No One Wants To Play Nice Together

Especially EBay.

I would say I have a love/hate relationship with EBay, but I neither hate them nor love them.  They either annoy me or pleasantly surprise me on occasion.  One of the more recent annoyances is their acrimonious split with PayPal.  PayPal is a company that I am more fond of than EBay.  I have some reservations about them, but overall, I think they do what they do pretty well.  And EBay deciding to break from them was a step in the wrong direction. 

So, EBay purchases are now handled internally by EBay.  Whatever.  It doesn’t matter to me whether EBay or PayPal charges my credit card.  However, when it comes to selling, things get a bit worse.  Previously, PayPal essentially served as "EBay Bank" and everything funding came and went through them, including selling receipts and selling costs and whatnot.  Now, selling payouts need to go to an actual bank, which is not PayPal.  And the payouts are held for a short duration before disbursement (which isn’t a big deal to me, but for some, I can imagine they’d be more annoyed).

To set the stage for the specific issues I’m having, let me describe the general problem with the seller workflow.  You sell an item.  You get the funds, but you don’t have access to the funds.  The funds will go to your bank account at some point in the future, less EBay fees.  You have to ship the item.  You have to pay for shipping using other funds.  Now, I list items with free shipping and include my expected shipping costs in the sale price (because Amazon has trained us that that is the most effective way), so maybe if I had the seller pay shipping, things would be different.  I don’t know if the cost of shipping would be in the funds held for disbursement or would be available for use to pay for shipping, but anyway, this is what I’m facing right now.

Now, here’s the problem I’m having.  I have a complicated financial configuration of accounts for the primary reason of security.  If somehow one of my internet-facing accounts gets hacked, I want my liability to be minimized.  To that end, PayPal, Venmo, and Zelle only have access to one of my savings accounts, which keeps a low balance.  And anything that I can’t use my credit card for, I use PayPal.  if I can’t use PayPal, I also use that low-balance savings account.  You see what I’m trying to accomplish here.

Back to EBay.  I’ve sold some items.  I need to pay for shipping.  For whatever reason, EBay has been charging PayPal for shipping.  My PayPal has a $0 balance, because the funds from my sales don’t go there anymore, they go to my bank account.  So PayPal goes to my savings account to get the funds.  This has been working out, but has had unintended consequences. 

I got an email today saying I have exceeded the number of monthly transfers from my savings account.  Apparently, you are limited to 6 transfers a month for online savings accounts.  Excess transfers will result in a $10 fee.  Well, that’s not going to do me any good to pay an extra $10 for $5 in shipping costs.  The solution for this is to move money into my PayPal account so I can cover the shipping costs.  But I would have to move a larger amount of money to float the future costs, otherwise, I’m not doing anything different than PayPal is already doing, and I’ll get excessive transfers.

So the bottom line is, EBay has thrown a wrench into my setup because they are not putting the funds into the same account as they are taking shipping costs from.  And if I want to avoid that, I need to float the money in PayPal instead of an interest-bearing account. 

As a stopgap, I shut down my active listing, so I don’t have any more sales until I figure out a solution.  It might be as dumb as me not noticing a payment option when purchasing shipping after a sale.  It may be resolved by a setting I changed in my seller account to use the same account for seller costs as for funds release (although that sounds odd, because EBay fees should be deducted before funds are released anyways).  In either case, I won’t know until I make another sale and in the case neither of those do fix it, I don’t want to be stuck with a $0 balance in PayPal when it happens.  So the plan is to wait until next month to relist the items and I can float some money into PayPal in advance just in case.

EBay just made it harder to make money.

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.

Look At What You Can’t Have

Every once in a while, I do a little "worst-case" scenario and determine how little I need to get by in case of, you know, the worst case scenario happening.  It’s not overly complex, it’s basically reviewing my budget and seeing how things have changed for better or worse since the last exercise.

One of the line items is the mortgage.  Almost 5 years ago, I refi’d into a 15-yr loan with a better rate and I’ve been paying a minimal extra amount on the loan each month.  So one of the things if shit really hit the fan is I would attempt to refi it back into a 30-yr so I could reclaim some of the money I’d budgeted to that bill.  I suppose some people might consider pulling out the equity in the house and surviving on that until things got better, but this is just the way I think.  Don’t give up ground, even if your progress has been slowed.

So anyway, I brought up a mortgage calculator and like a lot of nice, friendly forms, this one had nice sliders to adjust the values.  The page loaded like this.

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Well, I’m not getting a 330k loan, now or ever.  So I dragged the slider down.  And when I did, something crazy happened.  The house picture changed.

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Fucking ouch.  What a punch in the gut.  When you load the page, the site is setting your expectations with "this is what your house will probably be like" and when you eventually say, "I can’t afford that payment," you move the slider and the site says, "Well, now you’re looking at this kind of house."  No stairs.  No ornamental shrubs.  Even the tree is wimpier, suggesting you’re just a beginner.  And while that may be true, it’s not as encouraging as it should be.  Don’t focus on where you will be, focus on where you are right now – smallsville.

But I’m not looking for a loan even in that area.  The calculator doesn’t go where I need it to go, but I tried.

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Jesus.  100k and this is all you get for it.  Well, at least it’s a two story place, which I suppose might be better than what I have.  But the point still stands, getting two sad reminders of where you are, not where you’re going.  Of course, once you are faced with the reality, who isn’t going to dream a little and peek over the fence to see the greener grass?  It’s human nature.  If you feel bad, feeling worse is the easiest thing to accomplish.  Drag, drag, drag.

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Nice.  Bigger garage, columns, bigger tree, fireplace.  But I really want to feel bad.

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Sigh.  Ok.  That’s enough.

Bring Out Your Dead

I have a problem.  Not really, but some would say, yes.  It’s my CD players.  I’ve discussed it little before and maybe joked about it.  It’s still kind of a joke.  here’s the continuation of that joke and my rationale.

So I have, let’s see.  Let me count them… 8.  Eight CD players.  Since the last time I mentioned this, I’ve added a JVC XL-V141, which is a 90’s player, and yesterday, a Yamaha CDX-520 from 1989.  This is the Yamaha:

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My collection all meet certain criteria, partially for my promotional purposes if I get to the point of selling them.  All have physical power buttons (Off is OFF), all have headphone jacks, so the youngin’s can enjoy them without needing a full stereo.  Most have volume knobs for the headphones, which is a excellent touch.  You see, when things started getting cheaper, features got cut.  This is back when CD players were premium devices.  And yeah, these were about $300 when new.  Back in those dollars, which is probably $600 today.

So, I had purchased this neat new player for $25.  I was eager to try it out and clean it up when i got home.  Right away, I plugged it in and gave it a smoke test on a CD and headphones.  Tray opens and closes, that’s good, the disc TOC reads, good.  Ohhh..  It has a chronic skipping problem.  It just stutters all over the track like it’s on fast-forward.  Damn it.

Pop the case off and look around.  I don’t really know what I’m looking for, just something out of place.  It all looks good.  I push a bunch of buttons and I notice that the CD doesn’t skip on later tracks, more on earlier tracks and chronically on the first track.  This is a clue, but I don’t know what it means yet.  This is pretty much what I had in front of me:

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While I’m reading my CD player repair document and looking over the player’s schematics from its service manual (which mean nothing to me), I go back and forth between the computer and the player.  Stopping and starting the player over and over.  Oddly, now it seems to be skipping less.  Then it’s not skipping on the first track anymore.  Is that all it was?  The player was tired and had been sitting too long, maybe just needed to warm back up?  What a crazy solution to the problem.

I tried a few more CDs.  Nope.  Skipping was still there.  So, I considered the problem wasn’t electronic, maybe mechanical.  Maybe the gears and rails for the laser transport needed cleaned and lubed.  I disassembled it and lubed up the moving parts with silicone lube on a swab (not recommended around electronics, but I’m stubborn).  Not any better, maybe worse.  Well, I’m going to have to level up on my repair skills.

The repair manual discussed adjusting the lens tracking and focus using potentiometers on the circuit board.  The troubleshooting guide also said tracking issues would cause skipping.  Ok, let’s do this.  $25 already gone, right? 

I took a picture of the pots before I fiddled with them just to be absolutely sure.

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While a CD played, I slowly twisted the left pot and the skipping got worse.  Well, that’s a change in some direction, so I felt I was on the right track.  However, I couldn’t get things to get any better.  In fact, I experienced something the the guide warned about, with the CD spinning out of control at very high speed.  So, after powering the player down and resetting the pot to neutral, let’s try the other one.  In a couple small changes, suddenly the transport quieted down and didn’t seem to rattle anymore.  The skipping stopped!  This is the setting I ended up with:

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It’s not a major adjustment, but I imagine it’s not supposed to be.  I’ve been testing out the player on multiple CDs and no more skipping issue at all.

So, my little joke of a collecting problem has given me a new repair skill.  Formerly, my repair abilities were limited to changing belts, which honestly is pretty good and has brought a couple players back from the dead.  Now I have a new solution for a new problem under my belt.  I can fix even more players now.  A good hobby is one where you continually grow, right?

No Problems, Only Opportunities

What Millennials Can Learn From Gen X’s Money Mistakes

You can consider me a sucker for any article on generational warfare, especially one that involves mine.  So when an article immediately says I’m making mistakes with my money, I’m doubly interested.

I feel I’ve made this clear in other posts, but I really do feel sorry for generations after mine.  While the generation preceding me couldn’t care much about anything other than itself, I am embarrassed at what has been left for the younger ones to clean up, fix, or just try to survive through.  My whole generation is too small to have made any political impression or enact any meaningful change, but I’ve been waiting for the next major cohort to flex its muscle, and I expect we see things the same way.

Anyway…

This article says its a collection of advice from financial experts who want Gen Y to do things differently from Gen X – "Break the chains of financial norms that were enshrined as gospel in the last century."  Here’s the truth that overshadows the entire article: The financial norms are not norms anymore because the entire economy and financial markets got fucked.  But that’s not a problem.  Don’t focus on that problem.  Don’t bother trying to solve the problem (as if you could anyway).

The term "gaslight" is used way too frequently and usually inappropriately.  I’m not going to use it here, but it feels some would.  This article is more of the more traditional, "blowing smoke up your ass" flavor.

Point 1: Gen Y should focus on Roth accounts instead of traditional retirement accounts.  I’m not going to argue particulars, this advice can go either way.  I just want to point out that Roth IRA’s were created in 1997.  It’s not like there was a lot of information on the benefits of a Roth at the time.  And now, given time, experience, and income growth, I now contribute 100% to post-tax retirement accounts.  Because Gen X makes all the financial mistakes.

Point 2: Gen Y should give up on whatever used to be the idea of financial success.  Let me get that exact quote.

"…millennials need to reconsider the entire concept of wealth, success and financial freedom – particularly as it applies to standards that were set in a different time"

It shouldn’t take much cynicism to deduce that "a different time" means "a better time".  What example of change was provided?

"Are we sure we want a 30-year mortgage on the largest house we can possibly secure financing for to go along with our student loan debt and auto loan? … Maybe a used RV and a WiFi hotspot are more appealing than a 2,000-square-foot ranch."

And now I want to really punch someone.  I’ll give you this much.  Buying the biggest house you can get financing for is a financial mistake, worthy of the title of the article.  But to suggest that Gen Y should just literally give up on the concept of owning a house to live in a depreciating asset and have them consider that move financially savvy?  That is an even bigger financial mistake.  One that a future article will use comparing Gen Y and Gen Z.

And there’s a real trigger: "student loan debt".  Something my generation didn’t have to worry about, at least not to enslavement levels of debt like today.  Maybe a used RV is not so much "more appealing" as it is "the only option".  I’m not saying lower your expectations, I’m just saying to refine them.

Point 3: Accept that shit sucks.  Deal with it.  I would really have to copy the whole text of the two paragraphs to do justice to what is being bullshitted.  Remember, the problem the article is hiding is that the economy absolutely sucks.  Gen Y started a revolution by creating "the gig economy".  You know what the gig economy has done?  It has resulted in workers being exploited and cheapened, with no redeeming benefits.  And no benefits at all.  For every success story on a gig worker, you have a thousand who are working themselves to the bone just to get by. 

The Gen X life story? "Get a college degree. Land a job. Buy a house. Invest for retirement someday."  Their take on these universal desires?  "It’s a flawed model."  IT’S A FUCKING FLAWED MODEL.  I got my job with a Associates degree in an unrelated field.  Gen Y (and Z now) have to have Bachelors degrees to get entry level jobs.  They can’t get any job paying well enough to buy a house or to invest for retirement someday.  WHOSE MODEL IS FUCKING FLAWED HERE?

So the explanation for being flawed is that it doesn’t align with Gen Y’s priorities: "experiences over possessions, and prioritizing purpose, innovation, and flexibility".  And I’m going to say again, these priorities are due to the fact the world is garbage.  They are compensation for having nothing else.  When your world is so dead that you simply want to experience as much happiness as possible as soon as possible because you don’t expect things to be getting better in your lifetime, that’s a problem.  When you demand flexibility because you know you can’t trust any institution for stability, that’s a problem.  As far as purpose and innovation, Gen X had that as well, only it wasn’t something we had to demand, it was simply allowed.  That’s a problem.

This romanticizing of renting for life and RVing and being mobile and nomadic, that’s a symptom of the times.  It’s a necessity to survival.  You really don’t think that if circumstances were the same now as they were 20 years ago that a whole generation would behave so differently?  If anything the nomadic lifestyle would be taken up for pleasure.  If the promise of technology had not been stolen by a few obscenely rich, powerful people, we’d all be living a utopian life.

For the boomers who were flower children until the end and look around with sadness at what they were unable to sustain, I will be a nerd who will die lamenting how the Internet was supposed to bring enlightenment and knowledge and was reduced to conspiracies and trolls.  Gen Y, ponder well what legacy you wish to leave unfulfilled to the world.

Post Travel Review

It’s been a week or so since I got back from my road trip through a few states.  I got to spend some time in a couple and just passed through another, but still, during death plague, travelling is a luxury, or at least it should be.

Anyway, a lot of my time was spent in TX.  I was in a somewhat smaller town surrounded by other smaller towns, but I did take one day to drive to Dallas.  My overall impressions of the state?  I don’t really like it.  It seemed more expensive, for one.  Sales tax was higher and the cost of things in general seemed higher as well.  Gas was cheaper, but not cheaper than other states I went through.

On dining.  It’s nothing I can really fault them for, but there was less for me to eat in TX.  I don’t eat Mexican, and well, TX has a lot of Mexican food for whatever reason.  I lot of the brands I enjoy also weren’t there (at least in the smaller towns I was in).  One other thing is that every restaurant was jam packed.  Actually that was a theme my entire trip.  I regularly found myself eating at my third or less favorite choice just because I couldn’t get in anywhere else.

On shopping.  I had plenty of time to hit all the stores I wanted.  I hit thrift stores, which were generally disappointing, pawn shops, which were universally, exceptionally depressing, and used CD stores, which were generally positive.

On driving.  I was warned beforehand that TX drivers drive fast.  This is true, but despite that, they are still courteous.  I’ll save my ranting for the end, but I will say, Dallas rush-hour traffic is heaps better than normal FL traffic.  For one, drivers choose a lane and stick with it.  They allow you to have a safety buffer in front of your vehicle without having an irrational need to fill that space.  TX drivers don’t ride in the passing lane (of course there are exceptions).  When you only have 2-lane highways, maybe this is more normal.  The one notable exception I recall is someone who rode the passing lane and varied his speed between 65 and 85.  He wouldn’t pass me, nor would he fall behind me.  He was building up a line of cars behind him.  So in an open stretch, I chose to accelerate to over 100 to build a gap between me and him so that the cars he blocked could pass him on the right and get around him.  As far as I know, he’s still driving in the left lane today.

Oddball observation: There are a lot of redheads in TX.

The next state I spent the most time in was LA, an hour away from where I was staying.  My general impression: a poor, sad state.  I hit some thrift shops, which had nothing of any value, some pawn shops, which also had nothing of value, and a record store.  I saw a dead dog in the street and no one seemed to be concerned by it.

When I was coming through LA into TX, I didn’t get a very good vibe from the state.  I mentioned this to my host who commented that her impression of LA people is that they were "crooked".  I thought that was sort of a unique observation, not one you usually make on a group of people.  Then I went to the used record store in LA and I learned.  I’ve heard about stores like this before, but this was the first one I’d experienced. 

When I got there, the building was sketchy as fuck.  There were no windows – none.  The signage was uninviting.  When I went in, the place was like a maze of boxes and rooms.  The first person I saw asked what I was looking for, then had to lead me through the maze to where the CDs were.  I’m not adverse to mess, after all, I shop at thrift and pawn shops and flea markets.  As I looked over every CD they had, there wasn’t anything of real interest, only mild interest.  The couple I did pull out to inspect closer, I noticed there were no price tags on them.  This gave me an uneasy feeling.  Like I said, I’ve heard of this before.  Against my expectations, I hoped they just had a flat price for CDs.

On my way from one section to another, a person I assume was the owner asked me if I was finding everything I was looking for.  I asked what the prices were for CDs and he confirmed my worries.  He said would look up the prices at checkout.  Uh huh.  I pretty much knew I wouldn’t be buying anything here.  But I still looked at everything.  In the end, the only thing in the entire shop that caught my eye was a gold Pink Floyd CD.  Knowing the store’s pricing policy, I looked up the price online.  It sells for an average of $75.  I mentally set my max price for $50.  I took it back to the owner and he saw it and said, "Oh that’s going to be an expensive one.  If you’re interested, I can look up the price, but I can tell you it’s going to be at least $60."  I replied, "Not if it’s going to be $60."  And he left the CD on the table and dismissed me.  So I left.  Crooked?  Maybe, but definitely not someone I want to do business with. 

So anyway, after a couple weeks away, I return to FL.  Immediately, as soon as I cross the state line, I mean, right then, traffic started acting differently.  The highway opened up to three lanes and it became a free for all.  Drivers switching lanes constantly, people weaving through traffic, driving 20 miles faster than the flow, just total insanity.  Then, later on, the density just grew and grew.  Three lanes fully packed with cars, which obviously left no room for passing, making those that wanted to speed and pass even more dangerous, swiping the small gaps between cars left and right to push themselves further ahead.  It was absolutely infuriating.

In the time since, I’ve been very critical of the driving in FL.  Although I haven’t been to CA yet to experience that driving environment, I can say FL has the worst driving of any state I’ve been in, and that does include MA, specifically, Boston.  My experience in Boston was that yes, it’s hectic and rude, but it’s not at 80 mph.  All that jostling happens in city environments at slower speeds.  Driving in FL is like a real-life Grand Theft Auto game.

On a positive note, I did get a lot of CDs.  It’s taking me days and days to give each a full listen.  I did have a great find of over a dozen new SACDs in a thrift store.  I bought them all for $1 each.  SACDs will sell for $40+ easily.  Because I am not of the LA mindset, I did sell off all the extra copies I had, but for $10 each including shipping.  Maybe I made $50 profit total.  But I kept a copy for myself, so my collection is $40 richer, too.  And the buyers (who were as knowledgeable as I) were understandably appreciative of the good price.  That gratitude is worth more than the money.

While I was gone, I had a sitter for the cats.  Unfortunately, Spock never warmed up to her and hid every time she was in the house.  Sky, on the other hand, developed a new language to talk to the sitter.  Sky tried using all her new words on me when I got home and I had no idea what she wanted.  Spock took a few days to get over his pain of abandonment.  My first night back in bed, he crawled up on my chest, which is something he’s never done before.  He’s back to his usual asshole self now.

Currently, I’m waiting and hoping for my turn for the COVID vaccine, so I can have more road trips like this on weekends.  As fun as that was, I’m sort of dreading it as well, because there are a lot of people travelling.  Right now, they shouldn’t be, but when we get safer, I’m afraid it’s just going to be madness on the roads and hotels.  The hotel I booked was sold out both times I was there.  Is it going to be like my dining options, having to go to my third best option for lodging?

Decisions

As mentioned in previous posts, yes, I’m re-exploring music.  I have purchased and set up my recording PC and now I have to focus on the devices.  This had led me to a difficult decision.

I have a keyboard that has been with me for over 20 years – the Roland RD-600.  It’s been an excellent device and I am very familiar with playing it.  However, over the years the keyboard has worn out.  Some keys will break, or more specifically, the hammers on the keys will break.  I’ve dealt with this for many years, replacing hammers one by one as they break.  It’s an annoyance for sure.  I even have a small cache of spare hammers that I purchased from the manufacturer when this first became a problem.

And it’s still a problem.  On day two of having my rig set back up,  I broke a hammer.  I took the RD-600 off the stand, flipped the board over, and undid all the screws to open the case.  Replaced the hammer and flipped it back over to resecure the case.  Put it back on the stand and another hammer had broken during the repair of the first.  I give up.  I put the kb back in its road case and brought out the other keyboard.

Now this other board is an Alesis QS8.  I bought it at a thrift shop for $100.  It had issues right out of the gate with being out of tune.  I was loathe to throw it away though and figured now I could do some tests on it.  I determined that the MIDI functions still worked (that they were sending the right notes), which is what I primarily needed for recording.  I also found the setting where I could retune the device, and things were looking a lot better now.  However, further testing showed that the pitch problems would randomly reappear, requiring another manual retune.  And as far as the MIDI was concerned, there was some random data being spewed out from a wheel controller that I had previously physically disconnected.  So, this device is not suitable for recording either.

I have two bum devices.  My choices are, replace or repair.  Buying a new device of the caliber of the RD-600 or QS8 is a $1600-$2700 purchase.  Along with that purchase comes a new keyboard action, which I may hate.  Obviously there’s going to be more modern features and technology involved which is a distinct positive, if I wasn’t planning on using virtual instruments anyway.

I investigated replacing the hammers in the RD-600.  I can’t recall how much the initial batch cost way back then, but on eBay, each hammer is currently about $10 plus shipping.  It’s probably looking like about $1000 to replace all the hammers in my 20-yr old keyboard.  I contacted Roland directly to order the parts and they simply refused to sell any replacement parts to me and told me to take to an authorized repair center.  Bastards.

So now the question is, spend $1000 or $2000?  To complicate the matter, if I do refurbish the RD-600, I’ll never get that money back.  Street value of an RD-600 has to be well south of $500.  Hell, I only paid $650 for it twenty years ago.  I would spend more on refurbishment than I did when I bought it used.  But, this is a board I am intimately familiar with, and if it lasted 20 years once, it will last again until I’m long gone.  The alternative?  I can buy a new keyboard with new technology (maybe more durable, maybe not), may have better action, maybe not, may be a lot of things and may not.  If I don’t like it, I can sell it.  Sell it for what, 80% of its purchase price?  75%?  Less?  Will I lose more than I would pay for the RD-600 hammers?

And it’s shit like this that keeps me from going anywhere.  Weighing the pros and cons and never making a decision.

Oh, what about the other kb, the Alesis?  Well, I have an open inquiry to a repair shop to see what it will cost for repair.  I’m sure I’ll have to pay a bench fee, but that’s reasonable to know whether the kb should be repaired or checked.  The problem isn’t mechanical like the Roland, but it is electronic.  That could be better or worse.  But it won’t be $10 88 times over.

But I made a decision anyway.  The Roland is going to get refurbished.  I think it deserves a second life and I’ll be comfortable using it for recording.  My decision was made on a few different points.  First, Roland makes no mention of the RD-600 in their support pages, so I don’t think the hammers will be available for too much longer.  Second, I found an eBay seller selling one octave of hammers (7 white/5 black) for $120 with free shipping.  With 7.2 octaves in a piano, I would be pretty safe buying 7 of these, for a total of $840.  That’s not $1000 and it’s not $2000, and it’s not $2500, which is the price of the new keyboard I tried that had a hammer action I liked.

The seller was unwilling to discount his price for a purchase of seven octaves, because he knew what he had.  He knew the part was either discontinued or was soon going to be discontinued and told me as much.  I paid his price.  And I still will pursue repairing the Alesis, for the right price.  There’s a small part of me that wants to rebuild a whole studio with racks of 80’s and 90’s physical keyboards, but holy shit is that an expensive idea.  Obviously, a lot of those sounds are coming back into vogue with new music, so prices have been soaring.  Pawn shops used to be used device gold mines, but I can’t imagine any shop not doing their EBay research and finding out the value of what they have.  So virtual devices will still be the way, with a solid controller.