I’m Just A Bus Driver

school-bus

Well, not just

But, as of today, I’m officially authorized by the State of New York to transport students in large, yellow vehicles. Again. (I previously drove school busses for two different school districts more than fifteen years ago now!)

Last fall, as I contemplated ways that I could feasibly bring in a little more income for our family, I remembered the transportation industry. (That makes it sound very important. Because it is!) I checked our school district’s website to see if they were in need of drivers, and in fact, there was a job posting for School Bus Driver! I stopped in the next day to meet the transportation director and see about reinstating my license, and what other steps would be necessary to get me back in the fold. He said they definitely need drivers, and when could I start?

He also assured me that driving a school bus is just like riding a bike. (I think he meant that very figuratively…) 🙂

Strangely, scheduling a commercial driver’s license road test is a lengthy process these days. Although I scheduled my road test in early February, after going through several other steps in the process, the earliest (only!) date available to me via the DMV website was March 18th. I think it was five or six weeks out from that date!

The local district here brought me in for refresher training (still a tiny bit more to complete) and I took and passed my (second) CDL road test just this morning. So now, after a few more steps—I’m not actually, officially hired as of yet!—I’ll be behind the wheel of a school bus as many mornings as I am needed.

It’s fun to be back in the big seat again. I’m enjoying meeting a new group of people, too. Looking forward to what new adventures lie ahead in my second stint as a school bus driver. I am imagining it will be different as an almost-forty, dad of six than it was as a barely-twenty, single (and then, just-married) lad in the late twentieth century. But I’m sure a lot will be the same, too.

A new chapter begins!

I leave you with this song, that I can’t help but sing as I embark on this next amber mission. Enjoy 🙂

My Indirect (and Disastrous) Encounter(s) with Endurance International Group

Endurance International Group, Inc. (EIG)This is a “for the record” kind of post. Perhaps you’ll find it as appalling interesting as I have while following all of the connected trails in my research.

A good while back now, in what was the early childhood of the “internets“, I began what is my current career of website hosting management and development. It began innocently enough as a desire to share our music online. (Did you know that there is a website that preserves previous versions of the web—like, the entire web?? Have a look at one of the earliest versions of our music site.)1

It Started Off So Well…

When I first moved into the world of web hosting, somewhere around 2004, I found a company named iPower (or iPowerweb) which offered very inexpensive packages with more features than I had seen elsewhere. What really convinced me was their reseller package, with a small team of tech support people who were available 24/7, knew me and my websites, and were very knowledgeable/helpful/professional. I was sold. This company was a relatively small “start-up” out of Phoenix who offered technical service and expertise, and excellent customer support.

(In the meantime, I found another small company who had a slightly better reseller package which allowed me to purchase a large server space and apportion it as needed, in my own packages, to clients as they needed. I signed on with them around the same time, too. Their biggest sell was the company’s owner/operator—a one-man-show—who was great at customer support. There’s a theme here!)

Meanwhile…

While I was merrily, blissfully plugging along in my burgeoning little web business, giant shark-like companies were smelling blood (or, money?) and swarming around these small-to-medium sized hosting companies, gobbling them up in large chunks.

Unbeknownst to me at this time, a company named Endurance International Group was acquiring small hosting companies left and right, and becoming this large conglomerate of very cheap web hosting solutions under various brands. You can see a rather comprehensive list (with sources) at the Wikipedia page for EIG.

But again, this was actually still unbeknownst to me.

Troublesome Signs

Somewhere around 2007, after a few years of great service from iPower, I noticed a sharp, nearly instantaneous decline in their service. I began to have all sorts of issues (email issues, server slowness/downtime) and on top of that, I would sometimes be on hold, waiting to chat with that stellar support team for 30-45 minutes! What?! When I was finally able to speak with one of the tech guys with whom I had built a working relationship over the three years or so, I was informed that they were making changes, and greatly reduced the size of the support team—which greatly reduced their support to their customers!

I was definitely saddened, but pressed on because I believed in this small company that had provided such great service to me and my clients for so long. What I didn’t know was that these changes were due to iPower being acquired by EIG.2

(Sadly, at roughly the same time, that other hosting company I was hosting the majority of my sites through was expieriencing their own failures—one after another! I endured this for longer than the trouble with iPower as I understood the difficulties of running your own business. That company was essentially a one-man operation, so I stuck it out as long as I could. But eventually, it was such a melt-down I had to exit that situation, too.)

The First Big Change

With the frustrating circumstances of this time period sufficiently endured, I endeavored to make another change, hoping for something similar to what I had found in 2004. I wanted a small company who had excellent customer/tech support as their primary characteristic.

I think it was somewhere around 2010 when I learned of HostGator through a web-development friend (and colleague). He vouched for their excellent service, including their customer support knowledge and availability, so I investigated and found them to be just what I was looking for. Within a short time (well, OK… about a month) I had moved over all of my large list of clients’ sites and domains to their service.

And I was pleased. Their servers were faster, tech team was available within minutes of calling, and generally very knowledgeable/helpful. I would get quick replies to any tickets submitted through their ticket system, and all around I was very much satisfied. (Even to the point of promoting them to anyone who was seeking hosting, or asked.)

And then…

Not Again!!!

Last summer there were bumps. Server down time, slower response to tickets, long hold times to get through to tech support, many “blunders” in server configuration causing trouble for my clients sites (as well as my own) … all VERY worrisome signs. They were just like what I had experienced with iPower.

I was growing frustrated again. How can this be happening? It’s only been two or three years that I’ve been with this company and the same thing is happening???

In the infamous words of Gru, “Light…bullllllb!”

Connection Established

Was it possible that these events were connected? I began digging. One clue after another led me to the company mentioned above: Endurance Group International, Inc. (EIG).3

Ah ha! I’m not crazy! thought I, somewhat relieved. Though, I was equally peeved that the companies with whom I chose to do business were “selling out” to this crazy web-hosting company eater, EIG. First iPower, now HostGator.

My experience is not unique. Another poor soul chronicled his experience with EIG, when his hosting company, WebHost4Life, was acquired by EIG. Oh, and look at their Better Business Bureau page… over 400 complaints! Ugh…

“The Blackout of 2013″—August 2, 2013

pulling-hair-out2Fast-forward to this past weekend. August 2nd, 2013. It has actually made it to the EIG Wikipedia page as part of their company’s entry! After months of trouble, I awake to find all of my sites are offline. Email, websites, everything. Here we go again! I dial up the tech support line and… busy signal! Ha! As I am discovering this, I am chatting online with my aforementioned colleague, who is equally affected by this August 2nd Blackout, since his sites are all still hosted by HostGator. We both decide right then, that morning, that we are jumping ship, NOW!.

A couple months prior, the HostGator changes had become unbearable for my biggest client and his websites that we develop/host/manage, so I spent a week investigating hosting options. I found a few that I liked, and settled on one that, again, seems to be a small company, committed to excellent service and customer support. I have had good success with them so far. (My praise for them is justifiably guarded (jaded?) by my prior experiences, as you can well imagine!)

I called up the fellow with whom I had spoken those months before and asked him very directly, “Will your company sell to Endurance International Group? I need to know, because that has happened to me twice, and causes so much trouble, wastes so much time!” His response was that the two owners of his company were actually on-site that day, and had been discussing specifically that potential scenario. He assured me that they had already rejected such an offer, and would steadfastly continue to do so.

SOLD!

Within hours I had set up the account, moved ALL of my sites over to the new Virtual Private Server (VPS) account, and began working on all that is involved with migrating hosting accounts.

This is never fun. Never.4

I emailed all my clients and told them of the emergency change. There have been a few bumps, but mostly we’ve made it through unscathed. I will be shutting down my HostGator accounts by week’s end, and ending any business relationship I have with EIG… until the next time?

Moral: BIGGER ≠ better

The moral of this not-so-short-story is that BIGGER IS NEVER BETTER!

(Unless you’re trying to make a point, with big letters?)

Somehow we have this idea that the “mass model” is best. Giant factories, mega stores… it never leads to good. It usually leads to bad service and meltdowns like I have experienced each time this has happened!

Stay small, folks. Focus on service, support, and relationship … even in business.

Because business still involves people. Doesn’t it?

My experiences with EIG (though I didn’t realize it was them until this year) have reminded me of that.

Stay small, local (when possible), and personal.

And don’t sell out to EIG!

  1. Note: this was actually probably a third or even fourth iteration of our website! Earlier versions were hosted on the free hosting service Tripod.com. Which amazingly still exists! Archive.org used to have the 20th century version of our website! Wow! Now the earliest version is August 2000, very similar to the 2001 link above.
  2. Read the article from May 2007. It calls the move a “merger”, but my experience in 2012 with a different “merger” with EIG would suggest that it was more of an acquisition. (Especially when contrasted with my initial experience with iPower, before “merging” with EIG.)
  3. One more connection, in 2011, EIG was “bought” (or funded?) by Warburg Pincus and GS (Goldman Sachs) Capital Partners. There are big piles of money changing hands here.
  4. I found a couple pages detailing what is involved. Besides all of these steps, (1) something inevitably does not go as planned, and (2) it just takes time. Lots of time. Up to 72 hours of time. Most of that is the DNS propagation, meaning, the change of address for your domain name. Once that filters through all the checkpoints, you’re OK, but a lot of grief happens during that time!

When Life Gives You Lemons…

Ian Campbell and his Lemonade StandOr, even when it doesn’t. Lemonade still tastes great. Who doesn’t love a nice, cold glass of lemonade on a hot summer’s day?

For a while now our kids have been excited to set up a lemonade stand in front of our house and sell to anyone who might happen by on a warm day and be willing to pay them a small fee for a cold cup of the lemon drink. They are nearly always greeted with warm smiles and over generous customers and have a great time while they’re at it. Not just because they are making money, but during the whole process: figuring out how much the ingredients will cost, what materials to use (card table, check… large piece of plywood covered with paper for a sign, check… signs at the nearest intersections, check) and then even adding items for sale, as our daughter is wont to do. (She often has a companion yard sale on the lemonade stand days.)

But this time, it was serious.

With a little help from Dad, Ian set to work on a design, and figuring out what the materials would cost for a real lemonade stand. I helped him think through how to anticipate what he would need, design-wise, and then we went shopping at Lowe’s for the lumber, paint, and other supplies.

I actually thought he would be excited to do it on his own, but the supplies sat for a few days on our porch. Curious, I asked if he was waiting for me to help him, and when that was the case, I was glad to join in on the project. It was definitely a fun thing to do together!

But Ian certainly did the majority of the work on this project. From start to finish.

From the measuring and cutting, to the assembling and painting (and even the lettering—see below) Ian had a vision, and the determination, and he stuck to it. (Thanks to some extra freedom in his daily schedule from Mom, too!)

The big event that helped push along the completion of this project is a really large annual gathering in our tiny home town. Every July, tens (if not hundreds?) of thousands of people from all over the world descend on Palmyra, NY for the Hill Cumorah Pageant only a few miles from our house. Knowing that was coming, bringing with it a ridiculous increase in potential customers, was a great motivating factor for getting the stand ready for use.

Some friends of ours had set up a lemonade stand of their own last year in a prime location for all of this visiting traffic, and in speaking with them last week, we both thought it would be fun to set up a schedule of “shifts” at the lemonade stand and have the whole week of the event covered. Great plan! They offered some of their resources, and Ian offered his stand (they even gave him a donation toward his building costs!) and we set to work on finalizing the last few details. (Like, getting permission from the business who owns that property, and determining when to have people at the stand, how much food and drink to have ready, etc.)

It’s quite an operation!

The first day went really well. Each family took a four-hour shift, and exhausted their entire supply of baked goods, as well as the lemonade… twice! Our friends had the good idea of selling bottled water, too. That went pretty well. (Ian is thinking next time he’ll write to a bottled water company and get a big cardboard sign to advertise that water is being sold, too!) All in all, both sets of entrepreneurial kids did quite well on their first busy Saturday of selling.

Sunday was a day off, and the Monday was definitely slower, but that was expected. Supplies have been bought for the whole week, and great profits are anticipated by all. 🙂

The coolest thing about all of this is how much it has been initiated by our kids (Ian especially, but don’t discount 8-year-old Kirstie. She loves it, too!) and how much work they are putting into making it a success. If you could have seen them waving in the cars today…

They are learning the value of hard work. They are learning the rewards of labor. (And have already enjoyed spending some of their rewards on things they love.) Ian is working toward paying for some of the sports he wants to play this fall, and has been learning how investing a little money (buying supplies, materials, etc) along with a good bit of sweat, work, and time, can (when done correctly) reap very profitable results. Definitely gaining some good business sense in all of these endeavors.

If your kids get the itch to launch their own lemonade stand (or something similar) I highly recommend encouraging their urges. Don’t do it for them! Be a resource, a cheerleader, even a helper if that is needed. It’s fun to watch them invest themselves in these projects and see the rewards of doing so.

Watch out world. Ian Campbell Enterprises is just getting started! 🙂

Working

Basic Web Design & GraphicsTime to write has been lessened a bit these days as work demands have increased for a variety of reasons. Definitely something to be thankful for when stories of unemployment rates frequent the pages of news sources.

And I am grateful.

I’m grateful that I have this job that allows me to work from home. This is definitely a blessing and a curse, as they say, but I can’t imagine any better option for our family. We’ve had a rough go of it for at least a year, maybe more like a year and a half. One thing after another it seems, piling on. That does seem to be the way things go… So in the midst of that, it’s really a blessing that I am able to both get work done—which helps keep food on our table—and can also be available for my wife and my children when I am needed even more there.

I’m grateful that God has connected me with a few other guys who do what I do (but also do things I don’t do) that make work even more enjoyable. First, we can get more done together than separately, which is mutually beneficial. Second, I thoroughly enjoy working together with these guys and the friendship we have beyond the work we do together. That, too has been a blessing in my work world.

I’m also grateful for the people I get to work for. Yes, I own my own business, so I don’t work for anyone. And truthfully, even though in a sense I do work for my clients, I really feel as though I am working with each of them to accomplish the goals they have for their business, or school, or ministry, or other organization. It’s a piece of what I do that I also really enjoy: getting to know the people involved, and seeing where they are adding their talents and daily effort to the public good. I enjoy that I get to be part of that.

That said, there are definitely down sides lately.

More working means less time for writing, which I love, and even feel that it’s something I’m made to do. Also means less time for reading, less time for fun in the kitchen (cooking and baking projects) and even less time with my family (though I do think that suffers least of any other way I can spend my time).

Also, I’ve noticed that I get to create less.

I was planning to make this a complete post of its own, but one thing I’ve been thinking is that with an extra workload (and because of many circumstances, less time to accomplish it!) I’ve found that I have drifted away from the creative side of my work. Somehow I spend most days administrating the various projects for various clients, communicating between clients and other developers working with me, and then supporting existing work.

It’s not that I don’t work in a creative environment. That’s still true, and I’d guess always will be. But I really do feel I am creating much less than I used to. Which, is probably not a good thing, except that it’s probably a “season” that I am in for now.

But again, as I said above, I will say again here: I am grateful.

I am also tired. 🙂

So, the reason for this shorter post being sufficiently explained… I’m heading to bed.

But if you need a website—big or small, short or tall, we really can do it all—or any graphic design work, or video/audio conversion, and even Mac hardware upgrades (and limited other tech support), I’d love to work with you. (You will have to wait in line right now, but … I would still love to chat with you.) Please visit my sadly neglected business website (the cobbler’s family’s shoes…) and contact me to see how we might be able to help.

OK, now, back to work!


Want to see some of the latest projects? Try this, and this, and this, and this. This one is coming soon, very soon! Oh, and here’s another that I was just working on this weekend. Unfortunately, we can’t really show you the one we spend MOST of our time working on (it’s an internal dealers site, not open to the public… and now there are two! But trust me… it’s enormous and amazing! Largely thanks to the coding prowess of this guy.)

Who Me? A VCR Repairman?

Perhaps one of the strangest things I’ve done of late is a bit of repair man work on my office VCR! Who knew I could fix those? 🙂

One of the services I offer as part of my web/graphic design business* is analog-to-digital conversion. So, you bring me your old audio cassette tapes and I’ll convert them to CD, or just any digital audio format you’d like and deliver them back to you electronically. Or, you bring me your analog video in any format and I’ll convert it to a digital format of your choosing (DVD or otherwise). It’s pretty fun, and the projects range from a simple dump of the old-version content (no editing) onto the new-version media, to a full-on, shiny, professional end product.

While in the midst of one such project the past couple weeks, I found multiple issues with this antiquated technology. Fun!

I was converting old VHS-C tapes. That’s where the fun began. First, neither of the two VCRs we use would accept the adapter that the customer provided. My main VCR even refused to eject the cassette for many minutes. (I’m not even sure what made it change its mind… but the cassette finally popped out.)

So, attempting to be resourceful, I called up the owner of the cassettes to be converted and asked for their camera, thinking I could likely dump the data from there. All seemed good when I got the camera. Battery, check. Charger, check. Video out, check. We’re set!

However, working with old technology almost never goes as you’d expect. 🙂

The battery charged overnight, but didn’t hold a charge. At all. No power to the camera at all. So, I tried again. Still a “no go”. Then I noticed a tiny round battery slot on the underside of the camera. It wasn’t clear what this was for, but I figured it couldn’t hurt trying to replace it.

Off to Radio Shack I went!

Thankfully the folks at “The Shack” were quite helpful and I left the store with a new tiny round battery, as well as a new VHS-C cassette adapter as a backup plan. (I was quite glad I remembered to have a backup plan!)

The battery replacement did not work. Still no sign of life from the camera. Time to implement the backup plan!

I popped one of the small VHS-C cassettes in the new adapter, loaded in a fresh battery and slid the whole device into the VCR. I was quite relieved when the VCR accepted it, and loaded the video, ready to play it.

All went smoothly until I rewound the tape.

After successfully loading the video into the computer, and then the tape automatically rewinding once it reached the end, I hit eject, thinking all the techno-trouble was behind me.

Unfortunately, I was very wrong.

At this point, the VCR got even more stubborn than before! It would not only not relinquish the cassette, it kept powering down with every attempt to remove it. (And I was not liking the sounds that were coming from its attempts to dislodge the adapter cassette!)

Not knowing what else to do, I grabbed my screwdriver. (I’ve taken stuff apart before… this couldn’t be that much different, right?)

Thankfully… it actually was a tad easier than working with the insides of the various computers I’ve disassembled, modified, and reassembled.

After removing several parts, and fiddling with many do-hickeys … the cassette came free! I reassembled the VCR—crossed my fingers—and tried to load the next cassette.

I was somewhat surprised to discover that … it worked! And, even more surprisingly, I think it worked better than before!

Who knew I could repair VCRs?

So, it would seem I have found a new calling in life: VCR Repairman. I can’t imagine how much business must be out there just waiting for someone like me to grab it by the horns! There must be so many opportunities to fix these very current, super modern, ubiquitous video devices. Right?

Maybe not. But, if you do need your ancient technology repaired… now you know where to go!


* – Speaking of ancient technology, sorry in advance for the never-updated appearance and condition of my web design website! The saying is true, the cobbler’s family never has shoes! At least I have a website, but, again… sorry. 🙂

Holding Pattern

It would seem the the operative word for me this moment is: Wait.

For quite a while there’s been a stirring in me that something is going to change. They have never been wrong so far, these inklings, and so I’d guess this one will not be either. And in fact, I have good reason to believe that thanks to some developing events. But for the moment … they have not completely unfolded. In fact, at the moment, I can elaborate no more than that.

But there’s more on hold than that.

I have several new web projects brewing, but for one reason or another all of them remain “on hold”. For a while we were “on hold” with several expected payments as well, but those have been coming in of late. (That’s good!)

Everything around me seems to be at a point where I just have to wait. I’ve caught myself actually thinking, “I’ve got nothing to do right now!” (Then I do quickly think of ten other things I need to tend to… but usually the List of Urgent is so dominant that I don’t get a chance to even breathe, much less think how I might have “nothing to do”.

And perhaps that’s it.

I tend to be “fidgety” when I have nothing to do. I am a Doer. I do. But perhaps God is allowing me some time to breathe? Maybe he knows what’s coming. Obviously I can not, and do not. But he does.

In the waiting, I’ve had some time to pray for people. (And there are definitely some people who are “waiting” on much more serious issues than I am dealing with. I am praying for God’s peace for many folks right now…) I’ve had some more time to be with my family. I even worked on a personal project today that I hadn’t been able to in … well, I don’t know how long!

But at the moment, there’s really nothing I can do other than wait. I am tempted to feel as though I am not doing all I can do when I reach those times, but perhaps as I get a tad older I realize the fruit that can come from the holding patterns, too. Perhaps.

However, I do admit to some pretty great “antsy-ness”. 🙂

This season will pass. For now, I wait. But soon I’m sure we’ll be back to doing.

Till then maybe I can make a dent in my next-to-read list…

Do A Great Job, Not Just An ‘OK’ Job

This afternoon, what started out as some outside playing time, turned into the great deforestation project of 2010. While the boys and I were tossing the football around, Grandpa decided to climb up on top of their fifth-wheel camper and clear off some things. Well, that reminded me of a few low-hanging tree branches I had wanted to cut down. One thing led to another and before we knew it, all five of us were deep into an hour or two of some pretty intense yard work!

First, I cut down the branches I wanted to bring down. The boys thought that was fun and helped remove the limbs I brought down. I spied a few more that I wanted to cut, so I did that. My dad suggested a few more that could use trimming… and then while our neighbor was outside with us, I saw/remembered a dead tree that needed to be cut down with a chainsaw. It just so happens our neighbor has a chainsaw! 🙂 (And it just so happens my Dad is quite experienced with such implements, having his own tree cutting business a few decades ago.)

So… it was on.

We even got the neighbor on the other side of our property involved. It was a deforestation party! We brought that tree down, and a couple other fairly large branches that were hanging over the house next to our property (from a tree on our property). It was definitely a good bit of work, but quite fun.

I was pretty impressed that all three of the oldest kids were not just being helpful, but even happy to be helping, enjoying themselves. Once the cutting was done the yard was pretty full of felled limbs, branches, twigs, walnuts, leaves, and other clutter. There was a good deal more work to do.

I spotted a bunch of smaller branches strewn across our driveway that had fallen from the branches being dragged to the big pile, and decided to offer some encouragement to the helpful young workers.

“Now be sure to get all of these smaller branches, too guys. It’s a bit more work, but let’s make sure we do it. Let’s make sure we do a great job, not just an ‘OK’ job.”

As I said it I thought, Hey… that’s what I always try to say to them, in many more words! I remember my Dad saying, “Do it right the first time,” and so I have repeated that a time or two. Or ten. Or fifty. But really the heart of what I’m wanting to say is to just always do your best. Never cut corners. Never settle for less.

Do a great job, not just an ‘OK’ job.

I don’t think that’s common. At least, not in our current American culture. Do you? Do you see people around you doing everything with excellence. Trying to do their job (or really, anything they do) with greatness, not just the minimum effort and results? Perhaps it’s our educational system that passes “satisfactory” as the standard, or just a natural cycle of a society. Not sure, but I am hoping that such an attitude toward anything we undertake will be how we Campbells are known.

Today that worked pretty well. 🙂

What things are part of your family identity? We have a few others. And there are some that we are still working on passing along/training into our kids. It will be interesting to see what our efforts—and maybe even more so, the unintentional stuff we are passing along—looks like in our kids and their families down the road. Till then we’ll keep reaching for the great, not just the OK.