PageWeavers returns

The other day I got a call from my old business partner at PageWeavers. He wanted to take me to lunch. So, over a sandwich, he told me that he was tired of being in the website business and wanted to retire. He offered me the chance to take over PageWeavers.

In case you haven’t read all of my blog entries, I split out from PageWeavers in the fall of 2011 to start my own consulting business. Having already owned, that became the name of the new business. Well, effective today, PageWeavers is now part of SacAutos.

But that’s not the end of the news. Once the DBA is filed so I can open a checking account as SacBusiness, both operations will be folded into that single entity. Now all I need to do is generate some sales…

Website taken to the next level

I had an epiphany the other day in the shower. I have this website. Why aren’t I using it more? So, after a year of no updates, the website has been dramatically expanded. And that’s not all. Look for more updates with this site as well as SacAutos and SacBusiness as we close out the year. Stay tuned…

The National Republican Party must be destroyed to save our nation

Let me begin this rant with the declaration that I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. My official party affiliation on my voter registration is “Decline to State.” When I was affiliated with a party some twenty five years ago, it was with the Libertarians. As an outsider, don’t attempt to paint me as some sort of partisan agent. I have friends on both sides of the aisle and wish to keep it that way.

The title of this piece could easily be considered controversial. It’s inflammatory and confrontational. But I believe that I can lay out a case that asserts this call to action as an actually necessity. It sounds corny but there’s really no better way to put it: the future of our democracy is in peril.

The reason why the National Republican Party has to go is because of their ever-tighter embrace of a total disregard for the law. I’m going to begin by going back about fifty years to the Nixon administration. We all know what happened there. Many aides and members of his cabinet wound up going to prison for their roles in planning and then covering up the burglary at the Watergate Hotel. Nixon himself avoided jail by being pardoned by the next Republican President, Gerald Ford. While many have agreed that Ford did the right thing and spared the nation the continuation of an embarrassment. (I too agree.) However, it did set a bad precedent. The message to future Republicans was this: with enough consolidation of power and less bungling, you can break the law with impunity.

The next Republican President that I’d like to consider was Reagan. Americans – especially Republicans – are in love with him. However, he was by no means a peach. His administration also wound up sending a number of aides to jail for the Iran-Contra plot and cover-up. His administration’s innovation was the appointment of critics to head agencies so they may destroy them from within. Rather than debate the purpose and validity of an agency such as the Department of Education in Congress in front of the public where all can fairly hear and decide, the Reagan administration brought in an opponent to run the agency into the ground. This effort largely failed due to too much support of the agency by the appointees and Congress.

The rise of Republican Newt Gingrich was another low for American politics. Gingrich changed politics for the worse through childish tantrums of being unwilling to compromise with opponents. At all. He shut the government down – twice – and made toxic politics the norm. His blueprint of scorched earth is still alive and well today.

Unsatisfied with the power that they already had, Republicans in 2010 conspired to take control of state legislatures and Congress itself through gerrymandering of districts throughout the nation. The nation is still unwinding the damage done to fairness.

George W. Bush brought the country to yet another low. He took the practice of appointing departments heads to another level. Instead of installing competent opponents of agencies, he nominated unqualified people to leadership positions to destroy government either through malice, mismanagement or ineptitude. A good example of the result was the disastrous response to hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Then there’s the pair of Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump. History will judge these two harshly I can imagine.

Looking backward at what the Republican Party used to stand for, I don’t recognize it today. What do they stand for now? The answer seems to be little beyond what they can get for themselves. As I write this, we’re about three months from election day. The list of schemes, scams and corruption is already legion. What other tricks will be deployed before the election? God knows. This essay is but a small taste of the crap that Republicans have pulled on our country. One could easily write several books detailing everything that they’ve done. Is this upcoming election important? That seems to be the consensus. We’ll see what happens!

Initial Impressions After Switching From AT&T U-verse to AT&T TV

I’ve been an AT&T cable TV customer for about ten years. When we moved to our current community, we gladly dumped Comcast’s cable TV service that we had at the time. It’s been so long ago now that I don’t even remember the specific issues that we had. But we were pleased overall that U-verse was arguably the best cable service that we’ve had. (Though, as I wrote in 2013, I accurately predicted its end and its future.)

The merits of U-verse were many: it included a DVR that was easy to use. The channel line-up was easy to understand: all common channels like news or sports were all grouped together. The remote control was logically designed. Pausing, rewinding and skipping forward were obvious and useful in the amount of time that it went forward or back. (I remember having to “hack” the Comcast remote to enable a skip-forward function. What nonsense.)

However, U-verse did also have it’s issues. For example, the highest signal output that their cable box would produce was 720P. I have an Ultra HD SmartTV. Honestly, most of the time the U-verse picture looked crappy. I wasn’t very satisfied by that. Furthermore, the channel line-up seemed to become – over time – overrun with throw-away informercial channels. It seemed like there were a hundred to wade through. So my wife and I would sit down to watch TV, and despite there being hundreds of channels available, it felt like we had nothing to watch!

Then, in the last few months, we started to see U-verse become less reliable. Our shows would freeze or we’d lose the signal. I was starting to look at my options when I learned that AT&T was promoting a new service: AT&T TV. Basically, it’s a streaming service. If your SmartTV doesn’t have the AT&T TV app for it, you buy a small Android-based streaming box to connect to your TV via HDMI. The box itself comes with pre-installed apps for HBOmax, Netflix and YouTube. And to incentivize viewers, they sunsetted U-verse by declaring that they would no longer sell it.

So I read the writing on the wall and decided to take the plunge. By signing up, I would be saving over $100 per month over U-verse. That was one of my big complaints with U-verse. It had become ridiculously expensive. I could easily install the new networking gear myself, which was good, as I always hate the sloppy jobs the company installers do. And there’s COVID-19 to deal with too.

I called AT&T and placed my order. I had done a considerable amount of reading in advance so I knew what I wanted and how it would work. Apparently the service was so new they weren’t quite prepared for existing customers calling in to switch over. A sales representative had to call me back three hours later and go through the order. However, once they had me on the phone the process was easy. I was happy to receive the new customer perks without having to threaten or haggle.

The new equipment showed up the following Monday, late in the day. Wanting to have a quiet evening, I took a look inside the box but decided to wait until the next morning to do the install. The process was simple. Connect their streaming box to my TV and power it on. There was a minor hassle entering my network password and my account login info followed by waiting for a software update to load. But the process went smoothly and I had TV!

I’m writing this entry now about forty-eight hours after first turning it on. My experience so far has been both up and down. The positives? The picture quality is great! Finally content in true HD. The DVR is a “cloud” version, so they keep a copy of everything broadcast on some servers someplace for ninety days. So not only can I record as many shows as I like at once; but I can reach back in time to grab anything that I missed that was broadcast in the last ninety days. We’ve already taken advantage of that.

On the downside, the system is not set up for casual browsing. The guide isn’t particularly easy to read. The channels are tossed together in random sequence. Some things are grouped together, such as the premium movie channels. But sports, news and the like are tossed all over the place. AT&T TV also relies too much on the voice-activation gimmick. It’s helpful if I want to jump to a show that I know is on. But if I want to surf, it just gets in the way. There’s also some advanced features that are just missing, such as extending the recording time of a show. What basketball game has ever finished on time? The only work-around at this time is to record the following show. That’s minor league at best.

Another thing that has me pissed off is that some of my local channels are missing. I carefully reviewed the channel listing provided on the website. But there were no specifics regarding the local channels. Now I have to live without PBS or KQCA, which was available via U-verse. I’ve already complained but nobody knows when or if I’ll ever get them back. So while the service is cheaper, it’s clearly not quite as good as the old one, which is disappointing. If they fix the missing local channels, that would help quite a bit. I suppose we’ll get used to the rest of it. I just filled out a customer survey where I roasted them for the channel issue and usability. We’ll see if it makes a difference.

Maxim Dadashev Died Today

A boxer named Maxim Dadashev died today in Maryland. I’m not a fan of the sport but I’ve seen a lot of fights from my youth. It used to be that boxing was a big deal in America. There was a televised boxing card every Friday night. Men like Muhammad Ali were national figures. But as brutal as the sport is, it is rare for a boxer to die in the ring or of injuries from a fight.

So this news shook me up in a strange way. Yes, it’s sad for the dead boxer and his family. It shakes up the public. It must linger in the back of the minds of the boxers and their trainers.

But we’re forgetting an important actor in the drama. The boxer who won the match, Subriel Matias. What is to become of him? There’s really only one of two ways he can go. Back away from the death or head toward it. If he backs away that will increase the pressure that must already be on him to quit. People will surely reason that no sport is worth the ultimate price that a man can pay.

The other choice is that he embraces it. He can now positively assert that he is so savage a fighter that he beat an opponent to death. His matches will now draw special attention from the morbidly curious. Will this cause his opponents fear and dread? It should.

Death as a result of boxing is a risk that all boxers know and understand. Even though a man died, the death at the hands of the winner is not a chargeable offense. Those are the rules of the game.

So where will our winner Subriel Matias go from here? We’ll just have to see…

Three years??

OMG! I just looked at this WordPress site because version five is now available. It’s been three years since I last posted something. Jeez! Not that the world has been beating down my door for nuggets of wisdom or anything. But wow, looks like I’ve been busy.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s been a good thing that I’ve kept my own counsel. Ever since the 2016 election, I’ve been on edge. Our President, Individual #1, has been trolling the nation relentlessly. I wish that the media would catch on to that and stop letting him whip them around so easily. They do, after all, give him the oxygen that he so drastically needs.

So I’ll leave it at that. I’ve got lots of thoughts and opinions. I’ll see if I can break loose some free time to clarify some of those thoughts into pieces worth reading. Hopefully not in another three years! Nightmare!

I have a customer that has a large auto dismantling business. They provide an online car part search function (that I created) on the site based on a third-party database. Periodically I reload the database with refreshed data. That data comes to me as a Microsoft SQL Server database backup. I crack that file open by purchasing a Windows Server VPS with the developer suite.

My VPS vendor of choice for this task has been Historically, they can rent me a VPS for around $50 for a month, although all I need is a day or two to restore the database and export certain tables in a text format. In the past it’s been fairly easy: place the order and they spin up a VPS in three hours or so.

However, this time around it was nothing but a tale of annoyance and irritation. First thing Monday morning, I went to log into my old account. While I hadn’t been back since September, that shouldn’t have been a big deal. But I found I was locked out of my old account.

I contacted customer support and was told that I couldn’t have my old account unlocked. Instead I was to create a new one. That seemed kind of stupid but I did so and placed the order. Shortly thereafter I received a phone call asking if I had indeed ordered a VPS, which I said I had. Nothing unusual, that’s just their procedure from the past and I was expecting the call.

About eight hours later, having not received any emails about the VPS creation, I logged into the backend panel to check on the VPS status. I saw that there was a VPS in a “ready” state. However, I couldn’t log in. So I waited. The next morning – more than 24 hours later – I was still unable to log in to the VPS. So I contacted support again. They gave me some vague excuse that it was in a “long running” operation state. And to wait. So I did.

At the end of the business day, I received several emails. The first was that my VPS was ready. The next was that my order was on hold and I should contact customer support. So I called – again. The rep was clearly confused as to why the account was on hold. However, I still couldn’t log into the VPS. At this point I was getting pretty annoyed.

The next day – more than 48 hours after placing my order – I received yet another email telling me that my VPS was ready. But I STILL couldn’t log in. So I called customer support AGAIN. The rep opened another yet another support ticket. Several more hours were wasted in email exchanges with technical support. I had told the rep on the phone that I couldn’t log in because my password wouldn’t work. In creating the ticket, the rep implied in the message that I couldn’t access the VPS, so the responding rep replied back with a telnet log showing that the VPS was accessible. I had to reply back and beg for a password reset because I couldn’t log in.

Finally, some 52 hours after placing my order, I was finally able to log into the VPS.

What the hell guys? You’ve gone from an easy three-hour process to one that took more than two days. I wound up contacting their customer support team more than half a dozen times. During those days when I didn’t have the VPS I was scouring the Internet evaluating other possible vendors for the next time around. Nice job taking something that worked very well and screwing it all up…

I Finally Turned Of Registration

After running this blog for a number of years, I have finally caved to the annoyance of all the random subscriber registrations. I really didn’t want to do it. But I have obviously been deluding myself. Somewhere in the back of my mind I must have been thinking that my occasional commentary on the state of the world would make a difference. At least, enough of a difference that people would find my ramblings and wish to comment on them.

But I was wrong. In all the time I’ve been writing on this blog, only one kind soul was brave enough to leave something behind. I know this because in order to comment one must register as a subscriber first. Instead, I have been getting two to five junk subscriber registrations per day for months now. They’re obviously spammers with junk email addresses from Russia or Peru or God knows where. The usernames and addresses are ridiculous junk and simply annoying.

So I’ve disabled it all. It’s now finished. I shall continue to write but it’s not the same any more. The words are out there but there shall be no feedback. Not now, not ever. The spammers have won again. Sad day…

CIA Torture Report

This morning I downloaded the Select Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture. The entire document is 525 pages. However, the forward and executive summary are considerably smaller and a manageable read.

Reading what had been done in the name of the American people – in my name – brought me to the point of tears. The criminal attack on 9/11 shocked and angered me very deeply. Today I still have difficulty viewing the footage of the planes hitting the World Trade Center. But in our desperate attempts to get the criminals responsible we have become our own worst enemies.

I just saw what I wrote and realized that “becoming our own worst enemy” has new meaning to me now. For that’s how we’ve now defined ourselves with these acts by the CIA. Think of ISIS or the Taliban. How much different is what they are doing to their captured prisoners is what we’ve done to some of our “detainees?” I am ashamed of our behavior.

Where do we go from here? Clearly, with this report now public, the race to the bottom is now over. But our moral authority in world affairs – earned during World War II – has now been entirely spent. We’re really not much better than the Russians now. And that ain’t saying much…

My Second Chance Year

My wife and I started playing the California lottery on a regular basis shortly after we got married some seventeen years ago. No big prizes yet but we’re always hopeful. 🙂

I’m always the one who buys the tickets. We play the same numbers each time so I use the “advance play” option which means that I only have to deal with it once every month or so. When I bought my tickets at the grocery store in January, I noticed something new. The California Lottery added a new raffle called Second Chance.

The Second Chance is a little code that appears at the bottom of your ticket. To use it, you log into their website and register for an account. Once you’re in there’s a place where you enter the code. That enters you into a drawing for cash prizes. Weeks or months later, the drawing is made and the winners get from one thousand to ten thousand dollars. Nice!

For the first month or two I entered just the codes from my own tickets. Then one day, after checking my expired tickets at the lottery machine at the store, I went to throw them away in the trash can conveniently placed next to the machine. I noticed that there were other discarded lottery tickets laying there in the trash. I decided to scoop them up, take them home and enter those codes for myself. Why not?

Well, one thing rapidly lead to another. The lottery website has a thousand ticket per month limit. I wasn’t coming close to reaching that but I started going by the trash each time I was in the store and collecting as many tickets as I could. I was getting nearly a hundred entries a month.

Then another realization hit me. Besides SuperLotto tickets, there were also Scratcher game tickets in the trash too. They had Second Chance codes on them as well. Why wasn’t I collecting those? By this time August had rolled around. I was still doing around a hundred a month. What if I really tried to get as many Second Chance entries as I could – maybe go for that one thousand limit? Could it be done??

The California Lottery website has a lot of information posted on it about the Second Chance promotion. According to their documentation, they have imposed the monthly thousand entry limit as a means to protect players from themselves. It was supposedly a means to prevent players from compulsively playing too much by buying too many tickets. But I wasn’t playing any more than usual. Instead I was picking up discarded tickets from people who didn’t want to bother with the Second Chance drawing. Their loss was potentially my gain. I decided for the month of September I was all-in. I was going for the limit!

My plan was simple. While my local grocery store was a plentiful source of tickets, I had to expand my territory. I needed to find every outlet that I could where people would buy and discard their tickets. So I got in my car and did a little driving around. Gas stations and convenience stores sold SuperLotto and Scratchers tickets. But space was limited so they didn’t have dedicated space with lottery machines. No machines, no way to check and therefore no trash cans. So that cut out a lot of opportunities right away. That took me back to grocery stores. I found four stores that were local to me that had machines and a trash can that I could check. The game was on.

As I was making my rounds throughout the month, I started noticing some patterns. While I was collecting some SuperLotto tickets, most of my scoops were Scratchers tickets. And not all Scratchers were the same. In fact, there was quite a range of games, from $1 up to $20 a ticket. The $20 tickets are awesome – when the game is concluded, 180 days later they will hold a drawing for $5 million dollars in prizes. That’s a raffle I want to be in.

Another thing I noticed was the players. Sometimes when I went to check the trash, somebody was already in line buying tickets. Curious, I would stand in line or linger nearby pretending to be looking at merchandise but watching what they would do. There were many times when I would see somebody pull out one or two hundred dollars in twenties, feed them into the Scratcher vending machine and buy all $20 tickets. It got me wondering how much money was involved in all of it.

So I went to the California Lottery website and found the financial reports section. I had to do a little digging but I got some very interesting results. Slightly more than half of all the State lottery was generated by Scratcher sales. For 2013, that was three billion dollars! Of that total, sixty percent is paid back to players in prizes ($1.8 billion). No wonder I was seeing so many Scratcher tickets. The odds are a lot better: typically one ticket in four is some kind of winner. Compare that to the astronomical odds of the SuperLotto. Having said that, though, the odds of winning the grand prize is still very remote. Still, the Scratcher games are obviously the public’s favorite game.

So September ended and I managed a total for the month of 417 entries on the website. In many ways it was like an Easter Egg hunt. You never knew what you might find on a daily basis. Some days I would score tons of tickets. Others barely any. And throughout all of it I have yet to win anything. But that’s not unexpected. The Second Chance drawings are like an exercise in delayed gratification. You put in your entries today but it could be six months before all the drawings are completed.

As I write this I’m on track to hit that thousand entry mark; but for the entire year – not one month. I suppose that there are others out there that have gone completely all-in on it. Dumpster diving behind convenience stores and making rounds over great swaths of territory. I know that I have competitors out there. I’ve stood in line only to see the guy in front of me scoop up the trash before I had my turn. But I wish them well. It’s a numbers game and all I want is something, anything to show for my efforts. Doesn’t anyone?