Free at least! GOODBYE, StartLogic…

Statistics on Domains Served - StartLogic

From, a graph of how many domains StartLogic has served over the years. I think I sense a slight downward trend!! Given my recent interactions with them, you can now also add my site to this declining trend. GOODBYE, StartLogic.

HOLY.  COW. I’ve had my main website,, for nearly 20 years now. It’s a massive, sprawling, out-of-control website with literally thousands of photographs, and hundreds of pages of information on birds of the United States.  It’s been a labor of love over the years as I slowly add to it, but I’m not exactly a web programming wizard.  I still rely on some basic, simple tools to make my website (primarily Microsoft’s Expression Web, so old it’s now freeware), and over the years have struggled to keep up with new web standards.  But despite my lack of technical expertise and lack of any direct “help” on my website, I’ve managed to maintain my site in good working order.

Over the 20 years, I’ve only had two web hosting providers. The first was “Tripod”, back in the days when things were quite a bit a bit simpler.  I don’t remember the exact reason I switched from Tripod, but know I had outgrown what they were providing, and I wasn’t happy with the technical support.  For someone like me with no real training in website or blog development, I NEED that technical support!  So about 12 years, I switched to StartLogic.

For many years, StartLogic was…OK. That’s about as high a compliment as I can give them, because I’ve always had occasional issues with their support of my website.  Over the last few years, that “support” has become worse and worse.  Three or so years ago, someone somehow hacked into my website, and inserted a ton of malicious code that was forwarding my traffic to seedy locations, particularly from my blog.  StartLogic couldn’t have been LESS helpful during that time, to the point that the only way they said I could “save” my site was to permanently delete much of the content!! In the end, I ended up deleting my blog and starting fresh with the new blog you see here.But I stayed with StartLogic, as the technical challenges of changing hosts was more than I wanted to tackle.

Things just went downhill from there.  Issues with my website were incredibly difficult to resolve through StartLogic. Online tech support was weak or non-existent, and often DAYS would pass between communications attempting to resolve problems.  This past week was the last straw.  Over the past 8 years or so, I’ve used a specific piece of software to “crawl” my site and automatically generate a sitemap. That sitemap helps Google and other search engines to map and index my site.  I’ve always used the same piece of software, and hadn’t run into any problems, until this past week.  I updated a number of pages on my website last week, and wanted to re-run the sitemap generator to get a fresh sitemap.  The sitemap generator ran for about half an hour, pinging pages on my website as it generated the sitemap. It finished, and I uploaded the fresh sitemap to my online site.

And then the fun began!  Within minutes I got an email from StartLogic, notifying me that they had shut down my site!  They cited “resource abuse”, noting I was on a shared server, and that “abnormally heavy traffic” on my site resulted in some automatic bot flagging my site as “abusing” those shared resources.  StartLogic told me to inform them when the problem was corrected, and that they’d then review my site and consider restoring access.

I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, given the horrible support offered by StartLogic over the last several years. I responded in their online support “ticket”, telling them that the “problem” was undoubtedly the sitemap crawler I had just run.  I told them I’d run the crawler countless times in the past without any issue, but begrudgingly ALSO told them that in the interests of avoiding such a site shutdown in the future, I would stop using that sitemap crawler.

I waited. StartLogic responded a day later, saying they were temporarily restoring website access while they reviewed the case.  Indeed, for one day, things seemed back to normal. But less than a day later, when trying to access my own website from my home computer, it showed the site was down.  I tried different browsers. I tried logging on from my desktop, laptop, my iPhone, and my iPad, to no avail. I could not access my site from my home WiFi and IP address. I COULD, however, access my website from my work computer.  Clearly StartLogic had blocked access TO MY OWN SITE from MY OWN IP ADDRESS.

I again went to their online help.  FOUR TIMES over the course of a week, I initiated an online chat with a “help” representative.  The “help” is in quotations, because StartLogic’s online support had been degrading for years to anything OTHER than real support. I explained the situation to the online chat support.  Four different times, I explained the sitemap crawler, and that in the interests of avoiding future issues, that I would no longer use it. Four different times, the FUCKING CLUELESS StartLogic “support” said they’d forward my issues to…whatever higher-up authority that could actually do something about it.

Meanwhile, DAYS had passed where I could not access my OWN FUCKING WEBSITE from MY OWN COMPUTER. In addition to initiating online chats four times, I updated the online “support ticket” several times.  Finally, two days ago, I received an email. It simply said that StartLogic had flagged my IP address as a “security risk”. They said that once something had been flagged, they had no mechanism to remove the block of that IP address.  Their “solution” they proposed?

They laughingly told me the only way I’d ever be able to see my OWN SITE from my OWN HOME HARDWARE would be if I went to my internet service provider, and had THEM change my home IP address!!  In other words, instead of simply removing the IP block on THEIR end, something THEY initiated in response to a “problem” i said would never happen again, they washed their hands of the issue.  One more interaction with them on a chat, and they said sorry, they just cannot remove any security block once it had taken effect.

GOOD…FUCKING…BYE, StartLogic!!  Given my lack of technical expertise, I dreaded moving to another hosting provider, but enough is enough.  With just a bit of online research as to a reputable and reliable hosting provider, I purchased the services of InMotionhosting.  I was prepared for a struggle in trying to move my site over to InMotion, and was particularly apprehensive that it wouldn’t be possible to transfer my blog (and long blog history) over to the new provider.  However, I was easily able to figure out how to transfer most of my site, and for a very small fee, InMotionHosting very quickly (less than a day) backed up my blog databases from StartLogic and successfully transferred them to the new host.

A hosting provider that actually provided wonderful, FAST, and efficient service!! After struggling with StartLogic for so long, I had no idea such service was even possible!  I’m now happy to say ALL content from StartLogic has been successfully transported to the new host. The main website content, the blog, and even security components like SSL and the like….all transferred quickly and painlessly, and the site is working just as it should.  And may I say, much FASTER than it ever performed when hosted by StartLogic.

In a rather funny conclusion to the story…despite StartLogic saying that security policy made it impossible to unblock my home IP address…within HALF AN HOUR after going out to their online support one last time and basically telling them (more nicely than they deserved!) that I was DROPPING their wretched service….they suddenly unblocked my home IP address!  Followed up with a pathetic email stating the issue had been “resolved”!!

Given my level of “dissatisfaction” (to put it kindly) with StartLogic, I’ve also taken the opportunity to provide reviews of their services to several online web-hosting review sites.  One of those,, provide a summary of recent reviews, and also provided a graph of how many domains StartLogic has serviced over the years. Not surprisingly, the number of websites using StartLogic has been declining for years.  If by chance you’re reading this and happen to still be using their services…stop. Just stop. You can do better…

And my first NON-endorsement…Avoid PrairieSons Inc.

PrairieSons Inc.

Evidently we’re all going to “suffer” and the “worst is yet to come”. This is the cheery message received from the local PrairieSons company when I got the (ridiculously high) bill for looking at our furnace. But hey, at least they’re helpful about it, pointing to a website where I can “Repent”…or Perish.  Click for a larger view. DO IT…CLICK AND READ IT!!  OR PERISH!!!  🙂

Just two days ago in my last post, I gave my first ever endorsement for a product or service of any kind.  Two days later…I’m giving my first “un-endorsement”.  What a historic week!!!

We went to Lincoln, Nebraska to visit family and celebrate Christmas, the weekend before actual Christmas.  We got back to our home late that Sunday, December 18th, and it was 48 degrees in the house!  The furnace had stopped working at some point that weekend.  Knowing it was a Sunday and nobody was likely to come out, we looked in the phone book and thought we’d try somebody new (for us)…”PrairieSons Inc.” in Brandon.  They said they’d be out the next day. We turned the fireplace on, kept reasonably warm through the night, and waited for them to come the next day.  They arrived, and couldn’t find anything physically wrong with the furnace.  They hit a reset switch (the “roll out switch, that  had tripped), the furnace was running, and they said to just keep an eye on it.

6 days later, we wake up on Christmas Eve morning (Saturday) and it’s not working.  We call. They’re working that day, so they come out, and again, find nothing wrong after doing a diagnostic.  Again, the roll-out switch was flipped, and it runs again.  The guy basically said “it happens”, but didn’t recommend changing out the roll-out switch or anything, so there wasn’t anything new installed, nothing replaced. I got the bill today.  Here’s everything the bill “description” said. The bill didn’t even refer to 2 visits, just the one visit on the 19th:

  • Customer called with no heat
  • Found the roll-out switch had tripped.  Fire unit and it started up and shut down correctly.  Checked intake to exhaust for any obstructions. Found none.  Checked temp rise and filter.

For that…$270, plus $17.55 in taxes.

It’s a rip off.  It’s a ridiculous fee for a very small amount of labor.  I would NEVER use this business again, just for that reason.  But to make it worse, when we got the bill a few weeks later? A small card with a rambling message on the back.  It turns out PrairieSons Inc. has a very religious owner, by the looks of the enclosed card (photo of it shown above).  It’s quite the ramble, moving from topic to topic!  It all ends with a cheery “Godly people are basically guaranteed to suffer” and “The worst is yet to come”.

CHEERY!  Thanks for the sermon, PrairieSons Inc.!  Not that I asked for it.

I contacted the owner and complained about the bill, saying it was a rather ridiculous fee for providing no parts, and simply hitting a reset switch. I also complained about getting a religious message with my bill.  The response?

I am sure there is more to the work we did than hit a reset for the fee that was assessed Terry. I will have Bruce in our office look this up Monday for more clarification and get back to you. In regards to the Bible tract, we send that out with the bill to every new customer. We are sorry you took offense to it. That is a staple of who we are and what we stand for. It may not fit you and that is fine. Everyone will stand before him on the last day and need to make an account of their own life. That is a decision that only you can answer.

Uh…NO, PrairieSons, what I told you was 100% accurate.  You came out, found nothing wrong, reset the “roll out switch” to flip it back on, and…that’s it.  Two times, yes, and if you charge $270 for less than an hour’s worth of work? I guess that’s your prerogative. It’s also my prerogative to complain about your ridiculously high prices.

As for getting ANOTHER sermon, after I complained about the first one?  TERRIFIC customer service, PrairieSons!  What is your business model?  To TRY to piss off your customers?  That’s what it seems like.  Telling your customers they’re basically going to hell isn’t the type of message you typically expect to hear when you’re getting home appliances repaired!

Quick perusal online and I see others have complained about PrairieSons, both in terms of getting ripped off, and in terms of the religious messages.  Save yourself the bother.  Is your furnace out? Air conditioner out?  Live in the Brandon/Sioux Falls area? There are PLENTY of repair places in the area, so unless you skipped church and REALLY, REALLY want a sermon along with your repair…pass on PrairieSons and go with another company.

My first ever endorsement of, well…anything

Scleral Contact Lens

A cross-section that demonstrates the idea of a scleral contact lens. The edge of the lens rests on the sclera, the white of your eye, while the lens “vaults” over the cornea and maintains a thin liquid bath against your cornea. For a dry eye sufferer? It’s heaven-sent.

I had a visit to my ophthalmologist this morning…not exactly earth-shattering news for most people.  Even for me it’s been almost a year since I last visited the eye doctor. The reason today’s visit was notable is because of the contrast of where I was one year ago compared to today.  With Sjogren’s Syndrome, I have incredibly dry eyes.  It goes well beyond simple irritation and the need to periodically use eye drops.  The discomfort is often unbearable, but even worse, the dryness impacts my vision. I have about half an hour after waking in the morning before I start to see double.  I can’t see well enough to participate in my hobbies of photography and drawing, but even worse, I can’t read or work on a computer.  Sjogren’s Syndrome and my dry eyes were strongly impacting my ability to do my job, or participate in what makes life “fun” for me.

A little over a year ago, I started working with a local ophthalmologist. My experience is documented in this very long blog post from last October, and I won’t repeat the entire story here. My eye doctor fit me with scleral contact lenses, a special class of “hard”, gas permeable contact lenses.  They are larger than normal contacts, “vaulting” over the cornea with the edges resting on the whites of your eye.  That vault is designed to provide a tiny gap between your cornea and the lens itself.  When you put the scleral contact lenses in, you look straight down into a mirror, hold the contacts upside down, and fill the bowl of the contact with saline solution.  When the lens is placed in your eye, it effectively seals around the white of your eye, leaving a thin cushion of fluid between your eye and the lens.

As the October post details, it was a long process getting the lenses to fit. Given the extreme astigmatism I have and the odd shape of my eyes, my ophthalmologist said there’s little doubt I’ve been he’s most challenging case (in terms of fitting scleral lenses).  And that’s aside from my Sjogren’s! Checking in a year later, it’s made me realize how much I’ve come to take the scleral lenses for granted.  Perhaps it was just the passage of time and going back to the place I spent so much time a year ago. Perhaps it was having my scleral lenses out for an hour this morning while I was poked and prodded and tested (I am miserable without them).  No matter the reason, today I’m feeling incredibly grateful that at the very moment my happiness and well-being depended upon a solution to my dry eyes, a company just happened to be introducing a new product that was a perfect solution for my difficult case.

I’ve never mentioned the company or the product itself on any social media. Given how it’s changed my life, and given the possibility that other people could potentially be helped, I do want give a shout out to company and product.  The company itself is called “Art Optical“.  They’ve been around since 1931, and have focused exclusively on contact lenses for the past 30 years.  The product that I use is called “Ampleye“.  It’s a product that allows for a lot of specialization…perfect for a guy like me with screwball, weirdly shaped eyes. A few tries with more traditional scleral lenses didn’t go well, while Ampleye was able to provide a good fit.  I wore glasses for 43 years prior to trying scleral lenses, and was worried about comfort. However, once we obtained a proper fit, the contacts were so comfortable that I simply am not aware of their presence.  Given how miserable I am without them, I wear them from dawn to dusk, with little issue.  They do start to get a film on them over the course of the day, and sometimes in the late afternoon or early evening, I’ll take them out and give them a quick cleaning.  Other than that, maintenance is simple, with traditional cleaning and storage as is done with other gas permeable lenses.

Other than the dry eye, my other major concern was my vision.  With such extreme astigmatism, I’m functionally blind without correction.  About 15 years ago, I tried traditional contact lenses, but they wouldn’t work.  It was impossible to keep them in the correct rotation, and with such extreme astigmatism, a rotation of just a few degrees meant that my astigmatism wasn’t properly corrected, and I couldn’t see.  With the Ampleye lenses, they fit “like a pringle chip” (my wonderful eye doctor’s term!).  Because of their shape, they REALLY lock into position, and after I put them in in the morning, they don’t budge all day long.  My horrible vision corrects to BETTER than 20/20, and I’m seeing with a sharpness I never got in wearing glasses for 43 years.

Why am I pushing this out on my blog?  Ever since I started down this path, I’ve come across other people with Sjogren’s Syndrome, and people with dry eyes.  Many have struggled to find relief. Eye drops, protective glasses, prescriptions to stimulate tear production…nothing has worked.  I want to let people know that there IS a potential solution to their dry eyes. If they can find a solution for my dry, screwy eyes, they can help anyone!

One other issue that’s come up with people I’ve talked to is cost.  First of all, note that I was VERY pleasantly surprised at the total cost.  For me, given how many times I had to revisit to get a correct fit, the price was an incredible bargain. Secondly, don’t give up on insurance potentially covering some or all of the cost!  For someone like me, Sjogren’s Syndrome is a disease, a disease with a systematic impact on the health of my eyes.  Dry eye in general is a health issue.  An issue of eye disease.  As my ophthalmologist this morning stated, insurance companies are increasingly recognizing the benefits of scleral lenses and are covering costs.  DON’T let a balky insurance company discourage you!  Fight it!!  And even should an insurance option fail, costs are quite reasonable for what I’ve found to be a incredibly durable, stable product.  As weird as my eyes are and as expensive as it is for me to get regular glasses, the Ampleye costs weren’t substantially higher.

After one year, my ophthalmologist said I didn’t really even need new scleral lenses today. My prescription hasn’t changed, my eye health is good (thanks to these lenses), and other than a couple of tiny scratches that are imperceptible to me, my year-old lenses are rock solid and good to go for quite a while longer!  Today however I did go ahead and order another pair, not because of durability, but because 1) I’m completely sold on the product, and 2) I’m so dependent upon these lenses that I want 2 pairs on hand for “back up”.

Any dry eye sufferers out there who’d like more information, feel free to drop me a line!  I’m NOT being paid or anything to endorse this product!  There’s absolutely nothing I’m personally benefiting from by writing this blog post. I truly just want to share my story, let people know about this product, and let people know that help may be out there for you.

Trying to stump “Merlin”

Cassin's Sparrow - Peucaea cassinii

A Cassin’s Sparrow, a rather plain, non-descript sparrow found in parts of the southern Great Plains and Southwest. Merlin was able to easily ID all of the “little brown job” sparrow species I tried, including Cassin’s, Vesper’s, Rufous-winged, Rufous-crowned, Black-throated, Black-chinned, and other sparrow species.

I’ve been birding 15 years now, and there aren’t really many occasions any more where I’m stumped on a bird ID.  The only occasions I have any difficulty are with species that are inherently damned hard to tell apart by sight, things like the Empidonax flycatchers or others where hearing a song/call or other audio clue might be needed to make a positive ID. I rarely ever even have a field guide with me when I’m out birding.  I do love field guides in general, and they certainly were a godsend when I first started birding, I hate to say it, but they’re a bit obsolete now, when you can put the equivalent of every major field guide directly on your cell phone.  I DO nearly always have my cell phone with me, and while I don’t use it much for visual ID issues in the field, it is handy for trying to figure out what call or song I heard.

I knew Cornell’s “Merlin” app has been out a little while, but hadn’t downloaded or tested it.  Merlin is an app for IOS or Android that allows you to identify birds in two ways.  If you see a bird but are stumped on an ID, you can enter the location, size, colors and other characteristics, etc., and Merlin will spit out the likely species.  More intriguing to me is the photo ID option.  You can simply choose any photo on your device, or take a photo, and have Merlin try to identify the species.  The “Take a Photo” option isn’t very useful, as your iPhone or Android phone just aren’t going to be able to get good bird photos unless  you’re at a feeder or other setting where birds are extremely close. However, I was intrigued by the option to identify the species from an existing photo, so I gave it a spin.

I have a huge number of bird photos, but most are on my desktop computer’s hard drives. The only ones I actually had on my phone were ones I processed on my iPad that got integrated with my photostream, from a trip to Arizona.  Still, I did have photos from quite a few species.  Some were quite clear and distinctive, photos that should be easy identifications. Others weren’t so clear, and I also had photos of several species that just aren’t that common in the U.S. How would Merlin do in identifying my Arizona bird photos?

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher - Polioptila melanura

OK, I probably wasn’t being fair to Merlin with this one, but I tried photos of a female Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. Both photos are of the same bird, but different angles and postures. For the first, Merlin mis-identified it as a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, without giving the option of Black-tailed, even when I told it the photo location. The second photo it handled without problem, likely because in that photo, you can see the distinctive darker coloring on the underside of the tail. Even there though…Merlin was impressive! The tail underside is shaded and not all that distinguishable, but Merlin handled it.

In short…pretty damned good!  It took me a while before I was able to stump Merlin.  I started with some easier ID’s. I had been to Madera Canyon south of Tucson, and had a number of hummingbird species at the feeders there.  Merlin easily handled all the male hummingbird photos, and to my surprise, did a good job on identifying female and immature hummingbirds as well.  I was fortunate to see and get decent, but not great, photos of an Elegant Trogon in Florida Canyon.  Merlin handled the rarity without issue (OK, that one SHOULD be easy to identify!!).  Lawrence’s Goldfinch, partially obscured by a weed?  No problem, although it did give me “alternative” answers other than the primary choice of Lawrence’s Goldfinch.  Multiple different sparrow species with sometimes not so obvious plumage differences?  No problem.  Birds in flight?  Did just fine on White-tailed Kites, a Gyrfalcon flight shot I happened to have on my phone, and other flight shots.  I quickly went through about 35 species, and Merlin handled them all flawlessly (although like the Lawrence’s Goldfinch example, there were a some cases where “alternative” ID’s were provided in addition to the primary ID).

I was thinking Merlin was infallible!  It is awfully good, but it has trouble with some of the same species I might have trouble with in an ID.  I tried two photos of a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, one of which was at an angle that was “unfair”, in that you really couldn’t see the tail characteristics that might distinguish it from a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.  It missed the ID in that photo, but was able to correctly ID the same bird in a photo from a different angle.  Another it had trouble with is one that I myself would definitely have trouble identifying.  I had a photo of a Gray Flycatcher (one of those nasty, hard to ID Empidonax flycatchers), and Merlin whiffed. It was a clear photo, and I even entered the photo location, but that was the one case where Merlin didn’t find a single “match”.

Merlin is a really nice piece of software, and it’s an app I’ll keep on my phone.  In the real world though…it’s an app that’s going to be most useful to new or casual birders.  For an experienced birder, Merlin is going to have the same identification troubles that we may have. Feed it a bad photo, or a photo of species that are just difficult to visually identify, and Merlin will struggle just as a birder might struggle. There’s also the issue of actually getting a photo to the app to be identified.  As I said previously, people just aren’t likely to take good, identifiable bird photos with their cell phones, so Merlin is likely most useful for photos taken on a DSLR or other camera body.  For me and my Canon 70D, it’s always an adventure trying to get photos transferred from my camera body to my iPad or iPhone, with a wireless app that is balky even on its best days.  For that reason alone, even if I were a beginning birder, Merlin might be less useful to me (through no fault of Merlin itself).  Merlin also might be less useful for rarities, as it seems to cover most native/common birds in the U.S. and Canada, but misses some of the rarer or exotic ones.

Overall though, very cool piece of software, and one that I do wish I had when I had started birding 15+ years ago.


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