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Tag Archives: technology

Back To The Fringe

It’s been over five years now that I ditched Opera as my browser.  In that time, I’ve been using Internet Explorer and everything has been going quite well.  Believe it or not, I’ve never gotten a virus or malware using IE.  And I’ve also gotten it to do everything that I needed with JavaScript and custom protocol handlers.

Despite this, the writing has been on the wall, in kind of an inverse fade where the message grows bolder as time goes on.  The final straw was when Flickr displayed this message:


So, I guess that’s it.  IE is starting to get the same treatment I was getting when I was using Opera:  You are not welcome here.  So I figured the natural replacement would be MS Edge.  I didn’t like Edge initially because it seemed to be a very stripped down browsing experience.  But then again, it’s been a few years, certainly they’ve made improvements since then?

I launched Edge and immediately got to work writing Extensions (which weren’t supported before) to add the functions I needed.  I was successful converting two of the three functions, so I was satisfied for the time being.  I started using Edge as my default browser.

Within a week, I became disenchanted with Edge.  The thing that kept brewing and finally boiled over was the bookmark management.  Can you believe there is no way to edit a bookmark in Edge?  After over two years, you still can’t edit a goddamn bookmark?  And more than that, the bookmarks aren’t anywhere outside the browser where you can edit them either!  The whole “modern” app design that Microsoft has adopted where everything is self-contained completely works against Edge.  So, I went on the hunt again.

My options were the same as before: Firefox or Chrome.  I’m not using Chrome out of the same distaste for Google that Chrome users have for Microsoft.  Firefox just never seems to have their shit together.  Firefox is a great backup, but I can’t see it as my daily driver.  So, given those two options, I went back to Opera.

No, of course not.  But I kind of did.  I downloaded Vivaldi, which is made by a company of the former Opera owner.  It’s the spiritual successor to Opera.  You want options, you got options.  Everything can be changed, and some in ridiculous ways.  But the things I really needed, Vivaldi gave me.  And it’s built on Chromium, so I get Chrome without being beholden to Google.

If there’s a testament to make here about going back to your home, here’s mine.  I downloaded Vivaldi and started setting it up like I used to when I used Opera.  Within two hours of using the browser, I started using mouse gestures like I was back on the classic Opera browser.  The gestures were already built in (no plug-in needed) and worked just as I remembered them.

My previous post’s argument about having tight integration with the mobile environment turned out to be the biggest letdown, since Microsoft abandoned Windows Phone.  Microsoft seems to be embracing Android, so I guess at some point in the near future, I’ll get some non-Google Android phone and put all the Microsoft apps on it.  but on the desktop environment, I guess I’m going to return to being independent and use Vivaldi.


Stress Previews

One of the best things I have done is to sign up for UPS and FedEx’s package tracking services.  Basically, UPS/FedEx verifies that you own a street address, then every time a package comes in for that address, you get email updates on when the package will arrive and another notification when it is delivered.  It’s great.  Much better than having to get updates from whatever website you purchased an item from.

The USPS also has a service like that, which I also signed up for.  However, USPS has taken that service a step further.  Now they send you a picture of the mail you are getting.  How modern and cool.  It was an opt-in service, to which I opted in pretty much immediately.  What happens is, every day, you get an email with actual pictures of your mail in it.  You can see the from and to addresses and the postage (if you care about that).  You see the entire front of the envelope.  How awesome!

Soon, I started getting emails from USPS with images in them.  I quickly opened up the emails to see what I was getting.  There it is, my soon to be arriving mail!  And I quickly found out, I didn’t care.  Mail is not the same as a package.  And to be honest, I don’t think I would care to see a picture of my in-transit package.  It’s a box with a label on it.  Woo hoo!

Adding to the “don’t care” argument is the amount of junk mail I get.  I don’t get a ton of it, but any junk mail is too much.  Getting an email with a picture of a car dealership flyer is like a double insult.  Now I have to look at the fucking thing twice.  Once in an email and once more as it goes in the trash.  Then, there is this slight problem of my ex-wife’s mail (and junk mail) still coming to my house.  Yes, yes, I know I need to take care of that, but the trash can is sufficient for now.  Still, seeing that mail in advance doesn’t do anything for me.

And lastly, when I see a letter coming from the hospital, that is not marked as pre-sorted postage (i.e. junk), I get slightly freaked out.  Why would they be mailing me something?  Is it a bill?  Is it a late bill?  Have I been found to have a zombie virus?  And I can’t find out right now.  I have to wait.  But I know it’s coming, whatever it is.

Although it doesn’t apply to me at this time, what if my partner was getting mail that I wasn’t supposed to see?  Or vice versa?  That’s a situation I’d rather not deal with.

So, the USPS image preview concept is very cool, as a concept, but it is less than ideal in practice.  Personally, I think the issues outweigh the benefits.  We’ll have to see how long this experiment lasts.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

Never Let Your Guard Down

Today, I learned I had been “hacked”.  I say “hacked” in a figurative sense because there wasn’t really a whole lot of hacking involved.  I somewhat left the door open and someone just fiddled around and got in.

I have my own email server that manages a few domains.  I have one domain I don’t do anything with, and on that one, I had created a couple of test accounts for, well, testing.  The problem is, I never disabled them when I was done.  It’s been a while since I did that, so either I didn’t think about the consequences or assumed that since I was working on an inactive domain, no one would try accessing it.  You can’t assume that.

Since “hackers” just use a bunch of scripts to automate “hacking”, they can just let the scripts run and go eat some more pizza.  And that’s what happened to me, probably.  A script found my domain, then immediately went to work trying out different common username/password combos.  And although I have security features that will temporarily blacklist an IP address after so many failures, that had no effect.  The script will just wait until the ban is lifted then continue on.  Time is not a concern.

So, once they got some working credentials, then it was time to deliver the spam.  And boy did they ever.  I had gigabytes of log files and 22k email messages queued for delivery.  How I learned I was hacked was by chance.  I happened to try sending an email during one of the spamfests and got the email returned with the message:

DED : You’ve reached your daily relay quota

At the time I got that message, I thought it was being returned by the domain I was sending to.  Later, on a whim, I decided to check my own server and was shocked at what I saw.  I immediately shut down the email service and started clearing out all the trash.  Then I changed all the account passwords and disabled all the unused accounts and restarted the server.  The log files showed someone trying to log in using and failing.  Bastards.

It’s my own fault, for sure.  But it’s terrible that you can’t stop being paranoid for a second on the Internet.  They’re always out to get you.

Leasing Your Life

A couple issues came up around the same time, so of course, I feel like I need to give this consideration to see if it’s a “thing” or not.  It’s all about giving up control for various reasons.

The first item is some recent news that people who bought some home automation system called Revolv are going to find themselves out of luck soon because the company that owns them (Google, pretty sure) is shutting it down.  This is ridiculous.  How and why would you ever want such a critical device dependent on another company.  And why would they make a product that couldn’t function on its own?

This seems to be the promise, that you trust a company and they will take care of you and manage everything.  Why is this accepted?  You aren’t buying a product, you’re buying a service.  Yes, that sounds correct, but I don’t think people really get it.  They purchase a physical device and think they own it, but they don’t.  It only works while you keep the subscription active.  In this specific case, the subscription cost is zero, but it can still be terminated at any time.

Along the same lines, I’ve noticed my employer is getting sucked into more and more subscription services and that bothers me.  Our time clock software runs on some other company’s web servers.  Our printers have been outsourced and are managed by an outside company.  Our wireless network is managed through some cloud-based application.  And I hear we are changing our security badge system soon.  I have a pretty good idea how that arrangement is going to be.

So, how vulnerable is my employer to downtime?  After researching the time clock system, I can’t tell if our time clocks will work if there is an internet outage or if the time clock company is down or hacked or out of business.  It’s obvious that we’re paying a monthly fee for this service, but if they go out of business, we have nothing usable.

The printers may continue to function if their company goes under, maybe not.  I don’t know how new users would be granted access to the printers.  The Wireless system is probably the same way.  If the supporting company closes up, we’d probably be frozen in time until we replaced the system.

That’s a lot of trust to be granting to multiple companies.  Gone are the days where you buy something and run it into the ground.  Now everything is subscription based with an unknown lifespan.  It’s a terrible way to live.

More Phones!

A while ago, I had the idea to take a cheap Windows phone and turn it into a dedicated portable media player.  The prime motivator of that idea was cost.  $30 for an electronic device, especially one with a good touchscreen, is pretty unbeatable.  That experience has been pretty much ok.  There’s a few issues that will hopefully be worked out in the future.  But another opportunity came up and I moved on it.  More phones!

The media player phone is a Lumia 435.  The new deal is a Lumia 640, again for $30.  I bought two.  And I still would be getting back the $60 Lumia 640 from the GF when she gets her Sony fixed.  So that’s three phones of the same make and model.  What could I do with them?

The first thing I thought of was home security cameras, but the first idea I could take action on was a car dashcam.  I looked in the app store and found a few free candidates and a few paid candidates.  So I got the free ones and set out to see what it would do.

I purchased a windshield mount and put the phone up under my mirror.  With that and my GPS on the windshield, it looks a little ridiculous.  But it’s not too distracting (at least not doing the day because the polarized screen just looks black with my sunglasses on.  At night, it’s a little more glance-worthy).  The way the dashcam app works is, the camera is constantly recording and discarding video.  It keeps a certain time period in memory at all times.  When you touch the screen to indicate an incident has occurred, the app saves that piece of video to the phone.

In two days of use, I already captured my first incident.  It was a rabbit.  Now I can replay the horrible thumping sounds as many times as I want!  Viva technology!

Maybe This Is A Problem

It’s probably an indication of a problem that I have more phones than hands to hold them.  No, it’s not as bad as it sounds, but it might be becoming a trend.  I had been really good about not buying things I didn’t need and that’s morphing into buying things that would be useful, then into buying things that might be useful.  It’s only a couple steps from buying things that I have no use for.  So, I’m putting myself on notice.

I have five Windows phones in my house.  The first is my ancient Windows 7 phone, the Dell Venue Pro.  It’s a beefy phone and served me well over the years, but it always suffered from a ridiculously poor camera.  The physical keyboard and vertical slider form factor was something I didn’t think I could live without.  Alas, physical keyboards are all but gone anymore (Hi, Blackberry!).  It’s just being kept for nostalgic reasons.

I still have the replacement for the Venue Pro, the Lumia 810 with the shattered screen.  I really don’t need it as a last resort backup anymore, so it will probably be trashed.  It served me very well over the years I had it.

My current phone and the replacement for the 810 is the Lumia 925.  This is an unlocked AT&T phone that I’m using on TMo’s network without any issue.  It’s a nice aluminum phone with a wireless charging shell.  It’s great and all, but looking forward, it’s not on the official Windows 10 Mobile upgrade list, so it would have to be unofficially upgraded with Windows Insider.  It also doesn’t have the specs to run Continuum, which is going to be a big deal in the future.

On a whim, I bought a Lumia 435 for $30 over the holidays.  This is a TMo prepaid phone that I am using exclusively as a music player.  It’s upgraded to Windows 10 Mobile and has a 128GB SD card in it.  it’s tiny and it could be a backup phone if I ever need it to be.  You see, now we’re at the point of “would be useful”.

Then, the step into “might be useful” got me to purchase a Lumia 640 for $60.  This is an AT&T prepaid phone, so I paid an extra $30 for an unlock code so it could be used on any network.  Do I have a need for it?  No.  But I did buy it for the GF to use while her phone (a Sony Z3) was being sent in for repair.  But when I get it back, what will I do with it?  It’s a nice phone – hardware-wise, it’s as good or maybe a little better than my 925.  It doesn’t have wireless charging, but does have an SD card slot.  It also can’t run Continuum.  I guess it’s just going to be a cold spare, waiting for me to drop and shatter my phone again.

With all these phones, I need to be cautious about falling into the gadget trap.  It’s been at least 20 years since I was into buying toys just to see what they would do.  It’s not yet time to get back into that.

Exact Audio Copy Secure Ripping And Image Files

I made a brief comment on this technique in a previous post, but I’m going to expand on it a little more because I tried a practical test of the technique and the results initially seemed valid.

Ok, so you are using Exact Audio Copy to rip your CDs, and you want to make sure they are good rips, but sometimes, you get “Read Error” and even worse, “Sync Error”.  This means you have a problem reading your CDs.  But you look at your CD and it’s pristine.  What’s the problem?

I had this happen on a few CDs and I thought, what if I copied the CD to a binary file, mounted the binary file as a virtual drive, then ripped it from there?  Well, guess what?  That works!  But the skeptic in me wondered why the disc would read as data, but wouldn’t read as audio data.  It’s still reading the bits off the disc, why would one fail and the other didn’t?

So, I needed to prove to myself that a imaged CD was a bit-for-bit copy of the original.  To do this, I decided to rip some imaged CDs with AccurateRip enabled.  AccurateRip creates a checksum from the read data.  The checksum would then be compared against a large database of other known good rips and it would confirm that the results were the same.

So, I chose four CDs from AccurateRip’s Key Disc list and imaged them to files.  I used Daemon Tools Lite for the imaging.  (If you’re going to do this, go to and get an older version of Daemon Tools that doesn’t have the imaging feature removed.  I used v4.45.4 and disabled updates.)  I imaged the discs at 24x speed to lower the chance of read errors. The file format I used was MDX.  ISO would not cut it.  Then I mounted each disc using Daemon Tools to a virtual drive and used Exact Audio Copy to rip the images to WAV.  There is no need to rip to a compressed file because the checksum is calculated from the uncompressed data.

Part of the ripping process in Exact Audio Copy was configuring AccurateRip.  I had to provide three Key Discs for it to properly set the offset for my (virtual) CD drive.  I had four Key Discs, so I was well set.  Ripping from a virtual drive is pretty impressive.  It rips on my computer at 50x, faster than the theoretical 48x max my CD-ROM would do.

Disc 1 results: 8/10 tracks accurately ripped
Disc 2 results: 10/10 tracks accurately ripped
Disc 3 results: 3/9 tracks accurately ripped
Disc 4 results: 5/10 tracks accurately ripped

Not the results I expected.  However, it was curious that discs 1 and 2 were newer discs and 3 and 4 were older discs.  So I grabbed four more CDs, two new, two old, and tried again.

Disc 5 (old): 8/9 accurately ripped
Disc 6 (old): 0/10 accurately ripped
Disc 7 (new): 10/11 accurately ripped
Disc 8 (new): 1/12 accurately ripped

So, that doesn’t help anything, or at least doesn’t prove my hypothesis is correct.  So, let’s rip the physical media and compare it to the virtual rips.  We’ll do discs 5-8 since they’re in front of me.

Disc 5: Virtual 8/9, Physical 9/9.  The tracks that were accurately ripped between the two had the same checksums.

Disc 6: Virtual 0/10, Physical 0/10.  All tracks had matching checksums, just no matching AccurateRip entry.

Disc 7: Virtual 10/11, Physical 11/11.  Same checksums on all successful tracks.

Disc 8: Virtual 1/12, Physical 12/12.  The one successful track matched on checksum.

So what’s the takeaway from this?  It would appear that imaging a CD to a file is the equivalent of ripping a CD in “Burst mode” (as termed by Exact Audio Copy).  This means you may or may not get the exact bytes.  But, when ripping in Burst mode, AccurateRip is not available.  Doing the rip from an image file can get you AccurateRip results for some of the files and will flag others as not accurate.  This way you sort of get the best of both worlds.

But, what you lose is the re-reading attempts that Exact Audio Copy performs in “Secure mode”.  And in those cases, you may be able to salvage a track that might read poorly in Burst mode or through imaging.  Remember, in burst mode, you get one try at reading the data (with error correction).

The important takeaway for me is that imaging a CD makes no improvement.  It’s not going to make the CD any better.  My new plan will be to use Secure mode to rip all the possible tracks, skipping tracks with Read errors, then re-rip the skipped tracks with Burst mode.  That’s the same result as ripping an imaged CD with Secure mode.