We bought this refrigerator in March of 2005. It's served us well for many years. A Maytag stainless steel dual doors/side-by-side refrigerator/freezer combo 25.6' Cu Ft - Model number MSD2657HES. This refrigerator has worked well for many years, needling minimal repairs (we had to have a control board replaced when the freezer stopped working properly. I think that I got ripped off (of course) by the A&E repair/technician when they charged me $346.00 to replace a 'defrost/evaporator control board'.
Coconut Sashimi - A Snack Experiment:
Unfortunately, the primary ingredient wasn't green enough. The coconut was far too firm, inflexible, and dry. It wasn't 'spit it out bad', but it wasn't 'Coconut Sashimi' in the least. I guess it's back to the grocery store. How am I going to find a 'green' coconut (with the skin/husk intact) in the Denver/Aurora area? Mail order? Unfortunately, with shipping, three green coconuts cost ~$56.00! and then there's the problem of preservatives. I guess I won't be eating any coconut sashimi for a while.
Take me out to the Ball Park - A Double Header:
O.k. back to the point. Now that I have weekends and holidays off (thanks to my new job), I don't have to take vacation in order to enjoy my weekends. For that matter, now that I'm not working shift work, I can take off work in the middle of the week - Just to see a ball game, just to relax and enjoy a day of baseball during the middle of a Colorado Summer. This 'Double-Header' came during the middle of June. Normally, Kim and I go to see at least one of the Rockies vs Brewers games, and that's what we did on a Saturday (21st of July, 2014). We left home around 1200, drove to 'Nine Mile Station', bought some Light Rail tickets, and headed downtown. We stopped for a bite to eat on Wynkoop Street (at the Wynkoop Brewery), then made our way to the stadium. By 1515 we were and parked in our seats (Club level seats in the 'Wells Fargo' section) waiting for the game to start. The action started a little late due to some weather. Thankfully, we were well sheltered from the rain by the seats above ours. We always try to get our seats in this section. They're a bit more expensive, but it's worth it on days like this.
Thankfully the game didn't go extra innings, but it sure was a good game - For the Brewers! Especially the crazy wild pitch in the third inning. With bases loaded, the Brewers capitalized on a chaotic situation. The ball was thrown back after a wild pitch, but it was thrown past the pitcher, wasn't recovered properly and then there were multiple errors made as the Brewers kept coming home - What a mess! The Brewers ended up scoring three runs on that crazy wild pitch. The Brewers won the game easily after that disastrous inning. The Rockies managed to pull in a couple more runs, but the game ended 9 to 4 in favor of the Brewers. Going to a Rockies vs Brewers games is one of our favorite things to do. No matter who wins, we get to leave the stadium saying "We Won!"
That was the game on the 21st of June. As I mentioned earlier, this was a 'Double Header' of sorts. Normally, Kim and I only make one baseball game a year, but this year would be a bit different. This time my employer let me leave work early, on the 25th of June, 2014, in order to enjoy a game in the middle of the week. A 'Morale Building Activity' they call it. This MBA was arranged by a group of people at work. My employer pays for the time off. In this case, four hours are charged as a Morale Building Activity. And it worked for Kim and I. We both took a half day off of work (she had to take her own vacation/she doesn't work for the same company). We drove home, changed, drove to 'Nine Mile Station', bought some Light Rail tickets, and headed downtown to Coors Field.
Since we had planned a little ahead, we had already bought tickets for the game (Someone at work bought a large block of tickets in one of the cheaper sections (not our normal club level seats)). What game did we see? Well, we're from Wisconsin, but Colorado's been our home since 2001. We normally go to see at least one of the Rockies vs Brewers games, and we did that on Saturday. This time we went to a Rockies vs Cardinals game. We left around 1400, took the light rail, and arrived in downtown Denver just in time to see the game start. without any shade over our heads, I was wishing I had brought a hat, and I ended up buying my first 'Rockies' ball-caps. It's a good thing I did. Even with the cap, I still got sunburned on the back of my neck and Kim fared far worse as she refused to buy a ball cap.
The game went well for the Cardinals, and the pitching (from the Cardinals) was outstanding. The Rockies couldn't seem to hit any of the balls thrown by Marco Gonzales (a Colorado native) in his debut game. The best part of this game was being there with friends, our coworkers. The fact that my employer paid for the time off just made it that much better. I had a few beers, a foot-long hot-dog, and a really good time. Despite the sunburn and the Rockies' loss (Cardinals won 9 to 6), we both had a good time. Thankfully the game didn't run late, and we got home at a decent time (before 2200). Another great month at Coors Stadium - If only the Rockies could play a better game!
I've posted some photos from these two games, but I didn't have time to add any annotations or change the titles. The pics tell the story without the need for any embellishment. I hope you enjoy the photos. We sure enjoyed the games.
Aches & Pains leads to Massive Thunderstorms and Hail!
As the barometric pressure rises, then falls, my joints act up. The pain is primarily experienced as the barometric pressure drops, which causes the fluids in and around my joints to expand. On this particular occasion (last week (22 - 28) of June, 2014), I found my joints and back aching. This particular stretch of pain lasted two days, and then the headache walloped me on the 24th. What a doozy! Our area experienced some strong low pressure fronts; from the 22nd through the 27th of June. Those low pressure fronts moved through our area, dropped a barrage of rain and hail. The days were gloomy, chilly and overcast. My bones and joints were aching almost non-stop. I found myself taking way more pain killers than I care too, but the pain wasn't making me happy, so I found myself tapping those over the counter caplets every 8 to 12 hours.
My joints have a tendency to ache whenever there's a low pressure front moving through the area, so that's something I've been coping with for many years. Thankfully the pain is manageable. I take a few over the counter pain meds, and do my best to stay occupied. Lately, I've noticed a correlation with headaches/sinus pressure as well. Now that I think about it, headaches are often present when the strongest fronts move through the area. It's something that I believe is linked to barometric pain. With this set of storms, we (here in the Denver basin) weren't very lucky. While these low pressure fronts that moved through our area, we really got a lot of severe weather. Damaging wind and hail struck us pretty hard. As a matter of fact our house got pummeled by some pretty big hail. I think we're going to have a claim from the damage. The fronts that moved through here sure had a lot of moisture, and a lot of energy. Does the weather affect you in a similar way? Do your joints ache when that low pressure front rolls through town?
NPS - Windows Only:
<rant>What a disaster! Back in June of 2014 (I'm writing this article from the future - It's now May of 2016 - but that's a whole different story). I wanted to obtain some information about one of our National Parks (See La Jolla article below). At the time I thought that Torrey Pines was a National Park. It's not - It's a State Park. Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve. I thought I might be able to find some information about the park on the NPS website. I was also looking for some information about the Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.
Visiting the NPS website, I soon learned that I was not welcome. The website was apparently designed specifically for use with Windows/i.e. Internet Explorer. I could not make use of the website as it required the use of Internet Explorer browser and some sort of specialized djvu plug in! Seriously? It's 2014 already, get over this IE bias. I spent some time troubleshooting the problem - Perhaps I could trick the website into thinking I was using an Internet Explorer browser? I tried changing the 'User Agent' (Safari has some extensive 'Developer Tools' and capabilities), but that didn't help. I then spent two hours configuring a JavaVM (virtual machine) in order to run Internet Explorer on my Mac (Of course there's no IE for Mac, why would there be?). I downloaded and installed the djvu plugin and then I was able to use the NPS website... I was on the website for a total of 30 minutes, but I spent about an hour troubleshooting the problem and nearly two hours setting up a Windows emulator on my Mac. This is ridiculous.
In April of 2014, the US government (The US Computer Emergency Readiness Team - CERT) actually issues a warning to US government agencies. It warned that US government agencies should "consider employing an alternate browser" until an especially critical vulnerability/flaw in Internet Explorer could be patched. As usual, IE is flawed. It's vulnerable. The use of IE makes government websites especially vulnerable to attacks, penetration and loss of data. Why does the US government continue to use IE as it's default browser? For that matter, it sometimes makes it impossible to use other browsers - That's exactly what's going on with the NPS.gov website.
I wrote a long email to the 'webmaster' about web compatibility, standards, the vulnerabilities of IE, and how they (as a government agency) have a responsibility to all Americans, not just the ones who choose Windows computers. No I didn't get a reply.<rave>
La Jolla, California - June 2014:
La Jolla sure is a beautiful place, and there was a lot to do and see. Unfortunately, I was only there for a few days and I spent most of my time working. I would like to go back and take a vacation. After I got home (to Colorado), I went on line to look up home/real-estate prices… Oh my! Talk about an expensive place to live! According to WikiPedia; La Jolla is the most expensive place to live in America (4 bedroom avg price = $1.8m / as of Jun, 2014). Further research showed that San Diego is still (as of June, 2014) one of the 10 most expensive places to live in the U.S. (appx 30% above national average).
Too bad it's so expensive. I guess I won't be buying any property anywhere near San Diego or La Jolla, I'll just have to be content with my brief visit, the possibility of a vacation, and the handful of photos I took. I hope you enjoy the photos as well.
Amazon Prime adds Music to the mix:
Music discovery is a time consuming business. There are lots of ways to go about it, and I usually let a few music engines help me. I use eMusic recommendations, I manually search for artist releases (bands I already know - albums I'm missing), I listen to curated playlists (on rdio and eMusic), I get recommendations from friends, and I occasionally venture out to sample some of the music blogs I used to visit on a regular basis. One of the things that really helps is a Music Streaming Service. Thankfully there are plenty to chose from. While the field sometimes seems to be shrinking, there are new ones entering the scene all the time. Take for instance this latest new-comer. Amazon! It's a big name, and they're constantly looking for ways to draw in more customers for their 'Prime' service, and this happens to be fortuitous for me... I'm already a Prime member.
Amazon Prime - Music: In June of 2014, Amazon introduced another 'Prime' service. If you aren't familiar with Amazon's Prime service you really should be. It's an amazing value from the online store with the big name. Prime is a subscription service. For $99 (was $79 from introduction in 2005 until March of 2014, when the price went up to $99 / year) you get a 'subscription' to numerous services. The primary service is a 'premium' shipping benefit. All eligible orders placed with Amazon are shipped via two day free shipping. In 2013 I signed up for Amazon Prime. By then they were also offering video streaming (on demand) with the Prime membership (Amazon started video streaming (with appx 5000 titles) in Feb, 2011). I was hooked on the two-day shipping, adding video streaming just made it much harder to ignore.
Now they've gone and done it again. Adding streaming music to the Prime package gives me another reason to keep paying for the Prime membership. Even if they did increase the price to $99 per year (in March of 2014), the streaming music option (which starts off with 1 million tracks) adds another discovery source to my search for awesome music. Thank you Amazon!
My new choice for Music Discovery - rdio:
Why stream music? Why not stick with the traditional music model? Why don't I simply buy music? CDs perhaps? Or just a download service? I could just hoard MP3s on my computer and load up my iPod with all my favorites. Why 'rent' my music like people did/do with Rhapsody? If you're like me (as old as me), you might remember the good old days of the 'Colombia House Music Club'. "13 Records or Tapes for $1" was an outstanding value, and I wasn't the only one to join. You had to be very meticulous about your selections and mail back your 'order card' promptly to avoid the dreaded 'Auto Selection'. In the end I got tired of their lack-luster selection. They typically offered fewer than 100 options, and very few were bands I heard on the College Radio stations that I was listening to. At their height (in 1996) they actually had a membership of 16 million subscribers. By then I was done with the service. My curiosity got me in the door, but the lack of selection led me right back out. I was looking for something with more selection and fewer demands (back in the 80s/early 90s).
Fast forward several years - decades even - to 2010; By 2010 I was finally ready to stream some music. I was listening to online blogs, a random selection application, various radio stations, Pandorra, some random selections on discs (Remember the MacAddict software discs? Well, there used to be some free music on those discs), even a childhood friends personal music blog (Troy's 'music blog' actually linked me to actual copies of his mp3s) - All kinds of disparate and some covert access methods. I was using a large variety of esoteric, incomplete and difficult to use forums and access methods as a way to discover new music. Some music services (eMusic and iTunes) offered 'samples', playback of 20 seconds or so, but that still wasn't enough to satisfy my yearning for music. How was I using this music? I was listening, enjoying, and consuming. I would listen to songs, discover tracks, bands and artists which I enjoyed...
Once I found an artist I enjoyed, I would go hunting. Off to find a track, a download, an album. Thankfully, by 2010 I had already identified a few good places for legitimate purchase and download (such as eMusic). I was tired of this exhausting discovery technique. My time was precious, important, and I really wanted a little more convenience in the process. That's when I seriously began considering a music streaming service, a major revision in my discovery technique. I decided to conserve my time and pony up some money for a serious aggregation site. My first stop was MOG - A consolidated, streaming source with a large catalog. At its height the music service had approximately 35 million songs. I could pick and choose what I wanted to listen to - Now that's the convenience I was looking for, unfortunately MOG began to decline after a brief burst of Independent brilliance. By 2012 some poor management decisions were dilluting the Independent nature in favor of a may mainstream but expanded catalog. By 2013 that expanded user base and catalog caught the attention of some big names - By 2014 MOG was dead; purchased, incorporated into Beats Music and ultimately shuttered.
That action led me to a search for an alternative. In early 2014 (May of 2014) I found rdio. The rdio service is similar to MOG in many ways. An online music streaming service. They offer a free service (with Ads) and an ad-free service (for $5 or $10/month). I opted for the $5.00/month option. I get no 'mobile' or 'download' options, but most of my listening occurs while I'm sitting in front of the computer, so the web-based $5.00/month option suits me well. With a library of approximately 20 million (in May of 2014) tracks, I don't see many drawbacks. No random selections, no odd-ball access methods, a one-stop music streaming portal. Type in the name of an album or artist and your enjoying ad-free music in just a few seconds. I'm sure I'll find a large variety of tracks, albums and artists that I'll 'Dig' - Then it's off to the music store to secure my download (appx 50 tracks a month). The downloads aren't really necessary any more - It's more of a way to reward my favorite artists than anything else. I know that the revenue from streaming is miniscule, so I download music after I find an artist that I appreciate. I'm also using the digital downloads to satisfy my craving for an iPod (iPod Classic w/160GB capacity) full of off-line music. Music I can listen to without the worry of a lousy internet or costly cell-phone connection.
I evaluated six different music streaming services before I made my decision. In addition to the services I already mentioned, rdio also offers personalized playlists, a highly usable and attractive application/website experience, the ability to share songs and albums with other rdio subscribers, recommendations and reviews. After much analysis/evaluation, I have made my decision. My next Music Discovery source, a music streaming service to replace MOG, will be rdio. It may not be my last music streaming service, but it seems to work well in my niche. Thanks for the great service rdio - Now it's time to get back to work - Start streaming that 'Talking Heads' album while I get back to typing!
Tornados and Lightning and Thunder oh My!
The weather has been quite violent of late (storms on Friday and Saturday), and hail is always a big concern. Kim and I were off on the 8th - It was a Sunday, and we were enjoying the day... Soon after my joints started aching then it started raining, and hailing, and thundering, and lightning, and then the tornado sirens started going off. With the sky looking very ominous, and the tornado sirens blaring, we made our way to the basement. Hail in the area was reported with a diameter up to 2 inches and it covered the ground up to a depth of 2 inches. The scariest part was the tornado sirens. There were some funnel clouds spotted near Blackstone - That's about 3 miles away - and we stayed in the basement for about thirty minutes. The entire storm lasted about two hours. The hail was severe, and I wouldn't be surprised if there's some damage as a result.
Ubuntu One file services shut down:
Ubuntu One was a cloud based storage provider. With the basic/free account you got a free 5gb account with a desktop download. Another benefit provided with the digital storage space was a digital music locker for people on the go. If you purchased music from their music store partner - 7digital.com, that music was instantly and always available through their cloud based player. The music storage didn't count against your free 5gb account. I gave the file storage and music service a chance. I bought some music from 7digital, and I tried out the file storage option. The stores prices were on par with iTunes so they don't really stand out in that department (too expensive - in my opinion). Their selection wasn't as good/large as iTunes or eMusic (another strike against), and they didn't get anywhere near the low eMusic prices, so I never bought additional music from the store.
In November of 2013, 7digital was merged with UBC media as part of a 'reverse takeover'. This merger may be part of the reason why Ubuntu One file services was shut down. The merger was completed in May of 2014. On the 2nd of April, 2014, Canonical (owners of the Ubuntu One brand) announced that they would be shutting down the Ubuntu One file services (I received an email on the 9th of April, 2014). According to the message, the file services would be shut down effective 1 June, 2014. As of 5 June, 2014, the Ubuntu One file storage has been shut down. Another one bites the dust. It's another cloud based storage provider crossed off my list. SugarSync dropped the free tier in Feb, Ubuntu One shut down its file services in June, and I fully expect others to follow suit.
GameOver ZeuS botnet defeated:
What is GameOver ZueS? It's a peer-to-peer computer network based on components from an earlier 'ZeuS' trojan. The GameOver ZeuS malware infects your computer and it becomes part of an encrypted, criminally controlled network. The botnet's primary goal is/was the theft of banking and other credentials from computers that it infects/infected. Operators of the network then use/used those credentials to initiate or re-direct bank transfers into criminally controlled accounts. Bank losses caused by this aspect of the botnet are estimated to be more than $100 million (as of June, 2014). The botnet uses encrypted channels to communicate between the individual peering nodes and the command and control nodes. The encrypted nature of the network makes/made it difficult for law enforcement to detect or break into. In addition to the theft of confidential banking credentials, the botnet is also used to distribute another rather nasty trojan. It's widely used to install and control CryptoLocker Ransomware (which encrypts your files and demands a ransom in exchange for the decryption key - those who fail to pay often have their files permanently encrypted (the key is destroyed/deleted)).
In early June 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that an international inter-agency collaboration named Operation Tovar had succeeded in its goal of 'intruding' new command and control servers into the network. Unlike earlier ZeuS variants, GameOver has/had a decentralized, peer-to-peer command and control infrastructure; instructions to the infected computers could come from any of the infected computers, making a takedown of the botnet more difficult. But not impossible. The operation inserted 'false' command and control servers and commands into the criminally controlled network. The new servers and commands, issued under the control of FBI agents were used to identify the controlling agents, the identities of the people controlling the malicious network, numerous details of how the network operated and allowed the FBI to liberate or sever communications between the infected computers, re-directing these computers away from criminal servers to substitute servers under the government's control.
In the closing of the DOJ's press release was the following statement:
Hopefully you weren't one of the thousands of individuals struck by this botnet or the CryptoLocker malware. Thankfully, US intelligence and law enforcement officials are working hard to investigate, deter, dismantle and prosecute the networks and criminals responsible for this criminal activity. If the internet is to remain a viable venue for business, communications and leisure, it must be strongly defended and patrolled. The next time you power up your computer, please think about the web sites you visit and the measures you take to defend your computer and your personal information.
Can't use .name for web registration:
Most website (and software) developers re-use existing code, and the original email registration code was written back in the 80s and 90s. That means that they didn't take any of these domains into consideration when they wrote their code. As a result, there's a lot of websites (software) out there that don't recognize the .name TLD as a valid domain extension. I've encountered this bias on numerous occasions, but now its 2014 - More than ten years after the introduction of the .name domain, and there are still websites out there that don't recognize the .name domain...
I consider this to be a sign. When you encounter this problem it usually means one of the following. A: The developer was ignorant, or didn't bother to check the code he/she was using when developing the website or software. B: The developer didn't conduct adequate testing in order to identify and correct the code. C: The developer knew/knows about the issue, but they really don't care. In either case, this is a bad sign. This is probably software or a website with other problems. If they can't get the email registration correct there are probably other problems.
Where did I encounter this issue? Most recently (Apr, 2014), I encountered the problem while I was trying to sign up for the 'AirBnB' service. Whenever this happens it causes me a load of grief. In this case, I spent approximately 6 hours of troubleshooting before I figured out what the problem was. In correspondence with AirBnB, the company acknowledged the discrepancy and the inconvenience that it caused me:
In the end, the only way I was able to register for the AirBnB service was using a different email address. Since I own the 'Vaessen.net' domain, I used one of my 'Vaessen.net' email addresses. What a hassle. Why can't developers just use more modern code. Or, for that matter, write new code - Code that includes all the valid TLDs for email registration! Can this be done? Of course! Will it be done? You can only hope that your email address will work. If you've got one of the fancy new fangled email addresses, you may want to consider a back-up.
Problems with the new VoIP service:
Unfortunately, every technology has it's 'Glitches' and VoIP isn't immune to that maxim, so here we go - It's time to roll out the problems with VoIP. During Jun of 2014, I discovered that I could not call my mother using my new VoIP phones/service. It was a failure from the very beginning. What the? Not only couldn't I call my mother's home phone, Kim's parents couldn't call our new VoIP phone/service. Thankfully, a phone call to my VoIP provider - Anveo. What changed? Well, in May of 2014 (just last month), I switched my primary VoIP provider from Google Voice to a different provider. Why did I switch?
According to an email I recently (15 Apr, 2014) received from the makers of the OBi VoIP device/appliance that I purchased: Back at the end of October, Obihai announced Google would end its support for the XMPP communication protocol. This announcement came on the heels of Google's announcement that as of May 15th, XMPP would no longer be supported for third-party VoIP applications. The Google Voice service uses XMPP to connect the OBi to the service. With that, after May 15th Obihai would no longer support the Google Voice service on its OBi devices. Based on that email (from ObiHai) and Google announcements regarding it's support of XMPP. I switched my VoIP service to a new provider. No more 'Free' VoIP service from Google!
Noted as of May 18, 2014: During the month of May, 2014, I switched my primary VoIP service provider to Anveo, because ObiHai (Makers of my VoIP appliance/device) told me that Google was 'ending' their XMPP protocol support. Internet searches confirmed that information. Google had actually released press releases confirming the fact that they were going to discontinue support for XMPP calls placed through their network. I switched to a different provider. The new provider costs appx ~$94.00 a year. Compared to my previous provider (Qwest/Century Link at $85.00 per month), that's a savings of more than 91%.
On the 18th of May, 2014, I received another email from ObiHai:
So, apparently Google didn't 'turn off' their XMPP support. They're not blocking the XMPP voice protocol/traffic on their network, and you can still use the Google Voice VoIP service... I moved my Google Voice service to a secondary line on my VoIP appliance and configured it with a new phone number. It's now in service using a De Pere, Wisconsin phone number. Any calls placed to that number are toll-free to the caller in the calling area, and they ring on Kim's cell-phone. Best of all? It's free - Still free - Always was free. The Google Voice service is running on my Obi device, and I don't pay anything for that VoIP service!
Unfortunately, any change or new service is bound to come with a few problems. Especially at the beginning. I will say this - Configuring the VoIP appliance is NOT easy by any stretch of the imagination. It's no wonder it hasn't been more widely adopted. I'm a pretty tech-savvy guy, but configuring a VoIP device is no laughing matter. No wonder people pay big bucks for the Comcast VoIP service! It's a very difficult thing to do on your own.
Thankfully a phone call to my new provider (I'm paying for some support - I decided to (when I signed up) just in case...) corrected the matter in less than a day. Now we're back on the grid - I can call my parents, and Kim's parents can call us. Unfortunately, I had to discover and troubleshoot the problem myself (with some help from the called/calling parties).
June's Jammin' Tunes:
Artists want you to Hear their music - If you like it, you'll buy it, or maybe you'll buy some concert tickets. The major labels of the music industry want you to pay for their product. - letting you hear it for free is contrary to their business model. Well, guess what? I won't buy the music if I can't listen to it first, and no one listens to the radio anymore (I don't because of all the advertising, interruptions, lack of new music and lack of information - you can never figure out who/what is being played) The major labels are killing themselves with their restrictive distribution and dissemination policies. If you like new music, you can do a web search to find your favorite artists web site, a new music web site, or an archive of free music. Free music is available - Legally! Don't believe the propaganda of the major labels - Not all free music is illegal. You can legally download and listen to all sorts of music for free (Have you heard of Pandora, Audiolizer, Presto, Jango or GrooveShark?). I download (purchase) most of my music from a couple of commercial sources (eMusic and iTunes), but I occasionally download tracks (legally) from various websites, newsgroups and blogs in order to satisfy my craving for music.
Here's a listing of some of the music I legally downloaded - and paid for!
These are some of the items I added to my music collection during this month. Since revamping my music collection back in September of 2005, I've been slowly adding, revising and updating the collection. If you have a comment, question or correction regarding my music collection, please don't hesitate to send me an email. Please keep in mind that my collection isn't for sale, and I'm not interested in giving you any copyrighted materials. I'd rather not go to jail for music piracy. :-)