Meet the New Host

Arvixe web hostionSame as the old host? Only time will tell. Like pretty much every fresh relationship, committing to a new web hosting company is filled with hope and anticipation. A common hope, particularly when a move is triggered by a need to get out of a bad situation, is that the new relationship will be different. I’ve just moved to its fourth home and I’m hoping, as I have with each of the previous three, that Arvixe will be different.

While the other three were certainly different from each other in many respects, each of the experiences followed a similar pattern. They were small companies started by young and energetic entrepreneurs. There were few, if any, employees. Each company and its owner were essentially one and the same. They delivered good value and good service and developed good reputations. They got mentioned in forums and reviews where folks like me might go shopping for a web host and their business grew. They might have a few more problems than the big guys and it might take them a little longer to fix them but problems did eventually get fixed and the prices were enough below those of the big guys to justify an occasional extra hiccup.

But companies dependent on single individuals are fragile. Maybe the business outgrows the owner’s organizational skills, or maybe illness or other personal issues interfere, or maybe the owner moves on or just loses interest. Whatever the reason, service can start deteriorating and the stories appearing in forums and reviews can become decidedly less positive. That happened with all three of the companies I’ve had experience with and many, probably thousands, of others.

Web hosting is a fairly easy business to get into. A server can be rented in a big data center for not a whole lot of money and with few qualifications. I don’t doubt that more than a few technical hotshots jumped into the pool with a less than thorough business plan. There are loads of horror stories much worse than anything I’ve encountered. In fact, each of my three former hosts were quite satisfactory for a fair amount of time.

I did my first road trip journal in 1999 on some space provided by my ISP. When I realized the journal was not a one time thing, I registered a domain name and signed on for some web space with a company in the Chicago area named Stargate. That was in early 2001 and they kept me happy for two years. In early 2003 I moved to Solidinternet operating out of Australia but with servers in the US. I stayed with them nearly six years. As I recall, Stargate was run by a husband and wife with a couple of (possibly part time) employees. Solidinternet was run by an individual and a few (probably part time) employees. My most recent host, eVerity, where I just passed the five year mark, is run by an individual with, as near as I can tell, no employees. I have had only a few problems with eVerity and even now have none that are website related. I have been, however, experiencing problems with email and I see the sluggish or non-existent response to those as a sign that the downward spiral has begun.

I had started shopping but was well short of a decision when persistent email problems and unanswered tickets forced my hand. In addition to the normal price & feature criteria, this time company size figured into my choice. I had identified a half dozen companies that could meet my needs at reasonable cost and I quickly narrowed that to one based largely on forum posts and reviews just as I’d done before. There were a couple of other things that helped, too. One was the quick and friendly manner in which my pre-sales questions were answered at Arvixe and another was the fact that their support forum had questions — and answers — from today rather than last year and that those answers came from multiple people.

The move went quite smoothly and it looks like the name server changes have been propagated to most of the world. Everything I’ve looked at is working but I’ve yet to try a blog post and a newsletter to see if the generated email makes it. That’s where most of my recent problems nave appeared. This is the blog post and a newsletter will soon follow.

A Birthday Bash and a Big Bashing

Pleasant Ridge Chili 50th AnniversaryConsistent is not the way to describe my news input. I hardly ever read a newspaper anymore. I do occasionally watch some national news on the broadcast networks and some national and international stuff on PBS. I think I watch local morning news fairly often but it’s hardly regular and I guess it can’t really be called often in the way that most of the world defines the word. I’m writing all of this in an effort to establish an excuse for missing a landmark event in a nearby community where I once lived. Despite significant advance coverage by local TV stations and others, it wasn’t until I saw an “after the fact” report that I learned of Pleasant Ridge Chili‘s 50th anniversary.

It was Friday evening when I saw the report on Wednesday’s celebration. I felt embarrassed, of course, and even a little guilty that I not only missed attending but was totally ignorant of the big event. I corrected things as quickly as I could. On Saturday afternoon, I headed to PRC, grabbed a seat at the counter, and ordered a 4-way. In chatting with the waitresses, I realized that missing the big day wasn’t all bad. It had been a madhouse; in a good way, of course. Ninety-nine cent coneys and free baklava had customers lined up “out the door”. Though things had calmed down considerably, it was still extra busy on Saturday and everyone was looking forward to a day off on Sunday. Owner Danny Sideris was one of the people hustling to keep things running smoothly but he sure was happy and I even got to talk with him a little when he would pause near the end of the counter to contemplate his next move. He estimated that about half of the customers were there for the first time and he wanted to make sure their first impression was a good one.

Before I knew of the anniversary, I had determined that nothing blog-worthy was happening this week and scheduled a Trip Pic Peek for the Sunday morning post. I briefly reconsidered this after my Saturday afternoon visit but decided that a post about missing the party would not be very interesting and not worth the effort to put together before bedtime. So, what changed my mind? Actually, nothing changed my mind about the story being interesting. It isn’t and I know it. But, before I fell asleep, I discovered something else I had missed and which made a chili related post almost mandatory. The thing I discovered was posted in October so I’m already really late in reacting. No use waiting another week.

In an unguarded moment, I was led, through some sort of internet baiting, to a blog post titled “The Great American Menu: Foods Of The States, Ranked And Mapped”. The post is here. It is an honest article that declares up front that it is not “scientific”, “researched”, or “fair”. It didn’t take long to realize that the writer was some sort of cyberspace Don Rickles who felt obligated to insult almost every state and edible including those he claimed to like. I never cared much for Rickles but admit that he did occasionally say something funny. Same with the writer and I found myself smiling now and then as I read through the list. As I crossed the halfway point, it occurred to me that he would likely be even more obnoxious with his unscientific, unresearched, and unfair set of losers. I also realized that Ohio had not yet been mentioned and that’s probably what drew me on. As the list moved into the lower fifth, I started fearing that Ohio would pop up around 44 or 48. “Please, Rickles wannabe”, I silently pleaded, “don’t rank Ohio merely near the bottom. We want nothing but the worst.”

My pleas were answered with a tirade that was so far over the top that I suspected the entire list was created just as an introduction for this blast. (It was.) The District of Columbia was included in the list but Ohio did not come in at 51. In addition the the 50 states and DC, the writer inserted “Being Hit By A Car” in front of Ohio for the apparent purpose of moving the state down another notch. Few states got more than a paragraph in the list and many were dismissed with just a few words. Ohio got four paragraphs and over 400 words all targeting Cincinnati Chili. Skyline is the only brand name used but it’s unclear whether that’s the only name he knows or if he has a special grudge against the company. It’s no more clear why the bonus blather for Cincinnati Chili. Maybe a Skyline waitress once saw the guy naked and laughed or maybe he heard a rumor that his conception involved a 3-way and misunderstood. Or maybe southwest Ohio just doesn’t visit enough.

Deadspin is the website where the list appeared. It is described as a sports website with a sarcastic and humorous editorial tone. Add the connection between food lists and sports to things unclear. Perhaps there was a “get more Cincy clicks” directive and the chili bashing was the result. If so, it worked. I visited the deadspin site one more time than I would have otherwise. Hope that’s enough.

Trip Peek #14
Trip #31
OH Lincoln

April snow in OhioThis picture is from the my 2005 OH Lincoln road trip. The trip was centered around my first ever Ohio Lincoln Highway League annual meeting and marked the first time I drove Ohio’s part of the Lincoln Highway from end to end. Starting, on April 22, in East Liverpool, I spent three days getting to, and a little beyond, the Indiana border. The first day was gray, the second wet, and the third white. Clouds and rain are pretty common for late April but snow is definitely not. Day two actually started with very light and very brief flurries then day three began with snow on the ground. Intermittent flurries continued throughout the day and provided the scene captured in the photo.

Trip Pic Peek #13 — Trip #56 — Indy Sixty-Two

Trip Pic Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the trip journal it is from.

Webpage Review
Highway One Road Trip
Shout Digital

Highway 1 Virtual Road TripFor me, virtual road trips will never replace the real thing but with sub-zero temperatures and several inches of snow on the ground, I took a look at one and had some fun. I did not discover it because I was searching the web for just this sort of thing. I learned of it through an email of the sort that contain link exchange offers or promises to increase your search engine ranking or something similar and which are usually deleted about the time my eyes reach the third or fourth sentence. But this one was well written and polite and, not only did I read it all, I actually clicked on the link it contained and, as I said, had some fun.

Highway 1 Virtual Road Trip
The graphics are reminiscent of a 1980s Atari game though there are a bunch more elements and they’re a lot smoother. The vehicle is a Cadillac convertible which is moved south along California Highway 1 by scrolling. Flyout tabs allow jumping to specific locations such as Big Sur and Santa Monica if you don’t want to “drive” there. Along the way popups provide information about landmarks and areas and clickable pads appear from time to time that link to Google Street View.

Although bits of data appear for goodly number of landmarks and attractions, it is hardly an exhaustive list and no contact information is provided. The page is intended to be a fun way to cruise/scroll down the California coast and maybe learn a few things on the way. It does not purport to be a practical trip guide.

The page is part of the website of Exsus, a purveyor of “luxury holidays & honeymoons” and not the sort of outfit you might immediately associate with drive-it-yourself road trips. But CA 1 goes through some pretty high class neighborhoods where honeymoons and holidays can certainly be luxurious and Exsus is certainly capable of arranging them. One purpose of the virtual road trip is to make people aware of Exsus. Another is to make people aware of Shout Digital, the company that built it. It is something of a showcase for them and uses some fancy website techniques, such as parallax scrolling, that are better explained in a Creative Bloq article on the page (They call it a “microsite” which I sort of like.) here.

The Highway One Road Trip is here. It won’t clear the snow or make the thermometer less depressing but it can provide some fun and maybe some information on west coast attractions.

My Gear – Chapter 17
Garmin zūmo 220

Garmin Zūmo® 220About eleven months and a couple of My Gear chapters ago, I described my frustrating experience with a Garmin nüvi®. When the chapter ended, I had just discovered that Garmin did still produce a line of GPS units that handled routing the way I wanted which the nüvi® line most definitely did not. I explained, to a small degree, what I meant and I’ll give an even briefer explanation here. The more capable routing of Garmin’s zūmo® line accurately follows a predefined path to a destination. The simpler nüvi® style routing provides guidance to a destination along whatever path it thinks best. Once I understood the difference, I sold (at considerable loss) the nüvi® 2460LMT and bought a zūmo®. In January of 2012, the bottom of the line zūmo® 220 cost not quite $140 more than the top of the line nüvi® 2460LMT had in April of 2011 ($447 vs. $308).

As I’ve said before, “just get me there” routing is perfectly fine for most people and most uses. It is what the majority of stand-alone GPS units provide and I believe it is what most or all units built into vehicles do although I have no experience with them. The software is simpler for a number of reasons but perhaps the most apparent is that only two points need to be dealt with at any instant rather than an entire route. Reduced complexity makes the software easier to develop or cheaper to buy which makes this the right choice for most manufacturers.

But what about Garmin? Since they are supporting the more complex multi-point routing in one line of processors, why not us it in all their products? That’s a purely rhetorical question since there are any number of reasons for maintaining two different lines of software and everyone reading this has probably already thought of half a dozen. One of the most plausible is hardware cost and, though I have no way of knowing, I’m thinking there’s a pretty good chance that the hardware required to run the more complex software is more expensive and it doesn’t take much of a cost difference in high volume components to justify some additional work.

Hardware is certainly the reason that zūmo®s cost more than nüvi®s. zūmo®s are intended for use on motorcycles and, while there may or may not be increased cost associated with more powerful processors to run the software, there is certainly increased cost associated with ruggedized components and waterproof construction. Then there is the additional hardware not shipped with automotive units. Clamps for handlebar mounting and cables for hardwiring power are packaged with every zūmo®.

So zūmo®s are more expensive, zūmo®s are what’s required to do multi-point routing, and the 220 is the least expensive of the line. Is it any good? Yes it is.

The screen is considerably smaller than the nüvi® it replaced and the unit is thicker and less pocketable. But it does exactly what I want in terms of routing. It accepts pre-planned routes from the free Garmin Basecamp program and it tracks them as they were intended to be tracked. While I really don’t feel like heaping praise on a product for doing its job in a manner that I consider proper, since this seems to be the only line of GPS receivers which do that, maybe praise is deserved.

The 220 has not been entirely trouble free. Many Garmin units come bundled with “lifetime maps”. The 220 is not one of them but I added this option when I bought mine. On about the third or fourth update, I received a message telling me that there was not enough memory in the unit to hold the latest maps. That problem was fairly easily solved by installing a microSD memory card and installing the maps on it. It wasn’t long, however, before another problem appeared.

Part way through the power up sequence, the unit would, on occasion, shut itself off and it took repeated restarts to get it up and running. At least initially, the problem seemed to occur when restarting after a normal power off but there have been occasions when the thing just shuts down after being on and running for quite some time. Because of when it first appeared and the fact that it often, but not always, happens during the “loading maps” stage, I’ve attributed the problem to bad behavior following an error reading from the microSD card. Like a hole in the roof that’s only a problem when it’s too wet to fix it, I rarely even think of the problem when I’m at home with time to research it. Maybe writing this will prompt me to do something.

I’ve spent a goodly amount of space justifying the higher prices of Garmin’s zūmo®s and it may seem like I’m resigned to paying more for “proper” routing. I am. to a certain degree, but I still feel like I’m being gouged when I’m forced to pay for handlebar mounts and the like just to get a routing function that meets my needs. It’s a fact that I know of no one in the old road crowds I’ve mingled with who uses a GPS the way I do. In fact, they’re more likely to deride the whole concept of GPS in favor of paper maps. I don’t doubt that Luddite tendencies account for a certain amount of this but I’m also confident that having someone in the passenger seat to hold and read those maps and guide books affect much of their thinking and rightly so.

If the market for proper multi-point routing in four wheeled vehicles truly is infinitesimal, then Garmin is right to ignore it. However, I find it hard to believe that I’m the only person in the country who would welcome a zūmo® that was a hundred bucks cheaper because it omitted handlebar clamps and direct wire power cabling or maybe two or three hundred bucks cheaper because its housing was not water proof.

Of course, in order to appreciate better routing at a better price, they would need to know what better routing is and Garmin’s not going to tell them. I have found nothing on Garmin’s website or in their literature that explains the difference between zūmo® routing and other routing and not much that even acknowledges it. My impression is that very few Garmin employees, and none in marketing or sales, know the difference. It falls on vendors like River Pilot Tours and MAD Maps to at least hint at a difference by pointing out that some of their products are only compatible with specific GPS models.

ALERT: At the time of writing, Spot It Out, who both River Pilot Tours and Mad Maps had partnered with to deliver their GPS based products, has ceased operation. River Pilot Tours has taken over delivery of their products although purchase of the turn-by-turn product is not directly offered through the website. Zūmo® style routing is required and the company is asking customers to contact it by email or telephone to make sure they have hardware capable of running the product before purchasing it. It is not yet known how or if MAD Maps’ turn-by-turn products can be obtained.

My Gear – Chapter 16 — Nikon D5100

Book Review
By Mopar to the Golden Gate
Denny Gibson

bmttgg_cvrThis book has thousands of words, many with multiple syllables, and dozens of pictures in 50+ shades of grey. It tells the story of an old man in an old car on an old road and is available here and at Amazon, including Amazon UK and Europe, on an old medium — paper.

By Mopar to the Golden Gate, Denny Gibson, Trip Mouse Publishing, 2013, paperback, 9 x 6 inches, 140 pages, ISBN 978-0615921990.


2013 in the Rear View

The year in numbers with 2012 values in parentheses:

  • 0 (5) = Oddment pages posted
  • 6 (8) = Road trips reported
  • 77 (77) = Blog posts
  • 57 (76) = Days on the road
  • 1437 (2254) = Pictures posted — 406 (388) in the blog, 0 (131) in Oddments, and 1031 (1735) in Road Trips

jch_revClearly, I was quite the slacker last year. It didn’t feel like it but there’s the proof. Less of almost everything. Oddments were added in 2004 as a way to post non-road trip stuff. They felt a little redundant from the minute the blog was added in 2011 and I finally stopped doing them in 2013. There would not, apparently, have been many of them anyway since turning them into blog posts sure didn’t make the number of those shoot up. Total blog posts stayed exactly the same with regular weekly posts accounting for 52, reviews accounting for 12, and the remaining 13 coming from road trips and other asynchronous events. The 2011 and 2012 Rear Views contained rants about how crummy blog traffic statistics are. I’ll skip the rant this year and move onto the top five lists.

Top Blog Posts:

  1. Twenty Mile’s Last Stand
    A 2012 article on an endangered historic building that ranked number one last year, too. This year’s attention was no doubt due to the building being leveled in April. An article on the demolition, Roadhouse Down, actually came in fourth for 2013 but I’m referencing it here rather than as a list entry.
  2. My Wheels – Chapter 1 1960 J. C. Higgins Flightliner
    In 2013, I started a series of articles on all the vehicles I’ve owned and the first post in the series became the most popular new post of the year.
  3. Route 66 Attractions
    This 2012 review of a GPS based product for tracing Route 66 moved to third after ranking fifth last year.
  4. Ohio’s Revolutionary War Battle
    The popularity of this article on the Battle of Picawey probably comes from mentioning George Rogers Clark, Tecumseh, and the War of 1812 all on the same page.
  5. Chili All Week and It’s Cold, Too.
    A report on eating at a different Cincinnati chili parlor each day for a week. A subsequent article, 5 More 4s, covered five additional parlors though those visits were not on consecutive days. Note that this post would have been bumped from the top five if I had allowed both Twenty Mile House items to claim a place. That’s why I did what I did, of course. I like this article and, in this teeny tiny bit of cyberspace, I’m the boss.

Top Non-Blog Posts:

  1. Tadmor
    Oddment page on a 2006 visit to the site of the town of Tadmor that also ranked first in 2011 and second in 2012. I believe traffic is largely from a Wikipedia article on ghost towns but a mention and link on Jim Grey’s Down the Road blog also accounts for quite a few visitors..
  2. Cincinnati Summer of Love Reunion
    Oddment page on a 2007 concert featuring area performers from 1967. The Lemon Pipers, Sacred Mushroom, Tony and the Bandits, and Haymarket Riot were all represented and I suspect each accounts for some of the traffic as do some of the individuals mentioned.
  3. The 2010 Fair at New Boston
    Oddment page on the 2010 version of an annual recreation of the 1790s. It is held at the same site talked about in Ohio’s Revolutionary War Battle, the fourth ranking blog post and the two probably share visitors.
  4. Lincoln Highway Centennial Tour
    The highest ranking non-blog and non-oddment (pseudo-blog) page was the base page for the year’s biggest trip, the 35 day coast-to-coast Lincoln Highway drive. This is also the only item in the non-blog list that was a new post this year.
  5. High Speed Privies
    Oddment page on the 2004 running of the Great Outhouse Race at Penn’s Store in Kentucky. It once contained a clear nude photo taken at the store for Playboy that generated some traffic. The photo has long been obscured but searches related to it are clearly what brought the visitors. I have no idea what triggered the renewed interest.

Visits to the website increased to 170,809 from 91,233 last year and page views rose to 467,084 from 337,996. WordPress’ Jetpack reports 6,863 views (up from 5,965) for the blog in 2013.

I ended last year’s Rear View with a prediction that I would not “get very jiggy in 2013” then proceeded to make the prediction come true. The closest thing to a website change last year was the decision to not add any more Oddment entries and that did not result in any actual alterations. What’s there will remain and it’s possible I could turn to that method again someday if something comes along that doesn’t fit the blog format. .