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Now let's deal with those groundhogs....

When you spend time and money maintaining a garden to supplement the family food supply, those same critters that city folk find cute and lo...

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

How Secure Is YOUR Website?

When you start a business, your primary objective, typically is to profit from your time, talent and experience. A few years ago, when I started FLXWebDesign, I did so with that same mindset—hoping to turn years of hardknocks experience into something spendable. Being that nothing is as easy as it appears, it wasn’t long before it became painfully apparent that there were some essential chunks of data missing from my resumé.

Meeting The Real Scrooge

A few days before Christmas, 2014, I was chatting with a client about some simple updates he needed made to his website. During the conversation, Rick (we’ll call him that because that’s his name) casually mentioned that a mysterious banner ad had started appearing on his site. I monitored the site for several hours, but saw no banner.

A few days later, during a similar call, Rick again mentioned the strange banner that appears randomly at the top of his home page. I searched through all the plug-ins and widgets and found nothing that could be causing such a gremlin.

Knowing Rick to be of sound mind, I decided to run a security scan on his site and, sure enough, found that malware had been inserted into numerous files. At the time, I knew little about malware, brute-force attacks and other nasty hacks—it took some time, and ended up costing Rick a couple of hundred bucks to have it properly cleaned up.

The worst part of this incident, however, was that his hosting company was no help at all. When I reported the problem, they simply ran another scan, confirmed what I already knew, and took him off-line. The fact that this was the site he used to run his business was of no concern to them. Their queue time for chat or phone support was insulting. What should have been solved in a few hours, took over 3 days. It was a total mess and something you do not want to experience.

Secure Your Site

While most of what I do falls under the heading of designing websites, my true focus is on making my client’s digital life as enjoyable and painless as possible. Before I send them the finally bill, I want them to have a site that is trouble-free and easy to manage. While this sounds all warm, fuzzy and caring, the truth is, it’s really all about me. Frankly, I never want to deal with a hacked website ever again—it’s time consuming, stressful, expensive and takes me away from more profitable activities. So in the aftermath of the story told, I started looking for a hosting company that takes security and client satisfaction seriously.

My Recommendation…

While attending a WordCamp in the fall of 2014, I discovered a hosting company you’ve probably never heard of called Flywheel. I spoke at length with the owners who convinced me to give them a try.  Two years later and I now have over a dozen clients hosting there and have yet to encounter a single glitch. Unlike typical hosting companies that are designed for the average person who needs a quick and dirty website, Flywheel is build around the needs of designers and agencies using WordPress, so you get premium support and security in every package.

To help you get started, they will provide a 14 day free demo site so you can build offline and launch when ready. If you have an existing WordPress website, they will migrate it to their servers for free. Flywheel provides built-in caching so your site loads fast, they monitor for malware and automatically back up your site every night—plus, they keep your WordPress core up to date and  more—all for as little as $15 a month.

So, while you may only be looking to host a single site, Flywheel makes it possible for you to have the same level of security and support as those of who do this for living. If you are building with WordPress (which now is at the core of over 25% of all sites) you really should check them out.

Note: Flywheel is a hosting company. They do not (currently) offer email support or domain registration. If you need to register a domain and set-up email there are numerous sources such as GoDaddy, HostMonster, and BlueHost. Personally, I have been very happy with iPage—again, it’s all about the service.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Be The Beast

 I first met writer/producer/director Randy Huckabone when he offered me the opportunity to work with him on a promotional teaser for one of his upcoming featuresShadow House (which is presently in its gestation/evolution cycle).  At the time, he had recently wrapped up work on Like The Spider, which is reviewed here in a previous post.

Earlier this year, Huckabone decided to invest his energies into something totally different—a type of project that only a few filmmakers have ever tried, and even fewer have accomplished. His goal was to shoot an entire feature-length (60 mins+) movie in one take, start-to-finish. No editing allowed.

When he asked if I would be interested in joining the cast of Eyes Of Wild, I thought, "This sounds positively insane." Considering the potential for technical issues, gaffs and screw-ups, the reasons why this will be a total waste of time far out numbered the odds for success. But his unstoppable enthusiasm and conviction convinced me he was still of sound mind and that maybe, just maybe, this was a thrill ride I needed to get on.

Obviously, in order to get that one, magical, 'camera-on to camera-off' success took numerous tries, preceded by relentless rehearsals. This was not like recording a stage play from a single location with a camera on a tripod—The camera man (Matthew Joseph Tharp), prop man (Kevin Santoro) and director Huckabone were moving the whole time, covering close to a 1/4 mile with each run-through.

And, because this was a night shoot with artificial lighting, any issues with lighting couldn't be addressed until after sundown. So, after a full day of rehearsals (in the rain), it was time to position the three diesel generator-driven light towers in various on and off road locations.

While the flood of illumination from the 12 industrial strength bulbs made it look like a night game at the ball park, getting it under control was tricky... and time consuming. While the crew noodled on the various production issues, the cast munched on dogs hot off the grill under the stars at 2 in the morning (thanks to Laura Joslyn Klibanoff). At 3:10AM , we got the call to places and prepared to shoot the "The Movie."And we did.

Also see: The 15 Greatest Long Takes In Cinema History


  Without giving anything away, Eyes Of Wild is a horror/suspense/thriller shot from the perspective of a nondescript, blood-thirsty creature—possibly an animal, or maybe Big Foot, or even an alien. You (the viewer) get to decide as you have the best seat in the house... or more accurately, the best seat in its head. What you see on the screen is the result of your own actions. You own every movement, every growl, every ear-piercing shriek. You are the beast, we're just your supporting cast, so go with it!

After a full day of rehearsing (and a night of filming in a field of gigantic stalks of dripping ragweed, an exhausted, damp and mosquito bitten cast and crew struck the set and returned to reality. Days past as we awaited word from director Huckabone as to the success or failure of the project. Did he get what he wanted? Was it all in vain? It ended up somewhere in between, leaning toward the former. Close, but no cigar. Technical problems, mostly with the lighting—we needed to shoot it again.

When I got the call for the re-shoot, I agreed to participate without hesitation (as did everyone else involved) ... and not because I enjoy being the blue plate special at the mosquito diner (discovering our own personal tolerances for Deep-Woods OFF was just part of the fun). No... this was a "too late to turn back now" moment—a second chance to make it better.

The first try had been so draining that, by the time we went for it, I know I had little left to give. This is an action movie. The physical demands on all of the actors has its intense moments. By the time that last take started, I knew I had hit the wall, and looking back, it was all just a blur.

So, a re-shoot was scheduled and because we had already been down this road (literally and figuratively), a lot of the problems from the first shoot had been solved. We were now able to concentrate on just getting this done.

The one thing that didn't change is the amount of time it took. In fact, it was after 4AM when we got the call to positions for the final "do or die" take. The last chance to get this right. For any of us to give anything less than 110% would be a disservice to ourselves and everyone else involved. Regardless of how exhausted I was, I did not want to leave this shoot thinking I that I had left anything on the table, and I knew all my fellow cast members were all of the same accord.

When I got my queue, I threw everything I had left into what I had to do. My scene called for me to fall to the ground and while trying to escape the claws of this killing machine—suffering intense pain. Truth be told, much of that grimacing wasn't acting.

In the end, we got it done and Randy Huckabone now has the visual foundation of what is sure to be a remarkable movie viewing experience. And, for those of us who endured two all-nighters in the middle of a damp, mosquito infested field, we have the experience, memories and bug bites from having done something quite remarkable and quite insane.

Big beastly kudos to the whole cast and crew of Eyes Of Wild — Everyone was brilliant to work with.

Saturday, March 8, 2014


Fighting Back Against Spampaigners

Increasingly, over the last 24 months or so, Email has become little more than a dung heap of ridiculous pitches, scams and spampaigns. The worst offenders are the "third party" services who promise  big bux to anyone who, under the guise of "Make Money on the Internet," will spend a few hours each day sending out unwelcome spam on behalf of their clients.

This has got to be the most ineffective way to advertise anything—as well as the most annoying. I simply can't fathom how flooding Email inboxes with dozens of identical Emails—typically all with the same title but from different senders—can do anything but drive business away.

Over the last few months, one of my main business Emails has been getting relentlessly slammed—everything from pitches for vinyl siding (I live in a log home) and solar panels, to term life insurance, Lunar Sleep products, Sam's Rewards, Lemon trees and fantastic new deals Obama has cooked up just for me.

It wouldn't be so bad if it was just one Email for each pitch, but it's not. In the last week alone I bet I received over 50 identical Emails from something called "LunarSleep," plus several dozen from "Train Curves," and an equally aggravating amount from "Trader Joe's Faves."

That last one really ticked me off because I happen to like Trader Joe's, and now that we finally have one in this area, it was with mixed feelings that I submitted the following comments to TJ's website:

PLEASE STOP! - Over the last 4 days I have received no less than 25 Emails from "Trader Joe's Faves" - I have trashed all of them and have decided that, while I have long been a fan of TJ's, I cannot and will not be shopping at TJ's or Aldi's EVER AGAIN in the future. This type of in your face spamvertising is not necessary and drives away more customers than it attracts.

Now, Any company that doesn't realize the extensive damage that is being done by these sloppy third parties spammers obviously has some serious internal issues—so I was somewhat relieved to get this slightly customized boilerplate response from Hazel at Trader Joes:

Hello Robert,  Thank you for sharing your comments, and we do certainly wish to extend our sincere apologies.  However, the emails you recently received are actually in no way associated with Trader Joe's, and appears to be a spam campaign.  We are certainly sharing the feedback with the appropriate parties within our company for review, and again we do apologize for any frustration and inconvenience this matter has caused.

Hazel, Trader Joe's, Customer Relations 

Whether they will, or even can, actually do anything is another matter. As George Costanza's late fiancee Susan often said, "You can put your sorrys in a sack." So, after sending TJ's a complete list of all the return Email addresses responsible for sending out this bogus deal, I decided the best way to make this stop—short of setting up all new Email addresses—was just to tighten up my spam filters to the max. How this is done depends on the Email client you use, but I can tell you right off that clicking "unsubscribe" on any individual Email will have virtually no effect. That usually only removes you from one sender's list and often will even open the very Email you are trying to dispatch. You need to go into you junk mail filters and see what your options are.

Truth be told, however, it is a losing battle. And as the spam problem grows, so will be the number of people who choose to communicate through spam free channels such as Linked In, Skype, Facebook messaging or one of the many other options. Too bad. I thought email was cool—while it lasted. Is it any wonder at all that the under 30 crowd would rather text than Email? (which is the subject of another post).

Saturday, October 19, 2013

At The Movies: Like The Spider

Venom. Worse than poison, it literally dissolves the unsuspecting prey from the inside out, leaving nothing but a dry, translucent exoskeleton. To witness it’s power, you only need to watch as a tiny spider immobilizes a much larger insect with just a few fast injections.

 In humans, anger has the same affect—like the spider’s venom, it eats it’s way from the inside out, leaving nothing but a dried, unfeeling shell of what once was. All the potential, all the dreams, all the desires—destroyed.

 “Like The Spider” from Huckabone Films is about unmanageable anger, turned inward, can destroy life, transforming a previously sane, rational, happy individual, into the human equivalent of the dried and discarded bits of prey left in a spider’s web.

Dallas (Alida Serrano), who suffered through years of abuse by her father, is now out on her own. She needs to deal with her past—to some how get over it—but she can’t. She’s become an abuser herself, hooked on the hard stuff, offering up the only thing she has—herself—to find temporary relief from that venomous anger that eats at her soul.

At just 18, she’s lost the will to live, but has not the strength to die. So she seeks a professional to help her solve her problems. She meets Jock (Jon Peterson), an over the hill hit man, and tries to persuade him to take out the one person she hates the most. But it’s not that simple and what would appear to be easy solutions are complicated by others in it for themselves.

Written, produced and directed by Independent Rochester film maker, Randy Huckabone, Like The Spider was shot in Rochester, NY over eighteen days last February. The city is in hibernation. It’s bleak and cold—a fitting background as the story unfolds. As your interest and understanding of each character grows, you begin to understand their needs and desires, and hope that some how there can be happy ending—but that all depends on your point of view. It’s dark, haunting and quite revetting. And, you’ll never look at a spider the same way again.

Monday, July 29, 2013

You May Be Within 6 Degrees Of The Royal Baby!

It all started when I just happened to glance at my "people you may know" list on LinkedIn. Most of the recommendations were people with whom I shared 2 or 3 common connections. But there was one profile and photo that really stood out. Apparently, this individual and I have 53 commons friends—yet we have never met. 53 people know him and me, yet he doesn't know me, and I don't know him. Go figure.

Anyway, I never really gave it much thought until recently, but to me at least, this only makes more valid the theory of 6 degrees of separation—that everyone on the planet is just six steps (or less) removed from any other specific person. If the theory is correct, you should be able to link yourself with any other person, anywhere on earth, simply by saying you know them through a friend of a friend of a friend... etc. out to no more than 6 "friends."

For example. Last year, the King of Sweden visited my old home town, and my brother attended the luncheon thrown in the King's honor. He actually got to shake the royal hand and chat a bit with King Carl XVI Gustaf. So now the King of Sweden is just 2 degrees removed from me, and 3 degrees removed from you (assuming you can call reading a blog a valid connection). Therefore, if you think of all the people a King would know, we call be within 6 degrees of... dare I say it .... The Royal baby?

Or, how about this. While recently digging through some moldy old memorabilia I discovered a letter I received in 1990 from the late Dick Clark. The topic of the letter is not important. What's interesting is that that letter—officially signed by Dick Clark himself—put me just 1 degree away from all of Dick's connections which would include virtually every pop and rock artist of the last 40 years as well as Ryan Secrest. This then would put me just 2 degrees away from every contestant that has ever appeared on American Idol. I think I'll stop right there. You get the picture.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Now let's deal with those groundhogs....

When you spend time and money maintaining a garden to supplement the family food supply, those same critters that city folk find cute and lovable are quite nasty and belligerent. For example, those sweet little Bambi's that prance about the local zoo with adoring wide eyes are gang brothers to those that will stand in my garden and stomp a zucchini plant to shreds just to watch it die. Groundhogs (a.k.a. "Woodchucks") are even worse. They'll break through the fence and take a nibble from every last vegetable, turning a row of garden fresh to garden garbage in mere minutes—and then waddle back in the ground, seemingly safe from retaliation. Ah, but maybe not. Here's what I found on the Internet. PETA members, take note- this is not for you. On the other hand, if you disdain burrowing beasts as much as I, you're gonna love this.


This one is also quite entertaining - especially if you have gophers:

Thursday, June 27, 2013

If you like scarey stories.....

Not long ago, I met a film maker in Rochester who is working on a full-length documentary entitled Shadow House. He launched a Kickstarter page last week, and so far it seems to be doing quite well.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Good Day For Pancakes

Another blustery mid-February day and a rotten day for a road trip. But this is winter in NY, and regardless of how the media tries to make each week's "Storm of the Century" worse than the last, we who choose to live here press on. And when the going gets tough, the tough stop for pancakes—usually at Cartwright's Maple Tree Inn.

As a business model, it would appear on paper that the Maple Tree has about as much chance of success as a bumble bee does flight. Don't try to explain it, just enjoy your breakfast. The place is located far away from most everything, on a tertiary side road a few miles out of Angelica. Yet, for forty years, folks have been bravely navigating these often snow covered back roads to pig out at the Maple Tree. So, what'll you have? The choices are eggs, sausage, ham and buckwheat pancakes with their own locally produced maple syrup. They start you off with hot coffee, then serve the eggs, meat and pancakes, and then more pancakes, and then more pancakes until you tell 'em to stop. It's a darn good breakfast for around 10 bucks.

Now that I have your taste buds all primed for a hot, family style breakfast, there is one thing you need to know—and this important—The Maple Tree Inn is only open for around 50 days a year. They typically unlock the doors around Valentine's day and close up in mid-April. So, is it any wonder that the place usually packed? If you don't get 'em while their hot—you don't get 'em at all, at least not until next year.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Perfect Mid-Winter Musical Break

Being compulsively punctual, anytime I have to fly somewhere I leave for the airport ridiculously early, knowing full well that the odds heavily favor the outbound flight being delayed. After all, it's mid-January, when late arriving planes and de-icing procedures spark flight delays and missed connections. I know, I do this every year.

Ah, but this year was different, and while airlines are great fill for a spam sandwich, I had no complaints with Delta this time around. When I left Central New York, it was dark, windy and cold enough to brittle your bones. Arthur Mometer said it was 7°, and that was pretty optimistic. Landing at LAX, a short seven hours later, the merc was a full ten fold higher, with a pleasant breeze and blue skies.

Next stop, Anaheim, just an hour or so away by shuttle. I have nothing against taxis or limos and town cars rock, but it's so much cheaper to take a shuttle. So, as I accepted my role as tired body #9 in an 8 tired body conveyance, I reassured myself that, yes, it be uncomfortable, and it would not be pleasant, but it would be over in a short time.

Once the shuttle was safely (huh?) on the freeway, the usual patter among van mates began with "Where are you from? When did you leave? How was your flight? Who are you with? They had all journeyed much further than I, and each had a weary traveler's tale tell. So I just stayed quiet (mostly because the seat belt for the passenger in front of me was wrapped around my neck) and listened. While we had all gathered from various parts of Asia, Europe and North America, our destination was the same: The 2013 NAMM Show.

Leave it be said then that for those of us who are musically obsessed, NAMM is Nirvana—an annual pilgrimage to a musical mecca far away from the chilly reality of a New York winter. If you would like to know what the acronym stands for, and what the organization does, click here. In a nutshell, it's the largest trade show in North America for builders and buyers of musical instruments, audio gear and associated accoutrements. As such, it attracts manufacturers, dealers and distributors from all points internationally. Major recording artists are there as well, often times blending right in with the crowd, stopping to pick a few notes on a hot new guitar, blow some cool from a new sax or riff on a keyboard. And then there are the humble members of the audio press corp, such as yours truly. Our job is to filter through the hype in search of the true game changers.

Upon my return to the frozen state of NY, friends often ask "How was the show? What did you see? What's NAMM?" Some folks ask to be polite while others are truly interested in all the technological developments on display. This year, thanks to Yamaha, I was able to share something that almost everyone could embrace. It's called Disklavier (see TECH NOTE), and in simplest terms, it's the player piano brought into modern times. Using the Internet and MIDI any piano with this feature is capable of being played, remotely, from virtually anywhere.
To publicize this new development, Yamaha invited their dealers and a few select members of the press (thank you, very much) to a grand concert featuring top artists from their roster of endorsers (1/25/13-Hyperion Theater). I've posted a complete review over on the Live2PlayNetwork, but here's a list of the artists who appeared during the three+ hour show, along with additional images (shot from an iPhone—here are  by a pro) and a video of the last act of the evening, Sir Elton John. As Captain Fantastic played live on the stage in Anaheim, the keys on pianos all over the world (with Disklavier) were playing in unison. That's pretty cool.

Earth, Wind & Fire

The US Marching band, performing Tusk

Chaka Kahn

Amy Grant


David Foster & Dave Koz


Michael McDonald

Sarah McLachlan

Sir Elton John

Friday, November 16, 2012

Turbo Tractor Terrorizes Swedish Countryside

We've owned several Volvo 240 series vehicles... sedans as well as wagons, and while this little denying that they are built like tractors, even we were surprised to see just what one of the sturdy 2.1 (or maybe it's a 2.3) liter engines can do when transplanted—turbocharger and all—onto an authentic farm tractor frame. There's not much else to say, other than it looks like Sven here is havin' a heck of a good time...