Remembering Laurel

laurel_trikeLaurel Kane has been gone nearly three months. The Route 66 icon and personal friend died on January 28, 2016. In the days that followed, many of her friends and associates shared memories on Facebook, on their own blogs and websites, and in various comment threads and other locations around the web. For a hodgepodge of reasons, not all of which even I understood, I didn’t. It certainly wasn’t because of a lack of memories. There were plenty of those swirling through my mind as January came to an end but I made no effort to capture them. I just let them swirl.

There was no funeral gathering or big memorial service at the time of Laurel’s passing. Several members of the Route 66 community, in the area for another event, are gathering in Afton today to share memories. Her family is hosting a Celebration of the Life of Laurel Kane at her beloved Afton Station next Saturday which I will attending. This seems the right time for this post.

I knew Laurel for slightly more than a dozen years. Our first face-to-face meeting was in September 2003; Our last in May 2015. Phone calls, email exchanges, and other communication occurred both before our first and after our last physical meeting. Our most recent email exchange took place a few days before Christmas.

That initial meeting was at the Route 66 Festival in Springfield, Illinois, which I believe was the farthest from Afton Station I ever personally saw her. I had already driven Route 66 end-to-end twice before I learned about things like festivals. I learned of that one too late to get in on the awards banquet but did manage to snag a spot at the eGroup breakfast. (For any that don’t know, a Route 66 Yahoo group often gets together for breakfast during major Route 66 gatherings.) I knew only a few names and almost no faces and probably looked pretty much lost. Laurel invited me to sit with her and her daughter and I was lost no more. Of course, I soon learned that making people feel welcome was just one of Laurel’s talents.

We met several more time over the years. All were in either Tulsa or Afton with the exception of our last meeting in May when I was attending the Jefferson Highway Conference in Muskogee. Juggling Laurel’s always busy schedule and that of the conference, she and Ron McCoy met me for linner (Laurel’s name for a meal between lunch and dinner) in Pryor about halfway between Afton and Muskogee. Laurel insisted on getting together despite it interfering with watching her beloved Kentucky Derby.

pic01aThe picture of Laurel with Ron and Ethyl is from a 2011 stop at Afton Station. Not only do I miss seeing her at the station, I miss, as do so many others, reading her blog. It may have been created to promote the station but Thoughts from a Route 66 Business Owner might involve just about anything going on in any part of Laurel’s world. It was sometimes informative, sometimes insightful or entertaining, and always interesting.

I also miss Laurel as a reader. I miss her in ways that not everyone will. Laurel was one of a small group of people who subscribed to both my trip journals and my blog. She was actually part of the smaller group who read them with anything approaching regularity. I know Laurel did not read every word or look at every picture but she read and looked more than most. And she occasionally interacted with a comment or an email which made her part of an even smaller group. Laurel had visited every state in the union and had lived in several. Her response to a journal post often concerned something she remembered about where ever I was from her own time there. A semi-recent one was my January 2015 visit to Florida. When she saw I would be near a place where she once had a condo she dropped me a note. I was able to give her a little update and benefit from her restaurant suggestion.

The Cliff House in San Francisco was a completely different story. The historic restaurant is something of a symbolic end to the Lincoln Highway. Despite never having been there, Laurel had assembled a large collection of Cliff House memorabilia and got a little kick from the few times a road trip took me there.

Laurel also read my printed words and read them before almost anyone else. Like this website, the two books I have self published are more bucket list and hobby than a serious attempt at a new career. Laurel agreed to help me out by proofreading both books and both were considerably improved by her efforts. Although she had the knowledge and skill to be a grammar Nazi, Laurel was pretty much the opposite. Most of her corrections seemed like friendly suggestions and that’s essentially what they were. Laurel was never upset or even slightly offended on the rare occasion I chose not to follow a suggestion. She sometimes even encouraged a little rule breaking like when she followed tagging an incomplete sentence with “…but I like incomplete sentences.”

I had nothing to do with the creation of the photo at the top of this post. I stole it from Laurel’s Facebook page where she posted it as a profile picture back in 2011. Though unintentional, I did have something to do with that. Facebook friends of mine probably know of my habit of changing my profile picture to a similar one from my childhood when I set out on a road trip. When I did that for an August 2011 trip I added the description “Looking for a triker bar”. That’s when Laurel changed her profile photo to the one from her own childhood and asked, “Can I go to the triker bar with you?” We never made it to a triker bar but we did make it to Clanton’s and Tally’s and a few other places including the “Center of the Universe“. Every one of those many memories brings a smile.

Although they don’t all come from actual meetings, a search for “Laurel Kane” at DennyGibson.com returns a couple dozen references for anyone curious about other memories.

Bye Bye Bell

cbtSome might remember 2014’s Bye Bye Four One Two Five blog post in which I bid farewell to a long held telephone number and a couple of Cincinnati Bell services. For roughly six years preceding that post, I had relied on CB for my mobile telephone as well as my home phone and internet connection. That had to change because the company was bailing out of the mobile business. When I made that post in October of 2014, I had switched to Verizon for my mobile service and had simply dropped the seldom used home voice service. The only service I retained with CB was an internet connection. In the last paragraph of the post I expressed happy surprise that the internet connection was the same price alone as it had been bundled. That didn’t last.

For the first year, my internet-only bill was $35 per month. It then went to a perfectly acceptable $36. Five months later it jumped to $48.54 which was neither acceptable or ignorable. There were, I soon learned, two components to this roughly 35% increase. One was a significant but not quite outrageous jump in the service rate from $36 to $39.99. The larger piece of the increase came from the addition of a $7.99 equipment fee and accompanying $0.56 state tax. Through on-line chat and a subsequent phone call I was able to verify that this was, as I immediately suspected, a monthly rental fee for the nondescript ADSL modem I had been using free since 2008. I was also told that I could neither buy the modem outright from Cincinnati Bell nor supply my own. As the representative looked over my account, she uttered the phrase “wireless internet” and I told her I did not have CB supplied WiFi which she shrugged off and so did I. I guess I had already decided to run away fast rather than pursuing specific issues.

Cincinnati Bell’s current flagship product uses fiber-optics. Called Fioptics, it is not yet available at my address although I doubt its availability would have materially changed things. My service was a copper wire product called ZoomTown 5 Mbps. The service is often described as “5/1” to indicate 5 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. These are marketing friendly “rounded up” numbers more precisely described as “Download up to 5 Mbps. Upload up to 768 Kbps”. There is also a ZoomTown 2 Mbps or “2/1” product. Although I have seen download speed as high as 4.47 Mbps, recently observed download speeds have all been under 1.33 Mbps. Observed upload speeds have always been around 0.66 Mbps which is close enough to 768 Kbps to keep me happy. It happens that the only record I have of speeds near 5 Mbps (the 4.47 reading) is from before switching off voice service but I have no evidence that the slowing coincided with the switch.

My most charitable interpretation of this is that Cincinnati Bell made a couple of small errors. It seems quite possible that somewhere along the way I was accidentally switched from the 5 Mbps service to the 2 Mbps service. It is also quite possible that I was somehow supposed to have a WiFi router from Cincinnati Bell but that someone forgot to actually provide it. If that were the case, then I could press Cincinnati Bell and get a fancier modem/router for my $7.99. If an accidental service reduction had actually occurred, then I could press Cincinnati Bell and get it switched back or I could arrange for my billing to be changed to match the service I was apparently receiving.

I might have merely grumbled and moved to get the errors corrected had there not been at least a little bit of competition left in the local internet market. There is, so instead of expending energy trying to get Cincinnati Bell to correct its errors, I switched to Time Warner Cable. Three things led to the switch. For one thing, TWC allows customers to supply their own modems and provides a list of compatible products. Secondly it’s cheaper. I’m starting with a 2 Mbps plan which should be the equivalent of what I’ve actually been getting from CB. The CB rate is $26 per month (although I’ve actually been paying more) and the TWC rate is $14.99 per month. Yes, I had to spend some money up front but I’m getting nearly twenty bucks ($8.55 + $26 – $14.99 = $19.56) back every month. If I should decide I want more, TWC lists 6 Mbps and 15 Mbps plans that are both cheaper than CB’s 5 Mbps plan. The third reason to switch is that TWC hadn’t pissed me off in years.

Getting the new service should have been quick and easy. It wasn’t although neither was it exactly horrible. When the condominium I live in was built in 1997, all units were pre-wired for Time Warner Cable. I subscribed to TWC for a couple of years before going to DirecTV in 1999. The DirecTV installation made use of the TWC cabling and was working fine when I canceled my subscription in favor of over-the-air TV in 2009. An appointment was made and a technician arrived right on schedule. However, after doing a LOT of testing, he told me that there seemed to be a break in the internal cabling and that someone else would need to come out to fix it. I would be contacted within a week.

I let two weeks pass then called. Someone had entered a placeholder appointment for a couple months in the future then dropped the ball. A more qualified tech arrived less than two days later. He looked things over and, rather than pulling new cable as I expected, simply completed the one connection the previous tech had missed. Bingo!

While both services were connected I checked their speeds using Ethernet (not WiFi) and found the Time Warner connection delivering essentially what was advertised:nsttwc

Cincinnati Bell, not so much:nstcb

I know those rates seem pretty pitiful to many. They are the minimum offerings from the two companies but they are sufficient. One might think that, as a feeder of a blog and website, I am a heavy Internet user. Nope, heavy Internet users are families streaming movies to multiple TVs while playing World of Warcraft with friends in Walla Walla, Washington. I certainly wouldn’t object to more speed but I have what I need for less than a Skinny Vanilla Latte Grande per week.

The opening photo shows a detail of the 1931 Cincinnati Bell Building in downtown Cincinnati.

Mobile Friendlier

dgcdeskFor something that did not even register on my radar a month ago, the concept of mobile-friendly websites has grabbed a lot of space on this blog in the young 2016. The first post of the new year led to me realizing that mobile devices should not simply be ignored. The second post discussed a little of what I had learned and described the first steps taken to be mobile-friendly. And this, the fourth post of the new year, is a report on reaching a milestone on the road to mobile friendliness.

dgcmobileThe milestone I speak of is having a home page that passes both Google and Bing mobile friendliness tests. That’s it at the top of the article in desktop (actually laptop) view and at the left in smartphone view. It is the biggest change to the website’s front door in at least fifteen years. It retains most of the flavor and function of the previous version but is simpler and scales down a lot better. About the only things missing are the RSS feeds from Route 66 News, Roadside America, and American Road Magazine and the randomly selected road trip photo and link at the page’s upper right. Both came with a lot of overhead and I don’t recall anyone ever complimenting me on either. I personally really liked the random picture thing, however, and have kept it alive with a “Done Deeds”-“All Trips”-“Random” menu item. The Google ads also seem to be fairly high in overhead and, although I’m hanging on to them for the present, I will be keeping an eye on them and they could go missing.

The new home page and a revised FAQ page went live just ahead of this blog post. The FAQ page explains that the individual day pages for all ten of the “Decent” (personal favorite) road trips have been updated as have the individual day pages for all trips taken since the start of 2008. The cover pages for all road trips were updated in advance of the January 10 2016 on the Small Screen post. The remaining day pages will be updated in reverse chronological order and will hopefully be taken care of in the next couple of months.

tlistmobileThere are a few pages that may never be truly mobile-friendly as Google and Bing see things. Among these are both Oddment and Road Trip index pages. While changes have been made to make text on the pages readable on mobile devices, the table displays overflow smartphone screens in all directions and require zooming and/or panning to view. There are schemes, using pop-ups and such, to make tables slimmer and more mobile-friendly. I don’t really like any I’ve seen and am firmly of the belief that the conversion effort would not be justified for either of these tables. While they might not be officially mobile-friendly, and I have no quibbles with either Google’s or Bing’s criteria,  they seem quite usable on my smartphone and I don’t consider them overly unfriendly.

ccollagemobile1The Clickable Collage is another page which is not officially mobile-friendly. Containing a single photo from every completed road trip, it allows the individual photos to be clicked to access the journal for the associated trip. It was formerly available through a link below the randomly selected photo at the home page’s upper right. It is now reached through the “Done Deeds”-“All Trips”-“Collage” menu item. Although I don’t expect everyone to experience the same memory stimulation I do when viewing the collage, I have to believe that it is most impactful when seen in its entirety. Of course this is best done on a full size (whatever that is) screen where the total view is also actually usable. Making this collage fit a small screen by forcing it into one or two very tall columns just seems wrong and more irritating than impressive. It is clearly not a natural fit for smartphone screens but it can, like those index pages, be viewed and used by panning. It can also be zoomed to fit but, while this view of the full collage might have a little of the impressiveness of the big screen version, the tiny pictures are neither clear or tappable unless you have eagle eyes and pencil-point fingers.

All Oddment pages contain a table of photo thumbnails and most of these tables are too wide to fit a smartphone screen without zooming. Modifications have been made so that text on the pages is readable but the tables remain a problem with no ready solution. The most recent Oddment was published in December 2012 and no more are anticipated. Like the index and collage pages, Oddments are not totally unusable on mobile devices but they are undeniably not mobile-friendly. It is possible that some future development or insight will allow them to be made officially mobile-friendly but no such changes are currently planned.

I believe that this blog can now return to regular programming. The remaining daily journal pages will eventually be coerced into friendliness and there might be a few mobile device oriented tweaks as time goes by but I think I’m done talking about it. I just want to be friendly — and mobile.

ADDENDUM 25-Feb-2016: All planned mobile related edits have been completed. I will continue to monitor Google and Bling mobile friendliness reports and respond as appropriate to any issues they identify.

2016 on the Small Screen

mobileoldI didn’t do it on purpose, Jim. Honest I didn’t. But, as has happened a time or two in the past, mentioning a problem in a blog post was enough to get some insight from blogger Jim Grey. In the recent 2015 in the Rear View post, I bemoaned the year’s tremendous drop in visitors to the non-blog portion of my website. In a comment on the post, Jim theorized that it was because Google had taken to “downranking sites that aren’t mobile friendly”. Although it should not have been, that was news to me. A little checking showed that not only was the connection believable, it was pretty much undeniable. Thanks Jim.

A long time ago (March 2) I received email from Google pointing out that much of my website was not mobile-friendly. Mobile-friendly sites are those that work well on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. That usability usually comes with some effort. Other than that inherent in the WordPress based blog portion, my site made no such effort at all. The image at right shows how the cover page of my most recent road trip looked on a smartphone. The display could be zoomed to read and interact with various items but it was uneven, awkward, and ugly. That Google email had pointed me to some tools for testing pages on my site and gently suggested I do something about the many transgressions. It politely cautioned me that some of my pages would be “ranked appropriately for smartphone users”. What I did was decide it was too much work and gently ignored the suggestions.

I paid for it. When I followed up on Jim’s observation with a little web searching (yes I used Google), I found a number of online articles about the search engine’s plans to penalize non-mobile-compliant sites in search ranking. Most of the articles I found were from March and April. Roll out of the new ranking algorithm began April 21. Although I had left it out of the final article, looking at 2015 statistics had shown that the drop off had begun rather sharply in April. The connection between Google’s change and my vanished traffic was, as I said, undeniable.

Google describes the change as affecting only searches from smartphones. Searches from desktops, laptops, and even tablets were treated no differently in May than in March. That means that not only were most of the visits that disappeared in 2015 tied to Google searches, they were tied to searches from phones. That’s also undeniable and almost unbelievable.

mobilenewI revisited the Google testing tools and paid a lot more attention to the suggestions. There was some good news. The vast majority of my website is very simple so that adding just one line (to set a mobile viewport) to a page allows it to pass Google’s mobile-friendly test and makes it look better. The page shown at the top of the article reappears at the left with that one line added.

One bit of bad news is that there are more than a thousand of these simple pages. The change is easy but time consuming and somewhat tedious plus doing a thousand easy things isn’t really easy. Other bad news is that that not all pages start behaving with the one line addition. Others, such at the site’s home page, must be completely redesigned to function properly on mobile devices.

After proving the concept by updating all pages of the most recent trip, I decided that tackling cover pages for the 131 completed road trips was a task big enough to be of value but not so large as to be overwhelming. Over the last few days I have “fixed” the cover pages for all completed trips. That means that the 24 day trips, where the cover page and the daily journal page are one and the same, are done. The daily journal pages for remaining trips are being nibbled away at in reverse chronological order. Journals for the ten most recent trips have been updated at the time of this posting. Included are all nine 2015 trips plus the last trip of 2014. The simple one line change has been applied to a number of other pages even though it isn’t enough to allow the page to pass Google’s mobile-friendly test. These pages, which include the home page, the road trip and oddment listing pages, and most of the 57 individual oddment pages, will not appear in Google searches executed from a smartphone but they can be accessed directly and will be more usable (e.g., larger text size) than they have been. I will endeavor to produce mobile compliant versions of these pages in the near future but am not so foolish as to promise anything by any time.

Being mobile-friendly is a good thing and I don’t question Google’s move one bit. The “weave or get off the web” sentiment may seem harsh but it really doesn’t make sense to point people to pages they are sure to have trouble using even if what they’re looking for is hidden in there somewhere. I commend Google for taking this step and for supplying tools and information to help with the necessary changes. Google has long provided numerous tools for webmasters. During this week, I’ve become familiar with more of them and more appreciative of all of them. Becoming more mobile friendly isn’t the only improvement they have helped me with this week. They can provide insight as well. In last week’s post I jokingly said that I hoped the mysterious popularity of a journal page from a Lincoln Highway trip came from “the chicken mailbox or the Ogden Footprints”. Thanks to Google’s webmaster tools I now know that the mailbox was indeed the subject of a number of Pinterest posts. Viva la chicken mailbox!

Google made people (including me) aware of the skyrocketing use of mobile devices and some of the related issues. Those who were paying attention knew the change was coming. Non-compliant websites aren’t blocked or totally ignored they are simply ranked lower in search results for certain devices. As I proved by ignoring those emails, Google can’t make me change. All they can do is make me wish I had.

2015 in the Rear View

The year in numbers with 2014 values in parentheses:

  • 9 (7) = Road trips reported
  • 77 (80) = Blog posts
  • 59 (77) = Days on the road
  • 1926 (1972) = Pictures posted — 490 (384) in the blog and 1436 (1588) in Road Trips

whttco65_revI made a couple more trips this year than last but they were shorter and resulted in less total days on the road. That naturally caused a slight drop in pictures posted to the journal but pictures in the blog increased so that there was not a significant change in the total number of new pictures. In addition to the 52 regular weekly blog posts, there were 14 reviews, 9 road trip links, and 2 miscellaneous asynchronous posts which adds up to just three less blog posts than last year. Three of the new blog posts generated enough traffic to make the top five. The most popular new blog post concerned a little ol’ high school reunion. Once again there were no new posts in the non-blog top five.

Top Blog Posts:

  1. My Wheels – Chapter 1 1960 J. C. Higgins Flightliner
    After being the most popular new post of 2013 and that year’s second most popular overall, this first chapter in the My Wheels series moved to number one last year and stays there for 2015. Any doubt that web cruisers prefer single-speed fat-tired bicycles over Corvairs and Vegas is rapidly fading.
  2. Fifty Years After
    This was itself a “rear view” article triggered by the fiftieth anniversary reunion of my high school graduating class. Not surprisingly, a lot of my classmates read it but there isn’t enough of them to account for it being the most popular new post of the year. The article was hardly an in depth look at the past half-century but it did offer a glimpse at coming of age in the 1960s and that apparently caught a little interest.
  3. Scoring the Dixie
    I am guessing that this 2012 article on how I was tracking my on going efforts to drive the entire Dixie Highway got some extra attention this year due to it being the centennial of the Dixie Highway Association’s founding. I completed the drive in July and published a book about it (A Decade Driving the Dixie Highway) in November. I’d like to think that that had something to do with the spike in visits to the article but dates and numbers don’t really support that.
  4. Twenty Mile Stand Two Years On
    The J. C Higgins Flightliner article was denied the number one slot in its first year by the demolition of a nearly two century old road house and an earlier article about hopes to save it. This update published on the second anniversary of the demolition was the second most popular new post of 2015 and the fourth most popular overall.
  5. Much Miscellany 2, Sloopy at 50
    This is the third new post to crack the top five and, like the number one new post, it concerns an event from fifty years ago. On October 2, 1965, the McCoys’ recording of Hang on Sloopy reached the top of the charts. On September 12, 2015, the McCoys’ singer and lead guitarist performed the song back in his home town of Union City, Indiana. In fact, all three surviving McCoys were on stage for a one song reunion. Union City sits on the state line near where I grew up and, although we weren’t classmates, I knew all of the McCoys during our high school years so this and the Fifty Years After post have more in common than one might think.

Top Non-Blog Posts:

  1. PA Potpourri
    This four day trip is from June 2005. The big winner was the trip’s cover page which mentions, among other things, Madonna of the Trail monuments, the Lincoln Highway, the Johnstown flood, and the Centralia coal mine fire. Traffic for the individual days was fairly even although day one, which included the visit to Centralia, had a slight edge. A time capsule, noted in the post and scheduled to be opened in 2016, was prematurely opened in October 2014. That is possibly what brought visitors here in 2015 but it is hardly better that a pure shot in the dark.
  2. Bi Byways
    Again it was the cover page that got all the attention with both days of the August 2004 trip getting roughly the same amount of traffic. The bi byways of the title are the Maumee Valley Byway and the Miami and Erie Canal Byway. Both are completely in Ohio and the Miami and Erie Canal Byway is completely contained in Ohio’s Route 66 which I drove end-to-end on this trip. I have absolutely no idea what attracted visitors to this trip last year.
  3. Lincoln Highway West
    This 2009 trip is the only repeat from last year and again the focus is on a day in Iowa.although all other days of the trip got some attention, too. Maybe it’s the Lions Club Tree Park or the Moss or Gregory markers that’s pulling them in but I like to think that it’s the chicken mailbox or the Ogden Footprints.
  4. US-62’s East End
    This outing occurred a month before the Bi Byways trip which makes it the oldest in this year’s top five. It was visits to the cover page that got it here and all days, including two pre-trip days, were about equally popular. I can’t guess at what the big attraction was but will mention that the Little League Hall of Fame panels for Dan Quayle and Bruce Springsteen did get some looks.
  5. Sixty-Six E2E and F2F
    This July 2012 trip is the newest in the top five. It is my most recent end-to-end (E2E) drive of Historic Route 66. I’d come to know a lot more people on the route than on the 1999 and and 2003 full length trips so it was also friend-to-friend (F2F). There is nothing to indicate what brought on the recent attention but I don’t question the trip’s worthiness at all.

Overall visits to the website dropped and dropped dramatically in 2015. The 248,033 visits of 2014 fell to 113,142 last year and page views fell from 741,404 to 462,171. Blog views rose from 8,062 to 9191. That massive 54% drop in the number of visits is scary. Annual traffic counts have dropped before but not to that degree.

visitchartSo what’s that mean? One possibility is that a change in the way statistics are compiled or visits detected resulted in an artificial drop in the numbers and I can produce some arguments both for and against that theory. The “for” ones are the weakest. What seems more likely and less palatable is that the numbers don’t lie and readership has truly plummeted. Jim Grey, a friend and popular blogger, recently posted an article he called Welcome to the post-blog era. In it he discusses perceived changes in visitors and their engagement. Jim is not really suggesting that his own blog is dead. 2015 was the busiest yet for him. (Note that my own blog’s visits increased 14% last year. It is overall website visits that have tumbled.) What he is suggesting is that the internet landscape has changed and blogs, specifically independent personal blogs, are not at all the big players they once were. Maybe independent anythings, including road trip journals, aren’t big players any more. Not that this one ever was. It will, however continue to be the same small player it always has been.

Ad Nauseam

amad1On Friday morning a friend observed on Facebook that he was getting email from every website he had ever visited that had something to sell. His situation was hardly unique. I’m rather confident that everyone with any sort of internet connection was seeing an uptick in activity on the official beginning of open season on customers. The barrage had been building as anxious hunters fired off emails and other communications telling us that their Black Friday started on Thursday or Wednesday or even earlier. This is, I assume, the same sort of time warp that allows certain drinking establishments to advertise “The world’s longest Happy Hour”. I considered emailing him some sympathy but didn’t for two reasons. One was that to do so would be to add to the tide of useless messages in his inbox. The other was that I would soon be part of the problem.

Not the email overload problem but the general advertising overload problem it is part of. In a way, I’m already part of the problem. I published my second book in early November and that apparently tripped some trigger at Amazon. I have seen occasional Amazon sponsored Facebook ads not only for the new book but also for my first book published nearly two years ago. I don’t know if anyone else ever sees these ads and it has occurred to me that perhaps the only place these ads appear is on my own Facebook pages in some strange scheme to impress me.

But even if those ads do show up elsewhere (and they sure aren’t generating a rush of orders) my involvement is indirect only. That changed yesterday when a limited ad campaign for the latest book was launched. The seed was planted several months ago when a friend told me about his experience with Facebook advertising. The pricing was reasonable and, although there was little hard evidence, his gut feel was that it had helped. He had used it to promote an event and one of Facebook’s biggest attractions to him was the ability to geographically target the ads rather precisely. That sort of geographic precision isn’t nearly as useful in pushing a book but there were other attractions and I decided to give it a try. I have no illusions of actually making money peddling paperbacks but writers do like to be read.

amad2The image at the top of this article shows the ad that appears in what Facebook calls the “Desktop Right Column”. The one at left is for the “Mobile News Feed”. Other variations appear in other channels. As can be seen in the “News Feed” version, the ads are sponsored not by me but by Trip Mouse Publishing which has its own silly story.

The “mouse” thing goes back many years to my dart playing days. We always tried to come up with clever team names though we rarely succeeded. What I think may have been the very last team I played on was called, in a fairly accurate indication of our accuracy,  the Blind Mice. My participation in a CART (the guys who used to race at Indy) fantasy league overlapped the existence of the Blind Mice. I needed a team name when I signed up and, with mice on my mind, chose “Quick Mouse”. Years later I needed a user name for something and everything I submitted with pieces of my real name was refused. The site had something to do with travel and that prompted me to try TripMouse which was accepted. In 2013, when I was setting up the Create Space account for my first book, I had to indicate whether or not I wanted Create Space to appear as the publisher. I decided not but that meant I needed to say who and there was that somewhat appropriate TripMouse name laying around. Trip Mouse Publishing was born.

I used the name in establishing an account for paying Ohio sales tax on the few books I sold directly in state but it was otherwise an essentially imaginary company. As I created my Facebook ad, I was asked to set up a business page. Although this was presented as being optional, there were things that seemed to not work well or at all without it. After a few frustrating attempts to move on, I made a Trip Mouse Publishing Facebook page. I probably should have stopped right there but I decided that, if Trip Mouse was going to have a web presence, I wanted to have control of at least some of it. I set out to acquire a domain name. I was mildly surprised to find that someone already owned tripmouse.com but absolutely flabbergasted to see that they wanted $1895 for it. I have absolutely no idea why that is especially when both tripmouse.net and trip-mouse.com were available at 99¢ for the first year. For no logical reason, I opted for Trip-Mouse.com.

It has been many years since I’ve registered a new domain name and the world has changed. Identifying Trip Mouse Publishing as a small business on Facebook probably spilled a little blood in the water, too. The result is that in addition to all the absolutely astounding deals I’m being offered on TVs, books, phones, clothes, cameras, et cetera, et cetera, I’m getting equally astounding offers for logo design, web hosting, website creation, and more. I do feel a little guilty for adding to the commercial clutter of Facebook but with every offer of a half price premium turnkey website package the guilt diminishes just a little more.

I Care Not How. Only If. (2015)

I first posted this last year with the intention of reposting it every year just ahead of election day. I realize that the “I Care Not.” in the title loses some credibility following last week’s post on a couple of Ohio ballot issues but that doesn’t alter the core sentiments of the piece one bit.


yvyvWe fought a war to get this country going then gave every land owning white male above the age of twenty-one the right to vote. A little more than four score years later, we fought a war with ourselves that cleared the way for non-whites to vote. Several decades of loud, disruptive, and sometimes dangerous behavior brought the granting of that same right to non-males a half-century later and another half century saw the voting age lowered to eighteen after a decade or so of protests and demonstrations.

dftv1Of course, putting something in a constitution does not automatically make it a practice throughout the land and I am painfully aware that resistance followed each of those changes and that efforts to make voting extremely difficult for “the other side” are ongoing today. I don’t want to ignore partisan obstructions and system flaws but neither do I want to get hung up on them. I meant my first paragraph to be a reminder that a hell of a lot of effort, property, and lives have gone into providing an opportunity to vote to a hell of a lot of people. Far too many of those opportunities go unused.

There are so many ways to slice and dice the numbers that producing a fair and accurate measure of voter turn out may not be possible. A Wikipedia article  on the subject includes a table of voter turnout in a number of countries for the period 1960-1995. The United States is at the bottom. The numbers are nearly twenty years old and open to interpretation so maybe we’re doing better now or maybe we shouldn’t have been dead last even then. But even if you want to think we are better than that, being anywhere near the bottom of the list and having something in the vicinity of 50% turnout is embarrassing… and frightening.

dftv2In the title I claim to not care how anyone votes. That’s not entirely true, of course. I have my favorite candidates and issues. I’ll be disappointed in anyone who votes differently than I do but not nearly as disappointed as I’ll be in anyone who doesn’t vote at all. I’m reminded of parents working on getting their kids to clean their plates with lines like, “There are hungry children in China who would love to have your green beans.” I’m not sure what the demand for leftover beans is in Beijing these days but I’m pretty sure some folks there would like to have our access to ballots and voting booths.

Ohio by the Numbers:
3, 10, 10,000, 40

ohion2y33 is the number assigned to the ballot issue on the legalization of marijuana in Ohio.

10 is the number of rich folk likely to get richer if it passes.

10,000 is is an educated guess at the number of both rich and poor folk who will be arrested next year if it doesn’t.

Some people who are basically in favor of legalizing marijuana have a problem with that 10 number. I don’t. Those that do seem to actually have two problems. One is the number itself and the other is that the owners of the 10 cultivation centers that Issue 3 would authorize are already known. A limit of some sort sure seems reasonable. Can anyone really believe that going from completely illegal to unregulated and unlimited is realistic? Maybe 10 isn’t the perfect number but I don’t know what is. I guess 15 would be better and 5 would be worse but 10 is what we are offered. Taking some of the edge off of that number is the fact that, unlike marijuana laws in Washington state, Issue 3 includes provision for home growers.

That the locations and owners of those 10 cultivation centers are defined as part of the ballot issue seems a little tougher to swallow. For some reason, making pot legal without simultaneously anointing financial beneficiaries of the move sounds nicer. However, unless you’re the state legislature, getting an issue on the ballot requires a lot of signatures and getting those signatures requires a lot of time and money. Sometimes the effort is paid for by a non-profit group of concerned people and sometimes it is paid for by people who will directly benefit. Ohio’s recent legalization of gambling in a few locations operated by a few companies is a good example of the latter approach. Much like the business interests who backed the casino campaigns, a group named Responsible Ohio financed the effort to get Issue 3 on the ballot and the campaign promoting it. I initially thought having the financial winners predetermined was a big negative but I now think differently. The Responsible Ohio investors have taken a risk and they stand to benefit. It’s all in the open and is actually rather refreshing in these days of massive no-bid government contracts and the all too frequent uncovering of kick backs and “pay to play” government-business relationships. If you’re even remotely OK with giving out-of-state companies license to operate the only four casinos in the state, you shouldn’t have a problem letting ten Ohio based companies turn a profit growing pot.

Those investors have given Ohio voters an opportunity we would not otherwise have. Yes, the nation’s attitude towards marijuana is changing and it seems likely to eventually become legal throughout the land. Even though there is no one with the required resources poised to get a “better” issue on the ballot next year or the year after that, it theoretically could happen. By defeating Issue 3 we could keep those money hungry opportunists from winning their bet. Doing that, however, could easily mean another ten or twenty thousand people being arrested for doing something we don’t really think is wrong. The 10,000 I tossed out as an “educated guess” at the beginning of this post comes from the well reasoned article  here. The article is certainly worth reading but to quickly tie the guess to facts I’ll share that the number of arrests for possession of marijuana was 11,988 in 2012 (the most recent year available). The rate may have gone down but 10,000 is in the ballpark. Somebody is going to make money from the legalization of marijuana. The best case imaginable is that some angel comes along and gets a perfect legalization issue, which somehow assures that only good guys benefit, on the ballot in 2016 so that the current situation lasts just one more year. Putting 10,000 people in jail to keep 10 rich guys from getting richer seems neither kind nor wise.

I mentioned that getting issues on the ballot requires a lot of signatures “unless you’re the state legislature”. That’s a reference to Issue 2 which was added to the ballot by the legislature. I at first thought this might be a good thing as it was presented as disallowing monopolies. It quickly became clear, however, that it is really aimed directly at Issue 3 and I can’t see any good in it at all. Ten independent companies are hardly a monopoly and any attempts to indulge in monopolistic practices can be dealt with via already existing laws. If 2 passes and 3 fails, things stay the same and cops keep arresting people. Same thing, obviously, if they both fail. If both pass, at a minimum things will get hung up in court for some time (and probably make some lawyers richer) and a common opinion is that the passage of 2 would negate the passage of 3. The only clear way to stop at least some of the anti-marijuana insanity is to vote “No on 2. Yes on 3”. To do otherwise is a near perfect example of allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

That last number, 40, has nothing to do with marijuana, monopolies, rich folks, poor folks, or cops. 40% is the average voter turnout in the past 10 off-year elections. That sucks no matter what you’re smoking. The only way to guarantee that your vote doesn’t matter is to not use it.

Something Abe Said

rvtroybFALSE – I am very much a disciple of Snopes.com but it never occurred to me to check this particular quote there. I should have. When someone referenced the quote on Facebook, the following was included as “also shared”. Thanks, Facebook. Questionable Quote’s – Lincoln’s Prophesy

Somewhere in my memory was the knowledge that Abraham Lincoln had uttered the words “this cruel war”. I thought it might be something I could fit into my post on the blog by that name so I did some searching. Abe used the phrase more than once and he was not the only one to use it. In the end I didn’t reference any Lincoln quote in that post but I did find some. I’m going to use one here to produce an asynchronous blog post that involves neither a trip I’ve taken nor something I’ve owned. Here’s what Lincoln said in a November 21, 1864, letter to Col. William F. Elkins:

We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end. It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood. . . .
It has indeed been a trying hour for the Republic; but I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.

rvtroycThere is a discussion of the quote’s authenticity here. The photos are of Seward Johnson’s colossal Return Visit displayed this summer in Troy, Ohio.

If the Phone Don’t Ring

avf1Nobody sees the trouble I’ve known. Maybe not nobody, exactly, but not many. There are two primary RSS feeds published by this site. One is for this blog. The other is for the trip journal. Among the many ways of subscribing to these feeds is a service called Feedly. It is well done and popular. It is the RSS reader I use. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have seen the trouble myself.

People subscribe to feeds through Feedly and Feedly periodically fetches current copies and makes them available in a convenient and personalized manner. Feedly users can read and manage dozens or hundreds of uniformly presented feeds without dealing directly with the individual providers. It’s a fairly common producer to broker to consumer arrangement.

Back in March, I noticed that some of my posts were failing to show up in Feedly even after several days. A fairly convoluted email exchange between me, Feedly, and Arvixe, my hosting provider, followed. It was eventually discovered that Arvixe was blocking Feedly and the block was removed. Because of the asynchronous nature of Feedly’s polling and of RSS in general, things were not instantly fixed but caches, buffers, clouds, and other nebulous cyber-things eventually worked through their stockpile of bad-stuff and started working properly again.

Unless you were paying close attention to dates and time stamps, you might not have realized there was any sort of problem at all. The screen capture at the top of the article is from an attempt to subscribe to a blocked feed through the Feedly Google Chrome plugin. Existing subscribers would have seen nothing; No new posts and no error messages. For those unfamiliar with RSS, think of the problem as somewhat similar to a friend trying to call you with a broken phone or service. Your phone doesn’t ring but you don’t know that it should so see no problem. Even the friend may not see a problem if the failure shuttles them to a voice mail system. You only become aware of the issue when the friend confronts you in a bar about never returning their calls.

The problem resurfaced during the first half of June and this time, after about a week of that convoluted email three-way, I learned of a fourth player in the game. Arvixe uses a security product called BitNinja. Something about Feedly’s access tripped BitNinja’s defenses and a block was activated. Unknowing Arvixe technicians repeatedly removed the block only to have it reappear a few hours later. Once in awhile, the short-lived removal and Feedly’s polling lined up so that posts would slip through. They might appear in a clump and they would have the current rather than publication date but they could be seen by subscribers.

When I first learned of BitNinja’s role, I urged Arvixe to configure their installation to have the security service treat Feedly as a good guy. They, for valid reasons, declined. I also pressed them for a description of what specific aspect of Feedly’s access raised BitNinja’s hackles. Near the beginning of the episode, Feedly had suggested they might be able to alter their behavior if specifics were available. Not being privy to BitNinja’s inner workings, Arvixe could not supply those specifics. Although it was Arvixe who first mentioned it, I suspect all of us thought of it about the same time. Feedly needed to deal with BitNinja directly. The problem might not be limited to my website or even to all Arvixe hosted websites. The risk of Feedly being blocked could exist everywhere BitNinja was being used.

Feedly did contact BitNinja directly and, while I don’t know the details of the exchange, I do know that it resulted in BitNinja removing “a too strict log analyzing rule” about a day later. That was just over a week ago and since then my feeds seem to be flowing through Feedly as they should.

Maybe we should have dug a little deeper in March and it would have been nice if we had not thrashed about for a week in June. There were times when I thought Arvixe could have been more cooperative and Feedly more responsive. I don’t think anyone involved is a candidate for Trouble Shooter of the Year but neither do I think anyone screwed up horribly. I can’t be certain that the same problem won’t pop up again in a couple of months though I’m positive that some problem will pop up someday. This episode has increased my confidence that, when it does, these vendors — Feedly, Arvixe, & BitNinja — will get it sorted eventually. It would be nice is the next problem is as invisible to readers as this one was but I’m not going to count on it.

Incidentally, this post’s title comes from a Wheels song that, in case you don’t remember it, is here.