Friday, June 26, 2009

Fake Fakes

I was dropping and reading blog posts when I came across something I did not understand.  A post talked about "Fake Replica" watches.  I admit I'm out of touch with watches, since I haven't worn one in 20 years or more.   But I'll be thinking about this for awhile.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Just some thoughts.....

  1. If you like the "yuppie city life" you should not take a job in Valdese.   I'm not sure which is closer, Charlotte or Asheville, but neither of them are close enough for a pleasant commute. This was part of an exchange I came across in some North Carolina forum somewhere.  
  2. There is only one main street merchant I know of in Valdese who may possibly be classified as rich.  
  3. Lake Rhodhiss is not a lake.  It's a river.  Also Lake Hickory is not a lake.  It is also a river. The same river I believe.  North Carolina either has a strange definition of a lake, or developers just call things whatever they want and make local governments put up signs.
  4. If you don't like Hickory, you won't like Gastonia.  (same forum, see thought No. 1).
  5. I'm surprised at how many people around here think $10 an hour is good money.
  6. I was going to review a movie I hadn't seen, but then realized that I'd have to think too much about things I didn't know.
  7. I was thinking about how I've never been to Iowa.  I've been to every state around it, and almost every other state in the union.  But not Iowa, and I feel the lesser for it.
  8. There is a little town in Western Kansas called Ellis.  It's on the interstate, I think.  Back a long time ago, we were on our way to Aurora, Colorado where my father was going to be stationed at the AFB that no longer exists.   We stopped in Ellis and spent the night.  For some reason, we drove a little bit around the town.  I didn't want to leave.  It looked so pleasant and peaceful and calm, large houses, nice yards, people walking on the sidewalk.  I remember looking at it and thought, I could live here, let me stay.   I've never been there since.
  9. Once when I was in college, I had to write a paper in a literature class.   In the middle of droning on about whatever I was droning on about, I made a John Dunne pun.  The professor caught it and loved it.  For some reason, thinking about Iowa & the fact that I'd never been there made me think about John Dunne, and his clods from the main. 
  10. I like to sit on the porch and listen to the birds. 
  11. Rhodhiss is a funny name.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bonita, Arizona

It's been awhile since I posted a picture, so I thought I'd post this one.  This is an RPPC of a house somewhere in the vicinity of Bonita, Arizona.  The stamp box dates it to the 1930-1950 time frame. Rather rustic, to say the least, and looks like a perfect habitat for rattle snakes.  I listed it on our eBay site today.

I decided to look up Bonita, Arizona, on Google Earth.   It pointed me to a place where two roads meet in the desert.   I scrolled around and did find a building of some sort, but there does not appear to be much in Bonita, except desert.

Not to be deterred, I turned to Google and found this little blurb:  "Bonita was the town that catered to the soldiers and ranch hands in the area as well as Fort Grant. Its post office was established in 1884 and lasted until 1955".   Of course this was describing a ghost town.   I also found that, no surprise here, Bonita (the ghost town)  has warm winters and hot summers. Which to my way of thinking means rattle snakes year round.  And bugs that never die.  As long as you know that going in, it seems ok.

In Wikipedia's list of cities and towns in Arizona, Bonita is not listed.  It also wasn't listed in a list of cities and towns maintained by the Arizona state government.  It also wasn't listed in the Arizona Gazetteer's hometown locator, although the Bona Venture Mobile Home Park was.  I find that interesting.  

I don't think Bonita exists as a town.   That's too bad, it's a pretty name.  And perhaps I should increase the asking price on that post card.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Done with Harry Turtledove for awhile Part II: The Aliens

The "Settling Accounts" series (my name) was pure alternate history.  A big what if.   This is a big what if too, but it mixes "alternate" history with science fiction.  In the "Colonization Series"  the planet is happily involved in WW II when aliens invade, intent on conquering everybody, and humanity has to unite (uneasily) to fight the invaders.

For the sake of clarity, time will be expressed in earth units.  24 hrs to a day, 365 days to a year and so on.  The alien units were different.

The aliens were a reptilian based life form, walked more or less upright, and grew to about the size of an average 10 year old human.   Humans called them "Lizards", and they called humans "Big Uglies".

The Lizards sent a probe to earth in the 12th century, gathered all kinds of information about the climate and civilizations, and decided it was a very good candidate to conquer and add to their empire.  They had conquered two other planets a few thousand years earlier, and these planets had assimulated nicely.  However these planets were also inhabited by reptilian based life forms, and were a pre-industrial civilization when they were conquered.   

The Lizards were a very patient civilization.  They'd been unified for 50,000 years or so, and change came very slowly to them.  They had no idea that human beings were any different.

So imagine the shock of the fleetlord of the invasion fleet, when he entered earth orbit a mere 800 years later, and found not knights in rusty armor, fighting with swords, but a highly industrial society, with flying machines and powerful weapons, on the verge of discovering atomic energy, and engaged in a planet wide war amongst themselves.

This was NOT the way it was supposed to be.  And uncharacteristically, the fleetlord had a decision to make.  It took the Lizard invasion fleet 20 years to get from "Home" to Earth.  It would take another 20 years to get a message back to Home, and then another 20 years to receive a reply. The colonization fleet was already on the way, less than 20 years behind, and they expected to find a conquered planet when they arrived.  It was too late for them to turn around.  So, the fleetlord, with full knowledge that the planners of the invasion had been wrong, attacked.

The Lizards did nothing without careful planning.  They were the ultimate Capability Maturity Model or ISO Certified civilization.  Nothing new was introduced into society without careful study, sometimes for centuries, to make sure it would not have undesired effects.  Change was so slow, that a Lizard might not even notice it in a lifetime.  And that was saying something, because they lived 130 years or so.   So for the invasion fleet to come upon something so completely unexpected was something that no Lizard had ever experienced.   "Home" wouldn't even realize there was a problem until 40 years after the invasion fleet left.  They were on their own, and had to make a decision with incomplete knowledge of the situation, something no Lizard had had to do for centuries.  From the very beginning, things were going wrong for the Lizards.

The Lizards had come loaded for bear anyway, even though they expected to be fighting primitives.   They were far advanced of humans in space flight, obviously, but in their weapon technology, they weren't as far ahead as it first appeared.  They had jets, but humans were just a few year away from jet fighters, just a few years away from atomic weapons and so on.  Human tanks weren't as good as the Lizard equivalent, but human tactics were much better.   They'd had a lot more practice.  The Lizards showed up on earth 1942, with weapons of the year 2000 or so.  

In many areas of earth the Lizards found primitive societies, and they conquered them without too much problem.  But in North America, Europe and parts of Asia, the Lizards had extreme problems.  

Eventully, the war ended.  The North Americans, Europeans (except Poland) and Japan retained their independence.  China was nominally controlled by the Lizards, but there was wide spread unrest amongst the population, to put it mildly.

So the wars stopped, the dust settled, the colonization fleet approached, and Lizards and humans began to interact.   

And that's what it is.  11 volumes of humans interacting with an advanced alien species, buying borrowing and stealing their technology, until the time comes, about 85 years later, when humans are actually more advanced than the Lizards.  

The last book in the series, "Homeward Bound",  is pure science fiction.  Humans make it to "Home", and the Lizards are not happy about it.  The ultimate "certified" society had goofed. They found themselves without the flexibility and without the ability to adapt to the rapid change humans were accustomed to.   The "almost" conquerors are very close to being the conquered.

I enjoyed reading these Harry Turtledove books.  But I think it'll be awhile before I pick up another one.   I estimate I've read between 10,000 - 11,000 pages of Harry Turtledove in the last year, and that's enough for awhile.

Time for a yard sale.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Done With Harry Turtledove For Awhile

It's been out of my system now for a couple of months, so I guess it's time to write up this little obsession of mine.

Off and on for a year or so, I've read 22 or 23 Harry Turtledove books.  I kind of lost count.  But, he wrote two long series of books, each with 11 volumes or so, and I read every one of them, in order, heaven help me.

One series is pure alternate history, which he's famous for.  The second is alternate history mixed with science fiction, which he's also famous for.

The first:  All my life I've heard this stupid question - what if the south had one the war?  What if the Confederacy had defeated the Union?  But I had never heard a good plausible answer, nothing that examined all world history changing ramifications of that.  Harry Turtledove's 11 volumes on the subject is as close as anything to a decent analysis of what could have happened.

Harry Turtledove's history breaks away from reality at the Battle of Antietam, in Maryland in 1862.   In real history, a confederate soldier (an officer no doubt) dropped a copy of Lee's general orders for the battle.  It was found by a union soldier, and made their way to George McClellan who suddenly knew the disposition of Lee's forces.  McClellan was extremely intelligent, but was also very methodical, so it was a while before he acted.  Another stupid "what if" goes something like this: what if McClellan attacked immediately, with everything he had?  The war may have ended right then and there.  Maybe, we'll never know.   As cautious as he was, he still managed to force Lee to retreat back into Virginia.

Antietam was a terrifying bloodbath for both sides.  I've been to that battlefield, more than once.  I've seen the rail road cut out where hundreds of confederates died,  and hundreds of union soldiers died tying to take the position.  I've seen Burnside bridge, a bottle neck of sorts where hundreds of union soldiers died trying to get across the creek.  I could feel the terror on both sides.  The Confederates had the advantage of position in this spot, but the Union had overwhelming numbers.  If you were on the Confederate side here, you knew that at the moment it's a turkey shoot, but you also knew you don't have enough ammo, and slowly but surely the people around you are being killed and wounded, and it's just a matter of time before it's all over for you.  If you were across he creek on the union side, you  experienced a lot of terror, as people around you, seemingly at random are being shot, and there was no place to hide.  As a group, you were in the advantage of numbers, but as an individual, you stood a very good chance of being shot.   Not a good place to be, in either situation.  I've stood at a plaque across from the road from the Dunker church, showing pictures of Artillery and dead bodies, and I realized I was standing in the middle of death, in the middle of a killing field.  Well the whole battle was a killing field.   It was a terrible battle, people were slaughtered, thousands upon thousands died in a very short time, and I'm kind of glad I managed to avoid it by a century or so.  

In Harry Turtldove's world, the battle still happened, but those orders were never lost, McClellan never knew how spread out Lee's forces were.  McClellan assumed he was facing an  overwhelming force, and fought cautiously and defensively.   Lee broke through, and marched on toward Harrisburg, PA.  Another battle was fought at Camp Hill, across the river from Harrisburg, Union Forces were defeated, and the British and French stepped in and forced a peace agreement on the United States.   The United States could not fight the British & French, so they capitulated and the Confederacy was independent.

That is the basis for the next 11 books or so.

The Confederacy, besides including the states that actually seceded, also included Kentucky, and Oklahoma (which they called Sequoiah).   Stonewall Jackson did not die, he lived on to become the ranking general in the Confederate Army.  Slavery continued as an institution until the 1880's, when the slaves were "manumitted", as opposed to emancipated.   The former slaves were not considered citizens, and an apartheid like system developed.

In the United States, Abraham Lincoln lost the election of 1864, and was NOT assassinated in 1865.  He went on to lead the 'liberal' wing of the Republican Party into the Socialist Party in the 1880's.   The party system in the United States evolved into a 3 party system, Democrats, Socialists & Republicans, with the Republicans being by far the minority.  George Custer, did not die in 1876, because he was busy with border patrol duties on the Kansas/Oklahoma border.   He went on to become the ranking field officer during "WW I", and disobeyed orders to develop a highly effective method of tank warfare.  The capitol of the USA became Philadelphia - Washington, DC became relegated to ceremonies only.

And speaking of WWI.  In Turtledove's universe, the United States did not send any troops to Europe during that war - they were too busy fighting the confederates in North America.  Also, the USA became bitter enemies of the British & French because of what had happened decades earlier, and allied themselves with Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany.  When WWI ended, The USA possessed Kentucky, what is now West Virginia and large parts of Northern Virginia.   In Europe, the British and French didn't win, but weren't quite defeated either.  Kaiser Wilhelm remained in power.

After WWI, slowly but surely a fascist system begins to take over in the Confederacy.  Turtledove mimics the rise of fascism in Germany here.   The fascists take full power sometime in the 1930's,  basically subvert the constitutional institutions, and through force and terror establish a dictatorship.  They begin secretly, then not-so-secretly rearming themselves, in violation of treaties.   They force a peblecite in Kentucky, and Kentucky votes to rejoin the CSA.   In the mean time, WW II breaks out, and the United States are still enemies of the British & French (& Canadians - because they were strongly allied to the British), and are allies of the Kaiser.   In North America, the confederates attack with a blitzkrieg of sorts - with a goal of establishing a line all the way up toward Cleveland and Lake Erie - dividing the country in half.  They manage to do that - and now supplies in the USA cannot move from East to West.  Canada is British, so they can't move around the lakes either.  And the British have a very strong force on the Great Lakes themselves, so they are also not a good alternative.  So, the Confederacy offers peace terms, sure that the United States will accept.  The United States refuses, and for the first time, the Confederacy realizes it is in trouble.

I glossed over a lot here.  Many of these books are complete war stories, but some are not.   I found some characters very interesting - I especially liked following Scipio (aka Xerxes), and his reluctant involvement with the Congaree Socialist Republic uprising in South Carolina during WWI.  I followed him for several books, from the time he was young, until he was old and in an prison camp in Texas.

The series has a lot of searing detail, and lot of broad sweep type stuff.  As a unit, it is a great history of something that never happened.

Next time:  Aliens Invade.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Our eBay Business: Auctiva/Inkfrog

Holy buckets.  I've gotta write something about this.

For over 2 years now we've used "Auctiva" to create our eBay listings.  Auctiva is a separate company, it has some very nice features, it was easy to use once you got the hang of it, and best of all it was free.  So we used it to create our listings, and we'd schedule them to post on eBay from there.

The original reason we started with Auctiva was because of the pictures.  At that time if you listed directly on eBay, you got one free picture with the listing, and they charged 15 cents for every picture after that.  With Auctiva, you got 24 free pictures, and you could supersize them for free (at that time eBay charged 75 cents!).  We sell mostly postcards and photographs, and always have a minimum of two pictures with each listing.  We've saved hundreds of dollars, literally, since 2007 in picture fees alone.  

That was our sole interest in Auctiva.  Pictures.  Multiple, supersizable pictures.  We didn't care about their templates, we didn't want to buy their shipping insurance, we didn't want an Auctiva store, we certainly didn't want any of our customers having to go through an "Auctiva Checkout" when they bought something from us. We didn't really want any of their services besides the ability to include multiple pictures in our listings.  And that's what we did.

Auctiva presented the listing quite decently, and we were generally happy with it.

But strange things began to happen.  A few months ago, there was the virus incident.  Auctiva was the means by which my computer and many others were infected with a virus called Trojan.Refpron.  Not good - and our understanding is it had to do with the images.  My computer was infected because I would supersize an image to get a good look at it.  Patti Anne, more cerebral and less visual than me, did not, and her computer was fine. 

Then a few weeks ago, they made a change, and something went haywire with the editing.   Fonts changed randomly.  Whole blocks of text were inverted.  Stuff down at the bottom was suddenly at the top.  The page jerked around when you were working.  Sometimes it'd look fine in Auctiva, but when it was listed in eBay, it was totally screwed up.  I have no idea how many listings I may have out in eBay that look weird because of this.

And then just a couple of weeks ago, a bombshell.  Without any warning and just the scantest of explanations, Auctiva announced they were going to start charging for their services beginning July 1 - and not just a little, but a lot.   It was a much more complicated pricing structure than it needed to be (I reckon, really how would I know), based on the amount of listings.  In addition, they were going to charge a listing fee, then a final value fee if your item sold, and charge for image storage (the first 1MB was free - which isn't much).  We figure out that at a minimum, we'd have to pay $30-40 a month, beginning in July, for a service which had been free for us up to this point. 

Auctiva said eBay had changed the structure of the "Affiliate Program", and they needed to charge for the services now in order to stay in business.  But as time drug on, words, rumors and such leak out - and I'll gladly pass on anything I know nothing about, because I don't have that much else to do right now.  

Most likely Auctiva was exploiting a loop-hole, or a weakness or something in eBay's affilliate program that allowed them to get credit (and money) for people who weren't really finding their way to eBay via Auctiva.  It could be that someone logged on to eBay, saw a listing that someone posted via Auctiva, clicked on an image to supersize it, was, without their knowledge taken to another location to view the supersized image, where, somehow, a cookie or some other info was attached to their session, and when they closed the picture and returned to eBay, it looked like they had accessed eBay directly from Auctiva, which may have entitled Auctiva to a referral credit (which translates to money).   

I have no idea, really, but that's pretty swift, if that's the way it worked.  I wish I'd thought of it, and knew how to do it.   Whatever was going on, eBay probably caught on and decided that it wasn't going to allow it.  Thus Auctiva's predicament.  

Anyway, many of our items are lower priced, and we did not want to absorb $40 or so (maybe more) extra expense.  eBay is expensive enough, as it is.  

And the eBay world has changed a bit - in the categories we list in most, they now allow up to 12 pictures.  That's plenty for me.   So beginning June 1st, we quit using Auctiva and listed directly from eBay.   It wasn't hard, the listings look better than they used to, but it had some short comings.  

But we still had the  issue of all those pictures we had on Auctiva - if we didn't sign up for a pricing plan with them, we were going to lose them all at the end of the month, and we weren't sure what would happen to the images in our eBay listings.  We assumed they'd go away. 

So we looked around.  Sellersource, Vendio, InkFrog and a couple of others.  Auctiva, as you can imagine, is in upheaval, and these other organizations, which provide much the same services, were hovering about like sharks with wings, a bird of prey-like fish, making pitches for Auctiva customers.  Well, we were listening. 

As of yesterday, we are now with InkFrog.  They seemed to have the quickest and easiest method for converting our eBay listings and pictures.  It took a couple of hours, but it seems to have worked fine.  Its a paid service, about $10.00 a month, and 1GB of image space (I hope that's enough, we use a LOT of pictures).  Patti Anne formally closed the Auctiva account today, and when she did, we got an email offering us a plan for $10.00 a month and 1 GB of image space at no extra charge, if we'd stay.  The irony is, if Auctiva had made that offer up front, we would have stayed with them.  

In reality, I think Auctiva's future is probably shaky.  Maybe not, I don't know.  But this whole thing was not handled well.   It's like they had no idea what their competition charged, or didn't think their customers knew.   The organization seemed in a panic mode, and there was no need for it.  Things came out in bits and pieces, nothing about it was handled well.   As as customer, I don't really need to know about the nuts and bolts of their business issues.  I don't need to feel like a company I'm depending on is in crisis mode.  

A simple announcement saying that in order to keep in business they were going to have to charge for their services would have sufficed, with plans and charges being in line with their competition.  Why would I pay $40 or more for a service when I can get a very similar service, as robust if not more, for $10?   People would have complained, but NOTHING like the uproar and wholesale abandonment that is going on now would have happened.   

By the way, I hate using the word "robust" the way I used it in the last paragraph.  It's a hold over from my system engineering days, when the word was used that way to describe programs. I hated it then, and still don't like it.   To me robust has to do with the physical health of a person, not the abilities of software.

InkFrog provides pretty much the same type of service as Auctiva.  It takes some getting used to.  The listings look nice & professional so we're happy, we just have to get accustomed to it.   It's been a busy few days.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Two unreleated thoughts

Just two unrelated thoughts here, at sometime past 10 PM on a Friday evening.   Its amazing how many other unrelated thoughts have suddenly decided to spring forth, but I shall stop at these two, except I think I just forgot one.

Well, I'll start with the one I remember, and then maybe I'll remember the one I forgot.

1st Unrelated Thought:  I just heard today that the Galaxy Fresh Air Supermarket in Valdese is closing.  That'll leave Food Lion, a truly scary place, as the only grocery store of any kind in town.  There are a couple of convenience stores, but no "mom & pop" grocery stores or anything else to offer an alternative to the big chain.   I don't like going into Food Lion.   Even Galaxy has a touch of Alfred Hitchcock in it, but it can't hold a stick to the horror of those Food Lion aisles.   I don't know when it's closing.  It was someone else's conversation, so I just left.  But it's soon.

2nd Unrelated Thought:  I just remembered.   I have no use for motivational speakers, or writers of motivational books and stuff like that.  Teachers, instructors, coaches, etc are ok.  But not people who make speeches or write books who's sole purpose is to motivate someone to do a better job.  I spent too many years in a cubicle sweating droplets of blood trying to modify or maintain computer systems, so I don't fall for it.   Although I do have to hand it to them, they've figured out a way to make money without doing anything productive.  

As I said, lots of other thoughts have suddenly entered my conscious realm.  But I'm going to let them go. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Feedjit (or jeet yet?)

Since I can't think of anything to write about, I guess I'll spout off about FEEDJIT.
FEEDJIT, among other things, provides a list of where the people who access "A Valdese Blog" come from.   I just thought it would be cool to look at and wonder about.  I've had it on the blog for a long time now.
FEEDJIT also captures my computer location, when I log on.
Well, almost.
So far, my computer has physically been in the same place nigh on 2 years now, but FEEDJIT has had me in towns all over North Carolina.  FEEDJIT at one time or another has said I'm located in Cary, Rockport, some place in the mountains, some place near the beach, and a couple of other places I can't remember.  Currently it says I'm located in Smithfield, but I don't really know where that is.   At least it's kept me in North Carolina, usually within 200-300 miles of my real location,  so on a planetary basis it's pretty close, more than good enough for government work, I suppose.
I know I have the option of changing my location, and once I changed it to Valdese, but FEEDJIT changed it right back to something else as soon as I logged out.  This has to do with cookies and such, I'm sure.  
We have DSL, so I figure it's the phone company's fault.
Anyway, I've come to the sad realization that I don't really know where anybody who reads A Valdese Blog is located.  Not that it matters.
I no longer accept FEEDJIT as an accurate reflection of any kind of reality.
It's just an illusion.   Just words.  Cyber hallucinations.  Just monkeys throwing darts at a map.     Just a cat stalking an imaginary butterfly.  It's like a cool breeze that never quite lives up to it's potential.  It's like an unsigned birthday card.