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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.

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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?

Prognosis: Guarded

As I previously mentioned, I bought a vintage stereo and one channel in the receiver was dead, which made having a stereo that couldn’t play stereo pretty worthless.  But I had only spent $10 on the receiver, so what.

Well, I contacted my local vintage sound establishment, selling vinyl, CDs, 8-tracks, even reel-to-reel music, as well as old stereos and speakers.  They have a repair tech on staff, which is pretty awesome.  I explained my situation to him and what I had done so far.  He said if my initial diagnostics were correct, repairs of that sort usually ran $75-$125.  Hmmm.  There’s a bench fee of $25 whether or not I choose to fix it.  Hmmm.

So here I was in a position that could have me spending over 10x my purchase price to have a functional stereo receiver.  Hmmm.  I have a small problem with admitting defeat, especially if success is attainable.  I like the stereo quite a bit and admittedly, I have the funds I could spend on it.  But that’s exactly why there is a word called “spendthrift”.  Blah blah blah, ROI, foolhardy, 10x expenses.  But I like it, doesn’t that account for anything?  And what of waste and our disposable society?  Shouldn’t I make an effort to repair instead of replace?

To convince myself… actually, I was already convinced.  To make myself feel better, I thought up an analogy to my situation.  What if you found a kitten and took it to the vet.  The vet charges you a bench fee to look at this kitten, then says it looks like your kitten has worms.  If it does, you’ll need to spend about $100 in meds to get it back to health.  What are you going to do, put the kitten down?  Throw it away?  It’s perfectly repairable and would provide years of happiness.

Yesterday, I took my kitten to the shop and today I got the diagnosis.  It was just a blown fuse – a cheap fix.  Totaling about $30, nearly all of which is covered by the bench fee.  The doctor offered a warning, though.  Fuses usually don’t blow without a reason, but being a 30-yr old device could play a part.  Fuses guard electronics against larger damage.  So a blown fuse may indicate a bigger problem, which may manifest in the coming months of regular use.  If that’s the case, it will require further troubleshooting.  Or, I can just keep changing out fuses until I get sick of doing that.

So, hooray for me.  Now I begin the hunt for an aesthetically compatible CD player.  I have a couple options, one of which I just saw yesterday.  If it’s still there, I’ll snag it until I get a better one.  The other, better-looking choice is much less common.  I’ve seen it on Ebay for $100, but I can hold out for a cheaper opportunity if I have a workable system for the near-term.

What I Wanted, Not What I Expected

On a thrift store run, I had a disappointing experience searching for CDs – nothing of interest at all.  On the way out, I dropped in to the electronics section of the store.  I scanned the shelves for nothing in particular until a cassette deck caught my eye.  It was totally vintage, probably from the 1980’s.  It had buttons and switches and analog level meters.  Very cool.

I’ve planned to get a stereo for a while and I have picked out the stereo components I want already.  But for a while, I had considered going the vintage route.  Not so much for the sound quality, which could be hit or miss for its age, but for the aesthetics.  It’s an early era of “wow! technology!” that originally morphed into visual insanity before being left behind in favor of minimalistic design (thanks, Apple).

While I was ogling this vintage tape deck, I realized, I didn’t have anything to plug it into.  And, I only had one cassette tape in my house.  So, why bother.  I put it out of my mind and kept on scanning the shelves until my eyes bumped into a stereo receiver – the matching component of the tape deck.  That device was even more vintage looking, with rows of buttons and sliders.  This receiver solved the problem of having nothing to plug the tape deck into.  Soooo, after verifying I could afford all this equipment, I bundled up both pieces, paid for my treasures (a wallet-busting $18), and cheerfully packed them up in the car.

Before I made the purchase, I did a cursory check as to whether the components were even worthy of owning.  The brand is MCS, an acronym for Modular Component Systems, which is a house brand of JC Penney.  The internet indicated a small appreciation for MCS because the components were manufactured by reputable Japanese brands of the era like NEC and Technics.

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The receiver I picked up is an MCS 3237, which seems to be made in 1986 or after.  It’s got a digital AM/FM tuner with 16 presets, seek, and scan. There’s a good number of inputs: phonograph, tape, video, and auxiliary.  It’s got buttons for High filter, Low filter and Loudness, and sliders for Bass, Treble, and Balance.  It can drive two selectable sets of speakers, which is neat.  This supposedly is a 35W amplifier, which sounds weak when you hear about 800W home theater systems now, but owners report a very good sound from those watts.

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The tape deck is an MCS 683-3543.  It doesn’t have any fancy features like auto-reverse and only has Dolby B noise reduction.  But it does support Chrome and Metal tapes, which I would think elevates it above the lowest consumer decks.  However, more research shows that it suffers from poor speed accuracy.  Entry level specs at best.  Luckily it’s not meant to be the centerpiece.  I’m still sticking with CDs.

Without any speakers, this stereo will be used with headphones, which should be a pleasant experience.  I should be able to find a silver-faced vintage CD player to mate up with the system to complete the setup.  I won’t be getting into vinyl, so I have no need for the phonograph input.  With a planned budget of a little under $1000 for my future stereo system (that doesn’t include speakers), it’s kind of ridiculous that I can get some sort of satisfaction for under $20.

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I get the devices home and do a thorough cleaning on them.  They’re in pretty good shape.  I plug them all in and grab a set of headphones.  It took me a while to find the only cassette tape I had for testing.  All systems go!  Wait, no.  One of the channels is dead.  No sound from the left side.  Output meter is indicating nothing.  Also, it seems the tape deck is dropping signal on one channel randomly.  Ugh.

I don’t have electronic contact cleaner, so I grab a can of CRC Mass Airflow Sensor Cleaner and shoot all the switches and dials and buttons.  (MAF cleaner is pretty much the same thing)  The volume knob is amazingly smooth now, but it made no difference to my output problem.  I’m not a person who can troubleshoot electronics, so my choices at this point are pay to have it fixed, or pitch it.

I ran the tape deck through my mixer in my office (I guess I did have something to plug it into) and got no channel drops for the entire duration of my test cassette.  Very odd.  When I was listening though headphones, the output dropped and the VU meter fell, too.

I guess I’ll start with the amp.  At least get a quote and see how much more than $10 I’ll need to have a working system.

New To Me Old School

I am literally 10 years behind the times.  But on the plus side, I’m saving lots of money by doing so.

As I’ve mentioned, I have two new idiot boxes in my house.  I still don’t watch a lot of TV, so I needed to find a use for them.  The obvious consideration was to get a video game system.  On top of the entertainment value, it could work for some social interaction as well.  You know, for all the guests I have over…

But what game system to get?  I haven’t played video games seriously for 20 years, when the controls became so complicated and all in 360 degree, 3D style (if you want to know precisely when I quit, it was ID Software’s Quake that put me over the edge).  So, looking at XBox/PlayStation nonsense was more of a detraction than a motivator.  But there exists a game system for people like me, the casual gamer.  The Nintendo Wii.  Yup, it’s 10 years old now.

I’d played Wii at a friends house only a couple of times.  I found it very curious, since it relied on motion input instead of traditional directional controllers.  Moreover, the gameplay wasn’t hyper-competitive, just fun.  That was right up my alley.  So where do you go to buy a 10-yr old game system?  To me, it was just like buying a 10 yr old music keyboard or guitar or effect unit – the pawn shop.

I’m definitely no stranger to pawn shops, and I have a pretty good sense as to what to buy and what to avoid there.  I had a pretty good feeling about getting a Wii.  At the very least, you could look it over for damage and whatnot.  So, I made my rounds of the local shops, seeing who had what available in the best condition.

I ended up getting a system and some games on new year’s eve for $52.  The next week, I bought some more controllers, some games, and a balance board for $48.  So I had a full system for $100.  That’s pretty good.  When the Wii first came out, it was $250 for the base system, $40 for an extra controller, and $20 for the nunchuk. The balance board was $90 at launch.

And it’s been a good system.  It’s fun and doesn’t require a ton of dedication or effort to use.  It’s been enough fun that the GF has been considering getting one for her house.  So today, I went on the hunt again.

The pawn shops around my workplace have historically been excellent for finding good deals on whatever I’m looking for (or something I wasn’t looking for).  Today, with a planned purchase, I wasn’t disappointed.  I got a Wii with one controller and nunchuk for $35, plus another controller/nunchuk for $12 – similar to what I spent last time.  I figured we could share the balance board for a while.  On a whim, I stopped at another pawn shop and was surprised to see a balance board sitting all by itself.  Originally $10, it was marked down to $7.  That was an immediate cash purchase and out the door.  The only thing I regret is not buying the $2 copy of Wii Fit to go along with it.  I’ll get that next week for myself.

So now we have Wii’s.  Whee.

The Thrill Of The Hunt; The Agony Of Defeat

I have a few particular traits that work together and are beneficial to my wants (not needs).  They are: a love of driving, a strong sense of frugality, the thrill of the hunt, perseverance in the face of monotony, and a hobby of CD collecting.

I had the day off work, so last night, I have planned out a mega-run of 28 thrift shops to accomplish.  I expected up to 30 percent of them to be out of business, so maybe I’d get 20 stops in as long as I could keep going.  This is pretty much unprecedented in my exploration history.  Even back almost two decades ago, when I would do such mega-runs for pawn shops, I would never try to hit 10 in one go.

This trip is a solo run.  Even though the GF shares a lot of the same traits I do, this will be a level of monotony I wouldn’t wish on anyone else.  And taking a passenger on such a trip would be borderline abusive.  And, at points, it was very trying – self-abusive, possibly.

I started at 8:30 in the morning, hoping to get to the first store at 9:00 when they should be just opening up.  Well, that didn’t go well.  The first store didn’t open until 10:00.  I wasn’t going to sit there for an hour, so I moved on.  The next shop had a “be back at” sign that was set for 4:30, whatever that means.  Then I had a string of DNFs (geocaching speak for Did Not Find) and when I did find an open shop (a few were closed for the holiday season), I didn’t find anything worth buying.

Finally at stop #13 (13!!!), a Goodwill, I found 2 cds I wanted.  I thought my luck was turning, but then hit another DNF.  I had pre-programmed my GPS with multiple stops as a single route and I was out of stops for that route, so I made a random stop at a pawn shop to enter the remaining stops.  When I went into the pawn shop out of curiosity, I was surprised to see a rather large section of CDs.  I worked through the shelves in short order and came away with two more CDs, one of which was a target CD – highly unexpected.

I get up to stop #19 with no luck in finding stores or CDs.  It’s 2:00 now and I’m hangry.  I planned this to be a stopping point for food, but I was also about 2 hours behind schedule.  A short stop at Fuddruckers to recharge and I’m back on the hunt.  Despite the exponentially increasing traffic, I amazingly completed all the stops, but sadly, I gained nothing more for my collection.  I could have stopped after lunch.  I battled my way home through Friday rush hour traffic and got home around 6:30.

So, that’s the sad stats, there.  28 stores in 10 hours to acquire 4 CDs.  Not the most efficient way to spend a day.

When Bad Meets Good

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the GF and I did something bad.  It wasn’t something I was planning on doing, intending to take a stand against change.  We went out shopping on Thanksgiving night.

And, as you can probably expect, we weren’t alone out there.  It was actually a pretty surreal experience.  I hadn’t been out shopping on Thanksgiving in many years, just assuming everything except gas stations and convenience stores would be closed.  But here we were, in the local mall, with a relatively large crowd, late at night.  The mall was open until 11:00pm.

I have long expected this holiday shopping season to be insane, mostly because of what I see in restaurants.  Restaurants are crowded again.  People have money again, somehow, and they’re spending it.  That’s going to translate into big retail gains.  Mark my words.

But anyway, I didn’t want to go out on Thanksgiving.  I did want to go out on Black Friday, probably in the afternoon, after the pre-dawn madness died down.  I wanted to get televisions.  I was at the point that I had zero televisions in my house.  The only one I did have was a 27” mono tube TV from the 90’s.  I hadn’t used it in years and finally disposed of it in the great purging earlier this year.

So this year, I wanted to get somewhat up with the times.  I couldn’t really expect to do any entertaining without a TV in the house.  That would make me seem just a little weird.  I figured I would get a TV for the living room and one for the master bedroom.  I spent a little bit of Thanksgiving morning comparing models and prices.  I had some options from HH Gregg, Sears, and Best Buy, with Best Buy being the pretty obvious leader.

At the mall, we hit a clothing store and got the GF all hooked up in the wardrobe department.  That’s really all we came for, but we just meandered down to Sears to see what was going on there.  Sears is widely believed to be on the ropes and is expected to close up next year.  The death of Sears has been predicted every year for the past decade, but they just keep chugging on.  The prospect of Sears closing does make me sad, because I like Sears.  They’ve pretty much always been there when I needed something.

We end up in Sears and go to the electronics section.  It’s pretty empty.  There’s some people looking at appliances, but the other sections are unexciting.  The shelves seem lightly stocked and it doesn’t look like there’s a lot of choices.  Something seems depressing about the whole setup.  I repeat, no excitement.

Regardless, we start looking at what TVs are available.  I’m initially disappointed because all I see are 4k TV’s, which is not what I need.  As I move down the isle, getting tucked into the corner, I see the 1080p TVs, and the prices have gotten more in line with my expectations.  In fact, they’re pretty good.  The GF is checking out smaller TVs, in the 24” range, and they’re reasonable, too.

Since television is not a high priority to me, I can easily get by with a lower-end TV without a lot of features.  Accordingly, I budgeted about $450 for each TV, hoping to get somewhere in the 45”-55” size range.  These TVs at Sears fit the bill.

Then, about the service.  There were a few salespeople milling about and one came up to us asking if we had questions.  We asked about the capabilities of some of the smaller TVs and then discussed some of the bigger TVs.  We made our choices – a 24” Samsung smart TV for $120, a 50” Samsung for $349, and a 60” Samsung for $579.  We walked out with the 24” and arranged to pick up the bigger ones at their pickup area around back.  Really, no more than 10 minutes and we were done.

That needs some extra emphasis.  We got personal service and were done with our transactions in about 10 minutes.  You try that at Best Buy.  You try that at Best Buy on any other day, even non-holidays.  And the Sears staff loaded the TVs into the car for us.  I didn’t even wait more than a couple minutes in the pickup area.  I was more than willing to pay extra to avoid the experience of fighting through Best Buy.  One of the salespeople commented that he just got off the phone with a friend who was over at Best Buy.  They had 2-hr checkout waits.  There you have it.

After we got our purchases home, I jumped online to see how much of a premium we paid for the Sears experience.  Turns out it was pretty much all the same.  Because I wasn’t researching 60” sizes, I was surprised to see the prices were the same between the stores.  The 50” might have been $40 more, but it may have been a slightly different model, too.  The 24” was the same price, too.

I had planned to go to places that weren’t considered to be ground zero for technology deals, anyway.  But I am amazed at how well it all turned out.  No stress, personal service, and great prices.  You should always go off the beaten path and explore.  If you don’t get better service, you will probably get something more unique, both of which have tangible value.

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The idiot boxes have arrived.

A Little Bit Of Tim Taylor In The Kitchen

Thanksgiving is almost here and that means it’s time for cooking.  I believe I probably think like most guys in that in order to do something properly, you have to have the right tools.  If you don’t exactly know what the right tools are, it’s best to just have all the tools.

And so, in this year, I’ve been building up my kitchen tool chest.  I pitched my ad-hoc cookware and bought a brand new starter set of pots and pans.  Then I augmented that set with a couple more small pots, for flexibility of course.  And last night, I saw two more pieces from the same model line (in the same color, too!).  I hadn’t ever seen them before, and I wasn’t entirely sure I would ever see them again, so I picked them up.  Now I own a stock pot and a deep sauté pan.  Will I ever use them?  Better to have and not need than need and not have.  Clearly, a man composed that line.

That’s not the only thing I’ve done in my tool refresh.  I pitched my dinnerware and bought all new, matching pieces, including things I shouldn’t need, like a serving bowl, a platter, and a gravy boat.  And although my meals are typically for one, I have 4 large plates, 4 small plates, 4 bowls, 2 additional large bowls, and 2 more additional small bowls.  I like soup and salad, but still, that might be pushing it.  I have the additional plates and such in case I have guests.  ha ha ha ha

I also swapped out my flatware.  Just because.  The old set was over 10 years old, and a change was needed.  Also, more knives.  I have two carving sets.  I have multiple whisks, multiple peelers, multiple strainers, multiple cutting boards, multiple crock pots, and more wooden utensils than I can use in a week.  More mixing bowls than I expect to realistically use, but they’re in all different sizes, so I will have the perfect size bowl for whatever it is I plan to do.  You need to have the right size tool for the job, right?

Last night, when I picked up the most recent pot and pan, I made the joke that I was a “completist”.  But then I looked up the definition, which is: “an obsessive, typically indiscriminate, collector or fan of something.”  That doesn’t sound fair.  It’s not an obsession, nor is it indiscriminate for me.  For one, it’s opportunistic. (This also applies to my CD collecting.)  Also, my purchases serve a purpose.  I’m not exactly acquiring these things for the sole purpose of having them.  I do intend to use them when there is a legitimate need.  I just need to create that need.

More Space; Going Vertical

Well, as I last mentioned, it’s time to grow the CD storage.  It cost just as much to buy a new storage tower as to build one, so I went the pre-built route.

After the new tower arrived, the first step was to clear out the old tower.  Surprisingly for me, I gave some thought as to the stacking of the CDs so I would be able to put them all back into the new tower in order.  Unload from Z to A, then reload from A to Z.

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The new tower has shelves that are pretty much the same width as the old tower, but there are two additional shelves to work with.  Those, times four sides, gives me 8 more shelves worth of space.  Compared to the old tower, the new one is quite impressive.

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Replacing the CDs, I was able to leave space on every single shelf, and even with that, I had almost two free shelves at the end.

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In all, quite a nice upgrade.  And if I manage to fill that, I have the old tower I can start using again.

DIY…NAH

Tonight I had a thought.  I need a new CD tower.  The one I have is totally maxed out.  I pulled up an old picture I took during the assembly of my tower and realized, this is nothing.  I can build this.  All it is is a bunch L shapes joined together into a swastika shape.

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I got thinking further, if I’m going to build my own, I can make it HUGE.  The measurement of my current tower is about 18” per shelf and about 5’ high.  I figure maybe 24” shelves and 6’ high would be amazing.

So I spec’d out what I would need.  First, I’d need some tools:

  • Pocket hole jig: $40
  • 2 Clamps: $40
  • Shelf pin jig: $35

I have all the power tools I’d need to cut down the wood, so now for the actual parts:

  • 2 sheets of 4’x8’x.75” MDF: $60
  • 1 sheet of 4’x8’x.5” MDF: $24
  • Swivel base: $15
  • 200 shelf pins: $20
  • Paint: $20

This comes to a grand total of $254.  That’s not bad.  But it’s the same price as some reasonably priced shelves.  Jeez, I can’t even build this thing myself for less.  And, I know me.  It won’t be perfect.  It’ll probably be passable as far as quality goes.