Posts archived in On the Intertron

Dear New York Times,

Whilst I understand you’ve been around some considerable time, and that you do have journalists to fire, you do need to know your nag screen is incredibly annoying. It’s probably also not helping with your ad impressions either.


Sure, it might only take a minute to sign up – but it’s really not worth it for me. It’s actually quicker just do add your entire domain to my DNS Block List.


That way I don’t have to see your annoying sign-in page ever again.

Have fun with that print media business. I hear it’s a raging success. Oh, wait.



Those following me on Twitter have had the joy of seeing random messages about the ongoing issues I’ve had getting my ADSL2+ connected.

Since the last post on this (on the 13th of Feb) I basicly gave up on calling iiNet – I’d already spent a fortune in mobile costs listening to their hold music, and was just waiting for them to get back to my support-enquiry email. (I never did get a response to that)

However, last Friday (22nd) as I was going to bed at about 1:30am (Okay, so technically Saturday morning) I noticed that my DSL Router was saying it had sync. I normally check the router panel when I get home, so I must’ve missed it that night. I stayed up about an hour setting up a bunch of tests to see how fast/stable the connection was. I left these tests to continue running whilst I slept. When I left home on Saturday at about 9AM it was still running, and I was feeling somewhat optimistic that it might continue to work. Of course, Murphy was listening, and when I got home at around 5pm, I had lost line sync once again.

Sunday I called iiNet again, this time because their Toolbox said there should only be about a 7min wait. The tech guy tried a few things from their end, but once again no success – and said he’d put the request through to their Fault Manager who would try to get VisionStream to narrow down the timeframe.

Come Monday morning, I get a call from Christy at Vision Stream, “Is Wednesday suitable for you?”. Grr. Same situation as last time Christy called me! Looking at the iiNet Toolbox – what do you know, a 45min or so wait on hold, again. Instead of doing that, I try another tact – go straight to the top.

So, I write a pleading email to Michael Malone, the Managing Director of iiNet. He’s quite active on Whirlpool’s forums, and makes his email available there. I give a bunch of possible ways we could try and work together, such as asking for the first/last timeslot on the day, getting a call an hour or two beforehand, and even offering to pay for a Saturday callout if necessary.

Tuesday I get a call from Rebecca at iiNet regarding the email, she’s called VisionStrem and tried getting them to go with any of the options I presented – no luck. I think up one last option – asking the Tech to call me as he’s starting the job before mine. Rebecca thinks it might work, and goes back to VisionStream.

Today, (Wednesday) Rebecca calls back – VisionStream won’t go for it, despite having escalated it up the chain of management there. Apparently VisionStream started quoting sections of the Telecommunications Act to her, and stating that “we treat all customers equally”. However, the VisionStream manager has agreed to commit to a particular timeslot (9AM-12:30PM or 12PM to 6PM), AND to get the Tech to call an hour beforehand.

I ask Rebecca what the chances are of switching to a regular ADSL2 service (and having the line connected as a standard phone again) – apparently it can be done, but I’d be the first to have tried it. And the time it would take would probably be somewhere up around a month, assuming everything went according to play.

So, for now Rebecca is sending the case back to VisionStream, and getting them to commit to providing a 9AM-12:30PM timeslot for this job plus the hour-before call.

Here’s hoping that VisionStream can come through on this!

Side Rant:
VisionStream’s comment to Rebecca that they treat all customers equally, is rather stupid. Yes, they treat all customers equally poorly. VisionStream’s view is apparently that All customers’ time is worth nothing, and they obviously have nothing better to do.

Surely someone at VisionStream can see that doing this just gives them a really poor reputation.

We killed Twitter, again.

This time it was from an excess of Love – Of the less-than-three (“<3") variety.

My screen was filled with hundreds of messages like these two:
Less than Three’s for everyone.

For the non-Twitter’ers out there, the Twitter folks added a way to send a special type of tweet. By entering “@username <3" - it would transform the ordinary tweet, into this special type of message. It also results in that person getting a "Do you love (sender)?" prompt, with a button to quickly reply. This novelty, combined with the easy reply, lead to a major increase in the number of Tweets for valentines day, and thus Twitter slowing down / refusing to respond for many people (including me). Edit: Here's a better screenshot of what was/is going on (read from bottom up) Less than 3 (more)

Someone asked me recently what my opinion of Dreamhost was. They knew I use Dreamhost for a variety of sites, and were looking to sign up.

The short answer is that Dreamhost are “variable”.

I’ve been a Dreamhost customer for about 3 years now, and I’ve seen some pretty wild thing happen.

They’ve had several major power outages which took down their entire datacentre. They’ve had significant network issues for a period of months. They had a major data security breach where someone managed to get several thousand usernames and passwords. And, to top it all off – they recently overcharged about half of their customers by several million US peso dollars. (It would have been up around 10 million, if it wern’t for a bug in their software).

Oh, and it’s probably worth mentioning that as I write this, all my sites are down, because the servers they’re on are being driven from one side of LA to the other.

Given all of the above, most ordinary, sane people would probably be shouting “run for the hills!” at the top of their lungs. And, in many cases people would be  quite justified to run as far as they could from Dreamhost.

Here’s the thing, however – apart from the power issues (and the scheduled cluster move mentioned) my sites have worked just fine for the most part. 

Yeah, there’s been times when a server has been down, or when some sort of glitch has slowed things down – but lets look at the big picture here for a second.

Dreamhost’s business is to sell reasonable quality webhosting, with large gobs of disk space and bandwidth, at a very cheap rate.  I pay something like USD$20/month (on the old plans) for my Dreamhost service. 

What do I get for that USD$20/month?  I get to host 30-something sites, occupying 20GB of disk space, and transferring about 150GB per month. No, that’s not the limit, that’s what I’m actually using. This month. Dreamhost have absolutely no issue with me using a lot more than that – even if I went to TWENTY times that, I’d still be well under the limits of my account.

I also get the security that someone else will take care of the servers, and keep them patched and secure. In the event that something goes wrong, I can lodge a ticket and have someone else fix it at 3am.

So, does that mean I’d recommend Dreamhost to everyone? Heck no – there’s heaps of situations where I wouldn’t recommend Dreamhost.

Any time you answer “yes” or even “maybe” to the question “Will this being unavailable impact my business?”, you need to be looking at a managed hosting solution with a proper contract/service level agreement.  Don’t pass go, don’t collect $200, and definitely don’t try reselling this to your customers.

Dreamhost are also not suitable for a variety of “big” applications/sites – despite the label saying you can get 5TB of bandwidth and 500GB of disk space, actually using all of it is possible only under very specific conditions. Most of the time, anyone running a site that is that popular is going to be using so much of the resources on their server that they’re going to be causing issues for other users on the same server.

It’s like the speedo on your car, if you’re actually hitting 240KPH or 30,000RPM, something is going very very wrong, or is about to.

So, with that out of the way – I am actually starting to look for some dedicated server options – not because I don’t like Dreamhost (I do) – but simply because I want to do other things that I simply can’t do with Dreamhost.

My options are limited, because I want to be able to manage the server myself, I need a reasonably large amount of disk space and bandwidth quota, and I need to run Windows.

What are your experiences with Dreamhost, and/or dedicated hosting?

Readers of XKCD (one of my favourite webcomics) may remember this strip:
I've looked into this, and I can't figure out a way to do it cheaply.  And I guess it wouldn't be sanitary.

Well, Randal Munroe (the genius behind XKCD) recently decided to get a ball pit instead of a new couch.

I agree.. the results look really awesome.

Delicate Genius points out the recent Sydney Morning Herald article about Virgin Mobile Australia being sued for using Alison Chang’s picture in their advertising campaign.

Another girl who’s likeness was used in the Virgin Mobile campaign. Credit: Jason Meredith
“It’s fine to text about someone, just don’t send it to them by mistake” says Virgin Mobile.

Some quick facts, for those of you who aren’t aware of the background on this:

  • Virgin Mobile Australia ran an ad campaign called “Are you with us or what?” earlier this year.
  • The ads used pictures which were obtained from Flickr – a photo sharing service.
  • The photographers who posted the photos on Flickr marked them with a Creative Commons licence of some variety – although apparently not all of them allowed commercial usage.
  • Model releases were not obtained by Virgin Mobile/Advertising Company/Photographer – Which is required for commercial use (with some disclaimers) , but not non-commercial use (such as posting to Flickr)
  • Neither Virgin Mobile nor their Advertising/Marketing agency contacted the photographers to let them know their photos would be used.
  •  Some of the pictures were not exactly flattering, and the captions (added by Virgin Mobile) could possibly be offensive to those pictured.

I find it interesting the viewpoints of some of the people commenting about this.

With the exception of someone shooting with the intent to use pictures commercially; I don’t believe it should be the responsibility of the photographer to obtain model releases for all those featured in a shot.  Many apparently disagree with me, for example the first comment by ‘wjkocik’ on this photo 

There’s also some confusion about the role of the Creative Commons folks in this. The Sydney Morning Herald says “Creative Commons Corp, [is] a Massachusetts nonprofit that licenses sharing of Flickr photos”.  The Creative Commons folk simply provide a way for people to use a pre-prepared licence for their works which clearly states what the work can be used for.

I’ll be watching the lawsuit to see what happens.

Cognitive Daily has a great piece about why Museums, Galleries, and Sites of Historical Significance (in particular those in Europe) need to change some of their practices.

It’s a good read, and expresses some of the things that, well, frustrated me about Europe.

Emphasis on the ‘allow photographs’ thing. Really. Please?

Digital Photography School has this great list of tips for amateur wedding photographers – but I think the same list of tips goes for where there’s any other serious event. (eg: Engagements!)

FWIW: I really lucked out that day – almost all of the people were happy to pose for a few seconds to have their photo taken, so even though I was having issues with the flash (too bright/too dark), it worked out well.

I run a relatively active forum for an online (unpublished) Author. We run on phpBB, because that’s what the previous hoster was running, and it’s open source – so no licensing fees.

Unfortunately, PHPbb2.x has some issues – there’s no easy way to track mod actions or user-notes, the anti-spam stuff is a joke (it all comes down to requiring registration, and battling spam-bots at the registration page), and mods (the PHPbb word for plugin) are, frankly, a pain in the backside to install.

A few weeks back PHPbb3 RC1 was released, and I was running a test board just to try it out.

It has a number of major improvements – performance seems to be improved, and overall management is significantly better. You can track what moderators and admins have done too, so there’s more transparency on that end. 

However, when I tried to install a mod (to provide a basic RSS feed from the forums) – I got a bit stuck. In PHPbb2, there was a mod which allowed you to upload other mods, and install them with just a few clicks. Somewhat similar to WordPress’s plugin model, though more prone to breaking things.

I thought that the PHPbb3 developers would have taken a leaf out of WordPress’s book, and implemented a proper plugin model – and given that there’s now this MODX format (basicly a zip file, with a bunch of other files in it, in a certain structure) – it seemed like that would be the approach.

The problem I was having was that I couldn’t find the location where to upload the MODX file. So, I jumped onto the PHPbb irc site hoping someone could quickly set me straight.

Here’s what happened (ps: “Spec8472″ is me)  – trimmed for brevity, but otherwise people’s comments are as written.

Start of #phpbb buffer: Sun Jun 17 15:52:59 2007

* Now talking in #phpbb
<Spec8472-> Okay, question that’s probably really obvious to some, but I can’t find an answer online… where do I actually upload the mods to, in the phpbb3
<iWisdom> …
<iWisdom> You don’t.
<iWisdom> Unless, of course, the MOD instructs you to upload a file
<iWisdom> In which case, you follow the directions included in the .MOD file
<Highway_of_Life> .xml file
<iWisdom> There is no automated MOD installer
<Spec8472-> There’s not an automatic mod installation thingy like easyMod for PHPbb2?
<Spec8472-> damn :(
<iWisdom> Just open the .xml file in a web browser
<Highway_of_Life> no, spec, and don?t curse

Okay, so there’s no automated installer… Thats… disappointing. 

<bsdboy> how hard is it to install mods manually?
<bsdboy> i dont think ive ever automatically installed a mod
<iWisdom> bsdboy: Not hard
<Spec8472-> Brilliant… that, and no event hooks… 
<iWisdom> Spec8472-: Pardon?
<Highway_of_Life> bsdboy: it would depend on your level of expertise, for me it?s like combing my hair in the morning… well, easier actually… coming my hair can be difficult at times…
<iWisdom> Highway_of_Life: That’s since you basically live in the Olympus codebase
<karlsemple> following txt instructions on what changes to make is easy whether you know the code or not :p
<Highway_of_Life> But for some, they never seem to get it right, no matter how many times they try… but it usually depends on the quality of the instructions and how many code changes need to be made
<Spec8472-> Mod installation, should imo, be automatic – upload a file somewhere, click a few things,   hey-presto you’ve got some new functionality (see WordPress) – sure, you might need to include some stuff in your presentation layer, but that’s all.
<WizardJames> ..
<iWisdom> …
<Highway_of_Life> ….
<iWisdom> Well, each person has the right to their own opinion
<iWisdom> But frankly that doesn’t mean we agree
<bsdboy> Spec8472-: You’re bloody lazy.
<iWisdom> Personally, I think it would be a bad idea
<iWisdom> It encourages users to go MOD crazy
<iWisdom> Which makes for a support hell
<WizardJames> bsdboy said my thoughts
<iWisdom> And it also increases the chances of things breaking during upgrades
<bsdboy> Highway_of_Life: Thhey shouldnt be allowed to live.
<iWisdom> It also encourages users, as bsdboy said and WizardJames echoed, to be lazy and not learn their way   around the codebase
<Highway_of_Life> I prefer to control the whole aspect… but still, MODs should be of good enough quality   that only a very small handful of changes need to be made
<Spec8472-> bsdboy: I don’t believe in extra effort, where effort isn’t needed.
<bsdboy> lol
<iWisdom> Spec8472-: To each his own
<bsdboy> Then write a fucking mod to install mods.
<bsdboy> Dont expect someone else to do it.
<karlsemple> please do not swear
<Spec8472-> bsdboy: Well, I would, except that I don’t code in PHP. Besides, that’s just more effort ;)
<Highway_of_Life> you don?t need to code in PHP to install a MOD
<bsdboy> Spec8472-, go shove it where the sun don’t shine if you expect someone to come on IRC and make your   mods auto install. IF you don’t know at least basic PHP you shouldnt be running phpBB.
<Highway_of_Life> you just have to be able to follow instructions, that is all
<iWisdom> Copy/paste
<bsdboy> I didnt know PHP when i first started using phpBB, but you know what< I went and RTFM and followed   the instructions
<iWisdom> It’s not complicated
<bsdboy> its nNOT hard.
<iWisdom> Considering the endless hours MOD authors invest
<iWisdom> It’s not work at all
<WizardJames> not that hard,  just open file, find,  paste, save, next file..
<Highway_of_Life> bsdboy: knowledge of PHP isn?t necessarily required to run phpBB, but it might be required if you want to modify your board in any way…

I don’t agree with the approach that PHPbb3 devs are taking to it – they’re obviously not taking the (quite active) modding scene into account, and it just makes both administrators and modder’s lives more difficult.

Defined interfaces make things much easier all around – take for example something that we all use every time we use a computer – Device Drivers for hardware.

Hardware manufacturers, for the most part, stick to defined interfaces for their drivers. They don’t need to patch the kernel or other parts of the operating system. When they do step outside those bounds, things get… interesting. Updates to the OS, or indeed changes by other drivers can trample all over each other, and result in system or driver crashes.  All in all, a messy situation.

The same goes for other bits of software – if you need to extend Windows Live Writer, you use the SDK to create a plugin that conforms to certain specifications. You don’t need to patch the application’s code to add new functionality. 

I don’t think I’m wrong in asking that PHPbb also take this model – and I think over time it would reduce the level of work required by the developers and support staff.

I’ve been using Gmail for quite a while now, and I’ve grown rather attached to it – having searchable access to my email anywhere I have internet access is great.

Apart from universal access, The other great thing is the spam detection stuff. For the most part, it does a great job. In the last 30 days or so, it successfully picked up nearly 10,000 spam emails. 

GMail’s spam detection is also my greatest annoyance. 

Gmail Needs a “Whitelist” function

image I’m subscribed to a fairly high-traffic mailing list.  I’ve got GMail set up to automatically tag the mailing list traffic, and push it into the archive so it doesn’t clog up my inbox.  

However, for some reason every day several of the emails will get marked as spam, for no apparent reason. There doesn’t appear to be a way to ‘white list’ the mailing list address either.  So, every day, I’ll miss out on certain posts in a thread, which will make it difficult to read. Sure enough, if I go look in the spam folder – there they are. 

Gmail also needs a “Blacklist” function

Because of certain choices I made a while back, I need a ‘catch-all’ enabled on my domain (ideally it’d be a partial catch-all, but my host doesn’t permit that). For some reason my host also enables mail on the mailserver domain with the same rules as the primary domain.  This leads to really large quantities of spam being received.

Google catches the majority of it – however there are certain things that I can filter that I can guarantee are spam.  Google however doesn’t let me add a rule to let me push things into the Spam box, so it can learn from these – instead, I have to push them into the Trash.  Which works much the same as the Spam box, but instead of GMail learning from these, it just deletes them.