December 20, 2015

iTunes Music MatchiTunes Music Match:
iTunes Match is a cloud storage service for your iTunes music (You may notice that I refer to this service as 'Music Match' in many instances. Officially it's called 'Match' without the 'Music' prefix. I can only imagine that the service (currently limited to 'Music') will expand to cover a broader range of media in the future - Note: Apple did expand their matching service to videos, but only to official 'iTunes Digital Copies' and movies purchased from the iTunes store). Basically, iTunes Match is a mobile music access service, that makes you music library available, wherever you might be. It's taken me a while to latch on, and I wasn't quite sure I'd be subscribing, but I found a couple reasons why I might want this new service. Maybe you'll find reasons of your own. My reasons? My primary reason - With this new service, I could get rid of the DRM protection on some of my iTunes tracks, while simultaneously upgrading those same tracks to the 256kb iTunes 'Plus' bit rates. Back in the early days of iTunes, Apple included a proprietary DRM on each and every track (almost every track) downloaded by customers. Why? Well, the music industry, distributors demanded it. They claimed it was an 'Anti-Piracy' issue. The DRM was restrictive. Basically it kept you (if you purchased a DRM protected track) from copying the music, or moving it from one device to another, or burning it to a CD. Basically, it penalized the legitimate owner of a track (you paid for it) from using the music on all your devices. It kept you from enjoying your music where and when you wanted to. We could debate the finer points of DRM for days, but let's get on with this article shall we?

Another reason why I decided to buy-in to the Music Match service? Well, my music library is getting rather large, and storage costs money. Wouldn't it be awesome if I could listen to any of the songs in my library (~21,911 songs / 136GB - As of 20 Mar, 2020) any time I wanted? Using any device I owned? My iPhone and iPad can't hold that much music, my iPod touch (purchased in Sep of 2019) is a 256GB model - so it can handle all the music. Kim's laptop (A MacBook Pro) has a limited amount of storage... So, if I want to take all my music with me, I'll need a bigger hard drive or my own streaming music server... Or do I? This service (it's part of Apple's iCloud effort) puts my music in the cloud - and not just the music I bought from Apple; all the music in my collection! That's right Apple's Music Match not only matches my iTunes music, they even match the stuff I didn't buy from them. That means all my eMusic and Amazon tracks are matched. Going beyond the traditional digital downloads, Apple even matches the:

  • Tracks I ripped off CDs (that I purchased/and still have)
  • Downloaded from other websites (legally)
  • Converted from cassettes (that I purchased/and still have)
  • And get this; they've even uploaded (matched) the stuff that they don't have in their library (more than 12,000,000 songs in the iTunes store).
    • The only thing they wouldn't match was DRM protected music that's no longer available in their store. Damn that DRM!

With iTunes/Apple's Music Match service. I can access my music (tracks in my iTunes library) anywhere I go*. I don't go far without my iPhone (I don't always take my iPod touch with me), so I should have access to all that music anywhere I go. I can still store some of the tracks in device storage; just in case I don't have a signal; but access to all that music is a pretty compelling reason to keep paying for the service. I particularly like the fact that they even match music I haven't purchased from the iTunes store - because I get my music from different sources. I can't imagine how they managed to negotiate that deal with the RIAA/Music Industry. I've still got digital copies on my media drive (a hard drive/yes it's backed-up on a separate device) and I can stream/access the music from there using Apple and non-Apple devices, like my Logitech Squeeze box. *provided I have access to the cellular network or a Wi-Fi signal (recommended due to bandwidth caps and costs associated with downloading via cellular network) and an iTunes compatible device (up to ten devices).

Here's a few notes of interest regarding the iTunes Music Match service.

  • It's not unlimited. It costs $24.99 per year, and it only allows you to 'match' 25,000 songs (it doesn't count tracks you've purchased (through iTunes) against this limit). That's more than enough for now (I've 'only' got 15,000 songs in my library, so I should be o.k.).
    • Update: As of 19 Dec, 2015 (following a June 2015 announcement by Eddy Cue), Apple has upped the ante on this storage. You can now match up to 100,000 songs - Yes not just doubling the matching numbers, quadrupling it! This storage applies to items NOT available in the Store. The match service doesn't count stuff that it has in the store. It only counts the stuff that you uploaded because it doesn't have a copy in the store. No, these items don't count towards your iCloud storage limit, the music match service is separate from any iCloud storage plan you might have. iTunes Match only works for items that don't have DRM on them - Damn DRM! - Oh, and by the way. Perhaps you haven't noticed, but the price hasn't changed since 2012. It's still $24.99/year.
  • It doesn't match songs with bit rates below 96KB, above 256KB or greater than 200MB in size. This prevents it from overwriting tracks with higher bit rates than it retains, and avoids the matching of some non music tracks (with bit rates below 96KB).
  • If you match music with bit rates below 256KB (the iTunes Plus standard), you can delete your locally stored copies, re-download the matched tracks and end up with a new 256KB copy!
  • You can replace those old DRM tracks as well (unless the song isn't available in the iTunes store). Here's how:
    • First identify the 'matched' and 'purchased' tracks that have DRM (check the tracks 'kind' - look for 'Protected AAC Audio file').
    • Delete the tracks. Yes - Everything will be o.k. You can delete the track from your library, and your locally stored copy (on a hard drive/your iTunes music) Just don't delete the matched copy that's in 'the Cloud'.
    • After you've deleted the tracks (they'll still appear in iTunes) they'll have a download icon (shaped like a cloud).
    • Select all the tracks with the cloud icon (different cloud icons mean different things), right click and download all the tracks. After they've downloaded, you'll find that they're now 256KB copies without DRM! Hooray! I got rid of almost all my DRM protected tracks in this manner.
  • One more note on the matching/downloading process. If iTunes no longer sells a version that you've previously purchased (with or without DRM), it'll upload your copy (for matching/availability), but you can't download a new copy. If you delete it and re-download, You'll just end up downloading the version you've already uploaded.

Thankfully, there's plenty of articles out there that cover this service in great detail; including walkthroughs. Hopefully you can find what your looking for with a google search. If you can't find the answer you're looking for, I'm willing to give it a try, feel free to send me an email. So far I'm enjoying the service, and it hasn't been half as difficult as I had expected. Thank you Apple - For pushing the envelope, for demanding non-restrictive ways to make our music available to us, for making products and services that work.

Amazon Cloud DriveDump Truck dumps itself:
I've been evaluating some cloud storage solutions over the last several years; and I'm always on the lookout for free cloud storage options. Lately, I was slightly disappointed to learn that Golden Frog (parent company) was shutting down their storage solution. As of Dec 19, 2015. Golden Frog's secure online storage product, Dump Truck, will be discontinued. It seems that the parent company is shutting down the storage service so that they can focus on their VPN products. They launched the service in October of 2011, and I started evaluating Dump Truck in April of 2013?. Since storage is now ubiquitous and free, the demand for a product like Dump Truck has changed.

Fast forward several years. As I write this - In Mar of 2020, I realize that Dump Truck was a minor player. I migrated my data out of their cloud (I had a free 5GB account) and watched them shut it all down. Now I wonder, how do the remaining cloud storage companies manage to offer a free tier? I hope its because the overhead is low and they can afford to absorb that cost within the operating cost of the paying customers. Those who have more intense storage requirements (more capacity, more frequent transfers, more bandwidth, more of everything).

eMusic NewsMore eMusic News:
I've been an eMusic member since August of 2006, and there have been a lot of changes since then - Including changes to how purchases are made, how many downloads are included monthly and the 'price' of those downloads. Thankfully, they've allowed me to keep some of my original benefits along the way. Lately (in Oct of 2015), eMusic was purchased by a company called 'TriPlay' - TriPlay is a privately held company with offices in New York City and Israel, that operates various online media and personal cloud services. With this acquisition, TriPlay brings its media storage savvy to eMusic.

This mergers/acquisition puts eMusic on equal footing? with the likes of iTunes and Amazon. eMusic not only offers its own music store, music player and access to more than 25 million songs, now it provides a digital cloud storage locker as well. This free, unlimited storage allows members access to all their music (not just the eMusic purchased songs) on all their devices. Twenty-four hour access to all your music online or off, at no extra cost.

So far so good (as I write this from the 'future' (Mar of 2020)) - I haven't experienced any major issues (actually no issues) as eMusic has put my entire eMusic collection (I haven't uploaded all my music) in the cloud. I still keep local copies, but I have streamed my music from the eMusic website without problems (other than the slow connection of the computer where I work) and the new (as of Dec, 2015) eMusic app for iOS. The new application allows you to stream your music (stored in their cloud) from your mobile device (at no extra cost).

As I mentioned previously (in November of 2015), this acquisition seems to have been a good thing for the company. eMusic was able to keep their executives and employees during the transition, and I've seen nothing but improvements since the acquisition. Now we've got a new 'My Music' cloud based player, a new iOS app, and - just in time for Christmas - A $10.00 bonus to purchase more music (see the Music entry at the end of this month's What's New? blog entry).

Government Shutdown - 2015Omnibus Budget - 2016:
They finally got their act together - Congress that is. They finally passed a budget! I'm astonished. An Omnibus (all-encompassing) budget was written for 2016 (just in time...). The current 'continuing resolution' was set to expire on the 22nd of December. This budget has cleared votes in the House of Representatives and the Senate. It was signed by the president (Barack Obama) on the 18th of December, 2015. Here are some items of note from the budget (If you want to know more, you can always find the entire budget - What a fun read (Yes I read the entire thing)):

  • Commerce/Justice/Science
    • $70M to improve police-community relations (including body cameras)
    • $19.3B goes to NASA (that's bigger than was expected)
      • Riders on NASA funding include a prohibition on Dept. of Commerce from relinquishing control of Internet Management Responsibilities (ICANN).
  • Defense spending
    • A $1.3% pay raise for military and DoD employees (holy crap! I'm getting a pay raise)
  • Financial Services
    • Extends 'Internet Tax Freedom Act' (1 more year of no taxes on purchases made over the internet).
  • Interior Dept. and Environmental expenditures
    • Prohibits administrative creation of new 'Wilderness Areas'
  • Veterans Affairs
    • Increased VA Supportive Housing (VASH) funding by $60M.

So much for a 'No Riders' budget. Members of Congress still used our budget as an opportunity to fund there pet projects, petty vendettas and political agendas. Why do lawmakers add these 'riders' to the budget? They're trying to avoid debate on the topic. They don't want Americans to know that they're only looking out for their own personal agendas, the interests of special interests and lobbyists. Why bother Americans with the truth behind these 'Pork Projects'? They're just stupid Sheeple, they're only good for one thing - Re-election votes. Like the government shutdowns, these budgetary riders are another way that congressional members adversely affect our nation and the citizens they're supposed to be serving - Instead of the Insurance, pharmaceutical and banking lobbies.

When it comes time to vote in your state's local elections, ask yourself whether these congressional members have been working to benefit the people of your state or the corporate and political interests that enrich the lawmakers personally? When it's time to vote to 'retain' or 're-elect' these low life $%&!$)@*+ let them know that they're replaceable. Don't re-elect them! (Regardless of political affiliation). Brief note about my personal politics: I'm registered as an 'Unaffiliated' voter - I don't 'Owe' my allegience to any political party or corporation - As a federal employee, I've sworn an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States - That's my agenda.

letter envelopeOffice depot can't handle the complex problems of sending a letter:
Apparently (First hand accounting), Office Depot can't handle the incredibly complext requirements of mailing a letter [sarcasm - but true]. Yesterday (18 Dec, 2015), I visited an Office Depot in the Southlands Mall (Store #2641) in Aurora, CO. I was hoping to take advantage of the store's USPS mail service: <>

I had two letters. Christmas cards with correspondence, not packages, no goods to declare. No customs form required, just international postage for two letters. Oh yes, the 'problem' - I wanted mail my letters to overseas destinations. 

I waited for approximately five minutes as their were approximately five people being served. Eventually, one of the workers saw me waiting at the service counter, saw that I was only holding two letters and inquired 'Are you just dropping off?' I indicated that I needed to send these letters overseas. I was summarily dismissed with the statement: 'Oh, we don't ship packages overseas'. 

At first I started to leave, but thought perhaps I could get some clarification as I saw the prominent signs declaring that this store had USPS, FedEx and UPS services. Surely any store with USPS service can apply international postage to a letter. The USPS handles all the rest. All they would need to do is calculate the cost for international postage...

I waited patiently as they then waited on two additional customers. When they finally noticed that I was still waiting to be helped, I clarified that I wasn't 'shipping any packages', I just wanted to mail a couple of letters.

They explained that they don't have much luck with sending packages overseas. Again, I had to explain that I wasn't 'shipping a package', just two letters. Correspondence, no goods, I didn't need to fill out any customs forms. I had nothing of declarable 'value'.

The person helping explained that was 'good' because that's where they have the problems. She then swung the computer monitor around, and asked me fill in some address information (which seemed odd at the time, as I had already addressed my envelopes, and I only needed international postage applied, so that the letters could be mailed via USPS).

After I filled in the information I was instructed by the computer to mark my 'packages' - I had no pen, there was no pen anywhere nearby, and I wasn't getting out of line to go look for a pen. Finally (after approximately ten minutes) someone noticed that I was standing there looking like I might need more help. They asked; I said I need a pen, I was provided with a pen - Having them nearby would have been helpful for the pesky customers.

I then continued to fill out my online forms and I marked my 'packages' with a #1 and #2, I waited for the person to service two more customers. Finally, I was asked if I was done. I said I think so, and I turned the monitor around. The computer indicated that I needed the attendants help to complete the rest of the process.

The person who was originally helping me returned to help me. She read what the computer was displaying (I couldn't see). Then she indicated that this was the 'problem'. Apparently, my only option for 'shipping' my letters was via UPS, at a cost of approximately $84.00 per letter.

I said 'No thanks' and took my business elsewhere - To the UPS store, which was more than happy to apply international postage to my letters ($2.40 each). I was out the door in less than a minute, as opposed to the disappointing experience at the OfficeDepot, which took my approximately a half hour!

Either the individuals working at store 2641 didn't know what they were doing (perhaps some training would help?), or OfficeDepot's USPS service is lacking. Why couldn't I find clear information on the website regarding 'International Postage' or anything regarding sending letters to overseas recipients/destinations?

I thought I would avoid some delay by mailing my letters from the OfficeDepot, as the Post Office might have been busy. So much for that idea... The Post Office in the Southlands Mall was actually closed. I'm not sure why, but I ended up spending nearly an hour in order to mail two letters.

I reported this issue on the HomeDepot website (as a store experience), hopefully I'll get some clarification on the matter. 

The USPS has decided to move much of its business into non-government retail spaces. Places where the workers are non-union/non-government and the profit margins are higher. Stores like OfficeDepot/OfficeMax, Staples, drug stores and select Grocery stores. Aside from me (Yes, I'm opposed to this recent trend), who else doesn't like this change? The American Postal Workers Union, that's who.

Government Shutdown - 2015Crisis averted - For now/Part 2:
Earlier this year our nation avoided another Government Shutdown. It authorized/and passed a 'Continuing Resolution', but that resolution was only a stopgap measure with a deadline of Dec16th. So the crisis mentality has only postponed the inevitable. Well - That date has come and gone, and guess what? No, you don't need to be shocked, it's not as if there's 'Gambling in this establishment!' As of Wednesday, the 16th of Dec, Congress actually averted a crisis and prevented a looming government shutdown. Down to the wire. The deadline was the 16th of Dec, and they managed (at the last minute) to pass another 'Continuing Resolution' - Yup, they Kicked the Can - AGAIN! This new Continuing Resolution is good for another five days, funding our government through the 22nd of Dec, 2015.

It's a good thing they did that, who knows what would happen if we didn't have a budget? (Here's what happens when we don't have a budget: We cannot pay our military and civilian workers, the military cannot pay contractors retained to work on various programs, we cannot maintain military hardware/equipment, we cannot keep parks open, we cannot fund federal programs designed to help poor families, the IRS would have to stop processing refund requests, and more). Oh, and the best news of all? Not! It actually costs us more to have a shutdown. No it doesn't save us any money. It costs us money (Here's why it costs us money to have a government shutdown: Someone has to be paid to change all the government websites to say 'Closed', and email employees about their furloughs. Someone has to be hired to handle federal employees transitioning off government benefits. Security guards have to be hired to make sure that unmanned offices full of sensitive data aren't broken into. Government workers still get paid (back-pay), but they don't work. Parks have extra costs to clean up trash that accumlates during a shut-down, and more). The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) estimates that the three government shutdowns in the past five years cost the taxpayers nearly $4 billion dollars. So, yes - It actually costs us more to have a shut down. So, while the congressional representatives (Senators and Congressmen) argue about who should get how much money, you and I pay the bill for the arguing, and the bill when they can't do their jobs because they're too busy arguing with each other!

We're not out of the woods yet. This brief extension still doesn't get us out of the month. These ridiculous 'Games' of brinksmanship have an adverse effect on our federal workers, military members and all the defense contractors who work hard every day. Many of these employees give up many of the freedoms we take for granted, just for the honor of serving the rest of our nation. Then, when it's time for Congress to do its job, they just can't seem to get it - They were hired and elected to run our government, not to SHUT IT DOWN! Here we go again. If there's a shutdown, let's be sure there's consequences for those who fail to do their job. When it's time to vote to 'retain' or 're-elect' these low life $%&!$)@*+ - Let them know that they're replaceable. Don't re-elect them! (Regardless of political affiliation).

Snow Day!Facebook Chat is Deprecated:
I knew it was bound to happen, and now it has. Facebook has deprecated it's chat functionality so that Facebook Messenger/their chat service is no longer compatible with other XMPP compatible chat clients (Like Apple's iChat (now known (as of 28 Sep, 2019) as Messages). As of 16 Dec, 2015, I noticed that I could no longer log into the Facebook chat service via the on my Mac. I'm running/was running (Version 9.1 5085) under Mac OS X 10.11.2 (El Capitan) on my 27" iMac and the Messages application for mobile on my iPad Air 2 and an iPhone 6s+ (both running iOS 9.2). After approximately 6 hours of troubleshooting and research I discovered a note for developers on a Facebook page. The Chat API has been deprecated. After April 30th, 2014, apps will no longer be able to access the chat service. It took them a long time to actually cut off the service, but that's the bottom line - If your Messages app is no longer able to handle/exchange Facebook chat, this is probably the reason why.

FYI: The 'recommendation' that people access Facebook messages using the Facebook or Messenger websites is a bit of a bummer. The whole point of using Messages and the XMPP/Jabber protocol is interoperability with other applications (Apple's Messages app isn't the only application (on many different operating systems) that uses the XMPP protocol) and the ability to create/manage a 'Universal' messaging Application. Apparently (no surprise here) Facebook isn't interested in sharing or allowing users to live outside their ecosystem. This move (deprecating) the Chat API was easily predictable - After all, you can't see Facebook advertisements if your using some other chat client to exchange messages with Facebook members. This is simply a clear case of Facebook doing whatever they can to force members to stay inside their ecosystem and increase revenue by doing so - Screw you Facebook member - We're here to serve the shareholders, not You! You're the product - We've sold you to our advertisers, so stay where we tell you, and keep looking at those ads!

December 15, 2015

Snow Day!Snow Day!
It's a snow day - By 7AM, we had already received approximately 6 inches of snow. The snow started falling (in our area) around 0300MT/GMT-7. I slept well overnight (from 14 into 15 Dec, 2015), but I had to take some pain killers before I went to bed. I even complained to Kim that my joints were aching (See my article about being a human barometer). I thought that the snow wasn't supposed to start (according to the weather 'prognosticators') until Wednesday? Here we area on Tuesday morning, and the snow is coming down in buckets - Ouch!

I left for work at approximately 0545, that's my normal time. The 'Snow Line' said that we were operating under a three hour snow delay. That means that certain employees (myself included) are authorized a delay of up to 3 hours in order to arrive at work safely. O.k. that doesn't necessarily mean that I can leave work any earlier (it's complicated), so I left for work at my normal time and arrived a little bit later than usual. Thankfully their wasn't much traffic at 0600, and the snow kept some people from driving at all. The roads were in pretty bad condition (slippery). Thankfully it's a short drive (under 10 miles) and I arrived at work by 0620. Just as I arrived at work, they closed the building to all but mission essential - The guy at the entry control point said that I should probably turn around and head home. They might close the base, and then I would be stuck here. I immediately turned around and left for the day. It took me another 50 minutes to get home. The roads were worse by the time I got home/on my drive home, and the snow got worse throughout the day. Ultimately, we ended up with about 10 inches. By noon the snow had stopped falling, around 1300 I started working on the driveway. Clearing that three stall driveway (of course it narrows down after you get out of the garage) with a broken snow-blower (one of the augers isn't working) and a shovel took forever. Thankfully one of my neigbors took pity on me and cleared my sidewalk. Thanks Brian.

I'm a bit obsessed with snow - I don't like snow. It always means more work. Work that I wouldn't otherwise have to deal with. In an HOA Covenant controlled community, you have to shovel your sidewalks (and of course I shovel the driveway as well), or you might incur a fine. The requirement to shovel means that you must work outside in the cold, possibly while its snowing, in order to clear the sidewalk and driveway; despite the fact (in this area) that the intense sunshine of the day (over the next 24-48 hours) will likely melt all of it within the next day or two. I grew up in Wisconsin (near Green Bay), and ever since I was old enough to shovel, that was my responsibility. Get out there and shovel - Your sisters aren't going to do it, and dad's at work. When I finally retire (maybe by the time I'm 67 or so), I will be moving to a climate where I won't need to shovel. Screw that! What about you? Do you love the snow, but hate the shoveling?

USAAUSAA is Number One!
<rave>Our Christmas bonus just arrived. Yesterday (14 December, 2015), I received a letter from my insurance company (USAA). According to the letter, "We are grateful for your continued trust and pleased to present this year's distribution from your subscriber account". They're paying me! $107.27 paid to us because they had a year of ongoing success and financial strength. When USAA is successful, the members reap the benefits. That really is awesome. I may not be able to buy stock - because they're not a normal 'for profit' public corporation, but they treat their members like owners. Kim says this dividend comes at just the right time. Just in time to take her out to eat. This year we can get a good dinner and still have some money left over.

It's not often that you get a good feeling about your insurance company. It's not often that your bank or insurance company gives you some money back (see below). That's right. They paid me. All companies hold a certain amount of capital. Since USAA is a member-owned company, it cannot issue stock to raise capital. It must raise capital through other means. One way that USAA manages its capital is through something called a "Subscriber's Account" (Subscriber's Savings Account - SSA). USAA holds a portion of its capital in each member's name in a "Subscriber's Account". Since there are no shareholders, profits are retained for financial strength or returned to the members - Yes! Returns are accomplished through the SSA. Each year a portion of USAA's profit is retained as "unassigned" that's their working capital; the rest is allocated to each member's SSA using a formula based on the amount of premium the member paid that year as well as the member's SSA balance. The allocation of capital to a member's SSA occurs early in the calendar year. Late in the calendar year, a portion of the member's SSA is distributed to the member via checks or electronic funds transfer. The entirety of the SSA belongs to the member, but is not completely distributed until approximately 6 months after the member no longer has a USAA P&C policy.

USAA is an insurance company and a bank (United Services Automobile Association). It is 'NOT' a publicly traded company. It's an 'Association', the members are the 'owners'. It doesn't answer to 'stockholders', it answers to it's members. Military members and their families (past and present) constitute the membership. The company suggests products and services, but the members get to vote on all the big changes and decisions. They're focused on products and services which help members meet their financial needs, not services that generate the most income for the company.

This is one of the best companies I've ever done business with. I've never been steered wrong or misled by USAA. Their service has always been the best. I can't imagine another company which treats it's members like owners, always looks out for the interests of it's members, and doesn't seek to screw those it serves. If you know a company as forthright, honest, and responsive, please share it with me.</rave>

Government Shutdown - 2013Crisis averted - For now:
Tell me it's not true. Tell me we're not going to have another Government Shutdown. Here's an update. As of Friday, the 11th of Dec, Congress actually averted a crisis and prevented a looming government shutdown. Down to the wire. The deadline was the 11th of Dec, and they managed (at the last minute) to pass a 'Continuing Resolution' - Yup, they Kicked the Can. The Continuing Resolution is only good for five days, funding our government through the 16th of Dec, 2015.

We're not out of the woods yet. This brief extension doesn't even get us out of the month. These ridiculous 'Games' of brinksmanship have an adverse effect on our federal workers, military members and all the defense contractors who work hard every day. Many of these employees give up many of the freedoms we take for granted, just for the honor of serving the rest of our nation. Then, when it's time for Congress to do its job, they just can't seem to get it - They were hired to run our government, not to SHUT IT DOWN! Here we go again. If there's a shutdown, let's be sure there's consequences for those who fail to do their job.

GazelleSold my iPhones - A painless experience:
Sold my old iPhones. You may have noticed, last month (November of 2015) Kim and I got new iPhones. Hooray! While that experience was more painful than it should have been, selling the old iPhones was less painful than I expected it to be. I had an iPhone 5s, and Kim had an iPhone 5c. We sold both of them on - An online seller/reseller of electronic devices. It's not the only one out there, but I decided to give them a try after being bombarded by their advertisements (Yes - It's true advertising occassionally works - Don't believe the BS some people spout about them 'Not being susceptible to advertisement' or 'I never pay any attention to the adds' (like it's an excuse to 'live with' the fact of continuous and constant advertisement everywhere you look. Oh - Free email! ...provided you're willing to look at an 'occassional' advertisement). Be honest with yourself. You know that advertisement works, and it works on you. You're not special - Like some gifted 'Golden Child' with an 'immunity' to advertisement. You're just like everyone else. If advertising didn't work, they wouldn't be spending so much time on it. Trust me, they know. There's a reason why most American companies have substantial advertising budgets.

So what did we get for our phones? Well, as I said there are others out there, and I priced the phones at four different online buyer/resellers. In this particular case Gazelle didn't have the best price, but they did have the easiest process, and they offered an 'Amazon' credit, which is something I was happy with. Rather than waiting for a check to arrive in the mail (USPS), then waiting to deposit the check, then waiting for the funds to become available... I opted for Gazelle primarily because I was able to receive an Amazon credit (this time). I got $120.75 for the iPhone 5s, and $65.00 for the iPhone 5c. Which we immediately used to buy some other goodies! It was a painless experience, and I will definitely consider Gazelle the next time I've got some gadgets to sell. On the other hand, I'm really hoping that Apple will get it's act together so we can use the old iPhones as part of a trade-in when we purchase new phones.

Government Shutdown - 2013Is this really going to happen-again?
Tell me it's not true. Tell me we're not going to have another Government Shutdown. As we approach another shutdown deadline (on the 11th of Dec, 2015), I can't help but wonder what sort of effect this will have on our federal workers, military members and all the defense contractors who work hard every day. Many of these employees give up many of the freedoms we take for granted, just for the honor of serving the rest of our nation. Then when it's time for Congress to do its job, they just can't seem to get it - They were hired to run our government, not to SHUT IT DOWN! The last one still looms large in my memory. Intentionally shutting down the government isn't something they should do - and using it as a political tactic is completely unacceptable. I'm paying attention, and hopefully you are too. If there's a shutdown, let's be sure there's consequences for those who fail to do their job.

Fax MachineSend us a fax:
As a result of Kim's broken ankle (see below/Dec 2015 entry), we had to complete some insurance forms - Of course. Why else does insurance exist? Other than to burden us with admistrative requirements, take up our time with damn forms and take our money so that they can make sure that we pay our doctors and the hospitals; you know all the stuff that a 'middle-man' is 'necessary' for. One of their requirements, so that Kim could get all the care that she needed was a six page form. Kim filled out the forms, but then the insurance company wanted us to send them to their office. Here's how that conversation kind of went (this is complete paraphrasing recreation of the extensive phone conversation I had with a representative from the insurance company):

  • Robert: So how do I get these forms to you?
  • Insurance stooge: Postal mail is one possibility, but that will take some time. It'll take about a week to get to the building, and then another week for it to get routed to our office, and then a week before we process the form. If you send it via postal mail. Your wife will have to wait longer before she can get her follow up appointments. Up to a month later.
  • Robert: Why can't I simply mail it to the correct office?
    • Rhetorical: Of course there are no good answers when your dealing with insurance.
  • Insurance stooge: Well, I guess you could deliver it in person. Our office is in Texas.
  • Robert: Why can't I email it to you?
  • Insurance stooge: That's against the law!
  • Robert: What? No it's not!
  • Insurance stooge: Patient medical information has to be encrypted, and we're not equipped to do that.
  • Robert: I am, I can totally manage encryption. Maybe someone in your office has encrypted email?
    • Rhetorical: Of course they don't have an online patient/customer portal with an encrypted message capability (it's only 2015!)
  • Insurance stooge: You could send us a fax.
  • Robert: A what? (I'm in shock - a little bit)
  • Insurance stooge: A Fax. Surely you've heard of a Fax? A facsimile.
  • Robert: You've got to be kidding right?
  • Insurance stooge: Nope. Here's our number...

Apparently the insurance industry is still reliant on this 'un-encrypted', slow speed, completely non-confidential form of communication. You know, the Fax machine. Inveted in 1843 (1st patent), with the first commercial use around 1865. Improved drastically in the 60's to include color! Yes Fax. Unfortunately for me, email has become so prevalent and better in so many ways that faxing by computer is no longer in fashion. As a matter of fact - they've removed the fax/modems from most computers (including mine). Luckily I bought a 'Printer, Scanner, Fax' machine. It's got a built in fax capability - That I dread using, because the printer's multi-page feeder function is broken, and I have to send the faxes one page at a time. After a few tests, and some familiarization, I was ready. I put the first page onto the flat-bed scanner, and dialed the insurance company's fax number... Of course the fax lost communication in the middle of the transmission, and I had to start over. But wait, it gets better. The computer locked up. So I had to restart it and the printer. After approximately one hour I had finally sent the fax.

The fax coversheet asked for a confirmation call. i.e. Call me back when you receive this. Did the insurance office call me? Of course not. I then had to spend an hour trying to get in touch with someone at the insurance company, in the right office, who could confirm that the fax was received. Oh yeah, that was totally convenient and easy - Not! I can't really blame any of this on the fax machine. It worked the way it was supposed to. The printer (an Epson model) wasn't all that reliable (page feeder is broken), fax software caused my computer to lock up, personnel at the insurance company didn't send a 'fax received' response back to me (or call the phone number I provided). If only email worked as well as the fax machine... It took me approximately three hours out of my day to fax them three pages of information. Now we wait!

Broken FootYowza! - Kim broke her ankle:
The hidden dangers of a dark garage. This morning (2 Dec, 2015) was a bad day for Kim (my spouse). Kim and I typically leave the house about an hour apart. I was still sleeping when Kim entered the dark garage. The lights were off and she had stuff in her hands. As she made her way towards her car (in the dark) she trip on the edge of a rug. That damned rug! It must have an edge that's at least an inch and a half high! Or at least that's the way she remembers it. She fell onto the concrete, catching herself with her hands, she sprained her wrist and twisted her ankle.

In pain, she picked herself up, gathered her belongings and made her way to the car. With a bit of adrenelin in her veins she drove to work. The pain persisted in her ankle and her wrist. When she got to work she put on a wrist brace and took some pain killers. Her job is quite physical, and she's used to pain from all the physical activity involved in her housekeeping job - Despite the employers claims to the contrary, there's a lot of repetitive motion in her job, and that's been causing her problems of late. Anyway, she did her best to continue...

Where was I? I was at work, I never heard her stumbling about in the garage, and she left for work before I got up. About three hours in (at work), I got a call from Kim. She was in excruciating pain. She had already tried to get her work done, but she was wincing in pain with every step she took, and her wrist was begining to swell up. She needed help - I stopped what I was doing and took her to the hospital. We went to the emergency room. We suspected a broken ankle and possibly a broken wrist.

Three hours later we back in the Volvo on the way home. Kim had a broken ankle. It was broken in two places. There were two small bone chips/fragments floating about in her ankle they had broken off when she tore some ligaments in the fall. Her wrist was o.k. No sign of any breaks there. The doctor put her on bed rest and some pain killers. In the meantime they had ordered a special ortho appliance (a boot) for her to wear. We would have to go back to the hospital tomorrow in order to get it fitted. Kim was out of work for the next few days. Years latter (I'm writting this in Sep of 2019), Kim still walks with a limp, and suffers from some anxiety whenever she enters the garage late at night/early in the morning. Yeah - That job didn't have any 'repetitive motion'. Thankfully, she's no longer working that job. It finally got to the point where she told them 'what for' and quit.

Music CollectionDigging these Downloads in December:
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 in Dec of 2015, 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 subscriber ever since (I recently (in April of 2019) signed up for the $99/year plan (saved myself ~$20.00)) - Thank you Apple; for not raising your prices (as of Aug, 2019) since the service began (more than 4 years since June of 2015). For now, eMusic is my primary download service (even though it's catalog has shrunken severely - No major labels, and the minor labels seem to be disappearing on a daily basis). Apple Music is my primary music discovery service, but I certainly can't afford to buy my music from the iTunes Music Store, 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 - That's where bands really make their money. 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 (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 artist's 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/blogs in order to satisfy my craving for music. If only I had enough time in the day to listen to all the music that I want!

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 (Dec of 2015) I downloaded 41 tracks (from eMusic) at the low cost of $23.51. Despite the published standard member cost of $23.51, I only pay a $19.99 monthly fee. This makes the tracks extremely cheap. If you're on a monthly plan you get a discount over the non-member prices (which average $0.89 per track). When you purchase an entire album you get an additional discount. Thankfully, as a long-time member (since 2006), I've been 'Grandfathered' with additional credits. As a subscriber/member, you save plenty over the likes of iTunes, Amazon and Google. I only paid $19.99 for my $23.51 worth of downloads. The price for these tracks came out at ~$0.49 per track - Way less than the cost on iTunes or Amazon. If you bought these tracks on iTunes you might have paid approximately $53.00! An eMusic non-subscriber/non-member would have paid nearly $36.00! - That's approximately 33% less than iTunes, and I saved approximately 77% over the iTunes cost!

* On Your Feet - The Movement: (14 songs) The movement has been a favorite band for many years (since the early 2000s). An American (South Carolina/Philadelphia) Reggae band that mixes Hip Hop with Reggae and Rock. This particular album was more Hip Hop than Regae. I prefer the Regae tunes, so this purchase isn't one of my favorites, and the six minute songs get a bit tired after a while. Oddly, I couldn't find this album on the discogs, Apple or Music Brainz websites.
* What the World needs Now - Public Image Ltd: (11 tracks) I've been listening to Public Image Ltd (PiL) for many years (since the 80s/the Sex Pistols). I still love those warbling apocalyptic tunes by John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten). This is one of his more recent releases - Released in September of 2015. The long wait is over! I'm not satisfied - I'd like to hear more of their music.
* Dresden - Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: (Single/5 tracks) Bright brilliant and remniscent of the 80s band that I remember (despite the dark lyrics). Dresden is a single with two songs covering five tracks. Four versions of 'Dresden' and one of 'Time Burns'. I really enjoyed the 'B-Side' Time Burns stereo effects and synthetic voice.
* Shadow of the Sun - Moon Duo: (10 songs) A new discovery. I found this band by listening to recommendations by eMusic. Every now and then they get it right. Granted, the selection is getting narrower, but every now and then they hit the nail on the head. I'd like to add more Moon Duo selections to my wish list, but eMusic is down right now... Damn!
* Waiting Room - Mustard Plug: (Single) This was a new discovery for me. I was looking for a single on eMusic, and I stumbled across this band that I would like to hear more of. While I can't even tell if eMusic has more of them, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Apple Music actually has some of their music. I just wish I could build playlists more easily... I guess I need some training on how to do that? Mustard Plug is an independent band formed in Grand Rapids, MI - Imagine that.

But Wait - There's More! eMusic gave me a $10.00 holiday bonus (on the 19th of Dec, 2015), so I decided to double down. I purchased a $10.00 booster pack for a total value of $21.00 Here's what I bought (for $20.34 / I didn't quite spend all of it, but talk about a bargain - Thank you for the $10.00 holiday bonus, after pitching in my $10.00 these tracks (the 34 below) came to $0.29 each). Since Christmas is approaching, I started with a holiday album.

* Christmas Wrapping EP - The Waitresses: (3 songs) I discovered the Waitresses by listening to MOG music recommendations. That service is long gone now, but the sound of the Waitresses stuck with me. This is my only purchase of this band's music. I definitely enjoyed it. If the eMusic site comes back up, I'll look to see if they have any more. Thankfully Apple Music has a few of their releases, so even if eMusic never comes up again...
* Dizzy Heights - Neil Finn: (11 tracks) A favorite artist. Neil Finn is a former Split Enz and Crowded House frontman. Now that both of those bands are gone, I've turned to the recordings under his name. The sound is maturing and it's getting more intricate, intimate and personal. Great music from an outstanding musician. I'm looking forward to multiple trips around this album.
* What Happens Next - Gang of Four: (10 songs) Gang of Four was/is a favorite band from the 80s, but the only original band member left is Guitarist Andy Gill. Without John King and the innovative lyrics of lore. I sorely miss 'Anthrax' and earlier songs by this band. They're doing their best to recapture the sonic landscape that so defined and framed those quirky lyrics.
* Metamodern Sounds in Country Music - Sturgill Simpson: (10 tracks) This is my second purchase of Sturgill Simpson music. Yes indeed it's Country Music. Sorry to swith gears so abruptly - From Gang of Four to Sturgill Simpson. This album is clearly superior to 'What Happens Next' and Sturgil Simpson's classic country voice is excellent. Reminding me of Waylon Jennings - I'm really not interested in country signers who try to sound like pop or metal bands. Give me a little twang and some tear in my beer lyrics.

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 (If you like to do that) and copy downloads to an unlimited number of your computers and portable MP3 players (because I still do that - I take my music with me on an iPod). At less than $.50 a track (I'm currently paying $19.99 for $22.99 worth of downloads per month - I'm on a grandfathered plan that new members cannot get) 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, demand, need, 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. :-)