Drivers – and Sucking

Having relocated back to the SF Bay Area a little over a year ago, I have commented on how the civility and the sanity of drivers on the freeways and highways had taken a turn for the worse.

Really bad, selfish behaviors had become more prevalent and ingrained, with the trend to trying to get a little bit ahead.

I sorrowed for the past where there was some decorum, and grace to be found, if not universal.

Then I drove through Los Angeles yesterday.

Holy fucking hell

The LA basin has always had bad traffic. There is a continual effort to increase capacity, but alas, all improvements do is create a brief respite until the monster that is LA drivers come in and fill it to overflowing.

I saw first had some truly insane events.

1) As I was on I5 headed south, just past the grapevine is an exit (2 lanes exit only) for Lancaster. This ginormous SUV, with California plates (not a tourist) and a hitch rack loaded with camping gear cut in front of me with about 6″ to spare. No signal, no courtesy wave, just cut in barely missing the front of my car. Then this asshole quickly jumped two more lanes over almost causing another accident.

2) On the 605 cut over from 210 to I5 in Santa Ana, a car about 200 meters in front of me just spun out. No other cars involved, just spinning, smoking tires, and ended up pointing in the wrong direction. Fortunately, I was able to get around that quickly before it turned into a clusterfuck.

3) Back on the 210, there was some roadwork. All sorts of signs said that the speed limit was 55, and that it was enforced aggressively. People didn’t even blink and continued doing 75MPH or more. About 2 miles into this 8 mile stretch, I saw a CHP merge in, thinking “Good, he is going to nail one of the fuckers…” Nope. He quickly accelerated to 80+ and kept moving.

I made it to San Diego about 3:30 PM (left about 7:30), so not a bad time.

Vacation Time

Yep, since there is a little revenue problem at work, we have been “encouraged” to take 4 days of FTO in this fiscal quarter. With not so subtle hints that the week before the 4th of July holiday would be grand for this.

So, I am taking the week off. Woo hoo. Not a great time at work to take off, but alas, I have learnt when they recommend you take time off, there is someone counting those days taken, and you don’t want to be on that list.

Yippee.

Today I have a party to go to, a colleague is having a house warming party.

Tomorrow I will jump in Stewie and head to San Diego. My dad lives there, and as he is now in his ninth decade, there is a realization that there aren’t infinite opportunities to see him in the future (damn, I am getting old).

So, I am going to be “Jackin’ it in San Diego”

ST_TOS_Cast

The Original Star Trek Episodes

I am probably going to piss off a lot of people with this, but I am wondering why the 1960’s version of Star Trek is a cult classic. Really painful to watch. Far more than the awful acting of the Shatner, the stories just suck.

I just began watching it again via Netflix streaming, and the first three episodes are just plain awful.

Huge plot holes, bad acting, awful story lines, it really is crap, and painful to watch.

However, it is intriguing to see how many South Park plot lines came from the series. I keep connecting the dots.  Those boys sure were fans of both Star Trek and the Twilight Zone episodes.

Lunchbox from Hell

My Lunchbox from Hell

This weekend, I picked up the electric guitar, and fired up the Gallien Krueger to do some jamming. I almost forgot how epic the tone of this kick ass little amp was.

I bought it way back in 1985 or so. I remember doing the Guitar Center/Guitar Showcase puch-pull to get it for something less than $500, probably a 20% discount from the list price.

It is a small-ish practice amp, 2 4.5″ speakers, and built in reverb and chorus. It is a true stereo amp, and if you connect it to two large speaker cabinets, the chorus is lush. However, I just play it to my self.

There are two channels, a “clean” channel, with a modest gain and some clipping that you can get a decent Fender Twin Reverb sound out of (in about 1/4 the size), but the fun is the overdriven channel. It has a very crunchy overdrive, that can deliver a very satisfying tone.

The 4 band equalizer provides a stunning range of sounds, and tones, so that you can tailor the sound to your liking.

When I bought it, I was in a heavy metal phase, and I played it balls out crunchy. Very appealing.

But as I matured, and more importantly, I bought a good Fender Super 60 amp, my first (and only) tube amp. My sound evolved, and I played more straight up rock, blues, and even some jazzy things (albeit not very well).

The GK is feeling its age. I suspect the speakers need to be replaced, and the jacks are noisy, but when I plug in, dial down the bass, and crank up the gain, I can feel the inner hair-metal guitar god come through.

A most enjoyable hour of playing.

A vinyl LP record

Spinning Vinyl – How my outlook has changed

I remember my early years of listening to music. When I was gifted a modest hifi system, and began buying records (no tapes in that era), I listened to my LP’s sparingly, as I didn’t want to wear them out. As I learnt with my Sargent Pepper soundtrack (the movie, featuring Peter Frampton) you can wear out a record.

So, as soon as I could afford it on my paper route money, I bought a cassette tape recorder, and began transferring the music to tape, and wearing those out.

It was more like a mastering process, where I would covet and protect the vinyl, and then dump it down to cassettes to listen to. This also allowed me to “mix” the songs, my own early “mix tapes“.

Then, in 1983 the Compact Disc was launched, and I eagerly moved to the new format. A lot of my music was still on LP, but most (or all) of my new purchases was the never wear out, play it all you want, CD format.

Today

Fast forward to today. Once again, I have a turntable, a modest Sony belt drive that I inherited. A decent amplifier, and studio monitor speakers.

I am again buying vinyl, but instead of treating it like gold, playing it solely to record it, I play it to enjoy. Whole album sides.

I don’t worry about wearing them out. I just play them to listen to.

Latest addition: Rush’s “Hemispheres”. Great album.

Google_Play_Music_icon

Music Services: Google Play (and All Access)

Part two in the online music services reviews. Today, it is Google Play and its All Access “Subscription” service.

In 2011 when Google announced Play and their music service, my hopes were high. I was an early adopter (from when you needed an invite to join Gmail), and I assumed Google would rock this. You could store your music in their services, and play it anywhere. Up to a whopping 20,000 tracks.

It seemed awesome. So I downloaded the sync application for both my personal Mac, as well as my PC. In about a week, all of my library was on the Google service.

Of course, there were wrinkles. If I synced something from both iTunes, and from my PC, one was in .m4a, and one was .mp3. One would think Google would know this and not duplicate the album/track.

You would think wrong.

You would think that they would have some facility to view duplicates, and allow you to clean them up.

Again, you would think wrong. So to clean your collection you have to manually delete the albums.

Early on, the quality of their streaming was sketchy. There were glitches aplenty. Hitches, drop outs, and freezes, all plagued playback. Google relied on their HTML5 wizardry, and their back end cloud infrastructures. Regardless of their technical prowess, there were plenty of glitches, and other things that detracted from listening enjoyment.

In 2013, Google launched the “All Play” streaming on demand service to counter Spotify. I tried it (and even paid to subscribe for a few months). Like the rest of the Google music experience, it was clumsy, and plagued with glitches. In my initial attempt to ditch Spotify, I gave it a good run, but Spotify’s application and streaming quality slaughtered Google.

In 2015, Google upped the number of tunes you can store on their site to 50,000, but alas, I have moved on.

As an avowed Apple disciple, you might be tempted to passing this off on fanboyism. However, I did buy a Nexus 7 tablet, to give Android in its purest state a try. Google Music on that device was just as clunky to use.

There is an app for the Chrome browser that helps navigate, but it still doesn’t match the performance of Spotify.

(“Google Play Music icon” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Google_Play_Music_icon.png#/media/File:Google_Play_Music_icon.png)

facebook logo

Quitting Facebook (at least temporarily)

When this goes live, I will have been a full week of not being on Facebook. Last Tuesday, I decided to do a drastic thing, to deactivate my Facebook account.

It isn’t the first time I had done this. Back in 2009, not long after I joined Facebook, I deactivated my profile. That time, I held out 8 months before peer pressure caused me to turn it on.

In the intervening time, it is astounding how much the web now relies on Facebook as an identity verifier, authentication path, and collector of all sorts of personal data.

I had paved the way for this for some time. By adding logins to things like Goodreads, and Strava (among many other sites where it is just easier to connect via Facebook). But it wasn’t easy. There were dozens of places where I linked my identity to Facebook.

Of course, over the last 5 years, I had built quite a cult of personality on Facebook. An outspoken atheist, with a wickedly sardonic sense of humor, I collected like minded friends. It was almost a challenge to see who could post the most outrageous things.

That said, Facebook was taking over more of my life. I probably spent 2 hours a day combing my feed, and looking for new, fun things to post. Checking email? Quickly hop over to FB. Finished a document at work? You guessed it, check Facebook.

Even standing in line for the grill at the cafeteria, using my iPhone to check Facebook.

It was an addiction, as much as coffee or nicotine. More than a habit, it was an obsession. Did my friends “like” the latest snark? What rude douchebag politician said what?

So I deactivated my account. It is sad, Facebook has on the deactivation page a list of some of your top friends, and how they will miss you. Really pouring on the pity-party.

But I didn’t go to the trouble of deleting the profile (I understand that actually deleting the profile requires you to deliver a Kidney and half your liver to Mark Zuckerberg), so I am sure I will go crawling back.

But for now I am on a break.

I am still on Twitter, so please hit me there @ganders2112 if you miss your snark.

Kindle-Unlimited-logo-220x86

Kindle Unlimited

I have a kindle, and I enjoy it. I haven’t always had a Kindle, I started as a Sony reader fan, and then an iPad user, but I succumbed to inevitability, and bought a Kindle.

I like it. I do prefer a eInk reader to a tablet, and today, you have to work really hard to live in this space and not use a Kindle.

I buy lots of books. Most are just throw-away pulpy fiction that I enjoy reading. Like the Doc Savage series (modern), or The Destroyer series. Mostly they are a couple of bucks, I enjoy them and delete them from my Kindle.

I have also borrowed a couple books via the Prime lending library. I wish I had something to say about that, but really, it is trivial to borrow, read, and “return“. Very uneventful.

Now I am struggling with joining Kindle Unlimited. Looking at the books included, much of the pulpy fiction things are there. So it would probably save me a few bucks (but not much, and I rarely spend more than $10 a month on those throw-aways.

But the convenience of Unlimited is tempting. Grab a book or 5, and try them. If they suck, you aren’t out any money.

The ethical qualm is how little of that $10 goes to authors. You have to read some percentage of the book for them to get any money, and the fee paid to them is low. Why should I care?

Good question. Unlike the average Slashdot user, I don’t subscribe that the near zero marginal cost of an e-book means I should pay pennies for it. I know how much effort it is to write, edit, and package even an e-book. I believe that the written words are the value, not the paper, ink and distribution costs.

Herein lies the problem. Kindle Unlimited appears to be a bad deal for authors. They are pressured to participate, but, like Spotify, the amount of subscriber or advertiser money that trickles to them is minuscule.

I prefer to spend the few bucks, have more of that go to the authors, and hopefully, they will continue to write things I want to read.

So, while Kindle Unlimited seems awesome, and a great deal, I will continue buying books, as I believe that will help the authors make a living, and thus not have to go back to a day job to put food on the table.

coda

Yes, I still use Spotify. However, I have bought many albums based on things I have found there. I find that if I really enjoy (read: replay songs) an artist, I will buy their album(s) to help support them.

amazon-prime-music-logo-small

Music Services – Amazon Prime

Part one of a series on music services, I will start with Amazon Prime.

Back when iTunes music store was top of the list, and sold DRM encumbered tracks, Amazon opened their music store, selling un-protected MP3 files. Turns out that this was more than a sharp stick in Apple’s eye, but the lever by which the music publishers lost the ability to demand DRM on music sold.

But, it did begin the nascent Amazon sales of music. I bought some from Amazon at the time, not for any particular reason, but to have a variety (and let’s be honest, Amazon makes it so damn easy to impulse buy, that it was inevitable that I bought some tracks from them.

side note: Some music was not available for purchase on MP3, in particularly Racer-X, so I continue to buy my CD’s from Amazon.

Fast forward to today. Amazon Prime is their “club” where you get free 2 day shipping, access to a borrowing library for the Kindle, Video streaming (with a really weird set of movies and shows), and ahem, access to their prime collection of music.

It didn’t really dawn on me until way late that you could listen to music like Spotify, on demand. Yeah, I am a bit dense sometimes. But I do it now, and there is even a decent PC application (and a web application for other platforms, as well as Android and IOS applications for phones/tablets).

The positive is that unlike Spotify, you can download the MP3 files to your computer and keep them. Cool. The is quite a selection of Prime music available, from a large chunk of the Jethro Tull catalog, to some obscure albums from Journey and The Outlaws (just from my tastes), you can put together playlists that will satisfy. Also there are “radio” stations that are really more like curated playlists, so you can get an effortless listening experience.

There is a downside though. To find the Prime music you look for the “prime” logo in the store. That means that you get pay to play, next to free tracks. You get your hopes up that a Led Zeppelin album is free, but alas, it isn’t.

One feature of Amazon’s offering is “AutoRip”. If you buy a physical album, and they offer it as an MP3 download, the downloads are added to your collection automatically. This is really cool, as if you buy the reissue Led Zeppelin vinyl album, while you are waiting for it to arrive via their 2 day shipping, you can enjoy listening to it on your computer or phone.

And this is not just for new purchases, since Amazon has records of all the music you bought, from the way back time, they go and automagically add those old tracks to your music. Imagine the surprise when the two Stratovarius albums I bought in 2005 were in my list.

The last time I contemplated ditching Spotify, and seriously looked at Amazon, they got low marks for streaming glitches. It was surprising to me that the company with the AWS and ECS infrastructure to handle Netflix, and be the largest cloud computing platform could suck so bad at media delivery and streaming. However, they have gotten their act together, and a few weeks of heavy usage, I am happy to report virtually no glitches or issues.

Summary

Amazon is a strong contender. Spotify seems to beat it in selection, and no need to differentiate the paid versus free tracks. But, as a service, and included with the Prime account that I am going to use anyway, it is a winner.

Next up: Google Play

Beggar_Banquet

Music Appreciation – Beggar’s Banquet

Recently, I blogged about a seminal Rolling Stones Album, "Let it Bleed". I was of the opinion that if you needed only one Rolling Stones album to accompany you to a deserted island, it was the album.

One of my FB friends, Joe Palmer offered up the predecessor of the 1969’s Let it Bleed, the 1968 album "Beggar’s Banquet". So I took his advice, plopped down some hard currency and bought the re-mastered vinyl.

Wow. Starting with Sympathy for the Devil, a killer "must have" track, the album is chocked full of kickin’ tunes.

So, if you are headed to a deserted island, and you are told you only can have one Rolling Stones album, kick that person in the nads, and take both "Let it Bleed" and "Beggar’s Banquet". You don’t need that negativity in your life.