Wednesday, November 30, 2016

AMD, MicroCenter, and Dilligence

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the extended sales are still going on.
I keep my eyes and ears open and watch a bunch of YouTube tech channels.
You guys know I'm all about the best bang for the buck... don't need the cutting edge, want the max performance to price ratio.

Last week I snagged a 24" Samsung 1080p monitor for $99, shipped, no tax.
It wasn't rated as a "gaming" monitory, but I'm not into those twich-games anyway.
I swapped out my old odd resolution monitor and this one looks AMAZING by comparison... the colors are vivid, and the aspect ratio just looks better.

Earlier this year I gambled on that Salvation Army printer. Well it's more headache than it's worth. Every time it powers on it goes into a mode where it tells me to replace the ink cartridges, then 10 minutes later (to the second) it goes into "recalibrates printer heads" mode, it prints out a test page and USUALLY works fine... but sometimes reports that the heads are out of alignment. So alas, it had to go. $60 ventured, nothing gained.

In November 2014 I built my home computer on a budget and was proud of myself for building a half way decent machine on a shoestring. Of course I used an AMD CPU to keep the price down... the FX 6300 had six cores for $120. Forums told me not to buy this line of processor, it was already 3 years old and would be replaced in a few months. Wait for the new line, they said. Even worse, when I used the filters on New Egg to find a motherboard that would fit in the smaller case (uATX) they didn't have any with the latest features. Again I hit the forums and everybody told me nobody was going to make a uATX case with the new features for a CPU that was about to be discontinued.

I ended up getting the full size ATX motherboard with the features I wanted and the CPU I had been looking for.

Well it's November 2016 and AMD hasn't discontinued that line yet, and hasn't really done much in terms of introducing new tech to the marketplace. And still, two years later, nobody is making any newer small form factor motherboards. So I guess I made the right decision.

In that same line of CPUs, there were a few versions of the 8-core processors, but they were considerably more expensive. Worth it if you're a professional video or music editor, but not an amateur like me. Not enough power boost for the price increase. My solution had all the horse power I needed to do editing and play games.

Now AMD is about to finally release the new Zen line of processors starting in January 2017, but I wasn't going to wait around for that. And I won't even look at them until they are on the market for a while and the prices stabilize. Bottom line, don't always trust the fan boys in the forums.

Lots of the tech shows on YouTube would quote prices and deals, and they would sometimes say "If you're lucky enough to live near a MicroCenter, you could just stop in and get this awesome deal..."
Well it turns out, I just so happen to live near a MicroCenter... in Cross County Mall. (Formerly Best Buy) A couple of YouTubers did some special episodes on "how to get the most from MicroCenter" and "How to build the least expensive computer possible... from MicroCenter". In that episode of Jay's Two Cents, Jay said "The CPU was on sale and the motherboard was included FREE!" OK, worth checking out !!!

I went online to see what all the hoopla was about. Wow, they DO have some really good deals. You need to check the weekly deals, the refurbs, the open-box specials, and the BUNDLES. I found the bigger brother to my FX 6300, the Eight Core FX 8320e... but even better, the "e" means it's the power efficient version. So more computing power for less electrical power. Sounds like a good upgrade... but what's the price???

FX 8320e this week is $80. Huh? What?? Two weeks ago it was listed all over the place for $130. But wait... there's more. Buy a compatible motherboard and get an additional $40 off.

I really don't need a new computer. I just built a low budget bedroom computer and my living room computer is just fine. But it's hard to pass up a deal like this. I'm thinking I'll just upgrade the FX 6300 with this new FX8320e... but what do I do w/ the old CPU? I paid $125 for it, now you see it listed for $90-$100 (yes, even now it was on the list at MicroCenter for $90 while the big brother was right next to it for $80). I'm not gonna put it up on eBay... too much hassle. But if they're giving $40 off a motherboard, I'm well on my way to building another computer.

Now here's where the diligence comes in. I scour the MicroCenter web site for the AMD motherboards. As expected, all the uATX boards are still ANCIENT. Nobody's been making new ones for years. But I found one that even has USB 3.0 (sort of a must-have feature today). It was listed at something like $65... but was out of stock!!!

But looky here... a refurb of the same board for $52, and it clearly shows the "$40 discount with compatible CPU"... and it's in stock.

So I gather the two parts and hit the counter when, as I suspected, they tell me that $40 discount doesn't apply to the refurb. The cashier got on the walky talky and confirmed that the discount didn't apply. I told her I didn't want it at the full price.

But I went over to customer service and they told me the same thing, but I stuck to my guns. Politely and friendly, I kept saying "It's right here on your web site... refubished... discount applies." Eventually a manager came out, and in a few minutes he gave the thumbs up and I got the $52 motherboard for $12.

Mind you, this motherboard is nothing to brag about. But it is the uATX form factor, it does have USB 3.0... and it was $12 freaking dollars.  So for $92 (plus tax), I got the CPU upgrade which is still WAY less than it's usually listed for... and I'm well on my way to building a small form factor computer w/ the old CPU.

Oh, and for good measure, I threw in a refurb HP printer... usually $60, refurb was $40. I hate HP on principle, but my allegiance can be bought.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Me and The Clown

I had a bad run-in with Ronald McDonald tonight. I thought maybe me and The Clown could settle our differences. After all, it's been a long time.

Nope... no love under the golden arches.

Besides the food being terrible, besides the dining room being a basket of deplorables, I gave the touch screen kiosk a try. The thing went into Robo-Block. More accurately, it brought me to a dead end.

It starts out friendly enough... "Touch Screen to Get Started".

My first choice was to select "Eat Here", then clicked in my order easily enough... swiped my card, and hit the buttons that should lead me to checkout. But at the end it brought me to a screen that insisted that I "Take a Table Number Indicator" and type in that number to an on-screen number pad. I couldn't get past this screen... what the heck IS a "Table Number Indicator" anyway?? The machine wasn't offering me anything. I looked over at the tables, and they weren't numbered and didn't have any indicators on them... and how the hell would I know which table I was going to sit at anyways... I was on the other side of the restaurant.

I hit the "need assistance" button, but nobody there was going to help. The cashier and staff were all busy doing their thing. Dammit, I can figure this out. It can't be THAT hard. What is a god damned Table Number Indicator... what would it look like... where can I "TAKE one??" Can I skip this option and just continue... nope, either enter a number or go back to the previous screen. NO OTHER OPTIONS.  In frustration I randomly hit the number "7" and hit enter. It went back to the start screen... no receipt, no "Your order has been entered"... just "Touch Screen to Get Started".

I yelled over towards the staff behind the counter, they said "Didn't it give you a receipt?" I said it's asked for a "Table Number Indicator"... they looked at me like I was crazy. They looked at their screen, saw that my order was on their list, and said "Take a seat".

So I sat down next to an old Spanish dude with a recently lit cigarette in his hand... it wasn't lit, but it looked like he had taken a few puffs from it a few minutes ago. He wreaked of cigarettes  He was yelling into his phone. He wasn't eating anything. All of the other tables had people sitting and talking... nobody seemed to be eating. There was a counter with tall stools (attached to the floor)... I moved over there. Eventually another customer came over to me and said that they were calling for me at the counter. Huh? I didn't hear anything.

So I went over to the counter trying to make eye contact w/ the staff. I had to speak up and say "Uh... did you call for me?" They seemed confused. Then I could see the light bulb go on over the cashier's head... "Oh yeah, that's his right there". She started handing me a bag... I said "That's to stay, please." (Remember, the first button I hit... probably the option that got me into this robo-block in the first place.) So she unpacked the food onto a tray and handed it to me. I then had to ask "Can I have some ketchup please?" I guess they don't give that out by default anymore.

So fine, I got my food. Now to enjoy some hot crispy Micky-D fries... ugh, just slightly above room temperature.

Screw You Clown !!! You stay on your side of the street and I'll stay on mine.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Me and David Bowie (RIP)

Everybody has a story about what music they were exposed to and how it influenced them.
I think my experience is a bit more diverse than most. In Inwood, most kids (after a certain age) were told what to listen to by the DJs on WPLJ.

My dad had several niches in the music spectrum that influenced me. Lots of Broadway plays dating back to the 50s (maybe older). Lots of folk music like Pete Seegar, Peter, Paul and Mary, etc. At the beach he always had the radio tuned to an "easy listening" station, which is a whole other subject (no room to talk about that here except to say that I heard that A LOT). And long drives in the car between LBI and NYC we'd listen to some big band and old blues like Lena Horn or Billie Holiday.

My oldest brother exposed me to a lot of rock music... lots of the classics, but also some more obscure stuff like Jefferson Airplane, Grand Funk Railroad... lots of other stuff. And at least one Bowie album... "Changesonebowie". It was a "best of" album and it contained "Space Oddity" which completely blew my 5th grade mind.

Of course there was a ton of other stuff... pop songs from a.m. radio, etc. Let's not forget the novelty albums like "Loony Tunes" or the  Dr. Demento show. But if anyone asked, I'd confidently and accurately say "I'm a Beatles fan".

By the time I got my own stereo late in the 70s, while most people were listening to WPLJ, I found WPIX which was ushering in The New Wave. This was great for a kid trying to build an identity which would make me stand out (and maybe get chicks.). There were also a bunch of other weird music outlets I was exposed to... most importantly Public Access Television. I saw a live call in show where these freaks who called themselves "The Sex Pistols" answered phone calls and cursed out whoever was on the line. I also found "The Uncle Floyd" show which brought all sorts of semi-famous bands to my screen... including The Ramones.

Well Public Access had a few video shows long before MTV was even a pipe dream. Who was making videos back then? Well David Bowie had a few back in '79... very weird and obscure. I swear I'm the only one in the world who saw a lot of these show... though I'm sure there are a few others like me. There was also this awesome chick called Ellen Foley, who I'm still in love with... and saw her live a couple of years ago in a small club in NYC. (She's the one The Clash sings about when they sing "Should I stay or should I go now.")

Through all this I was aware of this underground music scene in NYC, and I even tried to get into Max's Kansas City once... and got laughed at by the bouncers. (The band was The Sick F*CKS... I'll tell you more about them some time).

I guess we were still in High School when J-man, myself, and Gerrard Foster went to the 8th Street Playhouse to see "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars". Well still to this day I think that film captured the APEX of ... uh... well something... that underground glam-rock scene that fits somewhere between New York Dolls and Peter Gabriel era Genesis. It totally blew my freaking mind. I was kind of confused when during the performance Bowie announced that this show would be his last... I mean we were all aware that he had released many albums since that performance. Of course he meant  it was the last show for "Ziggy Stardust".

Right around then the "Scary Monsters" album came out. It was a radical change for Bowie, who was just coming off what I now know are three very important albums... his "Berlin trilogy". He and Iggy Pop went to Germany to escape the crazy and deadly lifestyle they were leading in America... turns out Germany can get pretty crazy too. Anyway, I knew mostly nothing of those albums, but I bought Scary Monsters and played it out. In retrospect, it may have been a "jump the shark" album for Bowie... though most would call it a re-invention of himself. The next album was "Let's Dance", which had definitely jumped the shark, imo. It was hugely popular during my High School Prom... but I thought it was over-produced, pop-oriented, and lacked soul. This is DESPITE the fact that Stevie Ray Vaughn played guitar on that album.

So recently I procured Bowie's entire discography. (Like six months ago.) I was warned that his early stuff is a bit difficult. Certainly his very first album is pretty boring, but really everything else (up to but not including "Let's Dance") is really good. Not every song is a winner, but every album has some amazing features. And some things might not suite my every mood, but will sound good at another time. Diamond Dog is rock-n-roll gold. They all give this vibe of gritty underground activity that somehow should be hidden from polite society... but you're in on it. Lots of complex melodies and rhythms, and some good old kick ass rock-n-roll. Some wispy airy melodies too. He collaborates with producers like Brian Eno, and musicians like Robert Fripp.

I didn't listen to any of his albums since "Let's Dance", but did listen to the one he put out last year... and I plan on listening to the one from last week soon. From the bits I heard, they are interesting and entertaining... though not "rocking".