Dec 31, 2014

Colorado WeatherMan 'O Man is it Cold?!
Now this is cold. On the 2nd to last day of December (Dec 31, 2014) we marked some extremely cold weather. Record lows like you couldn't grasp. We broke a few records. Our new record for the coldest high on record (for this approximate location/the airport) is now 1 degree farenheit, the previous low was set in 1915. The new record for coldest low bottomed out at -19 degrees farenheit. Yes folks, that's cold. The previous record for coldest day (at this approximate location/the airport) was set way back in 1898. This date will go down in history - Hey, what happened with global warming?

With the temperature being so low, I was checking the temperature quite frequently - While I had been considering the purchase of my own little mini-weatherstation, I realize I don't actually need one. Lots of people are running their own now-days, and many of those are connected to the internet. As a matter of fact, the nearest connected (on-line) weather station is located just south of the Aurora reservoir (in the Southshore community), not to far from my house. This weather station accurately reflects recent weather events and conditions: Snow on the 27th, 28th and 29th, with a total accumulation of approximately 4 inches. Following the snow came that record cold snap. The weather station showed temps of -1 degrees farenheit (for the high) and -10 degrees farenheit for the low (yes, that's without the windchill). The proximity of this nearby weather station gives me more accurate information for the local conditions. If you're still not impressed by those cold temperatures, maybe you'll be surprised to learn that the high on the 24th of December was 52 degrees farenheit! That's Colorado weather for you.

GPGMailEncryption and digital signatures on my Mac:
In the past spammers used to routinely target my digital identity by forging messages to look like they came from me (I used to get a lot of spammers shut down, back in the early days of the war against spammers). I don't spend as much time fighting spammers and scammers as I used to, but I've learned a lot about protecting my identity. One way I do that is by using pgp signed messages (whenever possible) with my email correspondence. Thankfully, there's an open source, free and reliable way to make that happen. There's a group of software developers who devote their time and effort in development of a product called 'GPGTools' (for the Mac) it's a series of applications which enable digital signatures and encryption inside the Mac OS X environment. One of the primary components of that suite of tools is GPGMail.

GPGMail is an open source plugin for Apple's Mail application. It provides the functionality to sign, verify, encrypt and decrypt messages/documents (including email messages) using the OpenPGP standard. The GPGTools package (all the Mac GPG tools in one download) contains the GPGMail plugin and various other encryption/dectryption tools). I use this software in conjunction with with Apple's for encryption, decryption, and message authentication. If you would like to correspond in secret, please take note of my Public Keys. This latest version of GPGMail (a beta) is quite buggy. It came about as the result of an expired beta, and a full update wasn't available. The auto update (in the application) wasn't working/available, so I had to download and install this beta. While it isn't working quite as well as expected, I'm sure the developers will iron out all the rough edges in the coming months.

Why do I use digital signatures or encryption? Well, I don't use the encryption very often, but I have been known to exchange encrypted email containing passwords or private information (banking and medical information). I use pgp signatures quite often, as a way of ensuring message authenticity. I'm tired of spammers pretending to be me; even my web hosting company has 'accused' me of being a spammer. Rather than doing any sort of investigating, they found it more convenient to simply assume that the person in the From: line of an email was the spammer. By using these signatures (which uses the message content (upon signing) and a private key to create a signature which can be verified by using my public key) I can assure recipients that the message(s) they received were actually sent be me, and it hasn't been tampered with in transit. In addition to my self published keys, my public keys are also available on various keyservers.

One of the best parts of this software? The developers! They're fantastic. Whenever I have a problem or question, they're eager and willing to help with a patch, troubleshooting or detailed instructions. The project/developers aren't working for a profit, they do it because they believe in the open availability of secure email.

Dish NowhereDish Anywhere = Dish Nowhere:
Dish disappoints. I pay for my mother's Dish Network subscription. Dish offers free digital viewing of their service to anyone who pays for the Dish Network subscription. I'm paying for the satellite service, and they offer a digital version to satellite subscribers - For Free! Sounds great. My mom enjoys the satellite service, and I should be able to enjoy the digital version of the service fom my home. Should being the key word here. I tried - I downloaded and installed two different applications (for iOS/iPad) with the same name (different versions). Dish on Demand, and Dish Anywhere. The Dish on Demand app was a no go from the get go. That application is designed for subscribers who are paying for the digital streaming only. The other app - Dish Anywhere should work for me, but it won't. I can log in, the interface renders properly, I can browse the shows/programing, but I can't watch any shows. As soon as I try to, it locks up my iPad, then the app crashes. After a few hours of research and troubleshooting - It appears that my iPad (brand new iPad Air 2 w/64GB of RAM) isn't powerful enough to display the video? Or so the online research might indicate. Of course that's hardly conclusive. It could be any number of issues causing the app to not work. This is a bit of a bummer, I was hoping that we could use this as an alternative to our Comcast Cable TV plan, I'm already paying for it (Paying for Mom's Dish plan), so I thought I might be able to discontinue the Comcast Cable TV.

White ChristmasIt's a White Christmas!
Yes Virginia, it's a White Christmas. We have snow! We got approximately six inches of snow on the 23rd of Dec, 2014. The snow stopped falling around 0930, and I ignored it until 1500. That's when I finally got out there and started shoveling. Two hours later... My back is protesting - I really should have used that snow blower! Not only did we have snow on the 23rd of Dec, we also got snow on the 25th. It truly was a white Christmas; the snow started falling (in Aurora, CO) on the evening of 25 Dec, 2014. In the morning, I decided to get some pictures as the sun was rising. Here's one of the photos. The sky is still dark with cloud cover, and the snow was still coming down - Ever so gently. I took a bunch of pictures, then I grabbed a shovel and started working. I may have the day off, but Mother Nature doesn't.

Morale building activityMorale Building Activities:
I participated in two 'Morale Building Activities' today (on the 19th of Dec, 2014) - My company is awesome! Time off to unwind, socialize, and talk about non-work related activities with my coworkers and their family members. Lunch at Jim N' Nicks with people from my office. Drinks in the afternoon with personnel from our division at McCabe's bistro and pub. Work has been very stressful this year, I'm very glad that they give us some paid time off to unwind in a social setting with our coworkers and family. Yes - Believe it or not. They're paying me to take some time off and unwind. It's a great idea, I want to get to know my coworkers in a less 'work-focused' setting. I know that it will help me to better understand them, and provide them with better service. As I write this (in Feb of 2019), I'm actually looking forward to my first MBA of the year. Tomorrow we're going to 'The Rock' restaurant after work. It should be a good time. Once again, work has been very stressful. We just finished the annual employee evaluations, and a visit from the Inspector's General office. Does your employer offer paid 'Morale Building Activities'?

Dec 16, 2014

ToothScrewed by my Dental Insurance:
Have you ever been screwed by your insurance - Of course you have! Especially if you live in America. Insurance companies are the worst. I'm not sure which I hate more, banks or insurance companies. I guess I hate insurance companies more than banks. It's easier to 'quit' a bank and move your money over to one who offers better services, fewer fees, and doesn't screw you every chance it gets - Exactly what I'll do with the bank that holds my mortgage, the minute its paid off, and not a second later. But insurance companies? Oh, they're the worst. A company that's supposed to help you 'get better', but they really don't care about your health. What they really care about is profits. They don't view you as their customer - They totally view you as their enemy. Every claim you make takes away from their profit. That money you pay for health care? Not - It's their money, that they use to make profits. Stop taking away their money!

How sucky is my Dental insurance company! I recently had a crown put on one of my molars. The oldest metal filing in my mouth (the military paid for that one back in the 90s) had some decay from a cavity and it needed to be replaced. While replacing the filing, the dentist noted that the tooth was hollowed out under the rather large filing, and there were some cracks beginning to form on the tooth, and I really should get a crown for this particular tooth. I didn't get the crown at that time...

After the new composite filing was put in I started to experience some pain. The pain was only noted when I bit down, not from air or liquids. And it only hurt when I bit down on the tooth. I tolerated the pain for nearly five months, then when my six month appointment routine check up came up, I described the pain to the dentist. He took another look at the tooth, and took some x-rays (I was due for some). He confirmed that the cracks had become significantly larger. He indicated that I really needed the crown now. If I didn't get the crown the tooth might come apart completely.

Why were there cracks? Why was my tooth falling apart? Well, we have to blame the military doctors. They're the ones who put metal fillings in my mouth. No one really does metal filings anymore. Those damn metal filings expand over time, cracking the tooth. That's what happened to me over the last 20 plus years. Every time I go to the dentist (over the last nine years), he remarks on the fillings that need to be replaced. Especially the metal ones. They're the worst. They've been cracking my teeth from the inside for several years. Thankfully this was the last one.

I didn't want the pain returning, and I certainly didn't want to deal with a tooth that can't be repaired. I told the dentist to schedule a date to have the crown put on. A week later I went into the office, the dentist extracted the filing and fitted me with a temporary crown; I got the permanent one later this month. With the temporary crown on, I no longer had the pain I did with the filing. A week later, I got a letter from my insurance company. Guess what? They rejected the claim. According to their rejection letter: "Based on the information submitted and reviewed by our consulting dentists, no benefits can be allowed for this procedure because there appears to be insufficient evidence of extensive loss of tooth structure due to decay or fracture." What! I called the dentists office, they explained that when they submitted the claim they included a statement regarding the hollowed out tooth, the expanding filing and the cracks that were forming. They even noted the developing cracks on x-rays (from a year earlier) submitted when they did the filing six months ago. The office/billing assistant said that she would resubmit the claim with additional information and the newer x-rays. Hopefully they will allow the claim under appeal. What a bunch of crap! Why do these medical and dental insurance companies treat us (consumers) like crap? It seems like they never believe that any medical procedure beyond the routine check-ups are necessary. Hopefully I won't have to pay this ~$800.00 bill out of my own pocket. And so, the battle begins...

A week later, I had the temporary crown replaced with a permanent full zirconia (Zirconium Dioxide with Ytrium Oxide stabilizer) crown. The new crown fits perfectly, and the dental office also provided me with a copy of the rebuttal they're sending to the insurance company (complete with photos that point out the cracks in the tooth, and testimonial from two dentists indicating the necessity of the crown). According to the dental receptionist; who worked for many years as an insurance specialist at a large dental office; insurance companies routinely deny claims near the end of the quarter as their budgeted claims begin to reach or exceed their estimates. Yup - Like I've often said, these for profit insurance companies don't give a damn about your health, all they care about are their profits!

Update (writing this in Dec of 2018): The insurance covered ~$300.00 of the crown. Apparently they would only pay the cost of the cheapest crown, a non-zirconia crown. Yes, the kind that don't last as long and are prone to fracturing .I must remember that the money I pay for insurance isn't designated for my dentail health - It's intended as a way for the insurance company to make money. I'm not entitled to it, I only get to use some of it, if the insurance company thinks they can spare some of it.

PS: Just in case you were wondering - Parts of the above article are intentionally written in a sarcastic style. It's a finely honed form of expression used by Americans when we sense that we are getting screwed. Unfortunately, even though I wrote the above article in a sarcastic style, it's entirely true. We're all getting screwed by the banks and large corporations (normal for profit banks/corporation) in this country. They don't give a damn about their customers.
PPS: I didn't directly name the insurance company because I'm still 'insured' (more like screwed) by them, and I might need additional dental work done in the future. Do I fear that they would carry out reprisals if they knew that I criticized them? Absolutely!

USAAUSAA is Number One!
<rave>My Christmas bonus just arrived. Yesterday (16 December, 2012), I received a letter from my insurance company (USAA). According to the letter, "We are grateful for your continued trust and pleased to present this year's distribution from your subscriber account". They're paying me! $84.47 paid to me because they had a good year of ongoing success and financial strength. When USAA is successful, the members reap the benefits. That really is awesome. I may not be able to buy stock - because they're not a normal 'for profit' public corporation, but everyone needs insurance. According to Kim, I need to take her out to eat with the money from this check. Hopefully we can get a good dinner and still have some money left over.

It's not often that you get a good feeling about your insurance company. It's not often that your bank or insurance company gives you some money back (see below). That's right. They paid me. All companies hold a certain amount of capital. Since USAA is a member-owned company, it cannot issue stock to raise capital. It must raise capital through other means. One way that USAA manages its capital is through something called a "Subscriber's Account" (Subscriber's Savings Account - SSA). USAA holds a portion of its capital in each member's name in a "Subscriber's Account". Since there are no shareholders, profits are retained for financial strength or returned to the members - Yes! Returns are accomplished through the SSA. Each year a portion of USAA's profit is retained as "unassigned," the rest is allocated to each member's SSA using a formula based on the amount of premium the member paid that year as well as the member's SSA balance. The allocation of capital to a member's SSA occurs early in the calendar year. Late in the calendar year a portion of the member's SSA is distributed to the member via checks or electronic funds transfer. The entirety of the SSA belongs to the member, but is not completely distributed until approximately 6 months after the member no longer has a USAA P&C policy.

USAA is an insurance company and a bank (United Services Automobile Association). It is 'NOT' a publicly traded company. It's an 'Association', the members are the 'owners'. It doesn't answer to 'stockholders', it answers to it's members. Military members and their families (past and present) constitute the membership. The company suggests products and services, but the members get to vote on all the big changes and decisions. They're focused on products and services which help members meet their financial needs, not services that generate the most income for the company.

This is one of the best companies I've ever done business with. I've never been steered wrong, wronged or misled by USAA. Their service has always been the best. I can't imagine another company which treats it's members like owners, always looks out for the interests of it's members, and doesn't seek to screw those it serves. If you know a company as forthright, honest, and responsive, please share it with me.</rave>

Screwed by the BanksScrewed by the Banks:
Have you ever been screwed by you bank? Odds are pretty good that you have. Have you ever been part of a class action lawsuit? If you live in America, the odds are very high; but don't worry, the banks and major corporations are working hard to make that a part of the past... Make what a part of the past? Well, you being part of a class action lawsuit. Umm, they're not working hard to 'not screw you' - They're working hard to make sure you can't sue them when they do.

I received a 'postcard' in the mail today - I'm a member of a court ordered class action lawsuit between my bank and 'consumers'. The postcard indicated that the bank has decided to settle the lawsuit out of court. I'll get $9.50, and the counsel for the plaintiffs (our lawyer) will get $1.5 million dollars. I can decide to accept the $9.50 (my share of the per person settlement), or excuse myself from the class action and reserve the right to go it on my own against the bank. My recourse if I excuse myself? Well, I can go through the banks 'arbitration' process. I can try to get a lawyer to build another 'class action' suit for the same reasons as the initial case. Or, I could try to sue the bank on my own... I think.

I wonder who would 'win' that arbitration? Supposedly the 'arbitration' firms hired by these big corporations are 'independent' and 'unbiased' - I don't know about you, but I'm biased towards the company that pays me... I like getting paid for doing my job. As long as I do what my employer wants me to do, my employer keeps paying me. It's an arrangement that suits both of us. Why don't these big corporations just skip the 'independent' arbitration charade altogether. Since it's 'legal' to eliminate your constitutional rights through a 'forced arbitration' clause in a contract (like the one between my bank and me, or the one between you and your cell phone carrier), why don't we just make it 'legal' for corporations to 'pay' the judges directly? There's no need to pretend that we're getting any 'justice' through these forced arbitration clauses, let's just allow the corporations to pay the judges directly. That way I'll get my constitutionally (see Bill of Rights and First Amendment) guaranteed right to sue, and the corporations will get what they want. A guaranteed right to 'Never be wrong'.'

PS: Just in case you were wondering - The above article is intentionally written in a sarcastic style. It's a finely honed form of expression used by Americans when we sense that we are getting screwed. Unfortunately, even though I wrote the above article in a sarcastic style, it's entirely true. We're all getting screwed by the banks and large corporations (normal for profit banks/corporation) in this country. They don't give a damn about their customers.
PPS: I didn't directly name the bank (you might be able to figure it out) because my mortgage is through them (and it's not paid off yet). Do I fear that they would carry out reprisals if they knew that I criticized them? Absolutely!

Music CollectionDecember Downloads:
Here's a list of some of the music I recently acquired. Where do I get all this stuff? For the long story on my music discovery efforts, see my music page. After rdio was shut down, I searched for an alternative streaming service, but the only thing that made sense (given price, catalog, service, support and my existing preferences) was Apple Music. I signed up for a 3 month free trial in December of 2015, and I've been a $9.99/month subscriber ever since - Thank you for not raising your prices (as of Dec, 2018). For now, eMusic is my primary download service (even though it's catalog is severely shrunken - no major labels, and the minor labels seem to be disappearing on a daily basis), and Apple Music streaming is my primary music discovery service, but I certainly can't afford to buy my music from them, and the other major players - Amazon and Google both think that the outrageous prices that Apple charges are o.k. Really - $1.29 for a single track!

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, Presto, MySpace, SoundCloud or DashRadio?). 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!

eMusic monthly downloads:
Every month I download ~50 tracks from This month (Dec of 2014) I downloaded 49 tracks (from eMusic) at the low cost of $22.99. Normally I pay a $19.99 monthly fee, which makes the tracks extremely cheaper - That's right I didn't actually pay $22.99, that would have been the price if I had purchased individual tracks (at the non-member price). When you purchase an entire album you get a discount. Plus I got a discount for being on a specific plan (as a member), and I've been 'Grandfathered' with additional credits since I'm a long-time loyal member (since 2006). As a subscriber, you save even more. I only paid $19.99 for my $22.99 worth of downloads. The price for these tracks came out at ~$0.41 per track - Way less than the cost on iTunes or Amazon. A non-subscriber/non-member would have paid nearly $39.00! If you bought these tracks on iTunes you might have paid more than $50.00!

* Perch Patchwork - Maps & Atlases: (12 songs) A favorite band since 201, but now they're gone from eMusic - eMusic does have a problem. They used to have barsuk records in their inventory, but now they don't carry the barsuk label. I'm not sure what the problem is, but more and more independent labels are leaving eMusic, which is supposed to be the focus for eMusic. This just doesn't bode well for the continued success of eMusic. I like this alt-rock, experimental band. The highly entertaining instrumental combinations and folkish lyrics top my charts.
* Cowgirl A-Go-Go - Cowboy Nation: (11 tracks) Another favorite band. Formed by Chip & Tony Kinman after the demise of Rank & File. Here's a continuation of that cow-punk alternative music that I loved in Rank & File. This is definitely one of the bands that turned me on to Western, Folk and Americana. This album is no longer/not available on either iTunes or eMusic.
* New Wind - 7 Seconds: (14 tracks) A favorite band from the 80s. Incomparable punk. Started out hardcore, but the band has kept it fresh and kept on going, their latest release was produced in 2014. Another example of a band with staying power. Too bad you can't get this band on eMusic.
* Danseparc - Marth and the Muffins: (12 songs) Another favorite from the 80s. Another album you can't find on eMusic. You can listen to this album if you've got an iTunes music subscription, but you can't purchase the tracks. A Canadian band from Toronto, Ontario. The use of synthesizers was quite early. Their 'Echo' sound worked well in Alternative scene and the percussive work was also well integrated into the songs.

iTunes Music Downloads:
Sometimes I purchase music from iTunes. iTunes is the King of the Hill when it comes to the bigger names, so sometimes I find that I have to pay the higher prices. Here's one of the few downloads I recently scored from the iTunes store. This purchase came about by listening to 'The No Agenda Show' podcast. The band was mentioned, and they support the show, so I'm in.
* Deck the House (EDM Holiday Songs) - BB Hayes: (25 songs) BB Hayes (sometimes collaborates with Mark Amador) is a DJ / Mixer from San Fransicso, CA. He produces Electronic Dance Music. Here's a set of EDM for the Christmas season. Proceeds from the sale of this album are donated to the No Agenda Show - Courtesy of the Grand Duke of the USA. Sire David Foley.

Unlike some music outlets, eMusic doesn't have any DRM and they don't insert unique track id's into the ID3 tags. Their terms of service are consumer friendly. eMusic allows you to burn as many CDs as you like and copy downloads to an unlimited number of your computers and portable MP3 players. At less than $.50 a track (I'm currently paying $19.99 for $22.99 worth of downloads per month) you can't really go wrong. You don't have to be a member/monthly subscriber to access the site or buy music, and the membership prices (per album) are compared to the non-member prices right up front, so you can see how much you save as a monthly member. eMusic offers a really good value for your download dollar. iTunes and Amazon still charge more. eMusic offers more music for your money, and the variable bit rate recordings make for exceptionally high quality recordings. If you still want your own copies of the music, check out eMusic.

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. :-)