The Great TV Auction

Decades ago I worked with two Public TV stations. They collected items from local businesses and sold them at auction over the TV station. Dubbed the “Great TV Auction” the funds helped fund the stations activities in addition to pledge drives, but was lots more entertaining. This event could last 4 or more hours a night for 10 days in a row.
Items included such donations as furniture, a car from a dealership, vacations, hobby courses, paintings and so on. The items hopefully showcased the business who donated them and an encouragement for viewers to learn about local businesses and perhaps stop on by.
The donor received free advertising of their business, the winning bidder got a great deal (in some cases an excellent deal) and the station got the money. All in all, a three-way win. The FCC looked the other way as the public loved this way of funding the station.
A few items were novel.
A local politician offered his services as a bartender and a local frat house won that one! A bank offered 1 days interest on a million dollars (meant to have people call and find the interest rate to help them bid). A political sex scandal involved a U.S. Rep and his secretary Elizabeth Ray. She donated a pair of her hot pants.
Some soap operas offered autographed scrips of an episode.
One manufacturer called and asked if we could use some manufactured fireplace logs (you know, the kind that you buy in the stores, wrapped in paper). When the stations said “Sure” they soon found a tractor trailer parked in their lot filled with these things!
Another item was a small glass bowl with a small tube of aroma which could be used in places with odors. They didn’t really catch on until one woman suggested we call them ‘smelly bowls” and they flew off the shelves.
Having DJ experience, I did some on-the-air electioneering. If they needed someone to help dress the tables before they went on the air, I was there. I also answered telephones taking bids.
One year an Engineer came up to me and asked if I was a Ham radio operator. I said yes and he asked if I ever used a TV camera. I said I had a small VCR camera at home. He took me over to one of those big pedestal-mounted cameras and showed me how it worked. I thought it was just a nice thing to show me until it sunk in.After 5 minutes of playing at being a cameraman he put a headset on me and said, “You are camera 3. The Director will tell you what to do, when your camera is live, don’t move it, unless told to. We go live in 10 minutes!”. That year we were simulcast by every TV station in the DC/Baltimore market. For 2 hours you could not change channels without getting the TV auction. That was exciting enough but more so for the poor Ham Radio guy assigned to Camera 3! Imagine having your work (and any mistakes) seen my millions of people!
As the years passed, I also wrote and managed a complete computer inventory system. I was self-taught on systems and had never written a complete software package, yet with just a few improvements over time, this system worked for almost a decade and was invaluable in tracking items as they were received, bid upon and picked up. Reports included percentage of retail the station received.
The station along with its sister station were well regarded and one of the two stations hosted the first year of the Bob Ross Joy of Painting series. I never met Bob believe we auctioned off one of his paintings.
Being in the DC area we had our share of Redskins, politicians and personalities. One was Willard Scott, known to many as a local radio/TV personality, NBC weatherman and in earlier years local Bozo the Clown and the original Ronald McDonald!
Finally, the station management decided to close down te yearly show. It was a lot of preparation, hard to gather 100 volunteers each night for ten nights and just lots of scheduling and coordination items. I suggested that rather than hordes of people and products, maybe just have an hour show every night with items, in a lot smaller production. I remember the Manager says “Nobody is going to tune in every night to shop…” The very next year, the Home Shopping Network started. Seems I was on to something 🙂
For those of you who watched the show or for those who enjoyed the story, here is a place-card which started the show.
Here is an old TV Promo:
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Has It Been A Month?

Has it been a month since my last posting? Yes! There were times where I posted updates daily and sometimes a few entries a day. Those days appear to be long ago and far away.

Here is a recent update:

I chipped a tooth Tuesday and since I was in town and not near my documents with names and phone numbers, I stopped by the dentist office. They made an appointment for me today at 10am.
The front of one of my front teeth came off and I am thinking this was a crown of some sort to cover the already shipped surface.
Although I know it won’t be too expensive, it just adds to the outlay of money I’ll make this month as I have tractor repairs scheduled also. They will be in the $1,000 range at least.
See how exciting my life is? Some of you were waiting for the latest and now are probably wondering if you have been wasting your time in anticipation.
Yes, there is much going on, however is it exciting enough to post?
The drivers window in my truck is broken. The glass part has separated from the channel which raises it up and down. I made a fix a couple of months ago but it was temporary. I now need to open the door back up and make a permanent fix.
There have been workers diligently weed whacking the farm (primarily the coffee part). I use the tractor to mow between the rows and they take care of the grass between the trees. The fruit orchard is another issue. Most of the area is mowed but I have been weeding near the trees myself. With so much rain lately, weeds and grass are almost out of control. Now with the tractor out of commission for a while, it can only get worse. The current tractor issue is two fold. First I have a hydraulic line leak. That part is on order and will get me back to mowing fairly quickly. The second issue is that I have broken the pinion which drives the front wheels in four wheel drive. That will cost $1,000 or so to fix. The good thing is that I can still use the tractor to mow in two wheel drive and push that repair off a few weeks to a few months. I just have to be careful driving in certain areas on the farm.
The workers also have helped by fertilizing and spraying my coffee trees. It is a trade-out of sorts as their team has borrowed my ATV to help them on a larger farm and they are helping me on mine. If it is just me doing the work here, the ATV helps as I move fertilizer around the farm with it and also use the attached sprayer to spray the trees. These workers can walk and do that work quickly on their own without the ATV. So it just works out as a trade-out for me and them.
A local church has had a few security issues so I am installing security cameras for them. This church is a well-known attraction well over 100 years old. Recent issues started not long after some homeless people moved into a nearby area. 100 years of no problems, then three break-ins in as many months.
After a successful 50th High School Reunion thsi past May, I am not helping the next years 50th planners on their own website.
Speaking of websites, a local farmer asked for help with his website and sales. He or a worker goes to farmers markets on the island to sell his jams, jellies and spreads, all made with local ingredients. The items are great but a bit expensive. I looked at his website and there was not much to do to it as it already does almost all of what he needs. He wants some Social Media work to get more people to the site. I don’t do a lot of that type of work, so sent a friend his information. The other issue is a bit perplexing. He wants to increase traffic to his site but does not really want others to sell his product. A local farm who has a lot of foot traffic in the farm store offered to buy his items at wholesale and sell a lot. He declined. They then offered to buy at retail and resell the items and he declined. The farm store would have marked the items up quite a bit but would have no problem selling his stuff. He just doesn’t want that to happen, so it won’t. I can understand the idea of not wanting to sell at a wholesale price, but having someone buy at retail and resell can make sense; especially when he has to travel hours to sell at a farmers market on the other side of the island.
Contrast his case with the guy on Shark Tank, the TV show where inventors try to get investors in the business. One guy had a product which he sold on  his his website and had great sales. When the investors quizzed him, his goal was to use the investment to sell at places like Costco and Walmart. They could not get him to understand that by going from the E-commerce online business which was doing great to a store model was counter-productive. It seemed like ego that he wanted to see his product in stores. The problem is he would immediately give up half his profit or more to the store and their distributors and shelf stockers. Also he would now be showcased next to another similar product. A better solution would be for him to revise the website and get more traffic thus keeping all of the profit in house. There is a good book called “The Walmart Effect” which gives insight into retail especially with their stores. The tout “Lower Prices Everyday” and it is true. They will keep asking suppliers to drop their prices, in some cases so low that the producers may have to start sending production overseas. This article by the same author describes this in more detail.
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A Long Trip

I needed to have an eye exam for glasses and there is a long wait on this island for that. My HMO (Kaiser), Costco and even Walmart have appointments starting months in the future.
To get a quicker appointment I scheduled one at Kaiser on the other side of the island in Hilo. Normally a 2 hour drive from my house. I have two choices of routes, the southern route which is a long and windy road past the southernmost point in the U.S. and the volcano park. The other route goes north and then cuts across the middle of the island between the two massive volcanoes Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.
I woke up at 5am to read some email, feed the dogs, take a shower and left the house at 7am for my 10am check in. I chose the northern route because if there is an accident along that trip, there are few to no other alternatives and you wait for them to clear the road It can be an accident, landslide of rocks and mud from heavy rain or downed trees or poles.
About 3 miles from the house I got a text message though the Nixl service that the upper road was blocked with an accident. That means taking the highway to Waikoloa and then up through the Village and backtracking a bit to take the improved road across the island. When I got into Kailua-Kona I got a text that the entrance to that road was blocked too with an accident. It turns out that was a 3 vehicle accident where an off-duty firefighter dies because a young driver recklessly passed multiple vehicles in a no passing area.
So I ended up taking the alternate entrance to Saddle Road and got to Kaiser there with 7 minutes to spare. Total drive time 2 hours and 53 minutes. I had been planning upon having breakfast before the appointment, but now it would be an early lunch.
The eye check went well and I got my prescription and PD (the pupil distance) which is needed to buy glasses. It used to be that the PD measurement was more difficult to get as opticians use that number to fit glasses and lose business nowadays when people get them online.
I headed to ‘Ken’s House of Pancakes’ which sells many more things than pancakes and I got chicken teri stir-fry. If I could have waited 3 1/2 hours I could have ordered the prime rib.
After lunch I headed back home along the southern route. I opted to skip the zoo (where we have Bengal Tigers) but did stop at the volcano park for an hour to see the new crater.
When I got to Hawaiian Ocean View Estates, I stopped to see a friend and chat for a while. I finally made it home at about 6pm. There was a full rainbow but I was too tired to go up the property to photograph it. Besides, my cellphone camera has too narrow a view to get it all in one shot.
I watched some TV and then fell asleep about 8pm. The dogs, who had been outside all day, decided that midnight was a great time to wake me up so they could go out. Thus the reason I write this at 1am.
By the way, I got a pretty good bill of health on my eyes and I was able to get my flu shot as a walk-in right after my eye exam.
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Now I Know How Amazon Makes Its Money

I did a quick report and since this date in 2006 I have purchased 285 items for a total paid price of $11,366.95. This includes items I have purchased for other people because they didn’t have an Amazon Prime account of their own. Still, over 11 thousand dollars!
The most expensive item was some dog crates used to ship dogs via airplanes. I bought 10 of them at just over $63 each and they came by FedEx.
On the opposite side, I bought (if bought is the correct term) a number of free books for my Kindle.
I downloaded the file from Amazon and loaded the .csv file into Excel so I could sort it and do some totals. Besides sorting by obvious categories such as purchase date or amount of order, I also sorted and looks at who I shipped the items to.
If I wanted, I could also compare list price and what I paid, or to just see what tax I paid on items.
They say that when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When I see data, everything looks like data needing analyzing!
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I Guess It Could Be Worse

Normally on Friday nights I go to the beach and meet up with neighbors and friends for a weekly sunset pot luck dinner. I didn’t go tonight.

My truck safety inspection is due by the end of the month. Although I have seen others who for months and in one case about a year overdue, with my luck I would get pulled over and ticketed days from now.

Well, I had renewed my registration a few months back but can not find the registration card which is needed for the safety check. Although the date is shown on the vehicle tag sticker, i is not enough, you need the paperwork and I misplaced it. It should have been in the truck, but the expression ‘should of’ makes the world go around. I needed a few things in town anyway so I headed up there at about 1:15 PM.

The DMV was fairly empty so I hoped for a fairly quick time. Here in Hawaii they have a greeter who makes sure you have your proper paperwork and then assigns you a number. You sit outside in the courtyard and over the P.A. and on a TV screen your number is announced along with which counter to go to. Back on the mainland many places make you stand in a line to be directed to another line. Here we sit outside in nice weather. The tickets are not called in order and I think I have cracked part of the code. Tickets have a letter first like M, C or R and so on. I think M is for licenses (M for Motor), C for Commercial, R for Road Test and license tests and so on.  So as I wait they called varios numbers. Mine was M-307. The person called a few before my was M-703. I didn’t have dyslexia so I waited.

The greeter had told me my replacement registration would be $6. I had cash, my insurance info, my license and my old expired registration. The wait outsie was almost exactly 1 hour. It seems that there was not a full compliment of clerks inside today; still, 1 hour is not a horrible wait. When my number was called I headed inside to the proper spot and found a seasoned worker was training a new hire for that position. She was efficient even though she asked if each step was correct. The fee was only $5 because I did not need new stickers for my tags, just the new paperwork for the inspection. Time inside was 5 to 10 minutes.

The inspection station I normally use it nearby DMV and Costco. I figured I could do both and still get to pot luck. When I pulled into the space where the inspection takes place, they had moved! As I backed out and was turning around, there they were! They now have a pull through warehouse slot! I didn’t have to go anywhere after all to get the inspection. One person ahead of me so I had a short wait. My truck passed inspection easily. We don’t do any emission testing here, probably because of the volcanic smoke we get that is worse than all the vehicle smog.

I went into Costco and noticed there was easy parking today and the lines were fairly short. I looked around the prepared food area and didn’t see anything I could get that did not require me to head home and prepare. I opted for a bagged salad with a dressing packet inside. I was out of Costco by 4:11 PM and that cost was only $5.21. It IS possible to get out of Costco without paying over $100.

Traffic was heavy and although I needed to pick up some things from Walmart along the way home, I opted for the pot luck and passed Walmart. I hit even more traffic and heard sirens and would have just headed back to Walmart but there was no easy way to back track. As I got closer to home it started raining and I could see down the coast that our spot by the ocean would probably get rain tonight. Since we don’t have a good place to take shelter, I knew by then that I would be eating at home tonight.

I finished what was left of a chicken salad plate and had a beer because one of the things I was going to buy today was soda. Beer is pretty much the only cold drink I had handy.

I went to bed early partly because I was up early this morning to participate in a weekly radio show from the U.K. which begins at 6 AM my time, but the sound of heavy rain woke me up at 10:30 PM. To keep the dogs from waking up, I quietly went into the hall bathroom, lit by only a night light. The light keps me from having to have a bright light on which would totally wake me up. I felt water against my leg and my first thought was that the there was a leak in the ceiling and this was rain. IT turns out the hose from the floor to the tank was spraying water. I ran down stairs and brought up the carpet shampooer and suctioned up the water on the floor. It had not done enough damage to leak into the down stairs and I plan upon having the floor redone in that bathroom within 2 years.

So now I am wide awake and hungry and still don’t have anything cold to drink. I may make some Tang drink or a cup of tea. For food I may dig into that bag of salad I bought.

I will be up now for many hours and I have two things I must do tomorrow. I will stop by the post office and then go to a memorial service for our Vet who passed away suddenly. I hope the weather holds up as we are having the service in a nearby park. Afterwards I’ll go back into town and do the rest of my shopping.


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Almost Productive

I had a bit of time this morning to address two broken items on the farm.

The first was the washing machine which has a water level issue. As water fills the tub, it pushes water into a tube filled with air. That air compresses and presses upon a rubber diaphragm which triggers a switch. That switch tells the washer to stop filling the tank and begin agitation. There are two failures which can happen with this system. One is that the tub will keep filling and overflow, never shutting off. The second is that the water can stop, such as mine did and never start agitation. I disassembled the unit, checked the contacts and oiled the seal. It seems to be working but I have a new unit on the way (Ebay) for a delivered price of less than $10. I will also find a replacement plastic tube just in case.

Then, having had mostly success with the washer, I headed to the truck. Recently the window came off the track. I had checked a video online and armed with that info, took the door apart. The window glass had popped off the track and I readjusted it and it is working for now. A better solution will be to replace the adhesive that attaches to the glass. I will consider that because after putting it all together, I found one part left over! It is a plastic ring with some foam that keeps the speaker in the door from rattling. If it rattles, the door will come back apart sooner than later.

Still, almost two for two and total repair times only about an hour or two.


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It Is Always One Thing Or Another

It is not just living on a farm that brings work. On a farm you may be always repairing the tractor, mower, fences, roadways, irrigation systems and so on. My farm is no different. However, at the moment I have outside stairs that need replacing before they totally fall apart.

Then there is the washing machine. The other day I started a medium-sized load but when I came back, it had stopped mid-cycle. I have done some testing and found that the problem seems related to the water level control. The timer switch also has given me problems in the past and has already been replaced perhaps 7 or more years ago. I seem to remember buying this washer however the previous one was a giveaway I found.

Then there is the truck. A couple nights ago I pressed the switch to roll down the drivers side window and it jerked and fall at a slight angle, obviously off its track. There may be a broken part which needs replacing. I think the inside panel is held on with some screws and if so, it may be somewhat easy to remove. Older vehicles with hand cranks took more effort. Also they may still use a heacy paper glued to things to keep parts in and dirt and moisture out. Time will tell.

All of these projects will have to wait a while as I am gathering paperwork for taxes.

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No One Is Available To Take Your Call

A nearby farm wanted to streamline their business office.

The person in the office steps out on the porch to give a tour, leaving the phone unattended. The phone would ring and they had to make a decision; whether to excuse themselves or answer the phone. Oftentimes the caller was asking if they were giving tours that day or what time they start, etc. Voice over IP (internet phone service) came to the rescue.

I installed an adapter (about $35 or so), connected it to the Internet and connected the phone to it. (You should note that there are a few more steps here but I glossed over them for clarity. This is because they wanted to keep their traditional phone number with the phone company, rather than port it to the Voip company).

I set up what is called an ‘automated attendant’ to handle the calls. I created an extension which the phone is connected to. Then I started recording messages. There is a main message thanking them for calling. Then I created messages explaining the tours, another for hours for tours, a message explaining the company and some other options.

Then I set up the controls and enabled things. Now when a caller hears the main message, they have choice to get company info, hear about the tours, get direction to the farm and so on. They also have an option of pressing Zero and ringing that phone.

One of the messages is changed when they are closed for holidays however the rest are static unless something needs be changed.

What became immediately apparent is that the automated attendant served its purpose by eliminating constant phone calls which the new recordings handled. No one complained about not getting a human. All seems to work fine.

There is an added convenience that this system adds, an almost complete elimination of telemarketer calls (robo calls). Robo calls are automated calls trying to spam you or steal your information or money. These computer-generated calls don’t know to press zero and if they start to do that, we just change that option to some other number (and change the announcement which computers can’t hear anyway).

Any unanswered calls go to voicemail which can either be listened to by a simple code entered on the phone. The recording can also be, if desired, emailed to an email address.

So, what is the cost for the above you ask? Nothing! those functions are free with the service we are using and are generally free with other providers. What you pay for is a phone number being held by them and either a flat rate monthly fee or a per call fee. This particular telephone service costs the farm about 85 cents a month for the number and calls are a penny or less a minute.

All in all this service costs them a few dollars a month compared to regular telephone service of $45 a month or so. It also allows them to call locally and long distance. For them to call 1/2 way around the world to London costs 1/2 cent per minute, although some calls to other locations might cost a couple pennies a minute. Still, cheaper than the phone company!

This service is cloud-based which means that if the internet connection to the box is down, they can’t call out. Inbound calls would still get the recordings and voicemail would still work, but pressing zero would go to voicemail instead of ringing the local phone. While this sounds bad, when the local phone service goes down there is no way to direct calls anywhere and no automated assistant, just voicemail. With this cloud system it is configured that if the internet goes down, calls could automatically be routed to their cellphone instead of voicemail.

For this service, the farm uses an Obihai 20x (200 or 202) adapter and Voip.MS as the telephone provider. I recorded the messages with the free program Audacity so that I could add some background music and splice some audio together. Alternatively, they could just use a PC and microphone. I think there is an option allowing calling into the system to record prompts, but the upload of a professional recording makes a big difference.


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High Tech Sweet Potatoes

I started experimenting with my Instant Pot. I got it on sale as a possible companion or replacement for my rice cooker and my pressure cooker.

This Instant Pot has wifi which links to my Android app. I can monitor my cooking and get notifications as the process continues.

The dietician said sweet potatoes were good for me. So a COSTCO trip netted me a 10 pound bag!

I took 2 potatoes, washed them, put the trivet in the pot and added a bit of water (enough but not so much to touch the potatoes).

I set it for steam and 18 minutes.

When it was done I let the thing cool without releasing steam.

Both potatoes were cooked and after a bit of butter and salt, disappeared quickly. I can imagine the rest of the sweet potatoes will disappear quickly. Their skin was more like boiled potatoes and not crunchy like baked, but think of all the electric I saved not using the oven.

The only things I will do differently next time is to remove the little nub where the stem grew. Also I need to lift the trivet to get the potatoes out. The potatoes were so soft they kinda fell apart trying to remove them with a fork.

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I love Tech Toys

I love tech toys and I saw a cheap remote controller which I could use for many tasks. It has a 1″ by 1″ cox, the relay board and a 4-button remote control. It works off 12 VDC and has normally-open and normally-closed terminals. It also allows for intermittent, while button is pressed, and delayed operations.

Recently a neighbor called with a problem. His garage door opener was broken and the remotes didn’t work. The repair guy brought a new remote but it would not link up. A new board for the system was over $100 and then there was some installation cost. It would almost pay to buy a whole new unit.

I asked the most important question and got the right answer. “Does the button on the wall work as it should?” and the answer was yes.

When you push the button on the wall, usually a press to open and a press to close, it shorts two terminals at the door control board. If you can simulate a short across those two terminals, the door will operate. Instead of a new board replacement, my relay came to the rescue and it was only about $12-$15 for everything.

I verified the button worked and then got the step ladder. I traced the wires from the switch to the opener and connected the normally-open and the common relay output across the terminals. I cut the end off a 12 VDC little adapter I had and powered up the unit. After setting the left-hand button to have an intermittent function I tested things out.

When I pressed the button the door opened. When I pressed it again, the door closed. PROBLEM SOLVED!

To avoid any issues, I also configured the other big button to the same code so both of them do the same thing. That is just in case one button gets broken, I don’t get a call back.

This particular unit can store up to 20 similar fob codes so could be used by employees. The company also makes multiple relay units that can control 4 or was it 5 different things like lights and doors and so on. Each device would need to have a wire brought to the relay board, and it does appear the contacts can handle 120 volts AC.

This is a photo of one of the single relay boards. The coiled thing is a wire used an an antenna which can be extended outside the box for more distance. The range of the unit is 30 to 100 feet in open terrain.

That black V-shaped plastic thing is a cover which slides up and down to protect against accidental pushing of the buttons. The remote also has small screws which can be used to probably remove the back to replace a battery.

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