Unknown Unknown Caller:
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 29th of Sep, 2015, I received one of these Robo-Calls. The call came to my cell phone, and it was listed in caller ID as an 'Unknown Caller' (no name) with an 'Unknown Phone Number' - "Unknown Unknown" How is that even possible? So these telemarketers are able to block both the name associated with the number. So it doesn't say that 'Scammo Vacations' is calling, and it doesn't even say that the phone number is '1-800-SCAM', so I can't block it. That's right you can't block a caller that doesn't have a phone number. Obviously this isn't a legitimate business, they don't want me to know who they are, or what number they're calling from. Would a legitimate business ever need to do this?
I called my cellular carrier/provider to complain. Guess what? They were useless, apparently they don't have any way to block such calls. So, let me get this straight. The phone company can't stop the call from going through? Does that sound like total BS to you? It sure sounds like it to me. Here's a few reasons that I thought up. Possible reasons why they 'don't have any way to stop these calls':
In my conversation with the customer service representative, I explained that under no circumstances whatsoever do I ever want someone who has disabled Caller ID (including the 'unknown unknown' caller) to be able to place a call through to me. The representative indicated that I should install an application called 'TrapCall' on my iPhone. TrapCall will prevent the anonymous or unknown callers, but it costs money: From ~$3.95/mo - $19.95/mo. So, I should pay to prevent these unknown callers? The service provider makes the telemarketer pay to mask their identity, and I should pay to reveal and/or block their calls. I wonder who owns TrapCall? ...After a bit of research, the app is made by 'TelTech' which has a parent company of 'IAC' - InterActiveCorp. They grew out of the HSN (Home Shopping Network). I couldn't find any proof positive of a close business relationship, although their were some signs of a relationship (see links below).
All in all, it's definitely a sign of how scamish the phone companies are. They charge you to block your ID on caller-ID, and they charge to reveal an ID on caller ID (provided there's a phone number at all). The fact that an entire industry has evolved out of the 'Blocking' business tells me that it's a real problem. $20.00 a month to keep the scammers from calling me? And I have to install an 'on-all-the-time' app on my mobile device to make it work? What other data are they collecting using the app? I know that the industry is heavily regulated, but apparently the regulations aren't there to protect consumers. Why the hell can't the FCC and/or FTC do anything about these Robo-Calls? How much do you hate these unknown callers?
Update: This article appears in my Sep, 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!'
MacUpdate fall bundle - 2015!
Not only can you find all the latest software releases on these websites, you can engage in conversations with developers and other Mac users. Both sites are essential resources for owners of any Apple computer. One of the best things about the MacUpdate site? Their promotional offers. Teaming with the software development community, MacUpdate offers a continual stream of discount Shareware. The prices are amazing - Most discounts run 30 - 50%, and they often offer bundles. A large number of titles for a huge discount. On the 21st of Dec, 2011, I took advantage of such an offer. Here are the titles from the bundle I purchased (see below).
As I write this (July of 2019), I realize that this was my last purchase from MacUpdate. The products offered have been (previously) a mixed bag. Some are useful, others are a waste of my money, but sometimes I can get an application at a bargain rate, if I buy the entire bundle. That's what happened in September of 2015. I really wanted just one of the applications, and a few others looked promising. So I went ahead and purchased the entire bundle. What followed was a several month period of installing applications, testing them. Finding that they didn't work well on my Mac. Updating them, entering serial/registration numbers, registering the applications, diagnosing problems, conversing with developers and generally doing a lot of work to get everything up and running.
This particular bundle set me back $49.99 for ~13 applications:
There were a lot of applications in that bundle. MacUpdate offers a continual stream of discount Shareware. The prices are amazing - Most discounts run 30 - 50%, and they often offer bundles. A large number of titles for a huge discount. This particular bundle contained a few pieces of software that I actually wanted, and the rest were basically 'meh' - By now (Jul, 2019), I've ditched most of them (The ones in Italics) and I occasionally use the others. If I had bought all this software one piece at a time, it would have cost me several hundred dollars. With the MacUpdate promo bundle, I saved 92% over the standard retail price. That's a HUGE saving, and MacUpdate has deals this hot quite frequently. If you're looking to buy a software title (for your Mac), don't forget to check MacUpdate for a discount, and always look for (google search) a discount code.
I no longer visit the MacUpdate or c|net's Downloads pages. I've found that I can get along quite well without them. The advice they contain can usually be found elsewhere through an internet search. Likewise for the software. The prices are still good, but there isn't much there that isn't available elsewhere. One thing you should be wary of... There are always scrupulous developers and corporations out there. Some will make or inject code into their products that is unwanted, malicious or nefarious. Always obtain your software from a reliable source. I would consider the Mac AppStore to be a very reliable source, and there are some developers that I consider reliable. I'm not convinced that these two download sources are checking for malware, infections or other questionable software. I don't really think they're looking out for your best interests. Do some internet searches before installing any software from a source that you're unfamiliar with. You might discover some information that will inform your decision. What you don't want is an infected machine - If the company is giving the software away for free, ask yourself how are they making money with this application? It's very rare and unusual that a developer will give away free software without getting something in return. Are they being truthful about what they're getting in return?
That Damn Chirping Smoke Detector!
I immediately sought out the nagging detector responsible for ruining my afternoon. After a brief search, the offending unit was located. A ladder was recruited and a new battery obtained (at least I didn't have to drive to the hardware store). I climb the ladder, removed the smoke detector, disconnected the power and extract the spent battery. Of course the unit is still chirping... Who is the sadistic SOB that designed these smoke detectors that continue to chirp after you change the battery? Yes - After you've changed the battery...
I'm a first time home owner, and this isn't the first time I've had to deal with an expired battery, but it seems that this time around the smoke detector was resisting my efforts to make sane the remainder of my day. Do you think the builder gives you instructions regarding the smoke detector when you move in? Do they save the instruction manual from the smoke detectors? Who in his right mind designs a smoke detector that requires the following steps to silence the ridiculous chirping caused by a dead battery?
See steps related in my previous bout with a chirping smoke detector: <https://www.robsworld.org/whatsnew/wn2015/wn2015_mar.html#mar30_2015> After removing the battery, I sequestered the chirping unit (without battery) in the garage for about two hours. After approximately 15 minutes, it finally stopped chirping. I replaced the battery, then replaced the unit. It occurs to me, while writing this (in July of 2019), that the next time this happens, I'm going to try pressing the 'Test' button while the battery is disconnected. Perhaps this will result in a discharge of the capacitor? I've already purchased replacement units, and plenty of batteries, so I'm prepared to replace the units as they expire - They're all 10 years old, and it's about time to replace them, but then one wonders... How do I dispose of them? I've done some google searches, and can't find an adequate way to dispose of these units. They (most of them) contain 'radioactive' material - but mention that to Home Depot and the answer is 'Hell No!' I wonder how many end up in landfills, for lack of proper instructions on disposal?
Why! Why does something like a smoke detector have to be this difficult? If you’ve ever wondered why people disconnect their smoke detectors and then die in a fiery inferno… You can stop wondering. It’s because it’s nearly impossible to make the damn things STOP CHIRPING!
Will Congress trigger another government shutdown?:
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.
There's been some noise in the news of late (Late Sep, 2015). The possibility that, yes it could happen, those friendly people that work for me and you - Congress, might just go ahead and do it again. You know, that thing that they're so good at. Shutting down our government. They are in my opinion - Well, let's just say that they have a very difficult and demanding job. They get elected to do a job. To represent their constituents. When they refuse to coordinate and cooperate with other representatives, then we encounter situations that appear to be an impasse. If you set yourself up with a 'No Compromises' policy or attitude, you're likely to encounter issues. Not everyone thinks the same way on Capitol Hill. Sometimes you must find a way around an issue or their can be no forward motion.
At the moment (As congress debates the upcoming budget deadline - Sep 30, 2015), there are basically six issues which could cause a government shutdown - Because of an inability to compromise: Funding of Planned Parenthood; Sequestration; A challenge to Speaker of the House - Republican John Boehner (from Ohio); The Iran Deal - Will we impose sanctions on Iran or continue with the deal that Obama negotiated?; The export-import bank; The highway trust fund. All of these topics are likely to be contentious, and might be the trigger for a government shutdown.
Fun times. Just when you thought our government couldn't be more screwed up. Here's how they get things done on the Capitol. They argue until they get their way or No Way! Does anyone remember what happened to Rome? Apparently some people do - Even some Congressional representatives (Like our very own Senator from Colorado (We've got 2 Senators) Michael Bennett) understand that compromise is necessary. He knows what happens when we have a government shutdown. Millions of people would be affected, many would be out of work. Veterans disability checks would be slowed, National parks would be closed, grant funding would stop, the CDC wouldn't be able to monitor the flu, patients with critical illnesses would not be admitted to the NIH. Our state (Colorado) would be severely impacted. We have many military bases and national parks.
Senator Michael Bennett is one of the few Senators (Colorado Senator Cory Gardner cosponsored the bill) who have promoted a 'Shutdown Accountability Resolution', a bill/law that would require the Senate to remain in session/at work (reconvening at 0800 the day after a shutdown commences), even if they shut down the government.
OneDrive is 'Waiting on Internet Connection':
In evaluating these various online storage options, I've discovered that not all of them are error free. Even the ones made by the big boys are error free. Lately (Sep of 2015), I find myself struggling with Microsoft's OneDrive application. I have the application installed on my Mac desktop (also on my mobile devices), and that application has begun to experience a continuous, show-stopping, problem. I can't sync any files. Files on my desktop, do not sync to the cloud drive. I can access the files on my desktop, and the copies uploaded to the OneDrive location, but they're not maintaining sync. When I change a file (either on the desktop or the cloud version), the other version doesn't update. There's no syncing between the two.
The problem is persistent. When I initially launch the program (either at startup (Application automatically launches upon start-up or login) or whenever I manually start the application), I get an error message:
What followed was a series of troubleshooting steps and an email to the 'Microsoft Community'. I searched the 'Inter-Webs' for similar problems. Ye s, I found other people experiencing the same problem. If you want to find the 'Issue' in the Microsoft support forum, try this link: <https://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/> Followed by this string in the search window: "OneDrive app on mac always waiting for internet connection" What you will find is several threads with the same or a similar problem. The problem is a 'Show-Stopper' in the sense that the only option (I can't sync any files) in the application's menu is:
As I expected, the requests for help from Microsoft weren't exactly helpful. For example... "Do you have any other network preferences?" Which I took to mean - Do you have any other internet providers that you can use? The answer is Yes. I tried connecting to my network (still Comcast) using WiFi, instead of my wired/ethernet connection. I got the same problem. I then tried connecting via WiFi to the open internet connection that Xfinity has available in my neighborhood (The neighbor is running an open Xfinity access point - I'm not, I own my Modem and Router, and would never allow someone else to run an open WiFi access point on my bandwidth). I even tried tethering my desktop to my phone, extending my cellular connection to my desktop. All these troubleshooting efforts had no impact on the issue - As expected.
They also asked me to delete the cache and history of my web browser - Of course that shouldn't have any impact, because I'm using the desktop application to access OneDrive (for syncing). I'm not having issues accessing OneDrive via the web/browser interface. Despite the illogical suggestion, I complied with the request. Because, if I don't they can easily say that I'm not cooperating with them. As if I'm the problem. The admin is always correct - Shut up stupid user! I should be thankful that they didn't ask me to restart my computer...
I then conducted my own troubleshooting. I turned on 'logging' for the application before I conducted my troubleshooting. That way any relevant logging is available for those who might want to create a new version/patch for the problem. I made sure I wasn't blocking access with my firewall or running a VPN. Then, while connected to the internet via my normal provider/access method (Comcast/Wired ethernet connection). I tried launching the application again. I got the same error again. It's still broken.
To enable logging:
I emailed these logs to the person from Microsoft who responded to my 'ticket' in their support forum.
The next step was uninstalling and reinstalling the application. I tried the normal 'Mac' style uninstall / reinstall method (drag the app to the trash, re-download and launch new download). Unfortunately, the standard Mac method didn't work. Of course it didn't work. This Microsoft application places all kinds of files in various places, and they must be removed in order to get a fresh install. Of course the Microsoft team didn't create a Mac version that confines files to the application, so that dragging to the trash removes everything. Why would they do that?
So, I had to follow some more complicated methods:
This basically resets the App back to its initial configuration. It then asked me to log in again. I logged in and launched the application. This time I didn't get any error messages. I think I could have skipped a couple of steps (1-5), but I wanted to be thorough. Coming up with these steps took several hours of troubleshooting. I sent my troubleshooting steps and logs to Microsoft. Now I'm waiting for my check - Right? They should pay me for coming up with these steps. I'm their unpaid beta tester. The problems are probably caused by failure to conduct thorough testing when they released a new version, and they would normally have to pay someone to test the software - If they wanted to do it right. Instead they release new code without thorough testing, then they rely on the general population (those who install their 'updates') to find, report and troubleshoot the problems - Microsoft sucks! I'm currently using Microsoft's OneDrive in conjunction with my Office365 installation (yes, I'm paying for it).
Rob's World D&D Campaign update:
There are still players who occasionally write journals. They keep track of notes, clues, encounters and various highlights of the adventure. Sometimes they even transcribe their notes and email them to me. When I have time, I post them to our FTP repository: <https://www.robsworld.org/dndcampaign/Adventures/Journals/>. For the most part, these are the journals just as the players have written them. I don't usually have time to do any editing, correcting, or hyperlinking (to other documents/web pages). In this case (as Chris departs our group), I received a large cache of transcribed notes. Chris typed up many of the notes he's been keeping, and he emailed them to me on the 10th of Sep, 2015. Today I compiled his journals into a new posting. I added some forward and a disclaimer. The latest journal entries are now available online: <https://www.robsworld.org/dndcampaign/Adventures/Journals/ajournal10/12sep2015.pdf>
Hopefully you will enjoy Chris’s journal entries, and hopefully someone else will pick up where Chris left off… If you'd like this, and similar D&D related updates (for the "Rob's World! D&D campaign) emailed directly to your inbox, you can join our campaign mailing list. Sign up online:
Killed another cold with Zicam!
Zicam's active ingredient is Zinc Gluconate - The zinc salt of gluconic acid. It is an ionic compound consisting of two moles of gluconate for each mole of zinc. Zicam comes in more than one form, and there are other products containing/based on Zinc Gluconate. Concerned about Zicam rumors? I'd recommend a search of Snopes.com - My favorite myth management website.
Zicam is a branded series of products marketed for cold and allergy relief whose original formulations included the element zinc. The Zicam name is derived from a portmanteau of the words "zinc" and "ICAM-1" (the receptor to which a rhinovirus binds in order to infect cells). It is labelled as an "unapproved homeopathic" product. I don't work for (in any way) Zicam, Mattrix Initiatives, or any company that profits by the sales of Zicam. They're not paying me, this isn't an advertisement, but it is an endorsement. Yes - I pay them for their product, and I'll continue to do so, as long as the product continues to perform.
You call that a Pay Raise?:
Pay raises vs cost of living are tracked by various organizations (Federal Worker Unions / I'm not eligible to be a member). In 2011 we got no raise and inflation went up 3.2%. In 2012 we got no raise and inflation went up 2.1%. In 2013, we got no raise, and inflation went up 1.5%. In 2014 we actually got a 1% raise, but inflation went up 1.6%. In 2015 we got another 1% raise, but inflation went up 0.1% - So over the last five years, we lost out 4:1 over inflation. Basically, that means we've taken a ~6% pay cut over the last five years. And then there's the furloughs, sequestration, and government shutdowns. All of this has resulted in some serious uncertainty. Despite the fact that our economy has been growing (up appx 2% per year from 2011-2015), our government has decided to penalize federal workers - It's an easy way to say that we're keeping costs down. Rather than reduce the amount of money they're spending on weapons programs acquisitions or expansion of other programs, they cut the federal workers pay - Make no mistake, a freeze or paltry 1% increase is the equivalent of a cut - Due to the cost of living or inflation. Congress is currently projecting a 1.3% pay raise for federal workers (in 2016), but I'm guessing (I'm from the future / actually writing this in 2019) that we're only going to get a 1% raise - In other words, another pay decrease.
For those who are checking my numbers. These are estimates based upon observations and some numbers reported in online resources. Not every federal worker gets the exact same pay raise, and measuring inflation isn't exactly perfect. You will (I got) different numbers from different sources. All in all, the trend is pay federal workers less, because... Because what? Look at the trends, look at the other factors. Apparently congress just doesn't give a damn about the federal workers. Is that how the rest of America feels?</rant>
It is true that federal workers earn more than state and private sector workers in general. The assumption is that all federal workers are the same as workers in the private sector. That you can simply replace all these federal workers with lower paid workers from the public sector. Well, that's not entirely true. Some parts of the federal workforce are skilled in types of work that the public sector is not. Our economy pays employees based upon their expertise and their skill. The chef at Shanahans earns more than the chef at the local Mc'Ds. A Technical Director for a government agency earns more than a 'Geek Squad' employee. By equating all federal workers as equivalent to the general public, you do a disservice to many Federal workers and the specialized workers in the general populace. Each employee should be paid according to their knowledge, skills and ability.
Many federal workers cannot simply be replaced by a public sector equivalent. They don't have the same training, experience, and background. Could they be trained and acquire the necessary experience? Yes, but that would take time and cost money, and then they'd be more valuable. Who is more skilled, knowledgable and able? The Sushi chef at 'Ginza Seven' earns more than the Sushi chef at 'King Soopers' - You don't need to wonder why.
There is a tendency to assume that we (Americans) can reduce government expense by assuming that all federal workers are the same. That all federal workers are the same as their public sector equivalents. The problem is the words 'all' and 'equivalents' If you use the word 'all' you've already made a false comparison, and when you use the word 'equivalent' you've already made a judgement before you even compare the two.
I'm for reducing costs in government. But reducing costs by generic 'across the board' cuts (to pay and benefits) risks the elimination of highly skilled workers which can't be replaced by the public sector. If politicians keep applying group think to our government's problems, we're going to end up like Rome. Many pundits (on the 'cut government spending' side) argue that all federal pay and benefits should be cut (across the board). Are they so ignorant that they think that all federal workers are the same? Or, do they assume that those who read their articles are so stupid that they couldn't understand a more reasoned and focused approach? I would say that they're smart enough to know that the 'across the board' approach will appeal to the most vocal of the consuming class, and they're more interested in promoting themselves and appealing to the broadest audience possible than they are in making logical and targeted cuts to specific skill categories, so as to preserve the workforce of highly specialized and skilled workers.
If somehow these pundits managed to cut the pay and benefits of these highly skilled workers, they (The highly skilled workers) would have no choice but to turn to the public sector for work. Could they find employment there? Of course they could - The government draws upon and relies upon thousands of such workers on a daily basis. Does the government end up paying more for that contractor work force? Yes - The government pays corporations a lot of money for those specialized workers. Unfortunately (for the worker), most of the money goes to the corporation, not the worker.
Sonically Sizzlin' September:
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. 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!
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. :-)