A New Piece, And A Little Less Peace

After lunch today, I had the idea to visit the Cash America pawn shop.  I don’t bother much with pawn shops anymore, and it’s rare that I visit them, much less buy anything.  I have the assumption that most everything there is overpriced or has some problem with it.  Although, I do admit, I bought two Wii systems from pawn shops and those have been just fine.  That’s probably my last purchase, a couple of years ago.

So today, I browse around and ended up spying and buying a graphic equalizer for my stereo setup.  It’s made by Technics and is the correct vintage for my CD player.  The model is Technics SH-8017.  The EQ was $25, but was marked down to $20 early for President’s day.  And when I checked out, they made it $20 after tax, so even a little extra. 

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But when I went to check out and pulled out my credit card, they asked for my ID.  I said, "That’s new," and the manager said it was, because, you know.  Yeah, pawn shop.  And then, I was completely set up in their system with an account.  Name, address, phone number, date of birth, the whole works.  To buy something!  midway through, I though this wasn’t worth it for $20 and almost pulled out cash, but also considered, this was going to happen sooner or later and the sooner I can get in the system, I won’t have to do it again.

But what a weird thing, to have to create a customer profile to buy something.  Then again, is it weird?  You do it all the time when shopping online.  It is weird when buying something over a counter.  But is it?  You usually give up all that stuff when you sign up for loyalty or reward programs, too.  And it is a pawn shop, after all.  Everything behind those doors is a strange legal limbo.

But anyway, with all that behind me, I took the device home and plugged it in.  Everything worked quite well.  I noticed no additional noise when running it inline with the Technics CD player.  The only thing wrong with it is it’s missing one rubber foot (not seen in the front right), which I’ll be able to buy replacements for easily enough.  I tested out its capabilities using my CD of ZZ Top – Afterburner, which is notoriously anemic; even more so through the Technics CD Player.  As shown, I simply boosted the lower two bands and that raised the bass level to something more appropriate.

Could I have done the same with the tone controls on my preamp?  Well, yeah, but two things: first, there’s no quick bypass for the tone controls, so I would have to adjust them every time.  With the EQ, I just turn the device off to bypass it.  Second, the bass control is probably centered around a higher frequency than the lowest two bands on the graphic EQ.  That usually causes some "boominess" and is why tone controls aren’t that good for sound shaping.

I recently read a quip from a blogger whose opinion I trust and he said while using studio monitors for music listening (as I do) is fine, they tend to make the music more clinical, whereas normal amps and speakers are designed to reproduce music with a bit more excitement or punch.  So now, I have to consider if I want to go that route and if so, what amp and speakers to get.  My setup has been pretty good to me so far.  I guess it’s time to go to the next level.

Not For A Lack Of Trying

Fresh off my success of building two CD shelving units, I set my sights on what else I could do.  I have plenty of resources available to me in both time and money, so I have a desire to use both of them up.  It’s a well-established habit of mine to try lots of different things and generally abandon them shortly afterwards.  In most cases, the abandonment leaves behind some investments in the hobby.

Looking back, I have some photography equipment sitting idle.  I could certainly pick that back up at any time again.  I have a decent GPS unit from my geocaching times.  I have a vinyl cutter and heat press from the derby days.  I actually have a vinyl sticker designed for one of my cars that I want to cut, but haven’t taken that step yet.  I have a sewing machine that’s been still in the box for months planned to help me hem my curtains and maybe for some other craft projects someday.  I have plenty of power tools, which actually were used in building my shelves.  Do I have all the tools yet?  Of course not.  So when I get a fresh idea, I have to buy the tools to execute that idea.

Before the shelving unit project, I did the most basic of woodworking projects: a rack for my sunglasses.  And when I say basic, I mean it.  Literally, cutting six pieces of wood, sanding the edges and screwing them together to look like:

As time has gone on, I have grown my sunglass collection and outgrown my storage.  Now I need a bigger rack.  Fresh off my success at building shelves, I figure I can build a nicer storage unit.  I did some research and found a design that I like and I should be able to replicate.

To have someone make this for me is $132.  It’s about $10 in wood, if even that.  The construction is interesting, using joints of some kind (dado? box? rabbet?  Hell if I know).  I have plenty of tools, but the ones I have are way too robust for working with wood this thin.  First, using a circular saw on 1/4" plywood would probably just shred it.  A jig saw would probably work, but in both cases, I have to consider that I’m losing a bit of wood each time I do a cut.  When your target size is only a couple of inches and you’re sawing away 1/8", that’s a fair bit of waste.  Additionally, the holes for the joints are pretty precise.  Too much for the jig saw.  I researched using the Dremel for this, and it probably would work, but it’s not the ideal tool for the job.

The answer to these problems is another tool, the scroll saw.  I am actually not a stranger to the scroll saw.  It’s probably the first power tool I ever used, way back when I was probably about 10 years old.  Maybe I used a power drill first, but the timeline is really close.  I have no idea how the Craftsman scroll saw came to the house or if it was even meant for me.  I can’t imagine my dad bought it for himself.  Regardless, my parents had just had the kitchen flooring redone so there was a lot of scrap wood around that I was able to saw up into nothing of any interest, since I had no goals or plans.  But I did learn how to use the saw, so I will be able to apply that old, old knowledge for this project.  Humorously enough, at the time, I never knew what the saw was called, so when I eventually broke all the blades, I couldn’t get any replacements because I couldn’t explain the device to the hardware store people.  All they offered me were jigsaw blades.  And with no blades, that ended my time with the scroll saw.

Scroll saws don’t have to be expensive, but they can be.  I bought the cheapest one I could find for $115 since I was not someone who would require a $500 tool to make a $10 sunglasses case.  The other tools I would need are a drill and I think I’ll be using files to square off the holes and make the openings precise.  I have both of these needs covered. 

While I’m waiting for the saw to be delivered, I planned out my design.  The design I’m copping needed the sizes boosted a little bit to accommodate the cases my glasses would be stored in.  Even so, I can still get all the pieces out of one 24"x24" sheet of wood, with a second sheet for the back.  Total size: 14" x 14.75".

So, to recap.  This is a $132 handmade item.  I’m spending $115 on a new tool and maybe $10 in wood.  I’m going to spend less money, test and expand my crafting skills, plus acquire a tool that I can use at any point in the future (like my camera, GPS, vinyl cutter, or sewing machine).  That’s what a hobby should be about – acquiring skill and junk.

Banks Still Gonna Bank

I’m personally sitting pretty well when it comes to my financial house.  I’ve mentioned changes I’ve made here and there and for quite some time, I’ve been satisfied with what I’ve got.  In summary, where I’m at right now is: Ally handles all my savings accounts needs.  They pay 1.6% interest (right now.  It’s been slowly dropping again.)  T-Mobile (through Customers Bank) handles my checking.  They pay 4% interest on up to $3k in my account and 1% on the rest.  That’s a pretty nice deal, especially as rates keep dropping elsewhere.  Looking at the interest rate history, we’re back where we were two years ago, after peaking in December, 2018.

So, it’s always good to be vigilant and keep an eye open for what may be better for you in your current situation.  Although this hasn’t affected me, it’s still an irrational issue for me that I don’t have a presence at a physical bank.  To repeat, I haven’t needed the services of a physical bank in many, many, years, but I still feel like I should have an account at one.  So every once in a while, I give it consideration.

An offer came in the mail from TD Bank, which opened a branch nearby me recently.  Recently – in bank years – is like in the last decade.  I’ve always been intrigued by them, and I do have a IRA account with TD Ameritrade (although I’m not sure they’re actually related), so when I saw the offer, I figured I’d investigate.  After all, they’re offering a signing bonus of $150 or $300, and who doesn’t want free money?

Let’s start with their top-tier account and see if I can get in.  No minimum deposit to open an account (I don’t even know what that means – how do you open an account with no funds?).  Monthly maintenance fee: $25.  in the old days,  that actually meant something, but now it just means you need to see if you can meet the criteria to get it waived.  It’s almost a pointless charge.  If you don’t meet the waiver criteria, you don’t get that account.  Duh.

So, to waive the fee, I need either: $5k in direct deposits a month.  Oh.  Well, that’s quite a number.  What else you got?  Keep a $2,500 daily balance.  Well, you know I had that at my last bank and it is doable, but are you going to pay me 4% interest on it like T-Mobile is?  Not likely.  Finally, I can have $25k in accounts with TD.  They didn’t mention TD Ameritrade, only loans and deposit accounts, so that could be my ticket in, if that’s the case.

I visited their "Contact" section and their immediate response options were limited to social media or calling.  I wasn’t going to call for a 5 second question, so I sucked it up and used Facebook Messenger to ping them for an answer.

While I wait, let’s see what benefits I get for my account.  No ATM fees, free money orders, cashiers checks, blah, blah.  It looks like I could have a free account…  And now "Marie" has messaged me back, with essentially a copy/paste of the text I already read.  So I have to be more specific in my question.  Is a brokerage account with TD Ameritrade considered a "deposit account"?  And the answer is: no.  TD Bank and TD Ameritrade are separate and their accounts don’t count towards each other.  So TD Bank is not for me.  And it didn’t offer anything compelling anyway.

But, let me jump back just a little bit.  When the TD Bank first opened in my area, I remember being impressed with their choice to have banking independent from investment.  I thought it was the proper thing to do, unlike what, say, Wells Fargo does (as if WF does anything properly).  I still do think that.  But, after looking into their service offerings, I’m just not their target audience.  There are better deals from online banks and the benefits of being physical just aren’t there.  And maybe, maybe… I could be convinced that having my banking under the same umbrella as my retirement investment account is a good thing, then maybe things would be different.  But right now, I think keeping things apart is best, especially in the growing swell of deregulation and financial insanity.

Class Action Pennies

A couple of years ago, I wrote about a class action lawsuit in which I was a participant.  The end result of that was me dropping out because I had to provide proof of my involvement, which I could have, but it was more effort than I wanted to expend for my “up to $900”, but realistically more like $5 award.

And now today, I get an email about the Yahoo security breach class action lawsuit.  Oh boy, this should be expensive.  Scanning the email quickly for numbers, I find that the settlement is for $117 million.  Nice.  Now, how many potential claimants?  Oh… 3 billion.

Quick, what’s the math on this?  About four cents per claimant.  Well, I guess that’s something.  And what, perchance, are the lawyers fees for the case?  $30 million, plus an extra $2.5 million for expenses (postage for 3 billion $.04 checks=$900 million, FYI).  Oh, and the expenses.  Some people endured a greater hardship to prove the culpability of Yahoo, and those people will get awards of $2,500, $5,000, or $7.500.  I did not see in a quick scan of the online documents how many people this award pertains to, but there are six plaintiffs.  When talking in millions of dollars, 4-figure awards are a rounding error.

So, let’s round down to the nearest million for the post-lawyer-payday settlement pool, which is now $84 million.  And now, each claimant is due at least 2.8 cents.  I would round that up to 3 cents, but that’s $6 million of rounding that we just don’t have the funds for.  Sorry about that.

Breadcrumbs

On an online forum where I browse, someone had posted a gripe suggesting that everyone that posts should have to provide a minimum amount of information in their post.  The gripe was directed at people who were posting pictures of 2 or 3 CDs with a title like "What I bought today".  To the griper, posts like these were useless and added nothing to the community.  Many of the replies to the gripe were of the mindset, "let people do what they want", which I agree with.

Although I didn’t reply with my comments, I did try to understand and consider the problem without simply thinking, "let them be".  I mean, if they’re being stupid, why are they being stupid?  Is there a valid reason for them to make such a minimal post?  The rationale I came up with is that the post isn’t for everyone, it’s just for them.

The community I am referring to is Reddit, which can certainly be classified as "social media".  As is my standard for anything social media, I don’t participate much.  But this isn’t about me.  Most people have made their primary choice for social media, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, WordPress, or many others.  Their chosen platform is where they document their life, at least the parts they want to share publicly.  Basically, it’s where they leave their breadcrumbs to look back on later to see how their life was in a specific time period.

So these posts that people are making with their recent purchases, they’re nothing more than a status update or a tweet.  And in Reddit, they can use subreddits as categories, to classify and group their different activities.  It’s a different application of the platform, and one that probably differs from those that want Reddit to be a discussion forum.  That difference leads to griping that the majority of posts are uninteresting to some people.  It’s probably not a surprise to observe that these are younger people making these status posts, where it’s older Reddit users complaining about the lack of discussion.

But yeah, look at me.  I could have put all this explanation in a reply on that thread, which would have spurred discussion and conversation.  Instead, I make a post in my little private-public journal, where no one can respond to me and start any conversations.  Am I any better?  Well, I’d never suggest something like that.

Farewell MegaBenno

My homebrew CD storage shelving has hit capacity, so it’s time to replace it.  It’s never been an attractive solution, although you might not notice it from the tiny pictures.  Last night, I did the unloading of all the contents in preparation for the construction and installation of unit #1 of 2 of the next solution.

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All the CDs got stacked up under my stereo table temporarily.

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The original capacity of the MegaBenno was over 2,000, but changes during construction meant I ended up with less shelves and I maxed out at about 1,700.  For the cost of the materials, it wasn’t a very cost-effective solution.  I could have purchased a massive unit that held 1,500 for a little more than half the cost.  But, the project was also an exercise in building and assembly, much as the next version is a continuation of that experience.

What I’ve Heard Thus Far

I had mentioned in a previous post that I had a thing for buying cheap CD players, the reason for such was to compare the sound of each and see if I was able to hear any real difference between makes and models.

Well, this is what I’ve got in my collection right now:

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From top to bottom:

  1. Technics SL-P330
  2. Scott D980
  3. JVC XL-V311
  4. Onkyo DX-701

Of these four players, the ones that get the most play are the Technics and the JVC.  The JVC has a little bit better bass and the Technics, in the opposite way, has a brighter sound.  The other two, the Scott and the Onkyo, have a similar sound, which I feel is a little dulled.  The Scott has an additional handicap in that the display can display either the current track or the track time, but not both simultaneously.  All but the Onkyo have support for indexed tracks, and the JVC will show the current playing track and index.  I have yet to find one of my CDs that has indexes, though.  Still looking…

All four have headphone jacks; the Technics and the Onkyo have headphone volume controls, which is great.  All but the Onkyo can be run by remote control, and I purchased remotes for the Technics and JVC.  In both cases, the remotes were twice as much as I paid for the player.

And on the subject of cost, each player cost me less than $10, and each player was originally $150-$300 when new, so this is not an expensive endeavor.

Wasteland, 2020

Another undesired journey to the wasteland of my home town.  Have to keep up appearances with family and whatnot.  Really, it was just for my mom’s birthday and she’s old enough that she didn’t even remember me saying I was going to come up back when we talked on Christmas.

I left on a Friday with my flight scheduled for 8:00.  I figured I could leave my house at 6 and get to the airport by 7 and have plenty of time.  That is until traffic happened.  Friday morning commuter traffic, which occurs earlier than I expected.  Add to that stress was the realization that I had forgotten who I rented my car from, so I had to remotely connect to my home computer from a 7-11 parking lot to ease my mind.  That lost me about 15 minutes.  Add to that the realization that 8:00 is the flight departure time and boarding begins at 7:30.  With some aggressive driving, a bit of luck, and the decision to park at the terminal instead of the satellite lot, I made it into the airport at 7:15.

Now, security.  I never have any good luck with security because I don’t fly enough to remember all the bullshit.  So once again, I got felt up because I left my wallet and a handkerchief in my pocket.  One part of me just thinks, "whatever", but when I really think about it, this is really fucking incredible that we’ve allowed this to become normal.

The flight was uneventful and I was in my rental in short order.  I was very pleased to see that I could see lots of green as we were coming in to the airport.  No snow cover… yet.  The weather was planned to get much worse over the next couple of days while I was there.  My rental had GPS, so I put in my destination and let it guide me.

It guided me wrong.  Well, the route would have worked, but it wasn’t the path I wanted and I was expecting to pass by an outlet mall where I could pick up a gift for my mom and have a good meal.  Also, it routed me on a toll road and I wasn’t up for paying cash at toll booths – so 20th century.  So I pulled off the interstate and set a new destination for the outlet mall I wanted to visit.

The route I was then sent on took me through small towns and back routes I’d never seen or heard of.  And while I drove through these communities, I felt a strange sense of something, not melancholy, but more like disappointment.  I’d lived in that area for so many years and yet I’d never explored any of these places.  Granted, there wasn’t really much to see in these tiny places, but they were interesting in their own way.  I eventually reconciled the feeling with the understanding that in my youth, I drove places to get somewhere.  There wasn’t time for exploring – that would have been time wasted.  So it kind of struck me odd that I’m at a point in my life where I have more free time and ambition to do more things.

After an excellent and much-needed lunch, I walked through the outlet plaza.  It’s in the mid 20’s outside.  I have my leather jacket on over a t-shirt, and I put on my 180’s for extra warmth.  They performed well.  I had decided that I wanted to buy some decent gloves while in the cold region, and the first place I stopped, Timberland, had them.  $10 on sale.  Yes, gimme.  Then I walked onward and found the Columbia store.  I thought they might have a nice throw blanket for my mom and while browsing, I saw more gloves, better gloves.  $9 on sale.  Yes, gimme.  And behind the counter they had a special on fleece throws.  Yes, gimme.  My shopping was done.

Kinda done.  I was lamenting that I left my sunglasses in my car back at the airport, so I figured I’d at least look in Sunglass Hut to see if there’s anything that would suit me.  I am very particular about sunglass styles, despite that I was once told that there isn’t a pair of glasses that doesn’t look good on me.  I walked out of the store with a new pair of Ray Ban polarized glasses because, why not?  despite having 2 pairs of gloves, the glasses are the only purchase I regret from my trip because I never used them again, because the sun never came back.

The next day, I woke up to a fair covering of snow on the car and the roads.  It took me only a few minutes to get my snow feet back and remember how to accelerate and brake on slick roads.  And with the snow mixing with sleet and rain, I made my rounds to the thrift shops of the area.  I also picked up some candy and a birthday cake and card.  By lunchtime, I had acquired 6 new CDs and was enjoying a couple of hot dogs and pretzels at a local convenience store.

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True to my designated moniker, I made mental notes of the changes in the wasteland.  K-Mart closed.  A couple of fast food places opened or remodeled.  Still no chain restaurants.  The Salvation Army thrift store closed.  How bad does a place have to be for that to happen?

The birthday visit was pleasant and so then all that was left was to get back home.  Again, my flight was at 8:00.  Travel time to the airport was about 90 mins, but the roads would probably be frozen overnight.  I gave myself extra time and set my alarm for 4:30, to be on the road by 5 and to the airport by 7.

The drive to the airport was sort of surreal.  There’s not a lot of traffic up in that area anyway, but at 5 in the morning, there’s no one.  And the roads are completely snow covered, so it’s a game of "whose lane is it, anyway?"  45 mph in a 70 was pretty standard for the early drive, but as I got further south, everything improved until I was finally driving on dry, clear pavement.

Again, security.  I was assured this time I wasn’t going to mess anything up.  I was adamant I was going to pass right through.  I only had one concern:  I had a couple of open boxes of candy in my bag.  Like I said, I don’t fly enough to know all the bullshit, so it was my understanding you can’t take any open food through security.  So in the back of my head, I half-expected to get pulled aside and told to throw it away.  $20 of candy, gone.

When I got to the airport, not late, but pushing it, I got to the security line, which was much longer than I experienced when I came up.  The line was about 15 minutes and I checked and rechecked my pockets and everything, multiple times.  I tried asking one of the agents if my bin looked ok but he didn’t care.  And for all that preparation, I passed!  No touchy-feely this time, and I got to keep my candy.  I felt like I cheated the system.  It really is fucked up that this is what is normal.

Uneventful flights back south and I was met with typical bullshit traffic on the drive home from the airport.  A greeting I should have expected.  I’m good for a few more years.

Wasting Money On A Silly Idea

Well, that was a quick failure.  My previous idea, which was to use older technology to gain access to some data that seemed out of reach, was ill-informed.  Before I even got all the pieces of my $16 project, I figured out how to accomplish what I needed with what I had already.

To start, I was under the impression that my hardware could not read subchannel information from audio CDs.  This is false.  I just need the right software.  And the software was what was causing all of my misconceptions.  I use Exact Audio Copy (EAC) for my CD ripping.  There is an old version, specifically v .95 prebeta 3, that had a feature that would let EAC do direct reading of the track data, which would include the subchannel information.  Because of some legal ramifications of doing so, this feature was removed from prebeta 4 and all future versions of EAC.

I had acquired a copy of prebeta 3 and initially was not able to get it to launch.  Then, I was able to get it to start up by running it in administrator mode.  But then, it wouldn’t recognize when a CD was inserted in my drive.  So, since prebeta 3, code has been improved for things that are essential to its operation on modern operating systems, but code has been taken away for the feature that I needed.  In short, EAC is not going to accomplish what I need under any hardware configuration.

There is another, more modern, ripping tool called CUERipper, which is part of the CUETools suite.  I tried this tool briefly, but did not like the way it handled the ripped files, for one reason or another.  Instead, I kept using EAC.  But now, upon another evaluation, CUERipper will read the actual track data in the same way that EAC refuses to do.  And it does read the subchannel data, which is what I really needed.  That means, CUERipper is the software that I need and all that old hardware is unneeded.  All to waste, I guess.

Still, CUERipper is an inelegant tool and it doesn’t do things the way I want.  However, it is open-source software, and it is actually programmed in .NET.  That means I have the ability to actually change the program to do exactly what I want, how I want it.  And so that is the future plan.  The next few days I won’t be able to do any work on this, but after that… I’ll be able to make my own custom ripping software.  How awesome.

Some small part of me is actually considering re-ripping my entire collection again.  Why?  Well, over time I have replaced CDs here and there but may or may not have ripped the disc that is actually on the shelf.  So I can be sure that my digital collection is out of sync with my physical one.  That effort remains a wait-and-see.

The Collection, 2019 In Review

I was browsing through some old blog posts and I found that in January last year, I had a year-by-year analysis of my CD collection, so I figured it would be a good time to see how 2019 added to the pile.  As a quick recap, I added to my collection each year:

2016: 207 new
2017: 254 new
2018: 327 new

And in 2019, I added 262 new items.  Not as aggressive as 2018, but I can understand why.  Last year, I sort of struggled finding stuff that I actually wanted to buy.  I was interested in filling gaps in my collection as opposed to growing it in new directions.  It’s the year I made peace with the idea that my collection is going to be incredibly focused on 1980’s releases.  Not that that’s overly limiting, because there’s a lot of sub-genres to explore and there’s a lot of music available in just that decade.

Also, I was focused a bit more on adding collectables, like target CDs and gold CDs from Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs.  Purchases like these are not your $1-2 thrift store buy (unless you’re lucky).  As my list of wanted target CDs shrinks, the availability of those CDs shrinks accordingly and the prices increase accordingly as well.  So, spending upwards of $25 for a target CD I want isn’t unheard of.  Gold CDs I have always held a price cap of $30, although I did pay $50 for one that I felt was a sure buy.

So at this point, I have 82 target CDs (excluding duplicates) and I have 18 gold CDs.  These numbers grew substantially in 2019 – I added 8 gold CDs alone.  I expect this segment to continue to grow in 2020, which will continue to add significant and durable value to the collection (spoken in my CFO earnings-call voice).  No one should ever collect anything as an investment, however, you can be intelligent with your purchases and buy quality when you can – a balance of quantity and quality will satisfy everyone.  When it comes time to divest the lot, separate the rare from the common and liquidate each group appropriately.

On the topic of breadth, I did discover more smooth-jazz artists to add to my stable.  It all fits together that early CD adopters were more affluent, the technology was more expensive, and their tastes were more refined (or snooty, if you think).  So there are a lot of jazz titles available in the early 80’s.  And because the 80’s were an era of early synths and drum machines – sounds that are now generally despised – you can find albums in this genre quite cheaply.

2020 is hopefully going to be another year of quality.  The quantity is already there.