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Net Neutrality/Title II: A Vote For Common Sense

The big news of the day in political circles is that the FCC voted to reclassify Internet providers as Title II, which protects Net Neutrality. Inevitably the Republicans are up in arms about the vote using such phrases as “Obamacare for the Internet” and “Net Neutrality will fundamentally change the Internet”.

Let’s address the second statement; what this vote in favor of Net Neutrality does is actually maintain the status quo, the Internet was always meant to be open and free without tiered access. What reclassification to Title II does is stop ISP’s, cable companies such as Comcast, Verizon etc from throttling websites of their choosing, services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video and Youtube. Back in February 2014, Netflix paid Comcast to allow traffic from it’s service to run at unrestricted speed through it’s network after Comcast severely throttled data coming from the streaming service. Cable providers are taking money from it’s customers for 25, 50, 100Mbps connections to the Internet, then slowing down services like Netflix, which let’s face it, we don’t need 100Mbit Internet to check our Email and view web pages.

This is so much misinformation being circulated by the right wing media and politicians who’s interests do not match the Net Neutrality agenda. Reading comments on the Internet today proves to me how little people know about Net Neutrality, many commenting down party lines. And dare I say it, these are the same people that watch Fox News believing every piece of right wing propaganda the Rupert Murdock owned network spouts. Stop believing Fox News and do your own research, you may change your view.

Allegedly President Barack Obama colluded with FCC chairman Tom Wheeler and the other democrats on the FCC board to pass the bill in some sort of plot for him to take over the Internet. I swear that if Obama gave a speech supported breathing, all the republicans would die because they refused to breath!

No doubt that there will be legal challenges to this ruling which will stop the new rules coming into force, possibly indefinitely, allowing the big cable companies to run rough-shot over it’s customers during the legal wranglings. The people of the Internet have won this battle, but the war is far from over.

If the FCC vote is overturned, cable companies will be able to create “fast lanes”, which Internet streaming services will have to stump up millions to give their customers the optimum experience. The services that refuse to pay the high-speed access fee will be put in the “slow lane” and this is despite the customer paying $$$ for fast Internet connectivity. And inevitably, streaming service prices will rise to compensate for the additional cost of getting their content to the end user, ultimately the customer is being screwed.

The biggest takeaway should the FCC decision be reversed is that “free speech” will be dead as cable companies will be able to slow down and/or block content they don’t want you to see. China gets a lot of flack from the western World for it’s policies on censorship, yet the USA is heading in the same direction.

I’ll leave you with this video from John Oliver, the truth about Net Neutrality with a comic slant!

Addendum [Feb, 28 2015, 15:55]: Over the last two days I have been hearing how this decision to support Net Neutrality is stifling the free market and that “resorting to government means stifling competition and promoting favoritism”. For those who believe that line, how can we have a free market when big cable companies want to slow down third party streaming traffic while allowing their own streaming services to run at full speed, surely that in itself is stifling competition? If cable companies played fair and adhered to the spirit of the Internet, there would be no need for the FCC to step in to ensure neutrality, Comcast, Time Warner & Verizon don’t own the Internet, they just own the wires.

To address the people that say “if you don’t like your service, change it”; for many, to change service providers like for like, e.g. 100Mbit to 100Mbit, we would have to move to another state as big cable are very careful to divide up territories so they don’t compete with each other. So much so that in some cases, one side of the street is Comcast while the other side of the street is Time Warner. Not only that, big cable are attempting to buy favor with state politicians to block municipal fiber networks like Google Fiber.

Furthermore, our politicians should not be taking money from the interests they are supposed to be regulating, that’s a massive conflict of interest, the level of corruption in Washington is truly astonishing.


Migrating Posts From Cutenews To WordPress

For seven years before discovering the wonders of WordPress, I used a piece of blogging software called Cutenews. CN was a flat text file news system, which ultimately fell by the wayside after CutePHP started charging for the formerly free software. I can only assume that people, like myself refused to pay so we ended up with an insecure outdated news system, so, like many I made the jump to WordPress.

Migrating the seven years of blogs on Cutenews to WordPress was another matter, for a few years I ran a non-editable version of Cutenews in a subdirectory to display the archives, but eventually it stopped working completely throwing a 500 error after moving webhost. I looked around for an import plugin/script, but nothing worked 100%, some worked partially, some just broke the WordPress install.

I won’t take credit for someone else’s work so I will simply link to Greg Freeman’s article about migrating from Cutenews To WordPress. But I had to create an install of WordPress on my local machine as the production server does not have support for phpTidy which the import script relies on. I personally used WAMP server, you will need to enable phpTidy, simply left click on the WAMP system tray icon, navigate to PHP » PHP extensions » and put a checkmark next to php_tidy. Create a database/user in phpmyAdmin and download WordPress, extracting the files to a new folder in WAMP’s www directory.

Copy your Cutenews files to a subdirectory of your local WordPress directory, create a new php file and copy the code from Greg Freeman’s article into that file, changing the paths to WordPress and Cutenews directories, save the file to the root of you local WordPress installation, making sure to select “All Files (*.*)” in the Save-as type box and ending the filename with .php. Open a browser and point it to the php file you just created, it’ll be localhost/wpinstall/importscript.php and all being well you should have imported your Cutenews posts. However it did throw an error for me, but the import still worked brilliantly and I now have my seven years of archives back as part of my current WordPress installation!

Now you can export the posts from your local test installation of WordPress and import into your live install, just as a precaution, I’d recommend making a database backup, just in case the worst happens!

I prepared my Cutenews install by changing the news.arch files to news.txt running the following DOS command “ren *.arch *.txt”. I then merged the renamed arch.txt files into a single .txt by running the following from the DOS prompt “copy *.txt news.txt”. You will need to CD (change directory) into the directory where your archives live on your hard disk. This action created a large single import .txt file.

I make the assumption that if you are attempting this sort of migration, you have a good working knowledge of computers, how to set up web/database servers and basic php knowledge, good luck!


New Website Design

I was looking at my previous blog design and thought “time for an update” for a couple of reasons. First, since the last redesign back in February 2011; mobile computing has exploded and the prior design really didn’t work well on phones and tablets. Second, four years without a design refresh is unheard of, normally I refresh the design every 18 months to two years. The new design is not one of those fluid/responsive designs, but it works well enough on my Galaxy S4 and 7in Android 4.4.2 tablet.

Another reason I updated the design is because the text was rather small, almost unreadable on cellphone sized 1080p screens. The previous design was created on my old 17.3in 1440×900 laptop, so the text looked larger at that screen resolution. Now I have upgraded to a monster, albeit 2 year old PC with dual 24in 1920×1080 screens, the font is looking small and rough with the latest browser technology. I have redesigned for 1280px wide screens, I refuse to design for people running 1024×768 anymore, but the site still works, 1024×768 users will just have to horizontally scroll to see the sidebar.

I have built in more functionality, particularly in regards to search and archive use, basically making these features more user friendly. Instead of showing an entire year or month of full articles, it shows a paginated list of article titles, which should allow users to find what they want to read quicker. I have also integrated Jetpack comments, social networking and forms, so you can log in using your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or WordPress accounts to comment or if you prefer you can still enter your Name/Email like before! I have even added an about me page, so you can read my life story if you’re really bored.

If you feel so inclined, leave a comment, tell me what you think?


First Impression: Canon EF-S 10mm – 18mm STM Lens

As someone who works in real estate marketing, I had been sorely missing an ultra wide angle lens, relying on my 18mm – 55m kit lens until recently because of the cost of an ultra wide angle lens for Canon crop sensor Digital SLR’s such as the EOS Rebel T3i which I use for my photographic work.

At the beginning of 2015 I bought myself an EF-S 10mm-18mm STM lens and what a difference it makes to internal real estate photography, even the smallest of rooms look decent sized, much to the chagrin of the agents showing the units, potential residents being disappointed by the actual unit size.

EF-S 10mm-18mm Example

The above photograph was taken using; 10mm, 1/30 shutter, f8, ISO 200, 3 shot HDR, +/- 2 stops.

In general I tend to shoot at 10mm, f8 at 200 ISO for real estate purposes, which gives good sharpness with acceptable levels of barrel distortion and light falloff is minimal at 10mm/f8. If there is a problem with the EF-S 10mm – 18mm lens it’s that it tends to ghost light sources quite badly at times, I have photos that have a perfect ghost of an incandescent light source just below the actual light source.

If you have Photoshop CS5 or above, then it’s fairly easy to remove using content aware fill, but older versions of the software don’t have this functionality, just something to consider when purchasing this lens. I guess we need to remember this is a budget lens so I can’t be too critical of the ghosting.

At $300 for the EF-S 10mm – 18mm lens, it’s a must have for real estate photographers, it produces good quality sharp photographs and is a perfect companion for Canon’s EF-S 18mm – 55mm kit lens and EF-S 55mm – 250mm lens, with the added bonus of being almost silent with it’s STM focus mechanism and unlike the 18mm – 55mm you can use a petal hood as the front does not rotate.

Final Thought: before making the purchase of this lens, I read and watched a lot of reviews and I have to say that some photographers are real snobs marking this lens down because of it’s plastic camera mount and plastic filter/hood mount. Get over yourselves, it’s a well built lens, it doesn’t feel cheap and the mounts are more than adequate for their intended purpose and won’t be easily broken.


America’s Broken Healthcare System: Extortionate Medication Pricing.

Before you conservative Republican types get all excited, this is not a write-up criticizing the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare as it’s popularly know. My issue is the price of brand name medications and the general lack of regulation on pricing of these sometimes essential drugs.

My wife suffers from fibromyalgiaā€ˇ, which causes her an immense amount of pain, mental and physical and the drug that really helps manage her pain throughout the day, Lyrica costs over $425 per month for 90 pills, that coupled with the $540 (minus $220 ACA subsidy) in insurance premiums, makes it very unaffordable even for a family earning with a combined income close to $65,000 a year.

Recently I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and my doctor prescribed me a injectable medication called Victoza, which I have been taking for two weeks now using the free samples the doctor gave me. I am starting to run low, 15 days supply left so I looked up the cost of the drug using my insurance company’s medication cost calculator and for 30 days supply it will cost $825. This is obviously not affordable, a months supply of medication should not cost more than I pay in rent each month.

So to summarize; two drugs plus healthcare premium will cost us $1570, that’s about 35% of our net income going to insurance and drug companies. It’s no wonder that so many people either under-dose or go without medication in the USA. In my personal view, it is unacceptable for a rich western country to allow people to go without essential medication because of the lack of drug pricing regulation.


I find myself not trusting my own son anymore!

First of all, please read my previous blog article where my 10 year old has betrayed our trust many times in regard to obeying bans on video games and technology over the last four weeks because of previous issues with behavior including deliberately inputting my pin number to buy games/apps on his Roku box, which he as now lost and taking his sister’s Android tablet and using it after his bedtime.

Today, I catch him using his sister’s tablet again, defying the ban on electronics, not only that, I find that he had set up his own Gmail account, which I have now deleted and he installed an additional four Rovio games, hiding them in a folder with the original Angry Birds as the folder cover icon. Additionally, he had managed to sign his five year old sister upto Facebook, which I found out about because of the Facebook welcome message on my daughter’s Email account I set up on her tablet.

As I cannot trust him to live by our rules, he now has lost all electronic privileges for the rest of 2015. We are even considering a total ban on video games and computers permanently as this video game and electronics obsession continues to cause him to make bad decisions, lying, cheating and even committing fraud in the case of using my pin number to purchase games on the Roku box. This weekend, he is going to spend it in his room without any entertainment apart from his books.

In addition to this, we have found out by looking in his school bag that he has not been doing his homework, and even more stupidly, completed some homework and didn’t hand it in. We found letters and notices going back as far as March 2014, and some of it could have helped him with his autism, but that avenue to now closed because we missed the deadline. Which is frustrating as we have lost our Medicaid funding for him, so he now gets no therapy because of Sam Brownback’s KanCare bullshit!

Update [Jan, 12 2015, 23:22]: At this point we are at a loss, this evening my son got busted again using his sister’s tablet. He had turned down the volume and was hiding the tablet underneath his comforter. My wife noticed he had something under the comforter, at first he pulled out a cushion saying that’s all he had, but when we approached he suddenly admitted that he had the tablet. Now we’re at the point where he has lost his electronics privileges indefinitely as this obsession is so incredibly unhealthy. It’s time to try to channel his energies into something non-technology related!

Update [Jan, 19 2015, 15:06]: After talking with my wife and mother-in-law, we have come to a compromise, my son will get to play for four hours during Saturday and Sunday, he can choose to split that time up or use it all at once. Plus he has the option to earn two hours on Friday evening by helping out with chores, which he is not good at, he never offers to help. For example, today I washed my car and my five year old daughter was immediately out helping me while my son sat there watching TV, sulking because it’s Monday and he can not play video games or use computers Monday thru Thursday.


It’s Been An Eventful Week!

This week has been eventful to say the least; on Tuesday, our medical insurance company, Coventry Healthcare of Kansas doubled billed us; so instead of $320, they billed us for $640. When we renewed our insurance through the healthcare marketplace, we were prompted to make the first payment by card, which I did on December 23, 2014. A payment came out on the December 31, which I assumed was the card payment, but no, that was an automatic withdrawal, the card payment came out on January, 6 2015, 13 days after I made the debit card payment, which resulted in our rent check bouncing!

The healthcare marketplace website did not explain that if you are renewing, instead of changing providers that the initial card payment is not required, which is why we have been put in this situation, but 13 days to process a freaking card payment is unacceptable, someone at Coventry Healthcare dropped the ball. What’s worse is Coventry Healthcare’s attitude, they simply said our money would be refunded in 14 days, with no empathy for the situation we have of not having enough funds to pay our rent. Our rent check bounced costing us $32, which thankfully my bank, Meritrust refunded that as they could see it was a clear double billing issue and we had funds to cover the rent 24 hours later.

However there is an upside to this situation, as a result I was offered to apply for a credit card to avoid these situations in future and surprisingly the wife and I were accepted for a $2500 credit card. Furthermore, while applying for the credit card, the Meritrust representative, Sam asked if we wanted to also apply for refinancing of our car loan, which I did and our interest rate dropped from 11% to 5.9%, saving us $53 a month. Now for those who use Credit Karma to monitor their score, don’t rely on it, my score was 10 points lower and my wife’s score was 38 points higher than Credit Karma suggests.

But, my day was turned upside down when a USD259 school bus decided to drive down the middle of the road, forcing me into a snow bank. Thankfully, my mother-in-law came to the rescue with her AAA gold card membership, and the AAA guy managed to drag me out of the snow bank and thankfully there was no damage to the car despite being buried seven inches in the snow bank. I think that it’s time that we got our own AAA membership, although our car loan does come with tow service, although I have not been impressed with loan/insurance provided tow service, hence why I cancelled.

So overall, it’s been more positive than negative, but it’s been interesting to say the least. We have gone from possibly losing $64 in bank fees because our rent check would have bounced twice and also not having any money for essentials like fuel for the cars for almost two weeks to having a $2500 credit card and a good saving on our car loan and almost two months grace to make the first payment, although we’ll pay it like we have been previously to get the balance paid sooner than 72 months.


Concerning Behaviors From My 10 Year Old Son!

Some of my readers will know that I have an autistic son, who is now 10 years old and in recent months we have seen some concerning behaviors from him, which potentially can land him in legal trouble.

About three weeks ago, we caught him playing his PS Vita in his room at nearly 1am when he should have been sleeping, which earned him a 10 day ban from video games. That particular evening he went to bed early of his own accord, which is a rare occurrence, and in hindsight should have been a red flag. He had been feeling tired during the day, which would correlate with being up playing video games.

Stupidly just days before his ban would have been over on Christmas day, when he would get more games/gadgets, he decided to spend $11 of our money by purchasing several apps on his Roku box without permission. I was ready to get on the phone to Roku and complain about allowing purchases without a pin number when my son admitted that he had been inputting my pin to buy apps/games.

This resulted in what some may consider a harsh punishment, but he was not allowed to use his new Kurio Extreme tablet and Disney Infinity 2.0 game which we had bought him for Christmas, he will now have to wait until New Years Day to use these two presents. I am hoping that having to wait for his new gadgets will make him adjust his behavior in future. It’s not like he was unaware of what he was doing, he was more concerned with how I found out about his misdemeanors than feeling any remorse.

Going back to the late night PS Vita playing, it makes sense now, having my pin would allow him to override restrictions I had set. Obviously, I have changed my pin number on all devices. There was no real harm done this time, but weeks before this, he racked up several hundred dollars worth of in-app purchases on my mother-in-law’s Kindle, which at the time we believed it was accidental, but now I am starting to wonder if it was intentional. Suffice to say this behavior is deeply concerning to us.

Update #1 [Dec, 31 2014, 21:52]: Literally 30 minutes after I finished writing this blog article, my son got himself in even more trouble. He threw a metal Hot Wheels car at his five year old sister because she was messing with his cars. The car hit her just below her left eye and has left a nasty bruise. What annoys me more than anything is that he lied to us about it, then later admitted it, but the scary thing is that he said that he meant to hurt her and shows no sign of remorse. I understand that lack of empathy is an issue with autism, but deliberately trying to hurt his sister is troubling to say the least!

Update #2 [Jan, 4 2015, 21:31]: The wife and I decided to give our son a break and commute his added week of punishment and allow him to have all his games, computers and tablets back as a good will gesture for the New Year under the proviso that he acts right in the future or else he would face a 3 month ban on all electronics. And he barely made it more 36 hours before getting in more trouble.

After we allowed him to play for more than five hours on the PS3; later on the 2nd of January, he took his sisters Android tablet and hid it in his room, with charger and HIS headphones plugged into it. He had clearly been playing on it and intended to play after going to bed, which he had done before. He lied to us initially and tried to block my wife from coming into his room looking for the tablet, before claiming to find it behind his bed, and later said that he had it in his room so his sister could find it.

He now has a three month ban from electronics because of being selfish taking his sister’s tablet; after he turned his nose up at the $180 Kurio Extreme tablet because of the time and content restrictions I had placed on it and for lying to us for the umpteenth time just in the last 30 days. He has shown time and time again that he can not being trusted, you just have to read above for evidence of that. So yes, I will place restrictions on gadgets to limit his usage as I clearly can not trust him to stay within the set rules voluntarily, we didn’t raise him to be this way, where’s he getting these behaviors from?

Just today, he kept sneaking up behind me while I worked at my computer and stood there silently before I noticed him. Reading what I am writing for work and personal reasons, which from his recent behavior I can only assume that he is hoping to see me input a password or pin code that he can use to circumvent time/usage restrictions. Not that he can use the codes as I have his gadgets locked away!


Playstation Store = Massive Fail

Last night I decided that I would buy Grand Turismo 6 as an early Christmas present for myself and boy do I wish that I went to the local game store instead. I visit the Playstation Store, find Gran Turismo 6, purchase and start the 15GB download and the system says that it will take 121 minutes to download.

I return to the PS3 after 2 hours and it says it’s only 24% complete, I make the decision to just let it download overnight as it’s clear that it will take 8+ hours. I come back to the PS3 the next day and hit install, which takes another 2+ hours. Finally I am thinking, yay I can play GT6; but no, there are 14 large updates, so I was looking at another 2 hours of download/install at least. At this point, I had to leave to complete my Christmas shopping, so I left it downloading while I went out for a few hours.

Upon arriving home at roughly 9pm, I eagerly loaded up GT6 and it says “preparing update”, I think what the f***, but let it go. After a few minutes it says installing, but 10 second after that it says installation failed, I press X twice and the update started over, with the same installation failed result. After doing this half dozen times, I gave up and searched Google, but the suggestions didn’t work because I had not created a game save file on the system as I had not managed to successfully launched GT6. So my only option is to delete and start the whole download and patch process again.

It really seems that Sony don’t care about their Playstation Store customers; they seriously need to upgrade their infrastructure so people can get the benefit of fast downloads, seriously what’s the point of having on demand game downloads when it take over half a day to download/install/patch?

Secondly; why the hell do they not patch the games on their servers to the latest versions to avoid the additional update and patch downloads once the game is downloaded and installed, a lengthy process in itself. It’s not like it’s a disc on the shelf, would you buy Windows XP and install Vista, then 7 and finally 8? I know it’s an extreme example, but it’s basically the same thing, damnit Sony, pre-patch!

The end result is this; I will never buy anything or recommend anyone use the Playstation Store again, it’s far too much hassle, having to wait 12+ hours from purchase to play the game is too long for me.


America, Everyone To The Escape Pods

In recent years it has become increasingly apparent that the US government is not representing the interests of the people that voted for them, but instead furthering the interests of banks, pharmaceutical companies and mega-corporations. And the latest government spending bill dubbed the “CRomnibus” just goes to prove that fact with lots of Christmas presents for banks and politicians.

In simple terms, there was a bunch of last minute inclusions in the bill that allows for banks to recklessly invest money and expect taxpayers to bail them out when it goes wrong. Just like during the 2008 financial crisis where banks were bailed out because of their FDIC insured status. A status that was revoked in the aftermath of the crisis so banks couldn’t be bailed out with public money if they made bad investments under the “too big to fail” mentality. That provision has now been repealed in this bill, so tax payers will be on the hook for bailing out these mega banks when inevitably they screw the pooch and lose all their our money. And, this addition was written by… mega-bank, CitiGroup.

Additionally politicians will be allowed to accept 10 times the current amount in donations from individuals, no doubt these payments will come from CEO’s of banks, pharma and corporations. This needs to stop NOW; Americans should not stand for this amount of corruption, we elect these people to represent us; the people of the US of A, not the 2%-ers, remove corporate money (influence) from politics, let’s face it lobbying is a legal name for bribery. Yet we accept this as normal, back home in the UK, many years ago there was a “cash for questions” scandal which was immediately stamped out because it was considered bribery and corruption, which is exactly the same as lobbying in the USA.

Big pharma have managed to buy enough support in Washington to defund legalization of marijuana in Washington state, the same state that 70% of the electorate voted to legalize the drug. Why is big pharma against the legalization of pot? Because Marijuana is well know to act as a pain reliever and big pharma stands to lose billions as people use it as a natural alternative to expensive pain pills.

According to represent.us, $479m has been allocated for the purchase of F-35 Lightning II warplanes, which the pentagon did not order. Of course, inevitably to pay for these corporate concessions, funding for essentials services are being cut, most notably, WIC funding, which millions of people rely on to survive, the people that work for corporate giant, Walmart for example. Politicians will also get a $1000 subsidy to pay for their car, enough to buy a top of the range Mercedes or BMW, SERIOUSLY? these people get paid more than enough to afford their own car payment, absolutely disgusting.

Represent Us’ Video Explaining what has been hidden in the bill!


There is more furthering of private big business agendas in the bill that is needed to keep government open, but I have rambled on long enough. What this bill goes to prove is that American politicians are the most self serving corrupt people on the planet. US lawmakers flagrantly disregard the will of the people who elected them in favor of furthering the interests of their wealthy corporate donors. And the worrying thing is it will get worse in 2015/16 as the conservatives take control of the house and senate, everyone to the escape pods, America is doomed to corporate hostage taking and slavery.