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 Off 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?

Disappointment with 1&1

It seems that all I write, when I write, is about bad customer experiences. I’ve got another one to detail today. But before I do so, I’d like to make the point about why I write these reviews. First, I can get this aggravation off my chest. I’ve had to take action that I didn’t really want to. The reason why was entirely preventable. And that’s my second point. This is a teaching moment. When something annoying happens and I feel compelled to write about it, it’s a reminder to both myself and the world that it could be done better in the future. Hopefully we all learn from that.

I purchased a dedicated server at the end of July from the very large hosting provider 1&1. The server was for one of my best clients so it had to be right. Without boring all the details, let’s just say that it’s purpose was to host 1K+ email accounts and be a hot-backup and fail-over machine if the primary server goes offline.

After bringing it online and loading it up, it ran well for a while. However, by mid-August the server began freezing and/or crashing. Their technical support department was remarkable little to no help. Their attitude was “it’s your server, it’s your problem.” I could accept that judgement if I was running some funky custom set-up. However, it was off the shelf CentOS 6 with all the patches and Plesk 12. Nothing strange here.

Eventually I gathered enough evidence to show that there was a hardware problem. I reported this to a sympathetic tech support rep. The next day, without prior notice, engineering took my server offline and replaced the hardware. Then the server wouldn’t work because the MAC address had changed. Once again technical support offered little help. Eventually I was able to get the server repaired by the grace of a friend of mine (and sysadmin of Khoza Tech) and carry on. However, the crashes didn’t end there.

Once, after logging off from using the 1&1 web admin panel to restart the server, I was presented with a feedback form. I leapt at the chance to write a detailed note explaining my frustration with the server. The result of that feedback? Nothing. No contact from 1&1. No acknowledgement whatsoever.

Ultimately I had to move on. By early September I had documented ten separate occurrences of mysterious crashes. I’m a patient guy but enough’s enough. My dream of geographically diverse servers was not to be. Instead I had to settle for a slightly more expensive solution in Fremont. While that’s still probably far enough away to survive just about any disaster short of an asteroid strike, I’m still disappointed. I’ve been doing business with 1&1 for years. I recommended a dedicated server from them to a good client. That server has been rock solid for years – never a crash or failure. Perhaps the hardware they were using for the server I picked is just not reliable. After all, I’d never heard of using multi-core Atom processors for generic hosting before. Either way, the real issue is a failure by 1&1 to take care of me as a customer. I would have gladly locked in with them for years but they didn’t even acknowledge me after I had gone out of my way to get their attention and tried to get things right. I hope that they’ve got other satisfied customers because they lost this one.

How to destroy a TV show

One of my favorite shows on television is one that appears weekdays on ESPN. It is called Pardon The Interruption, or simply PTI. The show began broadcasting in 2001. I’ve rarely missed an episode. The format is simple: two veteran sportswriters sit at a table and talk about the sporting events of the day with a shot-clock. When the bell rings, they go on to the next subject. Entertaining and my primary source of daily sports news.

The trick is that the show broadcasts each day at 5:30pm Eastern time. Since I’m on the west coast, it’s not practical to find a TV and watch it live. In the early days, I set up my VCR to record it for that evening. Now I just record it with my DVR. And since we’re in the age of smartphones, my preferred form of consumption is to download the daily podcast which is usually available about two hours after the show airs. Then I can listen while I exercise at the gym. Which is a good plan, because ESPN will sometimes spontaneously move the show to another ESPN channel without warning, defeating the DVR.

Lately they’ve been getting increasingly sloppy with posting the podcasts. There have been some days where the podcast hasn’t been available until after 5:30pm my time; sometimes not until the next day. The production quality of the podcast has also gone down. The audio is so faint that I have to turn up the volume to maximum just to hear them. So when an ad is interjected in-between breaks, I’m nearly deafened by it.

The first rule of show business is to reliable. Repeat viewers are your core audience. Make it available at the place and time you tell people. Each time I am disappointed that the show isn’t there, the higher the probability that I won’t come back.

The second rule of show business is to make your best effort, every time. To do less is being disrespectful to your audience. If the quality is low, they’re less likely to come back.

In both of these areas, I give ESPN a failing grade. It’s ironic because the hosts were recently given contract extensions. They may have a show; but unless ESPN gets it’s act together soon, they won’t have any viewers left.

The Concussions Must End

I was watching a football game the other day. One of the players that was on my fantasy team got knocked out of the game early. I was bummed. Then I got what I thought was a brilliant idea. Why can’t they get some of those accelerometers that they use in cell phones and put them in helmets? The thinking is basically this: load the helmets full of accelerometers and connect them to a CPU with some LED lights that are installed on the top. When a player is hit (or hits) hard, the light goes from green to yellow. Yellow players must sit a “down” before they can return to action. If the hit is even harder (on the impact scale) then the red light goes on and the player has to sit out the rest of his team’s possession. If it’s a very dramatic hit then all the lights start to flash. The player is done for the game and automatically has to undergo the concussion protocol. By using the technology in the helmets, players are dis-incentivized from turning themselves into missiles and instead tackle with their arms.

I thought I was so smart. Then I went to the Internet to see if anybody had also thought of that. Of course they did. The NFL begin experiments with accelerometers in football helmets years ago. Apparently it’s easy to judge the force of an impact but not always whether that impact translates into a brain injury. Still, something needs to be done. In the years since the publicity began of former players committing suicide, youth football participation is down ten percent. While football is still widely popular, this is still a concerning trend if you’re an owner of a team in the league or a fan of the game. In time, if there isn’t a fix for the concussion problem, no parent will allow their child to play football. And that would be bad for all of us with fantasy teams.

HostGator Survey

On August 2nd, the network switches to the Ace Datacenter in Utah went down, taking out millions of websites managed by HostGator, BlueHost and many others. The majority of my customers were on a dedicated server at that Utah facility. The outage was massive and an entire day of business was lost. Along the way I, along with many other surprised customers, learned that HostGator (who manages my dedicated server) and many many other hosting companies had been absorbed by Endurance International Group. EIG apparently is a private equity company who is backed by, among others, Goldman Sachs. In the first few hours that followed the outage, the brave people at front lines at HostGator actually tried to respond to every tweet. At least until they reached some kind of Twitter “tweet limit” that nobody knew Twitter imposed on accounts. Many many hours after the outage started EIG finally assembled a website and directed customers and media to it for updates. Eventually, some 12 hours later, the problems were fixed and the network went back online.

However, in the following days there was nothing. No aftercare from HostGator. Nothing really at all relating to accountability. Yes, we got a bland statement from the CEO of EIG apologizing for the downtime. We were offline for an entire business day yet there was no offer of compensation nor a plan put forward how they’re going to prevent this from happening again in the future.

Furthermore, while we were offline that day, I had a lot of time on my hands to investigate the dealings of Endurance International Group. In a very quiet way, they’ve been cornering the market for cheap web hosting. They’ve gathered up dozens of brands under their umbrella and continue to operate them as “separate” entities while moving all their operations to Ace Datacenter, a huge hosting facility in Utah. While they can certainly gain lower costs through economies of scale, they did run the risk of putting all their eggs in one basket. And what irritates me the most is that HostGator sent me a notice in July that they wanted to move my websites from the dedicated server I had in Texas to a “new one.” Little did I know that it was in Utah. Now find out that BlueHost is also in that datacenter but the exact same server is $80 a month less. So I’m currently weighing my options.

Anyway, this morning I get a quick Customer Service survey from HostGator. I let them have it:

“I’m currently down on HostGator primarily due to the revelations exposed as part of the complete blackout of services in August. What I learned was that HostGator had been sold to a aggregator that placed all their eggs in a single basket. Then, when that “basket” failed, there were no contingency plans in place to route around the problem. In addition, there was no plan in place to communicate to the customers what had happened, what was going to happen next and any estimates as to how long that might take. Basically it was up to the customers themselves in the early hours of the outage to figure out what had gone wrong. Eventually EIG put a few things together to communicate to their customer base but it was long after the horse was already out of the barn. To top things off, after things were repaired, HostGator has been operating like nothing ever happened. So far I’ve seen no offers of compensation for downtime nor has there been a concrete plan put forward showing how this kind of outage isn’t going to reoccur to reassure customers. And the topper is this: I’ve learned that I can get exactly the same dedicated server from BlueHost for $80 a month less than I’m paying now. This makes me feel like a complete chump for paying more than I have to. I can certainly say that at this time I am keeping my options open. I’m an IT professional that has been in the business for a very long time so I understand that things happen. However, at this point I would recommend changing your mascot to an ostrich because management has their heads in the sand thinking that we, as customers, are just going to forget about what happened. Failures of this magnitude require accountability and so far I have seen none.”

Perhaps too bitter? Maybe. But I meant every word of it.

It’s time that cable television admits that YouTube exists

Like most of America at one point, I have a cable television box. In fact, the service that I currently use is AT&T’s U-verse. It’s actually a good system. I’ve previously had Comcast and Dish Network. The service is adequate, easy to use and has plenty of channels to choose from. In general, I’m pretty satisfied with it.


However, this last Christmas I bought a Nintendo Wii box for the sole purpose of being able to watch streaming Netflix programming and YouTube videos. While I turn it one maybe once a week, it never fails to impress me with the variety of shows that are available. My wife is a big fan of BBC programming like As Time Goes By and Keeping Up Appearances. I’ve found that we can watch compete episodes any time we like via YouTube.


But, honestly, it’s still a bit of a pain in the ass. I have an older HD TV that doesn’t have an HDMI input. And the Wii has only a simple video and audio out. So whatever shows we watch are in standard definition. And to watch programming with the Wii requires handling a few remotes and doing searches for content with the Wii controller, which is a job only for the sure-handed.


All of this brings me to the point that I’d like to make. The cable box that AT&T provides is actually a programable platform. If they really wanted to, AT&T (or the cable box manufacturer) could provide “apps” that allow me to watch content directly from Netflix, YouTube, Hulu or whomever. As a consumer, I would consider this to be ideal: I would have fewer remotes to fiddle with, could conceivably use the DVR capabilities of my box to record shows from these other sources and in general make my cable box the hub of my entertainment universe.


I think that this is an important distinction to make. Apparently the cable companies think that I’m not aware of these other content sources. The fact is many people have already unplugged. They’re watching their shows using Wii boxes, PlayStations, Roku boxes or even now Chromecast. Or they’re watching on the laptops or even their phones.


Listen up cable providers: this is your last chance to add value to your service. If you don’t, the appeal of the alternatives is going to continue to peel off more and more customers. Cable TV is expensive. I get that your worried that by opening up your box and allowing other providers to use your boxes and network that you’re going to lose control over what your customers choose to view. Guess what, they’re doing that already. Make yourselves invaluable to us as the sole provider of everything; otherwise you run the risk of being the provider of nothing at all.


A speed limit for guns

Like all Americans, I was horrified by the killing of so many innocents in the recent Newtown Connecticut shootings. I’m very Libertarian in my views about most things. However, this tragedy has pushed me past the limit. Something must be done about the unfettered access to weapons.

Predictably, there has been an almost immediate and fervent push-back by gun enthusiasts. Or worse, such as those that are convinced that somehow all the guns will be rounded up and taken away. I’m certainly not in favor of that nor do I believe are most reasonable people that support some fair restrictions. So what we’re left with is marketing. How would a successful campaign to limit gun violence be won?

One thought would be to approach this like another public safety issue: speed limits for cars. I think that we can all agree that speed limits for cars are a reasonable idea. If we were all able to drive as fast as we wanted, not only would be we killing ourselves in greater numbers but many other innocents would be taken out in the process. Nobody has had their car taken away because it could go too fast. Nor has the government legislated a horsepower cap. If you have the money, you can buy the fastest car possible. You’re just required to operate it safely on the public roads.

So why can’t we frame this discussion in this way? The point is that limiting firepower is a public safety issue, not one of personal liberty. If you must own an assault rifle, be prepared to be licensed to operate it and have the size of your magazines limited to a reasonable “speed.” If we can think of this issue in this way, it might be easier to come to a compromise.


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