And now, yet another site redesign

I wish I’d taken screenshots over the years of how many times I’ve redone this site. Then again, that’s a longer slideshow than I’d have time to deal with.

But this is a big transition for me. I’ve self-hosted and patched things together on my own through wordpress.org for the better part of a decade now. I had a miserable time with GoDaddy after imploding my own site while working on it at 3 a.m. (never a good idea), and they held my site hostage for $200 to recover it. But that’s years in the past. 

I moved to Westhost, which is a nice host if you’re looking for something barebones that has a barely functional backend. But if you FTP all of your stuff, it’s a fantastic experience.

But it’s May, which means my annual fee was due. $100 was coming out of my wallet in the next week and I really wasn’t looking forward to it. Thankfully, my girlfriend was looking at hosts for her own site and rather than thinking of trying to find a host and putting together a WordPress install (mental note: I should really work on that), I checked out WordPress.com.

Now just a quick note: There are two different Wordpress configurations: WordPress.org is the self-hosted version where you host it yourself. WordPress.com is the service the company offers that’s free to start with, but has a few fees attached here and there.

It turns out what I needed fell under the free plan. Outside of $13/yr to map a domain I bought through another service, I’m not paying a dime.

As an added bonus, we use WordPress VIP (a much more costly and fully featured version for businesses) at CBS Sacramento, so I’m working in the same ecosystem across the board. 

The only headache is I have to reattach images to posts, and fix posts with custom slideshows—my page design archive is a puddle of URLs and short codes at the moment. 

But now I have a much better setup for posting and sharing things, which means I’ll be full of ambition and ready to write so much more. 

And then I’ll come back in September and this will be my most recent post.

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California Senators Hold On To Pay Because Of New Jersey Court Decision

NOTE: This story originally appeared at CBS Sacramento.

Three California state senators were officially suspended on Friday by a 28-1 vote, but will continue to receive their pay in part because of a New Jersey court decision, according to documents obtained by CBS13.

The legal troubles of Sens. Ron Calderon, Roderick Wright and Leland Yee have cast a pall on the crumbling Democratic supermajority in the state Senate.

TIMELINE: SENATORS’ LEGAL TROUBLES

But Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is reluctant to strip the suspended lawmakers of their pay and benefits because of a legal opinion from the state’s Legislative Counsel Bureau raising possible conflicts with the state’s constitution.

The basis for the opinion starts in 1990 with Proposition 112. The measure, placed on the ballot by the state legislature, was a constitutional amendment meant to curb gifts an influence from lobbyists. It also created the California Citizens Compensation Commission, which would set pay and benefits for legislators.

The Legislative Counsel Bureau advised Steinberg that while senators may be suspended, their compensation can’t be touched by the Senate:

“Apart from the suspension of a Senator’s authority to exercise the privileges of office, we conclude that the Senate may not suspend the salary or benefits of the Senator for the duration of the suspension,” the bureau’s opinion states.

New Jersey Court Rules Against Unilateral Action Against Assemblyman

The bureau pointed toward a 2011 legal decision in New Jersey where an assemblyman’s pay was stripped following a flurry of indictments.

According to court records, New Jersey Assemblyman Joseph Vas was indicted four times in just over four months in 2009:

March 11, 2009: State grand jury returns an 11-count indictment, charging him with crimes committed while mayor of Perth Amboy, including conspiracy, misconduct, pattern of official misconduct, theft, misapplication of government property, and tampering with public records.

May 20, 2009: A federal grand jury indicted Vas on eleven counts, charging him with defrauding the public, misapplication of government funds, making illegal campaign contributions, and related crimes.

May 21,  2009: Vas was charged in a separate 19-count state grand jury indictment with additional crimes committed in his capacity as Perth Amboy mayor, including conspiracy, official misconduct, misapplication of entrusted property, financial facilitation of criminal activity, theft, and a host of other related crimes.

July 21, 2009: Another federal indictment added more charges related to violations of campaign contribution laws.

After 44 people, including three New Jersey mayors and two New Jersey assemblymen, then Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts, Jr., suspended Vas of his salary and benefits on July 29, 2009.

Vas would appeal the decision, and the court would rule that the unilateral actions taken by the speaker stepped outside the bounds of the New Jersey state constitution. The court did state that had Roberts used the procedures that were in place for sanctioning members, an assembly committee could hard served charges, and that committee could recommend a punishment for the Assembly to carry out.

Legislative Counsel Bureau Balks At Senate Suspending Senators’ Pay

While senators were able to suspend Calderon, Yee and Wright for their legal troubles, the three senators will continue to receive their pay.

That’s because Proposition 112 inserted a provision in the state Constitution, putting the decision in the hands of the California Citizens Compensation Commission:

“Until a resolution establishing or adjusting the annual salary and the medical, dental, insurance, and other similar benefits for state officers takes effect, each state officer shall continue to receive the same annual salary and the medical, dental, insurance, and other similar benefits received previously.” (Article III, Section 8, subdivision i)

According to the legal opinion from the Legislative Counsel Bureau, this portion of the state Constitution puts the issue of compensation for the senators in the hands of the commission and outside the authority of the Senate.

What is the California Citizens Compensation Commission?

The California Constitutional amendment that created the commission states the group meets annually before the fiscal year ends on June 30 to decide what changes are made to legislators’ compensation.

It’s made up of the following people:

• Three members of the public: “[One of whom has expertise in the area of compensation … one of whom is a member of a nonprofit public interest organization; and one of whom is representative of the general population …”

• “Two members who have experience in the business community”

• “Two members, each of whom is an officer or member of a labor organization.”• None of those members can be a current or former officer or employee of the state.

The members are required to be “engaged in official duties” about 45 days out of the year.

In more than two decades of the commission’s existence, there’s no precedent for stripping a lawmaker of their entire salary and benefits amid a legal investigation.

Facebook Algorithm Change Hurting News Sites’ Organic Reach

Monday afternoon brought an unpleasant surprise to the CBS Sacramento Facebook page. News stories that were posted to the Facebook page weren’t gaining any traction.

We’ve dipped our toes into advertising on Facebook, but for the most part we are dependent on Organic Reach—basically how a post would show up in people’s News Feeds based on shares, likes and comments.

At one point on Monday, our numbers dropped significantly. I’m not going to share exact numbers, but percentages instead. Posts made during that time had a total reach approximately 10 to 25 percent of what similar posts were getting earlier in the day.

Again, that’s not a 10 to 25 percent drop, that’s 10 to 25 percent, period.

Google is one of our top referrers for our traffic, but Facebook also plays a significant role in how much traffic our site gets. Losing 75 to 90 percent of our reach in one day is a severe gut check in terms of the number of people coming to our site.

After some research, I came across a post from Facebook’s newsroom ironically titled “News Feed FYI: Helping You Find More News to Talk About.” It explained how Facebook was going to make things more relevant and offer more high-quality content.

People use Facebook to share and connect, including staying current on the latest news, whether it’s about their favorite celebrity or what’s happening in the world. We’ve noticed that people enjoy seeing articles on Facebook, and so we’re now paying closer attention to what makes for high quality content, and how often articles are clicked on from News Feed on mobile. What this means is that you may start to notice links to articles a little more often (particularly on mobile).

This post sounds like fantastically good news for our Facebook page. We are dedicated to bringing the latest news to the region, from Sacramento to Stockton to Vacaville to the Sierra. We have a strict policy that posts on our Facebook page should have meaning and relate to what we’ve posted on our site. No memes, no Reddit reposts, just the news.

And that’s something Facebook is interested in as well, quoting the post:

Why are we doing this? Our surveys show that on average people prefer links to high quality articles about current events, their favorite sports team or shared interests, to the latest meme. Starting soon, we’ll be doing a better job of distinguishing between a high quality article on a website versus a meme photo hosted somewhere other than Facebook when people click on those stories on mobile. This means that high quality articles you or others read may show up a bit more prominently in your News Feed, and meme photos may show up a bit less prominently.

Again, this should be fantastic news for our Facebook page. What we’re providing is exactly the kind of content they want to promote.

And CBS Sacramento is not alone. I reached out on Twitter to see if anyone else had been affected. Sacramento Bee Interactivity Editor Nathaniel Miller replied, saying he was seeing “historically low” organic reach numbers.

He also pointed out an interesting fact: The Bee’s Facebook page had some of its best engagement last week when the change in the algorithm took place. A check back at our posts in the previous week show the same trend, with some posts seeing 200-300 percent higher reach than average.

Given the complexities involved in adjusting Facebook algorithms, things like this are bound to happen from time to time. It would appear their change promoted news stories a little too heavily last week. A change was made Monday afternoon that dialed that back, but to a degree that caused the opposite of what Facebook originally intended.

And it appears whatever bit got flipped the wrong way is causing a bizarre reach delay. Earlier I mentioned Monday’s posts getting 10 to 25 percent of their normal traffic. A check of those same stories show the reach improving 24 hours later to about 60-75 percent of normal—still not back to normal, but it’s a start.

The problem is, if this latest change to Facebook’s algorithm is focused on current events and relevant news stories, it’s doing a terrible job. Stories posted to our News Feed on Tuesday are still garnering the anemic numbers as stories posted on Monday. While seeing the bump in reach throughout the day is encouraging, there’s a reason they’re called “current events.” Plopping them into someone’s feed 24 hours later strips the immediacy and relevance of the story, leaving readers and viewers with stale news about events one could hardly call “current.”

This also is a critical reminder for website managers not to rely on one source for their traffic. We’ve been lucky that through solid SEO practices and other channels for sharing stories, our website traffic hasn’t dropped as much as our Facebook traffic.

Here’s hoping this issue is remedied quickly. I’d have sent all this to Facebook in an email, but frankly their customer support options are terrible. A company designed around reaching out and connecting should have a better way for customers to connect to them.

DVD Review: Parade’s End

“They could not have picked a worse person to review this.”

Those were the reassuring and entirely accurate words from my girlfriend after finishing Parade’s End.

I’m the guy who has managed to fall asleep during Downton AbbeyPride and Prejudice, and some third British period piece that’s making me drowsy just thinking about it.

And the beginning of Parade’s End had me worried I’d need to load up on Adderall ahead of time.

The five-part BBC-HBO miniseries billed as “spanning from the Edwardian era to the chaos and destructions of World War I” stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Christopher Tietjens—a man so good, he frustrates everyone around him to the point of madness.

[one_half][quote type=”center”]The five-part BBC-HBO miniseries billed as “spanning from the Edwardian era to the chaos and destructions of World War I” stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Christopher Tietjens—a man so good, he frustrates everyone around him to the point of madness.[/quote][/one_half]

And I mean just about everyone, whether it’s government officials frustrated that he won’t tweak the numbers, his wife (played by Rebecca Hall) he married because it was the right thing to do, or even the woman everyone is convinced must be his mistress—a young suffragette Valentine Wannop, played by Adelaide Clemens (who you may remember as Catherine from The Great Gatsby.)

To a certain degree, this even extends to the viewers. Tietjens understands the upcoming conflict that will ensnarl most of Europe in the next few years with a thoroughness that likely comes from narrative hindsight.

The best way to define Tietjens is he’s the reverse Walter White. While viewers find themselves rooting for someone who should by all means be a villain in Breaking Bad, I found myself becoming more and more frustrated with Tietjens’ stoic goody-goodiness. The fact that between Ford Madox Ford’s original 1920s novels and this production a character was crafted to create this much frustration is a testament to how good this is.

Following his journey from proper member of the social hufflebruffle to the foxholes of World War I is like watching a square peg try to fit in a round hole, only to have both become squircles.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this miniseries, especially toward the latter parts. For people who aren’t into the usual pomp and circumstance of Victorian/Edwardian England, hang in there. It’ll be worth it by the end.

But how to watch it?

Do you have HBOGO? Then don’t bother with the DVD release. You’re just paying to have it on disc with zero special features.

The Blu-Ray does promise an NPR interview with writer Tom Stoppard, which might be worth it for Shakespeare In Love fans.

If you don’t already have HBO, then the $25 being asked for on Amazon right now is a very fair price for something that will keep you engaged for five hours.

As a side suggestion for a very Benedict Cumberbatch weekend, pick this up, along with Star Trek Into Darkness and then get caught up on Sherlock on Netflix before season 3 starts, eventually.

Final Fantasy All The Bravest: The cash grab to end all cash grabs

Before putting fingers to keys, I went through many different ways to begin this review. Don’t want to start off the new site with too much hyperbole after all. But after careful thought and consideration, I could only reach this conclusion:

Final Fantasy: All The Bravest is the most asinine cash grab I have ever seen.

From the screenshots provided in the iTunes Store, it looks like you’re buying a competent game. And yes, in theory, it’s competent. Insofar as I have yet to run into a crash or terrible lag issues.

It looks like a Final Fantasy game. It sounds like a Final Fantasy game. But appearances can be deceiving.

HOW TO DUMB DOWN AN RPG

First off a little background: The battle system in Final Fantasy games starting with Final Fantasy IV used what’s called an Active Time Battle system. Instead of both sides getting one attack per turn, a gauge fills up for each character. Once it’s filled, they can attack.

In case you didn’t notice, All The Bravest shares the acronym ATB with the battle system. The game also features the sprites, music and ideas from the first six (well, more than that, but patience) games of the series for the initial $3.99 price tag. That’s where any connection with a Final Fantasy game ends.

Gameplay goes like this: See those enemies over there? Swirl your finger over your guys until they’re dead. Rinse, repeat. There is no strategy, no complexity, just swirl and tap and hope you make it through the fight. Don’t bother worrying about what spell your mage is going to use, that’s been chosen well in advance.

What happens if you don’t succeed? Well the battle scene freezes and you’ll get a character back every three minutes. Considering your party can hold up to 40 characters with enough leveling up and posting how much the game sucks on Twitter, that could be up to two hours.

For the impatient, Square-Enix has you covered. Gold Hourglasses will replenish an entire party. And because they’re such great people, the company spots you three whole hourglasses. And then requires using one to survive the first tutorial battle.

[two_third][box] Throwing this cash grab out there makes that game that held your kid’s fish hostage unless you paid up look saintly [/box][/two_third]

Want more? Fork over 99 cents for three, $1.99 for 8, or for the super-impatient there’s a 20-pack for $2.99.

The game consists of nine worlds with tiny elements borrowed from each game. Your battle path consists of the following in each world:

1) A couple of waves of mooks

2) A mini-boss

3) A few more waves of mooks

4) A boss you probably won’t be able to beat the first time, unless you’ve been grinding properly

Any character development you might remember from those first six Final Fantasy games has been wiped clean to match the complexity of the game.

A WHOLE NEW BATCH OF WORLDS

But what if you’re a masochist like me, bought the game when it first game out, beat Neoexdeath after a few rounds and have nothing left to do? Oh there’s plenty. You can go back and find every last enemy and the useless weapon drops. Or you can go to the part where this cash grab turns simply amazing.

There are three more worlds available to explore: Midgar from VII, Zanarkand from X and Archylte Steppe from XII. Each of these World Tickets cost a mere $3.99. Each. If you’re keeping track at home:

Main game $3.99
First world $3.99
Second world $3.99
Third world $3.99
Total cost so far: $15.96 + Any additional Gold Hourglasses

“Kyle,” you’re asking, “Aren’t you being a little ridiculous? $16 isn’t that much. They charge $15.99 for Final Fantasy IV by itself in the store.”

I’m just getting warmed up.

CHARACTER ASSASSINATION

It would be one thing if the game itself was only $16. But what you’re getting in the base game and in each of the expansions is just the generic classes: the monks, the warriors, the geomancers, etc. The good stuff is still behind the counter.

After all, who wouldn’t want to bring in all-around spike-haired icon Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII? He’s only heralded as being one of the greatest video game characters of all time. He can be all yours for just 99 cents—if you’re lucky.

Additional characters (read: the actual characters from games, not just generic classes) are available for 99 cents each. But to head off people cherry picking their favorite characters, Square-Enix made it random. That 99 cents means you get a chance at the character of your dreams. What kind of chance?

1 in 35.

That’s right, for 99 cents each, you can take a stab and test your luck at getting the character you’re lusting after (and if you are lusting after a character in this series, stop reading and seek help). And if you’re a completionist, that’s just $34.65 out of your pocket.

Let’s add it up again:

Main game $3.99
First world $3.99
Second world $3.99
Third world $3.99
35 characters: $34.65
Total cost so far: $50.61 + Any additional Gold Hourglasses

That’s right, more than $50 on a swirl and tap adventure with no complexity or skill required.

And just to spit in your eye, it’s really easy to acquire money in this game. You can’t spend it on anything, but it’s easy to rack up more than 5 milion gil by the end of it.

Maybe if Square-Enix didn’t charge for the base game and made the characters and/or hourglasses purchasable with the gil accumulated in the game, this wouldn’t sting as much. But throwing this cash grab out there makes that game that held your kid’s fish hostage unless you paid up look saintly.

SCREENSHOT GALLERY

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