. First of all, there had to be a significant amount of 'haggling' with the insurance company. When the adjuster did his original estimate he didn't know that the windows had a special coating. He tried to find some 'codes' on the glass, but couldn't find them (I found them later). Afterwards, when the contractor went to find replacements, they couldn't find anything that would fit the price that the adjuster indicated in his assessment. So I had to go back to the insurance company and 'explain' how they had messed up on the estimate. I had to convince them that these weren't your typical windows - They were considerably more expensive. I had to provide written proof that we 'needed' this type of window. The insurance company wanted to get ordinary windows. I provided them (via Fax!) with documentation. The documentation I provided contained three different 'proofs':

  • The home's original build options: Which showed the special windows option.
  • The Buckley AFB disclosure and waiver: Because we live in an area where the Air Force conducts aerial exercises and maneuvers. Kim and I have lived most of our lives in an area where flight maneuvers are conducted (I was in the AF for twenty years), so we're used to the noise and potential hazards associated with where we've lived.
  • The 'Air Rights Covenant and Avigation Easement' documentation: Because we live in the approach corridor for DIA. Planes are always flying past our house. We live on the southern boundary of our community. It's adjacent to a significant open space near the Aurora Reservoir. I like the fact that we're adjacent to an open space, but it also represents a target area for pilots who might have to 'ditch'.

After transmitting this information to our insurance company, they agreed that we had to have these types of windows. It wasn't something that we were trying to 'upgrade' in our favor. We (or the contractors) weren't trying to scam them. Claiming a special type of glass/windows and then installing ordinary windows. I'm glad that the insurance company is remaining vigilant to this type of fraud, but I wish the inspector had been a little more vigilant in his assessment. That way I wouldn't have to 'justify' the added expense after the fact. After that delay, it took a while to find suitable replacement windows. The original company had gone out of business, so the contractor had to find a new make/model that satisfied the special requirements. These weren't single pane windows, they have lattice work between the two panes, and they've got the low 'E', sound and shatter proof coatings. All of this combined to delay the installation of the windows and add to the expense.

Of course everyone else in my neighborhood was dealing with the same hail damage, so that meant that the contractors were quit busy replacing windows and conducting repairs. Eventually we managed to get the authorization, the windows, and a scheduled time to install the new windows (Milgard Tuscany Vinyl). The windows were finally replaced in November of this year. Thankfully, the day that they chose to do the work (it actually took two days) wasn't raining, snowing or incredibly cold - We turned off the heat and managed to survive the two chilly days during which the windows were installed. The only thing left is the garage. Our north facing garage windows were damaged by the hail, and they also need to be replaced. That took another month or so. The hail damage occurred on June 26, 2014. All the work wasn't completed until April of 2015 (that's when my fencing was power washed and all the painting completed). There were a few minor things that never got repaired, but I'd had enough. I got tired of pressing the contractor for the remaining items (small, minor, low cost issues/repairs). The total cost to conduct all the repairs, replace all the windows and install new shingles? ~$47,000.00 - Yes, a hail storm can cause a lot of damage.

The Awful Green Things From Outer SpaceThe Awful Green Things From Outer Space:
I wish there was an iOS version of The Awful Green Things from Outer Space (AGTFOS). This classic Tom Wham game originally appeared in Dragon magazine (back in 1980). It was then produced by TSR as board and pocket games. The game was later bought by Steve Jackson games. For a while, no one was producing the game, now you can purchase a copy from SJG for $24.95. Oh how I miss the adventures of the Space Ship Znutar. The Robot's kooky antics, the amazing cuisine of Cook and the courageous leadership of Captain Yid!

I've got a copy of the original game that appeared in Dragon magazine, and I have the board game version that TSR produced. I don't have the Steve Jackson version (micro or full-sized). I really was hoping that someone might license and produce an iOS version of the game. Wouldn't that be amazing! I see that there used to be an old Avalon Hill computer game from 1982, named 'Space Station Zulu' - It was basically a copy of AGTFOS, but the game was quite primitive. As far as I know, there is no iOS version. Long live the Znutar! (Fair use exemption claimed (for image of the 'Green Thing') in order to comment on/review the copyrighted work)

Nov 22, 2014

Blu-Ray blowsBlu-ray Blows:
<rant>Commentary on Blu-ray disc format. Yes Blu-ray is trademark protected, but I'm not selling anything. Additionally, this article is written as review/commentary on the Blu-ray disc format - i.e. Protected speech under fair use doctrine. On with the commentary/review: Why has Blu-ray adoption remained low? Here are some of my thoughts on the topic/subject. You're free to have your own thoughts on the topic, so don't get to bent about my opinion. I attempted to watch a Blu-ray disc last night... And that got me to thinking.

While the images in HD are quite striking, and I enjoy the pictures displayed on my 52" television (now considered average sized), I'm still not convinced that HD is all that it's cracked up to be. I'm sorry, but I just don't see the improvement everyone is screaming about. This iteration on consumer video is nowhere near the transformative experience we got when VHS transitioned to DVD. Picture quality is better, but it's not 'that much better'. The 'HD Interactive' options are extremely difficult to use. Come on - admit it, they're not consumer friendly; as a matter of fact, I'd say they're consumer unfriendly. In order to use many of the special 'features' you have to create an account - typically on a computer (of course a different account for each distribution/production company). Then you have to type in your username and password in order to access the Blu-ray features. 

Do you know how difficult and annoying it is to 'type' your user name and password using a remote control? All of this is required, just to access the amazing blu-ray features! Then when you attempt to access the special Blu-ray or 'live' options... Guess what? They aren't all available. Or your Blu-ray player won't connect to the network, or the server is down. Or the bandwidth between your 'connected' device in the server is so restricted that no more than one use can use the 'live' features at a time. Or there's so much latency in processing or communicating with the server that you wonder whether your blu-ray player or television is having a seizure.

How many places could this go wrong? And it does - The live or connected features (in my experience) almost always fail. How long have they had to get this working? (Blu-ray standard was officially released in 2006 - In 2009, Toshiba finally relented and ceased production/use of the competing HD format) Last night's attempt to watch a Blu-ray disc failed in an epic manner. I couldn't even get to the main menu of the disc. First a message about 'If you have problems go to... Some URL'. That message stayed on the screen for about one second and then the screen went blank. When I pressed the 'Menu' button on my remote, another message appeared. This time I was informed that I can't play the disc, I can't watch my movie because the disc requires my blu-ray player (A Samsung BP-P3600 device produced in 2009) which is supposedly spec'd to the Sony Blu-ray standard) to have 2MB worth of storage, but my blu-ray player doesn't have any available or attached storage!

In the past, when I have been able to get the Blu-ray player to connect to the 'network' I attempted to download and play some additional content. Guess what? It failed! I downloaded a video, but it wouldn't play. It was probably produced in a non-compatible format... I got some type of cryptic error message. On many Blu-ray discs the (non-connected) special features on the disc are difficult to locate, extremely slow to access, and they aren't integrated into the film. They only work separately from the movie. That's not what Blu-ray promised. We can get that with standard DVD, and sometimes it's integrated into the movie.

The Blu-ray experience is, in my opinion - an over-hyped, marginal improvement in service for the consumer.
At prices of two to three times that of a DVD, Blu-ray discs are not worth the price. 

I remember the initial hype and the anticipation that this new medium would obviously make DVDs obsolete. Has that happened? No! Why not? Because the people producing these discs can't get their act together; they can't manage all the intricate moving pieces of restricting your access, verifying your purchase, checking for memory, authenticating your copy, checking for updates, downloading the software, upgrading the drivers, exchanging the crypto keys, tracking your viewing habits, connecting to the 'Store', enabling your 'Experience'.

I remember thinking that the introduction of Blu-ray would help push the price of DVDs lower. Did that happen? Not really, they went down for a while, but now they're right back where they were before the big Blu-ray roll-out. Blu-ray is still way more expensive than DVD, and it still delivers an extremely inferior 'Experience'. The only thing better about Blu-ray is the picture, and some people can't really see the difference - Many televisions certainly can't render displays of the specified quality. The push to display video at 60, 120, 240hz (fps) refresh rates is ridiculous. The human brain and eye (working together) can successfully interpret objects in motion at rates up to appx 150fps - However, these types of refresh rates are completely unnecessary for video. The flicker of motion pictures disappears at approximately 50fps - So anything running 60fps will likely be the best refresh rate you will ever need for motion pictures. Traditional film was made at 24fps, and many films simply aren't produced at refresh rates high enough to make a difference on your television. The display process on most monitors or televisions just ends up interlacing or gapping (skipping) frames as they 'upconvert' the video from an original 24fps rate. Depending on the television and the original format the picture can and will look better, but those conditions aren't universal.

I remember the original prices of Blu-ray discs. The blank discs. The marketing departments hyped them for their storage capacities. Yeah you could store an entire season of Seinfeld on one Blu-ray disc. The price of blank discs was high, but it came down. So the production costs don't justify the increased prices for the Blu-ray discs. Have you ever seen Blu-ray discs sold that hold entire seasons? It's pretty rare. You know why? Because that would mean that the distribution and production (for the discs) would have to be reworked to have separate Blu-ray and a DVD versions. That means it would cost the distributors money to produce two different distribution formats. They're not going to do that. Especially when they continue to put five episodes on a disc, and get you to pay for six discs of five episodes each (these numbers don't represent precise measurements/nr of episodes/nr per disc, etc). Now the cost of hard drives and flash storage have pretty much made Blu-ray discs (and DVDs) non-viable storage mediums for anything but movies.

Blu-ray may have won the 'high-definition' war for the living room, but they failed to deliver the promise of 'better' content delivery. As a matter of fact, they botched the content delivery end of the deal so badly, that people would rather buy the DVD - A format that consistently delivers and costs less. I own, and will continue to buy Blu-ray discs, but only when I want an improved visual experience (with newer 'Action' or 'Visually Stunning' movies). I don't buy old classics in Blu-ray format. A 24fps film isn't going to get any better with a Blu-ray version. A standard DVD and High Def television will make it look better than Standard Definition. A Blu-ray version of the disc doesn't make it any better. The Blu-ray players handle DVDs and Blu-ray, so they're a good investment, but the downside of poor 'enhanced' content makes Blu-ray a 'risky' proposition, even to this day. ..Let's not talk about online storage of videos or video purchases that are stored online and played on demand just yet...</rant>

I own and will continue to buy Blu-ray players, not because Blu-ray discs are so awesome, but I'll buy them because they're backward compatible, and they include online connectivity to streaming content. Why buy two separate players (DVD and Blu-ray) when you can buy one? Why buy a DVD player when a Blu-ray player is priced the same? Why buy a DVD player if it doesn't have internet connectivity? Buying a Blu-ray player is a no-brainer.

Hopefully, the advent of 4K video will make Blu-ray cheaper, DVDs extremely cheap and usher in a new era of consumer 'experience' --- Yeah, don't hold your breath, it's just not worth it. Stick with DVDs, you'll be happier in the long run. Finally; while originally wrote this back in 2014, I didn't post it (on my "Rob's World!" blog/website) until 2019. In the intervening years, one thing has changed that makes DVDs and Blu-ray players even less relevant. That's digital content delivery. People aren't buying discs anymore. Most of our entertainment consumption (in 2019) comes in the form of a digital stream. We've pretty much given up completely on the physical medium. No one wants to mess with discs at all. I'm still buying movies, but now I'm purchasing a digital copy, which I store locally - Just in case I lose internet connectivity. Guess what, it's working. Even if I lose internet connectivity, my Apple TV will still play content stored on my local devices (via the Intranet/in-home network).

England Business tripBusiness trip to England:
Since I moved to a new office/job (not a new employer), I've been on a few business trips. This is the third time I've been on a business trip to England. Now that I'm working in a new branch, my contributions, skills, knowledge and leadership abilities are actually valued (a long story). So, if you haven't heard from me in a while, it's because I just got back from a business trip (with a few coworkers) to England - Six days (15 - 20 Nov, 2014) of technical exchange and customer relations activities. While I was over there I did a lot of driving - on the left side of the road of course. Thankfully I didn't get any speeding tickets, wreck the car, scratch it up, hit any pedestrians, drive on the wrong side, etc. Thanks to Elliot for riding with me on some of the late night trips - Most of England's roadways (in my opinion/based on my experience in the United States of America) is poorly lit. The roadways are not lit in the same manner that roads in the U.S. are. Our highways are lit like sports stadiums, most of our night time driving (on English roads) was considerably darker. We worked a lot of long hours and sometimes we were out driving before the sun rose and after the sun set. 

I saw a lot of awesome sights (four cities in England) and ate at a lot of outstanding restaurants (especially the Indian ones (See the 'East India Cafe' at 103 Promenade in Cheltenham, England - We ate the 'Indian Experience' a five course meal. I had a traditional Bombay Gin drink (delivered with some historical information regarding the use of quinine water). The meal and the entire experience was exceptional). Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures. It was often dark when we got done with work, and I left my phone turned off for most of the trip. AT&T charges something like $1.50 a minute for phone calls, and the smart phone is constantly sipping data through the wireless connection. I couldn't afford the roaming charges, I'm on a 2 year plan with AT&T and there aren't many other practical solutions to the overseas data dilemma (Phone companies in the US suck!). Do you know a way I could solve this issue? Kim and I are going on a European vacation next year, and I think we're going to need some phone and data service while we're on our trip. Right now I'm planning to add an 'International' service package to our AT&T plan. I'll use it while we're on vacation, then turn it off when I get back. Unfortunately, it looks like I'll have to purchase a months worth of service, even though I only need the service for a 15 days. Many years later - I wrote/posted this blog entry in January of 2019, I've learned/remembered that I can leave the phone on, provided I simply leave it in 'Airplane' mode - That way I can still use the camera and many more applications. WiFi will still work, but the phone won't attempt to 'phone home' or latch onto any cellular networks.

Despite the fact that I didn't take any pictures, I wanted to take the opportunity to 're-post' some of the photos I took during a previous business trip to England. Why? Well, it's a long story, but the real reason is a bit complex/storied. These photos (from a previous trip to England) were originally taken back in September of 2013 (with my iPhone 4S (8 Megapixel with auto focus)). I originally posted them to Facebook and my "Rob's World!" website back in September of 2013. Then, in November of 2018, I inadvertently deleted a 'crap load' of photos (including these photos I took during my Sep 2013 business trip). It's taking me a while, but I'm working to recreate/re-post all the photos that I inadvertently deleted. I hope you enjoy these photos of England. I wish I'd had time to take photos during the four city business trip, but I really didn't have any down time during the trip.

Colorado WeatherWhat's Wrong with a little Weather?
What's wrong with a little weather? Nothing - At least not during November. You may have read about our September snow storm, so some of the white stuff at this time of year shouldn't come as any surprise. The Denver/Aurora area got socked with snow, blowing wind, and bitter cold over the last 48 hours (starting on the 11th of Nov, 2014). Temp's were down in the teens and we got about an inch of snow. Add in a little wind and one might wonder where autumn went. Hopefully mother nature will relent in the next 48. I'm still waiting to get my windows replaced from those hail storms in June! - Ummm, not, I'm not 'Sans Windows' if that's what you're wondering, but I am hoping that the repairs will occur soon (the windows need to be replaced), because I don't really want them repairing my windows while it's snowing. It's bad enough already. With the temperatures this low, it would be 'Just my luck' that they would show up to replace the windows on a day when the outside conditions are temp's in the teens and snow coming down!

The snow kept falling and the temperatures kept dropping all throughout the day. We eventually ended up with approximately 6 inches by the time it was all over, and the temperatures dropped into the negatives. Yup - Winter is here in Colorado.

Hawaii Vacation - 2006Hawaii Vacation - 2006:
Kim and I vacationed in Hawaii from Feb 15 - 25, 2006 - Kim and I and Kim's parents (Sharon and Ted) had a great time. We were celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary (26 Oct, 2005) and my retirement from the USAF (in 1st of Jan, 2005). Ted & Sharon came along to help us celebrate. It took a long time to plan and save up enough money for this big vacation, but we finally did it. After 20 years in the military, we finally managed to spend some money on ourselves.

We were really looking forward to our long delayed and well deserved vacation. We left for the islands on the 15th of Feb, 2006, and got back on Saturday (the 25th of Feb, 2006). We had a fantastic time. We stayed at the Hale' Koa hotel on the beach in Waikiki, Oahu. We toured four of the Islands during our brief stay (O'ahu, Kaua'i, Hawai'i and Maui). The events and activities are too numerous to mention here, and my plans to fully describe every moment never materialized (you'll likely notice the comments (captions under the photos) peter out after a dozen or so photos).

While I wanted to post a photo gallery with a detailed description of every event, I find that eight (and then 12) years later it's about time that I finally gave up on that idea and simply publish what I've got. These photos were originally taken back in February of 2006 (with a Nikon Coolpix 7900 (7.9 megapixel/3x digital/3x optical zoom) camera), but I didn't post them (the first time) until November of 2014. I posted those photos on my "Rob's World!" website, and Facebook. Then, in November of 2018, I inadvertently deleted a 'crap load' of photos. It's taking me a while, but I'm working to recreate/re-post those photos. I hope you enjoy these photos of Hawaii - We certainly enjoyed creating them for you.

Nov 8, 2014

GPG ToolsEncryption and digital signatures on my Mac:
Spammers often assault my digital identity by forging messages to look like they came from me. As a result, I try to use pgp signed messages (whenever possible) with my email correspondence. Thankfully, there's an open source, free and reliable way to make that happen. There's a group of software developers who devote their time and effort in development of a product called 'GPGTools' it's a series of applications which enable digital signatures and encryption inside the Mac OS X environment. One of the primary components is GPGMail.

GPGMail (recently (06 Oct 2012) updated for Mountain Lion compatibility) is an open source plugin for Apple Mail. It brings the functionality to sign, verify, encrypt and decrypt mails using the OpenPGP standard. I use MacGPG2 (version 2.0.19) and the GPGMail plugin (version 2.5b1 b783b) with Apple's desktop email client (Version 8.0 (1990.1) under Mac OS 10.10 (14A389) as of Nov 7, 2014). I installed and tested the new version - Afterwards I donated €10 to the developers. I use GPGMail for encryption, decryption, and message authentication. If you would like to correspond in secret, please take note of my Public Keys.

Why do I use signatures or encryption? Well, I don't use the encryption very often, but I have been known to send myself encrypted email containing passwords or private information (banking and medical information). I use pgp signatures quite often, as a way of ensuring message authenticity. I'm tired of spammers pretending to be me; even my web hosting company has 'accused' me of being a spammer. By using these signatures (which uses the message content (upon signing) and a private key to create a signature which can be verified by using my public key) I can assure recipients that the message(s) they received were actually sent be me, and it hasn't been tampered with in transit. In addition to my self published keys, my public keys are also available on various keyservers.

One of the best parts of this software? The developers! They're fantastic. Whenever I have a problem or question, they're eager and willing to help with a patch, troubleshooting or detailed instructions. The project/developers aren't working for a profit, they do it because they believe in the open availability of secure email.

iPad Air 2iPad Air 2 - My newest gadget:
I've been using an iPad 2 since March of 2011. I've been loving it, but some things improve with time. Apple doesn't wait until something stops working before they make a new model - They're constantly improving. While they've been busy iterating and improving, I've been enjoying the iPad 2 and saving my money. Well, the old iPad 2 has finally been retired. It's successor - for me: Is the iPad Air 2. How often does one upgrade an iPad? Well, for me it's been three years. Kim and I tend to get new phones every two years. New iPads every three years and new computers every 5 years. That seems like the cycle for us.

I really enjoyed the iPad 2. I waited for the 2nd generation. That first generation iPad didn't even have a camera! Now with the iPad Air 2, the device has several excellent features which I've been salivating over for some time now. Here's a listing of some of the new or improved features - In no particular order:

  • It's thinner - Of course it is! Thinner than it's successor; but how thin is that? Well, it's a measly 6.1mm. Thinner than a pencil. It's named Air for a reason.
  • It's got Touch ID - What the heck is that? Well, if you haven't heard, you can now authenticate using your fingerprint. That's right instead of typing in you password, or poking in your incredibly simple code 1234, Apple has a sensor built into the 'Start' button. That circular button at the bottom of the iPad, it's a sensor, it's a fingerprint reader, it's the Touch ID sensor. Use that sensor to automatically unlock your iPad. It's also being used to secure banking applications and more!
  • Faster Connectivity - Apple's improved the iPad Wi-Fi connectivity. This iPad can be purchased with an LTE cellular capability, but I wouldn't use that, didn't get that and don't care about that. I am happy that the Wi-Fi speed has been increased. It's twice as fast as the original iPad Air. I don't know what magic sauce they used, but that's definitely a plus for me.
  • A new processor - Apple's iPad Air 2 isn't just thinner, they actually managed to make it thinner and more powerful at the same time. The new A8X processor isn't just smaller, it's also beefier - 40% more powerful than the previous version - Or so goes the Apple sales pitch. I have noticed that this iPad is way more responsive than my previous iPad 2. I used to actually notice a lot of lag as I was typing on the iPad 2. With this A8X process and 2GB of RAM, I don't see much lag at all.
  • A new and improved 'Retina' display - This is a really big improvement over my iPad 2. The 2048x1536 display is sharp, clear and very quick on the 'draw' (thanks in part to that improved processor (see above)). This display also has an anti-glare coating. I don't usually use the iPad outdoors, but I appreciate the fact that I won't have to squint so much when I'm sitting on the couch near the bay windows.
  • Finally there's Apple Pay - I like the idea of using my Phone to make purchases, and Apple is moving that idea forward with Apple Pay. If only more vendors and merchants would get on board. I doubt I'll be using the iPad to make Apple Pay purchases, but I am glad that there's another option for the mobile consumer.

Once again I used my employer's discount to purchase an Apple product. Pretty much everyone gets some sort of discount, and even a marginal 5% is worth it on a purchase in the Apple store. Unfortunately, that discount doesn't count for much when you stack the sales tax on top. In Colorado, the sales taxes sit around 8%, so it's certainly one of the pricier places to purchase my devices - but then again, someone's gotta pay for those 'Scenic Byways'. Thankfully my new job is helping to pay for these new gadgets.

The iPad has definitely become my way to play D&D (written in 2019). I've found that as a D&D Player (not as the DM), the utility of an iPad is astonishing. It holds all my books (Yes, I've paid for the hard copies), my character sheet, a calculator, an online reference for any of the esoteric rules discussions, a camera to capture the action on the table and a place to keep my notes - Where was that shop that sells the 'Fire beads'? In addition to the gaming accessory, my iPad comes along on vacations so I can remote into the desktop and get a little work done. I've found that it actually works as an adequate substitute for a laptop - Not as good, but great for short trips. Remote connectivity applications have a long way to go, but the iPad is way ahead on the hardware side. If only the hotel networks and VNC applications functioned as efficiently as my new Apple iPad Air 2.

Email problemsEmail Woes - I'm NOT a spammer:
Lately (November of 2014), I've been struggling with a bit of a problem. My email/domains are listed as a source of spam. Argghhh! I'm currently listed on two 'blacklists'. I'm not entirely certain how I ended up on these blacklists, but I do use a shared hosting service, and its entirely possible that one of the other customers using this host is responsible for some shenanigans. Unfortunately the StableHost admin I'm dealing with doesn't seem to understand what's happening or why this server is listed on a blacklist. Based on email correspondence, he clearly doesn't understand how to read email headers.

Apparently (after some research), Stablehost passes all outgoing email through a secondary mail server. While the Stablehost machines act as the mailhosts, they have contracted with another company '' for some additional services, and mail scanning/filtering is one of those services. All outgoing email is passed through these mail-clusters before it's sent along to its intended recipient. This little fact/omission of information has caused considerable confusion and consternation (to me). Outgoing email was being delayed because the Stablehost server (not the mail-cluster) was on a black list. They used to have a lot of problems with spammers using their shared hosting services - Until they implemented/contracted with reliabledns. They caught and eliminated all the bad-actors, but they still haven't gotten their servers removed from all the black lists out there. I'm glad they're scanning outgoing email (using the reliabledns mail-cluster), but Stablehost needs to work on some clean-up. For a while there they were showing up on a lot of black lists, and some mail servers are seeing that legacy (prior to relay through the reliabledns mail-cluster) when they conduct a deep trace on the relays in my email headers.

Music CollectionNew Music in November:
Here's a list of some of the music I recently acquired. Where do I get all this stuff? For the long story on my music discovery efforts, see my music page. After rdio was shut down, I searched for an alternative streaming service, but the only thing that made sense (given price, catalog, service, support and my existing preferences) was Apple Music. I signed up for a 3 month free trial in December of 2015, and I've been a $9.99/month subscriber ever since - Thank you for not raising your prices (as of Dec, 2018). For now, eMusic is my primary download service (even though it's catalog is severely shrunken - no major labels, and the minor labels are disappearing on a daily basis), and Apple Music streaming is my primary music discovery service, but I certainly can't afford to buy my music from them, and the other major players - Amazon and Google both think that the outrageous prices that Apple charges are o.k. Really - $1.29 for a single track!

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, Presto, MySpace, SoundCloud or DashRadio?). 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 This month (Nov of 2014) I downloaded 61 tracks (from eMusic) at the low cost of $23.25. Normally I pay a $19.99 monthly fee, which makes the tracks extremely cheaper - That's right I didn't actually pay $23.25, that would have been the price if I had purchased individual tracks. When you purchase an entire album you get a discount. Plus I got a discount for being on a specific plan (as a member), and I've been 'Grandfathered' with additional credits since I'm a long-time loyal member (since 2006). As a subscriber, you save even more. I only paid $19.99 for my $23.25 worth of downloads. The price for these tracks came out at ~$0.33 per track - Way less than the cost on iTunes or Amazon. A non-subscriber/non-member would have paid nearly $48.00! If you bought these tracks on iTunes you might have paid more than $78.00!

* Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action (Deluxe Edition) - Franz Ferdinand: (23 tracks) A favorite artist. I've been listening to Franz Ferdinand since 2005. This is there fourth album, and the sound has changed a bit from their first two albums, but I'm still enjoying their sound. Franz Ferdinand is an 'Indie Rock' band from Glasgow, Scotland (UK).
* Stranglers In the Night - The Stranglers: (15 tracks) Stranglers go back even further. I can't remember how long I've been listening to the Stranglers. I'm certain it goes back to the 80s. Another British band, this one traces its roots back to the formation of Punk Rock (and a bit earlier). This is definitely one of my favorite bands, and I'll likely be buying as many of their albums as I can - while they're still on eMusic...
* Essential Tremors - J. Roddy Walston & The Business: (12 songs) Discovered by listening to rdio recommendations. J. Roddy Walston hasn't got the best voice (vocals, piano, guitar), but the key pounding energy in this band is outstanding. A Richmond, Virginia Rock band with roots in the south. Good stuff, I hope I can get more.
* I am on your side - Oh No Oh My: (11 songs) Another favorite band. I've been listening to this band since 2006 (or earlier). They used to be 'The Jolly Rogers'. The best part about this band is its 'multi-instrumental' approach. Each song, each album is packed with lots of different sounds, all woven together in an excellent fabric of music. I originally discovered this band through the site This album is a deviation from their normal sound. Far more mainstream. While this album is more accessible to the public, it's not quite as distinctive. Hopefully their distinctive sound returns.

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 can't really go wrong. 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. :-)