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September 27, 2008

Speedfactory Down

Because I never was getting much traffic at the iGirder website, I moved my revenue-generating pages back to Speedfactory and, in July renewed the dialup plan for $99 for a year just to take advantage of the free personal website that comes with that. So earlier this month, traffic dropped way, way off and I saw that the Speedfactory server wasn't working. This happens for a day sometimes, so I wasn't that worried, but after a few days I wrote to their tech support people to ask what the deal was. I didn't hear back so I wrote again to a different e-mail address. Still no response. I wrote a third time. Then I called and got to talk to an actual person who said she would have someone call me back. One thing going on is that Speedfactory was bought by Next Phase Wireless a year or so ago. Nobody called me back. At this point it has been a couple of weeks and I am making almost no AdSense revenue and have only 3 orders for the month from Amazon, all during a period when new iPods are being introduced and I could potentially be getting a lot of traffic. Traffic was down from Google was still referring people to the old site until late this week when they must have realized the site was down and started sending people to iGirder, but with my page being way down the first page of results (instead of first; I still have a Page Rank of 3 at iGirder). I called again Thursday. The woman answering the phone asked how long the site had been down. I said a few weeks. She said "And you're just now calling?" I said well, I had sent three e-mails and called once and no one had gotten back to me. She said "Oh boy." I could tell she was really horrified. She said she would make sure people got the message and she would call me back either way to give me the status. She did call back later that day and left a message that it was being looked at. Then yesterday a guy called and asked me some questions. He was handling the site from New Jersey (so I'm thinking the local Speed Team quit or was laid off) and wasn't aware SpeedFactory even offered free webspace but said it might just be a matter of fixing a DNS entry. It still doesn't work, but it does sound like they are working on it.

Here's a graph of traffic which includes both Speedfactory and iGirder traffic. Of course after the dropoff, everything is either iGirder or cached versions from the search engines.


September 21, 2008

New nano

As mentioned earlier, I ordered a nano 4G and got it earlier this week. I really like it. When I got the 3G, I had a really hard time paring my music collection down to 8 GB, but with 16 GB of storage on the new nano, I can store pretty much everything I would want to listen to on any kind of regular basis. The difference in shape isn't a big deal, but I think I prefer the narrow shape a little bit. I like the screen being able to reorient to portrait or landscape, but I loaded a bunch of pictures and they didn't adjust correctly. Then when I turned the nano sideways, they adjusted back to incorrect again. I'm not sure how to fix that. The accelerometers also give the capability to play a kind of neat maze game where you tilt the nano to get a small marble to go through a maze. However, the problem is the screen is very small, so the marble is super tiny and it's hard to see the maze. This is something I imagine that works a lot better with the larger screen of the iPod Touch.

Unrelated to getting the new nano, I reorganized my iTunes collection. On my desktop PC I had messed up my music collection by trying to rename files to include the track number at the beginning of the file name (I think I did this in order to burn MP3's to disk so that my car stereo would read them in order). But I did something wrong and deleted a lot of songs and generally messed up the whole collection. Fortunately the laptop still had the collection intact and I was able to bring over all of my iTunes and Amazon song purchases. Then I just had to delete some duplicates, which took some time. Anyway, I'm in much better shape now.


September 17, 2008

Mom's New iPod

I took my 3G nano over to Mom's house today for her to borrow. I left all of my music on there, but put it back in the original tiny box (I hadn't even used the headphones since I have my own). I didn't even have to show her anything except how to use the wheel to scroll through stuff. She just figured stuff out really fast on her own and was soon listening to Randy Newman's Faust. She said the sound was very good. Then I directed her over to Feist's music video to show that it could do video and she enjoyed that for a couple of minutes. We decided that rather than set her up with an iTunes installation on her computer, I would just put music on there from my library plus add whatever CD's of hers she wants me to rip. But she said I could do that later so she could play around with the iPod a little first.

Credit Score

I had ordered my free credit reports before, but I had never actually gotten to see my credit score. I've never worried about it because I figured it was probably pretty good. I know people with bad credit worry a lot about their scores and things they can do to bring up the score a few points in order to qualify for a better loan or whatever.

Yesterday I got a notice from my mortgage company, Countrywide, that there had been a security breach of their customer info. They were advising me to take precautions, monitor for unusual activity, etc. They also said they would give me a credit monitoring service for two years for free. At first I thought it was a scam, but this wasn't just a month trial, it was two years. So I figured I would try it out.

The program is called Triple Advantage Credit Monitoring, offered by consumerinfo.com, a subsidiary of Experian. The "triple" advantage I think is that it monitors all three credit reporting agencies.

Once I finished signing up, it generated a report and showed me all of this information they know about my borrowing (and things they have wrong). But it also gave me a credit score. Experian does theirs on an 830-point scale and I got 805. They said this put me in the 99.7 percentile. That's a pretty good place to be.

Washington Mutual

I had some cash I wanted to put somewhere and get a good interest rate. I thought about getting another Series I Savings Bond since they currently pay 4.8%, but they penalize you 3 months of interest if you sell them before 5 years. Washington Mutual was advertising 1-year CD's at 5% last week. I think they are trying to raise cash since they are one of the banks in trouble. I was able to sign up online, but they made me verify my checking account by electronically depositing two small payments (then I report back to them the amounts and they would know everything worked). ING, PayPal, and Google AdSense do the same thing, but it does take a couple of days for the deposits to show up (both less than a dollar, usually less than 20 cents each).

So I waited. Within a day or two I checked my bank account and they had deposited 72 and 94 cents. But I also noticed there was a *third* transaction taking those two deposits back ($1.66). They really are short of money.

The nice thing about it was I don't have to make an entry in my checkbook register.

September 10, 2008

New iPods

Apple introduced a new lineup of iPods yesterday. Once again, Apple failed to deliver what I wanted: a high capacity widescreen iPod. The Touch dropped a little in price, but with 32 GB for $399, it is still pretty high. Plus I'm not sure it has all of the functionality of the Palm TX yet that I would like to be able to replace with it (still need a database program that can sync with Access, a spreadsheet that syncs with Excel, and cut and paste; offline browsing would be good too).

The nanos, however, are pretty neat. They doubled the capacity to 16 GB, returned the old shape, and added portrait or landscape viewing. I think the screen is probably still too small for movies (it is the same screen as the 3G nano, just turned sideways, as suggested last year in one of my comments). One neat thing is that to shuffle the songs, you shake it. That's just hilarious. It comes in some great colors too. I'm leaning towards purple, blue, or red, but the yellow is kind of neat looking too. Someone on iLounge pointed out that the yellow ones are already being called bananos, so it's almost worth it to get yellow just for that. Suggestions?

Mom said she'd like to borrow my fatty 3G nano I got last year.


September 7, 2008

Bulletin Board Maintenance

Last year, I wrote about installing a bulletin board on the Engineer's Association website. One of the advantages of the A Small Orange web hosting plan was that it supported MySQL and PHP, allowing me to install a bulletin board.

Over the last year, the board hasn't exactly caught fire. About 5 people have signed up and nobody has posted anything substantial. It was free and it is a good tool potentially, so I think it is worth the trouble for now.

However, lately I've started getting Viagara and Photoshop advertising robots signing up. The sign-up process involves entering a username, password, and your e-mail address twice. Then the board sends you an e-mail with an authorization link in it and you can post messages. This was enough security for a while, but there is nothing in there that a robot couldn't be trained to do. I deleted the four or five robot accounts, but the next day there was another one. Pesky robots.

Thinking part of the problem might be security-related, I decided I should upgrade the PunBB software to the latest version. While looking for that I found out the creator of the software had been bought out by a Russian firm and further development of PunBB was in doubt, though I was a couple of incremental versions behind and some of those upgrades were for security. Some of the people that worked on PunBB left and started another project called FluxBB which is a fork off of PunBB, essentially another open-source project based on the earlier open-source project.

Upgrading wasn't too bad. The worst part was backing up the database and all of the files beforehand. The ASO control panel let me create a backup of the database which was really, really small (less than 50k; but then I don't have a lot of members or posts). I manually stored all of the files in a folder on my computer.

Then I downloaded the upgrade, upoloaded it to the webserver and used the ASO control panel to expand the gz archive, overwriting a lot of old files. I had to open a .php file which I guess was where the old settings were brought over to the new installation. Anyway, I didn't have to do a whole lot.

The next day another robot had signed up. Annoying little buggers.

The next step was to install a plug-in called AntiBot that would show you some funky looking partially obscured word that you had to enter. This is called a CAPTCHA which kind of stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. Although it is designed to keep robots away, it is not a Robot Exclusion Protocol, which is one of my favorite computer phrases of all time. Besides the Robot Exclusion Protocol only works with nice robots and this is designed to keep away bad robots.

You've probably seen CAPTCHA's before. This one uses a .png image with letters and numbers and somehow uses pieces of that image to test whether someone can read them. Once I installed it I tried it out and missed the answer several times because the letters were so funky looking. They included a less funky set of letters, but that looked too easy. So instead I just included the image of the alphabet on the registration page to give a big hint on what the answer was. Here's the image:

To install AntiBot I had to follow their instructions in the readme.txt file (the file itself used some kind of markup coding that makes me think it could install automatically, but I don't know how that works), modifying the register.php file and uploading some other files. Then to customize it to give the hint, I had to modify register.php on my own with HTML to include the image file. It wasn't too bad except, again, I made sure I made a backup of the original register.php file so I could fall back on it if I messed up or wanted to get rid of AntiBot.

You can try it out if you want by going to the board and clicking Register in the top menu. You can go ahead and register with your real name and I will delete you later on.

GDOTEA bulletin board

September 3, 2008

Domain Registration

Last year I wrote about getting a new web host and domain registrar for the Engineer's Association website. It was time for the host and one of the domain names to expire. Because I didn't want the accounts to be locked in to my e-mail account like they had been with the previous webmaster's personal e-mail account (causing a lot of problems with last year's transfer), they sent the expiration notices to a Yahoo e-mail account that I created and never use. So by the time I realized what was going on, my domain at NameCheap for gdotea.org had expired for a couple of days. I went ahead and tried to renew at NameCheap and after it took my credit card information I got a message that said it had failed "for some reason". Don't know why. I tried a couple of more times and got error messages again, including ones that said I couldn't renew a domain I had already put in an order to renew.

Fed up with NameCheap, I decided to transfer the domain to GoDaddy, where I had gdotea.com registered. First I had to get the release code from NameCheap, which I got no problem. Then I paid my $7.21 to GoDaddy for the transfer and a one-year extension from the current expiration date. After a few hours the process was stuck and it said I needed to release the domain from my current registrar. Back to NameCheap where I found out that any domain within a couple of weeks of expiration is locked and can't be transferred. And, further, the only way to transfer an expired domain was to first renew it. So I wound up paying to renew the domain at NameCheap (something at work was blocking the secure credit card process, so I found I could only renew at NameCheap from my computer at home). In the confusion, they ran my credit card twice but only extended the domain for a year. So I asked them to refund one of the charges on my credit card (which they did once I identified their own transaction numbers).

However, GoDaddy had not given up, and once my domain was renewed for a year, the transfer proceeded (hoping GoDaddy would eventually give up (I couldn't see a way to cancel the order) I had tried to lock the domain at NameCheap but that checkbox was grayed out). Worse, GoDaddy only gave me the extension from the original expiration date when I had placed the order, not the renewed date I had already paid NameCheap for. So I wound up paying NameCheap and GoDaddy to extend the date by one year. I'm just going to eat one of the charges since I shouldn't have let the thing expire in the first place.

Back to GoDaddy. When I went to gdotea.org it was some goofy parking page advertising tea and noni juice (because the domain has "tea" in it). I went to the control panel and said that gdotea.org should forward to gdotea.com (like it had done at NameCheap; I had thought this would be automatic since the GoDaddy transfer process asked me if I wanted to keep the same settings for the domain). The forwarding can take up to a day to go into effect so I had to wait until this evening. It was still showing the ad. I found out GoDaddy will only forward domains if they are first parked at GoDaddy. I guess maybe that advertising page was actually being served up by NameCheap. So I set it to park and activated forwarding, which I hope will go into effect soon.

Registrars are such a pain. Admittedly I brought some of this on myself for letting the domain expire (the Yahoo e-mail account gets surprisingly little spam, so I think I will have it automatically forward messages to an e-mail address I check up on), but NameCheap is terrible and I am glad to be rid of them. Why would they even give me a release code if they had a policy not to release expired domains? Why didn't their credit card processing work? Why did they charge my credit card twice? GoDaddy really isn't any better and their interface is even worse than NameCheap.

Note for next year: change the domains to the current web host, A Small Orange for $10 a year each. Renewing the hosting agreement with them was a snap. It used to be it was hard for ASO to deal with two domains, but they now have a setup for add-on domains that will forward (like I want to do) and actually let you run multiple domains from a single web hosting account.