Anachostic

My tagline, let me show you it.

Category Archives: About Me

New Frontiers

As an old customer of Verizon FIOS, I was transferred with many others to Frontier.  I never had any significant issue with the transition.  Yeah, their web portal sucked for a while, but my service was uninterrupted and my rates didn’t change.  I had renewed my contract just a couple of months before the changeover.

A lesson I’ve learned, but will probably never be able to apply again is, don’t make any changes to your grandfathered account.  Recently, I decided to change my home phone number.  I never used it, but my ex-wife used it everywhere and all the phone line did was fill up the voicemail with her collection agency calls.  So I wanted a fresh start.  I called Frontier and over a couple of calls, I had a new number.

The next month, I got a bill in the mail from Frontier.  That was odd, because I didn’t think I had any real service done.  The bill was my monthly statement.  That is odd, because I had paperless billing activated.  Further the bill was not for my usual amount of $106, but for $165.  That’s no good.  As I was scanning the papers, I noticed my new phone number was now my account number.  I was suddenly a new customer to them, one with no promo pricing.  That’s no good at all.

I logged in to the web portal and saw that all my past bills were inaccessible (since they were under an old account number) and my autopay was deactivated.  So I got on the phone with billing support.  The guy was pretty confused about the whole situation and eventually gave up, saying the department that needed to handle problems like that was gone for the night.  They would call me the next day.  Unsurprisingly, they didn’t.

I called back during normal business hours and got someone more experienced.  She understood that all that was needed was to restore the discounts on my account.  So after a bit of work she said she couldn’t get it back the way it was.  The reason is that my cable package was migrated from Verizon and there was no Frontier equal.  My bill would go up by about $10/mo.  I kept my mouth shut and the rep said she would transfer me to “retentions”, who would have more power to change the billing.  Ok, then.

The retentions rep also understood the problem and worked to put the discounts back in.  Unfortunately, she still didn’t have any access to restore my cable package.  However, she explained that my cable package was going to change from about 20 channels to 75 channels.  And that’s not so bad.  I rarely watch TV, but the one time I checked it all out, the online channel guide was useless because I couldn’t filter it to only my subscribed channels.  So I always got “this channel is unavailable”.

So, for the privilege of changing my phone number, I had to upgrade to their lowest cable package, which was more than my existing package.  To be fair, that change was inevitable.  I would have to bite that bullet when my renewal came about.  In the end, I got a $25 credit, 75 channels, and the ability to stream cable through my Roku devices.  All for an extra $120/yr.  Oh, and a new phone number, which is really all I wanted.

Inmates Running The Asylum

Ha, you think I’m talking about the current political environment.  Nope, I’m talking about my workplace.  I’ll be honest.  I’m a bit old-fashioned.  I’m in a different generation than most of my co-workers and some of the things that are important to them are absolutely ridiculous to me.  For example, the company dress code.

Years ago, one of my co-workers lamented to me about how he couldn’t wear “a hoodie and flip-flops” every day at work.  This is important to him.  The fact he has to wear business casual clothes (which does include jeans) is a problem.  And strangely, employers now have to cater to their employees despite an overwhelming labor force eager to take those positions.

Recently, my employer conducted an experiment.  You could wear anything you wanted to work as long as it wasn’t revealing or offensive.  Personally, I didn’t change a thing, but many others broke out sandals, flip-flops, shorts, tee shirts, hats, and more casual dresses and skirts.  The workplace went from business casual to resort casual, and in my opinion, became more slobby.

The experiment went for 2 weeks and when it was announced that it was going to end, “hoodie and flip-flops” wrote to the HR director asking why it was ending if there were no complaints about how people abided by the rules.  The answer was “we’ll see.”

On the first day after the experiment’s conclusion, “hoodie” came in and announced loudly, “Fuck this place!”  He didn’t get fired or even written up for that, but did get counseled on his behavior.  He had to write an apology letter to the HR director saying he wouldn’t do anything like that again.  His letter also mentioned it was the loss of the relaxed dress code that caused the outburst.  It was a great way to make the case for keeping it, for sure.

But here we are, a couple of weeks later and great news!  For a limited time, SlobFest has returned to our workplace!  For the rest of the summer (excluding days where clients will be visiting), dress down, be comfortable (since that’s so important to you), act like you’re on vacation.  But please, if there’s anything else we can do for you, don’t hesitate to just shout out, “fuck this place!” and we’ll see how we can accommodate you.

Me, I’m outta here.  Fuck this place.

It’s Good To Be A Coder

While driving over the weekend, I had a humorous thought that I think I can stretch out into an extended joke.  The base premise of the joke is simple, just recaptioning an old comic strip to change the context of the comic and the dynamic between the characters.

So, to begin this, I need the original comic strips so I can deface them and make them funny in a different way.  I found the website that was hosting the comics and looked into what effort it would take to get these comics.

Here’s a small lesson in image thievery on the internet.  The most pedestrian way to get an image off the internet is to do a screen capture with something like Snipping Tool.  That route will burn you out in a matter of minutes.

The better way is to right-click the image and choose Save As.  This preserves the original image dimensions without any possible variance from lassoing.  However, web developers have gotten smarter about this technique and will do protective coding to prevent the unwanted downloading of their files.  One way to do this is to capture the mouse’s right-button click.  Other way is to overlay a transparent image over the other so when you right-click and Save As, you save the transparent image instead of the one you really want.  The most effective way is to show the image as a CSS background.  However, the truth is, if it’s in your browser, your browser requested the file and you can do it too.

To get around these tricks, you can use the developer tools built into most browsers.  They will allow you to look at the source code and find the URL of the actual image you want.  That is the path I originally took, finding the image tag, copying the URL into a new tab, then downloading/saving the image.  That lasted for about 7 images before it was too much effort.  Coders are lazy, and they write programs to do the work for them.

Looking at the URL for the image, it was a dynamic URL, not a static one.  It was similar to:

http://thewebsite.com/content.php?file=QXJlbid0IHlvdSBjbGV2ZXI/

At first, I was discouraged, because the file parameter just seemed to be a string of random characters.  There wouldn’t be any way to turn that into a reliable sequence to cycle through.  But the more I looked at the URL, the more familiar the text seemed.  I took a guess that the string was Base64-encoded, and my guess was correct.  Decoding the string resulted in another URL, although that URL was not accessible from the internet.  It was a page that “content.php” had access to, though. (Just as an aside, this programming design screams “security issues!”)

The decoded URL had a very understandable structure that would allow cycling through comics based on date.  It’s just that I would need to construct that URL, encode it in Base64, then pass the encoded URL as a parameter to the content.php address.

I fired up Visual Studio, added a datebox and a button.  I wrote 4 lines of code to construct the URL based on the date in the datebox, then download and save the image. Then I set up the button to decrement the datebox by a day and process the image.  Now, All I had to do was click a button over and over and the images would dump into a folder.  If I wanted to, I could set up a loop to cycle through images and I wouldn’t even need to click the button at all.  This was less than 15 minutes of effort.

And that is yet another example of the power that comes from being a programmer.

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.

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.

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.