ac's blog

Multiple shops increased TV prices this weekend

How does this work? I used to think large shops set prices independently, but a strange thing happened today Sunday 4 December 2016.

Amazon, BestBuy, Walmart, Beach Camera, and many others I'm sure, all increased 4K TV prices by $100 to $200. How did they make this happen, do they coordinate prices? Sony and Samsung brands were affected, probably all brands raised their prices. Did the brands do this - did they send out a notice on Saturday, or was this a pre-coordinated all-across-the board increase?

Here's one explicit example:
Sony XBR55X850D a 55" TV was sold at $898 in all those shops, until Saturday Dec 3, 2016.
On Dec 4, all these shops, within a period of just 12-24 hours as far as I can tell, had raised the final price to $998!
Amazon Sony XBR55X850D $998.
Best Buy $999 and similarly others: Walmart, Beach Camera, etc.
Most of these shops did not change the List Price which they showed as $1,198.00. They all changed the Savings shown: it was $300 before, and it is only $200 today. Strange that all shops decided to change the amount of the Savings they offered.

Similar Samsung 4K TV examples showed an increase of $200.

Very eerie that all these different shops all increased their prices at the same time.

Creating a static Drupal site

After years of very little activity and the inability to upgrade Drupal from 6.0 due to missing modules in 7.0, this site will now soon be archived and all the existing content will be served using static pages.

Given the use of the Acidfree module and Forum module, and RSS feeds, it made the task a bit more difficult than the standard techniques blogged about elsewhere. In addition to that, I also wanted to archive it in a sub-dir and continue to serve the old pages from the old path (as much as possible), so need a bunch of new .htaccess rules too. Putting this in a sub-dir would allow me in the future to install another web site management tool on the web site and keep both the new pages and the old Drupal pages around.

First check out all the info at:

The reason we use httrack instead of wget is to keep the internal links as they are without having them get a .html suffix. wget also adds .1, .2, etc to downloaded pages in an unpredictable way, and makes handling Drupal pagination messy, so all this makes it harder to fix up the .html files (which one could do somewhat by using sed scripts on downloaded files to remove the .html from text and use .htaccess RewriteRule commands to add it back in). HTTrack has a -N rewrite option to do this. Only problem is that it only allows for a single rewrite rule, so all filename.jpg files become filename/index.jpg, etc. (But that is easily fixed by a httrack patch provided below which allows for two -N rewrite rules.)

Static archive as of 2014

Well, that was the plan, but turns out it is not a big deal to keep Drupal going on 6.38, the last and final update.

Did have to fix up some modules to disallow Logins and Comments from anonymous users, and now site does not use much load on the hosting machine and still allows me to update the pages. Nearly all of the load was due to hackers/spammers trying to post messages and the need to check for spam.

Old post:
This site is no longer using Drupal. All the pages have been migrated to static web pages that are shown here now.

So there is no commenting or creating new forum topics here anymore. My email address and my Google+ pages will continue to be valid.

See the post Creating a static Drupal site here for details on what was done.

Phone scam artists using IRS threats!

Scam artists calling with threats! They picked the right caller area code for DC (202). They use automated calling devices, and keep calling repeatedly. Given that I only pick up my phone for known callers, they all go to voicemail on my phone.

Shockingly, it seems some people do fall for these scams. Just this week in my town, there was a news item about one person being taken in. On receiving a scam call, this person immediately filled a Green Dot card (the favorite device of scammers) with cash and transferred it to the scammer.

Here's is a audio of the voicemail scam as an example of the threats and messages left. This one showed 202-506-9988 as the caller-id, and the message said to call 202-506-8147 immediately. So, these are the currently used number by these scammers.

Floating baths in Montreal

Ovarium Spa is an interesting, unique experience. They have one-person private enclosed bath pods which are filled with so much Epsom salts that the human body floats in it! The first half-hour felt odd floating around and trying various positions, but then it feels good and time goes by too fast and it is all over.

The place is very nice. Very high ceiling waiting areas with high-quality decor and surroundings. And quite full even on a weekday, so must be popular in Montreal.

Floating in salty water does require some preparation. There must be no cuts or wounds on your skin - otherwise the salt water will sting! Even scratched dry skin without visible marks will end up stinging a bit in the water. They do offer Vaseline for minor scratches which may be of some help. When floating around must be careful not to touch your eyes with your fingers since there will be too much salt on your fingers. And when inside the pod, it is much nicer with the pod lights and the music turned off. Leave the room lights on and just close the pod door for a completely enclosed experience.

The Ovarium Spa web site is in both English and French.

From Travel - Montreal 2013 Nov

Notes on Clearmodem 4G Home Internet

Right now am trying out the Clear Hub Express modem from CLEAR 4G Internet provider. I had a cable modem, but they increased prices far too much - funny how cable companies like to charge long-time existing customers a lot, and provide deep discounts to new customers!

CLEAR 4G has good prices - and very bad reviews on the web, including an ongoing class-action suit related to cutting off service for heavy usage even though they claim "unlimited data and no overage fees". My hope is that they are improving on this front now and are therefore worth a try. End result - mixed feelings about them. Mainly because their software is deficient and has bugs so it requires contacting customer support and that quality continues to be abysmal. Cable modem devices have much better software quality compared to CLEAR devices.

The report below is based on the 1.5Mbps download plan for $35/month as of March 2013. They prefer to have people buy the $50/month plan with 6Mbps service but the lower plan is good enough for most uses, including HQ level YouTube videos. If you want to watch 720p or higher HD resolutions, then something greater than 2Mbps is necessary. And at $50/month cost, it is not competitive with Cable Modems which usually offer $60/month plans for 20Mbps or higher. The YouTube wikipedia page has a table showing rates of different video resolutions.

  • The Hub Express is a router with Wi-Fi and two wired ports. It seems to work fine in my area, and has stayed up for a whole week now without problems. I don't use it all day, but do use it a lot in the evening and some weekends. It seems to hold on to the 4G signal pretty well.

6 hours layover in London Airport - Visit London City too

Given six or more hours between arrival and departure at London, it is possible to make a quick trip into London City. This should easily give around 90 minutes of time in London, assuming 1 hr of travel time from the Airport to Piccadilly Circus.

There are caveats - sometimes, the tube and/or security at London can be a long drawn out affair. But having just made this quick run, I ended up with 45 minutes to spare at London for my departure, so it was all quite comfortable.

Of course, all I did at Piccadilly Circus is walk around a few blocks, basically just exploring streets, shops, and small parks. And the tube ride itself was a novelty. All this activity is much more fun than lounging around at Heathrow!

So here's how it all worked out: Arrived at Heathrow at 9AM. Felt awake and good, so decided to try out a trip to the City. Immigration was quick, under 5 minutes. Note that some passengers are not allowed out of Heathrow - so be sure to check your transit status.
9:30AM was at the Underground station. There is also a faster Heathrow Express, but it is far more expensive, and not really worth it to get to Piccadilly Circus since it requires changing trains at Paddington. Best to just stick to the more frequent tube, and sit in one place for the entire journey.

Spam taking up most of the Internet bandwidth?

Is spam taking up a lot of both the network as well as CPU bandwidth on the Internet?

Spam is not just email, it also comes in another form - spam comments on websites. A large number of machines seem engineered to attack any website that allows for user comments. is a low volume personal site, so it was a shock to see the monthly bandwidth go up from the usual 2-3G per month to over 9G/month. Investigating this led to the conclusion that is is mostly comment spam activity, and most of it coming from machines in China.

Spam Load Stats - Click for full-size

The attached image (click on image for full size) shows the huge increase in spam processing. This may not have been a problem, but it also causes a huge increase in the system load. Over this same period, IP addresses from China accounted for 67% of total traffic, and over 6G of network traffic. I very seriously doubt people in China have any interest in any part of this site.

Here's a table that shows data from the AWstats and spam logging programs:

Website Activity
/ Before Nov 2012 As of Nov 2012 Change due to Spam
Bandwidth Used 2.2 GB/month 9.4 GB/month 4x
Spam Comments Attempted
500 / day 5000 / day 10x
Spam Comments Attempted
1,000 / day 10,000 / day 10x
Bandwitdh used by
IP addresses from China
0.3 GB/month 6.3 GB/month 20x

Google Chromebook tips

[Updated after a week - Chromebook is actually a pain to use, not yet ready for prime time. Fine if you are always online, even then, user experience is not smooth. There are just too many bugs - which means that they will be fixed in due time, but the existence of such basic problems makes it hard to recommend Chrome to everyone at this time. Worse - its offline mode is buggy - I lost hours of work. Read on.]

Having played with the new Google Chromebook for a week now, it is a great device! Well, so I thought after one day of use. After a week, ran into too many bothersome issues, some are listed below. I've played with both the 2012 devices: Samsung Chromebook (US$249) and Acer Chromebook (US$199).

Samsung device looks sleeker, and boots faster (10 seconds), and needs no internal fan. Acer looks a bit clunkier, but its CPU is slightly faster (20% in some web tests), and has a huge 320G hard drive. Full reviews available on the web as well as youtube, and it is worth reading through a few to get some tips on how to use this device well.
web search YouTube search.

Turn off all phone roaming

Summary: remember to turn off all roaming - not just data-roaming - to avoid excessive phone company charges.

When traveling with your phone, everyone now seems to be aware of the excessive and unexpected costs that show up on the phone bill after your travel.
Phone companies very sneakily gouge customers on roaming charges. So when you search for this topic on the web, there are numerous pages that explain how to turn off roaming.

That help is misleading, since it is for data roaming only, and that is not sufficient. Data is the big problem of course, but there is also the problem of voice and text - sending and receiving phone calls and text messages.

And at least on the Android phones, there is no indication of this happening too. You take your phone from US to say Canada or Europe, and think you are all good - you've turned off data roaming, which was easy to do in the Settings. But then your phone rings - you are surprised, hey, US phone works in this country? You pick up the phone, you talk, and BAM! you are now liable for multiple dollars per minute of charges. And there is no help in the Android menus to indicate you are being billed roaming charges. You did not receive any warning, and if you continue to use your phone and make calls, you'll get hit with large bills when you get back home.

Sadly, there is no easy way to turn off voice and text roaming on a Android smartphone.
This is too bad - it lays a trap for unwary customers.

A multi-step workaround: Go into Settings, More... button, and turn on Airplane mode.
But this turns off WiFi too, which is not desirable. Go back into Settings and turn on WiFi.
This is better! Took a few steps, but now you won't have any phone company surprises.
And GPS still continues to work, at least in one of the phones I tried.