October 31, 2015

Robo-Callers blowCaller-ID spoofing is a growing problem:
<rant>The telephone service in this country is all but non-existent. Telephone companies (Traditional POTS and Cellular carriers) haven't added new services or improved services (as far as I can tell) since the 1980s when the Bell System was broken up. I pay plenty of money to my cellular carrier (I'm not naming them here because - They have the power to adversely affect me, and I don't want to screw with them - Yes it's still something like a monopoly) and they apparently are unable to reduce the number of telemarketing calls that I receive on a daily basis.

Most of the calls that I receive - The vast majority - are telemarketers or scammers of some sort. Someone trying to sell me insurance, student loan forgiveness, bill consolidation, a free vacation, etc. Or it's an outright scam where they're not actually selling anything. They're just calling to get my identity or banking information so they can defraud me; stealing my money or identity (or both). Most of the calls I receive are unwanted. Ninety-nine percent of those 'unsolicited' calls are illegal. I'm on the 'Do Not Call' list - For whatever good that is. It's just a list of phone numbers so the telemarketers who don't follow the rules can get a good list of numbers to call. Most of them are 'Robo-Calls'. There's no person on the other end, and it doesn't do any good whatsoever to 'Press 2' to be removed. These people who call illegally aren't likely to respect your wishes, so press 2 all you want.

Over the last two days (29 & 30 Oct, 2015), I received four of these calls. Two of the callers had no assigned number at all - I can't block them. You would think that this would be something the FCC could block / Something that would be illegal - Honestly, how can there be any legitimate reason for a caller to NOT have a phone number? On caller ID the only thing I see is 'Unknown Number' - That's it. No name, and no number. The call log shows the same thing. I won't answer that type of call, but damn it's irritating. You know it's got to be a scammer. I sure hope it isn't some sort of technical 'glitch' and my mom is trying to call me. The telephone service in this country sucks. We have regulations and regulatory bodies, but those regulations are ignored. The scammers know that the FCC and FTC can't / won't enforce anything. By the time they get around to enforcement, or correcting the problems, the scammers will have made a pile of money, and they'll be gone. No one will be able to prove that they did anything wrong, and their ill-gotten profits will be in the swiss bank accounts of some big-shot corporate criminal.</rant>

Update: This article appears in my Oct, 2015 blog, but I have an update from Jul, 2019. Congress is currently on the verge of finally passing a strong bill (ref: Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee - Frank Pallone Jr of N.J. - Introduced bipartisan bill H.R. 3375 (Stopping Bad Robocalls Act). Hopefully, this bill will help rein in robocalls - and each of us needs to speak out right now to keep it strong. I just (on the 8th of Jul, 2019) sent an email to my Representative (6th District - Jason Crow (D-CO)) urging him to 'Stand up to RoboCallers!'

ComcastComcast Sucks - As Usual:
<rant>If you've read my blog for any amount of time, you may have run across one or more of my rants about Comcast. By now you may have realized that I have Comcast/Xfinity (Why can't they just have one name?) for my Internet Service Provider (I'm also using their 'Cable TV' service). I, like many of their customers, think that they 'suck' - Their customer service sucks; their prices are too high, the quality of their service and product are overpriced, under-performing and designed (or so it seems) to make you hate them. It is a very rare day when I don't think they suck. After saying all that, here is yet another tale of woe - Another tale of how Comcast Sucks.

This particular tale begins on the 29th of Oct, 2015. On that day I experienced an internet outage. Since Comcast provides my internet service, I immediately expect that Comcast will either be responsible for the outage, or that they would be able to tell me that it "wasn't their fault". Despite the fact that their website indicates 'Everything is working' - I have no internet in the house. I can see that the 'Internet' is up, because my iPhone with an AT&T cellular connection has no problem displaying various web pages, and I can check my email using my phone - but not the computer in my house, which is serviced by Comcast. Yes - It was working last night, before I went to bed, but not this morning. As I'm up before work, trying to check my email, I'm thwarted by an unexplained outage. So I spend 1.54 hours troubleshooting the issue. I try everything I can. I unplug/reset my modem and my router, but that doesn't help. It appears that there is no connection to any signal on the distant end. I call Comcast - They admit (in an automated announcement) that there's an outage in my area.

Of course I don't have time to deal with this issue, because I have to go to work, and Comcast is 'working'? to correct the issue. I wrap up my efforts, leaving the computer and all my equipment in a state that might mean no internet for the rest of the day - While I'm at work. I head off to work. I get home and Kim complains that there's no internet. I then set to work trying to restore the service. It takes a few minutes. I reset the modem and the router. Soon - After approximately 20 minutes, everything is back up and running. Kim thanks me - I curse Comcast under my breath, and I check my email. Do you think there's anything in my email about a Comcast outage? Of course not. Why would they admit to any problems? Why would they bother telling me that they found a problem and fixed it? The answer is no. Did I get an explanation of what the problem was? No. Did they credit me for loss of service? No. Do I wish that I could find an acceptable alternative? Yes. Will I have to continue suffering their crappy service? Yes.

Maybe I should just be thankful that I didn't have to interact with their customer service representatives. I called, got the automated message, and left for the day. That was probably a good decision. Does the story end there? Not entirely - The saga continues.

Not happy with the situation. I did a little investigating. On the 30th of Oct, I decided that I needed some additional information about my Comcast plan. After running a few 'Speed Tests', I wondered, what sort of connectivity should I be getting? You would think that would be easy to determine... I'll just log into the website and check my plan. That shouldn't be that difficult should it? Wrong! I was unable to find any information on their website, under my account information (after logging in) that would describe what sort of speeds I should be getting. Does my plan have 100mbps download and 10mbps upload? I think that's what I'm supposed to be getting, but I can't find any documentation on their website that affirms that 'assumption'.

I try 'chatting' with a customer service representative (warning - you should never attempt to speak, chat or converse with a Comcast representative - the results will almost always be detrimental to your health/sanity). Apparently, the customer service representative is also unable to tell me what sort of connection speeds I should be getting under the 'Performance' plan. Of course it took approximately an hour to come to that conclusion. I've run a few tests (on the 30th of October). Depending on who I run the tests with, I get different results. If I run the test using AT&T's speed test website, I get results that measure my connectivity as: 75mbps down and 10mbps up. On the other hand, if I use a Comcast speed test, I get much better results: 100mbps down and 11mbps up. Of course, if you ask Comcast, they'll insist I'm getting a better connection speed...

According to the customer service representative that I chatted with, they can't answer questions about the connection speeds of the performance plan or my particular speeds; due to some technical reasons, the speeds may vary - No shit Sherlock, the speeds may vary. Why can't Comcast tell me what my minimum connection speeds 'Should' be? I checked numerous different areas of my 'Plan' online, and nowhere could I find consistent information regarding the services I was receiving for my money. I found three different areas under my 'plan' that indicated how much I was paying - Guess what? They were all different, and none of them described what services I was receiving (with accuracy/completely). What a mess - Once again Comcast sucks. In this case it's their connectivity, customer service, and website. Oh how I hate Comcast.</rant>

Annibirthday - 2015Annibirthday - 2015:
The 'Annibirthday' is our anniversary and my birthday. Kim and I got married on my birthday, on the 26th of October, back in 1985 - How did it happen that we got married on my birthday? Well, for those who haven't heard the story before - We didn't intend on that being the plan... but that's the way it worked out. I was attending school down in Pensacola, Florida. I was in the military at the time, and the Air Force paid for me to attend an advanced technical training course. I performed extremely well in two previous courses, so the Air Force decided to keep me in Pensacola for another school. The 480 hour course ended at the end of October, and I was granted leave before being assigned to my first duty station. Kim and I had been engaged for some time, and the leave brought me home for our wedding. There were two weekends available for the wedding, the first weekend didn't allow enough time to get everything arranged, so the wedding had to be on the second weekend. We couldn't do the wedding on Friday, because that wouldn't allow enough time for friends and relatives to travel. Many people would have to take a day off. Sunday was also out of the question, as that wouldn't allow time for recovery after the wedding. The wedding was held on a Saturday - That Saturday happened to be my Birthday. It was actually a coincidence!

We've been married 30 years now - Wow! That's a long time. Since retiring from the military (in 2005), Kim and I have had more opportunities to travel and relax. This year Kim and I took some time off from work in order to relax in one of our favorite Spots. Glenwood Springs, Colorado. This small mountain town is just the size I'd like to retire in. Unfortunately, Colorado's a bit too expensive for retirement. So we'll enjoy it while we can (while I'm still working). This weekend was rather simple, compared to some previous vacations. We stayed in our favorite room (The Red Mountain Suite at the Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge), relaxed in the hot springs, enjoyed a 1.5 hour Segway tour around the town,. and generally took our time relaxing, dining and sight seeing. We had a great time.

During the vacation - I took a few photos. Another great Annibirthday - and plenty of photos posted. With the demise of MobileMe, Apple's pulled a fantastic photo sharing site right out from under my feet. While my new webhost has empowered me with a large variety of web apps and cgi functionality, I opted for a 'client-side' photo-gallery application. I prefer the control I get from client-side applications, and I've suffered through one to many data-loss incidents to trust the server side solutions. Next time Apple decides to cut the cord on one of their services, I won't have to worry about my data. I posted all the photos to my website using the Exhibeo application by Softpress.

October 24, 2015

GuestbookThe Demise of the Guestbook:
Once upon a time I had a guestbook - Long ago, I had a guestbook. People even signed that guestbook. Then something changed, and guestbooks became magnets for spammers. A place where some low-life could tell people about his latest get rich scheme, teen porn, or discount Viagra That's about the same time that my guestbook stopped working. I spent some time troubleshooting it, looking for alternatives, and contemplating the usefulness of said guestbook. In the end, I decided to leave the guestbook broken, and not replace it. Well, times changed. After a brief search, I found a new guestbook, and for a short time, the spam problem went away. Unfortunately, that only lasted for a very brief period. In no time at all I started see more spam and this time the spammers were posting trojans in my guestbook. Great! Not only do I have to deal with the spam, now I had to worry about visitors getting infected when they visited my website. Needless to say, I had to turn off my guestbook again. That was 2007 - Many years passed... Then, in 2012, I moved the site to a new webhost. The new webhost provided a slew of scripting services and plugin solutions. One of those solutions was a variety of guestbooks. After a brief review, I found one that seemed to offer a fair amount of protection against spam. It took a few days to get the guestbook installed and configured, and another couple of hours to transfer all the old guestbook entries into this new guestbook.

So, the new guestbook was up and running. Well, that was then - Today is Oct 23, 2015, and another spammer is trying to leave messages in my guestbook. Surely they're lovely messages of encouragement or helpful feedback designed to help me improve my site. Or, as is really the case, their feigning mundane messages, embedded with links to malware sites. Yes, that's what the guestbook is used for these days. Somehow, despite all my efforts over the years, the spammers are still able to sniff out a guestbook, and leave their calling cards. Fast forward to July of 2019 (when I wrote this entry). By now it's become evident. The guestbook needs to be shut down. I don't want to spend any more time 'defending' it. Purging it of malicious content, filtering the obvious spam related posts. There hasn't been an actual visitor posting since 2016 (maybe earlier)... I've shut down the guestbook. The only thing that remains now is a singular guestbook entry and a memorial page. I hope you appreciated the guestbook, and I hope you remember it fondly, because mine is gone now. If you actually find one in the wild, treat it kindly.

Robo-Callers blowRobo-Callers Blow!
The telephone service in this country is all but non-existent. Telephone companies (Traditional POTS and Cellular carriers) haven't added new services or improved services (as far as I can tell) since the 1980s when the Bell System was broken up. I pay plenty of money to my cellular carrier (I'm not naming them here because - They have the power to adversely affect me, and I don't want to screw with them - Yes it's still something like a monopoly) and they apparently are unable to reduce the number of telemarketing calls that I receive on a daily basis.

Most of the calls that I receive - The vast majority - are telemarketers or scammers of some sort. Someone trying to sell me insurance, student loan forgiveness, bill consolidation, a free vacation, etc. Or it's an outright scam where they're not actually selling anything. They're just calling to get my identity or banking information so they can defraud me; stealing my money or identity (or both). Most of the calls I receive are unwanted. Ninety-nine percent of those 'unsolicited' calls are illegal. I'm on the 'Do Not Call' list - For whatever good that is. It's just a list of phone numbers so the telemarketers who don't follow the rules can get a good list of numbers to call. Most of them are 'Robo-Calls'. There's no person on the other end, and it doesn't do any good whatsoever to 'Press 2' to be removed. These people who call illegally aren't likely to respect your wishes, so press 2 all you want.

On the 21st of Oct, 2015, I received one of these Robo-Calls. The call came to my cell phone, when I wasn't around. The caller left a voice message... and it had a phone number listed. The person was apparently calling from... Colorado Springs? Well, the 719 area code suggested that the caller was in Colorado Springs. I know a few people and have done business with companies based in Colorado Springs. Surely a telemarketer wouldn't actually leave a voice message on my cell-phone? Would they? I mean, hey that's illegal. They wouldn't do that right? It must be an actual person - So I listened to the voice-mail. Guess what? Yup - You got it. It was a robo-call, and it left a voice-mail message on my phone.

This time there was a phone number (Unlike the call I received last month). I hate these telemarketers just as much as I hate spam. Unlike most, I actually did something about it. Since I had a voice-mail, I decided to take it a step further. I reported the bastard to the FCC. I went to their website and reported the incident. I was even able to attach the voice mail to the report. Later in October, I received an email from the FCC. Here's what they had to say:

Hi Robert

Your complaint provides the Commission with valuable information that we use to spot trends and practices that warrant investigation and enforcement action. We do not resolve individual complaints about this issue and, there will be no status information to report on your complaint.

Your complaint (Ticket No. 605330) was closed as of today. The information you provided us will continue to be available internally within the FCC to inform the Commission’s enforcement and policymaking processes.

Thank you for your complaint and help in furthering the FCC’s mission on behalf of consumers.

I doubt that anything will actually happen, and even if something did actually happen, I would never be notified of the action. I get the feeling that no one at the FCC actually cares or actually does anything with these reports. All in all, my confidence that the FCC is doing anything (other than taking my reports) at all about fraudulent, illegal robo-calls is pretty much zero - Do you know anyone who works at the FCC? It may be their top priority, but I think that I have more of a chance of solving this problem than the entire FCC.

Update: This article appears in my Oct, 2015 blog, but I have an update from Jul, 2019. Congress is currently on the verge of finally passing a strong bill (ref: Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee - Frank Pallone Jr of N.J. - Introduced bipartisan bill H.R. 3375 (Stopping Bad Robocalls Act). Hopefully, this bill will help rein in robocalls - and each of us needs to speak out right now to keep it strong. I just (on the 8th of Jul, 2019) sent an email to my Representative (6th District - Jason Crow (D-CO)) urging him to 'Stand up to RoboCallers!'

Parts.com hates .emailSerious problems with Parts.com website:
<rant> In October of 2015, I encountered one of those frustrating 'Glitches' of the Internet age. Top Level Domains - There's a lot of them. When they were first established, there were just a handful of domains. You're probably familiar with most of those generic Top Level Domains - .com, .net, .org, .gov, .info (and a few others. This limited set of TLDs made it easy for programmers and web site authors to write forms. You know, a form where you might enter your email address. Enter your email address here: <notarealaddress@example.com> - The code then checks to make sure that your email address matches the 'known' top level domains. If someone had entered <notarealaddress@example.con> the program/form would throw up an exception or error message. Great! That prevented people from making mistakes. Unfortunately the Internet Standards are constantly changing and the number of top level domains has exploded since the 80s!

Fast forward (from the 80s) to 2015. The Parts.com website is a bit of an interesting model. It's a store front for numerous different dealerships and parts outlets. They all want to sell you parts for your vehicle. I found a part that I wanted (for my Volvo XC90), so I endeavored to sign up for an account. Of course this is only a one time thing. You know, set up your account. Your name, your address (so they can deliver) your part, your credit card info - I sure hope they're website is secure... And an email address. Sounds simple - Right? Not! What if you've got an email address like this one: <sendmemypart@vaessen.email>? (Don't bother scraping the address, it's not a real address stupid spammers).

That's a problem. The code on the Parts.com website doesn't allow for the full set of top level domains. By 2015, the number of top level domains had exploded. As of today (15 Jul, 2019), there's actually more than 1000 TLDs. How could a programmer keep up? I'm not sure, but the Parts.com webpage should surely accommodate the .email TLD, which came out in 2014 (fully operational). I've owned the vaessen.email TLD since Oct of 2014. The .email domain isn't all that unusual, there are certainly some TLDs that are more esoteric/exotic, but the Parts.com website didn't like the .email domain. It allowed me to register my account, and process my order. It even sent me an order confirmation email. Everything was o.k. until I tried to place a second order on their website. The original order was placed in Jun of 2015 (someone damaged a plastic part inside my vehicle), then I needed a new part in Aug of 2015. I tried to log in, but I immediately encountered problems...

Apparently it didn't like my 'username' - Which was set to my email address. It didn't like my username? After days of back and forth with their customer service (Aug 16 - Sep 28), I was finally able to get the issue with my account resolved. As it turns out, it can't handle the .email address as a user name. Surprisingly, it was able to handle it the .email address as an email address. Their system wouldn't let me 'reset' my password, because it couldn't find an account with my username, and it wouldn't let me create an account with that username because the username already existed...

As I said, it took me some time in order to actually get my account sorted - After changing my accounts 'username' and the email address associated with my account. The failure of the website to warn me when I used an 'invalid' username caused countless hours of frustration and troubleshooting. Time I could have spent doing something else. As usual, the customer service personnel who initially helped me (NOT) with my problem seemed unaware of the fact that there were TLDs beyond the standard .com and .net domains...

That wasn't the end of my Parts.com dilemma. I had a problem with the order. As I indicated, I needed to order a new part. Well, I found the part and ordered it. However, I order the wrong part (A roof luggage carrier cap for the rear right side). I ordered the 'Right' hand part, when I needed the 'Left' hand part. There was no guide on their website that describe how to determine whether I needed a 'Right' hand or 'Left' hand part. Obviously, as you face the vehicle from one direction, there is a difference between 'Right' and 'Left' - If you face the vehicle from the front or the back, the difference is quite distinct. Without knowing which way one should be oriented, there is a 50% chance that you'll guess wrong. Well, Guess what!? I guessed wrong.

I ordered this tiny little plastic piece on the 4th of Oct, 2015. It cost me $10.76 for the part (which could probably be made using a 3D printer for about $1.00), $10.99 for shipping, and $2.00 for handling (Total $23.75) - Talk about a rip off! Man I wish I could have found this part on Amazon. So the price was a problem, the shipping was way expensive. The Parts.com website doesn't tell you that they aren't the ones who have the parts - It's all the individual dealerships and parts stores that use their store front. They shared my personal info with other parties. I don't know everyone that they shared my personal info with (including email address(es) and credit card numbers). The only real problem with their customer service was it's speed. It took several days for them to answer any of my email or phone calls.

It took me several days to unravel the problem with my account (can't use .email in username). It took a few days to realize I'd ordered the wrong part (didn't figure that out until a few days after I received the part (Ordered Oct 4, 2015 - Shipped Oct 6, 2015 - Received Oct 8, 2015)). Once I realized that I had the wrong part, I had to return the wrong part and order the correct part. Communicating with the vendor who actually sent me the part wasn't exactly easy. Because Parts.com doesn't actually hold the inventory, I didn't know who I was dealing with for parts. 'They' told me to send the part back - Send the part back to who? Who are they? I'm using the Parts.com website to do business, and they're relaying my messages to a third party. Figuring that part out (who the third party was) took a couple more days (Oct 8 - Oct 12, 2015). Shipping the part back cost me $19.84 ($4.50 for a box, $4.25 handling/service charge, $10.72 shipping, $0.37 tax). I sent the part back on the 12th of Oct, 2015.

According to UPS the dealership in California received my return (signed receipt) on the 15th of Oct. By the 19th of Oct, I still didn't have email/verbal confirmation of the receipt of the part, or shipment of a replacement part. I started communicating directly with the dealership (in California) via email and telephone. I left/sent numerous messages. On the 23rd, I told them that I was about to file a Fraud report with my Credit Card company. Finally on the 23rd, I was able to get a hold of the dealership (in California) who confirmed receipt of my part, said they had shipped the replacement part 'the day before yesterday'. The person I spoke to gave me a UPS tracking number. The part was actually shipped on the 22nd.

I finally received the correct part on the 24th of Oct, 2015. I didn't report the incident as fraud, but I did close my account with Parts.com, and demanded that they delete all my personal information. That still wasn't the last of it. I continued to receive 'promotional offers' from both Parts.com and the dealership in California. It wasn't until August of 2015 that I received the last contact from either company. After I exercised their 'Unsubscribe' mechanisms.

Parts.com did me wrong - In more ways than one. </rant>

October 15, 2015

Sprinkler Turn OffFall sprinkler blow-out:
It'll take a while, but eventually I'll become a handy man. Owning a new home brings all kinds of new responsibilities to the first time home owner, and I'm no exception. This week (2nd week of Oct, 2015) I bested the sprinkler system. I've been doing this long enough (owned our home for more than 10 years now) that I think I've finally got the hang of it.

It's fall, and it's time to start winterizing your home. One of the things you have to do is shut down your sprinkler system. It's time to execute that annual ritual which helps to keep your home safe from a plumbing disaster. Most residents in this part of Colorado have an underground sprinkler system to water their lawn during the growing season. When winter comes you need to 'blow out' those pipes and winterize your pipes in order to avoid a costly repair bill. Depending on the type of irrigation system, you could get away without a blow out, but if your irrigation isn't self draining, you may want to blow out the lines. Doing so entails connecting an air compressor to the lines, blocking the flow of air from going back into the house, and forcing it to go down into the irrigation system instead. As high pressure air is forced into the lines (instead of water), it forces any remaining water out through the sprinkler heads. Once all the water is forced out of the irrigation lines you can winterize the rest of the system to ensure a safe winter season.

Liquid water is your enemy in this regard. Any water left in the pipes could freeze, thus expanding and destroying some component of your plumbing. The frozen water could damage the heads/pop-ups of your irrigation system. It could ruin the components of your back-flow preventer. Or worst of all, it could cause a rupture of your homes plumbing inside the house/basement.

Each year, I hire someone to do a blow out. On the day before their visit, I turn off the water to the irrigation system and the automatic sprinkler system. Running the pumps on a dry system could result in damage to the components, so don't forget this step. Then after the 'blow-out' and 'aeration' company has completed their work, I make sure to drain the run of pipes that lead to my outdoor faucets and sprinkler boxes. Draining this last bit of water from the pipes in my basement ensures that there is no water in these indoor pipes. If you leave the water in the pipes, you run the risk that it might freeze near the point where it enters/exits the house. The temperature there can easily drop well below freezing, resulting in frozen and busted pipes.

After ensuring that the interior pipes are drained of all water, I conduct some additional winterizing steps outside the house. I ensure that the drainage valves on my sprinkler boxes are open. If you still have hoses connected to any of the exterior spigots, be sure to disconnect them, drain them of any water and store the hoses for the winter. You should also winterize you back-flow preventer by removing the actual plastic valve from inside the back flow preventer housing. Extremely cold weather can cause the plastic components to freeze or crack. I store mine in a ziplock bag in a tool box in the garage - which usually stays warm enough to prevent damage.

In general, after the blow out has been conduct, I work my check list backwards to make sure that all my sprinkler components are ready for the winter. The key is ensuring there's no water in the pipes and irrigation lines. Hopefully the 'Aeration and blow out' company had conducted that work properly. Finally I cover external spigots with foam covers and put insulation around the pipes and back flow preventer (they're exposed outside the house). Insulating the pipes and back flow preventer are probably unnecessary steps if you've completely drained all water, but having the insulation on there could prevent freezing of any condensation or residual water in the components.

Turning off the sprinklers and winterizing the pipes (including the back flow preventer and irrigation system) is always a ritual filled with trepidation and hope. You worry that the blow out wasn't conducted properly. You worry that you haven't taken adequate steps to ensure that the system is free of water. You worry that there might be damage, that you didn't blow out the sprinkler lines soon enough, that you didn't insulate properly, that the parts may not weathered the season intact. You hope that everything will work perfectly when you turn on the sprinklers. Hopefully, this year will be the year where everything goes right.

Movie NightLet's all go to a Movie!
<rant>How much does it cost to go to a movie? When was the last time you went out to the theater to watch a movie? It's been quite a while, since we went to see a movie in the theater (It's expensive, and inconvenient, but it is a different experience). It has its pluses and its minuses. The cost of seeing a movie in the theater has been rising steadily. It's inevitable - Inflation is a cruel mistress, but the cost of living in your community might be different than the cost of living in my neighborhood.

The theater in our mall (The Southlands Mall) recently renovated, and now its one of those 'Dine-In' theaters. You know the fancy ones that have cushy reclining chairs and a tray so you can load up on carb-fuel while you watch the movie. In some (this one included), a wait staff will even come, take your order and deliver the food to your seat. Of course all these extra services and the improved 'Theater Experience' comes with an increased ticket price. I was actually a bit shocked to find that the price for two adults had risen so much.

The cost for the two of us (two adults - no discount*) was $28.42 at our local theater. That seems a bit high to me. Does it seem high to you? The cost was broken down as thus: $12.96 per person x2, plus $1.50 per person for a snack - Kim got a soda, and I got popcorn. The prices included tax, and it was a 'RealD-3D' movie - If that makes a difference. I was a bit unhappy with the fact that I wasn't able to get a military discount. Checking online shows that military (regardless of how you served?) are entitled to a 10% discount at participating theaters - at the window. Oh I see, if I bother to select my seat or purchase my ticket online, then I'm not 'eligible' for a discount. What garbage. The theater (AMC) must be using some service to sell tickets online, and they don't allow for discounts through the online portal - The company doing the online tickets must be charging AMC so much that they can't afford to cut profits any further.

We selected our seats online - Another perk of the 'New' Dine-In experience. There's a cost to all this convenience. We didn't have to wait in line, but we didn't get a discount. Of course when we got to the theater, there was no line, because everyone is buying there tickets online. Crap! I won't fall for that again - Well, I probably will. I remember the argument leading up to this showing... Someone argued that we needed to purchase our ticket online, because otherwise the movie might be sold out. Really? Come on, when was the last time you went to a sold out movie? I certainly can't remember.

The theater wasn't packed, but it was fun to sit in the big cozy chairs. I enjoyed the 3D movie (Avengers: Age of Ultron), but the prices were way too high to justify all the extra 'services'. I didn't need to order my tickets online. 3D isn't that much better. And the comfy chair wasn't any better than the one at home. We still had to leave home, drive to the mall, find parking and couldn't pause the movie during the bathroom breaks! Now I know why I prefer the in-home viewing experience. Rental from iTunes/Apple TV is still a much better experience. The only thing these movie theaters have over the in-home rental is the earlier release dates (which are entirely artificial) and the gigantic screen. If I had seen this at home, it might have cost us approximately $11.98 (no tax!) for two. Add the soda and popcorn ($3.00), and you end up paying $14.98 instead of $28.42 - Going to see the movie in the theater costs twice what I pay when I watch the movie at home. No wonder we don't go out to see many movies these days!</rant>

Government Shutdown - 2013Stop-gap continuing resolution signed:
<rant>Yes it's true - our congressional representatives have forced our government to shut down on numerous occasions (most recently in Dec of 2013). Like petulant little children who didn't get their way, they exercised their authority by punishing all of us. Civilian employees, the military, the citizens, the voters. The arrogance and ignorance is unbelievable. In September of 2015, they threatened to do it again. Most government budgets expire on the 31st of September, with 1 October marking the beginning of the new fiscal year.

In a job where compromise and working with others is mandatory, inescapable and the primary means of getting the job done. These politicians have illustrated to everyone that our political system is broken; a joke filled with temperamental prima-donnas who would rather cripple our nation than do their job by working within the system to make meaningful change. The reality of politics in America - "Fxxk em' if they won't agree with us!" "Just shut it down - Shut it all down! That'll teach 'em a lesson!" This attitude has got to change. The politics of this position are clearly NOT in the best interests of our nation.

Our congress critters actually managed to push a continuing resolution through the House of Representative and the Senate. This compromise legislation is only good for 10 weeks. It will run out on the 11th of Dec, 2015, and then we'll need a new budget, or another Continuing Resolution. So the Republican and Democrat congress-folk could only manage to fund the continuation of our government for a mere 10 weeks. I guess we should be thankful; you know - For kind of doing their job. You know, it's like when you ask your teenage son to clean his room, and he manages to pick up a pair of dirty socks. You should be grateful that they did anything.

They continue to rage on about various topics, including funding of Planned Parenthood. Despite the announced resignation of Speaker Boehner (R-OH), the two parties continue to use the funding of our government as a battle ground to hash out ideological differences. As I said earlier, they managed to pass a continuing resolution (if only for 10 weeks). It was passed to the President, and he signed it - With just hours to go before the shutdown, the bill was signed into law. Now all the federal agencies and offices have to allocate funding so that people will get paid and contracts extended. The work doesn't end when the President signed the bill, now we move to an entirely new phase of the continuing dilemma. The Republicans weren't able to force their policy changes upon the Democrat majority, so now the bickering continues. We've got 10 more weeks for each side to draw up their 'demands' and fortify their ideological lines. Sure sounds like fun - NOT!

Of course a continuing resolution is only a stop-gap measure. Without an actual budget, our federal agencies and offices can't 'move forward'. They can't adequately plan for the remainder of the year (Fiscal year 2016), because they can't be assured a specific level of fund allocation over a period of more than 10 weeks. Everything is basically in a holding pattern. No new contracts will be let, plans for new development projects will be put on hold, and our government will undoubtedly end up loosing some money because they'll have to pay fees to extend contracts as opposed to negotiating a new annual contract, which typically costs less. It's kind of like having a twelve year lease vs month to month rent payments. In the long run, an annual lease is cheaper than paying month to month rent. I guess we should put off our vacation plans - for now.</rant>

Music CollectionOctober's Overture of Audio:
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 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 eMusic.com. This month (Oct of 2015) I downloaded 56 tracks (from eMusic) at the low cost of $22.87. Despite the published standard member cost of $22.87, 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 $22.87 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 $72.00! An eMusic non-subscriber/non-member would have paid nearly $50.00! - That's approximately 33% less than iTunes, and I saved approximately 77% over the iTunes cost!

* Live at the Isle of Wight Festival - Public Image Limited: (14 tracks) P.I.L. is one of my favorite bands since the 80s. I thoroughly enjoy the warbling vocals of John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten). The former Sex-Pistols vocalist has had a long and storied career, with P.I.L. that legacy reaches all the way back to the late 70s. It's amazing that he's still making music. These live recordings hail from a concert in 2011. All my favorite songs on one album.
* Ragin' Full-On - fIREHOSE: (14 songs) It's a rare occurrence that eMusic has something I'm intentionally looking for. As a connoisseur of all things 'Minuteman', it was an uncommon day when I found this offering of a 'fIREHOSE' album (none offered since). This band was formed in 1985 after D. Boon's death (vocalist/guitarist for Minutemen). The sound is very reminiscent of the Minutemen, and it definitely carries the torch like a middle finger to the establishment. With a tighter and more conforming song verse structure, fIREHOSE was more accessible to the general audience, but the instrumentals continued to turn the audience to alternative sounds. I just wish eMusic had more of their music.
* Fuzzy Warbles Volume 2 - Andy Partridge: (18 songs) Sonically, Andy Partridge is the continuation of XTC. During the late 70s and early 80s. Andy wrote most of the XTC songs, was the bands frontman and executive producer. His sound and verbose lyrics are unmistakable. I'm really glad that he's survived long enough to produce numerous solo offerings - That sound as if XTC never broke up. Thankfully eMusic is still carrying some of his albums. I need to acquire all of them before they disappear!
* Home Sweet Home - Project Jenny, Project Jan: (10 songs) A favorite band with a quirky sound. I've been listening to this group since 2005. This electronic group produces some excellent synth pop (think of Sparks and Squueze). They've been around for quite a while, and thankfully I've got most of their work (2 albums and 2 eps).

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. :-)