Category Archives: Ideas

It’s Never Been A Better Time To Buy…

…from someone other than Amazon.

It was about a year ago I had made a post about how I’ve wanted to try and reduce my dependency on Amazon.  For the most part, I feel like I’ve been successful.  Sure, there are still things I buy from the empire, usually quick-need things or small trinkets that they’ll ship free where other places couldn’t be bothered with such a small order.  Seriously, I’m buying an electrical wall plate for $2.50 and you’re going to drive it to my house, tomorrow, for free?!  That’s just dumb.  But I’m sure they’re getting it back somehow.

Anyway, since everyone is stuck at home, Amazon is the place for supplies now, right?  And everyone is also trying to scratch their consumer itches, too, so there’s Amazon, again.  But, if you do your research every time, you might just find that there are other options that are just as good and many times better than the empire.  Let me illustrate.

Example 1.  I’ve been without a microwave for quite some time now, maybe 8 months.  How I’ve survived without my dedicated popcorn maker, I don’t know.  But I figured enough is enough.  I want popcorn.  So I went on the hunt for a microwave that was simple and basic-duty.  The options: Amazon, Target, Sears, and Lowes.  Because I’m a brand whore, my preferred brands were Panasonic and Kenmore, which ended up excluding Target and Lowes.  But would you guess?  The winner was Sears.  Sears!  And get this – no free shipping!  But, even including the shipping (a whopping $15), the price was the same as Amazon and I still got it in two days.  Who says only Amazon can do that shit?

Example 2.  I’ve had some stereo speaker stands on my Amazon wish list for some time, just waiting for the right time to make that move.  Today, I decided to make that move.  The stands are made and sold by Monoprice, and sold through Amazon (as well as through their own website).  The stands on Amazon?  $76 each.  The stands on Monoprice?  $55.  Both with free shipping.  I work at a company that sells some product through Amazon and I know it’s not exactly a win-win to make a deal with the devil.  You may gain a lot of eyeballs, but your profit margin is going to suffer greatly from the cut they take. 

And that leads me to example 3.  eBay has become my primary Amazon alternative.  Just some simple hair product purchased today.  $18 at Ulta, $12 at Amazon, and $10 on eBay.  Ok, so I’ll get 3-day instead of 1-day delivery from eBay, but this isn’t a need-now product.  More importantly, I think it’s important to buy from eBay because it’s smaller retailers or even individuals doing a hustle.  You’re more likely to be helping people than a company.  And while eBay is a company and yes, they do take fees for their service, it’s not a egregious as the empire.  Plus there’s the whole flea-market atmosphere which has a slight appeal to me.  There’s less Ai involved, so when you find something you like and a great price, it’s because you’re smart, not because the empire’s computer knows everything (fucking EVERYTHING) about you and tossed you a biscuit.

And speaking of eBay, I need to go now and buy the stereo stand that is also in my Amazon wish list.  Same product, same price (actually 9 cents cheaper on eBay), free shipping.  Why not patronize the little guy?  Make them happy in these bleak days.  Amazon is going to do just fine.

That Dream When I Was A Friend

A few nights ago I woke up from a dream.  In the dream I was a Friend.  I was on the Friends sitcom and my brain was writing an episode for me.  This is what I remember from it.

Rachel was complaining about how every time she goes out to eat at a restaurant, the experience sucks.  Her food is never prepared right, the service is bad, everything.  Phoebe, Chandler, and I decide to go to a meal with her to see this first-hand.  At the restaurant, I notice that Rachel is getting some covert attention from the men and I suggest to her that maybe people are just intimidated by her looks.  She says she doesn’t get it.  I say, "maybe you’re too attractive for the public good."  Chandler of course takes the opposing viewpoint with sarcastic comments and Phoebe makes a non-sensical comment.  So far, my brain isn’t working all that hard at developing a script.  This is the standard Friends formula.

The waiter takes our orders.  Phoebe, then me, then Chandler, and as Rachel starts her order, the waiter starts collecting our menus and only partially paying attention to her.  When she is done, the waiter takes off without even acknowledging her order.  Rachel makes a "see?!" motion and we all mutter in agreement.  So it turns out that attractiveness is not Rachel’s problem.  We determine it’s that she’s just too particular about her order and the staff can tell she’ll be a high-maintenance customer and tune out.

Towards the end of meal, Rachel brings up the point about her attractiveness and her intimidation factor and gets an idea.  When the waiter comes back over for refills and is helping everyone else and ignoring her, she demands his attention. 

"Hey, what’s your name?"

"Matt," the waiter replies.

"Matt, I’m Rachel.  Would you like to go out on a date tonight?"

The waiter is startled and embarrassed, but sheepishly agrees.  Rachel writes her phone number on a napkin and says, "Call me after your shift."  The waiter takes the napkin and immediately refills her water and leaves.  Rachel motions to the water glass and to the waiter with a "See?" expression.  More muttered agreement.

The next day it is learned that Rachel and the waiter did go on a date and hooked up.  Rachel makes a cringey comment about "service."  Rachel, Joey and Chandler decide to go to the restaurant the next day, assuming the service will be good.  At the restaurant, Matt is not working.  However, Rachel is getting excessive service from all the male staff – bread, water refills, "everything ok?" checks.  And everyone that stops by to help her is sure to mention their name clearly.  It’s clear that Matt has spread the word to everyone how he hooked up with her.  Rachel is enjoying the attention, oblivious as to why, but Chandler is being very suspicious and is especially wary about the head waiter in particular who he describes as "Stalker-pro".  Chandler makes his point in Chandler fashion by reiterating his observations five different ways.

Rachel gets up to go to the restroom and stalker pro comes over to the table.  He strikes up a fake conversation and casually asks what Rachel’s name is.  Joey answers, "Rachel" and Chandler gives him a fierce look.  Stalker pro is called away by another waiter and Chandler hisses at him that this guy is definitely stalking Rachel and don’t give him any more information.  Stalker pro comes back and apologizes.  He clarifies her name is Rachel and asks what her last name is.  Joey starts to say, "Gree" and Chandler kicks him under the table.  Joey pivots and finishes with "Greetings".

"Her name is Rachel Greetings?", Stalker pro asks.

Chandler and Joey both confirm it, to stalker’s confusion.  Just then Rachel returns from the bathroom and stalker welcomes her.  "Hello, miss… greetings."

Rachel looks a little confused and replies, "Greetings." and Joey and Chandler both exclaim, "Greetings!"  Stalker is as confused as ever and leaves.

At the end of the meal, Rachel is thrilled by how everything has been perfect and how much attention she has gotten.  When the check comes, delivered by stalker, she offers to pay.  "I’ll just put it on my card."

Stalker looks a little victorious and says, "May I see your ID?"  As Rachel starts to instinctively look for her ID, Chandler interrupts, "No, we can’t let you pay for this meal!" And what follows is formula Friends – Joey and Chandler making up a reason why Rachel can’t pay for the meal that of course makes no sense.

And that’s when the dream started to fall apart.  Probably due to the lack of anything interesting coming out of my brain.  This stuff sort of writes itself.

Failure May Be An Option

There’s really a stigma against failure, especially in America.  It is expected that you keep trying until you succeed, regardless of the consequences of doing so.  While my tale of defeat is nothing of consequence, with little to really be lost from non-success, it kind of makes me sad for people who are not given the opportunity to fail.  And further, to even classify the result as failure when it really should not be.

A week or so ago, I replicated a piece of artwork I have in my house, using my CD collection instead of the cassette tapes that were used in the art.  The picture of the CDs turned out pretty good, I thought, and I was inspired to grow it to a massive scale.  Where my original picture had maybe a couple hundred CDs featured in it, I wanted to scale it up to most of my collection, somewhere on the order of 1500+ CDs.

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Over a series of nights, I spent my time placing the CDs in the pattern on the floor.  Keeping the pattern correct and also trying to make sure the CDs varied enough in their grouping was a little arduous.  But, I did persist and came up with a very large, organized mess of CDs.  Then the challenge became how to capture it.

I have a fair collection of photography equipment and so I was able to do some experimentation.  Experimentation was all I could do because I really had no idea how to accomplish the task.  The first attempt was to capture as much as possible in one picture.  I held the camera above the arrangement using a tripod and the self-timed shutter.  This kind of worked except when you would zoom in, you couldn’t read any of the CD spines.  So, in other words, it didn’t work at all.

The real solution would be to take multiple photos and stitch them together.  So, that was my next attempt.  I scanned one row of CDs and took a series of pictures, then took them to the computer to mate them up.  That proved to be very difficult because each picture had to be adjusted to compensate for rotation and zoom and also lighting.  This was proving to be a non-solution as well.  I had a massive number of CDs arranged on my floor and I was running out of ideas to photograph them.

Since the problem with my stitching/panorama concept was consistency, I came up with the idea that I could build a trolly-type of rig to suspend the camera over the arrangement.  This would keep the camera at a constant height and angle where each picture would be the same.  It was a pretty clever idea and made me feel pretty inventive.

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So I went to work assembling the rig and shot the first row of CDs.  I took the pictures to the computer and stitching them was actually pretty simple.  This was promising.  I evaluated the size of the arrangement and determined I would have nine rows of photos to stitch up.  This would take days, certainly.  But that’s ok, as long as I made progress.

I shot the second row of photos and brought them in for stitching.  Suddenly, things weren’t lining up anymore.  The first couple photos worked out, then all of a sudden, the scale didn’t fit any more.  Thinking I must’ve shifted the camera somewhere along the way, I re-shot the row of photos.  Again, at the same place, the photos failed to line up.  I wasn’t sure if it was the first row of photos that were somehow misaligned and causing the second row to not match up, or maybe it was just something that was intrinsic to the photos themselves.  I was noticing there was a slight fish-eye effect from the 35mm lens I was using, so the CDs on the periphery of the photos were skewed from the ones in the center.  As I would line up the images on the outer edges, they would be distorted from the ones trying to be matched in the center.

At this point, I had had my CD collection completely dismantled, on the floor, for a week.  This was causing me a little bit of stress.  I was unable to use my listening room for any listening because the floor was consumed with this arrangement.  I was adding new CDs to my collection, but they were in a separate stack, not integrated yet.  My patience was running low, and my prospects of success were low as well.

The next thing to attempt would be to use my 50mm lens on the camera, which wouldn’t fish-eye as much, but that would take much closer images of the CDs, unless I built the rig even higher up, which I wasn’t too keen to do.  So, I accepted failure and began the process of dismantling and reorganization.

And the point here, accepting failure, is the key.  "Failing", or "giving up", is not a bad thing.  There are plenty of other phrases that exist to make yourself feel better about the situation, like "cutting your losses", and something about "reward vs. effort".  those phrases get closer to the reality of the situation.  Right now, this is not something I want to tackle.  It was a good idea, and one I may revisit in the future with an improved vision and more commitment, but I want a return to stability.  There would be no way I could clear my mind enough to consider any means of improvement with everything all out like that.

In the next iteration, if there is one, I would definitely test out some techniques on smaller arrangements, instead of committing fully to a full collection dissection.  That was days of effort to dismantle and it will be days to reassemble, too.  So until next time, fail on.

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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.

Spending Money On A Silly Idea

One of the more dangerous things in this world is a man with extra time and extra money.  A danger to himself and to the world at large.  If it’s not an actual, you know, danger, then it’s just stupidity – a different kind of danger.  Semantics aside, I have some extra time and some extra money and wanted to get an answer on something.  With the entire knowledge and experience of the Internet failing me, or at least failing to convince me, I set out to get my own answer.  Am I going to change the world with my soon-to-be-found knowledge?  Fuck, no.  It’s so trivial, it hardly even matters to anyone.

To even appreciate what I am seeking, you have to be pretty involved in my hobby of CD collecting.  If you’re not, then the rest of this post won’t even really interest you.  Further, you have to be fairly experienced with technology and computers, otherwise, this won’t really make much sense.  So, warnings provided, now for the explanation.

In the early days of CD manufacturing, some CDs were pressed with “pre-emphasis”, which is a special equalization.  CD players as part of their manufacturing specification had to be able to detect pre-emphasis and apply a reverse equalization (de-emphasis) when playing back these early CDs.  Sounds pretty simple, right?  Over time (actually very quickly), pre-emphasis use was discontinued, so all CDs today don’t have pre-emphasis anymore.  That’s fine for the general public, but somewhat of a nuisance for early CD collectors like myself.

Now that you understand the situation, here is the problem in a nutshell: CD players – and especially computer CD-ROMs – do not have the capability to detect pre-emphasis anymore.  So if you play back an early CD, you do not get the corrective equalization applied to the music, which makes it sound thin and harsh.  This also applies to CDs that you rip on your computer.  There are software plug-ins that can apply de-emphasis to the files after they have been ripped, so the problem can be somewhat mitigated.  But aside from using your ears, because the CD-ROM cannot detect the pre-emphasis, you can’t know for sure if the CD you ripped has pre-emphasis.  Again, not a problem for anyone but early CD collectors.

And so what I am looking to know is:  I want to be able to detect pre-emphasis on CDs in my computer.  Thus, my project.

I’ve discussed the CD history, now for the computer history.  Early computer CD-ROM were literally mini-cd-players.  They had a headphone jack and a volume control and some even had a play button in addition to the eject button.  Additionally, on the back of the drive, there was a jack to run the audio from the CD drive to the computer’s sound card.  These old drives played audio CDs in analog.  They had build in DACs (digital-to-analog converters), but you can be pretty certain they were not of the quality found in home stereo CD players.  Still, because they were doing the digital conversion, they also had to support handling pre-emphasis.

As technology moved on, pre-emphasis was no longer a concern and also, Windows began reading the audio from CDs digitally.  So drive makers dropped the headphone jack, dropped the DACs and dropped analog output completely.  It made the devices cheaper and audio could be read at the drive’s full speed instead of the 1X speed of analog.  Technologically, a great step forward.  But in the process of simplifying the device, they removed the capability to read pre-emphasis at all – it wasn’t needed.

But now, I want to get an old CD-ROM that has a DAC and analog output so I can hopefully detect pre-emphasis when ripping a CD.  The problem is that all those old drives use the IDE interface, which is long, long obsolete.  Computers now use the SATA interface.  But that’s only a stumbling block because of course someone has made an IDE-SATA interface converter.  So, technically, everything is still possible.  I don’t have to go to the extreme of building an old Pentium computer from parts salvaged from the 90s, thank god.

Naturally, EBay is the order of the day.  Because this project is only for curiosity, I’m buying stuff as cheap as possible.  For $16, I have a 19-yr old CD-ROM and an interface kit coming by next week.  Then it will be a challenge to see if I can get my computer to see the new (old) drive, then it will be a challenge to see if the ripping software will talk to the new (old) drive, and if it does, will the drive report the pre-emphasis information to the software.

So, there’s still some unknowns.  For the $16 I’ve spent, I’ve purchased a lottery ticket for either frustration or a jackpot of, “oh, neat.”  What will I do with this incredible information?  Well, obviously, I’ll share it whenever I can.  It will be a good data point for my posts on Relative Waves and I’m sure some other collectors would like to know which CDs have pre-emphasis.

More Words, Now With More Security

I got my lock!  If you don’t see it, you need to go to https://anachostic.700cb.net.

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Thanks to the regular march forward of technology, I can now get a free SSL certificate for my websites.  The process isn’t exactly simple, and it’s not convenient, but the results are effective.

The process is more geared towards Linux servers, but with a few additional steps you can create a certificate for Windows servers.  I’m sure I’ll figure out a way to simplify/automate the process and make it easier over time.  The lack of convenience is that the certificate expires every three months instead of every two years.  That’s a fairly significant investment of effort to keep this going.

But, I am a believer in security and privacy, so you can now rest easy knowing that the pages you’re requesting here are not being snooped on by anyone else.

Becoming A Network Executive

It sounds so important.  I’m running a “network”.  A network of blogs, that is.  That’s what WordPress calls it, anyway.  I have at this point, created the blog network on my web server and created each of the five individual blogs.  How did I end up with so many?  Oh, well, one is just the landing page, so I actually only have four blogs.  Still, it’s a network.  My blogus.

My installation wasn’t a success right off the bat.  In fact, it was very painful and has taken one of my blogs offline until the new network starts up.  Not really a big deal; it’s not like I’m Facebuuk.  But there was a lot of outdated software that needed to be updated and along the way it was just decided to remove it all and start over.  Then it was a matter of permissions, not that I should be complaining since my server hasn’t been hacked in the many years it’s been up and running.  Now it’s just a matter of content.

Getting the posts onto the new server is actually a very easy task.  You can export from one site and import to the other.  But then, all of the images of those posts still point back to the original places, in my case, wordpress.com.  So I will need to edit each post that contains pictures and switch out the image with a fresh local copy, which will upload to the new server.  It’s not such a bad thing, because a lot of my early posts didn’t give consideration to the way Live Writer handled images.  By default, it will create a link to the full-size version, so your media library gets a full-size image and a resized image to display in the post.  If you don’t need that, it’s just a waste of space and really clutters up your media library.  So I’ll be able to address that in my post revisions.

I’m going to lose a couple of things by moving to my own server.  On the plus side, I’ll lose advertisements, since I’ll be using my own server.  On the negative side, I’ll lose stats, which are really interesting if you have a popular blog, but are rather depressing if you don’t.  For better or worse, I fit in the latter camp, so my loss isn’t too bad.

You know, it seems like a holiday ritual for me to do some sort of revision to my website(s).  Maybe it’s the domain renewal that reminds me to look at what I have.  Maybe it’s the promise of a new year.  Maybe it’s the extra free time with the holidays.  Of course, this year I am on my own and just now I’m realizing, this website revamping is something I hadn’t done in many years.  Huh.

2020 – Taking Care Of Myself

Technologically-speaking, that is.

A couple days ago, I got an email from the new owners of Flickr.  They were asking for money because they are losing money, despite their best attempts at making Flickr self-sufficient.  I use Flickr to host images for a few different purposes and over the years I’ve had a paid account with them on and off.  Currently, I’m off because I don’t need that much.  Their email sent me into an extended evaluation of self-sufficiency.  It’s pretty well-known anymore that if you want something on the Internet, you’re going to have to pay for it.  If you’re not paying for it, you really are paying for it in ways you may not be taking seriously. 

Having been on the Internet for a very long time, I’ve seen plenty of websites come and go.  Some of the changes have impacted me directly and others haven’t.  Some websites I’ve been forced off of (mostly Microsoft stuff), and some I’ve left voluntarily.  But in this new era of the Internet, I’m going to start viewing anything I’m getting for free as a potential risk.  You have to consider that at any time, it could be taken away from you.

So my first train of thought was, I’ll get a paid account at Flickr.  But then I thought, I am already paying for a web/email server already, why don’t I just use that?  Why don’t I use that?  Well, the primary reason is that images take up a lot of space and my server doesn’t have a lot of space to spare.  Just to verify, my server has a 60GB hard drive in it and I have 36GB free.  I’m so stingy, crying poor with bread in each hand.  But hey, 30GB can go FAST if you don’t watch out.  And my mentality at the time was to put the burden on other services where I could as long as it didn’t cost me.

So, I did some quick research to see if I could add more space to my server for the same or less than paying for an account at Flickr.  Short answer: no.  I could move up to a 60GB drive for about $120 extra a year.  That’s like 2 Flickr accounts.  So Flickr is still the better choice.  However, after reading some commentary online, I started to think, will it matter?  If Flickr is in financial trouble now and has been in trouble for a very long time, maybe it’s just time to call it a day.

Ok, so let’s have a look at exactly how much space I’m using here.  I downloaded all my Flickr images for my blog and that’s 20mb.  I looked at the images in my media section for this blog and it’s about 30mb.  I have less than 100mb of images and I’m worrying about blowing 30GB of space?  I’m so pessimistic.

Knowing I have so little media on my blogs, I could just host it with WordPress.  WordPress offers 3GB of media hosting per account and I wouldn’t be even close to touching that on either blog, so that’s a viable option… except, WordPress is a free site.  That’s what I’m trying to get away from.  Granted, I’ve never heard that they have ever been financially strapped, so bravo for them.  Still, the Internet is evolving, what is true today may not mean anything in a couple of months.

So again, that points me in the same direction I was looking at earlier.  Hosting the blogs, with all their respective images on my own server.  They will certainly fit in the 30GB of space I have available.  The one thing I will lose is the power of the WordPress domain name and the followers/community that goes along with it.  The other thing I’m going to lose is all of my content when I die.  When I die, my web server isn’t going to get paid for anymore, so it will all go goodbye.  It’s actually kind of comforting in some ways, that whole “right to be forgotten” stuff that’s big in the EU right now.

So that’s the plan for 2020, moving on.

Sleep On

Last night I was lying in bed having a hard time sleeping.  Sleep is something that has been a little difficult for me lately.  For a while, it was a 2-3 hour event each night.  Then I started taking melatonin and things started getting better, except on weekends, I could sleep 14 or more hours.  So, I don’t know if that’s progress or not.  There’s two issues with my sleep – getting to sleep and staying asleep.  Admittedly, last night was pretty good on the second part, despite being tough on the first.  But anyway, while I was working on making the first part happen, my brain was busy doing dumb things.

I have a sound machine, a LectroFan, which I’ve mentioned here before.  It’s an excellent device that doesn’t suffer from the shortcomings of a lot of other sound machines, which is sampled sound looping awareness.  The LectroFan model I use now is the latest model, which added a couple of new sounds: ocean.  That is the specific reason I bought it and to my disappointment, the sounds were a major letdown.  Essentially, they were a white noise sound fading in and out.  That’s not what surf sounds like at all.

So my brain was trying to figure out how to make a surf sound out of white noise.  Obviously, there’s a lot of different frequencies to a wave crash.  There’s low end rumble and crash, there’s high end hiss, and there’s everything in between.  I was visualizing splitting a sound sample into four (or maybe more) frequency bands and making note of the amplitude level of each band.  You could see when the low frequencies moved in and out, when the high end would come in, and so on.  Then once you had these patterns, you could layer multiple white noise samples over each other, fading between the multiple layers to create a surf sound.

I ended up falling asleep to one of my favorite fan sounds on the LectroFan – a big, low, bassy humming fan.  But while I was actively listening to it, I was also thinking of what would really work for me.  It’s kind of odd and pretty personal, so I can’t imagine it would be a universal sound for a sleep machine.  I would like the sound of traffic on a highway, possibly with or without the sound of an air conditioner.

It’s a weird request.  Its origin comes from motels in my childhood vacation memories.  Those huge AC units that would fill the lower part of the front window and pretty much vibrate the entire room.  And the never-ending sound of traffic on the nearby highway, droning on all night.  I can’t fully explain how the sound of traffic is calming to me.  I’ve thought about it many times over my life and the only thing that really captures my thoughts on it – even though it sounds over-romanticized – is that it’s comforting to me to know the world hasn’t stopped; life is still going on.  Like sometimes, I’ll see an airplane and I’ll think about all the people in that plane – where are they going?  Is it an exciting trip?  Are they glad to be going home?  Going away?  Is it work?  Exciting meeting?  Dreaded meeting?  Boring conference?  So many people in one container, all with different destinations and expectations.  So yeah, I guess the sound of airplanes could also be calming for me.

That would be a weird sleep machine, indeed.

Making It More Difficult, For The Better

A little while ago, I saw a post online that was like a little PSA on financial security, which, of course, I am rather big on.  It was warning that PayPal and Venmo were not to be trusted because they were not held to the same security standards as banks.  Both of these sites claim to have “bank-grade” security, but what does that actually mean?

To be honest, I really do trust PayPal.  I haven’t ever had a problem with them or their security.  Then again, I do the maximum I can, enabling 2-factor authentication and having a strong, unique password.  Venmo, I don’t have any history with them, but they are owned by PayPal and from what I can see, they do a lot of the same things.  They also have 2FA, and are very happy to send you email notifications when things happen on their site.

I read this PSA post about distrusting online payment processors with a grain of salt.  The one thing that did strike a nerve with me is the advice: “never link your primary checking account”.  I agree with that.  I follow that pretty religiously with my online bills.  If a payee wants to do an autopay, I’ll allow it only if they allow payment on a credit card.  If they only allow payment by checking account, I use my bank’s bill pay.  Simply defined, I’ll push cash out of my checking account, but no one has the ability to pull cash from the account. 

It sounds convenient to set up my mortgage company to just withdraw my mortgage payment from my checking account monthly, but what if, just what if, they got a bug up their ass, or something went weird, or all hell breaks loose and they decide, we’re going to make your loan payable in full immediately.  And to satisfy this loan, we’re going to make a payment for as much of your balance as possible.  Now, I don’t have $90k sitting in my checking account, but, if they pulled everything they could, it would put a damper on my liquidity.  It’s just not a situation I would like to have happen.  So instead, I schedule a payment from my bank to them once a month.  It ends up working exactly the same.

Of course with online processors, the big fear is getting hacked.  And if your primary account is linked, the hackers can pull all your money just as easily as my mortgage company could.  Even if you have fraud protection, you’re still talking about a big hassle and lost money for a period of time.

The PSA had a poor suggestion to not link your bank account at all, but also had a good suggestion to link a secondary bank account instead.  So that’s what I did.  In PayPal, I had three banking accounts linked, so I removed two.  In Venmo’s website, I began the link to the same account I left active in PayPal.

This is a good thing.  That secondary account only has $15 dollars in it, which becomes my maximum monetary risk in case of being hacked.  But what are the limitations of this?  Well, right now, I couldn’t pay anymore more than $15 unless I transfer more money into the account.  Fortunately for me, like a lot of online banks provide, I have multiple accounts with that bank and I can instantly transfer money between them.  So, there’s no significant time delay on when I can make funds available for payment.  There’s only the delay in having to log in to the bank and transfer the needed money from my main account to my designated “PayPal/Venmo account”.

Still, though, security is always at odds with convenience.  I’m a little more secure now (even more), but I have to do a little more work now.  And note that this inconvenience is only for cash transactions.  Credit card stuff is always protected, so I’ll use that whenever I don’t have to pay the transaction fee.  The PSA also had the questionable advice that paying the 3% fee was worth it for the fraud protection.  Maybe.  But if you can save that fee and still be secure, that’s the best way.

Maybe it’s time to audit all your account links and make sure you don’t have any weak entry points.