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  • Barnstorming and other Adventures

    Posted on December 10th, 2009 Lee Devlin No comments
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    1929 Travel Air

    1929 Travel Air


    I once shared a hangar with this beautiful 1929 Travel Air. About 20 years ago I learned to fly at the New Garden Airport in southeastern PA. Shortly after getting my license, I purchased a 1961 Piper Colt. Not long after I purchased it, this amazing aircraft showed up in the adjacent hangar. The plane had been purchased by a young lady who quit a secure job and started a barnstorming business with a business partner giving rides in an open cockpit biplane. I was amazed to think that someone would leave a secure job and start a business like that. Later on when I was exposed to Richard Bach’s books I felt like his stories might have inspired the couple to throw caution to the wind and start that business.

     

    While reading the Slashdot feed yesterday I saw a reference to a site that was exposing the Internet get-rich-quick schemes that are so prevalent these days. The article referenced a website called undress4success.com. Despite the attention-getting title, I learned that it was dedicated to providing useful information to people who are working from home. It provides resources to help people who like the idea of a 2-second commute and the site’s owners regularly gave the low-down on scams that prey on those hoping to make a living working from home. The most recent article was related to the ‘Work for Google’ scams that are being actively pursued by Google’s legal team, since they are not endorsed or supported by Google. The scammers are just trying to profiteer from pretending to have an association with the Internet search giant.

    I like to expose scammers. Seeing unscrupulous charlatans abuse the goodwill and trust of others is just one of those behaviors that I can’t sit by and idly watch. Several of my most popular blog articles are related to exposing scams like the Amish Heat Surge miracle heater, the Arctic Cool Surge (yes, same company), and exposing the unworkable mathematics of all MLM schemes.

    biplane_ride_san_vicente

    I was reading through the website and I started to realize that the couple running it had a very familiar-sounding story. They mentioned that they had started a Barnstorming business in Pennsylvania in the early 1990’s, moved it to San Diego, and then grew it to 7 aircraft and 25 pilots before selling it and starting this new website and promoting their book entitled Undress for Success: The Naked Truth about Making Money at Home which is about how to work from home. It was Kate and Tom, the same couple I had met at New Garden Airport, all these years later! It’s certainly a very small world.

    I had been working on my own article about people who make money by selling others on the idea of how to make money on the Internet. The funny thing is that many of these sites are all writing about the same thing, which usually involves selling ‘secrets’ or starting an endless cycle of recruitment for information products. It sounds a lot like an abusive MLM business. The kingpins in the worst MLMs don’t actually make their money selling products, they make their money selling high-margin ‘educational materials’ and ‘tools’ to unsuspecting recruits month after month. This is precisely what these get rich quick membership sites (who generally want a direct line to make a monthly withdrawal from your bank account) are up to. When it’s all said and done, they sell you on a business that is nothing more than a recursive cycle for you to try to write and sell the same kind of information on the Internet. But who wants to buy from you when they can go right to the source, i.e., the guy holding up an image of his big earnings check on every one of his pages? They augment this income with a other questionable affiliates all who have something to sell you that sounds like it will teach you to get rich quick. Or, if not that, then information on how to get flat abs, or get ripped like Arnold Schwartzeneggar in 4 weeks.

    I just purchased the book based on the positive reviews I’ve read on Amazon. Websites that educate people on the perils of scams tend to restore my faith in humanity and I always feel good when I come across one.

    And if you can’t live without a ride in the vintage Travel Air, you can find it at Barnstorming Adventures (phone: 800-759-5667) located at Montgomery Field Airport in San Diego flying under the new ownership of another couple who no doubt purchased the business as an insurance policy… an insurance policy against a boring life. 🙂

    Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and on the Internet, that goes double.

  • Twitter is making me a bad blogger

    Posted on July 10th, 2009 Lee Devlin 4 comments
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    If it can’t be said in under 140 characters, it doesn’t need to be said. At least that’s my view of the world when I use Twitter.

    Sometimes I blog out of courtesy just to let people know I’m still alive. It saves them from having to make the awkward phone call to my wife to ask about me if I’ve been quiet too long. Instead, they can just check my blog and see if there’s any recent activity, and if so, then there’s no reason to disturb me or my wife by inquiring about my status.

    Let’s face it, I have a lot of dangerous hobbies, for example, motorcycling, flying experimental airplanes, eating meat, and so forth, and there’s always a chance that I may not be around tomorrow and no one would know what happened to me. With Twitter, I can keep people aware of my most recent thoughts and experiences and not have to write too much. In fact, with my iPhone, I can snap a picture and thereby add virtually 1000 words to any tweet. It lets the people who know me in real life that I’m still alive. Best of all, my Twitter feed ends up over in the right hand column of this blog and so if you come here and find a stale article you’ve already read, you can always find a crumb in the Twitter feed. And that feature is making me a lazy blogger, because I find that I’m not updating my blog nearly as much as I might otherwise.

    And if I ever do have anything important to say, I can blog it here and then tweet the link, thereby letting people know that I actually had something that took longer than 140 characters to say. In fact, I think I’ll tweet the link to this entry after I finish it.

    You know you’re a bad blogger when you want to start every entry with, ‘Sorry it’s been so long since my last update…’ One benefit of merging your Twitter feed into your blog is that it gives readers some Twitter crumbs on which to nibble during those dry spells.

    Now, where’s a Twitter app that periodically tweets my heartbeat? Better yet, where’s the app that posts my last tweet when that rate has gone to 0 for a few minutes….and what might I post in that final tweet? A picture? a URL? Perhaps it will be my whole life’s story reduced to 140 characters.

    Are you one of those people who check in here every now and again to see if I’m still alive? What about you? Where may I surreptitiously inquire about your status? I always imagine, probably incorrectly, that some long lost friend or relative is reading this blog, yet I have no way of knowing. If you’re in that category, please, send me an email or call me (my contact info is up there under that link that reads ‘Contact’) and let me know you’re a reader. I’d really love to hear from you… you know… just to make sure you’re still alive. 😉

  • Converting from Blogger to WordPress

    Posted on March 9th, 2009 Lee Devlin 1 comment
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    For some time, I’ve wanted to change the landing page of my website to my blog, since it was the only part of my website that was changing on a regular basis. I figured the best way to do that was to change over from the blogging tool I had been using for years (Google’s Blogger) to a more full-functioning solution that made adding content and customizations easier. After briefly considering a few Content Management Systems such as Joomla and Drupal, I ended up choosing WordPress. WordPress isn’t really a full content management system, but I’ve played around with WordPress before with an account on WordPress.com, which anyone can get for free. What attracted me to WordPress was that it installs the scripts and database locally and it is open source. Because it’s open source, it has attracted a number of developers who have written plug-ins for it. There are more than 4,000 WordPress plugins available. It also uses ‘widgets’ which allow you to customize the sidebar with things like a calendar, archive list, blogroll, and many other features. Blogger had the ability to do this too, but much of it required you to go in and edit the template, which was very painful and prone to error. And if you ever switched templates, you had to start over with your customizations. Because I host the blog on my own domain, Blogger also required me to completely regenerate every page whenever I made the slightest change to the template. That was taking longer and longer as my archive of postings grew.

    WordPress uses PHP and MySQL to serve its pages. If I make a change to the template, it doesn’t need to regenerate any pages since they are generated on demand. I had hoped that by using WordPress’s pretty permalinks that all of my Blogger links could be preserved so as not to lose search engine traffic, but because I was moving the whole blog up a level in my domain and also because every page in a WordPress blog is essentially a php script, it didn’t work out that way. So I’m becoming skilled in adding ‘301 redirects’ for my more popular pages in .htaccess file to maintain my website’s search engine mojo.

    Another big change I made last month was to switch hosting services. I had been running on a Windows IIS-based platform, something I chose about 8 years ago without thinking about it too much, to a Linux Apache-based platform that now allows me to have SSH login privileges. I think that once you have a website up and running, there is a natural reluctance to making major changes because you never know how much work it’s going to be to get all the pages and email addresses working again. Windows doesn’t care about capitalization in the URL so a file called ‘image.JPG’ and one named ‘image.jpg’ are the same file. Not so with a Linux system. This can lead to a lot of broken links if you were sloppy when you created the original links. I also had a number of sites I help host as a ‘re-seller’ under my previous web host plan and I took the opportunity to combine them all into subdomains that are under on my upper-level domain. This makes them easier to manage and cheaper for everyone.

    I started taking two classes at the local college in January on web technologies that I knew about, but felt I had only a superficial understanding of them. It’s pretty easy to learn HTML through osmosis, by using the ‘view source’ feature and by referring to a manual. But the technologies that run the web now, namely CSS, Javascript, PHP, and content databases have completely changed how the web works. You really have to understand a lot more to put together a website these days and you can’t do it by making static HTML pages. So I’m going through the rigor of taking these classes, doing the assignments and projects, and having many ‘a ha!’ moments where something that was confusing suddenly makes sense. I’ve also found myself in the role of tutor to the others in the class. I welcome that opportunity because the best way to really learn a subject is to attempt to teach it. Sometimes I feel a little like the blind leading the blind, but I am learning the material better as a result of tutoring others.

    I had used the now-abandoned Microsoft FrontPage to generate my static web pages previously, something that always gets an audible groan from any self-respecting web developer, but now I’ve begun using Dreamweaver instead. However, in one of the classes where we use Linux exclusively, I’ve switched to just using gedit and Firefox as my sole web development tools. I had tried this a long time ago with Notepad and Internet Explorer, but it was painful to do because Notepad doesn’t color code the text to help alert you to formatting errors, which are very easy to make in HTML and CSS files. But gedit on Linux (or Notepad++ on Windows) have almost made the WYSIWYG web editor obsolete. With Firefox plugins like Firebug to help debug CSS and Javascript, you can do web development without costly tools like Dreamweaver, which only seems to get in the way when pages depend on Javascript and CSS to render properly.

    If you’re interested in changing over from Blogger to WordPress, drop me an email and I’m sure I can help now that I’ve just done it. I had thought it would be as simple as an XML export/import, but it turned out to be much more complicated, requiring multiple steps along with an account on WordPress.com to talk directly to an account on Blogspot.com in order to get the content to import properly.