Anachostic

My tagline, let me show you it.

Long Dead Spirits In My Car… With Machine Guns

I’ve got guns in my car and they won’t go; spirits in my car and they won’t go.

I’ve had my car for about 7 years.  That’s a pretty good run.  Very soon after I bought it, I swapped out the stereo and speakers with aftermarket ones.  Then I upgraded to a dedicated amplifier for the front speakers.  This setup has given me a lot of enjoyment over the years.

Recently though, when the temperature gets high, as it does often around here, I get this small issue.  What happens is a rapid popping comes through my speakers at full volume.  It typically scares the shit out of me, but I’ve never been so scared as to be unsafe on the road.  Still, having a machine gun open fire in your car is not the most pleasant experience.

When this happens, I have to turn the stereo off completely.  Muting the speakers doesn’t help.  Moving the fader doesn’t help.  So my diagnostic conclusion is that the problem is with the amplifier I have in my trunk.  The heat must finally be killing it.

Yesterday, I finally had enough of this nonsense, so I went to the trunk and unfastened the amp from the wall.  I waited for the machine gun to start, then I started banging the amp around.  I figured if it was a loose connection, something would change.  Nothing changed.  I then removed and retightened the power lines, in case they were loose.  No change.  Some more banging.  I assume parents can understand this method of troubleshooting.  If something’s not acting right, knock it around a bit and see if it gets better.

I finally give up and disconnect the amp fully.  I go inside and immediately order a replacement.  Not bad, $60 on sale – that’s probably more than half off what I paid originally.  Then I go out to buy groceries for dinner.

POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP – WHAT THE FUCK!!!  Why are my speakers machine gunning again?  There is nothing connected to them anymore.  You can imagine my complete confusion in this scenario.  It’s like a corpse screaming after you’ve done the autopsy. (That imagery is courtesy of a death metal CD over the weekend.)  So, I’m driving and the speakers are blasting at me.  I want to find out how this is happening while I’m still driving, but I can’t take too long because it’s destroying my ears.  My brain runs through any impossible situation.  Could the speaker wires be frayed out and touching a power source anywhere along their path?  Why would that stop when the stereo was off?  No, the speaker wires are dead-ended.

Covering each speaker in turn with my hand, I found the source.  The noise is coming from my center channel speaker and the tweeters in my doors.  But how?  I didn’t connect those speakers.  Ohhhh!  Those speakers are still connected to the original factory amplifier.  That amp doesn’t get an input signal anymore, but apparently, that is the amp that is failing.  After 7 years of (non-)use.

So now, I have an order for an amp that will be arriving Wednesday that I don’t need and I have an amp that deserves profuse apologies.  Today, I’ll be able to disassemble the car and unplug that factory amp and reinstall the aftermarket amp.  While I’m at it, I might as well remove all the Zune integration.  Its time has come as well.

It Only Took Eight Years

Eight years ago, I got a motorcycle.  I’ve documented my ups and downs with it here and in the last few years, it’s been a sad story of neglect and non-involvement.

My recent attempt to revive my bike ended up being well outside my ability level.  I turned the bike over to my neighbor, who is an experienced mechanic.  He disassembled it and did a thorough cleaning of the carburetor, which worked well until his testing revealed the engine was running too lean and stalling out.  That leanness was caused by a crack in the fuel inlet, which is a non-replaceable part.  So, a replacement carburetor was purchased for about $300. 

That new part made the engine run better, but now the bike would die if you suddenly hit the throttle.  There wasn’t enough gas being delivered to the carb.  This was determined to be the fault of the aftermarket petcock I installed, which had a smaller diameter fuel line than the original.  So, another purchase of an OEM petcock for $60 was done.

A few days ago, my neighbor’s kid rang my doorbell and asked if I was ready to go for a ride.  Across the street my bike was idling next to my neighbors bike.  Great.  I haven’t been riding in years and here I am being put on the spot to test out the repair.

I gear up and we went out for a brief ride together.  I was rusty, but I remembered how everything worked and managed just fine.  I had a motorcycle again.

Last night, to help regain my skills and comfort on the bike, I went out for dinner.  Nothing uneventful happened until I got home.  I pulled into the driveway, shut off the engine, put down the kickstand and climbed off.  Suddenly, what the hell is going on?  The bike is moving?  The bike fell away from me and although I initially tried to hold it, you can’t stop a 500lb weight from falling while you’re standing upright. 

The motorcycle came down on its right side with a crash and a crunch – the first time I’ve ever let the bike fall.  I’ve “laid it down” softly in the grass maybe twice in the first year I owned it, but it’s never had an uncontrolled fall. Until now.

My driveway is sloped (maybe designed that way for runoff, maybe it’s just settling) and I have always been a little weirded out that the bike sat near upright when it was on its kickstand.  This time I guess it was just a tiny bit over center.  I made the decision then that I would start parking the other direction so the bike would lean with the slope of the driveway, although at a more severe angle.

New resolutions aside, I had to get the bike back up and see what the damage was.  My first evaluation was that the mirror broke off and the taillight was crushed.  I used the standard technique for raising a dropped bike, the one that you may have been taught but never have to use, like changing a car tire.  I put my back to the bike, got a firm grip on the handlebar and wheel well then walked it back upright.

Additional inspection showed that the damage was limited to the two things I had first noticed.  No paint damage, no significant chrome damage, no dents.  Considering how violently it came down, I am amazed at the limit of the damage.

To avoid any opportunity to dwell on the incident, I purchased replacement parts right away.  I decided to replace the mirrors completely even though only one mirror mount was snapped off.  It’s something I’d been kicking around for a while since they were gathering some slight surface rust.  Hopefully, I can get back on the road within a week.

May The Odds Be Forever In Your Favor

I ran across a letter recently that was addressed to the participants of a company’s retirement plan.  From what I gathered, it seemed like a pension plan.  You know, those old-fashioned things where you work X number of years and they will pay you Y dollars for the rest of your life?  Well, if you haven’t paid attention to that, (and if you haven’t, that’s excusable, because pensions are pretty rare anymore) you would find that companies are doing anything they can to avoid having to pay out those Y dollars.

I read a book a while ago that explained the multiple schemes that were being performed to avoid any sort of pension plan funding.  That book is Retirement Heist.  It’s a good book and you should read it.  This letter to pensioners was just an illustration of those exact cons, and the letter was selling it like it was the greatest thing ever.

Here’s the gist of the letter.  Because of two laws, and I need to write these laws out because they are totally insane, the Moving Ahead For Progress In The 21st Century Act and the Highway And Transportation Funding Act of 2014 (blahhhh), pension plans are allowed to calculate their numbers differently.  Differently in that they can make the badness go away.

So, in this example, before the laws, in 2016, the pension plan was short $8.3M dollars to cover the costs of the members’ retirement.  After the laws?  $0.  Percent funded before the law?  86%  After the law? 104%  The law completely fixed the problem of not having enough money!  Amazing!!!

How was this done?  The projection of how much money would be needed was based on interest rates for the last two years.  Why are they looking at interest rates?  Because that’s how the fund stays solvent while money is being withdrawn, through investments with interest.  If the plan doesn’t make enough money in interest, the corporation has to pitch in extra money to keep it going.  Hmmmmmm.

If you have a savings account in the last couple of years, you know that you’re not making any money off of it.  And a pension fund wouldn’t be making any money either.  So because the fund is not sustaining itself from its investments, that means the corporation would have to supplement it with additional money.  Corporations everywhere collectively said, “Fuck that” and instead spent the money on lobbyists to change the laws. 

They succeeded.  Now, instead of considering that interest rates in the future will be the average of two years, now it’s going to be the average of 25 years.  25 fucking years.  Fortunately that range includes the late 90’s and early 00’s, where interest rates were around 5%, instead of 0.1%

So, do you get it?  They refuse to accommodate current market conditions and instead want to pretend the future is going to be as great as the past.  But here’s the thing, if these corporations would just fucking suck it up and pay into their pension funds now, like they are supposed to, when things get awesome in the future like they CHANGED THE LAW to reflect, they wouldn’t have to pay anything then, because the funds would be fully funded or even overfunded.

Now the infuriating part.  This letter says all of this.  It doesn’t hide anything.  They can tell the truth because a) lots of people won’t understand what just happened, and b) it’s the law; it’s all perfectly legal now.

Collecting, For The Eyes And Ears

A co-worker of mine has recently fallen into the rabbit hole of sci-fi novels.  Every day, it’s read, read, read.  And because of that, it’s also become buy, buy, buy.  He does his research.  He knows all the prominent authors, their styles and topics and their bibliographies.

Recently, he’s been talking about “collections” and first editions with increasing interest.  As we discussed the viability of being a sci-fi novel collector, the parallels between his book collecting and my CD collecting became ever more obvious.  Here’s some of the connections I made:

  • Novels will move around between publishers.  Albums will also move around between publishers.  In both cases, the publisher determines the quality of the end product.  The artwork may be different between different publishers.
  • First editions of popular novels are just like first pressings of albums.  They are desirable by those that care and can command higher prices.
  • Both books and albums are reprinted in special collector’s editions, which collectors of each can have a great interest in.  Because the content is usually the same, the improvements are usually better packaging and bonus material (extra songs for albums, drafts or letters or forwards by the author’s peers for books).
  • Both can be turned into compilations and churned out for quick bucks by publishers.  Although I don’t know for sure, I suspect the royalties to the writers suck in all cases.
  • You can “remaster” a book with the same expected results as remastering an album.  You’ll have purists that hate the changes and progressive modern types that embrace the changes.  In the book world, they call it “revised and expanded”.
  • The collecting of this “old technology” is a mystery to the majority of the public.  The details of the versions and editions are lost on them.  “It’s all about the music”/”It’s all about the story”
  • You can find used copies of either at specialty used stores and save a lot of money.
  • You can also find digital copies of either for free (legality aside), but for a collector, this is insufficient.  The physical product is paramount.
  • When a collector starts “talking shop”, it sounds exactly the same; only the authors/bands and titles/albums are different.  They all have exclusive details and timelines and history, but they are completely interchangeable.

On the topic of money, he and I have both been doling it out.  Him maybe a bit more because he’s been buying new, where I buy used almost exclusively.  Yesterday, I gave him the opportunity to validate himself.  I asked if he wanted to visit my usual CD haunt during lunch.  I warned him it could be dangerous for me because the last time I was there, they had some very hard-to-find albums I wanted.  Being hard-to-find also means hard-to-justify-the-price.  I’ll spend up to $10 for a used CD I want, with gold CDs being the rare exception.

We get to the store and all the CDs are still available.  Six of them, priced between $18 and $25 each.  I ask him if I really want to do this, because it’s not gonna be cheap.  He replies that he is the wrong person to ask for support.  For both of our entertainment, I ended up buying them.  As the cashier rung up my $144 purchase of CDs, my co-worker, red-faced and grinning, beamed with delight that someone was behaving just as irrationally as he does with his books.

Grow On…

A while ago, I had done a mega-run on thrift stores (28 of them!).  Last Saturday, I made another full day of shopping – 8+ hours.  Unlike my previous run with netted 4 CDs, I ended the day with, oh… 35.  Ok, wait.  Let me explain.  Of those, I really only wanted less than 10.  The majority of them were purchased for their cases.

The CD jewel case is, in my opinion, a wonder of industrial design.  The fact that its design has gone relatively unchanged in 30 years is testament to its perfection.  However, it has changed over the years.  The primary change has been to make it lighter by using thinner plastic.  A modern CD case is pathetically thin and brittle, which does little for the case of presenting a CD as a premier product.  The thin, cheap case instead affirms that CDs are cheap and disposable.

Early CD cases were heavier and instilled a sense of quality.  You can identify these cases because they have smooth sides instead of the ribbed sides of cases today.  Of course, you could also easily tell just by picking up a case.  It is a noticeable difference.

So, that’s what I was after.  The first stop was a pawn shop where I found a couple of CDs I would enjoy.  I asked how much they were. “25 cents.”  Well, that changes things.  I’ll take every smooth-sided CD there, including Willie Nelson and Ray Stevens.  That was all of $2.75.  At a later thrift store, I pulled out 10 smooth cases, mostly of classical music, for $1 each.  I was a little bummed because they offered 50% coupons on a mailing list and I didn’t have one.  Maybe next time?

The final stop to end my day was at a non-thrift store – my local used record store.  I treated myself to a collectible CD, a 24k gold disc for $20.  You usually can’t go wrong with these because they typically sell for $$$.  This CD has two current listings online for $94 and $133.  They haven’t sold for that amount (I’m not dumb), but still.

Sunday was spent cleaning cases and swapping out some of my more prized CDs into smooth cases.  My fingers are so sore from using my nails to pry apart cases.  Then the ripping and cataloging… My new CD tower from not too long ago is filling up at a dangerous pace.  Soon, I may need to bring the old one back into service.  And, I also need to start selling the CDs that have been replaced or upgraded to better editions.  I must have about 30 of those.

Jokebook Notebook

I often have a lot of random ideas and I typically forget the details of them later.  I should be carrying a small notebook to jot these things down.  Like this morning, I saw a billboard and a commercial idea started forming in my head.  The great thing about writing commercials is there doesn’t need to be a lot of dialog (unless that’s the joke) and it’s over in as little as 15 seconds.

So, I came up with a brief sketch for a iced tea brand.  It involves the talent of Ice-T (of rap and CSI fame), Mr. T (of 70’s A-Team fame), and Master Shake (of Aqua Teen Hunger Force semi-fame).

(At the scene of a fancy outdoor party, mingling guests on a wide lawn, white party tents and small white bistro tables set up through the area.  Ice-T is standing alone and somewhat bored at one of the tables and someone approaches.  He looks up and sees Mr. T)

Ice-T: Hey. (extending hand) I’m Ice-T.

Mr. T: (shaking hand) Hey, I’m Mr. T.

Ice-T: Huh. Nice to meet you.

Master Shake: (interrupting, not in scene) Hey, I’m also a beverage!

(Ice-T and Mr. T turn to look at Master Shake, annoyed at his interruption.)

Master Shake: I said… I’m also a beverage.  You know, like a drink.  Speaking of drinks, I could use a drink.  Nothing but teas at this place.  Iced teas, Mr. T’s  – HA!  You see what I did there?  Seriously though, I could drink like a couple dozen Fuzzy Nizzles, you know what I’m saying, dawgs?

(Master Shake continues rambling on while Ice-T and Mr. T awkwardly stare at the table, trying to ignore him.  A waiter walks by with the promoted iced tea brand on his tray and the camera follows him away from the scene Master Shake is making.)

“Promoted Tea Brand – not always inappropriate”

That idea led me to a sequel. 

(In a music studio, Ice-T and Mr. T are sitting at the mixing console listening to some of Ice-T’s new music.)

Mr. T: I can’t imagine doing this for a living.  This is awesome.

Ice-T: It’s a great creative outlet.  You can really connect with people through music.

Master Shake: I connect with people all the time.  Because I have the connections.  You guys wouldn’t know about that. You got no connections.

(Master Shake is standing in the back of the studio mixing room, not really talking to anyone.  Ice-T and Mr. T stare blankly at Master Shake)

(Master Shake reaches for something on a shelf and knocks everything off onto the floor, including awards and memorabilia.)

Master Shake: Yeah, that’s what I think of you, tchotchke’s! You can stay down on the floor, because you’re nothing.  Nothing! (Realizes Ice-T and Mr. T are staring at him angrily.)  Hey, I got this idea for a song.  A rap, if you will.  (Master Shake starts making beatbox sounds and moving in jerking motions like he’s dancing.)

Ice-T: Talking cup, you are so white.

(Shot of Master Shake freezing in place with mouth agape.)

“Promoted Tea Brand – not always inappropriate”

I have an idea for another sequel involving Carl fanboy-nagging Mr. T about his A-Team exploits, too. But since these would never see the light of day, no need to develop it.

That Thing I Don’t Use

I can’t believe this.  The last post about my motorcycle is over three years ago.  Three Years.  And you know what it’s been doing in that time?  Sitting there.  Sitting outside.  I am a bad, bad owner.  And I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Today, I thought I would clean up the bike and maybe take it out for a ride tomorrow.  I had taken the bike’s battery out long ago (apparently very long ago) to prevent it from draining and dying (been there, done that).  But the battery still has a 95% charge, so I should be good to go.  I grabbed some rags and headed out to do some cleaning.  The bike is in understandably bad shape, having been left out in the elements for years.  I cleaned leaves out of various areas and then I found a hard-stop to my riding plans.  The fuel line has rotted and leaked gas out all over the place.  Sigh.

As I’m inspecting this issue, my neighbor comes over and asks what’s up.  I explain that I was going to try and clean up the bike for a ride and he tells me he’s noticed I haven’t been riding or taking care of my bike in a long time.  He wonders if I’m interested in selling it.  Apparently, he’s had multiple people ask him what’s up with the motorcycle in the driveway that never moves.  We chat a bit more and get talking about the fuel line.  My neighbor inspects it closely and says, yeah, it’s pretty much gone, you’ll have to replace that.  Should be pretty easy.  Then he pulls on the fuel line and finishes the job, breaking it off.  Well, I guess I have to fix it now.  Thanks.

As this is going on, a kid of one of my other neighbors comes over to see what’s happening.  Thankfully, the kid helps me get everything disassembled and disconnected (his dad has a motorcycle, too, so the whole family is handy).  I bought a new fuel line and it’s prepped for reinstall.  I’m leaving the bike all disassembled for now so I can get into every corner and clean it up.  There’s wasp nests all through it – wonderful.

On the topic of selling the bike, I threw out a random number to my neighbor.  The number is less than half the price I bought the bike for, which, given its current condition, is probably fair.  I don’t exactly want to sell the bike.  I love its styling.  It’s all paid off, registered and insured for the year, so it’s nice to have available should I want to use it.  But I haven’t used it for years.  Riding is generally a hassle because of the whole ceremony of getting ready and finishing up.  It’s not jumping in a car and leaving.

So, I’ll still attempt my cleaning and reassembly tomorrow.  We’ll see how I feel after a short ride as to keeping the bike or not.

As I finish this post, I just realized that the fuel line was only damaged at the one end.  I could have trimmed the hose and continued to use it instead doing of all this disassembly and replacement.  Maybe it’s for the best the whole fuel line was replaced.  Maybe I’m just an idiot.

Return to The Wasteland – Executive Summary

Just returned from a trip to the homeland – PA.  I just spent about a half hour researching when I was there last.  According to credit card purchases, it was July, 2011.  That’s a pretty long while, I guess.  But there’s a good reason for it.  There’s nothing good there.  To quickly summarize this trip:

  • There’s far fewer people there.  It shouldn’t be surprising, but the magnitude of it is.
  • There’s far fewer young people there.  Old people work everywhere.  I thought FL had a lot of old people.
  • The hills and clouds make everything dark.  It’s depressing.  Even the stores are so poorly lit they always look closed.  The good thing is that it’s so depressing, and the bar for happiness is set so low, you can feel good about the most meaningless thing.
  • There’s so much nothing that it’s 30 minutes to do anything or go anywhere.  That’s probably why I have no issue driving 30k miles a year, but it was annoying to drive so far for so little all the time.
  • People are friendlier there and kids can wander the streets without requiring adults hovering right beside them.  Small town advantage.
  • Another small town advantage is everything is within a couple square blocks.  Everything.  The disadvantage is that “everything” is a very small selection.  If you’re happy with fewer choices, great.  if you want more, tack on an extra 30 mins of driving, at least.

But, I have content for more posts.  Plenty to bitch about.  I’m set for another five years, for sure.

Not What I Wanted, But…

In my last similar post, I picked up a cheap “vintage” stereo system. It was going to just a holdover until I released the major funds for a new full stereo system.  That release is probably being held up by the future planned redo of the living room.  And that’s a few rooms later, where I’m currently stuck in the master bathroom.  But anyway…

The new cheapo stereo ($28 to buy and $30 to repair) gave me radio and cassette tape capabilities.  To get any use out of it, I had to start buying cassettes.  That’s not really something I wanted to get into, but there I was.  I really wanted a CD player and had been looking for one that would match the style.  It needed to have a silver face to match and ideally have plenty of buttons.

That search was not as fruitful as I’d hoped, so I compromised and said I’d pick out a stand-in player until I found what I really wanted.  Today, I finally made that purchase.  It was all of $10, the same price as the tape deck.  It was a brand that I’d heard was well respected in that era, but one I’d never experienced before.

This is my new-to-me Onkyo DX-701, circa 1992.

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I have to say, when I first powered on the CD player and the display panel lit up, I grinned like an idiot.  It had been so long since I’d seen old-school digital displays like that.

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That might have even exceeded my fascination of playing cassettes and staring at the level meters.

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But, back to the CD player, the thing is built solid.  I’m sure everyone is used to the CD tray in their computer, a flimsy piece of crap.  The CD tray on this device is smooth and wobble-free.  It’s substantial.  The whole player was a little dirty, but I cleaned the heck out of it.  I took the cover off and found the insides to be completely dust free.  This was not a neglected piece of equipment stuffed in a closet or garage and I’m glad to give it a new life.

One little thing of note is that all three of these devices have physical power buttons.  You know how everything now is a soft power button – push it and it toggles the power, no tactile difference between on and off?  These devices all physically move metal contacts in a switch to toggle power on and off.  You feel the detent when the button is on (it remains in) and you feel it spring back out when you power it off.  It’s a minor thing, but it’s also something you don’t experience anymore.  It feels like quality.

Sonically, it’s incredible.  If I plug into the headphone jack on the player itself, dead quiet.  My MCS amp has an audible noise floor, but to its credit, I can’t turn the volume past about 5% without serious discomfort.  With great power comes a great hissing noise floor, apparently.

So, at this point, I can relax and wait for the right silver-faced CD player to cross my path.  And, where can you get a full stereo for under $100?

Rabbit Hole To Finality

A few days ago I found my ZuneHD.  I thought I lost it over a year ago and I was so happy to have found it again.  I charged it back up and went to sync some of my newer music so I could take it to work.  The sync failed with cryptic errors.  I thought maybe there was an issue with the device, so I erased and tried again.  Still, nothing would copy.

A little bit of internet research indicated it was due to the Windows 10 Anniversary Update.  Since that update, the Zune software would no longer downsample music for the players.  That change effectively made my devices unsyncable and thus unusable.  At first, I wasn’t ready to concede defeat.  I installed Windows 7 in VirtualBox, but wasn’t able to get it to see the Zune device.  Then I figured I would try using Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtual machine for once.

While I was setting up that machine, I gave some consideration to how I would access my music files.  In VirtualBox, I would map a network drive to the host machine.  With my hyper-V machine, I didn’t see any simple way to set up networking and if I remember correctly from previous attempts to use Hyper-V, it was generally a PIA. 

That gave me the idea to have a separate virtual hard drive with my music on it.  That could be pretty interesting, I leave it attached on my main machine until I need to sync something, then I detach it from the main machine and attach it to the virtual machine.  All the files still remain in one place.

So that was a big project, copying 300GB of music to a VHD.  And at this point, I still don’t know if the VM is going to see the Zune.  I spent all day yesterday cleaning up album art in my VirtualBox VM and it was all for nothing since VirtualBox wouldn’t see the Zune.  I definitely have little problem with wasted effort.  however, I think the compartmentalized VHD of music will be a nice modern advancement.  I am praying that VHD files are resilient.  You know, that’s a single file containing 14k files.  The digital equivalent of putting all your eggs in one basket.

The Windows 7 virtual machine was a bust.  I guess Hyper-V is optimized for Windows 8 and better, so… reinstallation time.  The Windows 8 install appeared hung up, so I restarted the VM.  That resulted in an endless loop where Windows said the computer restarted unexpectedly and to click OK to restart and continue the install.  It was all for naught anyway.  Reading up on this solution, I learned that Hyper-V has even less support for USB devices than VirtualBox.  Pretty un-fucking-believable. 

What are my remaining options?  I have to have a physical machine that is running a Windows version less than 10.  What good does that really do me?  I’ll have to access my entire music library over the network – inefficient.  The move of all my music to a VHD file has turned out to be pointless as well, since I have nothing to share it with now.  And, since my music files are now moved the a new drive, Zune had to rescan everything again, wiping out over half my album art.  I literally spent hours yesterday cleaning up the album art in my VirtualBox install and now I have to do it again??

It looks like my time with Zune is at an end, with both devices and software.  It’s a real shame considering how much Zune equipment I have and how it still works so well.  I don’t know where to go from here.  Using Groove on a phone isn’t as pleasant of an experience as the Zune was.

I guess this is where I’ve been slowly headed for a little while now, back to physical media and good old stereo systems.  Maybe in a few months I’ll be saying how great it is to not have all my music at my fingertips and being less distracted by the massive amount of choices available to me at any time.  Time will tell.