Posted on July 20, 2016 by Jeff Reifman

Actually, It is Guns, Not Ideology

After the truck attack in Nice, France, radio host Joe Walsh tweeted, “Not a gun. Not a bomb. This was a truck. 2-3 minutes. As of now over 80 dead. Please understand now. It’s not the weapon. It’s the ideology.”

This got me into a Twitter argument with a friend who wrote, “Rules against guns will go just about as well as drug laws. And, to be consistent, the left should be going to war against vans.” Another Walsh follower posted later, “Paris and Orlando: guns. Nice: Truck. Germany: Axe. The issue is the ideology, not the weapons.”

But let’s look at the facts on the ground in America.

According to the FBI, between 2010 and 2014, 87.8 percent of feloniously murdered police were killed by guns, not counting those killed with their own guns.

Between 2006 and 2015, 36.2 percent of police who died while on duty were killed by guns, 0.9 percent from terror attacks (source: NLEOMF).

In 2012, 69.37 percent of American murder victims were killed by guns, 12.5 percent from stabbing. For five years of available data between 2006 and 2012, 68 percent of American murder victims were killed by guns, 12.7 percent from stabbing.

In 2013, 33,636 Americans were killed or killed themselves with guns (Wikipedia) and more than the 32,719 Americans killed in car accidents; however, the latter figure equates to only 1.1 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (Wikipedia).

Recently, FiveThirtyEight reported “from 2002 to 2014, 85 percent of people killed by terrorists in the U.S. were killed using guns” and that “Every terrorist attack in the U.S. last year in which someone other than the perpetrator was killed involved guns.”

For anyone who wants to reduce unnecessary death in America, making cars safer will help, but tightly regulating firearms is by far the statistically most effective approach to saving lives.

Regulating ideology would be anti-American. And sadly these days, guiding our actions by science and statistics is as well. Facts just don’t matter much anymore.

The Amazocalypse's Badge
Posted on July 15, 2016 by Jeff Reifman

Has Seattle Lost Its Sense of Humor? Or, Does Amazocalypse Suck?

seattle space needle

Zoe Confronts Amazocalypse with His Impacts on Seattle

Zoe and the Amazocalypse have been covered in three major Seattle news outlets (Geekwire, Seattle PI and The Stranger) and one major Internet news site (Slashdot), but there’s been minimal interest and sparse sharing and pledging. After yesterday’s slog post, only twelve readers actually bothered to visit our Kickstarter page … twelve. Local journalists thought the project is worth covering but the low response has left me wondering if Seattle’s lost its sense of humor.

In fact, I was caught a bit off guard when The Stranger’s Heidi Groover started grilling me on why I was so against density that I would write a kids book about it. Hers was such a serious take on what I thought was lighthearted, artful commentary on obvious change.

We all know Amazon’s basically engulfed Seattle and while there are amazing benefits to economic growth, most pre-2010 residents don’t recognize the place, can’t afford it and (men) can’t get a date anymore (unless they pay for it).

The idea of Amazon in the form of a monster recognizing that all of its actions haven’t been great for everyone seems timely. And yes the text has girls, drones, hackers, traffic, homeless and artists. Humor and art are often the most effective cultural critiques we have.

seattle humor

Amazocalypse Begins Searching for the Space Needle

Certainly, the framing as a children’s book was loosely applied, but, as I told Groover, any kid growing up in Seattle sees cranes everyday and sits in traffic with their frustrated parents. Commenter John Reagan quoted his daughter telling he and his wife, “you two were much happier when we lived in Vegas.”

I’ve been involved in a variety of projects in my career that have made national (and international) news, from running not for profit coffee shops to helping catch Wired journalist Evan Ratliff to marrying a corporation to a person. And, I’ve had projects not take off, like any creative person.

But I thought the concept of Zoe and Amazocalypse was funny and Megan Marie Myer’s art outstanding. I thought one look at Amazocalypse and weary Seattle-ites would be breaking Facebook with shares. But instead, you could almost hear a pin drop if not for all the construction cranes.

I asked one of my editorial mentors and local historian Knute Berger, what gives? He wondered if I’d gotten old, increasingly the city is filling with millennials working for Amazon and other tech companies. He said, “maybe hating on Amazon is old hat—so 2014,” or perhaps, “they don’t want to kill the golden Amazon goose.” He suggested, “a kid’s book on how a STEM education made a little girl a billionaire at 13—and she lived happily ever after at a U-district tech hub within walking distance of light rail!”

Now, that’s funny — and hopefully, so 2045.

Perhaps the idea of the Amazocalypse just sucks — or it just hits too close to home to joke about anymore in Seattle.

Posted on July 14, 2016 by Jeff Reifman

My Experience with Netgear Customer Support for CM500 Modem

For curious reasons I’ll be blogging about soon, I was to told to call Comcast to open up a few UDP ports. Comcast refused to offer any assistance saying the problem was with my router or my cable modem. I asked to speak to a supervisor and was hung up on. That’s Comcast, that’s just what they do courtesy of our government’s lack of Internet service regulations.

Before trying again, I wanted to verify that my new cable modem didn’t have something to do with this. But the new Netgear CM500 doesn’t offer any real advanced settings like port forwarding. So, after a convoluted process of entering my serial number at Netgear’s support website, I called in with a support code. The robot told me I was third in line and it would be seven minutes.

It was 38 minutes before I gave up and hung up. But, it wasn’t a quiet 38 minutes of hold music, it was a repetitive cycle of “tips” like rebooting and unplugging over and over and over and over … and over and over. It’s like water boarding for customer support. There’s no real support here and the experience of calling is designed to get you to hang up.

I finally went on text chat while on hold and got a company response over the issue. I’m not sure if it’s correct yet. I’m currently caught between three different providers trying to solve a problem — it’s kind of like hell, but there’s no sign of Trump.

I’ll have a post about what this is all about in the coming week.

Posted on July 10, 2016 by Jeff Reifman

Avoid Travel with Aum Adventures

My Experience Traveling to India with Aum Adventures

Last December, I traveled to India for my second visit, this time with Aum Adventures. Based on my experience, I want to warn others about the likelihood of problems traveling through this agency. In fact, a head injury I suffered on the trip led to six emergency room visits when I returned home to Seattle and thousands of dollars of expenses, pain and lost work. Let me summarize the problems I experienced.

17 Person Group Size

Firstly, the Aum brochure mentioned to “Expect anywhere from 8-14 travelers on a trip.” However, they allowed 17 people on the trip which proved unwieldy and played a huge part in ruining it. Aum promised, “We keep our group sizes low so you have the freedom to move around and get involved with your surroundings.” But, 17 people slowed us everywhere. Doing basic things like getting meals became prolonged and unmanageable (often 2+ hours). Similarly waiting for people to load and unload luggage on the bus(es), waiting at ATMs, bathrooms, airport security lines all contributed to ruining the quality of the trip. The quiet intimacy of a smaller travel group, like the one promised to me in pre-purchase conversations, never existed.

Unsuitable Travel Conditions

I’d been to India before and understand the conditions to expect but Aum failed to prepare us for the problems at the Parnath Ashram in Rishikesh, near the foothills of the Himalayas. Arriving late at night in the dark, I hit my head entering the bathroom which had not only a step up but a low knife-edged steel frame in which many foreigners have probably hurt themselves. The force of the blow nearly caused a concussion and I suffered lateral whiplash and compression bruising to my neck.

Dangerous Conditions via Travel with Aum Adventures

Dangerous Conditions via Travel with Aum Adventures

When I returned to Seattle, I was struck with two months of debilitating headaches and had to make six emergency room visits at the cost of thousands of dollars. A specialist confirmed that the headaches were cervical in source, almost certainly related to the head and neck injury I suffered there. Here’s an excerpt of my medical costs and visits:

experience aum adventures

Emergency Room Visits from Travel with Aum Adventures

But the Parneth rooms were open air as you can see below — and this was winter! Mountain temperatures in Rishikesh were just above freezing, about 33-35 degrees Fahrenheit. The rooms were wide open to the elements. There were rectangular windows on opposite sides of the ceiling to bring cool air in in the summer. And, my bed was beside the wooden window where freezing cold air would continuously stream at me.

Ashley Melin

Aum Adventures India Travel

Aum’s owner Ashley Melin never told the group to bring sleeping bags, nor was appropriate bedding provided. We were freezing every night — everyone in the group. One of the group leaders got so sick he barely left his room for several days. Many in the group were sickened or weakened or later sickened as the trip went on.

Changing Plans to Optimize Profit

Last fall, Melin had told us it was okay to book at the Delhi Holiday Inn for pre-arrival stays, which we did. However, at the last minute, she changed the hotel to reduce her expenditures on the 17 person group: “The group’s flights pushed the budget out so we needed to find another hotel. It wasn’t the Holiday Inn.”

Because we’d just flown in and were dealing with time changes, jet lag, and a related meetup I’d planned at the Holiday Inn, it was a major problem to change hotels the morning after our arrival. I asked Melin to pay for our pre-arrival at the new hotel, she completely refused. I had to pay it out of pocket.

In 2014, I’d traveled with Sarah Joy Marsh on her trip via Redback Travels, the company Melin ran with her husband — I thought they had just changed the name and later learned that they divorced. Aum Adventures was the new company run solely by Melin. The Redback trip had been wonderful and all the road travel and accommodations were of a good quality for India. This proved not to be the case with Aum Adventures.

Where nearly all meals but two were included in 2014, only “breakfasts” were included by Aum. And, when we went out to breakfast one day, I was told that even that meal wasn’t included.

To save money with the larger group, Melin changed the rail reservations at the last minute and put us in lower class travel for our six hour ride to Rishikesh. There was no area for luggage, the seats were badly broken and it was about as bad as you can imagine it. I understand it’s India but the reason we paid more than $3,585 per person was to have some basic care provided with road and rail travel. None was. One of the unnecessarily changed reservations required a 4 am departure, just to maximize Aum’s profit.

Problems with Tipping

There were also numerous problems with tipping and miscommunication which I’ll just mention briefly here. The FAQ for this trip said, “Drivers, porters and restaurant tips are usually included in the trip price (unless otherwise indicated.)” This was sent out repeatedly in the PDF by Aum. But instead we were asked to tip ridiculous amounts, even for western standards (the equivalent of $76,500 U.S.D. salaries for guides – paid in tips).

Melin had the habit of responding in platitudes about traveling in India being challenging and you should just focus on the enlightenment the opportunity that these challenges bring. For example, when a fellow guest inquired to her about the tips, she replied:

“India is one of the most challenging, yet rewarding places to travel in the world. It has always made me face myself and test me in ways I could never have imagined. One of my darkest times was traveling in the general compartment for 7 hrs with 6 people next to me, 6 below me, and 6 above me in blistering heat on a wood bench. But still to this day, it is one of my most favorite stories and I would tell it to you over a beer sometime if you like! I have always found that just when something or someone tests me, another bright rainbow is usually waiting around the corner that blows my mind and makes me love the people and chaos even more.”

Not only did it seem that she was hitting on him but we found this repetitive style of responding to serious trip concerns to be offensive and obfuscative.

Towards the end of the trip, Aum promised refunds for some of the tips. None were ever provided.

Refusal to Address Concerns

It was Melin’s stubbornness and refusal to respond to travel quality concerns that ruined the trip, day by day and step by step.

From Rishikesh, I did inquire with one of the nearby hotels to see if my partner and I could move to a nearby hotel at my own expense but they were booked for the holidays. I also asked Melin to refund some of the costs from the trip. She responded: “I am sorry that you are having a rough trip. Clearly this is a bad fit. Aum Adventures provides an authentic experience of India, not a first class experience. The $166/day that you are paying covers all guides, all yoga classes/courses, transportation, accommodation, guides and logistical services. There are no refunds at this point. We hope you enjoy the rest of your time in India.”

While the trip’s downfall began in Rishikesh, Melin and the trip leaders just weren’t responsive to concerns. It was three days before more bedding was provided — but it was never adequate for the cold, open air rooms and leaky windows.

The Parnath Ashram is such a low cost destination that it only costs $288 USD per week for an individual – room, board, and yoga – even less for 17 people. That’s where Aum placed us for a week with our $166 per day travel reservation.

There were also lots of other problems on the trip that they refused to address. For the sake of brevity, I won’t list them all here — however, I highly recommend against travel with Aum Adventures.

Related Links

Posted on July 9, 2016 by Jeff Reifman

An Interesting Occurrence of a Small Production PHP Bug

Recently, I created a bug at Meeting Planner which took some time to track down. Everything worked on my local development environment, but adding dates and times and places and making meeting choices failed on the live production server.

Ultimately, it was this code change:
const TIMELAPSE = (3*60); // three minutes

I’d recently changed this value from an integer to a calculated integer i.e. 300 for five minutes to (3*60) for three minutes.

It turned out that this functionality is supported in PHP 5.6.0 and my development environment runs 5.6.10:

$ php -v
PHP 5.6.10 (cli) (built: Jul 6 2015 14:28:54)
Copyright (c) 1997-2015 The PHP Group
Zend Engine v2.6.0, Copyright (c) 1998-2015 Zend Technologies

But, my production environment 5.5.9:

$ php -v
PHP 5.5.9-1ubuntu4.17 (cli) (built: May 19 2016 19:05:57)
Copyright (c) 1997-2014 The PHP Group
Zend Engine v2.5.0, Copyright (c) 1998-2014 Zend Technologies
with Zend OPcache v7.0.3, Copyright (c) 1999-2014, by Zend Technologies

I haven’t commonly run into PHP bugs (or perhaps “feature gap” in this case) like this that vary between incremental versions.

Posted on June 29, 2016 by Jeff Reifman

Heartwarming Megan Marie Myers Show at JoLa Cafe – Portland

If you’re in Portland, consider taking your children to the heartwarmingly beautiful show by localish artist Megan Marie Myers at the JoLa Cafe through July 22, 2016. As soon as you walk into JoLa, you’re touched by large format originals and framed prints of Megan’s nature scenes with children. There are girls with foxes, moose, bear and lamas, boys with walruses and mountain goats and more. You can see examples from the show below.

Girl and Fox and Moon Megan Marie Myers

Artwork by Megan Marie Myers

For me, her work inspires the joy of being a child with an innate appreciation of nature and animals. You can’t make it through the cafe without having your heart literally warmed.

Moose and Girl Megan Marie Myers

Artwork by Megan Marie Myers

Of course, I may be a bit biased because I’m collaborating with Megan on Zoe and the Amazocalypse, a illustrated children’s book about the tech boom’s impact on Seattle (basically the Space Needle has disappeared and a young girl sets out to find it, meets a monster, etc.)

Walrus and Boy Megan Marie Myers

Artwork by Megan Marie Myers

You can see more of Megan’s work at her website: — and yes, you can purchase prints online at her Etsy store.

I hope you’ll check it out. Sales during the show at JoLa have been intense!

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