Category Archives: Ideas

Lessons To Learn

In my previous post, I talked about music and "remastering" some of my old music.  Where I left off is that I was trying to redo some old keyboard pieces that used the Yamaha SW1000XG.  I bought a Yamaha MU80 as a replacement and that didn’t have the same sounds, so I bought an MU100.  To my surprise, again, not the same sounds.  So while I lick my $400 wounds and decide how I want to go from here, I made progressions on another musical concept.

I had written some guitar tunes a long while back, before I became a more aware and less offensive person.  As fortune would have it at that time, my voice could not cope with the style of singing required for the songs, so all I had recorded was the music.  There are some guide vocals in some songs, which are cringey to say the least.  It’s for the best they stay muted.  But anyway, the recording of the instrument parts left a bit to be desired as well, so I set myself to it to clean those up.

The first issue, which is just like the Yamaha issue, is trying to find the effects that I used when recording the tracks.  After many failed attempts to match up the guitar effects plugins, I gave up and chose new effect patches for the tracks.  They don’t sound the same as the originals, but no one’s heard the originals, so whatever.

The next step was cleanup.  In the original recording, there was a major problem with bleedthough in the mixer I owned, so a lot of tracks have a background noise of the click track.  Through a lot of clever editing and some aggressive fadeouts, I was able to hide any noticeable clicks.  As I made those edits, I determined how to best organize the project for mixdown.  This led to a solution of having the midi drum track span the full length of the song, including pre-silence and fadeout.  That way I could set the locators (which determine what part to mixdown) to the selected drum track and be good to go.

The step after that was mixing, burning, and testing the tracks in CD players: home and car, plus through computer speakers.  I have a spindle of 100 CDRs that I never thought I’d use.  I’m going to use them now.  As I did my tests, I adjusted track times, in cases where the mix cut off too quickly or in some cases, didn’t leave enough lead space for a CD player to audibly start the track immediately.  That was weird: that even if you want a track to start absolutely immediately, you still need a small bit of silence at the beginning otherwise it sort of quickly fades in.

And that was actually a problem, because I had two tracks that segued into one another – I couldn’t have a silent gap between them.  This issue was compounded by the software I was using to write the CDs.  Coming up with a resolution involved another step and more software.  To solve the gapless issue, I had to create a CUE sheet, which would identify the exact placement of the track boundaries on the disc.  And instead of burning multiple audio files, you burn one file that contains the whole CD audio.  The CUE file points to sections in that one audio file.

So now I have to create a single file of the entire album’s audio.  And this forced me to do the proper step of CD mastering.  In this step you work with all the mixed tracks together at once and make them sound cohesive.  And at the same time, you work out the timing of the tracks and the gaps between them.  It was something I was aware of in my listening tests – that some tracks needed volume adjustments – and the mastering process gave me that opportunity to balance everything out.  It’s something I expect to do in future projects.

So I’m up to test disc #6 now, which contains the level-matched tracks and also the gapless track changes where needed thanks to the CUE file.  When I burnt the CD using a new utility that utilized CUE files, I noticed some mentions of CD-TEXT being written, which allows CD players to pick up and display the track title.  I haven’t been able to see that in any players I’ve tried yet, but that’s another target to hit for future test versions.

Musical Progressions

It was a while ago I made a post with a lot of reservations.  It was regarding hauling out my music stuff and getting back into music.  And my reservations at the time were that I wasn’t going to get very far with my initiative because I’d been through the process many times in the past and each time ended up packing everything up and putting it away with nothing to show for the effort.

And, well, this is somewhat the same in that it has not been too productive.  I developed one idea I’d had for many years, but haven’t gotten enough to really make something concrete.  And while that was developing, I also worked on getting the recording station all set up.  I bought a new micro computer, monitor, and monitor stand.  I installed and set up my old Cubase software (which is way behind the times and yet more than I’ll ever need).  Although that’s all ready to go, I haven’t really started anything.

I knew I would have an uphill battle getting my physical abilities back since I hadn’t played in such a long time.  To my surprise, my capability came back faster than expected.  However, I plateaued quickly and my stamina was much diminished, so that was a little discouraging.

Instead of giving up, I decided to pivot a little bit and try to get some inspiration and relearn some engineering technique.  I have a lot of old music that exists in MP3 format.  It should be in FLAC format to be of the best quality.  Additionally, some of those songs need a little improvement.  One in particular has the beginning sort of cut off and I have no idea why I accepted that at the time.  Since I have the "source files" for the songs, I should "remaster" them in a sense and bring them up to a standard where I won’t need to worry about quality anymore.

What does that entail?  Well, I have to recreate the recording setup I had back when I recorded them.  This is not a trivial matter for me or for anyone who has ever attempted something like this.  While my case is relatively simple, imagine an actual professional musician trying to track down vintage synthesizers and recreating the patches that were used on each track.  It highlights the need for documentation in a studio.  I admit, I didn’t do hardly any – I never really gave it any thought.  So when I loaded up one of my old files and got a message about missing plugins, I essentially have to go hunting for vintage synthesizers.

After a certain length of time, there isn’t much hope for me to recreate some of the music as I would need thousands of dollars worth of older synths to do it, but a lot of my newer stuff used virtual synths and I still have that software.  I mean, most of it, I do.  Some I had to really go out and hunt for as it was discontinued.  I still don’t know if I have it all yet.  I’ve only worked on a couple songs.  Always keep backups of everything.

One of the bigger problems I faced is that I used a synth from the time that was on a sound card – the Yamaha SW1000XG.  I do still have that card, but I can’t install it in my new micro PC system.  I was able to find a virtual version of the same synth, called the SY50XG, but it had a serious problem where you couldn’t directly select the patches per channel.  You have to do patch changes through SysEx messages.  That’s not insurmountable, except for the fact that I don’t know the exact patch that I need.  That lack of documentation, you see.

So, money to the rescue, as usual.  The SW1000XG is supposedly a PC card version of the Yamaha MU80 synth module.  I was able to find one for under $150 on EBay, shipped from Japan.  When it arrives, I should hopefully have everything I need to recreate the old songs and remix them at full FLAC fidelity.  All I should have to do is change the port from what was the SW1000XG to the MU80 and the patch I had selected on the old synth should map right to the new one.

But even this overall process is a real pain.  My recording workstation is not comfortable.  I have the choice of standing or sitting on a wood stool.  The keyboard is a mini keyboard with embedded touchpad, like using a laptop.  And all this equipment is in my music room, so there’s no real space to stretch out.  I feel like I need to eliminate my guest bedroom and make that a studio room, but I don’t want to do something drastic like that yet.

Over the long weekend, I worked on the project on and off in something like 30-minute increments.  Most of it was installing missing software synths and testing them out.  The recording PC is not network connected, so if I needed anything, I would have to walk back and forth between that and my regular PC in another room, transferring files on a USB drive (they used to call that "sneakernet" in the days before widespread computer networks).  So that process was annoying and exhausting in itself.

But I guess the big positive takeaway is that I haven’t given up yet.

Follow-up edit:

It turns out the MU80 is not the same thing as an SW1000XG.  After receiving the device and integrating it with my setup, I tested it out on a track I knew to use a lot of Yamaha sounds.  Very specifically, the drum kit I needed didn’t exist on the MU80.  Research, which I should have done before purchasing, would have given me the information I needed.  One web site gushing about the SW1000XG having 1200 sounds and 46 drum kits, then a Wikipedia article for the Yamaha MU series listing the different models and their capabilities gave me the full story.

The SW1000XG came out in 1998.  The MU80 came out in 1994 and had 729 sounds and 21 drum kits.  The MU100 came out in 1997 and had 1267 sounds and 46 drum kits.  And, you know, even if I was dumb enough to ignore the timeline, I should have given some credit to the model naming scheme.

The end result is I have to buy a Yamaha MU100, meaning I now have an extra sound module that is of little use to me.  Luckily, they aren’t that much more expensive than the MU80, but still, double the cost kind of sucks.  I suppose I can sell the MU80 and recoup some of that cost.

BTC FOMO WTF, I Dunno

There’s plenty of talk recently about bitcoin.  It’s something I’ve never understood, believed in, or trusted.  However, I feel it’s finally come time for me to at least have a conversational knowledge of it.  I don’t fully understand it from a technical perspective, because I do know enough about that part to retain my stance that I don’t believe in it or trust it.  What I want to be able to do is explain the (or a) process of using bitcoin.  Because I expect at some point, someone if going to ask me about it and how to get into it and when I say I don’t know, they’re going to think I’m stupid, because I’m supposed to be the all-knowing geek.

I start my quest with general searches on buying bitcoin.  Obviously, you need a place to store your stupid, fake money.  You can choose to have it stored on someone else’s website.  Yeah right.  I’ve been on the internet for a very long time.  You don’t trust the fucking internet for anything.  If not on someone’s website, you can store it in software on your computer or on a dedicated storage device.  This has a parallel to password vaults.  You can store your passwords in a vault online, like LastPass or you can store them in a file on your computer, like KeePass.  I chose KeePass, and I will choose the same for my bitcoin wallet.  Step 1 sort of complete.

I choose to install one of the better known wallet apps called Electrum.  I run through the default wallet setup, storing all the security information in KeePass in a symbiotic relationship.  Ok.  I’m ready to make a purchase now.  Gonna buy some fake money.

More searches on where to buy bitcoin.  I go to the first recommended place and start the process.  I’m immediately hit with a request for ID.  I have to submit a picture of an ID, either drivers license or passport, plus a picture of me holding the document.  Are you fucking kidding me?  What did I just say, you don’t trust the fucking internet.  We’re dealing with an unregulated product here, there’s nothing ensuring any security of any kind and you want me to give you a copy of my ID?  You can fuck right off.

Further research suggests that bitcoin is getting a little more legitimacy at least in the idea that it can be taxed by the IRS.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.  Mostly I think it’s not.  If eliminating the anonymous aspect of bitcoin is the price of legitimacy, I don’t know.  So I look deeper.  I find there is a way to purchase bitcoin for cash using a special ATM machine, one of which is in my city.  That seems anonymous enough (although of course any agency that wanted to, could track me down with little problem).  I’m not trying to do this in the shadiest way possible.  I’m just trying to learn more about this concept and I don’t want to expose a bunch of my personal info to untrusted websites if I’m not going to be a devotee to the cause.

I watch a video on how to use the ATM and one thing I need is a QR code for an address to send my fake money to.  Electrum has a lot of different values in it.  I wanted to send the money to my wallet, so I went to Wallet Information and generated a QR code for my wallet ID.  That afternoon, I drove to the ATM and tried to buy some bitcoin.  Unfortunately, when I scanned my QR code, the machine said I had to use a supported wallet.  Step 2 failed.

Later, back at home, I think I generated a QR code for the wrong thing.  I though your wallet ID was unique and I’m sure it really is, but your wallet holds multiple addresses in it and each of those addresses are what you send and receive the bitcoin with.  The default view in Electrum didn’t show those addresses, but when I found it, things made a little more sense.  I generated a new QR code for one bitcoin address and I will attempt to use that.

Until I get back to the ATM, I figure I will try to buy some bitcoin online anonymously.  How about PayPal?  They’ve been making noise about supporting "Crypto" (The slick marketing term for this, I guess).  I quickly find out that any bitcoin you buy in PayPal can’t be transferred to your wallet.  So essentially, you have an online wallet with them.  I love you, PayPal, but no thanks.

I find another website that supposedly lets you buy without ID.  I create an account and get to the point of purchase.  They need a credit card number.  Well, here comes that mistrust again.  Not only that, but if I give my CC number, they’re going to hit me with a cash advance fee and interest.  Fuck that, too.

After a lot of puzzling over this, I came up with a solution.  Unsurprisingly or not, it’s PayPal.  I have my PayPal linked to a savings account for cash purchases.  That account is always kept at a low balance, so in case of compromise, I don’t lose all my cash.  PayPal allows you to make a virtual CC number to access the funds in any linked account, called a PayPal Key.  There’s my solution.  Now I’m ready to go.  I return to the bitcoin exchange and place my order.  It’s about $37 for me to learn this new concept.  And when I submit the form, I’m immediately told… I have to verify my identity.  God damn it.

So after a lot more searching and a bunch of other website visits, it doesn’t seem that I’m going to get very far without IDing myself, unless I want to pay a hefty premium for person-to-person trading.  Speaking of premiums, that is something about bitcoin that annoys the shit out of me.  Everything you do has a transaction fee.  It’s like having an account with a bank that has no ATM network.  You just get dinged the more you use it.  I guess people into this stuff just accept it as a cost of business.

I tried out a couple more sites and got stopped at the "provide ID" step.  I guess the ATM method is going to be my go-to method.  Looking at the ATM provider’s website, most of their machines are in sketchy locations – gas stations, vape shops, etc.  But, they do have some in a couple hotels, which I find surprising.  One is not too far from me, along a route I’ve travelled plenty of times.  So that’s going to be my next attempt.  I’ve figured out how to create a read-only copy of my wallet on my phone, so I can generate QR codes for any of the bitcoin addresses I have in my wallet.

I arrive at the hotel and find the bitcoin ATM next to the regular ATM in their lobby.  Using my mobile wallet, I set up a buy, stuffed in $40 (because in my previous online attempts, $20 wasn’t enough for a minimum purchase), and completed my purchase.  I immediately got a text message with my purchase confirmation.  Step 2 complete, I guess.

I went to a nearby convenience store and bought some snacks.  When I got back to my car, I opened my wallet and saw I had a new transaction in my history.  It said the transaction wasn’t confirmed, but, hey, it was there!  Of course, all it says is that I owned a tiny fraction of a bitcoin.  I went online and did some quick math.  It looks like $5 of the $40 purchase went to fees.  Holy shit.  But bitcoin is nothing if not the most volatile investment out there, so tomorrow I could be up $5 or down another $10, who the hell knows.

I drove back home and opened the wallet on my PC.  The transaction was there as well and now it was displayed as confirmed – I guess 15 servers could see that transaction and that was considered good.  Now that I owned bitcoin, I had to learn how to give it away.

My whole drive home I was mildly stewing about the $5 fee I paid to get my fake money.  And it made me wonder how things worked when I went to give some away.  Who pays?  And like I said earlier, it’s a racket.  Everyone wants paid.  I came to lean that even if I’m giving fake money away, I’m still paying someone to give it.  Hw much am I giving away?  Funny enough, the answer is, it depends.  How soon do you want your payment to go through, if at all?  The people facilitating the transactions work on the ones with the biggest fees first.  If things are really busy and they don’t get to your cheap-ass fee transaction in time, well, your transaction is cancelled.  And if not cancelled, you’ll wait potentially for days and your recipient is going to be beating down your door saying, "I want my two dollars!"

There are some interesting features that exist to help this situation.  One of which involves initially setting a low fee, then allowing changes to the transaction that are all fees.  So you can be cheap at first, then increase the fee if there are no takers in a reasonable time.  Another way to use that feature is to set a low fee initially, then let the recipient change the transaction to add any additional fee if they want the money quicker.  I don’t expect I’m ever going to be doing anything like this, but it’s kind of neat to know this is an option.

I contact a friend and we go through the setup of a new wallet and I perform a "Send" of about half my balance.  I chose a moderately low fee, but since everything in bitcoin is in a totally different scale, all you can do is make some rough estimates as to how much you’re losing in the trade.  So the transaction was made and it showed up on the other side almost immediately, but it remained unconfirmed.  I left it go overnight and in the morning, the transaction showed as confirmed.  Step 3 complete.

And that’s about all the more I care to experiment with bitcoin.  I spent $40 and I have $15 left in my wallet.  I’ve seen the process of receiving and the process of sending.  I’ve seen how much you lose in fees in the process.  Bitcoin is in a decline right now, so I’m probably losing value as well.  but I can now say that I can pay and be paid in bitcoin now.  That’s pretty much all I wanted.

Self-Hosted Album Art

I have an extensive music collection on CD, which shouldn’t be news to anyone who’s visited this blog.  I rip all my CDs to my local Plex server.  I’m a little particular about the album art for the albums.  I want it to be an exact representation of what is on the shelf and I want it to be in good quality.

For multiple varied reasons, I sometimes can’t find suitable album art online and in that case, I do it myself, scanning and cleaning up the cover art.  The result is something unique.  Duh, since I wasn’t able to find it elsewhere.  And I think it would be a shame to keep it to myself if someone else had a need for that artwork.

Up until now, I’ve been storing these files on Flickr.  It’s not been bad.  Even with their recent restrictions on free accounts, I don’t really have any worries of exceeding their limits.  But, as mentioned in past posts, I’ve been wanting to be more independent, so I made the move of the files to my own server.

And now you can get the cover art files from https://anachostic.700cb.net/AlbumArt.  It’s a little gallery that took all of about 45 mins to code up.  It displays smaller images and when you click one, it shows a larger image in a new window.  The small size is 500×500 and the large is 1500×1500.  These should be usable for anyone’s general usage.  You can save some time by right-clicking a small image and choosing Save Target As.

And now, when I add new stuff, I don’t have to go to a browser, open Flickr, log in, do the upload, and blah blah.  It’s a simple file copy for me on my network.  Easier all around.

Log On

Is there anything in the world that holds as much promise as a brand-new, unspoiled writing journal?  Conversely, is there anything sadder than a stack of journals with a few pages written in them, unable to be reused as much for their lack of virginity as for their obvious lack of positive energy, the evidence of their quality displayed (or rather not displayed) in the massive number of empty pages within.

I had a $5 free money coupon from Staples that I needed to spend (I never turn down free money), and initially I was going to buy some boxes so I could continue selling some of my excess CDs.  The Staples near my work didn’t have any boxes in the size I wanted, so I had some extra time to think.  During that thinking time, I had a idea for a log book and was unable to find any suitable journals in my house to accommodate the info.  Putting my idea and free money together, I purchased a new book today.  With coupon, it was essentially half-off.

And it’s a really nice journal.  I am really a sucker for clever journal designs.  I was initially considering a simple lined journal, where I would make dated entries in a linear format, nothing fancy.  But this journal had a neat calendar type design in the top margin to indicate the date, and well, that’s really all it took.  It also came with a plastic bookmark with stencils in it for drawing shapes, stored in its own pocket in the back cover.  Not only that, but the book also has ribbon bookmarks in the spine.  And not just one ribbon, but three – in two colors.  Talk about overachieving!

So I have this awesome new journal, full of potential.  What will be its duty?  Old-world scrobbling.  Scrobbling is a modern term for software that logs/records your music playing activity.  When you are listening to music in a non-networked fashion, as I do now, you use a log book.  I had once read online about people who keep a listening log book in their music room and faithfully record what they have listened to each day.  I found it interesting, but interesting for them, not for me.  Now at the time I had read these stories, I didn’t have a dedicated listening environment, not even really a stereo to speak of.  That might have been part of the missed connection. 

What brought me around to thinking I needed to do this?  There are a few reasons actually.

The first reason is that I have a lot of CDs, closing in on 2,000.  I don’t want to end up being one of those guys that listens to the same 10 albums all the time.  I need a reference log to see if I’ve listened to a particular album recently.

When I listen to an album, or when I want to relisten to an album, or when I want to choose an album, it would be helpful to have some listeners notes.  Descriptions of the sound quality, of things I noticed for the first time in the songs.  If I get a new version of a CD, does it sound better or different than my existing version?  That’s useful to me and to others that may want to hear something in particular.  I will have a reference of good or great sounding albums.

Another reason for having a log is the permanence of the log itself.  Sometimes I find that listening to music is almost a pointless activity.  It shouldn’t be.  Pointless is a bad choice of words.  It’s passive.  Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy listening to music, but it’s like meditation, maybe?  You’re either in the zone or not and those two worlds don’t really intersect.  By keeping a log, it’s sort of reaffirming, "yes, this happened" or "this night was not wasted".  I don’t think I’m explaining this part well enough, but the point is, there is a record of an activity so that the enjoyment of the activity is not lost or forgotten.

I had planned on beginning the log at the beginning of 2021.  Like a new year’s resolution or something like it.  But resolutions are really a dumb idea.  The best time to begin a new task is today.  Right now.  If this log ends up on the top of my unfilled journals in two months, it won’t matter which month that final entry is made.

The Modern Apartment Life

I had a dream last night which gave me an idea that was very much in the spirit of the times.  It’s no secret that the world we live in is the most unfair, inequitable, selfish, and greedy in generations.  So, why not capitalize on it?  So here’s my idea.  Obviously, I couldn’t do anything like this for multiple reasons, not the least of which is morals.  But if I was of that exploitive bent, I think this might actually work.

What’s hot right now?  Renting.  Why?  Because no one can afford a house, even though rent is pretty much a house payment anyway, but for lots of other reasons, people can’t get a house.  So, being a landlord is good.  What’s even better is having high-end apartments, because even if people can’t afford to have a house, they still don’t want to have to live in, ugh, an apartment building.  Temporarily displaced millionaires and all.

My design is a high-story building.  Not like 30 stories high, just a moderate 10-12.  It has a multi-level parking garage enough to house 2.5 cars per unit.  2 cars per unit, some overflow guest parking, and renters can pay for additional spaces.  On the top floor of the building is a gym with inspiring views, and a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Obviously, there is a resort-style pool and small dog park.  Library, meeting/conference/party rooms, you know.  All the stuff.  So we’ve established this is a luxury apartment complex that’s essentially like living at a vacation resort.  The rent doesn’t have to be outrageous, just in line with the amenities.  The gatekeeping and exclusivity comes from a different source – the deposit.

To have a lease in this complex, you have to make a deposit of $20,000.  Jaw-dropping, yes.  Believable in this day and age, yes as well.  Only the first one to do this will seem weird, then when it works, it will become normal.  It’s happened over and over.  Who would have thought people would be buying $1,500 phones?

Now obviously, this is a deposit, so you’ll get it back when you leave.  I don’t know a lot about the rental industry, but I assume a rental company holds a percentage of the deposits they take in and uses the rest for working capital.  It would be unlikely that there would be a mass outflow of tenants that would result in a "run on the bank", so to say.  But that sort of working methodology just doesn’t sit right with me.  That money is never yours and it’s a one-time boost, unlike the recurring inflow of rent payments.  So in my business, the deposits are always 100% off-limits for business use.

So what do you do with that money?  120 units each with a $20k deposit is almost $2.5 million dollars.  Well, you invest it!  You put it in some safe income-bearing investment and the additional income from that investment is used to operate the business.  Investing 2.4M with a 4% return will provide almost $100k a year, without compounding.  Let’s consider what rent could be for such a high-end apartment.  $1,500/mo?  That would be $180k/mo in rental income, then an extra $8k/mo in investment income.  That’s like having an extra 5 units paying rent.

And you know, the $20k deposit is still perfectly on point with the times.  It keeps the "undesirables" out.  So you’d have to have impeccable credit as well as a large hoard of cash to get into this building.  And the exploitation of the tenants, even beyond what’s normal for rentals, is that the business gets to use the tenant’s capital for their own use.  Shit, they could even sell it as a benefit to their renters, saying, "your deposit will be held securely so when you are ready to graduate to homeownership from renting, you’ll have a great source for your house’s down payment."  Obviously ignoring the fact that the deposit is locked in a zero-interest account, while the apartment business is collecting the interest.

That just modern life in these dystopian times.

Bringing It All In House

Last December, I made a decision to start becoming more self-reliant and not utilizing free online services as much.  To accomplish that, I moved my blog off of WordPress and onto my own hosted server.  This year, it looks like I’m going to go a step further and be completely on my own.  It’s a huge risk, but it comes with some benefits I just can’t afford any other way.

At one time, I had my email hosted through some web hosting provider.  It was ok, but I didn’t have a lot of the flexibility I wanted.  And at that time, I also had a simple web site hosted at the same provider.  I made the radical decision to change from a simple hosting plan to a virtual server.  The virtual server would let me install anything I wanted on it.  I installed a mail server.  I installed a web server.  And later, I installed WordPress and things have been going pretty smoothly. 

What were my risks back then?  Mostly hacking worries.  But, I’ve been pretty good.  I had one instance where the mail server got compromised due to my lack of cleanup of development accounts, but otherwise, no issues.

The consideration this year is to bring the entire server from the virtual to the physical and keep it not in a massive data center, but in my house.  By many accounts, this is a pretty bad idea.

To start, a data center has massive bandwidth and multiple, redundant internet connections.  The downtime is going to be minimal at best.  unnoticeable in reality.  Second, the server hardware is going to be highly redundant and isn’t going to go down either.  The server is virtual.  If the hardware fails, it just activates on new hardware.  And you don’t have to worry about it.  No hard drive failures (they’re part of a massive drive pool), no power supply failures, no UPS failures.  No worries about patches (they’re automatically applied).  Why would I give that up?

What am I sacrificing for this security and reliability?  Well, I’m locked into a specific server.  It has a fixed CPU, fixed RAM, and fixed hard drive size (and I just noticed today, fixed bandwidth).  Those are listed in increasing importance to me.  Right now, I have a project that I want to take public.  My current hosted server has 2GB of RAM and 60GB of drive space total.  That also includes the operating system.  The project I want to release has a data size of 1.5TB and is constantly growing.  I can’t even get a virtual server with that amount of space.  I would have to have a dedicated server, which would run over $500/mo.  And I would have to fully manage it – remotely.  Hard drive failure?  Call someone in CA to visit the data center and swap the drive.  It’s not reasonable.  So again, my plan is to bring the server into my house, where I can maintain it and upgrade it as needed and it can serve the world.

Today, I called Frontier and asked about their Business line of FIOS products.  After all, this is going to be a hosted server.  This is not a residential setup (although I could kind of get away with it using dynamic DNS, which is hokey AF).  I had some questions and I got some answers and the answers seem to indicate that I am going to be able to do this.

First question, do you have to be a business to get Business FIOS?  Yes.  Ok.  So I have to set up an LLC for myself.  I’ve been through this before.  I don’t exactly like it, but maybe it’s for the best.  Maybe I’ll start doing consulting again.

Last question, how much does it cost?  This is important, because Frontier’s website only shows the promotional prices.  $50/mo for 100mbps and $90/mo for 500mbps.  And the numbers for what they call month-to-month aren’t that bad.  I’m focusing on 500mbps and that’s going to run around $125/mo.

Is $125/mo a lot?  Considering some people pay that much so they can have all the cable channels with sports and movies, I don’t think so.  Is it a lot for me?  It would be, except…  I pay $75/mo for my 100mbps FIOS now.  I pay $480/yr for my virtual server.  Add all that up and do some math and that’s $115/mo I’m paying for my internet needs.  An extra $10/mo to get 500mbps and full control of a server where I can have TB’s of data online?  I think it’s a fair deal.

My hosting will expire 11/4, so I have a couple of months to get prepped for the change.  I need to buy another server and set it up.  I need to make some more improvements to my project.  I need to plan to change my DNS.  Migrate my mail, export and reimport my WordPress stuff.  It would be a busy week or so of work.

And once that’s done, I’ll be completely on my own.  And what’s the scariest part of that?  If my internet goes down, or I move, or I die (well, if I die, it’s my survivor’s problem), there’s no more email.  That is a critical service that I should think hard about.  But again, I can’t get the features I want without self-hosting it.  The old saying, hope for the best, plan for the worst means you have to always think about the worst.  That’s hard.

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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