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Tag Archives: entertainment

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.


Music In The Valley

Last weekend, I had a pretty productive CD run.  I think I picked up a dozen new ones.  One of the “why not” buys was a disc called “The Best of Starship”.  It was a cheap-looking CD.  Really cheap.  Like one of those compilation CDs that companies make just for some quick bucks.  It turned out to be something really different, though.

I don’t own any Starship albums, but I do know the songs pretty well from the radio.  When I put the CD in and played it, I didn’t immediately recognize the music.  After the song played a little longer, I recognized it, but something was still off.  The singer’s voice was familiar and all the notes were right, but the production of the track was different.

I looked at the album cover for clues.  In small type at the bottom was “New Recordings by the Original Artist.”  How strange.  What I was experiencing was the Uncanny Valley effect.  That effect is typically associated with robots, how people’s perception of them rises as their realism improves, then suddenly drops off as people get really creeped out by the tiny inconsistencies.  I’ve also had the same thing with software, where if the replication of an application isn’t exact, the little differences drive you crazy.  You notice all the little things.  At that point it’s better to create something entirely different.

And that was the case with this album.  It wasn’t a live album.  You know you’re getting a different sound when buying a live album.  It was a studio album, but it wasn’t like studio outtakes or demos or alternate takes.  It was just doing it again.  And it wasn’t like redoing it with the intent to improve on it, it was trying to remain faithful to the original.  But it wasn’t.  The production was much more sparse – less overdubs, less polish.  It almost sounded like a MIDI sequence plus guitars, plus the original vocalists.  It was good enough to be recognizable.

I have to say, it’s the strangest CD I’ve ever come across.  I’m torn between throwing it away because of (to borrow the uncanny valley’s terminology) the revulsion at what I was hearing or keeping it because it’s such an oddball recording.

Everything’s A Phone Now

A recent post on a blog I follow informed me that there was a great deal happening on an entry-level, budget Windows Phone – the Lumia 435.  I could pick one up for $30.  That made me pause for a moment.

A brand new smartphone, capable of running Windows 10 Mobile, with expandable memory that can take an SD card up to 128GB.  What if I bought it, never put a cellular SIM in it, maxed out the memory and just used it as an MP3 player?  Huh? What’s stopping me?

Let’s look at some current MP3 players.  They are really dwindling in numbers, because, well, smartphones do everything now.  16GB Sony Walkman – $80.  8GB Sandisk Clip – $35.  160GB iPod – $399.  32GB Zune HD – $275.  This phone – $30.  128GB MicroSD card – $50.  And I don’t even need the 128GB card now.  I have a 32GB card from my old phone.  Consider this a done deal.

So now I have another Windows phone.  It’s going to be my new MP3 player.  And better than other MP3 players, it will do Internet and Bluetooth audio, and games, and whatever else I want (except phone calls).

I began setting it up by installing the 32GB SD card I had around and upgrading the phone to Windows 10.  Boy, what a drawn-out process that upgrade was.  When I was done upgrading, I then uninstalled every app except for the ones I needed – primarily Groove Music.

Ok.  Now, how do I get my music on there?  I keep the music on my computer in WMA Lossless.  That format works with Zune.  But you can’t sync to anything other than a Zune device using the Zune software.  And although I can copy the files right to the phone, I don’t want to use my lossless files since they’re around 25MB per song.  I was dreading the idea of manually transcoding my entire library just to copy it and delete it.  Surely there has to be some software that would automate that.

Enter the old stalwart, Windows Media Player.  This software will not die, nor should it ever die.  Windows Media Player can sync files to another device that is nothing more than a memory card.  And in the process of doing so, it can transcode the files to a different bit rate – Exactly what I need.


Then you choose what you want to put on your device, and drag it to the Sync pane.  Then Windows Media Player just does its thing.


So, with my test using the 32GB card, I got about 40-odd percent of my music on there. There’s some stuff I can take off because it’s not really mobile audio stuff.  I also discovered that Windows Media Player encodes to WMA format, so I probably don’t need a high bitrate of 192k.  192k in MP3 is moderate quality, 192k in WMA is very high quality.  Bringing that down a notch to 160k should reduce the space usage.  And I see I also need to get cracking on cleaning up my album art.

But!  Once that’s all done, I will have a pretty sweet MP3 player, that isn’t a phone, but really is a phone, just not being used as a phone.

Late Night Thoughts (But Torture Is Discussed)

I’m coming down with a cold (I don’t get sick).  Last night was the transition from a scratchy throat to a runny nose.  Obviously, I was kept awake.  During one of my wake-up sessions, I had a thought:  Getting death threats from people could be pretty scary.  But if you got a death threat from a death metal band, I don’t think it would be scary at all.  How could you even take it seriously?

“I’ll rip out your guts!” – Yeah, ok.  I hear ya.

“I’ll murder you while you sleep!” – You said that on your last two albums.

“You will be tortured for years and years!” – Blah, blah, blah.

And threats like that, whether you hear them from a death metal band or from someone who is trying to express how they don’t like you, are, by-and-large, empty.  It’s what I will call a “smorgasbord of torture.”  The person has no clue what they are going to do to you, so they say they’re going to do it all.  Break your legs, crush your skull, rip out your tongue.  Yawn.  Do they even know how much effort those things take?  Do they even know how a body works?  Clearly, you can’t rip out someone’s guts and torture them for years.  It’s not realistic.  And what, in the realm of death metal music, is ever realistic?

Now, what you have to watch out for is someone who makes a threat and then starts making the threat more and more specific and detailed.  This person knows.  This person has a plan.  This person is the one to be feared.

So yeah, I hope I feel better soon.  It’s the holiday season, after all.

Christmas Startup Costs

This is the first year I’m going to be celebrating Christmas.  When I say that, I mean this is the first year I’m going to be doing the traditional tree and trimmings.  In years past, I did a tiny 3-ft, pre-lit artificial tree.  You know, the bare minimum.  I’m approaching this as a multi-year project, building up a little each year.  Maybe next year will be exterior decorations.

The point I’m making is that I’m starting with nothing.  I don’t even think I have a single tree ornament of my own.  So, if you are considering doing your first Christmas, consider this list for the things that you will need.  But, keep in mind, most all of these will be reusable next year, so you can spend a little more and get quality stuff that will last year after year.  Normally, I would factor in whether I wanted to have something new each year and budget for disposable items.  But I think Christmas stuff should have a sense of stability and memories each time they are used.  And if your approach is also a multi-year vision, decide what you want for next year and hit the after Christmas sales.

So, this is what I started with:

Tree Skirt

This was the first advance purchase.  The GF and I were evaluating our options at Old Time Pottery and we found one with the fabric we liked, but not the right colors.  Later, we were at Lowes and saw one we both immediately liked.  We noticed that Lowes’ Christmas supplies were really selling out (impressive), so I grabbed it right then to avoid any remorse over missing something we both agreed on.  Price: $30.

Tree Lights

Wow, so many options.  When I was growing up, we had one option for bulbs.  I think they are classified as C7.  But now, you have the LED lights and all these different shapes and colors.  This is where I had to start thinking.  I could do a themed tree, like all gold or silver or blue, in which case, I’d probably get a single-colored set.  Or, I could go traditional and get the multi-colored sets. 

I like the look of themed trees, but they seem so boring to me.  I wanted a more interesting tree, with ornaments of all different types, to encourage exploration and to capture different moments.  So, the lights I choose will either be multicolored or dual colored.

I started at Lowes.  What the hell.  They’re down to less than a full isle of Christmas stuff.  Less than a full isle! They didn’t have the lights I wanted.  Ok, let’s try Sears.  Sears usually surprises me with prices and selection.  Nope, Sears is down to thin pickings as well. Ok then, I know Target has them because I saw them the day before when I bought my tree stand.

I bought a 200-bulb string and two 50-bulb strings, for a total of $63.  All LED, all sphere shaped.  The 200-bulb is shiny and faceted and the two small strings are solid pearl lights.  That’s about 100 ft of lights, at $.63/ft  Not cheap, but much better than I budgeted.

Tree Ornaments

Consistent with my choice to have a non-themed tree, the ornaments will be a collection of many different shapes, colors, and styles.  One thing I am against, though, is “shatter-resistant” ornaments.  These plastic bulbs with the visible molding seams are cheap and tacky.  I understand their place in families with dumb children, but for the record, I never broke a glass ornament when I was growing up.  And since my household is not and will not be child-friendly, I’m having nice high-quality glass ornaments.  Although, after discussing with the girlfriend, we’re going to have to put shatterproof ornaments of some sort at the bottom to account for curious cat and clumsy dog – their first Christmas with a real tree.

There’s no shortage of variety when it comes to ornaments.  And the prices are all over the place, too.  You’ll probably start with some multi-sets, then in future years, buy unique individual pieces to create memories.

I hit two places at first, Old Time Pottery and Michaels, and got some basic red/green/clear balls and a spire tree topper (which I’ve learned is called a Finial).  Total running cost: $47. Then I did another run at Big Lots, Sears and JCPenney.  The quality is getting better and plenty of diversity.  Total now: $104.  At this point the cat thinks this is going to be the best Christmas ever.


Then I hit Pier 1, Hobby Lobby, Bealls, Target (again), and Michaels (again).  And I think we’re done.  Total: $195.  We did decide to go with the fancy ornament hooks instead of the simple wire hooks.  I have to say, they’re worth the investment, both in looks and usability.

As far as what we ended up with, there’s probably close to 200 ornaments on the tree, between glass balls, icicles, bells, diamond and ruby gems, a few birds, a bird nest, individual personal items, and some novelty items.

The Tree

The tree is going to be a live tree.  The initial reason for this is to have the more traditional experience.  If I find I don’t like it, I can always go artificial next year.  But I think I owe it to myself to try the real tree first.

We went to a tree stand that’s always been coming to town since I can remember: “Booger Mountain”.  We picked out a tree.  A big tree.  8 feet high and dense and wide.  They only took cash, and it was a chunk of cash.  $90.

Tree Stand

Since I’m going natural, I’ll need a tree stand.  I might as well get a nice one.  I had a couple of gift cards from Target, so I figured I’d use them there.  I ended up with a nice plastic stand with an easy watering opening for $20, $10 after gift cards.  I thought that was a good deal until I stopped at Walgreens and saw a stand on clearance for $7.  But what’s done is done.  My stand is good for an 8’ tree.  It did the job just fine.

The Complete Damage

Adding up everything, I’ve spend $390 on this project.  All but $90 will be reusable in future years.  The girlfriend spend $300 on her own exterior home decorating (first year for that, too) and all of that will be reusable in future years.  So, it looks like we’re even.

Finding The Unexpected

My new section here on my blog for the MCA Master Series has all its images backed by my Flickr account.  I’m keeping an album on Flickr for any CD covers that are particularly rare or aren’t available in high quality.  Like I semi-mentioned in my previous post, albums can be re-released by different labels or even by the same label and they may change or update the artwork.  This is rather true for some of the MCA Master Series albums where the artist wants to break free from the consistent design imposed by the label.  So in that case, I feel it’s important to preserve the album art consistent with the version I have, because whenever I search online for the artwork, I get the newest revision.

So, on Flickr, I have all my MCA Master Series covers, along with some others as I’ve been scanning them.  As I was scrolling through the album, I noticed one of the covers had an abnormally high view count relative to my others.  Like a 100:1 difference.  The cover was Albert Lee – Gagged But Not Bound:

So I started to do some research.  I wanted to know who found my scan and what they thought of it, good or bad.  I looked for any Albert Lee fan sites/forums.  I looked for album art blogs, I couldn’t find anything.  I thought maybe it had ended up in Flickr’s Interesting list or maybe a group there.  Nope.

I didn’t have a Flickr Pro account, so I couldn’t see any advanced statistics, like where the traffic was coming from.  After a couple days of searching in vain, I broke down and paid for a Flickr Pro account.  And of course, the stats weren’t historical.  I had to wait for more people to view the image.

A couple days later, I checked up on it and sure enough, I had stats – useful stats.  The cover was being found through Flickr search, not from an external website or search engine.  That’s odd.  Why would they find that image and not any of my others.  Then I drilled in deeper and looked at the keywords being searched.  Oh.

I guess people use Flickr to search for erotic bondage pictures.  Photos involving people being “gagged” and “bound”.  And, among their expected search results, my CD cover scan is in there, and it’s intriguing enough for them to click on.  On one hand, I’m disappointed my stuff is being found in a search for a fetish, and on the other hand, I think it’s surprising that my stuff is actually interesting enough to be viewed in that context.

Triangulating Everything

Today, I drove to lunch taking a back road to avoid the usual stress of traffic and I got to thinking about the tradeoff triangle, you know, Good/Fast/Cheap – pick two.  But that didn’t really make sense for what I was doing.  I was trading time for a better driving experience.  It was something more like Cheap/Fast/Pleasurable. 

I thought I was on to something there.  I tried applying it to some other modern conveniences.  I have someone wash my car every few weeks.  That costs a little, but it also frees up more time for me to do what I want.  That fits.

In fact, there’s a whole lifestyle philosophy that promotes that when you get to a certain level of net worth or earning potential, you need to stop doing some things because it isn’t worth your time (in a somewhat literal sense).  A breakdown of that philosophy may be for a future post.

But what if you enjoy doing something and the cost isn’t important to you?  Like mowing the lawn, you could get someone to do it cheaply, but you enjoy it.  You’re sacrificing time for cost and pleasure.  Ok, that still fits.

What about upgrading to Business Class when flying?  Sacrifice cost for pleasure.  There’s a lot of things you can sacrifice cost for extra comfort.  That’s a common one that fits well.

But the equation doesn’t work for everything.  There are some legitimate sources of tasty fast food, where it’s a balance of cheap, fast, and pleasurable.  So what’s the sacrifice there?  That’s a better fit for the Good/Fast/Cheap equation, where you can usually argue that you’re giving up quality for the others.

I guess we need some definition as to when to use Good/Fast/Cheap and when to use Cheap/Fast/Pleasurable.  It seems G/F/C applies to things you receive and C/F/P applies to things you experience.  Tangible and intangible.

Now I have a problem with Cheap when dealing with experience, because that has a negative connotation.  How about Economical?  That makes Fast stick out, but wow, that’s a hard one to replace.  I can’t think of any -able or -ible terms to fit in there.  That will have to wait.

Great.  I now have a physical and emotional tradeoff triangle for my analytical processes.

A Bottle Sling Design

Many years ago, I was at Disney’s Epcot and I purchased a bottle holder lanyard.  I was fascinated by its simple design.  It’s just a string and a plastic sliding lock to hold the bottle in place.  I searched for a similar lanyard and I was surprised you couldn’t get this design anywhere else.  So I figured I would search for the parts and make some myself and maybe sell them.  Then I found out you couldn’t buy the plastic lock anywhere.  So I put it out of my mind for a while.

Every once in a while, I would look for bottle holders and was always dissatisfied with what I found.  One day I was out on a hike, with my Epcot bottle holder over my shoulder and the idea came to me.  It was such a simple design, I have no idea why I never thought of it before.

I got home from the hike and started prototyping it.  The holder worked very well.  I could make one or two for myself and be happy.  But at the moment, the bigger challenge to me was, can I make them quickly and consistently?  Like if I wanted to really sell them?  So that led me to thinking about automation and harnesses.  The first step would be to make a manual harness for assembly.

Of course, the next day, I decided to search online for my idea and there’s plenty of comparable designs out there.  Not exact, but similar in design and functionality.  So I’m not going to bother with any selling of these.  I may use them as giveaways in geocaches or something.

So, if anyone wants to manufacture these items in quantity, here’s the plans for my harness and instructions on assembly.

To make the harness, you need a block of wood at least 8 inches long, two small headless nails, two small binder clips, and a large paper clip.  Drive the first nail 7.5” from the edge and the other nail 2.5” from the edge.  That leaves 5” between the nails.  The harness is done.  The other pieces are assembly tools.  Bend the paperclip into a J hook.  Use the smaller hook for the J.


To make the slings, you need: a length of paracord, a spool of polyester button/carpet thread, a strong needle (curved if you can get it), and a length of .25” shrink tubing.

To assemble a bottle sling:

Cut a length of paracord to 7.5”.  This length is from the edge of the harness to the far nail.  This is the benefit of a properly-designed assembly harness, it’s also your ruler.  Melt the ends of the cord to prevent unraveling.


Wrap the cord around the nails leaving an equal amount of cord on each end.  Hold the cord in place on the nails using the binder clips.


Stitch the cord together, creating loops at the ends.  You shouldn’t need more than 3-4 stitches to have a durable sling.  Keep the stitches close to the end of the cord to allow a large loop.


Cut two small pieces of shrink tubing – about .75”.  Make a mark in your harness for consistency.


Feed a piece of shrink tubing over the J-hook paperclip tool. 


Hook one end of the sling and using the paperclip as a guide, slide the shrink tubing over the sling’s loop.  The shrink tubing should cover the stitching and the end of the cord.


Shrink the tubing over the stitching and repeat for the other end.


Loop the sling around the neck of the bottle and tuck one loop through the other.


Clip carabineer through end loop to secure sling and attach to anything.


What A Baby

This is rather an oddball post for me, but whatever.  Mid-life, end-of-year, retrospective, introspective bullshit.

I want to think that the old saying, “real men don’t cry” is pretty much obsolete now.  So I feel ok with making a top 5 list of songs that get me choked up.  Sometimes, you just need an emotional release, with all the crap that goes on in our hectic lives.

I can say that I kind of need to be “in the mood” to cry.  Lots of times, I can power through these songs or just not actively listen to the song, or just not think about the meanings I get from it.  There’s plenty of times I hear the song and don’t even register any emotion, but sometimes, it just hits me – as the kids say nowadays – “in the feels”.

So without further adieu:

#5: Steve Morse Band – The Oz.  This one doesn’t exactly make me tear up, but the guitar solo is one that really gets to me.  Not as much anymore, but I remember a time when it was really something powerful for me.

#4: Kansas – Lonely Wind.  This one gets me with the “choir-y” arrangements.  It kind of brings me back to my grandfather’s funeral when I was very young.  Didn’t feel anything throughout the whole funeral until the end, when the choir started singing, then it was over.

#3: Flying Colors – Peaceful Harbor.  Another with choir arrangements and a message about “weathering the storm.” I’m not really sure why the nautical imagery affects me so much.

#2: Rush – Time Stand Still.  A song about getting older and how time seems to speed up.  How we don’t seem to realize how quickly things come and go.  How you should always live in the present and appreciate the current moment.

#1: Indigo Girls – Cedar Tree.  The worst: losing the love of your life.  And worse than Rush’s song, realizing in hindsight that it was “the best you ever had.” But then, it’s too late to appreciate it for what it is, because it’s over.

We Will Beat Any Deal!

A recent forum post was relating a story of how a car sales person defended the use of high-pressure tactics and treating customers like idiots:  The technique will work reliably as long as WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) still has viewership.

Now there’s an idea!  Clearly, the salesman is referring to the fact that the customer will pay extra as long as there is some spectacle involved.  The buyer gives an offer and, pow!  Clothesline!  The salesman falls to the ground, stunned.  The salesman counters the offer and the customer deflects it with a wave of his arm.  The crowd is screaming for the customer to win.  The salesman runs to his corner and tags his manager.  The manager comes out and is immediately knocked to the floor by a demand of an extended warranty!  Such spectacle!  So much glory!

But, through application of standard car sales tactics, like a never ending line of opponents, the customer eventually gets tired and just wants the match to be over.  The dealer wins, again!  But it was a good show, so at least there’s that.