Just What I Needed


I suck terribly at karaoke. It’s a fact.

But despite that, I have absolutely no shame and therefore I truly enjoy doing it. This would explain why I try to make it a point to get together with current and former coworkers once a month (schedules permitting) and head out to a local bar to sing ourselves silly.

The problem is that because we are regulars and the music catalog is rarely updated, we’ve pretty much done every song we’ve wanted to sing. Now it’s gotten to a point where a few of us bring in our own CDs with karaoke versions of songs we want to sing.

All of this leads to my recent acquisition of a mixer that my neighbor gave to me. He had purchased it for a radio project that never quite worked out so, knowing I like making a fool of myself, he let me have it.

Now you’ll probably wonder how this little box is going to work as a karaoke machine. Well, I’m going to explain it to you.

YouTube as tons of karaoke videos including pretty current ones. If you have Chromecast, you can stream said music videos to your TV which in my case is a 42” Sony HDTV. Once you set up the stream, it takes a little wiring to get things right: audio out from TV into mixer; mixer into equalizer; equalizer into surround sound.

Done and done. Now the only thing I needed was a microphone, the cheapest ones with XLR connections going for around $25 which isn’t that bad. I was willing to spend that much and be perfectly happy with everything.

tempSo that was my goal for today: find a microphone. We decided to head out to a pawn shop in my hometown since we’ve found some pretty amazing deals there on just about everything you can think of: jewelry, musical instruments, even camera lenses back when I used film.

We looked around and didn’t find much of anything. I even asked the guy at the counter if they had any and he referred me to someone else who was busy helping another customer. Ann wasn’t feeling too good so I didn’t want to hang around much longer and we left. I felt kind of dejected knowing I was leaving without what I had come for.

I persuaded Ann into eating at a local burger joint that I used to frequent as a kid. She agreed and ate the bag of fries on the drive back, feeling better as we got closer to home. Never underestimate the power of a greasy spoon, especially one that has been around for so long.

One thing we noticed on the way out there was a ton of garage sales. I mean, tons of them. There had to be one at almost every other street but we didn’t think to stop at any of them being that I was on a mission. But on the way home, we drove by one and decided to stop by. There were a few bikes for sale that Ann thought would be perfect for Anthony (but they wanted too much for them).

We stopped and looked around at their wares, most of which was quality stuff and selling cheap. After Ann got a price for the bike, we walked over to the driveway to see what else they had.

And there they were, among the piles of sparkly sequinned dance outfits and shoes: two Panasonic microphones sitting in an old shoebox. I asked how much they were and braced myself. The adult daughter, who we later found out was the last child living at the home and was selling most of her stuff to move, looked at them and smirked.

“Ummm…$4 for both,” she said.

I quickly reached for my wallet as if I felt someone trying to lift it from my back pocket.

“Here’s $5. I’m good with that. Keep it.” She tried to give me the extra dollar back but I refused. We looked around a little more and ended up taking this haul home.

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Two candle holders, a Brookstone lighted lap desk, fountain vase, a set 3 of decorative bowls and of course, two microphones. All of this for $20. Ann and I both scored and could have gotten more if we wanted to do a little demolition and rewiring to accommodate the $250 lighting set they were selling for $20. We decided to pass – too much work regardless of the bargain. An electrician I am not.

We got home and tried everything. Although the battery holder inside the desk is broken, it’s nothing a little piece of duct tape couldn’t hold together and it works perfectly. (This would be great if my laptop still worked.) The fountain has a small crack but it does not affect the performance of the flowing water nor does it leak.

And the microphones?

Although they are not XLR connections, they both work and don’t sound too bad.

My homemade karaoke system is now complete and I was meant to find them today at such a bargain price.

Now it’s time to annoy the neighbors.

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How Could You?


36975990If you’re one of those who has a ton of pictures on your phone and is afraid to transfer/delete them, this post is for you.

As we speak (or as I type – your preference), I am backing up the 150+ pictures that currently reside on my phone. The 100-150 mark is my usual limit; more than that is just way too many.

With our phones becoming more of a capture-all-of-life’s-moments device and less of a phone, chances are that you have a lot of pictures stored on yours as well. Go ahead and look. There’s probably more than the 150 I’m transferring right now. But it gets worse.

I’ve seen screencaps posted on various Facebook pages that show the image being Number 1,987 of 2,242. If I get paranoid over a mere 150 images, you can imagine how jittery I get when I see something like that.

An aside: if you know how to screencap and upload to Facebook, why not just upload the original image?

But I digress. Man. Seriously. Why do you have so many on your phone? It’s time to TRANSFER THOSE THINGS! And right now you might be asking yourself why I care so much about the images on your phone.

It’s easy: they are your memories. You thought these moments were important enough to capture and save. I’ve seen Facebook posts from friends who have either lost their phones or had them crash or die, thereby wiping out all of their memories they thought were important enough to save. It’s not a fun thing to deal with, think about, or even have me preach about but the reality is that eventually, it will happen. Not might, but will.

This is why I follow Leo Laporte’s advice of the importance of backing up your stuff – images and otherwise – once a week to at least two devices: one local and one off-site. This ensures that your stuff is saved no matter what happens. And it’s a family thing: I also backup everything on their phones, too.

Owning a smartphone is more than just holding a little status symbol in your hand. It does require a little work, especially when it comes to backing up your stuff. And that work means learning a skill which I guess some might be too lazy to do or just don’t feel like learning, and that’s not good because the skill isn’t hard to learn.

If you are particularly fearful of technology, backing up images is practically a no-brainer with either iOS or Android, both of which offer a system of automatically backing up your pictures as you take them. Google gives you a decent amount of 15GB combined Gmail/Drive storage and 100GB a year can be had for a mere $2/mo. iCloud offers 5GB for free and offers larger capacities for a new lower price.

For the more daring, there’s cloud services like Dropbox and Microsoft’s OneDrive. Both of these require the installation of an app which like Drive and iOS, offer automatic uploading that can be set to WiFi-only to save on excessive data usage. Dropbox starts users off with a mere 2GB of storage but can be increased with referral bonuses or purchasing additional storage. (I’m currently at 59GB through referrals and a 48GB bonus earned with the registration of my Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 tablet). OneDrive gives you 15GB, the same as Drive but can also be increased with referrals. I’m one of OneDrive’s early adopters and was using it as SkyDrive, so my storage is set at 28GB.

Once uploaded to the ubiquitous cloud, your images are accessible via your device’s app provided you are connected to your network or WiFi. What that means is that it’s safe to delete them from your device and you will have two copies: on your computer at home and on the cloud storage service of your choice. You will have them. They are safe.

wdfMyCloudAnd if you really want to geek out, you can buy a WD My Cloud device which is your own personal cloud storage system.

It’s stored in your home and through the use of an app on your phone, allows you to send your pictures directly to it no matter where you are. Personally, this is going to be my next choice as they offer a huge amount of storage for the price: they start at $150 for 2TB. That’s a lot of selfies.

And guess what? You can still delete them from your phone after uploading.

Oh hey, look! All of my images are now uploaded and viewable on my phone plus can be downloaded to it if necessary!

Success!

I have them all organized in a Phone Pix folder then in subfolders by Year, Month, and Date Uploaded or Event. Not hard, and I know exactly where to look for things. Most services also allow folder sharing where specific users can add or delete files as needed. This is handy when, you know, you go out for Karaoke Night and your friends shoot incriminating videos of you.

With technology being such a big part of our lives, I can’t think of a reason why anyone should have so many pictures stored on their phone. It just takes a little patience to learn and time to transfer, both of which I’m sure most of us have. You could have uploaded/transferred a bunch just by reading this post like I did.

Don’t fear it any longer and risk losing all your images. Isn’t it worth the time to learn something so simple and have everything saved, or simply do nothing and lose it all?

Now I can’t make anyone do anything they don’t want to do but this doesn’t seem like a tough decision, does it?

Why Mobile Payments Will Fail


If you aren’t familiar with the concept of mobile payments, here’s a quick little rundown of how they work.

First, you must sign up with any number of services out there such as Google Wallet or Isis Wallet. These serve as your “bank” in which you can deposit money or have it transferred from your “real bank,” the one that you can touch and walk into. The services I’ve used have also given me up to $30 on my accounts just to get things going and to see how convenient it is. Free money.

Second, you need to have a compatible smartphone equipped with NFC (Near Field Communications). Using your virtual bank’s app, this allows it to communicate with the point-of-sale PIN pad and will deduct the purchase total from the balance on your account.

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Finally, you need to find a retailer that is capable of processing payments via NFC and more often than not, each service’s website or app will find every one that is around you.

And that’s the start of the trouble.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the concept of mobile payments. I’ve used it on a number of occasions and it’s quick and easy – when it works. I’ll get to that later.

But first, let’s look at vendors. One of the first things I noticed was that it’s not everywhere and mostly, not in places I’d frequent. For example, looking at one app’s map of vendors, the following are listed:

  • A smoke shop
  • Dry cleaners
  • An eyebrow threading service

I’m pret-ty sure I won’t be using any of those soon, and the places where you’d think mobile payments would be handy don’t have it. Grocery stores would be one of those places and there’s only one local chain that is mobile wallet-friendly (and it’s not my company). In short, there’s just not enough useful NFC POS vendors around. Not even any of our local coffee houses, including that evil Seattle-based giant, accepts them. On the other hand, there are some soda vending machines that accept mobile payments and that could come in handy should you not have any cold, hard cash on you.

The second and final reason I think this concept will fail is this: not enough vendor education. I’ve been to places that accept mobile payments and when it came time to pay, the employees looked at me as if I was Mr. Spock standing there with a lightsaber (yeah, I know, blah blah blah). While there are only a handful of places that do accept them, finding an employee who actually knows how to process them, let alone knows what the hell it is, is indeed rare.

This happened to me yesterday at The Flame Broiler. I placed my order and when it came time to pay, I showed the cashier my phone indicating that I wanted to pay via my mobile wallet.

Deer in headlights. Complete silence. Utter disbelief. Smeckeldorfed.

They had absolutely no clue how to run it so I had to pull out my debit card and pay with real, physical plastic. I wanted to avoid this because I got $20 added to my virtual account when I opened it so I thought, “Hey, free meal. Dinner is on me tonight!”

Yeah. No. And this wasn’t the first time this happened to me, either.

While a great concept, I get the feeling that these problems will ultimately lead to its demise. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’m Down


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There’s a corner in my den that is dedicated to my creativity, a place where I am surrounded by the things that bring me comfort and peace. It’s the desk where I draw, do calligraphy and most importantly, where I sit with my laptop and compose blog posts.

But things have changed.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I haven’t blogged much lately. That’s because my somewhat trusty Dell laptop took a serious dump (read: failed hard drive with very minimal use) and is no longer working. In fact I’m composing this post on my Samsung Galaxy Tab because I don’t want to use our main computer in the living room, even if it makes blogging easier (with the help of Windows Live Writer). I prefer the privacy of the den when I write.

Composing posts on a tablet, while comfortable when relaxing in my lounge chair, can also be annoying. It’s got a smaller screen, the WordPress app is completely different than using Windows Live Writer, and inserting pictures can be cumbersome. So if you don’t see many pictures on upcoming posts, then that’s why: they are a pain to work with.

At any rate, in saying all that, I will continue to use my tablet as a means to blog whether I like it or not as I have no immediate plans to replace the laptop. I’m sure my solitary reader/subscriber will appreciate the effort.

Thanks, Mom!*

And oh, I was supposed to be in Las Vegas right now for a wedding on Saturday but it just didn’t work out financially. Even for only two days, it’s pretty much out of reach for someone like me who is working part-time and it only gets worse when you factor in gas and meals. So while I would have liked to have gone, it just didn’t work. The only thing it got me (and Ann) was deleted from the groom’s Facebook friends but I think I’m okay with that. I’m a resilient guy. Some aren’t.

Moving on.

*Mom really isn’t a subscriber but you probably knew that already.

Disposable Socks


houdini__spanI’m currently doing laundry but taking a break to discuss an important matter.

My socks.

I wear them once and they seemingly disappear into thin air, never to be reunited with their mate ever again. In that respect, they are disposable: use once and throw away.

But the thing is that I don’t throw them away. They just never come back once in the laundry, as if they were trapped here longing for a more meaningful relationship with my feet and I just couldn’t provide it, so one made a run for it.

Granted, I shouldn’t complain too much about the wearing of socks during the summer months in California since I tend to wear one of my four pairs of flip-flops* during said period of time, but come on. YOU HAD ONE JOB, SOCKS.

It’s also worth mentioning that the only pairs of socks that do find their mates are always my black ones, or the ones I wear to work. The whites – I wear those for running – and greys are gone, gone, gone. This was even after I went through a bunch of mismatched pairs and threw them out, replacing them with eight new pairs of New Balance socks.

No dice. Maybe my socks are trying to tell me something: work more and run less.

Stupid socks.

We even tried a lingerie bag in the hopes of keeping them together, but the bag’s zipper was snagging all my pantyhose so I had to stop using it. Ahem.

At any rate, yeah. You just read a blog post about my socks.

I just wonder if the great Harry Houdini this problem.

 

*Before you think that $50+ is too much for flip-flops, then you’ve never worn a pair of Rainbows. Meh. It’s a California thing.

Legit


Well, it’s official: as of today, I’m a permitted motorcycle rider according to the wonderful state of California.

Permitted but not licensed. I will get that one I pass the skills exam, the behind-the-handlebars test that shows the DMV that I can skilfully navigate through a row of five cones and a “lollipop” course, both scenarios that drivers routinely encounter on a daily basis here in the Golden State.

I’m being facetious, of course.

But yeah, anyway. I had been reading the official handbook and studying for the written exam off and on until I got a good idea about what the test might include. Once I believed I had learned enough, I went online to schedule an appointment to take the written exam.

That was a week ago. I now had a week to make sure I knew my stuff, so I then started taking some online quizzes that are supposed to be very similar to what the DMV administers. I took them over and over this past week plus studied the handbook in PDF format. And while you get three attempts to pass the exam, I wanted to be done with it on the first try, hence my endless studying.

And people, I did that. I fell asleep countless times with my Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 on my lap, the screen still displaying the page where I left off. For that week, I did nothing online at night. I wanted to get this exam done and over with.

Well, today was the day I made it happen and like most Californians, I despise dealing with the DMV. Even with an appointment the place is always packed with not just people who need to be there, but also their entire families complete with screaming kids. And, at least to me, most people there seem to be shady or of criminal intent. Call me crazy but that’s just how I feel. It’s a perfect environment for taking tests for a legal document that shows you know how to drive.

Fortunately, freaky people and families aside, my process turned out to be painless, probably because a) I had an appointment and b) I filled out my forms properly. That said, I don’t think the appointment expedites things as much as correct paperwork does. It makes the otherwise miserable DMV employees a bit less stressed when they are dealing with someone who is competent.

The good thing about going to the DMV is that the average person doesn’t have to go there more than maybe a dozen times in their life and usually there are years between said visits. At 45, I’d wager to say that I’ve been there maybe a total of six times for exams and behind-the-wheel tests. I couldn’t tell you the last time I was there but I do know that when I took my exam, it was on paper.

It’s not like that anymore. The DMV now uses touchscreen monitors which I think is an attempt to not only cut down on paper use but to also discourage cheating. The exam questions are no longer numbered as they used to be on paper so there’s no real way to cheat. They could also be completely randomized as far as I know, and your incorrect answers are shown immediately after you touch the Submit button.

But I didn’t know this when I started taking my first exam which was the standard driving test that I was required to take for some reason. I answered the questions and didn’t know if I was getting them right or not until, finally, I got one wrong. I missed only one question on the driving exam.

Then I started the motorcycle exam. This was it and I was nervous.

I read the first question and chose my answer: it was wrong. Ugh. I was screwing this one up already. That sort of set the stage for the rest of the exam with me taking my time with each question, pressing the Submit button with my face wincing as if in pain.

The exam seemed to go on forever with me missing a few here and there. I think I was up to about five wrong answers when I started to feel the pressure. I didn’t know when it was going to end when finally, after what seemed like Question 5,742, I submitted my answer.

There was a message on the screen congratulating me on passing the motorcycle exam. I took a deep breath, pumped my fist, then finally smiled. It was over, and I can finally ride without fear of being pulled over. Because, you know, police are always looking for guys on scooters to bust for exceeding the speed limit.

I walked over to waited in another line to turn in my paperwork for approval. The clerk congratulated me, I had my picture taken (it’s 1,000x better than my Class C license, back when I was a 300-pound gastropod), and I was done. She then told me I had a year to schedule my skills test which gives me some time to get even more used to riding. I’ll wait a bit to schedule that one.

In the meantime, I’m just happy to have gotten this far and that my endless nights of studying paid off.

Composed on my Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 using the WordPress app, because the laptop was too cumbersome for me tonight.

Haunted


I Ain't Afraid Of No GhostFolks, I’m going to come right out and say it: our house is haunted.

There have been at least three things that have happened over the course of about a month that have convinced me that such is the case and no, they have not been ordinary. If they were, then obviously I wouldn’t be going out on a limb and writing this post.

And before you ask, no, I’m not going to call in Zak Bagans and his idiot Bro Crew from Ghost Adventures. That show is a joke and Bagans is about as bright as the guy who bagged your groceries today.

Wait, what? Anyway, here we go.

Incident 1: The Flyer
We’re those kind of people who get more junk mail than anything else. No honestly, we get more than you. It’s a fact and there will be no arguing over it, mister/ma’am.

One day, Ann had gone through the daily pile of junk mail and kept a flyer for some reason. It was made from a heavy card stock and was sitting on the kitchen table. I wandered into the kitchen to grab a snack of some sort. My back was leaning against the countertop near the sink and I was facing the kitchen table – and the flier went flying off the table and landed on the ground near the pantry. It wasn’t the fact that it flew off the table that caught my attention; it was the manner in which it did.

The flyer took off  like it was tied to a string that was yanked very hard and while in flight, it had absolutely no rotation. You know, like how an index card would spin if you flung it across the room? Yeah. This was nothing like that. It took off at a speed that couldn’t have been attributed to any breeze that may have been going through the house at the time. It was sheer force that made it take off like that and in a straight line to the floor. I have no explanation for how it happened but I saw it with my own eyes.

Incident 2: Early Morning Footsteps
When I’m not blogging or sitting at my drawing desk, I’ve made it a habit to relax in my huge lounge chair in the den, kick up the leg rest, pop in my earbuds, and listen to some white noise to lull myself to sleep. Even if I don’t feel like sleeping, the white noise also helps to mask my tinnitus which can he downright unbearable at times.

And sometimes I fall asleep in the chair and Ann will leave me there, knowing I’m perfectly comfortable, while she retires to the bedroom to go to bed. This is what happened the other night when I woke up around 4:30 am and took my earbuds out (they had been in my ears since around 10:30 pm the previous night). Shortly after I took them out and started rolling around in the chair, I heard the sound of footsteps going into the kitchen.

We have two cats and a dog that like to walk around the house as they see fit, but the sound was not like any they can produce. We know when Arliss (dog) is walking because we can hear his claws clacking on the hardwood floor and the cats, well, they are pretty light on their feet and don’t make much sound, except when they run. And even then, it sounds nothing like when any of the humanoids in the house walk.

And that’s what this sounded like: human footsteps going into the kitchen. I stayed in my chair and looked over in the direction of the kitchen and didn’t see anyone. I got up and checked on Anthony and he was sawing logs. I went into the bedroom and asked Ann if she had been up a few minutes ago. Nope, everyone was asleep except for me, but I know what I heard.

Incident 3: The Purse
This happened just yesterday. I was in the kitchen – I really need to stay out of there – to get a drink. Just as I was leaving to go into the living room, Ann’s purse (resting on the chair) fell onto the ground.

But like the flyer, it didn’t appear as if it was just gravity that made it move. The purse looked like it was pushed hard off of the chair and, get this, did a complete 360 in the air before landing right-side up. Seriously, it made one complete rotation before hitting the ground and nothing fell out of it.

So far these are the only things I’ve seen happen around here and haven’t actually seen any shapes or forms nor have I captured any in the background of pictures I’ve taken in the house. As for who we might think it could be, well, we do have an idea.

Ann’s grandfather was a neat freak. The house we live in was his, and it can be quite messy at times.

Needless to say, Ann and Anthony spent the day cleaning it up while I was at work.

I’ll keep you posted if anything else happens but until then…