September 30, 2015

VoIP issuesUnknown Unknown Caller:
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 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':

  • They don't care.
    • They're not required to stop these kinds of calls so they just don't call. Don't bother explaining to consumers that you just don't care, because that would be bad for business. They might decide to drop you as their provider. I'd say odds are pretty high that this is the actual reason why they can't stop the calls.
  • They get paid to let the call go through.
    • This is absolutely true. You can pay to block your name from caller ID. They are absolutely making money from the telemarketers who block their name, and they know it. So why would they piss off their own paying customers? Screw me and you, they probably get more money from these companies.
    • Not only can you block your name from appearing, you can also block your phone number from appearing on caller ID. It typically shows up as 'Private Number'. This is the first time I've ever seen 'Unknown Unknown'. The phone company gets paid to hide the identity of callers. If this isn't criminal, I don't know what is. If you don't want the receiving party to know who you are, you're probably up to no good.
    • Wait, oh I forgot the 'Whistle Blower' scenario. Yeah that must be it, these hundreds of calls that I receive - The kind where caller ID lists them as Unknown Caller? Yeah, those must be some whistle blowers. You know they're calling me to blow the whistle on a huge government fraud case, or some sort of insider trading at the company where they work.
  • They don't know how to stop the calls.
    • The customer service person that I spoke to probably has no idea how to prevent 'Unknown Unknown' from ringing my phone. This I believe.
  • They're technically not able to prevent the calls.
    • I don't believe this for a second. I know way to much about telecommunications to believe that it's not possible (technically) to actually stop this type of call from going through. I can do it with my VoIP line, why can't they do it with the cellular network. They can!
  • They're not legally allowed to block the calls.
    • This might be true. I don't know enough about the law to comment in this regard... although I'd like to.

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 PromoMacUpdate fall bundle - 2015!
There are two sites worth visiting if you own a Mac. MacUpdate and c|net's Downloads page (they absorbed the Versiontracker/TechTracker pages). They're software update sites, that you no longer need to 'follow' - There used to be a time (even as late as 2015), when you had to 'subscribe' or follow these sites. You had to use some sort of rss feed or email notification system to let you know when applications received an update. Now (as of July 2019) most applications will tell you when an update is ready. Some get updated one their own, some notify you when they're launched and some are running applications in the background so that they can update (on their own) or notify you when they need an update. It's no longer necessary for you to subscribe to a website's notifications or purchase an application that watches for you. On a Mac, an out of date application is a minor nuisance. If you haven't checked for updates in years (for a particular application), then you should be asking yourself, "Do I really need this application?". It might be time to delete that application.

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:

  • ExpanDrive - An application that lets me mount all my various cloud drive destinations as 'drives' on my desktop.
  • NTFS - New Technology File System is a proprietary journaling file system developed by Microsoft. It was written for the Windows NT operating system, and it's still used in some hardware/device applications. This version is made by Paragon for the Mac. I have a device which I purchased, that was supposedly compatible with the Mac, but it wasn't (that's an entirely different story). The device uses NTFS... I'm kind of hoping that this version of NTFS might allow me to actually use the device that I purchased.
  • MacOptimizer - Supposedly this software will help me 'Optimize' my Mac. Whatever that means. I'm always skeptical of such statements. With the Mac, you should be able to 'Optimize' the Operating System using the OS supplied software. I shouldn't need a special application to 'Optimize' my Mac. Usually this type of software simply provides an alternate interface to inherent Mac OS capabilities. In some instances, this type of software (and MacOptimizer itself) has been accused of/found acting as a category of software called 'ScareWare' or 'SpyWare'. Here's a website that claims MacOptimizer is one of those applications: <>. They referred to MacOptimizer as a PUP (Potentially Unwanted Program) - Gadzooks that certainly sounds Dangerous - Not! Regardless, I found the application to not be worth the hassle. It reported things that weren't really problems, and it's utility wasn't any greater than the built in/original Mac OS capabilities to perform the same functions. As of Jul, 2019, I have removed MacOptimizer from my computer. If you decide to remove MacOptimizer, be careful that you don't install a free Adware or Spyware 'Uninstaller' in an attempt to uninstall something that you think might be Malware, Spyware, Scareware, Adware or some other unwanted application. Many of the Uninstallers are actually the types of programs they purport to remove.
  • Sparkle Pro - This is a web page authoring application. Visual web design software that supposedly has the ability to open/import HTML. This application is supposedly the successor to Apple's iWeb. This is the only application that I really wanted (out of the whole bundle). Sparkle Pro sells (as of Jul, 2019) for $119.99, so this bundle cost of $49.99 makes the purchase worth the price.
  • NetSpot Pro - A WiFi survey app. I've already got one, so I'm not entirely sure why I might need another.
  • HFS for Windows - O.k. It's Windows software that allows you to have read/write access to Mac OS file system. I don't own a Windows computers, so I don't really need this.
  • Camptune X - Boot Camp is a Mac OS utility/capability that allows you to have a disk partition where you can install/run Windows on your Mac. Why would you want this? Obviously some people might need both. Boot Camp only allows you to run OS at a time. Windows or Mac. The Camptune application lets you resize the Boot Camp Partition non-destructively. You can add more space or make the partition smaller without needing to reinstall the Windows OS in the partition.
  • Toast Titanium - Disk burner software for the Mac. The complete solution. Write to CD or DVD (not blu-ray). Contains multiple types of utilities for the disk burning work flow.
  • Boom 2 - Equalizer software for Mac audio/music playback. Allows you to adjust the equalizer settings/filter your audio experience. Has some limited usability for me.
  • iMazing - iPhone, iPad, iPod management software. Create specific backups. Transfer and manage the content on all your apple devices. This would come in handy if I want to transfer specific files (including apps) to/from my devices.
  • TG Pro - Allows you to monitor and control the speed of the fans in your Mac. I have no idea why I would ever want to do this.
  • DEVONthink Personal - Document and information management solution. A substitute for Circus Ponies NoteBook (now that they've shutdown operations)? I originally thought that I would use this as a replacement, then realized (as of July, 2019) that I've got 'OneNote' - Yes the Microsoft application, and it does everything I need. I'm already paying for it with Office365 (why am I paying for Office365 subscription? That's a long story, but it starts with military discount and a sale for the annual fee)
  • Ghostnote - Another note taking application. I thought I would add this to my work flow, then realized it's not necessary. I've already got plenty of apps that fill that role, and most of them are part of my Mac OS. The difference that Ghostnote brings is the ability to make the notes contextual. Add the notes to files, folders, websites and more. The only problem with this? Once the notes are attached they become a proprietary note. Inaccessible by the OS itself. I can actually add notes to files and folders now. It's part of the OS. Just use 'File->Get Info' (or CMD-I in the Finder), and add your notes to the file or folder in the 'Comments' section of the document.

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?

Smoke DetectorThat Damn Chirping Smoke Detector!
Today was going great - A beautiful fall day, not too hot, not too cold. Crisp, comfortable, aromatic with the smell of the earth and falling leaves. We went out to eat and we had our hair colored and cut. We didn't get home until late (around 4pm).  Unfortunately, there would be no relaxing before dinner. Instead I was greeted (once again) as we entered the house, with a nagging chirp, chirp, chirp, coming from somewhere within the house.

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: <> 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!

September 25, 2015

Government Shutdown - 2013Will Congress trigger another government shutdown?:
Yes it's true - our congressional representatives have forced our government to shut down (back in 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 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.

End of SummerAutumn Arrives:
Huzzah! - Here comes Autumn! Arriving with the autumnal equinox on the 23rd of September, this year Autumn arrives with a long drawn out yawn. Pretending to be summer in its golden sunsets and warm weather. We won't be fooled for long. Soon enough the season's change will announce a subtle yet certain fact. Summer's come and gone. Get ready for winter and your 'Long Johns'. I don't know about you, but I for one am a fan of fall. I like the colors, the smell, the crisp edge to the air, the flannel sheets and the cool evenings of summer's end. If only we could stave of winter with an extra long autumn. Now that would suit me just fine.

OneDriveOneDrive is 'Waiting on Internet Connection':
I've been evaluating cloud storage (and a user of cloud storage) since Apple decided to do away with the iDisk (as part of their decommissioning of MobileMe services). I started looking for a replacement (by evaluating Microsoft's SkyDrive (Now known as OneDrive)) as early as Sep of 2011, but I didn't stop there. In May of 2012, I seriously ramped up my evaluation efforts when I discovered a service called SME (Storage Made Easy - A cloud storage aggregator and management service/application). As of July 2019 (When I wrote this article), I've pretty much ended my evaluation. Most of the contenders quit the game, but there's still a few free solutions out there - In case you want to start your evaluation. I've kept a bunch of the free ones, but I've really settled on three solutions (not counting my own cloud storage - local drives that are accessible via the internet) that I use with any regularity. Apple's new iCloud storage, Microsoft's OneDrive and Google Drive (Now referred to as 'Backup and Sync').

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: "Waiting for Internet Connection" Of course, I am connected to the internet, and I'm not experiencing any problems syncing files with my other cloud based storage applications. I thought briefly, maybe this is related to the VPN I'm running (I occasionally use a VPN to protect my privacy (mostly because I don't like the idea that my ISP is able to (probably is) monitor all traffic going in and out of my home network - I'm sure they're doing it for a good reason (Like selling my data to corporations, for a profit - or maybe to detect 'unlawful' content/activity - or maybe to 'improve network performance' - Yeah, whatever. No matter what they tell me, it's probably a lie to cover a profit motive). In any case - I thought, perhaps the VPN is causing an issue. So I disabled it. Guess what? No change whatsoever.

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: <> 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: "Quit OneDrive". Not exactly helpful.

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:

  • In the Finder, right-click the OneDrive app bundle and select Show Package Contents
  • Navigate to the Contents --> Resources folder, then double clickCollectlogs.command
  • Logs will appear in the home folder or Desktop as OneDriveLogs_<some number>_<some number>.zip

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:

  1. While the application is running, Right click on the Application icon on the top right of the desktop.
  2. Select 'Preferences'
  3. Click on 'About'
  4. Click on the 'Unlink OneDrive' option
  5. Quit the OneDrive application.
  6. Move the Application (from the Applications folder) to the trash
  7. Delete ~/Library/Containers/
  8. Delete ~/Library/Containers/
  9. Remove the locally stored OneDrive folder (Application will create a new one upon launch)
  10. From the terminal issue the following command: killall -SIGTERM cfprefsd
  11. Repair permissions using the Disk Utility (As of MacOS 10.11 / El Capitan - You can no longer 'repair permissions' Apparently it's not needed any more, but you can use the Disk Utility to 'Run First Aid')
  12. Restart the Mac and log in
  13. Download a new copy of the application. Install the application in the Applications folder
  14. Restart the OneDrive application

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).

September 15, 2015

Rob's World! CampaignRob's World D&D Campaign update:
It’s been too long since I’ve been able to do any significant updates to my D&D pages: <> My current job (started in 2011) has me working straight days (Mon-Fri, flex hours) vs shift-work. When I was working shift work, I often had days off in the middle of the week, and long four day breaks, where I could get a lot of web-work done. Those days are gone, I just don’t have as much time to work on web pages as I used to. The new job has involved a considerable amount of travel, and I sometimes work longer hours (not 12 hours at a time - as I did with shift work). One of the things that fell off the plate when I changed jobs was the journals I used to post on our campaign site: <>.

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: <>. 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: <>

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:
<> or send an email To: <>

ZicamKilled another cold with Zicam!
<rave>I started getting sick on Monday evening (the 31st of Aug). As soon as I got the chance (that evening), I used my favorite cold remedy. Now that the gel product has been banned/removed from stores, I find that the oral mist functions in much the same way that the nasal gel used to. Spraying the oral mist onto the back of my throat usually results in the elimination of any cold symptoms, and I don't get a cold. I took the Zicam every three hours through Thursday, I forgot to take it on Friday (actually I was just too busy to take it), but I took it again (every three hours) on Saturday and Sunday. Guess what I kicked that cold! I definitely had mild cold symptoms. Scratchy throat, coughing, and some draining. The symptoms were quite mild - Not the usual, I need to stay home crappiness that I dread. The symptoms completely disappeared within a few days. Usually, when I get the cold/flu, it lasts two to three weeks. They symptoms are much worse and I usually miss a few days of work. In this case, I didn't miss any work, and the symptoms were complete erased after just a few days. You're might be wondering, what the heck is Zicam? Well, it's a cold remedy. I've been using it for several years now, and I'm convinced. It's kicked ass on every cold I've 'almost' had in the last seven years. When I feel a cold coming on - You know, that scratchy feeling in the back of your throat - I use Zicam. The results? No cold whatsoever, or a cold that's as mild as a slight allergy. Getting a cold sucks; thank goodness for Zicam!</rave>

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 - 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.

2016 Pay RaiseYou call that a Pay Raise?:
<rant>In the past five years, federal workers have been getting screwed when it comes to pay. For three of those years we had an actual pay freeze - That's right: No pay increase at all. For two more years we had very small pay raises (1% in 2014 and 2015). The results, due to the rising rate of the cost of living and increases in retirement contributions (taking money out of our salary to put towards a pension with no matching employer funds) has actually resulted in net pay decreases over the past several years.

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.

Music CollectionSonically Sizzlin' September:
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. If only I had enough time in the day to listen to all the music that I want!

Here's a listing of some of the music I legally downloaded - and paid for!

eMusic monthly downloads:
Every month I download ~50 tracks from This month (September of 2015) I downloaded 69 tracks (from eMusic) at the low cost of $22.76. Despite the published standard member cost of $22.76, 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. Plus I get a discount for being on a special plan - 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 $22.76 worth of downloads. The price for these tracks came out at ~$0.29 per track - Way less than the cost on iTunes or Amazon. If you bought these tracks on iTunes you might have paid approximately $89.00! An eMusic non-subscriber/non-member would have paid nearly $61.00! - That's approximately 33% less than iTunes, and I saved approximately 77% over the iTunes cost!

* Mike Watt - Hyphenated Man: (30 tracks) Mike Watt was a founding member of the Minutemen, one of my favorite 'punk' bands from the 80s. After that band broke up, he recorded with Firehose and then moved on to solo recordings. I've always enjoyed the sounds he's created, and now I've discovered that some of his work is available (was available) on eMusic. I grabbed this treasure (this 30 song operatic wonder) as soon as I found it. If only I had more time in the day, I could listen to more alt-rock music by Mike Watt.
* Bagpipe Music - The Art Objects: (17 songs) The only album I own, and I believe it's the only album they produced. I discovered this album by listening to eMusic recommendations (in 2015). It's noise rock with strong guitar work and post-punk (ska/white-regae) elements in the lyrics and drum work. This release was recorded in 1980. It took over a year to release the album, and the band broke up just after it reached stores. Afterwards, some of the members ended up in the band 'Blue Aeroplanes' - I've got three of their albums. I like this work better, but there's no more 'Art Objects' to collect. Thankfully I was able to get this release from eMusic (no longer available).
* Beautiful Friction - The Fixx: (11 songs) A favorite band from the 80s. Thankfully, I found this release available on eMusic. This makes my 7th album acquisition - for this band. I just wish I could get more (currently - as of Jun 2019, there's one 'Live' recordings album available on eMusic). This particular release comes near the end of their career together? Released in 2012, there hasn't been any studio recordings since. Thankfully this album (their 10th studio album) reunites all the living members from the original line-up. Sounds great!
* The Afterbeat - The Afterbeat: (7 songs) A favorite band discovered by listening to eMusic recommendations. The Afterbeat has that Ska/White Regae/Two Tone sound that I like. Fortunately, I've been able to score three of their albums from eMusic before they disappeared. Still new and fresh, I'm looking for more releases.
* Dimmakified - Bloc Party: (4 songs) I've been listening to Bloc Party since the early 2000s. Their high-energy electronic music sounds like a club scene. I can feel the dancers surging back and forth in a tightly formed circle of pulsing energy. Pure pop hymns with groovy loops of electronic mayhem. Too bad you can't get anymore Bloc Party on eMusic. This 4 song remix can't be obtained in the Apple Music store, and it's not even listed in the discogs or MusicBrainz catalog/listing.

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. :-)