The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

This is long.  This is a rant about my workplace.  While the story is specific to my employer, it’s actually more of a rant about rampant capitalism, of which my employer is highly adherent to.  It is sort of a difficult post for me to write.  I’ve been wrestling with myself for the last couple of days on the topic because I’ve felt I have no right to complain.  After all, I have a job, I’m paid quite well, the work is easy and in a field I enjoy.  There are people who do not have all, some, or even any of those.  Why should I complain?

Let’s just cut to the situation, then break it apart from there.  Friday morning we got an announcement that because of the pandemic and the resulting slowdown in business at the company, there were going to be some changes implemented.  So far, this sounds like every other company dealing with COVID fallout.  The changes include: pay cuts (15% for managers and up, 10% for everyone else), discontinuation of 401k matching, discontinuing anniversary bonuses, and discontinuation of PTO cashouts.  Earlier in the year, when COVID began, the company announced a wage freeze, so no more raises until things turn around.

How did this affect me personally?  I am considered maxed out on salary, so my raises have been trivial for the last few years.  A wage freeze doesn’t hurt me too bad.  However, a 10% pay cut, wiped out 6 years worth of raises for me.  You can also take out 4% of my salary from the loss of the 401k match.  The anniversary bonus is something nice to look forward to, and since my anniversary is in a couple of weeks, this stings a little more than usual.

I say again, why should I complain?  It’s just money and even with the changes, I’m still probably in the top 10 highest paid people in the company.  My finances are very stable.  But to not complain is to accept and encourage that mentality that is choking and killing America – I got mine. Fuck you.

This is a family-owned company, and a couple of the family members/owners "work" there.  Over the years, their involvement has dwindled as their age has also progressed.  They are all very, very wealthy and surely want to spend their lives and their money in other ways.

As spokespeople for the company, the owners have always stressed how the employees are like extended family.  However, when we have our annual layoffs, the remaining people are reassured that the company is financially strong.  I get it.  A company is not supposed to lose money; it wouldn’t survive like that.  However, when times are lean and there is a choice to reduce profit or reduce headcount, the same decision is always made.

I say again, I get it.  Money can come from a business in three ways: a salary, year-end profits, and the intrinsic value of the company itself.  I would be on board if the decision to preserve profit was because the owners only income was the corporate profit.  But it’s not.  The owners have the intrinsic value, they have the annual profit, and they also all pull a salary from the company.  They are triple-dipping and hoarding all the profits for themselves.  They sacrifice others for their own gain.

Now, here’s the straw that broke my back with this last announcement.  Two things actually.  First was the mention of layoffs.  The announcement rationalized that when volume was down, the company would lay people off.  And why not?  They’ve done it every year for at least four years.  While they didn’t explicitly say we should be happy they didn’t resort to layoffs, mentioning it at all means it was considered.

So why wasn’t that the decision?  Thanks to freedom-loving patriots out there (who I’m sure had to fight valiantly against the current administration), it is in public information that I was able to find out that our company received a PPP loan from the government in the amount of somewhere between 2 and 5 million dollars.  A provision of taking that loan is that you do not lay off any workers.  So layoffs weren’t an option, although it was still considered.  However, there’s no restriction against cutting salary or benefits (research shows that this not uncommon).

If you know the PPP loan program, you know it’s not a loan.  It’s forgivable as long as you abide by its rules.  So, it’s free government money (it’s not socialism when it’s capitalism, right!).  Our company got over 2 million dollars for free to pay for our salaries and our company instead cuts salaries.  That improves the company’s profit, which goes to… the owners, exclusively.  Hypothetically, lets say our business was down enough that we made no profit this year, we just broke even.  With the PPP loan, payroll expenses drop by $2M+, profit becomes $2M+.  And that is not enough for the owners.  Fuck you, I’m getting mine.

I know business.  I know how it can be used to fuck people.  I saw it at my last job and I see it here.  In my last job, there was a "final con" to fuck the employees and enrich the owner on his way out.  While I’m not sure my previous employer actually got to execute his plan before I left, if my prediction for this company’s "final con" is correct, it’s already a done deal.

The owners are old and not involved in the business anymore.  They want out.  Business is down and has been down for quite some time.  That is bad for the owners.  When someone wants to buy a business, they want to see what return on investment they will get from it.  If the company isn’t turning good profits, its value (the sale price) decreases.  While anyone pitching the company is going to point out the glory years as what the company is capable of and will also hype the potential of the business when COVID ends, they still need to prove short-term viability and profit.

I’ve already told you the secret a few paragraphs ago.  Reduce expenses, profit goes up.  By cutting everyone’s salary and the 401k benefits and anniversary bonuses and the cash value of PTO, the company immediately looks better financially to a buyer.  The buyer has no obligation to restore any of those things.  For all they know, it’s always been that way.  Maybe they would see in a prior year financial statement that expenses were much higher, but why should they care?  The current and future financials say they’ll make good money.

Pause for a moment and absorb all that.  Now, because I have to explicitly say this, if the company looks like it will be more profitable to a buyer, the company can be sold for more money.  That money goes to… the owners, exclusively.  The salary and benefit cuts remain.

Now, in closing.  I do get it.  This is business.  Do not ever feel like your employer give one single shit about you or your life.  Are there exceptions to this?  Sure.  But America is greed and selfishness personified.  It’s going to take generations to turn this around if it even can be turned around.  It’s not going to happen in my lifetime for sure.  I really do empathize with the younger generations and what they are facing.

Stages Part 4.75

In the last installment in this series, I had added subwoofers to my stereo system and was thinking that there wouldn’t be a stage 5, which is the replacement of my small powered monitor speakers with large tower speakers.  In the six months I’ve been using this setup, I am still enamored with it, and have not felt the need to upgrade the speakers.  However, in the other part of the system, changes have happened, mostly out of fortunate opportunity.

The biggest purchase I’ve made in my stereo system is the subwoofers, by a massive margin.  Everything else has been had for well under $100 each.  Because second-hand stereo equipment can be found cheaply, it’s good fun to just try it out to experience the differences.  I had talked about this before with my small collection of CD players.  But one day at a thrift shop, I found a new receiver/amplifier.  It was made by Nakamichi, which is a brand you don’t see or hear about very often, because it is considered a high-end brand.  Checking the back of the amp, there were preamp outputs available, so it was immediately compatible with my system configuration.  The price was fine, $25, so it came home with me the same day.

Cleaning and testing was brief and successful.  The amp was clean and had no issues.  Sound-wise, it sounded a bit brighter than my Technics, which is consistent with other online reviews I read on the product.  Their words were more like "harsh" and "highly-detailed", which sounds a little negative, but as I’m learning with everything in audio, there is no truth, no absolute.  You just have to like what you have or replace it with something else you like better.  And two people can have two totally different opinions about the same thing.

So the Nakamichi has become my new default stereo.  The Technics amp and EQ have been moved to my secondary pile of equipment in another room.  And I have been enjoying my system.

Shortly after that purchase, I came across an online auction of a recording studio.  Among some of the items being sold were two "DVD players".  Researching the players a little more, I learned they are technically called "universal players", meaning they can play multiple formats.  While you can buy most any $30 DVD player and have it play CDs as well as DVD-Audio, the format of SACD (Super Audio Compact Disc), is much harder to come by.  SACD players are usually $1000+ unless you get into a universal player that also handles that format, in which case you’re in the $800 range.  Regardless, getting into SACD is not a cheap venture at all.

I actually do own a couple SACDs that I have never been able to listen to, as well as a DTS (yet another high-end format) disc.  These players in this auction would support all of these formats.  They were Pioneer Elite 47ai units.  Long story short, I placed absentee bids on both and won both, one at a low price and one at a high price.  After commission and all, they cost $75 each.  One will eventually be sold off, but the other has been integrated into my system.

Being in a professional recording studio, clearly the devices were well taken care of.  And upon some listening tests, I have to begrudgingly admit that things do sound better on higher-end equipment.  Granted, I am comparing 30-yr old consumer CD players to a 10-yr old professional player.  There should be some improvement, right?  And finally, being able to hear what SACD sounds like was a nice experience.  Was it amazing?  Well, no.  But – and this is an important but – I have made many small improvements to my stereo in a relatively short period of time, and each one has brought with it a positive change, no matter how small.  At no time have I done an upgrade and been disappointed.  Are things absolutely perfect?  Of course not.  I have CDs that will skip in one player, but not another.  So, I do keep two players on my stereo.

And that’s where my system is right now:  The Nakamichi amp, the JVC CD player, and the Pioneer Elite universal player.

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Nobody Is Winning

As far as I can tell, this is a shit year for everyone, and I don’t mean that in a blanket sort of way.  It seems everyone is getting dinged here and there very specifically.  I mean, yeah, there’s this global thing going on that everyone is getting hit by, but some people are getting hit by it in a more direct way, or in an absolute direct way.

But that’s not everything that’s going on.  All the other things, whether minor, major, or catastrophic, are happing, too.  And some are direct and some are specific.  I certainly don’t want to classify whatever things I’ve been having happen to me as the same as someone who’s been through more than one of the, what, 30+ tropical storms this year, or wildfires, or earthquakes, or god knows what else.  But with everything that has been happening and we still have a month and half left to go in the year, I’m just out of fucks.

My gripes as of lately, as I’ve implied, are minor.  They’re just annoyances, but in a year where all you hear about is shit, it’s enough.  A flat tire here, internet going down multiple times after years and years and years of rock-solid stability.  It just seems like everything is coming to an end.  Maybe I wouldn’t have even given those issues a second thought in another year, but there is no good news to really balance it out.  Everything is bad.

And now we have half the country pissed off they can’t be as openly racist as they want and the other half is pissed that the other half exists.

I don’t even know where I was going with this post, but it’s relevant to the times.

Where It’s Going

On: https://akcaggiano.com/2020/11/10/cruel-to-be-kind/

Usually, I use the Commentary category for news stories, but when I was writing a comment on this blog post, I decided I had more to say about the situation and making my own post might be more appropriate.

To summarize: After having been verbally, emotionally, and physically abused by the former president and his followers, we’re now asked to simply forgive and forget.  The answer to both of those requests is "no."  Anyone that didn’t see a problem with what has been done over the last years has a serious problem.  Anyone that says the alternative would have be worse, or says that the president-elect is going to make it worse has a serious problem.

If we are not actually living in the "end times", which I’m not going to completely dismiss, a lot of people act as if there is nothing left to lose.  For example, a see a lot of posts about gender or sexuality rights.  And because "liberals" are coming into power, we’re all going to be homosexual now.  Hyperbolic and hysterical, yes, but here’s the point.  For some people, this is so important, that they would vote the incumbent back in solely because of that.  There are other similar reasons people have for the same action.  I’ll admit, there may be a case I would do something like that, but for a different cause.

The difference with me, and I would assume other rational people, is there is a level of risk/reward assessment.  To get what you want, how much do you have to give up?  And for these irrational people, it seems they would give up everyone’s everything for their one thing.  And they would suffer for it as well, despite the win – a Pyrrhic victory.  There’s no consideration to postpone that fight for 4 years and try again in better circumstances.  It’s tunnel vision.  Anyone who voted JoJo or Kayne, this is the one time to not be supporting 3rd party.  This one is too important.  But thank you anyway for pulling those votes.

Now, the point I really wanted to make in response to the post is: we’re nowhere near out of the woods on this.

There is a book from which I read an excerpt, and now there’s so many similar books there’s no way for me to find out which it was so I can link it, that discussed how Germany became Nazi Germany.  I distilled the information from that into a single statement to commit to memory, "Hitler comes later."

The point of that warning is that in Germany, there was a pre-Nazi leader who sparked the nationalistic views of the people.  He didn’t get very far, but the future Nazi party took note of how dedicated and passionate those supporters were.  The party then turned it up to 11 and viola, Hitler.

So while there may currently seem to be a glimmer of hope that civility can return, this is the time to be even more vigilant (and god, I hate that word).  I am certain the fanaticism has not gone unnoticed and can and will be exploited. 

If I had to hazard a guess, it will be Jr.  He’s young, charismatic, and carries the family name.  He’s got a partner from the media that has been successfully grooming him for presentation.  So far I haven’t heard of him speaking his own ideas, only parroting his father’s, but watch out if the tone changes and he starts instigating things himself.

We have 4 years to prepare for this.  Do not forgive and do not forget.

The Modern Apartment Life

I had a dream last night which gave me an idea that was very much in the spirit of the times.  It’s no secret that the world we live in is the most unfair, inequitable, selfish, and greedy in generations.  So, why not capitalize on it?  So here’s my idea.  Obviously, I couldn’t do anything like this for multiple reasons, not the least of which is morals.  But if I was of that exploitive bent, I think this might actually work.

What’s hot right now?  Renting.  Why?  Because no one can afford a house, even though rent is pretty much a house payment anyway, but for lots of other reasons, people can’t get a house.  So, being a landlord is good.  What’s even better is having high-end apartments, because even if people can’t afford to have a house, they still don’t want to have to live in, ugh, an apartment building.  Temporarily displaced millionaires and all.

My design is a high-story building.  Not like 30 stories high, just a moderate 10-12.  It has a multi-level parking garage enough to house 2.5 cars per unit.  2 cars per unit, some overflow guest parking, and renters can pay for additional spaces.  On the top floor of the building is a gym with inspiring views, and a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Obviously, there is a resort-style pool and small dog park.  Library, meeting/conference/party rooms, you know.  All the stuff.  So we’ve established this is a luxury apartment complex that’s essentially like living at a vacation resort.  The rent doesn’t have to be outrageous, just in line with the amenities.  The gatekeeping and exclusivity comes from a different source – the deposit.

To have a lease in this complex, you have to make a deposit of $20,000.  Jaw-dropping, yes.  Believable in this day and age, yes as well.  Only the first one to do this will seem weird, then when it works, it will become normal.  It’s happened over and over.  Who would have thought people would be buying $1,500 phones?

Now obviously, this is a deposit, so you’ll get it back when you leave.  I don’t know a lot about the rental industry, but I assume a rental company holds a percentage of the deposits they take in and uses the rest for working capital.  It would be unlikely that there would be a mass outflow of tenants that would result in a "run on the bank", so to say.  But that sort of working methodology just doesn’t sit right with me.  That money is never yours and it’s a one-time boost, unlike the recurring inflow of rent payments.  So in my business, the deposits are always 100% off-limits for business use.

So what do you do with that money?  120 units each with a $20k deposit is almost $2.5 million dollars.  Well, you invest it!  You put it in some safe income-bearing investment and the additional income from that investment is used to operate the business.  Investing 2.4M with a 4% return will provide almost $100k a year, without compounding.  Let’s consider what rent could be for such a high-end apartment.  $1,500/mo?  That would be $180k/mo in rental income, then an extra $8k/mo in investment income.  That’s like having an extra 5 units paying rent.

And you know, the $20k deposit is still perfectly on point with the times.  It keeps the "undesirables" out.  So you’d have to have impeccable credit as well as a large hoard of cash to get into this building.  And the exploitation of the tenants, even beyond what’s normal for rentals, is that the business gets to use the tenant’s capital for their own use.  Shit, they could even sell it as a benefit to their renters, saying, "your deposit will be held securely so when you are ready to graduate to homeownership from renting, you’ll have a great source for your house’s down payment."  Obviously ignoring the fact that the deposit is locked in a zero-interest account, while the apartment business is collecting the interest.

That just modern life in these dystopian times.

How That’s Done

I’ve kept my mouth relatively shut for the last few years on this topic, but I’ve been thinking a lot about this specific thing and I felt I should get it out and in writing before I either forget it or it becomes irrelevant.  Hopefully the latter happens first.

There’s this guy you have heard of, Donald Trump.  Without really saying how I feel about him, I just want to explain this thing he does that is so dangerous.  I know it’s way too late to change anyone’s minds for the upcoming election.  And I rather doubt anyone under his sway will actually have their eyes opened by this explanation, but it never hurts to try.

There are countless examples of people parodying a Trump response to a question.  A lot of them are spot on, usually rather funny, and also sad in their accuracy.  I think a lot of people focus on the rambling, delusional aspects of the responses, which is a mistake.  I don’t think Trump is stupid, like mentally stupid.  He does things very intentionally.

I’ve read some analysis of his verbalisms, but nothing that really focuses on what is really trying to be accomplished with them.  The best thing I have read is that he uses a long string of phrases that don’t really form a cohesive statement, but each one has a small nugget of something you want to hear and those pieces are what you focus on and ignore the rest.  That way, everyone gets something of what they want out of the spew.  That is probably accurate, but I have another observation, and I’ll provide a very simple, commonplace example.  It’s believable, for sure, and when you see that technique can be applied to just about any question, hopefully you’ll never listen to his answers the same way again.

Here’s the hypothetical journalist question and Trump’s answer:

"Meteorologists are saying it’s not going to rain tomorrow.  Do you think it’s going to rain?"

"Absolutely!  100%!  It absolutely will rain.  They say it’s not going to rain.  They went to school for years and years and have all these degrees and they say it’s not going to rain.  It should rain!  Don’t you think?  That would be beautiful.  We need the rain.  You know, all that school, all that, they don’t know.  They say it won’t rain.  Maybe it won’t.  But it should rain.  I’m sure it will.  And that will be great for everyone.  It would be a real shame if it didn’t.  It would be bad for everyone."

And what do people get out of this babble?  If it doesn’t rain, they get mad at the scientists because it should have rained.  That was the right answer even though science says it won’t happen.  The question was asking for a simple opinion and what we’re given is a statement on how we should feel about it.  "It" being one specific viewpoint.  In this case and in many cases, the viewpoint is in opposition to the scientific facts.

I have read many times that conservatives are not driven by logic, but by emotion.  Not only in political topics, but in their entire lives.  If it feels correct, it is correct.  The problem with that is it is much easier to make someone feel a certain way than it is to make them think and understand a certain way.  And that is what Trump (and many other con men) can exploit.

Let’s break down that long answer to the question.

  • "Absolutely!  100%!  It absolutely will rain." – Start off with complete confidence and speak in absolutes.  There is no place for disagreement here.
  • "They say it’s not going to rain.  They went to school for years and years and have all these degrees and they say it’s not going to rain." – Attack the opposition.  Even though they are correct, they need to be painted as the bad guys.  Vagueness – using They and Other People – is perfectly fine.  Be specific if you can, but an unknown enemy has advantages as well.
  • "It should rain!  Don’t you think?  That would be beautiful.  We need the rain." – Why should we hate the experts?  Explain it.  Exploit feelings.  You need to feel why you should be angry.
  • "You know, all that school, all that, they don’t know.  They say it won’t rain." – While people are agreeing with the good things you said, say something bad about your opponent.  Your mind is still saying "yes" and that "yes" will continue into the next statement.  This is actually a well-known sales tactic.  They get you to agree to anything ("It’s hot out today"), then carry that agreement into further conversation.
  • "Maybe it won’t." – This has two excellent benefits.  You get an out if you’re wrong, because you can say you never said absolutely, and you inject a feeling of disappointment if the experts are right.
  • "But it should rain.  I’m sure it will.  And that will be great for everyone.  It would be a real shame if it didn’t.  It would be bad for everyone." – Don’t focus on your backpedalling, focus on the benefits of your answer, despite the fact you are wrong.

To summarize: Make your claim, attack your opponent, appeal to your audience, use agreement against your opponent, suggest you might be wrong – but that would be bad, restate your claim with the benefits.

If you don’t want to absorb all of these bits, at least take this:  If you hear someone making a speech and they ask a question that sounds like it should be rhetorical, go on alert.  They are trying to create agreement between something obvious and something you need to be convinced of.

Welcome To My House

You are in my house right now.  What do you think?

Over the weekend, I migrated my blog from my hosted server with GoDaddy to a server sitting in my guest bedroom.  The process should have been easier than I made it out to be and that was just because of a technical detail that took a little bit to remember.

When you have a web server that is accessible from inside your network and outside your network, you think would want to make the connections to that server consistent, just to simplify everything.  So, you do the port forwarding on your router to direct web traffic to your web server and you point the DNS to the external IP of your router.  Everything goes through the router.

This is how it works for the outside world, but it doesn’t work the same for your internal network.  It’s not only inefficient, but practically non-functional for an internal computer to route to an external address only to come back around and get routed to an internal address.  It’s like going to the bathroom by going outside, then back in through the front door every time instead of just walking across the house.

To solve this, you need the concept of external DNS and internal DNS.  If you are inside the network, your computer resolves the addresses as internal IP addresses, and if you’re outside the network, you get external IP addresses.  Because I use a pi-hole as my DNS and DHCP server internally, this meant I had to modify the HOSTS file on the pi-hole to override any DNS requests for my web sites I hosted inside my network.

Now that my web server is up and running, I still have one more month to migrate my email server off the old server to my house.  Then my GoDaddy server will expire and I’ll be all on my own.

Frontier has been less than stellar during the migration, but the mistakes weren’t too egregious.  The first issue happened a week before my new install.  I woke up and my internet was off.  I called up tech support and tried to resolve the issue.  After a little while of no progress, I mentioned that I suspected this had to do with my new service order and the disconnection of the old service.

That led the conversion in a different path, which ended up in Accounts, who said everything is fine, and then was sent back to tech support who finally put the pieces together and determined that when my new circuit was provisioned, the old one was deactivated.  Although I couldn’t have predicted that exactly, I had the sales rep put notes in the order saying that the old circuit was to remain active until the new one was installed.  No one reads notes.  I should have known that.  After two hours on the phone, I had Internet again.

The day of the install, I woke up and I had no internet.  Of course.  This one I blamed myself for.  I had an opportunity to set my deactivation date for a day later than the new install date and I didn’t take it.  Of course the note saying not to turn off the old circuit until the new one was live doesn’t matter to an automated system that says, deactivation date is xx/xx/xxxx.  So I just went without Internet until the tech showed up.

The install went fairly smoothly.  At first, I was happy that I got to keep my old router, which meant I didn’t have to do any reconfiguration, but our initial tests kept showing my upload speed capped at 100mbps instead of the 500 I was supposed to get.  We eventually swapped the router out for a new one and that solved the problem.  I was surprised that the tech said upload speed is managed by the router.  Makes me think that could be hacked in some way.

And in the end, I did have to reconfigure the router and of course, at one point I had two DHCP servers running on the network, which screwed up my IP cameras, and my pi-hole was bypassed, so I got all the browser ads.  But eventually it all came back into order and things were normal again.

For what it’s worth, I honestly can’t tell the difference between 100 and 500mbps.  I haven’t really done a lot of downloading and I don’t do a lot of video streaming, and I’m only one person, so maybe I wouldn’t be able to tell.  But the speed is supposedly there.

Bringing It All In House

Last December, I made a decision to start becoming more self-reliant and not utilizing free online services as much.  To accomplish that, I moved my blog off of WordPress and onto my own hosted server.  This year, it looks like I’m going to go a step further and be completely on my own.  It’s a huge risk, but it comes with some benefits I just can’t afford any other way.

At one time, I had my email hosted through some web hosting provider.  It was ok, but I didn’t have a lot of the flexibility I wanted.  And at that time, I also had a simple web site hosted at the same provider.  I made the radical decision to change from a simple hosting plan to a virtual server.  The virtual server would let me install anything I wanted on it.  I installed a mail server.  I installed a web server.  And later, I installed WordPress and things have been going pretty smoothly. 

What were my risks back then?  Mostly hacking worries.  But, I’ve been pretty good.  I had one instance where the mail server got compromised due to my lack of cleanup of development accounts, but otherwise, no issues.

The consideration this year is to bring the entire server from the virtual to the physical and keep it not in a massive data center, but in my house.  By many accounts, this is a pretty bad idea.

To start, a data center has massive bandwidth and multiple, redundant internet connections.  The downtime is going to be minimal at best.  unnoticeable in reality.  Second, the server hardware is going to be highly redundant and isn’t going to go down either.  The server is virtual.  If the hardware fails, it just activates on new hardware.  And you don’t have to worry about it.  No hard drive failures (they’re part of a massive drive pool), no power supply failures, no UPS failures.  No worries about patches (they’re automatically applied).  Why would I give that up?

What am I sacrificing for this security and reliability?  Well, I’m locked into a specific server.  It has a fixed CPU, fixed RAM, and fixed hard drive size (and I just noticed today, fixed bandwidth).  Those are listed in increasing importance to me.  Right now, I have a project that I want to take public.  My current hosted server has 2GB of RAM and 60GB of drive space total.  That also includes the operating system.  The project I want to release has a data size of 1.5TB and is constantly growing.  I can’t even get a virtual server with that amount of space.  I would have to have a dedicated server, which would run over $500/mo.  And I would have to fully manage it – remotely.  Hard drive failure?  Call someone in CA to visit the data center and swap the drive.  It’s not reasonable.  So again, my plan is to bring the server into my house, where I can maintain it and upgrade it as needed and it can serve the world.

Today, I called Frontier and asked about their Business line of FIOS products.  After all, this is going to be a hosted server.  This is not a residential setup (although I could kind of get away with it using dynamic DNS, which is hokey AF).  I had some questions and I got some answers and the answers seem to indicate that I am going to be able to do this.

First question, do you have to be a business to get Business FIOS?  Yes.  Ok.  So I have to set up an LLC for myself.  I’ve been through this before.  I don’t exactly like it, but maybe it’s for the best.  Maybe I’ll start doing consulting again.

Last question, how much does it cost?  This is important, because Frontier’s website only shows the promotional prices.  $50/mo for 100mbps and $90/mo for 500mbps.  And the numbers for what they call month-to-month aren’t that bad.  I’m focusing on 500mbps and that’s going to run around $125/mo.

Is $125/mo a lot?  Considering some people pay that much so they can have all the cable channels with sports and movies, I don’t think so.  Is it a lot for me?  It would be, except…  I pay $75/mo for my 100mbps FIOS now.  I pay $480/yr for my virtual server.  Add all that up and do some math and that’s $115/mo I’m paying for my internet needs.  An extra $10/mo to get 500mbps and full control of a server where I can have TB’s of data online?  I think it’s a fair deal.

My hosting will expire 11/4, so I have a couple of months to get prepped for the change.  I need to buy another server and set it up.  I need to make some more improvements to my project.  I need to plan to change my DNS.  Migrate my mail, export and reimport my WordPress stuff.  It would be a busy week or so of work.

And once that’s done, I’ll be completely on my own.  And what’s the scariest part of that?  If my internet goes down, or I move, or I die (well, if I die, it’s my survivor’s problem), there’s no more email.  That is a critical service that I should think hard about.  But again, I can’t get the features I want without self-hosting it.  The old saying, hope for the best, plan for the worst means you have to always think about the worst.  That’s hard.

The Absurdity Of Auctions

eBay.  There’s nothing else quite like it.  Which is probably for the best.  Although monopolies are bad, it would actually be worse for everyone if there were multiple auction sites.  It benefits both the buyers and sellers to have consolidation and concentration.

But anyway, I do like auctions, both as a buyer and seller.  As a seller, I prefer to use an auction in cases where a) I don’t really care about the item being sold.  That is, the trash is just as good as selling it.  And b) when I don’t have any idea of what it’s worth.  I’m fine with letting the market decide.

As a buyer, I like auctions because I very rarely lose at them.  And that is where the focus of the absurdity in the title is from.  There are people, still, who do not know how to effectively win an auction.  It’s not that hard.  The only thing that should stop you is someone who is willing to pay more.  And that is the only time I lose, and I am not a sore loser at all in those cases, because I would not pay what the winner paid.

Here’s stage one of bidder dumbness.  Making the first bid and that’s it.  Or making one of the first bids and that’s it.  These happen early in the listing’s lifetime.  The auctions I participate in are for collector-grade CDs, so that’s going to be my references.  Apologies to those who don’t really understand.  So you have a lot of 10 CDs that’s ending in 6 days and you can generally assume each CD would fetch at least $5 individually.  So you can predict the final price is going to be north of $50.  These people who bid $1, $3, $4.45, and nudge the price up are doing themselves no favors.  They are helping the seller, though.  If the number of bids (albeit tiny) gets high enough, the listing is considered hot or popular and gets a little extra promotion.  But the fact they expect they are going to win and never do any follow-up bids is just dumb.

In reality, auctions really are 6 days of waiting and 1 minute of real bidding.  Today I was wondering if there could be a format that could exploit that design.  Maybe I’ll write something up later.  But yeah, everything leading up to that last minute is just play.  The people that really want the item are going to be lurking and will jump in at the end.  And most, if they are smart (like me), will not have made their presence known through "Watching" the listing or making a previous bid.

The second stage of bidder dumbness is not using eBay’s Max bid feature.  Ideally, you should only make one bid on an auction.  You should know exactly how much you are willing to pay and stick to it.  Why people don’t use this confuses me.  Maybe they think there’s a way to make your bid jump to the max right away?  I’ve seen this in live auctions with absentee bids and it infuriates me.  "We have an absentee bid of $10.  Who’ll start the bidding at $11?"  But eBay doesn’t work that way.

Let me explain my technique in opposition to how the other bidders operated.  In this most recent case, I returned to the auction with 15 minutes to go, and the current bid was $60.  So I was correct about the price ending north of $50.  I didn’t visit the listing at all since I found it and I put the listing close time in Outlook to be reminded instead of using eBay’s "Watch" feature.  As an aside, what I do use the Watch feature for is to get a better deal on Buy It Now items.  If you Watch an item, eBay will sometimes send an email to the seller saying someone is watching the item and you should try to close the deal by offering them a special price.  If the seller is motivated, then I get an email saying I can buy the item at this new, lower price, which in most every case, I accept.

Back to the auction.  It’s at $60, 15 mins left, and has 20 bids.  I scan the bids and I see the dumb initial bids that can be ignored.  Looking at the last bidders, there are 2 active, interested bidders that I will have to compete with.  I can see that one started at $40 and was currently the leader at $60.  He had clearly set a Max bid and was automatically outbidding the other person as they increased their bids.  Now, was $60 his actual max bid or was it higher?  No way to tell yet.

As time ticked down, the price changed to $61.  A new bidder has joined in.  This exposed that the previous high bidder’s max was $60 and exposed another dumb bidder move – bidding in round, even numbers.  I’ll explain that when I bid, but time is still ticking.  It’s silent until 20 seconds left to go.  That’s when I make my move.

I place a bid for $86.80.  The most I’m willing to pay for this lot is $85, and the extra $1.80 protects me from anyone who tries to bid (or had a max bid) right at $85, a fairly round, even number.  I’ll explain that here.  First, the new bidder is shown to have a max bid of $65.  I beat him with my max bid.  I’m leading at $66.  The former high bidder jumps in and shows his ignorance.  He makes a bid, which is outbid by my max, then bids again and is outbid again.  The new bidder tries to get in a bid in the final second, but is outbid by my max.  I win the auction.

So let’s review those final seconds.  Both of those bidders were not committed to their max price.  They kept upping it as they went.  This probably really hurt them to lose this auction because they kept making sacrifices to their commitment.  But also from a practical standpoint, every bid they fail to make, they have to make a new bid.  That is valuable time they are losing.  We’re in the final 20 seconds of the auction.  There’s no time to make mistakes like that.  That is why I bid odd amounts.  If I automatically outbid someone by 80 cents, they lose the same amount of time as if I outbid them by $20.  It’s just one extra delay for a small amount of insurance.

And the guy who bid in the last second?  Again, he didn’t have a max bid in mind.  There’s no time to evaluate, "Am I willing to pay more" when you’re down to seconds.  So he bid a max of $65 earlier, then made his last pitch at $77.  That last bid was smart, as the current bid at the time was $74.  If my max had been at $75 (a round number) and I was outbid, I might have rebid by the minimum $1 increment, which he would have automatically outbid and made me lose time.  But it wasn’t to be.  I won the auction at $78, a price under my max of $85 and only $1 more than the other bidder.

So my strategy boils down to only a few points.  Stay quiet, bid late, bid once, bid with enough buffer to delay minimum upbidders, and use an odd bid amount to possibly get one extra delay in.  Go win some shit now.

Is Isolationism Spreading?

In any other year, I would have simply rolled my eyes.  But in the current sociopolitical climate, the message raised my eyebrows.

I have had a hard time finding an online home.  Online forums are full of nothing but toxic and bitter people.  Everywhere you go, you  run into people who just can’t help themselves from cutting other people down for whatever reason.  The anonymity of the Internet gives them the power to do so without recourse.  I’ve wondered more and more lately if it was a good thing to make the internet accessible to all.

So, I had been settled into a new forum.  It had a very, very strict rule about not bringing up politics or religion in any way.  While that boundary was pushed occasionally, it was a line no one stepped over.  And the forum seemed to thrive for it.  There was some bickering over tastes and preferences, but that goes with my previous observation about general Internet usage.

This particular forum has no advertising and runs an annual donation drive for its expenses.  Maybe a little unusual, but it seems to have been working for a long time.  I did donate last year, maybe $20.  This year, I don’t know.  As ironic as it was, a pinned message was posted just above the pinned message for the donation drive with a new order from the owner.

The order was: if you are going to write a review for others to read, you must publish the review in the forum.  You may not link to a review posted on your personal blog.  If you do, the post will be flagged as spam and removed.  If you continue to do it, your account will be closed.

I can’t really express the feelings I got when I read that.  Maybe it doesn’t sound as bad here, where I’ve paraphrased it, but the literal words that punched me in the gut were, "directing us away from the forum".

Let me start on the positive.  I sort of understand.  This is a very popular forum.  I suppose the owner would not want people simply joining his site and taking advantage of a large audience to get some ad revenue and traffic to their own site.  Maybe that feeling is amplified because the owner doesn’t have advertising of his own, so why should others get the benefits of his site’s popularity?  And also, he didn’t specifically say you couldn’t copy your personal work into a post on his forum, because well, that’s what a forum is.  He’s not demanding exclusivity (unlike those fuckers at AlbumArtExchange).

So then, where’s my problem with it?  It’s that wording.  Posting a link isn’t taking any traffic away from you.  They have links set up properly where they always open in a new tab – you aren’t losing your place.  Second, this is the way of the Internet.  It’s how it was conceived and how it should be.  You link to related and relevant content.  You don’t try to be authoritative for everything.  Yahoo and AOL tried that and look how it worked for them.  The Internet is meant to be open and free and exploratory.  It’s not healthy to stay stuck in one place and get all your information from one site.  Some leaders are attempting that now and look how well it’s working for them.  Actually, don’t look at how well that’s working.  Look at the consequences of how well that’s working.

"Don’t leave" is never a good thing to hear from someone.  There’s the pleading, "don’t leave", then there’s the threatening, "don’t leave", and when you can’t tell the difference which one it is, that’s the worst of all.  And that’s unfortunately when you really should leave.