Thursday, December 4, 2008

When does 9 mins = 0 mins? When it's Google Apps SLA

TechCrunch covered this. In a worst-case-scenario nutshell, Google Apps can be down 90% of the time and be considered 100% up, if it is "up" for at least one minute (or to be pedantic, instant) for every nine minutes of "down."

Commentors at TechCrunch surmise that is not a real-world scenario where a web site can be up for one minute then down for nine for a persistent amount of time.

I wish that were true. I recalled working for iWon.com during the original dot com bubble. Version 1.0 of that site was written against Vignette CMS. The cost for that was rumored to be around $1M per processor (that was the talk around the office) but we had piles of money to burn (and give away).

The application was so unstable that, by the time I left, we had about 24 web servers in the cluster, and each was rebooted every 7 minutes. The fine folks at Vignette gave us that "work around" with a straight face. My brother was still with iWon and helped them move to open-source Tcl.

Since then, I've made sure I don't even hold any mutual funds that have Vignette stock.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Songbird to relase your music from iTunes

With the release of Songbird 1.0, I get one step closer to moving from Windows to Ubuntu. If Apple won't make a Linux client, then I'd love to drop iTunes. Ars technica does a nice writeup.

Other items anchoring me to Windows, for now:
- Quicken
- PC Games. Steam really needs to make a Linux client. And of course, the games themselves. I'm playing only Enemy Territory: Quake Wars these days, but am close to moving on to something new. Unless WoW or EverQuest drag me back in.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Ask.com Top 10 Search Terms for 2008

Ask.com announced their top 10 search terms for 2008, and Tech crunch covered it succinctly.

Its not surprising to anyone who has examined user behavior that it is common to use search navigationally. That is, they type in Google the search box of Yahoo and,apparently, Ask.com, to get to google. Ask.com top term "dictionary" should be seen as a navigational search; Ask.com owns dictionary.com.

TechCrunch lauds Ask for being more honest than the other search engines who scrub their lists so much the results are meaningless.

In my opinion, Ask.com and others should cite their methodology. Do they remove terms that are navigational to their competitors? Do they remove porn terms? Its fine and expected that they do, but they should say that.

Raw data is one outcome I hope to see in the future, and why I laud projects like solr that help make open search a reality.

Friday, November 21, 2008

MSNBC.com's double links fatal flaw

For 10 years now cnn.com has been my primary source of news. But they've been dedicating more and more of their homepage to ads that *look* like articles. The banner ads I never mind. I understand they need to make money. But when they had "stories" on their home page that were links to CareerBuilder ever-green content, I got fed up and left (I was competing against CareerBuilder at the time).

I've been using MSNBC.com since then. Their coverage is as good, sometimes notably better. For example, an article can sit on the tecnology section of CNN's homepage all weekend, because they don't have enough content to keep it fresher than that. On MSNBC the churn rate for technology articles is much greater.

But once you dig into an msnbc article, they use those very annoying double underlines links, that if you mouse over an you navigate around the page popup a distracting ad bubble that is completely irrelevant to the story. The double links don't appear on every article. A quick perusal shows them to be on only a minority of articles at the moment. But it's enough of a distraction to be a fatal flaw. When I'm reading, I want to focus on the content, not traversing a minefield of distraction.

Looks like the newest iteration of the cnn redesign doesn't include CareerBuilder fluff, and the ads are clearly marked, so it looks like I'll be switching back for now.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Primerica Sucks

In 2000 I setup IRAs for the two children that I had at the time (I still have those two, and an additional three lol). I put token amounts in for them, the minimum possible to open an account. I use a Primerica agent, and never setup regular contributions.

My financial situation has changed a lot since then, and I'm trying to get everything accounted for in Quicken. With the financial upheaval, I'm making sure I have my ducks all in a row.

So today I go to the http://www.shareholder.primerica.com website to manage the account. But it's been eight years, so I need to call their customer service to establish login credentials. 1-800-544-5445. They pick up the phone fast enough; so far so good.

But the CSR quickly determines that she cannot help me, as my name is not on the account. Huh? The account is in the name of my eleven year old. Nice. He's off school today, so I interrupt his Mario Karts and get him on the phone. He correctly identifies himself. He states his date of birth. He gives our previous address, which is the one Primerica still has on record. He correctly gives our old phone number, and gives the phone back to me.

So I ask the CRS "can you help me now? Am I authorized to manage the account?" She explains no, since he is not the only name on the account. "So you want me to get my nine year old daughter and have her go through the same process?" The CSR says as long as she can get through the whole identification process without being prompted by me. Because she could hear me in the background helping my son. She wants me to call the agent who I setup the account with eight years ago. Whom I haven't spoken to since.

There has got to be a better way.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gizmodo site down

wtf? Gizmodo site is down? How am I to goof off now?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

My sister got hosed by MS Antivirus

[Wow, I haven't blogged for awhile. Been enjoying retirement, I guess. This pic is now way out of date. My hair got much longer and is now way shorter than my blogger headshot :P.]

First, kind reader, be fully confident: Microsoft does *not* make an antivirus product. There is a malware program going around that calls itself MS Antivirus. I know, because I just installed it for my sister.

Her laptop was hosed, she told me. I thought she meant that the hard drive was shot, but then she continued and described all the problems her computer was having, and it was obviously infected with spyware.

So I took her laptop home, did a low level reformat, and installed Windows XP. Got all the patches loaded on, and of course gave her Firefox.

She sent me info on some antivirus software she had just purchased, including the activation code, and wanted me to make sure I loaded that on since it was bought and paid for. I'm a good brother, so I did.

D'Oh!

Spybot Search and Destroy cleaned the resulting mess up, except for MS Antivirus itself. To kill that, I Ctrl+Alt+Deleted and killed the program, then deleted the install directory.

So, a couple tips:
- Whenever I want to fix someones computer, I always download the utilities I need from download.com. Don't do a Google Search for the stuff you need, since any ads may be compromised. I don't know who the hell makes Spybot Search and Destroy but for years I've gone to download.com to get it; it's always one of the most popular downloads.
- An the new corollary I will pass on to my sister: If you suspect your computer is infected with spyware, don't click on any of the pop-ups said spyware produces looking for a cure.

Props to PC Mag for info on MS Antivirus.

And finally, here are the emails my sister got, in an effort to let any other victims know that they've been had.


From: eSafeBill Transaction
Date: Wed, Aug 27, 2008 at 5:29 PM
Subject: Your MS Antivirus License purchase
To: my sister


Thank you for making a purchase with eSafeBill!

Transaction information:
Amount: 77.9 USD Including SCHD Bundle chosen
Activation Code: 873465112334272
Transaction ID:
Order Number:
Item: MS Antivirus License + System Cleaner and Hardware Doctor Bundle
You have chosen to purchase your software along with System Cleaner and Hardware Doctor bundle offer. Please download the installer for the additional software: http://222.73.37.203/i.php?tks=1
Quantity: 1
Date: 08/27/2008 12:21:40
Download source: http://222.73.37.203/i.php?l=msantivirusxp&c=c

This purchase will appear in your credit card statement as "Spyware-shop4..com".
Total amount of 77.9 USD will be charged to your credit card.
If you are not completely satisfied with this purchase, please do not hesitate
to contact us using SUPPORT REQUEST APPLICATION at http://222.73.37.203/i.php?l=secure.esafebill&c=c
Please do not dispute this charge as doing so may affect your credit rating.

===
ACTIVATION

Please download the software from the following link if you
do not have it already installed.
Download source: http://222.73.37.203/i.php?l=msantivirusxp&c=c

Please activate the program by entering the following
code when prompted.

Make sure you enter your activation code correctly.
Just copy it and paste into the activation code box with no changes.
The code consists of 15 characters.
Your code is: 873465112334272

The product is activated now.
In case of any difficulties,
please do not hesitate to contact us.

===
REFUND POLICY

If you are not completely satisfied with this purchase, please do not hesitate


to contact us using SUPPORT REQUEST APPLICATION at http://222.73.37.203/i.php?l=secure.esafebill&c=c
Please do not dispute this charge as doing so may affect your credit rating.

===
THIS IS AN AUTOMATED MESSAGE. PLEASE DO NOT REPLY.



Ok, lets note that dead giveaway too: if it says "Don't contact your credit card company to dispute the charge, it will affect your credit rating" then please call Visa or Mastercard right now and do just that. Their operators are standing by. :)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Google AdPlanner

Why buy a search term and link it to a page that is unreachable? No prob, if you a) have more money than Yaweh and b) you are the guy from whom we buy search terms.

A search for AdPlanner, Google's new publisher tool, does just that. Organic results include links to Toyota affiliate terms of use etc, which means this blog just might be a linkbait success.

I'll dig more into AdPlanner once I find a link to official public info, but Valleyway is already blogging about what it means to Comscore and Nielsen -- ok, they say its no threat. But maybe they were just being ironic. Oh, I can hope.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

LinkedIn valuation leads to site downtime?

LinkedIn is really lagging this morning. I've never experienced lag on LinkedIn before, so maybe its the news of their 1 billion valuation. Maybe LinkedIn will now be hip and trendy, and downish, just like Twitter!

Downtime killed Friendster when it's valuation was through the roof.

So LinkedIn, take some of that new money and go shopping.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Google Street View for Real-estate Investors

A real-estate agent who I trust a lot happens to be in North Carolina a lot this year, and is on the look out for investment properties for me. She found a great single family home in Hillsborough that came on the market that morning, and it sounded like it was priced right. I went to Google maps, hoping the satellite view would give me some sense of the neighborhood, since I'd be making an offer site unseen. Not only did I find the satellite view, but also a Google Street View of the front on the house. This is a very residential area, so I was quite surprised. Within a few clicks I had checked out a dozen houses on the street and felt very comfortable with what I saw. We made an offer and it was accepted.

Google Street View will certainly become such a useful tool for us we will take it for granted. Until then, it'll be amazing to see how it changes the way we live and do business.

Monday, April 21, 2008

URL spoofing

I love it when web sites allow you to enter anything you want on the url, because silly people like me are easily amused. Here's fark.com's example.

Too high brow? Here's my first mod.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Odysseus in Firefox

I've been blogging here for 361 days. :D My first blog was about using Odysseus as a proxy server with IE for testing web pages. I shared that blog with some colleagues recently, and the balked because, you know, IE sucks. But you can use this great tool with Firefox or any HTTP tool, also.

First, download Odysseus, and run it so you can see the little Roman helmet in your system tray (Windows users). Its got a red ... feathery-decoration thingy on top. To turn that green, and thereby turn on this proxy server, right click on it and select "Interceptor."

To configure Firefox to temporarily use Odyssesus as a proxy server so that you can see, and edit, outgoing GET and POST requests, and to view the REPLY from the web server with all the headers, in Firefox choose Tools > Options... Advanced, Network, "Settings" button, select "Manual proxy configuration:" and enter "localhost" as the server and "50000" as the port. Confirm the dialog boxes.

Now, when you load a web page in Firefox, an Odysseus window will pop up letting you see (and edit) the HTTP data. Test away!

When you are all done, go back to your browser and turn the connection option back to normal.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wikia Search dead?

search.wikia.com was released January 7, 2008 as an open source search engine enhanced by user submitted content. But looking at http://search.wikia.com/wiki/Search_Wikia, the wiki about the project, there has been no news in over a month. And the forums look dead too. This could be a really interesting project, but seems like the open source community hasn't embraced it yet. Maybe we're tired of Jimmy? Maybe he's tainted?

If anyone is interested in working on the concept of open search, I recommend Lucene which is the engine Wikia Search is based on, or solr which is an enhacement of lucene. I've done a solr proof of concept in the past several months, and I love what solr can do. I think I'll be spending time their. Google can't be the final solution to search.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

chili's hates vegatarians

My wife and I ate at the new chili's here in town. You expect the service to suck at a new restaurant, but they canned our waitress mid-meal and her replacement was great. No worries there.

But I could not find a single vegetarian entree on the menu. I'm not a vegetarian, but I like to eat healthy, and try to be environmentally friendly. I've learned you can conserve more water than forgoing 1 lb of beef than if you forgo showering for an entire year. And I'm trying to loose weight as my New Years resolution. Plus I love veggies, and that's what I was craving tonight.

The sucky waitress didn't know what they offered for vegetarian choices, but after discussing with the manager said there were some things they did. So I asked for the manager and confirmed that, in fact, there were no vegetarian entrees on the menu. But she was a vegetarian herself and suggested a couple of things she liked. So I took her recommendation and got a fajita with lots of veggies and a bean pattie. It was fine, and I enjoyed it. The manager was awesome, and I made it a point to tell her our new waitress was great, the other one was lousy, and thats when she told us that the other one was "no mas."

We won't go back there though. My wifes peach margarita was way too sweet she said, and the menu choices were just not good. There was nothing healthy.

So chili's.... why not a single vegetarian entree on the whole menu?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Compete Aquired

Mashable reports Compete Acquired by TNS for $75 Million. Compete offers free public web metrics, like Quantcast. Unlike Alexa, in that it doesn't suck.

I predict that in five years either Compete and Quantcast will be purchased by Google, and the new company will *replace* Nielsen/Net Ratings and comScore. Information wants to be free, and the industry desperately needs a trusted third party to step in so we can all start comparing traffic using the same measuring stick. Mergers and acquisitions rely on this data, and beyond the top 10 sites, Nielsen and comScore methodologies can't see through the data storm.

The survivor will combine data that works by getting anonymized data from a significant portion of ISPs, like HitWise does, and data gathered from javascript that can be copied and pasted onto your website -- does this part sound like Google Analytics to anyone? Google also has the peering relationship with ISPs to get the first part done. And they have the "preventing fraud" chops to get it done right.

Nielsen will not be trusted any more then it currently is (not a lot) and it's Golden Age has past. comScore hasn't shown it can do a better job. Long live {insert successor here}!

Friday, February 15, 2008

iTunes: why my wife must get Vista instead of Ubuntu on her new laptop

Being a geek, I buy gadgets. For Valentine's day, I bought my wife an iPod. Yeah, yeah, dinner too etc.

For our imminent anniversary, I'll be getting her a laptop. She wants mobility just around the house, and her desktop will be taken over by the kids.

I've been eyeing OLPC's offering, thinking that's what I could get for our 10 year old too and benefit from the networking things that device does so nicely. But since they are not offering the "Buy One, Give One" anymore, that options is gone.

I was thinking about the ASUS EEE PC too, since it's received good reviews and its ultra small. Her fingers are smaller than mine.

But the deal breaker is iTunes. She *must* have iTunes -- it's the thing she's really wanted. Not because it's the best, or cheapest. But it's what she knows, what her friends use, it's easy. Any laptop that doesn't support iTunes will disappoint her. And, fact is, she doesn't need a laptop, the pleasure she will get from having one and using it with her new iPod is the whole point. Everything. Not a "kinda cool, with concessions cause my husband is a geek, and thats really cool, but it comes with caveats*" outcome, I'm looking for here.

Yeah, I know, geek-readers, yo've been using your iPod on Debian or whatever for 2 years without a hitch, or your alternate-MP3-player-that-stores-2x-more-and-cost-.5-less on CentOS, but please see above. It's my wife, dude.

So, unless Apple comes out with an iTunes client for Ubuntu in the next couple days, I'll be paying Microsoft for an OS I'd rather do without. Yuck.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Google for Error Messages

I'm a total geek -- if you are, you may, like me, find this page completely hillarious: http://extension.usu.edu/?q=error

I stumbled upon that while exploring the problem of displaying error messages. To often people forget to turn of debug output in their production environments, revealing *way* too much to the public about their innards.

So, take the default error message for the code of your choice, and Google it. Find a lot of sites at their worst, if Googlebot happened to be spidering them then.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Google hearts Cupid

In the past I've blogged about Cupid.com running afoul of Google's mystical algorithm. That's a thing of the past, now it's the first search result for the term "cupid."

Our business model of advertising on local radio means we don't have to play the PPC game or get crazy worried about our Google search results, as long as we do well for branded search. For example, if you search for "online dating", the competition to get on that page is fierce/expensive, and we just haven't engaged in that pursuit.

Today I noticed, however, if you search for "online dating" or even "dating," Google's new "Searches related to" section includes "cupid.com" or "cupid." Very cool. Nice to be finally getting our props, just in time for Valentine's day.

Google, Cupid.com hearts you too.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Web Analytics software compared

One of my favorite quotes, I don't know who said it originally but I got it from a high school math teacher "If you change the questions, the answers will change accordingly."

Public kudos to Stone Temple for their 2007 Web Analytics Shootout, a head-to-head comparison of how several different web analytic packages running concurrently on the same sites reported different outcomes. A must-read for anyone who produces or consumes data like site page views, unique visitors, and conversion rates.

Too bad WebTrends and Omniture were not included in the broader study, each one was only used for one site in the study. It'd be great to see if the findings were true on more heavily trafficked sites.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Mint.com resuccitates a failed concept

Mint has been getting a lot of good press, kudos to them for that. But the idea is not new. It was tried during Web 1.0 by OnMoney.com, a division of Ameritrade. I worked there for a couple months.

OnMoney tried to make a business as a website where you got manage all your financial data: banking, insurance, investments. Total net worth, with articles from experts advising of all of this.

After I left, I heard they got the results of an $80k usability study: "You've got some great tools that *no one* knows how to use."

OnMoney went on to blow a big wad on a Super Bowl commercial. Not too long after, they closed shop.

Hurdles Mint will need to overcome:

- consumers don't know they need these tools. They aren't fun and sexy. You going to give me a facebook app that lets my peeps know "Steve has maintained a positive balance for 6 weeks in a row!" People -- not the Ivy school grads that fund and launch startups like this, but real live real-world people -- don't talk about finances to their friends. So how go you get a community, how do you spread the word?

- all my financial data in one place? No way I'm going to trust anyone with that. Mint needs to prove to the world that they have a 100% bullet proof infrastructure that the NSA and hackers all over the world agree is insurmountably robust. New code just can't do that. So I'll wait 10 years and if they are still around, then I'll assume their code is good. Can they wait that long?

They could put all their code open-source to address the security concerns, but I'm not sure their business model can support that.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Huppahs.com launched

My sister Maria and I launched her web site this week (on her birthday, in fact). It's very basic php and for now the only method of payment is thru PayPal -- kudos to Maria for that idea and for coding hooks for their cart.

The final version will be fully LAMP. My friend/employee Jeremy Price is hosting for us on his Linux box. Apache (duh), pHp 5 and mySQL on its way, after we get the credit card processor account set up.

So check out Huppahs.com, even if you not currently planning a Jewish wedding.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Eclipse 3.3.1 in Ubuntu

If your Eclipse install under Ubuntu just took a crap like mine did due to a bad update (shhhrrrr, it got rolled back), you may be looking to upgrade to the latest and greatest version of Eclipse, and don't want to wait until it finally gets added to the official repository.

Many thanks to Ivar Abrahamsen for writing How to install Eclipse in Ubuntu. He posted it to the Ubuntu wiki as Eclipse Web Tools so find an up-to-date version there.

Monday, January 21, 2008

domainsystems.com site down?

What's up with domainsystems.com? Their site has been down all day. Not just me; even Netcraft can't reach them.

Update: Day 2, still down. Has this site been down for awhile? Not one that I've used before, but moniker.com is still pointing to it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

VoilaBot, behave!

My websites are in the local advertising space: employment, online dating, business listings. My audience is in the USA, Canada, and Mexico. Because of that, I have no chance of making revenue from traffic from Europe, China, or Nigeria.

So when I see a spider called voilabot, for Voila.fr, pounding my server farm, that's a spider I'd like to disallow. No problem, just add them to robots.txt. Only thing needed is how the bot identifies itself when scanning that file.

Typically, a spider will identify it's useragent and, parenthetically, give a link to info regarding the bot. Voilabot does not, it just points to their homepage:


2008-01-09 05:00:12 GET /robots.txt - - 193.252.149.16 Mozilla/5.0+(Windows;+U;+Windows+NT+5.1;+fr;+rv:1.8.1)+
VoilaBot+BETA+1.2+(http://www.voila.com/) - - 200 1100 358 546


which redirects to http://www.voila.fr/, which sucks for me since I don't know French. I am able to find a page on their site about robots.txt, and how to block *all* spiders from visiting my site -- no thanks! I heart Google -- but nothing that mentions what user-agent top specify to block Voilabot.

The Google index, interestingly, includes the robots.txt files they scan. Examining these, some people specify Voila and just as many specify Voilabot. Other Google results include rant like mine -- apparently this bot has been in Beta since 2001.

So Voila.fr Webmaster: please tell us how to block your bot. Thanks!

Update: 1/15/08
No response from Voiala.fr so I'm now denying them at the firewall. If you don't want this bot, I encourage you to do the same.

We've seen it from

81.52.143.15
81.52.143.16

193.252.149.15
193.252.149.16

Friday, January 4, 2008

Selenium and CAPTCHA

Selenium is a great tool for the automated testing of web applications. CAPTCHA is a way to prevent automated tools from accessing your web applications. So the two are mutually exclusive, by design.

Selenium can only be used to test a web app protected by CAPTCHA if a human intervenes for the test. So, if you are testing an 8 page transaction that includes a CAPTCHA on page 2, for example, you can still save tons of time by automating everything else with Selenium but have the test pause for human interaction during the specific section that requires a CAPTCHA response.

This example assumes you are already familiar with how to write a Selenium test, in HTML.

... the first part of your test goes above here...



<tr>
<td>clickAndWait</td>
<td>login</td>
<td></td>
</tr>

<tr><td rowspan="1" colspan="3">human tester must enter CAPTCHA...</td></tr>
<tr>
<td>waitForPageToLoad</td>
<td>60000</td>
<td></td>
</tr>
<tr>
<td>waitForTitle</td>
<td>Title of Next Page Here</td>
<td></td>
</tr>

<tr>
<td>type</td>
<td>FieldOnNextPage</td>
<td>Test</td>
</tr>



... continue on with the rest of your test. That worked for me in TestRunner, at least when the speed was set to slow.

If you are only going to be using TestRunner, as opposed to using a tool like ant to run Selenium tests during a scripted build, you could more easily just insert the following Selenium command into your test, forcing the test to wait until you click the Continue button in TestRunner:




<tr>
<td>break</td>
<td></td>
<td></td>
</tr>



Note: if you are a scammer, screw you. Further note to scammers: the preceding code won't help you in your scam pursuits, because it doesn't defeat CAPTCHA, it just allows a human to do what only humans can do and let the bots do the rest.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Vintacom now under Think Partnership?

Relationship Exchange, the online dating white labeler, is Vintacom Media Group. But now they are under the umbrella of Think Partnership. When did that happen?