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.

Help Us Help Them

I’m fighting a pretty tough bout of cynicism right now.  I got an email from a hotel chain of which I am a rewards member.  The email subject was about supporting the Australian relief efforts.  The big type pleaded for me to donate my rewards points for the cause. 

I have a long-standing issue with companies that ask their customers to help in disasters by giving them money.  Primarily because I am very, very certain that the company will use all the money collected in the drive as their own donation, and then they will take the tax write-off for that donation.  Don’t you think?  They’re not a non-profit.  You don’t get a receipt for your donation to them.  You can’t claim it as a tax deduction yourself.  Are they going to let that go to waste?  Hell, no.  Plus, they are the ones that get to say, "We donated $550,000 to the relief effort!"  And not all of it was their money, for sure.

This email plea irked me in another way.  They are asking you to give back something they gave to you to give to someone else.  That statement says what I mean it to say, but it doesn’t seem to capture the full audacity of the premise.  On the surface, it sounds legit.  The company has a liability on their books with all those outstanding rewards.  That’s value.  You’re donating something that has value.  But really, it’s nothing.  It’s all fake, virtual value.  You paid them for those points.  You redeem those rewards for empty rooms.  The empty rooms are there for offer regardless of any points balance.  What I’m saying is the hotel can just as easily make those rooms available for disaster relief regardless of any points donations.  All the donation does is reduce their future liability to their customers.

And here’s the final nagging thought.  Yes, charity is good.  Corporate charity should be good as well.  If no email had come in today, I wouldn’t have had anything to bitch about, so the fact they’re doing anything is better than nothing – I acknowledge that.  Regardless, if an offer evokes cynicism, it just doesn’t have the level of altruism that makes you proud of a company.

So when the offer from the company says they "will match up to $25,000" of donations, that’s really saying they are willing to donate $0.  As long as no one donates anything, that’s all they’re on the hook for.  And it’s also saying that if their customers are super-generous, they’ll personally stop at $25k.

I feel bad for criticizing a relief drive effort, but this offer just has a bad vibe to it.  I think they should have done it right or not done it at all.

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.

News You Make Fake

In my phone’s news feed, there are some headlines that I know are pure clickbait and more times than I’m willing to admit to, I’ve clicked them.  The grand offender of this scam is a website, Alternative Nation, which seems to specialize in rock music gossip, a total tabloid trash website.

To get an idea of how bad they really are, I went directly to their site and did some browsing.  Because they appear to be a blogging platform, I simply appended /feed to their domain and I was able to get an RSS feed of their latest articles, which I loaded into Outlook for some cleaner review.

Here’s an example of how this bullshit works.  Eddie Van Halen has been rumored to be in poor health for a very long time.  So what the editors at AN do is create a headline that suggests EVH’s health has taken a turn for the worse.  An example would be: Eddie Van Halen Family Leaks Terrible ‘Skinny’ Photo. (The subject of the post is not EVH, but his wife.  The photo is not of EVH or his wife, but of a random skinny person who is representative of her weight loss goals.  Not a leak, not terrible.)

Another broader method they use is to exploit the perceived depravity of rock bands.  Motley Crue, Aerosmith, KISS are all prime targets here.  The trick is to take something completely simple or innocent and twist the words so your brain thinks it’s something dirty or horrible.  It’s your fault and when you figure it out after reading the article, you might be mad at AN for tricking you like that, but again, you know you’re to blame for reading too much into the headline.  Some examples:

  • KISS Singer Paul Stanley Leaks Creepy ‘Feet’ Photo – It’s a picture of him wearing KISS branded Puma shoes.  No leak, no feet, no creepy.
  • Steven Tyler Girlfriend Reveals ‘Worst’ Drug Used – A brief mention about listening to music while on acid.  "Worst" does not get used in the article.
  • John Lennon Sad ‘Licking’ Claim Finally Revealed – "Lick" as in "guitar lick", no tongues.  Sad, indeed!

The headlines have some go-to words: "sad", "disturbing", "terrible", "stuns", "caught".  But those words are probably part and parcel of any tabloid editor’s toolkit.  It wouldn’t surprise me at all if there was a utility that could re-write an article replacing all normal-strength adjectives with hyped-up, over-the-top versions.  The only difference between these articles and printed tabloid stories is the lack of exclamation marks.

But you know, it’s all for the clicks.  These "editors" subscribe to celebrities’ social media, then attempt to build an article on a single statement.  A single statement isn’t much to work with, but with some clever wordsmithing, at least the article will generate a page view and some ad views.  That’s all that matters anymore.