web stuff

Saturday, December 03, 2005

fooey number one

WestportNow’s website has been having problems: pages not loading on the first try, veeery slow load times, etc. ValueWeb, where westportnow.com is hosted, told us the only way to stop the pages from throwing off “too busy” notices was to move it to a new server because the server it was on has too many domain hosted and since it’s so crowded, things are not working as quickly as they should, and the move would be seamless, I won’t notice a thing except the site will suddenly start working again ... I thought this was a load of horseshit, but what am I gonna do?

Well, the move was not transparent, and the problem became ten times worse. So I get on the phone to Florida. Big talk-talk about how the tech is referring it to The Administrators so they can troubleshoot and find out why it’s so messed up. After hours of allegedly examinatin’ the problem (sorry, Three Stooges is what’s running through my mind right now ... ), they tell us “The script is making too many calls and slowing down the whole server, so we had to restrict some of the calls. The only solution is to fix the script, move to one of our dedicated servers, or switch to our [illegible] platform which would require the nameserver to be change.

Fix the script? ExpressionEngine runs just fine on thousands and thousands of websites. “What,” I foolishly ask “do I need to fix in the script?” Well, they don’t advise on how to fix a script. So, I asked, can I get a copy of the log or something to find out what is going on with the script? “Sure,” the ass lied, “I’ll put in a ticket right now and you’ll have it in 24 hours.” Yeah, right.

I asked if moving it to one of their dedicated servers or moving it to the new platform, whatever the hell that is, would solve the problem. Since the answer was “We don’t know,” I knew it was time to leave this bulk hosting farm where customer service is bunkum.

I did find out what the problem is ...

More "fooey number one"

posted by lee on 12/03/05 at 06:40 PM

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

the form assembly

Of all the things that are involved in making a website, the one and only task I loathe is building a form. I’m talking about a standards-compliant form that is as pretty as a form can be. I always forget all the tags: label, fieldset, etc. etc. So, wanting to speed things up when I needed to make a reservation form for a site we’re working on, I googled “standards compliant form generator” and hoped. And I found The Form Assembly, which is a breeze to use despite it being built in AJAX, which I’m trying to decide if I really like or if it is a solution in search of a problem. At any rate, here is the URL: http://www.formassembly.com/ At The Form Assembly, brainchild of Cédric Savarese, you can build as many forms as you like for free.

If you don’t want to worry about setting up form processing software and just need to compile the responses, you can set up an account where the form is processed on TFA website and results are posted in your account plus emailed to you. This is priced at 12 cents a response, which you buy in blocks of credit or pay a monthly fee.

Since I already have great form processing software from Will Bontrager, which also builds a database as well as sending out email, etc. (and I need a database for this particular application), I don’t need to subscribe. But I plan to give the subscription component a whirl on an upcoming website that doesn’t need a database.

TFA needs some more finishing—some “Under Construction” pages there and some of the Help is sparse, but it looks like it’s going to be a great site. It already saved me a couple of hours of mind-numbing markup.

posted by lee on 11/22/05 at 06:15 PM

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Friday, May 06, 2005

strange search terms

Every once in a while, I take a peek at the list of search terms people used to end up on my website. Some of them are very strange:

infant twitching (1 time, thank goodness)
stanley home design serial crack (2 times. WTF?)
tube head ads (2) (I don’t know what a tube head is)
pinkzoo (1) (?)
why am i bummed? (1) (You need a search engine to figure that out?)
using outlook express with walmart (1) (does walmart offer email?)
home depot fatalities (1) (!)
tattoo basset characteristic (1) (a type of dog?)
tom delay business leader scam (1) (this used to show up a LOT more)
can food get caught in post nasal drip (1) (eeeyyyyewww, yuck)
dog gagging after surgery (1) (ditto)
self-absorbed friends (1) (we all have those, right?)
euro boobs (1) (are those really really tiny ones?)
colorized mulch process (1) (makes my brain bleed to think about this one)
resurrection of evil serial number (1) (must be an adobe user)
intravenous photos (1) (suffering for art)

And a lot of other terms that deal with stuff I actually wrote about. Heh.

posted by lee on 05/06/05 at 08:01 PM

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Friday, January 07, 2005

i am so bummed out

Today, well, yesterday, was one of those days where you’re ahead of the game if you just don’t get out of bed.

I was a little tired because I’d been up very late the night before trying to deal with connecting via ftp to a client’s site on a ValueWeb server so I could do some updates. But the server crashed and somehow I’ve been locked out. I wrote to ValueWeb before I called it a night.

When I came downstairs this morning, I was all set to tackle the ValueWeb problem since I assumed I would have email from them, and then get started on finishing up the last bits and pieces of a humongo site that’s just about ready to launch, and troubleshoot a site that’s displaying a little weird in Firefox. Stanley had gotten back from his echo cardiogram (to check out his heart murmur) and, as soon as I walked into the office, he said, “the server is down again.”

Boy was it ever. Our webserver provider, Netsonic, told us that the kernel was toast, the later told us we’d been hacked and that’s what wrecked stuff. Our server was down almost all day, and they had to restore things from the last good daily backup, which was the January 4th backup. Which sucks, because we lost data and email stored on the server (and I lost two posts I like a lot and will recreate one of these days), but better a day’s worth of data than everything.

This is costing us hundreds of dollars to resolve, and it will be several hours before it’s completely resolved. The main problem, the entryway or what have you, has been fixed (at least for this method of gaining entry for hacking). Using a password that is the same as the user name is an incredibly stupid thing to do—the equivalent of handing out your card and the pin number, and this was done by people who should know better. Maybe the guys at Netsonic can tell us how to disallow this kind of username/password combo at the server level. They’re pretty sharp, and are putting what they can into place. (Oh I how I miss the spam filter!)

So we lost a day dealing with this—it was hard to concentrate on anything but dealing with this. To top it off, ValueWeb has not been able to solve the connection problem—I called, spent 30 minutes doing this and that, and basically was told that it would magically resolve itself in six hours when the server purged its hashes or some such crap like that. Didn’t happen—so it was a waste of time. Maybe it’ll get solved some time this month.

The only good thing in all this is I just discovered that Google cached my lost entries—happy happy joy joy. So I guess I’ll get those back up now. This year hasn’t been a very good start for us—the server frying, health, and a couple of other things. Maybe we’re just getting all the bad stuff over with early. Hah.

posted by lee on 01/07/05 at 01:17 AM

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Tuesday, December 07, 2004

comment spammers should all die

It was not my intention to launch this version of neurotwitch until I had all the templates set up and everything working the way it should be.

However, comment spamming on Movable Type blogs—for those of us still stuck on 2.6x versions because 3.0+ versions are either too expensive or inadequate—has gotten so out of hand that today some comment spamming moron hitting a MT blog on our webserver caused our server to go down.

So, I decided I can’t risk using MT any longer and, while I COULD just turn off comments, I really don’t have the time to shut down comments on more than 600 entries. Adam ripped mt-comment.cgi right out of his configuration. Because I had already exported everything to Expression Engine, I knew I wouldn’t lose any comments if I just turned off MT and turned on neurotwitch v2 and THEN ripped mt-comment.cgi out of my configuration.

Comment spamming isn’t supposed to be a problem with EE because a human has to enter the letters they see in order to post. If, for some reason that stops being enough of a barrier, I can choose to require registration or to moderate comments, or both. There are also controls where I can set the interval required between comments from the same source (which I did). So we’ll see how it goes. It’s not like I get a lot of comments, anyway.

Will just have to work faster on getting this all working right. I hadn’t planned on it until the weekend since I have a lot of work to do. dammitall.

posted by lee on 12/07/04 at 07:55 PM

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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

how to lose a customer forever

A friend was exploring the world of web hosting. He says he knows nothing about it, and it's true. One of his colleagues recommended a company, and that he gave them a call. So he did, and had a long chat with a rep, who assured Stu that he would talk to the software engineers about offering a software service to do something that can't be done via a website. But, no matter, right? If you're a lowly sales rep, get the account and forget about the promises you know are BS.

Stu isn't an idiot, so asked the guy if, before he commits his credit card to AplusNet for eternity, he could get some more answers by having someone who knows a bit more about web hosting give them a call and get some answers. Namely, me. The Rep agreed, and set up an inactive account without requiring a credit card. So far, so good.

An aside: This place doesn't offer anything Stu can't get elsewhere, whether it's any one of a thousand webhosting companies or through us (www.infopulsellc.com). Hosting isn't our main business, but we do offer it and it's a pretty good deal. But I would call AplusNet on the off-chance that there was something more to their service that would easily solve a problem for Stu ... you know, standard customer service stuff. Besides which, he's been a good friend for 20 years and I just want to make sure he's getting the best value for his money, whether we host his site or some other company does.

Then, I get a message from Stu. He's royally pissed off at AplusNet:

First up, a standard "Welcome to Acme Hosting" message.
From: "AplusNet Web Hosting" .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
To: "Stu Jones" .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Sent: Monday, August 09, 2004 1:59 PM
Subject: Welcome to Aplus.Net Web Hosting

Dear Stu Jones,
Welcome to Aplus.Net Web Hosting!

Please save this email as it contains important information regarding your account.

Here is your administrative information:

Registration Number: XXX459967549
Username: xxxtnt
Hostname: xxxtnt.web.aplus.net

Your personal Aplus.Net Web Control Panel provides you with powerful multi-plan administration utilities to maintain and update your account. It is located at https://cp.aplus.net.

To find more resources on how to start using your hosting account, please refer to our detailed guide available at http://www.apluskb.com/data/ Shared_Hosting/ Getting_Started%2002.htm

Our online Knowledge Base is available to you at
http://www.apluskb.com.
It contains the answers to questions asked by customers like you. The knowledge base is updated by our engineers on a daily basis.

You can also contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with questions related to your account. Phone support is available, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 888-301-2516. If you have billing-related questions, please contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

To add more services to your account, please call our Sales Department at 877-APLUS-NET (877-275-8763).

Thank you for choosing Aplus.Net!

Younes Aatif
Customer Care Manager

Reasonable, right? However:
From: "Stu Johnston" .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
To: "AplusNet Web Hosting" .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Sent: Monday, August 09, 2004 3:12 PM
Subject: Re: Welcome to Aplus.Net Web Hosting

The name is:

Stu Johnston

Please either correct your records, or cease communication immediately and permanently.

Thank you.

Simple enough, right? Correct his name and move on -- would take maybe five minutes, demostrate how quickly you can correct a screw-up. Read on ...

From: "Support" .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
To: "Stu Johnston" .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Sent: Monday, August 09, 2004 5:28 PM
Subject: Re: Welcome to Aplus.Net Web Hosting

I'm sorry but I cannot make any changes or divulge any information unless you can verify that you are the account holder by providing the account password or last 4 digits of the credit card on file. You can view or update any of your account information (billing statement,email address, credit card number, billing address, etc...) at http://cp.aplus.net Log in using your registration number and account password and then click on the "my account" tab at the top of the page.

Thank you,
John Salome
Aplus.Net Tech Support
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
888-301-2516

To assist us in tracking your problem, please include all previous correspondence in your emails.

Hmmm, they can't fix one field on an account that hasn't even been activated yet? Password? Is there a password even? Doesn't seem like a lot to ask in order to make someone willing to send you $35 a month for years happy, does it? You know, that little thing called customer service.

Stu's response:
From: "Stu Johnston" .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
To: "Support" .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Cc: ; "Lee Fleming" .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Sent: Monday, August 09, 2004 11:47 PM
Subject: Re: Welcome to Aplus.Net Web Hosting

Well, ''support''....

This is very unfortunate.

I spoke just this day with one of your people, Dan Beauchamp (apols for any misspelling). He will confirm this statement; indeed, he provided his direct phone, specifically, 858 320 6639, in aid of my acquiring further information about your company's services. Very helpful chap, very enjoyable conversation.

The account, inactive at present, has the id 'xxxtnt'; a password was not assigned Because I require more information than Mr. Beauchamp was able to provide immediately, we agreed that the account would be activated in some 30-60-90 day timeframe, hence, no credit card # was preferred.

Please understand this, right now -- I don't deal with bureaucrats or morons, save under threat of penalty at law. If you, sir or madam, are too bloody stupid to A) check with your fellow employee and ascertain the accuracy of this message AND the previous one, B) acquire sufficient information as to be able to understand what transpired in our discussion, particularly regarding my acquiring further information, and C) have the simple common courtesy to spell my name correctly after a direct request to do so (never mind the level of incompetence demonstrated by NOT having the name spelled correctly AFTER I expressly spelled it for Mr. Beauchamp), then you're too dumb to breathe unaided, and you may go merrily to hell.

Your next communication with me WILL contain an apology for your being a general ass and dumbshit, else there will be no further communication between us under any circumstance, and, in such case. you are hereby assured on the very best of authority that not only will I not become a client of your company, but I shall spread this communication thread far and wide. This is not a threat; this is a guarantee.

In any event, I daresay your services can be had elsewhere, but it's a VERY strange company indeed that would toss out a (presumable) long-term client by simply and arrogantly refusing to spell his name correctly. I trust you've at least the wit to understand this small point.

If your response to my previous request is your firm's concept of ''support'', I rather suspect you'd be better off manufacturing brassieres for 6-year-old girls.

Johnston out.

Now, I won't even get into how vacant a sales rep has to be to screw up the last name so badly -- this wasn't transposing two letters. But the response to the request for a change was so totally stupid it stuns me. Gone, at least one customer. Gone, probably a lot of potential customers -- Stu does not make idle promises. It would've taken up maybe $20 of employee time to secure at least $420 for a year's worth of hosting -- not to mention all the add-ons for an ecommerce site. So much for the C|Net seal of approval -- now I know how much that is worth to a customer.

Was Stu's response over the top? Maybe. (At least it was witty!) But just think about all those other nervous newbie netrepreneurs out there who just go away after going through the trouble of contacting your business, all because you screwed something up during the initial contact. Or made it impossible to correct a mistake you made. You'll never know about them, or how well your business could be doing with just a little more training in customer support. But maybe APlus.net is just so big they don't care.
posted by lee on 08/10/04 at 02:28 PM

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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

glass works

screenshot_ch.jpgFinally, ready for the world to see, we present:

Candace Held / glass works

We learned that it's really difficult to get good pictures of glass for display on the web. Candace took these shots in a photographer's tent. (I want one!) Her work is wonderful, so please take a look at it (and if you find any bugs or errors, let me know!)

What is also interesting was running browsercam on the pages, seeing which platforms support standards and which don't. Not that my css is anywhere near perfect; I still have a LOT to learn. Next is to start figuring out the hacks that work consistently.
posted by lee on 04/27/04 at 06:41 PM

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Tuesday, March 16, 2004

css inspiration overload: gimme more ...

First a grouse.

It's snowing. Hard. And windy and generally crappy out. We're s'posed to get four or more inches of snow and sleet and rain, etc. At least here along the coast. Inland, and, my sister tells me, up Boston way, they're on tap to get eight or more inches.

Spring starts Saturday. The dogwoods actually have buds. It just isn't right that it's snowing. Sure, it's pretty -- especially watching Mr. & Mrs. Cardinal cavort in a snow-coated shrub. But I want to work in the garden!

On to the main topic.

I am working on a site for an artist. She does absolutely beautiful work in fused glass. She provided overall design and groupings for her pieces, and her text, so I have all the content I need for the site. And I have this vision of what it should look like -- and I know the only way for me to really achieve this vision is to create the site strictly with CSS. And while I know a lot about CSS, I still have plenty, just plenty, to learn about it.

So I've been spending some time looking at what can be done using CSS. Spent a considerable time in Zen Garden, the Louvre of CSS designs created by web designer Dave Shea.

Then, today, following a link from a link in today's webdesign-l digest, a came across CSS Vault ۻ The Web's CSS Site, with tons of CSS design examples and links to resources, tutorials, etc. All put together by web designer Paul Scrivens, who also writes a blog called white space.

I love CSS Vault. Though I'm frustrated because January won't load, which makes me nuts because I might be missing out on seeing The One True Spark. But other than that (a PHP issue?), this site is on my list of top resource sites.

And one other thing ...

Been very busy. We're refinancing the mortgage. The appraiser is due to arrive Thursday morning. Which means we've been working hard on de-cluttering the house. It's absolutely astonishing how much stuff accumulates so quickly. So far, one trip to Goodwill and two dump runs, with at least one more donation on tap -- and that's just stuff from the past three years.

Every time I work on clutter, I swear to myself that I'm just not going to let it accumulate any more, or at least do some significant paring down. I don't have too much trouble parting with junk if I have the time to go through it. But other than my junk, it's not easy in this house -- there is more than 50 years of stuff accumulated here, and it's VERY difficult to get Stanley to say "sayonara" to anything ("I might be able to use it for something ... " Yeah, sure. Like those grime-encrusted Tupperware flatware trays will sure come in handy some day ... ) But, to his credit, he's trying to go with the flow and just do it.

But this snow is making it hard to clean up the yard. If it would just leave five inches or so on the ground until Thursday afternoon, that would be fine -- but no, it will all melt away tomorrow, I'm sure.

Ah well, we'll get it all done. Or done enough. We always do.
posted by lee on 03/16/04 at 02:17 PM

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Thursday, December 04, 2003

We launched a new site

floral_blanket.jpgWe launched charlieandgrace.com around 5:00 on December 3. Charlie & Grace LLC is the creation of Ray Thompson and Alicia Breen and sells handmade blankets and burp cloth sets as well as hand-crafted fabric belts--very cool belts--that they design. Up until now, they've been selling their stuff mainly via the craft and trunk show circuit and doing quite well, and decided to expand via the web. It's an amazingly fast leap for them considering they founded charlie & grace (named for their first-born kids) just last May.

The baby blankets and burp cloth sets are different--interesting fabric patterns beyond the usual stuff; well made with good fabric, sophisticated. My favorite pattern is called "Vintage Floral," which is the blanket pictured here. I like all of the belts, one of which is pictured below.

It was fun working on this site--the products are great and we really like Ray w_belt_greenpattern_small.jpgand Alicia. It was nice that they had a pretty clear idea about what they wanted, and integrating their chosen ecommerce gateway/shopping cart software was pretty much a breeze once the initial learning curve was over. We implemented RTWare's RTCart.

Though the site looks fairly simple, there were a LOT of details to track and build in. We wanted to keep the structure fairly simple so that the owners could change things quickly if they had to, such as putting an "out of stock" notice if they run out of inventory on something and we aren't around to do it for them (which only means that it will ship in two weeks instead of two business days.) We also wanted to make the structure such that it will be easy to add or change inventory items -- I think we managed that. There are a few tweaks that remain -- mainly just reshooting a couple of the images that are bugging me and adding some visitor tracking code -- and maybe some more wording changes, or implementing suggestions that people looking at the site might have (we hope).

We still have a few other things to figure out as well, such as the best way to advertise the site (do we try out Google Adwords, or Overture, or both? Which keywords should be used if we do?) Is it worth it to fork over $300 to Yahoo in the hope of getting listed there? Where can we advertise that will give charlieandgrace.com the biggest bang for their scarce bucks? What about an eBay store?

At any rate, check it out. Think about how cool a unique belt or a baby blanket/burp set would be to give someone for Christmas.
posted by lee on 12/04/03 at 01:36 AM

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Saturday, October 25, 2003

oh i could just spends days and days here learning

I subscribe to three design lists (Evolt, Webdesign-L, and one more that is not very useful but I haven't had a chance to get rid of it (from Graphic Design Network I think).

At any rate, in Webdesign-L there is an ongoing discussion going about the A List Apart site redesign (my take below). In one of today's posts, James Craig provided a link to an example of how to scale blocks in web pages--something I've been mulling for a project I'm starting. Of course, I had to check out his site, cookiecrook2, and from there I found his project Accessibility Internet Rally: 2003 Training, developed for a web accessibility training seminar presented in Austin (read all about it in the Intro--I wish there were events like this one around here).

I've barely begun to look at this presentation and already I know I'll be spending loads of time exploring things. Unlike most "we'll post the slides on the Internet" presentations which, really, mostly suck because there are no notes or context, this is so fully developed it should be used as the pattern for how to post presentations on the web. There are three versions: the presentation, the webpage version, and a plain text version. Superbly done. A LOT of work.

And I have a LOT to learn about making the sites we build completely accessible. So I'm relieved that there is such a great, easy-to-follow resource for this topic.

A LIST APART REDESIGN
The site is finally organized! Hurray! They did that part of it well (it's about time). A lot of useful information finally categorized and organized to make it easy to find stuff. And the discussions are linked to the actual articles even. A definite improvement over ALA v. 2, which was a an example of how NOT to architect an information site. So kudos to Zeldman et al for finally taking the time to organize ALA.

Now for the stuff that is not good. You have to figure out how to link to stuff--the page links are not visible in either the address bar of the browser or in the status bar. Why, I don't get, but it makes it a real pain in the ass to try to link to a page or to email a page link. Maybe there's a point to this, or maybe it's just the way Frankensite (whatever that is) works (the system used to publish ALA). It's damned visitor-unfriendly.

I'm not crazy about the look. It's not ugly, just boring. Nothing special. Nothing inspiring. I much preferred the look of v. 2 as it was at least dramatic and when you arrived at the site you knew exactly where you were. Now it looks like a thousand other blogs. The logotype is also extremely ugly--maybe it was MEANT to look like two eyes and a nose, but the "a"s sure are fugly. Don't know what the font is, don't want to know other than to be able to avoid using it. (There is no colophon unless it's in the stylesheet, which I haven't looked at yet.)

So, the ALA redesign succeeds in that it finally is structured for the actual USERS (which should've been done properly from the start) but is irritating because there are some standard usability features missing and ho-hum in the look department.

Makes me wish I had the time to finish the InfoPulse redesign get it up this week. The design is done--but the meat (content) is not yet finished. I guess I should at least get the new portfolio items up ... [sigh]
posted by lee on 10/25/03 at 03:14 PM

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