June 31, 2015

Upgraded the RAM in my computerUpgraded the memory in Kim's MacBook Pro:
I Just installed 16GB of SDRAM in Kim's MacBook Pro (15 inch, Late 2011). Going from 8GB to 16GB (8GB more than spec'd max/according to Apple) sped her machine up considerably. After updating the OS to 10.10 (Yosemite), the laptop slowed down quite a bit. She's been complaining about the Spinning Pinwheel of Death (SPOD) quite regularly. This is Kim's primary machine, and she's using it for school work. So I really want no complaints. Hopefully this will satisfy her ever increasing appetite for speed - Well, it should last until Christmas. Which is when we're planning to refresh her laptop. For this upgrade, I received 16GB of SDRAM from one of my D&D players (Thank you Derek!). The memory (on Crucial.com) goes for ~$107.00. Brand: Crucial 16GB Kit (8GBx2 Modules) PC3-10600 1333Hz DDR3 SODIMM for Apple MacBook Pro. Installed the memory with no issues. According to sources/internet, this is the most memory you can effectively install in this model of MBP. I'm expecting an upgrade (new machine) this December, so this upgrade will make this machine usable for several more years. I'll use it in the basement/with my D&D campaign, and if I should need a portable.

Ballpark 2015Take me out to the Ball Park - Rockies vs Brewers:
On the 21st of June, Kim and I went to a Colorado Rockies baseball game. We've been here (In Colorado) since '01, and this isn't the first Rockies game that we've ever been to (and we still haven't gone to any Broncos games), but it still feels like we're 'Out of Towners' when it comes to Colorado sports events. Neither of us was heavily involved in sports as children, and I don't appreciate any sports where physical contact with an opponent is part of winning (i.e. I despise MMA, and Boxing. I don't really care for American style Football). We certainly haven't taken advantage of the many team sport venues available in Colorado. Colorado is a big sports town, but Kim and I have been busy. I'm sure we'll never get to see and do everything that Colorado has to offer, but we're working on it.

Went and saw the Rockies play the Brewers on Friday night - Drove to Nine Mile station (Denver Metro Light Rail train station), took the Light Rail to Union Station in Denver, walked a couple blocks to the stadium, and sat in our club level seats. We don't have season tickets, but we typically go to one or two games a year (usually when the Rockies play the Brewers), so we always get some good seats. It didn't rain and the weather was excellent (started in the low 90s, got down to 74F by the time the game ended). We go to see the Rockies play the Brewers because it doesn't matter who wins. We're from Wisconsin, but we've lived in Colorado since 2001, so no matter who wins - Our team wins! This time around the Brewers beat the Rockies. We enjoyed the game, the night out, the cold beer and stadium food. We had a great time. I hope you had a good time as well.

I've posted some photos from the game, but I didn't have time to add any annotations or change the titles. The pics tell the story without the need for any embellishment. I hope you enjoy the photos. We sure enjoyed the games.

June 18, 2015

SPFSpam Reduction Measures:
<rave>You just can't escape from this scourge of the internet era - Or can you?. It's a good thing that I own my own domains. I can create and delete email addresses at my whim. I do so in order to control who has my email address, what those email addresses are used for, and to track spam that shows up on specifically assigned addresses. My hosting service offers numerous ways to cut down on the amount of spam I receive: Account and user level filtering, SpamAssassin block/black list filtering, domain keys, SPF filtering, and other methods.</rave>

I've got one powerful tool that helps me reduce spam. I don't have to resort to it very often, but it's the strongest tool I've got. In cPanel, under the 'Account Level Filters' (used to filter email at the domain level) is an option to filter incoming email based on 'regex' (aka Regular Expressions). The regex filtering gives me some very precise and powerful controls to filter incoming email. By using a regex expression I can stop spam as it hits the server. According to all the forums I've read, it's best to simply drop the email. Don't reject it or deliver it. Simply route it to /dev/null. That's the trash for those who don't know. Email that matches the regex filtering is sent straight to the trash. I don't get a notification, no one receives the spam, and the spammer has no idea whether the email was delivered or not. The spammer (or the spammers email server) doesn't get any confirmation message at all. I originally thought this method would be pretty easy to implement, as I had used the Account Level Filtering extensively to great effect, but I hadn't used the 'regex' filtering option. How difficult could it be I thought? Well, after one disaster (no email for three days; due to some poorly constructed expressions), and several days of experimenting, I found out that it's not quite as easy as I had originally thought. There's information out there, but the help isn't all that easy to decipher. Written for organisms that communicate at a higher level of grunts and chirps, this mere mortal had difficulty implementing this rather obscure language of the ancient geeks.

The latest battle reveals spammers who've latched onto some spam generating software that creates unique links. Links that the spammer wants you to click on for various reasons. Perhaps the spammer want's you to confirm your purchase, your membership, to claim a prize, to unsubscribe. Clicking on the link(s) is a mistake. It probably leads to a website that the spammer controls. A website where there's a 'Special Prize' waiting just for you. Malware, or a script designed to notify the spammer that a 'Live Sucker' has been hooked. The links follow an algorithm, a specific formula, a specially designed pattern that the spammers software uses to keep track of victims, route them to various websites, and expose them to various nefarious schemes and code. Here's one such code (Don't copy/paste or try to follow the link - That would be a very bad idea!):


Of course, the spammer is using lots of compromised websites to host their code. Some of the websites might have a legitimate purpose, and you never know what the URL will be until the spam lands in your inbox. The formula that the spammer uses to form these URLs is predictable, but the website's domain isn't - So, I had to find a more effective way of blocking the spam. I needed a regex formula that matches their spamvertisement links. No doubt these links are designed to track specific messages and may in fact lead to web pages that are generated dynamically. The spammers have crafted some algorithms/formulas (similar to my regex formula below) that varies as he/she send out the spam. An extremely sophisticated spammer might create some code that generates unique code/URLs for each victim. I believe that's what's happening here. Somehow the spammers code reads my email address (from a list of victim addresses), converts the victim address into a specially encoded URL, automatically creates a webpage that incorporates that encoded URL, then generates and sends the spam message. The results are unique spam messages - Unique to the victims, unique to the spam campaign, and able to withstand many filtering attempts as the code changes with each spam message. Here's the latest regex formula that I created to thwart the URLs in this shifting changing spam campaign:


Using this regular expression in a 'User' level filter (if you manage your own domains through cPanel) isn't easy, and constructing a working regex expression takes considerable experimentation, education and persistence. I've even bought a couple of applications to help construct these advanced spam filters. I use RegExRx to construct and test the filters, and I use a program called Peep to examine the content of spam messages in various different coding views (RegExRX - Purchased through Apple's 'App Store' for the Mac / Cost $4.99 and Peep - Purchased through Apple's 'App Store' for the Mac / Cost $1.99). As I said, these two tools help me create these advanced spam filters. Combining this new regex filtering with my other spam reduction measures (pgp signatures, SPF records, Domain Keys, Spam Assassin, Account Level filtering) have helped me greatly reduce incidences where spammers pretend to be me (forgeries), and it's helped reduce the amount of spam I receive.

June 10, 2015

Music CollectionJams in June:
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 (yes this post was written in the 'future')), 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 Apr, 2019) since the service began (going on 3 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, 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 (June of 2015) I downloaded 55 tracks (from eMusic (not counting the Irwindale Skyline recordings/tracks) at the low cost of $22.61. Despite the published standard member cost of $22.61, I only pay a $19.99 monthly fee. This makes the tracks extremely cheap - That's right I didn't actually pay $22.61, that would have been the price if I purchased tracks at the standard member's price (still cheaper than iTunes). 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. Plus I get a discount for being on a special plan (as a member) - I've been 'Grandfathered' with additional credits since I'm a long-time loyal member (since 2006). As a subscriber/member, you save plenty over the likes of iTunes, Amazon and Google. I only paid $19.99 for my $22.61 worth of downloads. The price for these tracks came out at ~$0.36 per track - Way less than the cost on iTunes or Amazon. If you bought these tracks on iTunes you might have paid approximately $71.00! An eMusic non-subscriber/non-member would have paid nearly $49.00! - That's approximately 30% less than iTunes, and I saved approximately 70% over the iTunes cost!

* Walk Together, Rock Together - 7 Seconds: (14 songs) A favorite punk band from the 80s. I re-discovered this band by listening to eMusic recommendations. This album features a cover of 99 Red Balloons (99 luftballoons), originally performed by German band Nena (in 1983). Song credits to Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen and Carlo Karges of Nena. I listened to 7 Seconds and several other Punk bands during the 80s, and this album contains some of their better songs; including the 99 Red Balloons cover.
* Bang - Empires: (7 songs) Here's a recent discovery. I discovered this band by listening to a SXSW (South by South West) compilation. I listened to the 2015 samplers on the Rdio streaming service. Rdio is now gone (They lasted from Aug of 2010 - Dec of 2015), but I was able to find this album on eMusic. While I enjoyed this album, the sound was a bit too polished, the vocals a bit to pop-perfect for my tastes.
* Duracraft/Glide Screamer - The Prids: (7 songs) A favorite band since the 2000's. This Portland, Oregon based band has a moody sound that reminds me somewhat of Echo & the Bunnymen and other post-punk bands like Interpol and Ultravox. This particular offering (on eMusic) was a combined EP offering. Combining the 'Duracraft' and 'Glide, Screamer' EPs on one offering. It's missing a few of the tracks from the original offerings, but it filled some gaps that I had in this band's catalog. I just wish I could get more of 'The Prids' on eMusic.
* Celebrate / The Greatest Hits Live + Tour 2013 (O2 Arena, London) - Simple Minds: (20 Songs) A favorite band since the 80s. I was listening to this band when they first came out, and did my best to follow them while I was living in Italy from 1985 - 1992. Thankfully, I was able to accumulate most of their albums before their decline in the late 90s. I just recently returned to eMusic to see if I could find anything I had missed. Luckily, eMusic had a few offerings; including this Live recordings compilation. Featuring some of their favorite hits, this album was made from their 2013 tour and concert in the O2 Arena, London. Unfortunately, the only thing available on eMusic (as of Jun, 2019) is a 6 track recording of Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr.
* Knife - Aztec Camera: (7 songs) I've been listening to Aztec Camera since the 80s, when they released the hit "Oblivious". This album was their second principle release. After 'High Land, Hard Rain', they moved to a new label, and eMusic picked up that label in 2015. Thankfully, I was able to acquire all the albums produced under that label. The band produced it's last commercial album in 1995, then the band broke up. I really miss the Jangle-Pop sound of Aztec Camera, and eMusic doesn't have anything by Roddy Frame (former front-man), so I guess I'll have to suffice myself with the six albums I managed to accumulate before their catalog disappeared completely from eMusic. Thankfully, Apple Music has some of Roddy Frame's solo work. More to explore...

* Irwindale Skyline - din: (4 tracks + cover artwork)
An amazing discovery/gift - Provided by the vocalist/lead (Graham Irwin) of a little known band named 'din' (Not to be confused with D.I.N.).
This unreleased EP came to me by way of email. Many years back, I published a review of the album 'Greatest Hits Volume One' by the band 'din' - That singular album sparked much discovery on my part, and I still consider it to be one of my favorite recordings of all time. Graham read my review, and sent me a copy of the band's unreleased recording 'Irwindale Skyline'. This album is another great example of Graham's talent. Unfortunately, as is true with most bands, commercial success never followed, and making a living is never easy for a musician who's trying to provide for themselves and a family. The band basically dissolved in 2000, when Graham left Venice Beach for New York City. He spent the summer and fall there, then came back to California to record 'Irwindale Skyline' - I am very grateful that he decided to send my a copy of that recording. I've listened to it many times and hope that Graham will some day return to making music after his career as an Architect has been successfully concluded (Sorry - there are no links to this music. You can't get it online from any source that I know of / And no, I'm not at liberty to share it with you.)

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. :-)