The Thinker

Craigslist casual encounters weirdness: October 2015 (Albany NY) Edition

This month instead of looking at postings in Craigslist’s Hartford casual encounters site, I’m going to look instead at Albany, New York’s site. Albany is a major city about ninety minutes by car (with a fair tailwind) to my west. Albany is also the capital of New York State. It happens to be situated about twenty miles from Schenectady, where I was born. Curiously with the lack of much in the way of FM news stations here in the Pioneer Valley, I listen to Albany radio quite a lot, more specifically WAMC at 90.3, the NPR station. So perhaps it’s appropriate.

First let me provide a report on my September Craigslist statistics. Google Analytics reports at least 162 web page views for my Craigslist posts in September. This is pretty low and may be the lowest number of hits since I started recording these statistics. I say “at least” because Google Analytics dashboard won’t show more than ten entries with “Craigslist” in the title, and I know these posts are read frequently via other media like newsfeeds. This is ten percent of my 1628 web page views for the month. So perhaps this Craigslist traffic trend has peaked at last. We’ll see in subsequent months.

Anyhow perhaps things will be fresher in Albany than they are in Hartford, Connecticut. No way to know without diving in. It’s the first Friday of the month so doubtless people have high expectations for their weekend. On the first page of posts I see:

  • 35 men looking for a woman
  • 47 men looking for a man
  • 5 men looking for a couple
  • 2 men looking for a transgender/transvestite
  • 1 man looking for multiple men
  • 3 women looking for a man
  • 2 women looking for a woman
  • 2 couples looking for a man
  • 1 couple looking for a woman
  • 2 couples looking for another couple
  • 1 transgender/transvestite looking for a man

And we’re off:

  • This 47-year-old man from Guilderland doesn’t understand that wanting to give oral sex to a young man is not a fetish. Symorophilia, now that’s a fetish. Anyhow, it’s too bad this man is only 47. If he were 60 or older, this younger man from Albany would be interested.
  • Now this is weird: this “horny housewife” is looking for two guys who are related to ravage her. Some examples include father/son, two brothers or uncle/nephew. I guess that’s keeping it all in the family, but what would mom say?
  • This couple age 29 and 31 want another woman to join them. What makes it kind of weird is that she probably won’t participate in any actual sex. Instead, they get to watch her slip bras and panties on and off while they get it on. Only if there is chemistry will things go further. It’s unclear how they will draw a woman in the first place if all she will do is repeatedly dress and undress. They might want to rethink their marketing strategy.
  • This sixtyish couple likes to hear other couples describe their most private and erotic fantasies. And that’s all they are offering: you type it up and send it email and they will read them and send back some of their own. They also want to hear your real life exploits.
  • Looks like my new hometown of Northampton, Massachusetts will be hosting a bunch of swingers early next week. Not sure why they are making people drive all the way from Albany and are having it during the workweek, but anyhow if you are a couple hit them up.
  • If you are a woman with too many panties or need some side income selling your used panties, contact this Albany man. He wants a long-term thing if possible, so maybe he’s planning to open his used panty museum.
  • Here’s a gay guy who has a foot fetish, so guys he will do all sorts of peculiar stuff to your feet and toes with his hands and mouth but he is not into men who used athletic socks or sneakers and you have to be available evenings and you got to send him your stats and shoe size.
  • No lie: this gay man from Schenectady is looking to be bottomed today in a bookstore with others watching. Schenectady police: please respond.
  • This woman is hoping to find her next husband through a Craigslist casual encounters post. Unless your standards are incredibly low, may I suggest OKCupid or eHarmony?
  • Cuckold couples: he wants to be your bull, but is he 46, 48 or 53? More than likely, it’s the latter.
  • If you are a woman who likes to be rimmed, here’s the guy you need. If you don’t know what rimming is, the picture will show you.
  • He’s a 55-year-old transvestite with erectile dysfunction, so that part is off limits. Otherwise guys, have fun!
  • This cat from Colonie will play with other women while her man is away in New York watching the Mets game. She’s 32, pretty and slinky and has some very explicit pictures but guys, just piss off!

There will be more next month when I may explore Boston.

The Thinker

Dear Pope Francis: you are half the way there

Presumably Pope Francis is now back in Rome and settling in after a whirlwind tour of Cuba and the United States. He’s a pope who is hard to dislike, perhaps because he comes out of the Jesuits. For a pope he is also suspiciously pragmatic.

He was not shy expressing his opinions while in the United States. Mostly they gave Republicans heartburn as he preached to them on subjects they did not want to hear: that poor people had equal rights, that income inequality had to be addressed and that global climate change was a serious problem. He spoke passionately of the refugee crisis affecting mostly Europe and asked America to do its part compassionately. He complained that corporations were not working in the interests of the people as a whole.

Democrats did not wholly escape his preaching. He spoke passionately about the family, but his idea of a family looked a lot like June and Ward Cleaver’s and seemed to exclude marriage for same sex couples. Still, overall it was refreshing to hear messages from a pontiff that were truthful and people-centric. Francis is a catholic in the apostolic and universal sense of the word. He even acknowledged that those who do not believe in God could be good people simply by acting as good people.

It’s not enough to make me return to the Catholic Church. It’s a lost cause in my case, as I don’t believe Jesus was God, and I don’t believe in miracles, saints and most of the peculiar beliefs of Catholics. I’m too left-brained. But his words as well as his actions (like having dinner with homeless people and riding in the back of a Fiat instead of a limousine) convinced me he is a much different pope, beloved as few will be, and acting in the spirit of Jesus. Pope John Paul II was much loved and is even on his way to sainthood, but Pope Francis’ appeal extends significantly beyond the Catholic faithful to much of the world at large.

I really tuned into his message on climate change. He introduced a small ray of hope into a problem that looks gloomy at best and catastrophic to humans and most species on the planet at worst. Perhaps some of his grounding on the matter came from outside the church. Before becoming a priest, Francis worked as a chemist. He earned the rough equivalent of an associate of science degree in chemistry in Argentina. Francis understands enough about chemistry to know that when you introduce too much carbon dioxide into an atmosphere, with no other changes to the system then temperatures will increase and it will affect most living species. He sees the obvious costs of our industrialization and acknowledges that the earth is finite and we cannot continue to exploit the earth’s resources so unintelligently.

What he did not acknowledge was that population growth is a major driver of climate change. Without an end to population growth and probably a long-term effort to reduce the earth’s population, climate change cannot be reversed. Humans drive almost all climate change because we all put demands on the earth simply to survive. The problem is much worse in industrialized societies because with increased standards of living we want more stuff, and this consumption also feeds climate change.

It’s not enough to practice “natural family planning” as a population control solution. The Catholic Church advocates refraining from intercourse during a wife’s fertile period and abstinence as the only non-sinful ways to limit family size. The rhythm method of course is chancy at best, which leaves abstinence as the only foolproof and sinless methods of birth control for devout Catholics. It makes it virtually impossible to be both a devout Catholic and an environmentalist. If you are familiar with Catholic theology then you know that using birth control pills, IUDs and prophylactics are sinful.

If Francis truly wants to take a concrete action to address climate change then simply giving Catholics permission to use these and similar forms of birth control would be a huge step forward. Of course in many parts of the world, people are too poor to afford birth control, so also stridently arguing that governments should make birth control universally available for free to all citizens is as necessary as giving birth control devices church sanction. Among the many benefits will be a reduction in abortions. Children never conceived cannot be aborted.

China’s somewhat loosened one child per family policy was effective at limiting its population growth, but at a horrendous cost. It meant forced abortions mostly of females and arguably wreaked a lot of psychological damage. It’s not hard to envision a time when climate change becomes so pressing that something like this becomes policy in most countries. While it may be necessary to do this simply to survive as a species, such policies would be the opposite of humane.

This doesn’t have to happen. With over a billion adherents, if the Catholic Church were to change its policies on birth control then it would do a huge amount in the medium term to limit population growth and subsequent climate change. It would be a humane step forward. Francis has the power to do this today.

I am not a praying man by nature, but I pray that Pope Francis will see the light on this and very soon. Our future, and the perpetuity of the Catholic Church may depend on it.

The Thinker

Shiny and new, but feeling ephemeral

Muscles hurting? Check. Sweating much of the day while I frantically move things from one place to another? Check. Feeling overwhelmed with this business of moving in general? Check. Feel like I am in real estate hell? Check, check, check.

But here we are in our new house on a prominent hill in Florence, Massachusetts with about a third of our stuff in it. The rest of it remains in a storage unit until a mover can get to it. While we are in the house, we still don’t own it due to some frustrating real estate settlement issues. I’ll have more on that in a bit. But the builder was nice enough to let us in, as they have done with other owners in the past when things were not 100% done and these snafus happened. We had to sign a “hold harmless” agreement and if we don’t settle by October 7 (it was originally October 1) we start paying rent of $100 a day.

We can be annoyed with our builder for his extended delays, something not unusual in the home construction business. But we can’t complain that they did a poor job constructing our house. The house is solidly constructed and the standards for its construction were very high throughout the whole process. We know because we had five months to watch the process. Our house sits in a 55+ community. It comes with a full but empty basement and a huge loft bigger than our old apartment. Also up there is a large adjacent storage room. The main level has a kitchen and living room of course, but we also have a sunroom in the back. The main level has two bedrooms, two baths and extra wide doors. It is highly energy efficient. We have gas heat when we need it and a gas stove too. The master bathroom includes a shower and a soaker tub, as well as two vanities. It anticipates a time when we might be aging in place and need to navigate in wheelchairs. The wood floors were not prefinished. They were installed untreated and stained three times with the stain of our choice, and lacquered twice. We have a two-car garage with the interior actually finished and painted. We have a deck made with plastic wood that will still look pristine when we are dead. We even have a sprinkler system built in that we can’t control, part of one that belongs to the whole complex. It comes on whenever the system figures our turf (landscaped in earlier this week) should be watered. The house definitely smells new and everything is pristine, clean and shiny. Of course there are some lingering issues and mistakes. They will be addressed in time.

I can’t complain about our movers. There wasn’t much in our apartment, but they emptied our apartment and placed its contents in our house in about two hours. I can’t complain about the boxes everywhere and the sheer work in putting stuff away, although I’d like to. There is much more of this to go. It will take a couple of months for our house to resemble the way we want it arranged. I should be thrilled with the new house experience and all this space but I am too exhausted to appreciate it at the moment. It’s going to take a while (and a couple of new cats) before our home really feels like one.

But I certainly can complain about our crazy settlement process, full of highs and lows much worse than any roller coaster ride you can imagine. What’s infuriating is that I did everything I could to mitigate problems and it wasn’t enough.

Settlement was supposed to be Thursday morning. We had been “preliminarily approved” the credit union told us, but the settlement papers had not arrived on Wednesday and calls to the credit union only resulted in being sent to voicemail. I had heard our house needed a final appraisal, but had not heard if it had happened. The appraiser was late filing his report and in fact it didn’t arrive until Friday, the day after settlement, and it was the preliminary appraisal. Late Friday the credit union found a problem in the appraisal that had to be corrected. Settlement was effectively delayed to some indeterminate time in the future.

Also Friday night came a major shock. The title insurance company our credit union is using requires our title to be free of exceptions and they were adamant about this. As we are technically a condominium, there must be exceptions, none of which affect the use of the property. All the other units have these exceptions and to leave them out would constitute gross malpractice by our attorney, subjecting him to legal jeopardy. If this cannot be resolved our whole mortgage may be in jeopardy. I tried to reach the credit union Friday night but while they were answering the phone, no one who could actually do anything about it was available and I was sent to – you guessed it – voicemail. So we’re living in suspended animation until Monday.

Our builder is not faultless either. Settlement did not happen principally because documents did not arrive from the builder’s attorney. He and his assistant are Jewish so of course they went off to celebrate Yom Kippur even though our settlement date was known more than a week ago. They simply let it slip and didn’t tell anyone including the builder who was clueless. The only good part of this was that the screw up allowed me to convince the builder to let us occupy our home. This was good because we had given notice on our lease and the movers were already scheduled to move us the next day.

We are feeling our way through this mess, none of it our fault. The worst-case solution seems to be to cancel the mortgage application. The mortgage amount is only $30,000. I can probably cobble cash and a personal loan to make up the difference. But of course that will take time too, and reduce our savings buffer. I’m guessing it won’t come to this.

So we wander a house customized to our specifications and wondering if it will really be ours, or if it’s all an illusion. Meanwhile we have to put stuff away and hang things on the wall and buy lots of stuff to make it livable.

And I ache. I spend much of my day in motion, lifting, stretching and moving. My calves are as hard as a rock. My shoulder muscles throb. What’s discouraging is that I was already physically fit and it still hurts. It’s too much all at once, and my aging body pushing sixty is complaining. My wife meanwhile spends much of her day in extreme pain due to chiropractic work that left the muscles attaching to her sacroiliac joint throbbing, with Percocets not quite taking care of the problem. I pick up a lot of her slack, of course. Stuff has to get done, and quickly. She needs rest, but moving households means she must move anyhow and that included cleaning up our apartment yesterday. We ache and snipe at each other.

At least we have utilities. DirecTV came yesterday and gave us a satellite dish. Comcast won’t give us Internet until next week but I was surprised to find a strong Comcast Wifi signal in the neighborhood. That’s a great relief. At least I have a tool to manage all this mess. My Internet phone won’t work with the Wifi. Otherwise everything else seems to work.

It will all settle down soon, but I fear there is more chaos ahead.

The Thinker

Review: The Visit

Director M. Night Shyamalan, perhaps best known for The Sixth Sense is going back to his roots in this movie, i.e. do something on the cheap and hope that cheap gets better reviews than he’s gotten recently with his many big budget failures, like After Earth. In the creepy horror movie genre being cheap means hiring mostly no name actors, using natural locations and a small cast. If being cheap doesn’t work, well, there’s less financial jeopardy. If it does those union minimum wages don’t matter from all the residuals that pour in. In The Visit, it also means trying to reuse a formula I think first successfully pioneered in The Blair Witch Project, i.e. make the movie look like it’s being filmed by its participants to enhance its sense of realism. The formula can work but only if it’s not used very often. Blair Witch had plenty of imitators, and none that I recall that were successful, but that was sixteen years ago and if anyone can make it work then presumably Shyamalan can.

Teenager Becca (Olivia DeJonge) is supposedly making a documentary about her and her brother Tyler’s (Ed Oxenbould) visit to grandma and grandpa, or Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) in their case. The movie has to hang on an unusual premise or two. In this case it’s that their mother (Kathryn Hahn) left her parents for good at nineteen and hadn’t seen them since then. (Hint: this will prove pivotal.) She still doesn’t want to see them but does manage to reconcile enough by phone to send Becca and Tyler on an Amtrak train to see them for the first time. Mom gets to go on a cruise while Becca brings along an expensive looking Canon digital movie camera and a laptop with an apparently excellent built in camera. Nana and Pop Pop live in a place so remote there is no cell service but not so remote that they don’t have high speed Internet. Tyler gets into the project and plays second camera. Becca is the sober older sister and Tyler is her spirited brother with an interest in rap music and a germ phobia. Tyler’s peculiarities are of course one of many hooks that Shyamalan introduces that will prove pivotal to the plot.

Still, this is a horror movie so we know it will get increasingly creepy and serious, so the only question is how. I won’t spoil too much but it’s not too hard to figure out as Nana and Pop Pop are counselors but recently unexpectedly stopped their work. And of course they are a bit peculiar. Nana likes her built in stove nice and clean and wants Becca to go fully into it to clean it. Pop Pop frequently goes to a shed on the property with paper bags. They are warned not to go into the basement because of mold and never to get out of their bedroom after 9:30 PM … the old folks like their rest and don’t want to be disturbed.

Of course all sort of disturbing stuff happens after 9:30 PM and during the day for that matter, much of it filmed digitally on Becca’s camera and laptop that follows they everywhere they go. Nana projectile vomits and scratches the walls at night, and Pop Pop depends on Adult Depends. Both Becca and her brother are reasonably interesting teens, with Tyler perhaps being the more interesting and quirky. There’s lots of peculiar things in this plot, such as how their mother, a Walmart sales associate can afford to take a cruise and give her children such nice laptops and cameras. She must have gotten a hell of an employee discount.

The movie is engaging and creepy enough, but not terribly surprising as it moves toward its climax. It’s more scary than horrifying and only marginally gross. Of course the best horror movies leave the horror mostly to the imagination. Shyamalan gets you halfway there in The Visit. This is not Psycho or The Birds but Shyamalan is not Hitchcock either. He’s done better than this, just not recently. If the movie’s goal is to get a profit, it’s bound to do so but probably won’t turn into a cult hit. Maybe it doesn’t matter, except to Shyamalan’s standard of living. Shyamalan already has The Sixth Sense and probably nothing he does will come close to this cult masterpiece.

3.0 out of four-points.

Rating: ★★★☆ 

The Thinker

2016 Republican Presidential Debate #2

I skipped the first of these interminable Republican presidential debates because I simply couldn’t stomach it. I did watch the second debate last night with some misgivings, mostly because like everyone else I wanted to see if Donald Trump would get his comeuppance. Still, I have limits and yesterday’s was two hours worth. I kind of felt sorry for them forced to stand there for three hours with Reagan’s Air Force One as a backdrop. I know my bladder wouldn’t hold out for three hours and I’m betting most of the men on the stage have enlarged prostates too. I’m betting they were wearing Adult Depends.

Trump did not exactly did get his comeuppance but he was sort of neutered because the moderators wouldn’t allow him to yammer on and hog the stage like he did during the first debate. This was good because it gave other candidates a chance to talk about issues instead of personalities. With the exceptions of John Kasich and Ben Carson though the rest seemed shopworn, irritating at worst and uninteresting at best. Carson was clearly going for the nice guy angle, which helped contrast him not only with The Donald but everyone else except Kasich. Granted that Carson’s actual policies are just as wacky as the others’ are, and are in some cases even wackier. Kasich was the sole moderate on the stage, although even Ronald Reagan would not have recognized him as a moderate Republican. Kasich at least sounded reasonable and pragmatic, as did Carson at times simply because he wouldn’t raise his voice or criticize any of his fellow candidates. That doesn’t seem to be what Republican voters want in a nominee this time, but we’ll see.

Carly Fiorina generated the most buzz. She did so right near the start with some false statements about the highly doctored Planned Parenthood videos. She essentially inflamed the Planned Parenthood funding issue in highly emotional and clinical terms to shamelessly draw attention to herself and it obviously worked. She also one-upped The Donald with her caustic reply to a question about Trump’s earlier remarks about her ugly face. I hope that Republicans are wising up to Trump, who is basically a very rich bully. In any event these two events allowed Fiorina to look sort of presidential, at least by comparison to the low standards the other candidates set. Trump’s rampant sexism and plain bad taste seem to have finally become counterproductive. He also made a snide remark about Rand Paul’s disheveled hair, perhaps because his hair is a frequent news story in itself.

More revealing was his degree of sexism, which should disqualify any thinking female from voting for him. He had already criticized Megyn Kelly with a vague reference to menstruation. In trying to dodge his remarks about Fiorina’s ugly face, he dug himself in further. He had earlier said he meant her persona was unpresidential, not her face. In the debate, after Fiorina caustically replied to his comment, he said she had a beautiful face. Would he say this about one of the handsomer men on the stage, like Marco Rubio? Not likely. He sees beauty as an important aspect of a woman. Beauty however is simply a matter of genetics and taking care of yourself. Beauty has nothing to do with judgment. By seeming to suggest it’s important for a woman to be beautiful to be successful suggests that he is handicapping all women that are not or won’t try to be. It must be his cluelessness because there is nothing clever about this at all.

It’s not surprising that when they weren’t criticizing each other or the minutia in their policy differences they were complaining about President Obama and his “disastrous” presidency. They said he was weak on foreign policy, which was laughable as he was the president that got Osama bin Laden, a goal George W. Bush saw as unimportant. Obama also got us out of an unwinnable war in Iraq and is getting out of a similar one in Afghanistan. They chastised him for the nuclear agreement on Iran, even though it keeps us out of the folly of a pointless war and reduces Iran’s potential to develop nuclear weapons. They said he was a disaster for the economy, even though he created more jobs than any other modern president and dropped the unemployment rate lower than their hero Ronald Reagan ever did. It all sounded so hollow. Obama is simply a projection of their own inner frustration at his many accomplishments in spite of their relentless obfuscation. Their solutions to his alleged deficiencies were to do more of the same failed things that haven’t worked before. Not one of them had the courage to admit this was retarded.

At least there was more debate about issues last night and less blather from Trump. Their solutions did not vary much, but it took the focus off of Trump, who seemed out of his element. Trump spent much of his time off camera giving peculiar stairs at the other candidates when they spoke. He seemed to have lost his footing and was only willing to engage when it gave him the opportunity to be judgmental about other candidates. He is a one trick pony who looked very played last night.

It was so painful to watch certain candidates. They are all pretty grating, but Ted Cruz just oozes obnoxiousness. No wonder he doesn’t have a single friend in the U.S. Senate. Ditto Scott Walker and Chris Christie, both well seasoned bullies. Cruz though just has this look that is totally off-putting. Seeing someone like him on the street I reflexively move to the other side. Memo to Cruz: picking fights all the time and saying “my way or the highway” is not leadership. Taking the initiative to solve problems, generally by collaborating with others to find common ground, is leadership.

Jeb Bush tried hard to sound reasonable and affable but none of it made him particularly interesting or helped him shine. Did you notice him standing on his tippy toes when pictures were taken? He was already the tallest candidate but he had to be seen as taller, maybe because he knows history tends to favor the tallest candidate. He wants to look as dominating as possible but this was over the top.

Most of the other candidates tried to get words in edgewise but didn’t have much luck. None of these candidates though, not even Donald Trump, can master a stage like Barack Obama. Of course he’s not running although they were talking about him so much he did sort of command the stage in abstention.

My dream would be to have a debate between Trump and Obama. Trump thinks he’s a wizard on the stage. On the same stage with Obama debating the issues, he would be road kill under Obama’s shoes. I hope during the final campaign the Democratic nominee is wise enough to bring Obama on the road with him/her. History will vindicate Obama’s presidency. None of these potential Republican nominees is ten percent of the person that he is.

I’ll try to critique more of these debates in the future, but it is a struggle. It is intensely painful at times to hear such ridiculous tripe and such nonsensical and counterproductive solutions to our many vexing problems. With the possible exception of John Kasich, it’s horrifying to think what wreckage any of these people would be likely to do if they actually became president. On the plus side, any of these candidates except Kasich might actually make George W. Bush look the better president in retrospect.

The Thinker

Your blog deserves a great Content Delivery Network

While I do a lot of blogging, I suck at marketing my blog. Oh, I do look at who’s viewing my blog and check my statistics daily, and often more than once a day. Google Analytics provides a wealth of data on my web hits, and StatCounter is useful to see what was recently read. Aside from dressing up my blog’s sidebars with marketing stuff and making sure my content is easily accessible as a newsfeed, I can’t seem to be bothered to do much else.

Part of the problem is that my blog serves principally to keep me amused and to stave off boredom. If readers find an occasional post worthy of a Facebook Like or a Share, that’s nice, but I don’t lose sleep when they don’t. You would think that as a software engineer and someone who spent ten years directing the management of the largest web site in the U.S. Department of the Interior, I might find this web marketing business pretty easy. But one thing I learned early on is if you have great content, the marketing kind of takes care of itself.

In that job I simply worked to make the content more readily accessible and to make sure that the data was easily consumed. I spent much of my ten years there leading an effort to make the site’s data accessible as a set of web services. In this sense I do know marketing. When I left these new web services constituted the third most accessed site for my agency, in spite of not having existed just a few years earlier.

On this blog though my traffic is pretty anemic, particularly during the summer. There are things I could do to get more hits: shorter posts, more topical posts, turn it into more of a stream of consciousness blog and link ruthlessly to posts in other blogs, which seems to be the way blog aggregators like Tumblr work. Doing this though would ruin blogging for me. It might be successful, but I wouldn’t care. I’d be bored with my own blog.

During one of the recent Net Neutrality debates I mentioned that the Internet was already not net neutral. If you can afford little, you may (shudder) use an Earthlink dial-up account and watch web pages slowly draw themselves like they did in 1995. If you can afford $100 a month or more for Internet, or live in a place like Kansas City where you can get Google Fiber, you can cruise the Internet at 100MB per second or more. Some people have 1GB/sec connections.

If you have your own web site you also have some factors that limit the speed of your website. That’s the case with this blog. I host the site on, which is a really good shared web host. What’s not optimal about Hostgator is that while it can reliably serve most content at $5 or so a month, getting the data between its servers and your computer can be like going through every traffic light in town to get home from work as opposed to taking the expressway. It typically took eight or more “hops” to get my blog posts to my computer. A “hop” in this case means a router, which is effectively a traffic light as it routes parts of web pages from one place to another. According to Google Analytics that it took about ten seconds to load one of my web pages. Most of that was due to all those routers that had to be traversed.

So it finally dawned on me that this was probably a significant reason my traffic is declining. Google is looking at the hassle factor at getting content from my site, and is probably lowering my search rankings because of it. Aware of the problem for several years I have used CloudFlare to try to speed up the serving of my content. CloudFlare is a content delivery network or CDN. It specializes in reducing the number of traffic lights and making sure that my content goes through crazily fast connections, usually one physically close to where you are. Hostgator (and a lot of web hosts) offer CloudFlare for free to its customers. CloudFlare like every CDN sells a more expansive service for those with deeper pockets.

I had outsourced my CDN to CloudFlare, but I never really went back to look to see if it was doing a good job. There are probably things I could do to cache more of my content on CloudFlare’s servers (probably for money) but mostly I stuck with its defaults and ignored it. However, when I looked at Google Analytics, my average page load time was still stuck at around ten seconds.

Ten seconds is a long time to wait for content these days. So I figured I was probably losing a lot of readers because they lose patience and go elsewhere, particularly mobile users. We want every web page to load like a Google web page: fully dress itself for our eyes in a couple of seconds or less.

But not my blog. It was like a horse-drawn milk wagon compared with a racing car. Actually, this describes a lot of sites on the web, particularly Mom and Pop affairs where the owners know little or nothing about web architecture.

I decided to put on my software engineering hat, and started researching CDNs some more. There’s a lot of competition in the market, mostly aimed at well moneyed corporations. I’m just a little blog, however. And this blog runs on WordPress. What options do I have for a swift CDN that won’t cost me an arm and a leg? CloudFlare was free but it clearly wasn’t doing the job.

After some research I settled on For about $9 a month it will serve my pages quick. Of course if traffic increases a whole lot it could get a lot more expensive. But if I am content to use principally their servers in Europe and the USA (which is most of my readers) and I expect a terabyte or less of bandwidth a month then $9 a month should be fine. I can afford that. My pages seem to load in about 3 seconds now. A lot of the sidebar stuff comes from elsewhere, so that slows things down a bit. But the main content, if it is cached, takes about a second to load. That’s pretty impressive for $9 a month. And this fast speed might draw in new readers.

So far it’s looking good. Today’s traffic is roughly double what it was two days ago. Over time Google may take notice and rank my posts higher in their search engine. Here’s hoping.

Does your blog or website need a CDN too? It can’t hurt if you can afford it, and it can’t hurt to do your research and see which CDN is best optimized for your kind of content. MaxCDN has a plug in that works with WordPress to facilitate sharing. It was a little tedious to get it configured but the instructions were clear enough. Some of it is kind of wonky (how many people know what minifying is anyhow?) but the more technical you are the more you can fine tune things.

Please note you don’t need a CDN if you are using a blogging platform like Tumblr, BlogSpot or They are already effectively CDN platforms as well as blogging sites. But if you host your own site and you want to increase traffic, integrating your site with the right CDN may be the most cost effective way to go.

I’ll be watching my metrics and perhaps reporting success or failure in the months ahead. So far the signs look good.

The Thinker

Of houses and men

During the spring we watched our house — supposedly under construction — largely sit there for two months. It was a frame with windows and wrapped in Tyvek but that was about it. Yesterday our house was a beehive of activity as contractors tried to finish it at last, presumably to meet a September 15 deadline. They are unlikely to meet this deadline either, but it’s not from lack of trying during this final effort. Trucks working on our house were blocking traffic in and out of our development. We had to park down the street and amble up to our house. The din of construction equipment had doubtless woken up the whole neighborhood by the time we arrived around 8:30 am. The first layer of asphalt had just been laid on our driveway and was steaming in the morning sun.


We walked slowly on some planks to get onto our porch rather than step in the mud that will eventually become our lawn. Inside dozens of workmen were running around on every level. The smart ones were wearing hearing protection because it sounded like a rock concert in there, principally due to the placement of the staircase to our basement. A carpenter was creating a space for the stairs to sit with his miter saw. The electricians were busy wiring up the kitchen lights, but needed to consult with us on the placement of hallway lights, which was why we were there so early. Upstairs they were nailing down carpet tack in our loft and storage room. The painting at least was done with the main walls colored a nice light peach color, just like in our last house. The kitchen looked nearly done with all the cabinets and the countertop in place, but with the appliances still missing. Our newly stained and polished hardwood floors thankfully were still covered in plastic, since workmen didn’t have time to remove the mud from the soles of their shoes.

We returned later in the day to find the foreman there. The carpet was being installed in the loft, while in the master bedroom the padding was being stapled into the floorboard. A second coat of asphalt was going down on the driveway while the truck carrying it totally blocked traffic. The hallway lights were in place, but the ones in the bathroom remained to be done. We discussed where they should be seated and noted that our toilets had arrived, just had not been connected.

In the midst of all this chaos, the appliances arrived. With the asphalt still settling they had to be lifted over the mud, dollied into the house and then positioned into place. It was organized chaos, but at least the windows and doors were open, letting in fresh cool air. The foreman had a group of guys working on windows. They were already in place but the plastic was still on the panes and the screens needed to go in place. We discussed concerns about a duct that was blocked and a vanity that didn’t quite fit on its cabinet. It’s on backorder, along with a missing light at the top of the stairs.

Even with all this work there was still plenty more to do. The air conditioner needed to go in and a lot of electrical mysteries needed to be solved. Plugs that should have current did not. Outside, there was still no landscaping beyond a general grading, but at least the deck was completed with railings and some steps. Would this all be completed by September 15, our latest completion date?

It was not likely but it didn’t matter that much because we had finally nailed down a settlement date: September 24. This effectively postponed the delivery date and would put our actual occupation date some two months after when it was originally promised. Promises in the home construction business don’t mean a whole lot, so it’s best to have contingency plans. Nonetheless, we were getting antsy. We had given notice that we would be vacating our apartment at the end of the month. Without a settlement date until yesterday we could not book a mover. The mover’s schedule was already largely full, but he was free on the afternoon of the 24th to move the stuff out of our apartment. I was able to get the settlement time moved to the morning so that would work. Moving the voluminous stuff out of our storage unit will have to wait until near the end of the month when our mover is free.

After a week trying to get a hold of our loan processor, and even leaving a note with her supervisor to call us, she finally deigned to call us back. She ordered the belated appraisal of the property at once, but the appraiser could not actually stop by for nine days. Due to her incompetence, if the house had been ready by the 15th we would not have been able to settle. It’s still unclear if we will be able to settle on the 24th because our loan is apparently competing for her attention amongst many others and her boss keeps sending her to mandatory training. New documents were demanded because the loan processor had changed and apparently they couldn’t be bothered to save the records we sent them in February. This meant more scrambling to assemble papers, some entirely new.

It seems both home construction and loan processing aren’t very amenable to deadlines. It helps to know this is normal, so it must have been normal for me to fret and wonder if we would be sleeping in a hotel October 1 with the contents of our apartment in another storage unit. When sufficiently pressed by exasperated homeowners like us things though generally do move toward the finish line at last. I have figured out that it will be generally up to me to dot the I’s and cross the T’s, as it is up to whoever cares the most to shriek the loudest to bring it all together. I am going hoarse.

Still, in a few weeks it will be over. A 14-month relocation odyssey will be over. It will be replete with innumerable pitfalls along the way that only sustained focus fixed. Barring any last minute deal breakers, two weeks from now we should be living in our new house with all the hassles of this relocation appearing blessedly in our rear view mirror.

The Thinker

Anarchy at our doorsteps

The refugees keep pouring into Europe. Who can blame them for leaving? What sensible person would not want to escape war and poverty? It’s heartbreaking just to read about the hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East and Northern Africa trying to find sanctuary in Europe. They take trips on overloaded ships out of Libya, Morocco, Syria and other countries. Many of these ships are deliberately sunk near shore. Thousands of refugees and migrants have likely drowned at sea this year. Others try to escape over land — a difficult journey at best. After being holed up in Hungary, about 20,000 refugees won passage through Austria and arrived last week in Munich, Germany. They were the lucky ones. They made it and even luckier they were greeted warmly upon their arrival with food and shelter.

But Germany is already warning that these refugees are straining their services. England plans to take 20,000 migrants. France is preparing for 24,000. Germany expects that it might host nearly a million refugees this year. Other European countries are turning refugees away. The United States is largely looking the other way and will only accommodate a few thousand. In spite of Pope Francis’s call for kindness and sanctuary for refugees in its churches, it is likely that the world’s goodwill will quickly run out.

I have a feeling of foreboding, but it’s not paranoia. It’s a matter of simply looking at world trends and projecting them forward. There have always been refugees, but what we are likely to see in the first half of the 21st century is mass migration on a scale we simply have not experienced in modern times. This will have a profound effect on us, calling us toward our better selves, but it’s likely that we’ll move in just the opposite direction. Here in the United States, Donald Trump is its clarion. He’s calling for the United States to build a wall on our Mexican border not to mention somehow deport 11 million people already living here, but he’s hardly alone. All nations can help mitigate this crisis to some extent, but at some point it becomes too much. The drawbridges are raised and each nation declares, “Sorry, we can’t help anymore.”

Walls or not, it’s not going to stop. Desperate people do desperate things. We have much more coastline than we have borders with Mexico. If a wall works, which I doubt (tunnels will simply be dug under them), other tactics will be used to get into our country. Like Cubans did fifteen years ago, and Haitians still do sporadically, we can expect boats full of refugees on our doorstep too, washing up on our Gulf, Pacific and Atlantic shores. The wealthier ones will simply arrive on a tourist visa and overstay their welcomes. They will keep coming to Europe as well. Many will perish in the process. They want what all reasonable people want: freedom, prosperity and a better life for themselves and their children.

We will try to keep things the way they were, but it will increasingly become impossible. The numbers coming will make cultural conflict inevitable, likely fueling race and religious divides. Most of those streaming into Europe are Muslim, and Muslims frequently feel unwelcome in Europe. In France, the National Front Party’s rise has been linked to the discomfort many French are feeling to the Muslims in their communities. Arguably Donald Trump is feeding the same paranoia here in the United States, but this discomfort is what is driving the Tea Party. Trump has simply become its ringmaster.

The immediate cause of the crisis is political instability, particularly in Syria. Larger macro forces, particularly climate change, are feeding political instability. It’s made worse by overpopulation. We keep adding people but the size of the earth doesn’t change. It creates a downwardly vicious cycle. We consume more resources and deforest more of our planet, making problems that much harder to solve. Sea level rise will force people to move, including many here in the United States. If you look at the areas of the world that will be most affected by sea level rise, you are also looking at some of the most populated areas of the world, which also happen to be among the poorest parts of the world, places like Bangladesh. Sufficiently large numbers of poor and desperate people will overwhelm local governments. In fact, they will be able to change national boundaries and start their own states. This conflict will inevitably breed many wars where the competition will simply be to see who survives and gets to control the remaining resources. It may look a lot like a Mad Max movie.

The tendency will be to close our gates and protect what we have. Real solutions though require international cooperation that has so far eluded us. Addressing climate change is a big part of the solution but this must be done while knowing temperatures will still increase over the next century no matter what we do. Outside of China, no serious attempt has been made to address population control but it will have to be done and it fill feed religious outrage. Industrializing countries are likely to not be interested in ways to industrialize cleanly. We must do all this while trying to act humanely toward the living and while coping with the increasing presence of the other in our midst.

It’s pretty clear to me that government as we have known it so far is not up to this challenge. To address it, you have to give up the idea of having autonomous countries. Decisions need to be made collectively and worldwide. Survival of the species becomes a unified struggle or it devolves into widespread war, poverty and anarchy. Which one is more likely based on our history?

So the gates will go up instead and this will feed the problem rather than solve it. Those that have will effectively push more misery on those that don’t, which will feed the drive of those that don’t. There are many more of those that don’t have than those that do. In their quest to have what the rest of us have, we that have will compromise our values and fundamentally change society. We will become a meaner, harsher and more class-divided society.

I pray for sensibility in the decades ahead, but I sense anarchy at our doorsteps. I sense it will arise within us as we tighten the screws. Pray that our better half wins, but it is likely to be in vain.

The Thinker

Kim Davis’s rights are apparently more equal than yours

Kim Davis, the elected county clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky is sitting in a jail in Ashland, Kentucky tonight. She is in jail after being held in contempt of court by a U.S. district court judge for refusing to issue marriage licenses. The thrice-married Davis has been refusing all applicants (gay and straight) since the Supreme Court ruled in June that no state could prohibit two people of the same sex from marrying.

Davis says she cannot issue marriage licenses to gays and lesbians because gay marriage contradicts her sincerely held religious beliefs, i.e. her freedom of religion. She is an apostolic Christian and she believes that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Five of her six deputies who were also called to the hearing have seen the light and plan to issue marriage licenses starting tomorrow. The other deputy, curiously Davis’s son, is not in jail.

Unsurprisingly this is national news. Both sides have been hanging outside the courthouse yipping it up at each other. To most Republicans it’s pretty cut and dry stuff. They have been promoting freedom of religion for a while as a way to selectively circumvent the law. Unfortunately for Davis, her case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that she must follow the law. Davis meanwhile seems to be suffering from a case of cognitive dissonance, unable to reconcile her oath to uniformly execute the law with her religious beliefs. It looks like God is winning, at least for the moment. It remains unclear if she will see the secular light, linger indefinitely in jail as a cause celebre or do the honorable thing for someone in these cases: resign.

Republicans definitely seem energized by this “freedom of religion equals freedom to discriminate” argument. This is hardly surprising but it certainly is curious. An oath is a solemn secular promise, and Davis swore it when she entered her elective office that pays a comfortable $80,000 a year (great money in rural Kentucky). An oath is a requirement of being in the civil service. I ought to know because for thirty-two years I was a federal civil servant. When our careers began we all raised our hand and swore the same oath: that we would faithfully serve the constitution of the United States. (Curiously I had to end it with “So help me God,” although I was an agnostic.) Davis is not a federal civil servant, but it’s likely that her oath contained similar words.

While I was a civil servant, upholding the oath was not just the law and a good idea, not following the oath was grounds for my dismissal and/or possible other criminal penalties. In 32 years I served five presidents from Jimmy Carter (very briefly) to Barack Obama. The presidents I served frequently wrote stupid executive orders, and some of them were deeply offensive to me. Congress wasn’t much better with the laws it was passing. For much of that time I was a Unitarian Universalist. Although its adherents have no creed to profess, lots of stuff I had to do contradicted my religious beliefs. The first part of my career was with the Department of Defense. I aided in the printing of maps and charts used to direct our armed forces, sometimes to kill people. As part of holding a security clearance I could not disclose things that I knew. To this day I still can’t, and some of the stuff I learned shook me to the core and was both personally offensive and violated my religious beliefs. To get a security clearance in the first place I had to swear I wasn’t a homosexual. (This fortunately has changed.)

While working at a more benign department, Health and Human Services, I had to sometimes provide support to the office that promoted President Bush’s faith-based initiatives. This was pretty obvious to me a violation of the boundaries between church and state, but I shut up about it while expressing my opinions freely outside the office. I didn’t like it, but Bush had been constitutionally elected and if it was unconstitutional, it was an issue for the courts. So like Kim Davis, there were many aspects to my job that rubbed me the wrong way. I knew if it became too much to bear that there was an alternative: resign and find a job without these conflicts. Davis has that option right now. All she has to do is use it and she gets a get out of jail free card, quite literally.

Oaths are there for a very good reason: government can’t run if civil servants can selectively decide which parts of the law they will follow or ignore: laws can become toothless if they are not uniform. These same Republicans who are gung ho supporting Davis’s religious rights would not for a moment allow it from a soldier who refused to fight. “It’s against the commandments to kill, sergeant. Sorry, I’ll opt out of this battle. Maybe the next one if it’s not lethal.” It won’t work for the food inspector with a sincere religious belief against GMOs. It won’t work for the judge who refuses to give a mandatory sentence. Our constitution says that the Supreme Court gets to decide what is constitutional, the court decided it about gay marriage and it conflicted with her religious beliefs. The constitutional approach if she doesn’t like their decision is to push for a constitutional amendment prohibiting same sex marriage.

Instead, Davis’s response was to deny all who came to her the right to marry. In doing so she violated couples’ civil right to marriage and all the benefits that come with marriage. Her “right” to freedom of religion effectively trumped the rights of lots of others and put others through unnecessary hassle, expense and emotional trauma.

It should be obvious that any right that restricts someone else’s rights is not a real right. But that’s essentially the argument she and Republicans are making, and in her case she is doing while executing the law. If all civil servants had the right to rewrite or sidestep laws they don’t agree with while retaining their position, government would be mostly dysfunctional.

Republicans basically want anarchy anyhow, so maybe that’s why they are cheering her on. They are cheering anyone who will push policies that they agree with, legally or illegally. It’s affecting the ends they want that matter, and most are not principled enough to see this is both illegal and wrong. This variant on the freedom of religion ruse is just one more.

Fortunately, at least U.S. District Judge David Bunning gets it. A fine would not be enough here. Right-wingers would simply set up a fund that would allow her to flaunt the law indefinitely. So I feel no pity for her whatsoever. If her convictions are as sincere as she claims, the honorable thing to do is to resign. Otherwise, she should follow the rule of law for her public position that she swore to uphold and for which she is paid to uphold. Or she can choose to rot in jail on principle, which is fine with me.

Update 9/4/15 – Clarified post to note that Davis’s son has not been jailed.

The Thinker

Craigslist casual encounter weirdness: September 2015 edition

It’s a little early for my monthly review of the local (Hartford, Connecticut) Craigslist casual encounter section. I usually wait until the first Friday of the month because weekend postings tend to the most weird. But I’m between clients at the moment and a bit bored. Moreover, I’ve done a lot of weighty posts lately so it’s time for a bit of fantasy, which is almost always the case for these postings being realized.

Looking at my August traffic, there were at least 221 web page requests for my Craigslist posts on a total of 1376 page views. So while overall page views were in their usual summer doldrums, my Craigslist post accounted for 16% of traffic, up from last month.

Looking at who’s posting I count the types of ads on the first page that comes up. It’s mostly men looking for other men today. I was thinking after the recent Ashley Madison hack the married men would have moved to Craigslist, but apparently not in large numbers. Anyhow:

  • 30 men are looking for a woman
  • 48 men are looking for a man
  • 6 men are looking for a couple
  • 4 men are looking for a transgender/transvestite
  • 0 women are looking for a man. That’s likely because their ads were quickly flagged.
  • 4 women are looking for a woman
  • 2 couples are looking for a woman
  • 1 transgender/transvestite is looking for a man
  • 1 transgender/transvestite is looking for a transgender/transvestite

Time to put on the dark shades and latex gloves and document some of this month’s weird nastiness. Since there aren’t many postings from women today, I’m going to spice it up by adding some postings from women more locally, i.e. the Western Massachusetts Craigslist section.

  • She’s a married BBW from Windsor Locks and her husband is okay with you screwing her bareback. In fact, he only wants you to take her bareback because apparently because he’s apparently quite interested in whatever you end up depositing. Eee-yuck!
  • Lots of women post for very well endowed men. Here’s a twist. Here’s a guy who wants you served his way. Hold the pickles; ladies he only wants you if you have big buns. And he wants to plant some hickeys on those buns too.
  • This is pretty strange. He sounds like a married farmer in the Farmington Valley but he’s willing to provide a free room to a woman if he gets to look at you (presumably undressed). He won’t touch you unless you are okay with it. You do have to help with chores. And somehow his wifey is not going to figure this out.
  • Attention Home Depot security at the Glastonbury store. He’s 40 and stroking his eight inches in the store (discreetly, I hope) and is hoping to find a man to join him. Let’s hope they don’t scare the women, children and horses.
  • He’s hoping! He’s near Wethersfield and he’s hoping you’re a woman with a car and you will pick him up for some naughty stuff because his car is in the shop and his roommates annoy him. He’s probably still sporting acne (he’s 19).
  • Now this is interesting. It’s illegal to exchange money for sex but I don’t think it’s illegal to barter for sex. In exchange for a woman’s pleasure he’ll provide handyman services. It sounds though like he wants a lot of your services in exchange, so I’m not sure it’s a fair deal. Ladies, he’s got six inches and he lives near Plainville.
  • I was dimly aware of a device called a fleshlight. It’s a wanking device for a man who has everything but a woman with a vagina. I didn’t know it came in a double size so two (presumably gay) men could use it at once. Anyhow, this young man from Windsor Heights is looking for another man for multiple dual fleshlight sessions.
  • They claim to be three people from Newington (two men, one woman) that play together. They are looking for a fourth, and she needs to be a she. Anyhow, in the unlikely event a woman tries to hook up with this triad, I’m betting the woman in the triad is mysteriously absent and came down with a sudden cold or something.
  • About that transgender looking for a transgender? She is now a he and all the surgery is behind him. He is now looking for a fellow transitioning male in any stage of his transition for naughty intimate play mostly involving his new part.
  • He’s from Manchester and is looking for Hooters girls only. He’ll make it worth your while.
  • Attention grandpas near Southampton, Massachusetts. (I might add it is about five miles down the road from me and I happen to be old enough to be a grandpa.) Anyhow, if you have had your Cialis and you don’t mind catching some dread disease this submissive woman from Southampton wants you to take her bareback. Umm, pass.
  • I don’t quite understand why a butch lesbian would be advertising for a guy but she’s all-natural apparently. Either she’s bisexual or she’s hoping to get pregnant.

That’s about all the weirdness I can find this month. Perhaps there will be better postings in October.


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