Bluff Avenue Blog

Updates and news from the Bluff Avenue trenches.

PLEASE READ: Update on Bluff Avenue

Sunday, November 8, 2020 7:05 PM

Hi all. I know I've been mostly absent for a while. Since the mad COVID rush in March and April and the tweaks I made to the server configuration, things have been pretty stable and haven't needed much intervention from me. In the meantime, some of you have asked for updates, given the impending shut down of Flash. I apologize for the radio silence.

 

The TL;DR

 

I'll just rip the band-aid off and cut to the chase: when Flash is disabled in December in all modern browsers I'm aware of, Bluff Ave will cease to be playable.  I'll likely be shutting down the site shortly thereafter.

 

I hate leaving you all in the lurch. There are a couple of other poker sites I'm aware of that serve a similar purpose as Bluff Ave (i.e. free, home-game focus), and appear to be actively developed:

 

 

If you have any other suggestions, please mention them in the comments.

 

The TL Part: Why?

 

I haven't had time to work on the migration off of Flash, and I don't anticipate I will in the coming few weeks.

 

I know this will come as a disappointment to the small but hardcore set of users that plays here regularly, and it pains me to say it. As you might be able to tell from the graphic design, the site's been around for a while--it launched in 2009 and Dan and I have kept it running in our spare time since then, so it's been a part of my life for more than a decade.

 

Throughout that decade, Bluff Ave has had a small but loyal user base. When the pandemic hit, however, there was a huge, huge flood of people virtually overnight. We went from an average of 50 or 60 new users a day in February to 4,347 on March 22. That's a 70x increase. Yeah.

 

The site was in bad shape handling that load for a few weeks, with crashes happening probably a couple times a week (maybe even a day at the peak). I made a bunch of tweaks to the server configuration, which helped.

 

I admit, the flood of new users was stressful, but also energizing. Looking at the numbers, I saw a ton of potential. If I could generate even $5 of revenue *just per active table* per month (not even per user), it would be enough to support me working on the site full time (i.e. I could quit my job). Was this the new normal? Was this just the beginning?

 

I signed up for Patreon to test the waters. Would people be willing to support the site? The result was a mixed bag. A number of you signed up and have been making monthly donations since I put the call out, and to all those supporters, I sincerely thank you.

 

However, if my ambition was to see if the site could even begin to support my working on it full time, the answer turned out to be no. Monthly donations came in in the $300 range per month, which would be enough to pay for hosting in AWS, but not much beyond that.

 

On top of that, month to month traffic has been dropping sharply since that initial rush. Today, we're running around twice the traffic of February. So yeah, the COVID rush was mostly a flash in the pan.

 

My day job keeps me way more busy than I would like, and unfortunately I just don't see myself having the time to either migrate to a Flash alternative (if even possible), or totally rewrite the game client. And so that brings us to here.

 

I haven't decided whether to keep it running after Flash goes kaput, or just shut it down. I guess it depends if there are many people who find a way to keep playing. In the meantime, I put a pause on Patreon for November, so those of you who are patrons didn't get charged. I'll be closing the Patreon account shortly and will run the site complements of the house the rest of the way.

 

It's been a great ride, and I really do appreciate the support of those of you who contributed, or even just wrote me to tell me that you love the site. I'll miss it. I wish Flash didn't turn out to be a dead-end technology, but I guess in the tech world, nothing lasts forever.

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1. Posted by

I'm sorry to hear that, Kevin. You've given us a chance to hang out with our friends when nothing else was possible in March. I appreciate the time and effort you've put in this incredible website. I will miss using it! Good luck in your next endeavors

11/8/2020 8:04 PM
 
2. Posted by

Kevin,

I appreciate you letting us all know what is happening and giving us time to make alternate plans.

 

I don't see how anyone using this site can be mad at you.  You've enabled us to hang out with each viturually for months.  You told us what needed to happen for you to justify working on this site full time and we didn't step up to the plate.  If anything, I'm mad at the hundreds (thousands?) of users who couldn't pony up even $1 a month.  These are the same people that will spend $50/mo on Netflix, Hulu, HBO, etc. without even thinking about it.  Spending $1/mo on your site is a much better value.  We will be sorry to see you go, but appreciate that you've given us this site for as long as you have.

11/9/2020 9:09 AM
 
3. Posted by

Appreciate the honesty - even if the news wasn't as we'd hoped.

 
That said, thanks so much to both of you.... I hope we shall reconvene when the next iteration is up & running. I have hope.

 

Very best wishes,

 

Guy (aka EnforcerFaber aka Miss Moneypenny)

11/9/2020 5:28 PM
 
4. Posted by

As an alternative, we have a couple guys that use Photon Flash Player & Private Web Browser on iOS... it's available in the App Store for $5 one time purchase. Kind of awkward since that's the amount per month you asked for on Patreon. Anyway, if the site stays up & running, I'll poll my players to see if they'd make that purchase. Obviously, wouldn't help if Bluffave ceases to exist! Thanks for the update, Kevin! 

11/13/2020 3:21 AM
 
5. Posted by

Kevin - thank you for all the work, this website has been a joy to my friends and I. I was hoping there would be more folks to chip in monthly donations on Patreon but i understand there wasn't enough interest. Let us know if you plan on keeping the site up and running so we could possibly look into other flash alternatives. Would love to keep playing on this site if at all possible. 

11/14/2020 4:26 PM
 
6. Posted by

Hi Kevin,

 

Bluffave is great.  My group came to it very recently and we are really enjoying it but I've been worried about it's lifespan.

 

I am the only geek in my group of older guys.  My own research suggests that on the client-side, we could just run older-gen browser with Flash and not upgrade that software.

 

Are you able to simply to the same - essentially "freeze" your server software environment and keep the site running serving up the game? We would happily pay a fee to keep playing.  

 

Your thoughts?

11/16/2020 8:40 AM
 
7. Posted by

We are also sorry to see this come to an end.  Our neighborhood (55+) has used this to keep our 3 day a week games going.  I like others have appreciated the prompt support when there have been problems.  I think there was only 1 game since May where we were unable to play.

 

I also support a group of players who lets say are not all that tech forward.  With this news I found Poker Now and have been using it for the last couple of games.  It's pretty straight forward where I can just send a link in email and people seem to be able to just click it to get in.   In a way it's a bit easier than trouble people would get in enabling Flash in their browsers.   Our users seem to like it.

 

A big benefit to our user group is there is no login.   The leader creates the table and gets a URL, emails it to the group, they click on it and sit.   The integrated video/voice seems to work pretty well as well.   There is no concept of the bank.  We keep track of everything offline in a spreadsheet.

11/16/2020 11:44 AM
 
8. Posted by

That's great to hear, Royce.  That login model is a great idea.  Maybe I'll try Poker Now for my own home game. :)

 

To the rest of you: thanks for all the kind words.  Much appreciated.

 

I won't flip the switch off the day Flash is shut off.  I'll keep an eye on activity.  If people stick around, I'll keep it running.  If it's only a couple of groups left and doesn't seem worth it, I'll make sure to give you some heads up if I decide to shutter things.

 

In the meantime, give one of the other sites a try.  They've had a decade to improve upon Bluff Ave, so you might like them! :)

11/17/2020 5:16 PM
 

5/18 Release: Email is Back

Monday, May 18, 2020 12:41 AM

It's been a long time coming, but we just rolled out the first Bluff Avenue release since launching back in 2009. :)

 

I took the last week off from work to dust the cobwebs off the source code, figure out just how the heck everything works again (doing a lot of reverse engineering of stuff my past self wrote but neglected to document…Bad me!).

 

Things in this release:

 

Email

 

The short of it is that email's been broken for a long time--I suspect our email provider cut us off. To get things working again, I decided to start fresh using AWS, so I migrated our email backend to use SES, the AWS email service.

 

This is a paid service, and from doing some googling, they will cut you off if you have a reputation for sending "poor quality" email, i.e. emails that bounce or generate complaints.

 

So in order to both cut costs, and reduce spammer risk, I've flipped everyone's messaging settings NOT to send notifications (for things like private messages, friend requests, etc.) to your email. You'll still see them when you log into Bluff Avenue. That way, we can save email for more essential usages like password resets.

 

If you do want to receive notifications to your email, you can opt in by doing the following:

 

  • Click the "account" link in the upper right and adjust your email notification settings
  • For groups, go to the group page and click "Messaging settings" in the Actions menu on the left.

 

Server Upgrade

 

I added 8 GB of memory to the server.  Doesn't solve all our server memory problems but will let things run smoothly for longer.

 

Donation Buttons

 

I added donation button to a couple of pages. Hopefully not too intrusive, but though migrating the site to a real hosting solution (AWS) will help site stability and uptime, it will be a lot more expensive (likely in the hundreds of dollars per month) than our current rig, and I will need help to cover the costs.

 

If you play on the site regularly, consider helping out. If we could recoup $5 a month for every active poker game, we could probably cover our costs in AWS. As a single player, even a couple of bucks a month will go a long way if enough people chip in.

 

If you're a game organizer, $5 a month for your game would be fantastic, and helps cover the players in your game if they're not the donating type. :)

 

A big thank you to everyone who has already pledged donations. It's really appreciated.

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Help Support Bluff Avenue!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020 9:22 PM

 

As I mentioned in a previous post, since the flood of pandemic traffic we've gotten started in mid-March, I've been overwhelmed by the offers of support from the generous users of this site.

 

Since then, after an incident with our host cut off our service, we had to take physical possession of the website server, and to this day, it is literally sitting under the desk I'm typing this on.  This is obviously not how we want to be hosting the site in the long term. Our intent is to move the site into the cloud and host it with AWS.

 

Despite the fact that Daniel and I have been running the site in our spare time on what amounts to a shoestring budget, over the last 10 years I've easily sunk more than five figures into keeping things running. With AWS, we will have a reliable, scalable host. But you pay for what you get--in all likelihood, it will no longer be possible to run the site on the same budget.

 

And this is where I ask for your help.  I've set up a Patreon account to take donations.  Proceeds will go toward our operational costs.  It will also help me gauge how much interest there is in the site, and how worthwhile it will be to invest in new infrastructure and feature development.

 

Again, thank you to those who have offered to donate.  It's what inspired me to get off my butt and try to get the site into a respectable state. :)

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Game server outage

Saturday, May 9, 2020 6:15 PM

Hey all, sorry if you had trouble playing this afternoon/evening.  The game server crashed and I didn't notice for a few hours.  I have an alarm set up to text me if the website itself goes down, but not the game server.

 

Several of you had messaged me on Twitter to let me know.  Thanks--I will keep a closer eye on my messages in the future.

 

It looks like we had a ton of games created yesterday, and it may have eaten up the game server's memory.  I deleted a bunch of games that hadn't been played in 2 days to help clear up space.  Sorry if this nuked a game you use regularly, but not in the last 2 days.

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Well that was fun.

Friday, May 1, 2020 12:18 AM

If you tried to play on Bluff Ave today, you might have noticed we had a rather lengthy outage.  My apologies for that.  Given the big increase in traffic on the site, I've been trying to help keep you bored quarantined people sufficiently entertained by keeping a closer eye on the server and fixing crashes as soon as possible.

 

I had been talking to Daniel yesterday and it came up that the site has been doing pretty well since tweaking the load balancer settings a few weeks ago.  Maybe we got a little too self-congratulatory, because the poker gods apparently took offense and decided to throw a whole new kind of outage at us.

 

There was basically a mixup where we had our internet cut off at our host in the early morning hours.  The soonest they could restore service would be Sunday. <gulp> A 4 day outage?  What would all you folks do?  There's only so many times you can rewatch Tiger King.

 

So we decided to improvise and move the physical server to a new location that had Internet connectivity.  In other words, under my home office desk where I'm currently typing this. :)  This required several hours of work on the part of Daniel, investigating the connectivity issue, picking up the server, reconfiguring it for a new network, helping me get my network set up properly, and then shuttling it over here, all while maintaining social distance!

 

To his credit, it worked without a hitch.  I plugged it in, turned it on, and bam, service restored around 10:30 PM.  Let's give Daniel a hand for his heroics.

 

Long term, this event points to the need for us to move Bluff Ave into the cloud (AWS).  It's something I'm going to start looking into.

 

P.S. I've been neglecting Bluff Ave's Twitter account for the longest time.  I've decided to dust it off, and in the future will use it for incidents like this, so follow us there at @bluffave.

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