I finally left Virgin Mobile!

Ah, the ZTE Max XL… the phone they should have named the “ZTE Max RD”, ‘cos you need to reboot it daily! Gather ‘round children, and let me tell you the story of the phone that was so bad it finally made me quit Virgin Mobile!

I got the ZTE Max XL last Christmas. And it seemed pretty awesome at the time – a Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 octa-core processor, a 6” 1080×1920 screen, a 13 MP camera, a 3990 mAh battery, a fingerprint sensor on the back, all wrapped up in some Nougat 7.1 deliciousness! And the thing was only $125 on Virgin’s site! Sounds killer, right? What’s not to like?

ZTE Max XL
(pic via Virgin Mobile)

Well, plenty.

For one thing, the screen is glitchy. Do you remember when a VGA cable would get loose or start to die, and if you brushed against it with your foot, you’d get weird streaks or other artifacts on the screen for a second or two? Yeah, the ZTE Max would often do that when playing YouTube videos, or when I’d play my slot machine games. It wasn’t especially bad – maybe 1 or 2 very short glitches during 30 minutes of game play or video watching – but it was certainly enough to make me worry.

And speaking of “worry”, the entire time I owned this phone I worried constantly about the battery. I’ve never owned a device that ate battery quite like this phone. After charging overnight on my nightstand, I’d wake up, unplug it and spend 15 minutes or so checking my email, catching up on headlines, and seeing what was going on with Reddit. And it wasn’t uncommon for that short usage to drain the phone to 92% or so. Yes, the phone used 8% of a charge just by using Outlook for Android, Google News and Weather and Relay for Reddit for 15 minutes. But that’s better than what I got doing chores: I like listening to music while doing dishes, and 35 minutes of Spotify + Bluetooth headphones could easily eat 20% of a charge. It got to the point where I’d eat dinner and let the phone charge back up to 100%. Then I’d do the dishes, only to watch the battery drain from 100% to 79% in a mere 35-45 minutes. It also didn’t help that the phone had the battery percentage RIGHT THERE on the notification bar, with no obvious way to disable that feature. It was almost like it was taunting me: “You want to listen to the new Sylvan Esso album? Hahaha! That’ll cost you 10% of this charge!”

You might have noticed I said “Outlook for Android” in the previous paragraph. That’s because almost anything Google-related on the ZTE Max did not work once the phone reached a certain amount of uptime.

I noticed this almost immediately – the native Gmail app would simply stop syncing with Google’s servers. I’d wake up in the morning and my inbox would be exactly the same as when I went to bed. I’d have to manually refresh the app to get new mail, and even then it only worked half the time. I’d have to reboot the phone to get it syncing again. And still, it might only work for an hour or two before syncing would stop. Outlook for Android – though not without its own problems – at least handled the basic task of “push email”. And, for the record, Outlook for Android has some nice features, like the ability to choose what swiping left or right does to messages, and it has a built-in calendar that’s “good enough” that I could uninstall the Google Calendar app.

But that’s just one way Google services failed on the ZTE Max XL. For some reason, Play apps simply would not update once the phone had been on for a certain amount of time. You’d check the app store (I don’t think the ZTE ever once actually notified me that there were updates) and you’d be given a list of updates, just like you’d expect. But if you tapped “Update All”, the first app in the list would change to “Downloading…” and that was it. Four hours later, you’d check the phone, and that first app was still downloading. Oh, I tried all the obvious fixes – killing and restarting Play Store, killing and restarting Google Play Services, clearing cache, clearing cache + data on both apps – but the only thing that actually worked was to reboot the phone: once the home screen came up, you’d see the apps start updating in the notification bar. Even then, though, the phone was ridiculously show. I have a Nexbox (an Android TV box), and one day I updated both devices at the same time. I was amused to find that the Nexbox was able to update 8 apps (including Spotify) in less time than it took the ZTE to update just Spotify on my phone.

But that’s not all. I’ve tried a dozen news apps over the years, but the one I keep going back to is Google’s “News and Weather” app. For all its flaws, it’s the app that works for me. Only, it didn’t always work on the ZTE Max. I guess it’s somehow related to the other Google issues, but often News and Weather would simply stop updating, and the only way to fix it was to – you guessed it – reboot the damn phone. Sure, you could kill the app, but that wouldn’t help. You could delete cache, but that didn’t help, either. You could delete data, but then you’d have an app that still wouldn’t update, only it had lost all my location and news preferences.

And then there was the issue of getting multiple text messages. This is a known problem with the phone – you can find many people complaining about it online, even in ZTE’s community forum. It’s also mentioned in several Amazon reviews. It didn’t always happen, but when it did it was annoying as all get out. I have my Amazon account set up to text me when orders are delivered. One night, I got SEVEN identical text messages letting me know that an order had arrived. And, for maximum annoyance, they just didn’t come one after the other: the first came as expected. Another came 47 minutes later. The next one came in 24 minutes after that. The next one came in 82 minutes after that. And so on. I guess I should consider myself lucky: some people reported getting the same text message 20-30 times!

But none of this was as frustrating as the 3 times the ZTE Max didn’t even work as a phone. Smartphones are just small computers, right? Like all computers, apps can get hung up or develop memory leaks and whatnot, so that the whole system slows down and gets “laggy”. I assume the “phone” part of Android is simply another app on the phone, albeit one with high system priority, which is why a phone call can interrupt other tasks, like watching YouTube videos or listening to Spotify. Except, there were 3 times when the phone was so slow that the “phone app” didn’t work as designed. A friend called, but none of the buttons worked. I couldn’t answer him in time. After a couple minutes the phone seemed to regain composure, so I tried calling him back. But the “phone” app just froze… only to try and call him after I’d given up and put the phone down. Insane. While I’m here, I guess I should also mention that the alarm clock would sometimes go off 10 minutes late, I guess ‘cos the phone got hung up on something else.

All this would be one thing if Virgin Mobile’s Sprint-based service was great. But it wasn’t. It’s gotten better – when I first joined Virgin Mobile in 2009, I could not get any service at all – no voice, no text, no data, literally “No Service” – in my suburban Charlotte town’s downtown district. Now I could at least get voice service – and sometimes even data! – downtown. But I still got limited service at my local CVS and Chick-fil-A, despite that fact that both are located within sight of a major interstate. The missus and I often go to trivia at a popular restaurant in a nearby town… which is located in – you guessed it – another Sprint dead zone. And since Sprint uses such a high frequency (which has a tough time penetrating buildings) I almost always had very limited (or no) service in big box stores. I can’t even begin to guess at how many times I looked wistfully at people talking on their phones inside Walmart – almost every time I needed to call the missus for clarification on a Walmart trip, she told me that I was “breaking up” and that she “couldn’t understand me”. Or I’d finish my shopping and leave Walmart, only to get halfway home and receive a text message she’d sent 25 minutes earlier asking me to pick up some milk while I was there.

For all my bitching, Virgin Mobile was pretty good to me. I rarely had problems with the service at home – there’s a Sprint tower located almost directly across the Catawba River from my house. And I almost never had trouble inside the Charlotte city limits… it’s just too bad that I don’t go to Charlotte often enough to make it worthwhile. And I love that Virgin added Spotify to their “data-free music“ plan, meaning I could listen to Spotify via LTE all day long and not have it count towards my data cap. I’ll certainly miss THAT… but I won’t miss much else.

I found an identical plan (sans data-free music) from Total Wireless, a Verizon-based MVNO owned by the Tracfone\Straight Talk\Net10\SIMPLE Mobile\Walmart Family empire. And I got myself a Samsung Galaxy J7 Sky Pro. It’s older. It has Marshmallow. It can’t begin to compete, spec-wise, with the ZTE. But you know what? It’s been off the charger for five hours, I’ve used it for a half hour… and it still shows 100% charge! Amen to that.

EDIT: it just dawned on me that I didn’t even mention the specific reason why I ditched the Max XL! On Monday afternoon (3 days ago), I got an “Invalid SIM” error on the phone. I rebooted it and it worked for 5 minutes before the “Invalid SIM” message returned. I reseated the SIM and restarted the phone, but again got an “Invalid SIM” error within 5 minutes. I got in touch with Virgin’s tech support via Twitter, and they said they could order me a new SIM and it would be there “in a few days”. My GF got a Straight Talk Samsung J7 Sky Pro via a Black Friday sale last year, and she’s repeatedly mentioned its “awesome battery life”. So I checked Amazon and found a Total Wireless version for the same price she paid on Black Friday, available with free Prime Same Day. I was already weary of Virgin, and not having a phone for “a few days” while waiting for a new SIM was just… not an option, since Amazon could fix the whole damn problem in less than 12 hours.

NICE SERVICE: USPS Informed Delivery

To me, one of the “genius” things about technology is when it fixes a problem you didn’t even know you had. Several years ago, my cable company started offering an Android app that lets you schedule DVR recordings remotely. That might sound kinda pointless at first, but I never realized how often I’d be outside my home – at a family gathering, or at the pub with friends – and someone would mention a show they thought we might be interested in. With the app, I can just whip out my phone, and with a few taps set up a recording. Or – and I know this has happened to most guys at least a few times – you’d be out running  few errands with the missus before a big football game… the one that she promised you’d be home in time to watch. But you’re running behind, and there’s no way you’ll make it home before kickoff. No worries – just use the app to record the game, and marital bliss continues!

Well, there’s a free service from the United States Post Office that’s the same level of genius: it’s called Informed Delivery. Once you sign up for the service, you’ll start receiving daily emails that contain scans of the mail that will be delivered to your home that day (if you don’t want emails, you can log in to the USPS site, or use the Android or iOS app). Here’s a screen cap from their website:

USPS Informed Delivery
(click to enlarge)

Informed Delivery also automatically keeps track of packages headed to your home, and you can use the service to leave directions for the driver (“leave at neighbor’s house”, if you’ll be out of town, for example). You can also use it to reschedule delivery of any missed packages.

There are a few caveats, though. Informed Delivery only tracks “letter-sized” items; it only scans larger items like magazines and catalogs if the sender pays extra for it (and few do). It also only scans mail with your name on it (letters addressed to “Resident” or “Occupant” aren’t scanned). It also doesn’t scan the weekly bundles of ads, like the Red Plum ads we get every week. And while package tracking is automatic, it’s only for packages with a USPS tracking number or Indicia ID; packages from overseas, for instance, aren’t tracked. On the plus side, creating an Informed Delivery account also creates a regular USPS account in your name too, so if you’ve been meaning to set up a USPS account to buy stamps or set up online shipping, you now have one more reason to do so.

In any case, Informed Delivery won’t change your life, but it does make things just a tiny bit easier. For one thing, I live in a townhome that has a “community mailbox”. If I don’t get the daily email from the USPS, I know there’s no mail, so no need to walk to the mailbox. And there have been times (when I had a horrible cold, for one) where I saw that that day’s mail was mostly junk, so skipped getting it that day. And there was one time recently where my missus was looking for something important in the mail, and it was late… to the point where she was thinking of calling the company. I saw what looked like the item in my daily USPS email and forwarded it to her – she was relieved that the item had arrived, and wouldn’t have to spend an hour on hold with the company.

Lastly, let me address (hah!) one thing. I learned about Informed Delivery from one of the message boards I frequent. It seemed like half the posters thought the idea was cool, while the other half thought it was crazy to opt into, since “Homeland Security will know what mail I’m getting!”

Well, first of all, if you’re the type of person who would be of interest to Homeland Security, they’re probably already looking at your mail anyway. Secondly, while I don’t know this for a fact, I’d be surprised if the USPS wasn’t already scanning the mail anyway. The USPS has been scanning the mail for ages – you didn’t think the post office sorted 506 million pieces of mail every day by hand, did you? In other words, I think with Informed Delivery you’re just getting access to the scanned images they already use internally; it’s not like they’re only scanning the mail of Informed Delivery users.

At least, I’m 99.2% sure that’s the case.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Sports Calendars

Hi Folks!

For the past 15 years, I’ve posted Outlook calendars for the football schedules of the Pittsburgh Steelers (and, for a lesser time, Georgia Tech). Sadly, I will no longer be doing this.

Part of it is because I don’t really use Microsoft Outlook as my primary calendar any more. I still use Outlook on a daily basis, but since my Google Calendar easily syncs to my desktop, laptop, tablet and phone, it’s just much more useful to me than the Outlook version.

There’s a site out there called Stanza that has all kinds of calendars you can import into your Google Calendar: here is the Steelers’ calendar, here is Georgia Tech’s calendar (and here is the Pittsburgh Penguin’s calendar).

Sorry if I’m letting anyone down this year. But this was always something I did for myself first, and shared with the Internet as a favor. Now that there’s a site that will do most of the work for me, I’ll let them do it.

Thanks for being loyal downloaders, and I hope that Stanza works for you in the future!

(I have no connection to Stanza whatsoever, other than being a happy (thus far) customer. If you find a better calendar service out there, feel free to post about it in the comments section!)

Small World

In my senior year of high school, a girl – let’s call her “Karen” – transferred to my school. She and I liked the same music and movies, had similar senses of humor, and got along well together. We became instant friends. But she was wild. Like, “on a first name basis with everyone at the local Department of Family Services office” wild.

Karen eventually got thrown out of her grandma’s house. She moved in with a friend in midtown Atlanta. She lived there for six weeks before stealing all her roommate’s cash and weed and running up a $600 phone bill. Karen then took off to Pensacola and repeated the process – lived with someone for six weeks before stealing all their cash and weed and running up a giant phone bill. She then took off to New Orleans and did it to someone else. She’d then come back to her grandma’s house in Atlanta, totally penitent, begging for “another chance”. I called this “Karen’s Triangle of Terror”, and she repeated this cycle at least 3-4 times.

At one point, Karen’s grandma became so desperate for her to stay in school that she promised Karen a brand-new BMW 325 convertible if she got her high school diploma. Karen actually responded to this, and for 8-10 weeks she stayed in school, actually went to class, kept her partying to a minimum, and generally seemed to have her shit together. So much so that her grandma allowed one of her Pensacola friends – let’s call her “Jennifer” – to come for a visit.

Jennifer was one of the most “inadvertently awful” people I’ve ever met. She didn’t mean to be terrible, she just was. I drove Karen and Jennifer to a party one night, and Jennifer passed out drunk on the way home and put two giant cigarette burns in my backseat (oh, and my car had less than 1,000 miles on it at the time). A couple days later they went to a party at another friend’s house. This friend only had one rule: her mom treasured this 200+ year old Persian rug. DO NOT GET ANYTHING ON THE RUG! Jennifer puked on it. A couple days after that, Jennifer was introduced to someone in my social circle and was like “Oh, Stacey! You’re the one who had to get an abortion ‘cos she was raped by her uncle, right?”

Jennifer (thankfully) went back to Pensacola, and I eventually lost track of Karen ‘cos of her many moves.

* * *

A couple years later I was at work, listening to local consumer expert Clark Howard on my headphones. He mentioned that US Air was going to run an unprecedented sale: $298 round-trip flights from Atlanta to Frankfurt! I called a bunch of friends and actually found one who: a) had a passport; b) had the money; and c) was excited as hell to go.

We didn’t do much in the way of trip planning. I got us a rental car and hotel room for the first night… and that was it. My Let’s Go guidebook would take us the rest of the way. So we landed in Frankfurt, got the rental car and drove to Stuttgart, where the hotel was. We saw some sites, had a few beers and some laughs, and went back to the room.

The next day we explored Stuttgart in the morning, then decided to head to Munich around lunchtime. We got about halfway there – my friend was driving this leg – and he mentioned that we didn’t have any accommodations yet. I got out the Let’s Go and went through a list of hostels and pensions in Munich; we agreed on one place because Let’s Go said it was “the preferred stop for aspiring young models”.

So we arrived at the pension and got a room. It was around 6PM by this point – it wasn’t “late”, but it was a snowy, rainy December day and the sun had gone down a couple hours before. So it felt a lot later than it was. My friend and I ate at a nearby restaurant, hit a bar next door for a couple hours, then came back to the room and crashed.

The next day we hit a bunch of places – the Marienplatz, some Christmas markets, the Alte Pinakothek… ya know, tourist stuff. We decided to go back to the room and chill for a bit before going back out that night. As we climbed the stairs to our room, we saw that the door to the room next to ours was open, and two cute(-ish) girls were inside. Before we could unlock our door, one of the girls called out, asking if we had a cigarette. We said we did, and invited her in to our room (door open, of course).

The girl introduced herself, and I immediately asked if she was from Pensacola:

“Like, ohmygawd, like, how did you know?”

Pensacola girls in the late 80s\early 90s had this particular accent, kind of a “Southern Valley Girl” thing that was quite distinctive… especially in that they could condense “Pensacola”, normally a four syllable word, into something like one and a half syllables.

I explained that I once had a good friend who would get kicked out of her grandma’s house in Atlanta and go to Pensacola quite often. I then said that this girl – the one in front of me, here in Germany – sounded just like this girl Jennifer, one of my friend’s friends from there.

The girl suddenly went pale.

“Wait, is your friend named Karen?”

“Yes.”

“Does she have a Mickey…”

“… Mouse tattoo on her…”

“upper left arm?”

“Yes!”

The girl spun around and ran back to her room. She returned with her wallet… which she opened to reveal several pictures of herself and Jennifer. She was, apparently, Jennifer’s best friend from childhood.

My friend and I had booked the trip thanks to a tip from a guy on the radio. We’d planned almost nothing about the trip. We’d picked this pension almost at random from a list in a guidebook. We hadn’t requested any particular room… and just next door was someone who knew one of my former best friends.

Small world.

My Top Albums Of 2017

Another year, another list of my favorite new albums!

So… 2017 was a strange year for music. There were a handful – emphasis on “handful” – of albums I loved… and quite a few I listened to once and promptly forgot. I also finally noticed a trend that’s been building for a few years: I’ll find a great new album one year, like it enough to put on my “best of” list, but only truly “discover” the album the following year. Fully half of my overall most-listened to albums in 2017 – five of ten – were from 2016.

Below are my ten favorite albums of 2017. As I’ve done the past couple of years, the list comes directly from my Last.fm stats; I have, however, tinkered with the order a bit. After the list are a few honorable mentions, followed by the raw data from Last.fm.

My Top Albums of 2017

10) College – Shanghai – College isn’t a “band” exactly; it’s a “project” headed by French musician David Grellier. He’s worked with acts like Minitel Rose, Electric Youth and Anoraak, and, under the name “Mitch Silver”, he’s been a member of Sexy Sushi since 2004. If you don’t keep up with European electronic music, that might not mean a lot to you, but trust me: the guy has deets. And beats. Ironically, that’s one thing Shanghai lacks: beats. It’s a moody, atmospheric affair, one that could be mistaken for a soundtrack album. It’s not my favorite thing College has put out, but it was good enough in a lean year to sneak onto this list:

9) The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Echo of Pleasure – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are one of those bands where I either love or hate each individual song. Some songs I listen to over and over again; others I listen to once, never to hear again. The Echo of Pleasure is a pretty solid album all around, though. Good job, guys:

8) Furniteur — Perfect Lavender – Furniteur is a bit of a mystery. It’s at least one blonde girl from Washington DC. There are two guys who perform on stage with her… are they part of the band? Musicians only hired when she plays live? Who knows? Her\their various webpages – Bandcamp, Twitter, Last.fm – are quite vague about who they are. But that’s not important, really. All I know is, I’ve played them a lot since they showed up on a Spotify “Discover Weekly” list. Perfect Lavender is an awesome, and surprisingly solid, album. A lot of times albums start off well, but lose steam halfway through (I’m looking at you, Bryan Ferry), or they only have 1 or 2 good songs to begin with (I’m looking at you, Primitive Radio Gods). Unlike the bulk of synthpop artists, where you’re ready to play someone else’s album about halfway in, this album surprises you when it finishes. “I listened to the whole thing? Nice!”

7) Me The Tiger — What Is Beautiful Never Dies – A SWEDISH band on my top ten list? NO WAY! That’s a joke, son: seems like half the bands I listen to these days are from Sweden. Anyway, Me The Tiger isn’t quite like the rest of the Swedish bands I listen to. It’s not “slow, dreamy” synthy stuff. Instead it’s loud, in your face, and slightly abrasive. Instead of the calming vocals of Mia Bøe (Postiljonen) or Anja Oyen Vister (Flunk), Me The Tiger’s Gabriella Åström is loud and, at times, almost shouty. Not that that’s a bad thing – it’s just that Me The Tiger will never be on anyone’s “best chillout songs” playlist. Having said that, the band does get quite a bit “samey” after a while. Still, a pretty sold effort from these Swedes:

6) Johnny Jewel — Windswept – Johnny Jewel is the driving force behind Chromatics, one of my “Top Five” bands at the moment. No band out there can create an atmosphere quite like Chromatics and Jewel can. And there’s no better example of this than Windswept, a collection of songs Jewel wrote (and collaborated with others on) for the recent Twin Peaks revival. Have a listen to the title track, heard over the end credits of episode 5, and throughout episode 6:

5) Kid Francescoli — Play Me Again – Marseilles’ Kid Francescoli returns with another kick-ass album (their 2014 debut, With Julia, was #2 on my “best of” list that year). Any why not? This is solid pop music, folks! Look, I get it. I really do: for decades, French pop music was an easy target for English-speakers to make fun of, with dated Italo disco-style beats behind a chain-smoking, “not nearly as cool as he thinks he is” Frenchman singing phonetically in English. Yes, yes… I know. But French pop has come a long way in the past few years, thanks to acts like Kid Francescoli. Have a listen to this (and yes, before you ask, on the album the singer does not use the words “backwards mother lover”):

4) Maud Geffray — Polaar – Maud Geffray is a French musician and producer. And the lead single off this album, also named “Polaar”, is fantastic. A big part of the reason I knocked this album down from #2 on my scrobble list to #4 on the album list is because those scrobbles were dominated by “Polaar”. That, and much of the album consists of variations on “Polaar” (“In Your Eyes”, a duet between Geffray and Flavien Berger, is just a heavily-remixed version of “Polaar”, for instance). Still, when this album hits, it hits hard:

3) Sylvan Esso — What Now – College radio loves Sylvan Esso… and you should, too! There’s no “sophomore slump” here – just ten kick-ass tracks in a row! The lead single, “Radio”, is a scathing indictment of FM radio… and is exactly the same vibe Katy Perry swung at and missed in “Chained to the Rhythm”. Yet, this album is somehow a mystery: it makes fun of pop music, yet is an excellent example of the genre. Take notes, Katy Perry. Sorry for the live version of “Radio” below, but I guess the foul language in the official music video triggers YouTube’s “adult” filter, which WordPress’ embedding tool doesn’t like. But that’s OK, though: one of the best shows I saw last year was Sylvan Esso, so here’s a taste of what their live show is like:

2) Washed Out — Mister Mellow – OK, let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: yes, this is an album to smoke weed to (see: music video, below). Let’s not pretend it isn’t. And yes, listening to this album in “enhanced mode” is probably better than listening to it sober – there’s a lot of “noise” in this album that will just kind of… annoy some. But that doesn’t make this just a stoner album. Ernest Greene has been the flag-bearer for the chillwave movement, and this is something he does not take lightly. All of the tracks on this album are finely-crafted pieces of art, and if this “visual album” isn’t quite as good as 2013’s Paracosm or 2011’s Within and Without… it’s only because Greene took a swing at a concept album. Whether it’s a home run or foul ball is up to you.

1) Saint Etienne — Home Counties – Saint Etienne have been one of my favorite bands since the late 90s. They are, in my estimation, the “longest-running” band I still like (as opposed to bands like Depeche Mode or Duran Duran, which I consider “nostalgia acts” to the chagrin of friends). Home Counties – named after the counties that surround London – is a “day in the life” tour of the area… and it’s one of Saint Etienne’s best albums. They’re getting up there in age – Sarah Cracknell turns 51 in April – so one has to wonder if this might be their last album. If so, what a way to go out! For some reason, this album, to me, echoes their entire catalog. “Dive”, for example, reminds me of their early, “60’s revival” work, while “Underneath the Apple Tree” seems to hearken back to the “electronic English folk” era of Tiger Bay. And the album’s best song – “Out of My Mind” – is a total belter, made all the better by the (ironic?) fact that once you hear it, you won’t be able to get it out of your mind. Bob, Pete and Sarah have spent 27 years searching for the perfect pop song, and they might have just found it. I adore this album from start to finish, and you will, too!

Honorable Mentions

With the caveat that “EPs aren’t albums”:

Heaven – Lonesome Town EP
Public Memory – Veil of Council EP
Pale Honey – Devotion

Continue reading My Top Albums Of 2017

Cigarettes and Candy (Again)

In this post from 2012, I talked about the strange, interconnected history of several companies that had financial difficulties… that ended up being bought by the companies providing the packaging for that product.

For example, Richard S. Reynolds, Sr. – nephew of Richard Joshua Reynolds, of RJ Reynolds tobacco fame – played a big role in the development of Camel, America’s first successful pre-rolled cigarette. After the brand became a hit, Richard S. Reynolds left RJR and started an aluminum foil company, because cigarette and candy companies were big users of foil packaging. One of Richard S. Reynolds’ biggest customers was Eskimo Pie, a foil-wrapped ice cream sandwich. When Eskimo Pie ran in to legal trouble Reynolds bought the company rather than lose such a big customer.

Well, I’ve found another example: Tootsie Rolls!

Tootsie Rolls were created by an Austrian immigrant named Leo Hirshfield in 1907. Hirshfield worked for an outfit called Sweets Company of America, and was trying to come up with a chocolate-flavored candy that was cheaper than actual chocolate and wouldn’t melt in the summer, since air conditioning wasn’t yet common. He named the treat after his daughter Clara, whose nickname was “Tootsie”.

By 1935, the company was on the verge of collapse. This greatly worried Bernard D. Rubin, owner of Joseph Rubin & Sons, the company that made boxes for Tootsie Roll. Sweets Company of America was one of his biggest customers. Rubin obtained a list of shareholders and met with them one by one until he’d bought a majority stake in the company. He subsequently ran the company from 1936 until his death in 1948. His brother William B. Rubin then took over the company, running it until 1962. In that year, the company changed its name to Tootsie Roll Industries. Also in that year his daughter, Ellen Rubin Gordon, took charge of the company. She still runs it today.

Check out the original article for a fun ride through some strange American business history!

Moving Pidgin’s Settings

I’m thinking about buying a new desktop computer during the upcoming Black Friday sales. Because of this, I’ve been thinking about moving my data from one computer to another. Most of my really important things are already backed up to an external hard drive every morning, or are kept in my OneDrive folder (or both).

One exception to this are my Pidgin logs and settings. Pidgin is a multi-protocol chat application. I use it to connect to private instant messaging servers I’ve set up at my client sites, so employees can message me when they need help. I often refer to Pidgin’s chat logs for billing purposes, or for troubleshooting, or even for covering my butt when things go sideways. Thing is, though, all of Pidgin’s settings (including the logs) are contained in an AppData folder; that location is hardcoded in the app and can’t be changed. But you can use symlinks to move the folder wherever you want:

1) Completely shut down Pidgin.

2) Go to C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Roaming and cut the .purple folder (substituting the appropriate username, obviously).

3) Paste the .purple folder wherever you’d like. I used a “Pidgin” folder I created in my Documents folder. So Documents > Pidgin > .purple.

4) Open an elevated command-prompt, type the following command on one line, replacing username with your username, and press ENTER when you’re sure it’s been entered correctly:

mklink /D "C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\.purple" "C:\Users\username\OneDrive\Documents\Pidgin\.purple"

The above command (mklink) creates (/D) a symlink in my AppData\Roaming folder called .purple, which points to a folder (also called .purple) in a folder called Pidgin in my Documents folder. Exit the command-prompt when done.

After running this command, all of your Pidgin settings and chat logs will be in your documents folder, but Pidgin will think they’re still in the original location. In my case, the Pidgin data files also be copied to my OneDrive cloud. Since you can create a link anywhere on your drive you want, you could just as easily create a link in your Dropbox or Google Drive folders instead.