Posts archived in IT

There’s been a trend for many years now to serve up “mobile optimised” sites, usually by redirecting users to a different domain like “http://m.example.com”.

Please, for crying out loud, I beg of you – STOP this practice. Not only is it bad for your site, it’s bad for your users too.

It screws up your site’s search engine ranking

All SEO folks will tell you to ensure your site has one, and only one domain. That is: pick either “www.example.com” or “example.com” and stick with it, redirect all your traffic onto that one domain. The same goes for mobile sites – pushing users off to some other domain means links they share will go to your mobile site.

You’re probably going to screw it up in some subtle way anyhow

You’ll test like crazy, and hey – it works. For you. On that version of the mobile phone software, with that screen size, on that internet connection.

Change some of those variables and suddenly the page layout is screwed up because a Carrier decided to rewrite your site to be ‘mobile friendly’.

A new device comes out with a larger screen – say, something like a Tablet/iPad. To your site’s code that looks like a mobile device, but to the poor sucker using it – your site looks terrible, is missing features/functionality.

And if you don’t get redirection right, You’ll be completely stuffing up the users who try to access the ‘desktop’ link, and instead get sent to the front page of your mobile site, or at worst a 404 page.

Links from the mobile site are useless for the desktop

Someone on a phone or tablet emails a link like say http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee - ah, crap, it’s the mobile version, and is missing a bunch of stuff. How do I get the proper page? I have no idea, there’s probably a link somewhere though.

Mobile probably isn’t what you meant

You probably actually mean ‘small screen sizes’ or ‘low bandwidth’.

Folks who are on modern smartphones or tablets actually have a pretty fast internet connection (either 3G or Wifi). They also have browsers as capable as your desktop, or nearly so anyway. All up, redirecting is a pretty good way to just waste people’s time and cause frustration.

Just serve them the same content

(Disclaimer: I’m not a UI designer or developer)

There’s techniques like CSS Media Queries which let you serve up the one page, which will re-arrange or completely remove elements based on screen size.  The good thing is that this means new devices with oddly shaped screens will work automatically. See Scott Hanselman’s site for an example of this done right – make your window wider or narrower, and elements turn on/off.

I realise there’s exceptions to this – if you’re mainly aiming at users in markets where smartphone penetration is low and 3G is non-existent then having a low bandwidth, WAP site is a necessity.
For most sites, though, you don’t.

 

</rant>

 

Edit 10AM Friday 27th July: Server-side browser detection isn’t a solution 

In case I wasn’t clear – server-side detection of browser isn’t a solution (imo). WordPress “mobile” themes, for example, are ugly on tablets and other large screen “mobile” devices.

It should be left to the user-agent (browser) to determine how to lay out the page.  Trying to detect this on the server will eventually fail – either because technology has moved on in ways you didn’t cater for, or you didn’t test it on all the devices in the world.

This leaves users with the need to either switch off the theme, or put up with a design that looks terrible for their device.

There’s a huge stable of sites that do things like what I’ve described here. A few examples I can think of off the top of my head:

  • Gawker Media’s sites (eg IO9) – Redirects to a mobile domain
  • Delimiter – Uses WordPress Mobile themes, which are terrible on tablets
  • Sydney Morning Herald – redirects to a mobile domain.
  • Wikipedia – reidrects to a mobile domain.

It’s been years since people started pointing out how Facebook and other sites are encouraging bad security habits. Yet Facebook still continues to encourage handing over really private credentials that should never be shared. 

Obviously it’s working, two of the folks I’m friends with on Facebook have used it recently.

failfailfail

This little gem I found in the sidebar of my profile.

Everywhere I go on Facebook there’s a prompt asking me to hand over passwords for email and other services.

image 

People have their online identities (not to mention anything important: like internet banking services) associated with these email addresses – why on earth would anyone willingly hand those details over?

Oh, that’s right, there’s a little blue padlock and a nice reassuring “Facebook won’t save your password” message. We should all rest easy knowing the bright sparks at Facebook have our best intentions at heart. Because no-one has ever accidentally turned on data logging. Especially not anyone working for a big reputable and trustworthy totally-not-evil company.

Carry on then.

At the moment there are two major disasters happening in Australia: Bushfires in Western Australia and widespread floods in Queensland.
I’ve seen dozens of people on Facebook and Twitter passing on information in the belief they’re helping.

Everyone wants to help, and because of that people try and do whatever they can – passing on information, and spreading rumour.

In some places and occasions where there is no organised response – this is useful. That’s not the case for the Queensland Floods.

 

If you’re NOT in an affected area:

  • DO NOT pass on emergency, urgent, or time sensitive information by copying and pasting it into Twitter or Facebook.

    The worst thing you can do is to pass on old or outdated information.
    This causes confusion, and can put lives in danger.

    Because of the rapidly changing nature of disasters, the best information is directly from those organisations involved in dealing with the disaster.

    If you must, then link to official sources of information: Police, Fire, SES, or other Government emergency management organisations.

  • DO NOT pass on rumour or other information which isn’t linking an official source.
    Rumours can start panic, and distress those outside the area. This can worsen the situation.
  • If you want to help and you’re not near any of the affected areas, then monetary donations to one of the official appeals are generally the best way. ABC Brisbane has a list of the various legitimate appeals for Queensland.

Those IN affected areas:

  • Be Safe and Follow advice of Emergency Services personnel and SES – not random people on Twitter and Facebook.
    Social media is great, but the emergency service personnel are well coordinated, and have the best knowledge of what is happening.  Someone from Sydney or Melbourne is likely passing on hour-old news.
  • If you have a Radio, tune it to your ABC Local Radio station.
    This is the designated ‘emergency’ radio network and will have the latest and breaking information about your area.
  • Don’t be stupid.
    Follow posted signs.
    Don’t drive into flood waters, even if you have a Ute or 4WD.
    Don’t swim or walk through flood waters.

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.

nytfail

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.

image

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.

Sincerely,

Will

Tonight someone I’d met once or twice before tried to recruit me into coming to work for their company. 
There’s a number of things that put me off about their approach, and I wanted summarise them here so that any other recruiters or managers who read this knows what not to do.

First of all, whilst it’s only something minor – it’s probably a good idea not to try and corner me whilst I’m (obviously) chatting with other people, and not you. 

When I mention that I happen to be sitting with workmates, and my manager/team-leader, that should be an indication to back off with the pitch and leave it for another opportunity.

If I’ve also said I’m enjoying the work, and that I get to work on some cool stuff (even if I can’t mention the clients/projects) – patronising the company I work for isn’t really a point in your favour.

However the killer would have to be mentioning how you’re engaging in (in my opinion) shady business practices, and isn’t-this-really-cool-that-we’re-screwing-the-system-for-our-clients. 

That’s all! :)

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.

So, here’s my tale of trying (and so far failing) to get Internet access on at my new apartment.

big_hindenburg_explodes_over_lakehurst

(with apologies to Dreamhost for nicking their headline AND public domain photo)

December 13th: I get the word from the real estate agent that I’ve got the unit. Immediately sign up on the iiNet website for Naked DSL.

December 19th: iiNet respond to my application with the message “Service Address Not Found”.  I contact iiNet and ask what that means, turns out they need a phone number.

December 21-22nd: I move in.

December 24th: I finally go back to my apartment, plug in a phone and find out the number. I give that to iiNet, they re-submit.

December 28th: I get an email from iiNet with “Service Address Not Found” again. I call, they do some quick tests – the number doesn’t show up in their access to Telstra’s provisioning systems.
I call Telstra to get the phone connected, it’ll take several days because as it turns out, it’s on the Optus cable network. Appointment made for January 4th.

January 4th: No Telstra guy.

January 8th: I get a call from a Telstra guy: “Umm,I’m at the premesis now…” me: “Well, you wern’t 4 days ago when I was there…”

January 9th: Telstra call back to reschedule, and say has to be all day. I ask for Saturday timeslot if that’s the case, sure – January 19th. Ugh.

January 19th: Line connected. But after the Tech leaves, I find out the line is a Silent line, and 12722123 to find out my number doesn’t work.

January 21st and 22nd: Too busy at work to call Telstra before their Sales centres close at 5pm.

January 23rd: Call Telstra, get my line number. Go sign up again at iiNet.

January 30th: Email from iiNet: DSL Connection will be on Feb 5th, but I don’t need to be home (because provisioned line).

Feb 5th: No line sync. iiNet connection email says might take a few more days.

Feb 7th: Still no line sync. Call iiNet, on hold for ~30mins (on my mobile) – Guy says it looks like my entire DSLAM is down. But, (good news for me) they work on Saturdays (9th)- so, give a call then or Monday.

Feb 9th: (Still no line sync) Call iiNet, on hold for another 30mins, guy says Telstra have to fix it, and they don’t work on weekends, but should know more Monday (11th)

Feb 11th: (Still no line sync) Call iiNet, on hold for ~45mins. Guy says they’ve added my name to a list to send to Visionstream, and they’ll call to let me know when it’ll be fixed.

Today (Feb 13th): Visionstream calls me at about 10 am  –

VS: “We’re calling to make an appointment for your ADSL Installation”
me: “err.. don’t you mean fault repair?”
VS: “Oh, I don’t know… So, will Friday (15th) be ok?”
me: “Uhm, What time?” 
VS: “You’ll have to be there All day”
me: “Oh, no, that’s really not possible, any chance for a shorter time period?”
VS: “No, sorry – you can leave a key with a friend family member and they can be there instead”
Me: “Err, no, I really can’t.”
VS: “Okay, well, we’ll send this back to iiNet then”
Me: “Fine, I’ll call them” 

I call iiNet, left on hold for 45mins.  I explain the situation,

“Well, you’ll have to be home then”
me: “But I understood the issue to be with your DSLAM, not with my line – everyone else on the exchange was down”.
“No, that’s been rectified, you’ll have to be at home for them to fix the issue”.
me: “Well, that’s just not an option for me at the moment.”
“Let me talk to a senior, see what we can do”
Me: “okay”
(5mins hold)
“We’ll try rebuilding the port, but, that might not help”

I get home tonight, and, well… they’re right, it didn’t help.

So, ~3hrs in total of calls on my mobile, and I’m still no closer to having proper internet access on. I’ve sent a ‘support form’ in telling them that if they can’t narrow down the appointment timeslot to 3-4 hours, then just to cancel my account.

I suppose if they go ahead and cancel, I’ll be able to get the line reconnected (and if necessary, do it on a Saturday), then I’ll get normal ADSL2+ with someone else. Which has far less chance of f’cking up.

Seriously sucks.

 

Addendum: I’m not blaming iiNet that they can’t fix something when I’m not home – I’m just saying that the whole process of getting internet access is a disaster. It’s now over 2 months, for something that should have been fairly simple.  If the Telcos stopped playing bullshit politics, we’d all be in a much better situation.

Before I left my previous job, I was coerced into joining Facebook. The promise was that it would let me keep up to date with all my former colleages and friends at my old job.

Since day one, I’ve pretty much been regretting the decision. Most of the issue comes down to the fact that Facebook has no way of actually stopping people from sending “invites” to add whatever the current fad-application is.

Many folks don’t see it as a problem, and don’t remove your name from the list of people to spam when sending out one of these invites. The result is that when I log into Facebook, I see a half-dozen or more Invites.

Because I can’t use the Facebook interface to block these, I’ve gone ahead and just simply started removing and blocking folks that do this.

This, to some, is considered an outright hostile act. Sorry folks, but I really don’t give a damn whether you’re “Interested”, or want to know what Simpsons character I am.

Until the time when Facebook lets me block all application invites, I’ll be continuing the remove-and-block tactic. 

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?

For several years, the various Recording Artist Associations (eg: RIAA) have been on a campaign to prosecute their customers. These associations claim they do it to protect the rights of their members. In reality it’s all about increasing profits for certain key members - that is, large record companies.

Last week came news from the UK of the latest attempt by these organisations to stick it to ordinary consumers for something which is, really, fairly innocent. What’s the problem? Some employees of a car repair company played their radios a little bit too loud.

The Performing Rights Society (the UK’s version of the RIAA) is seeking £200,000 (AUD$450,000) in damages for this obvious heinous crime.

Seriously, there needs to be a complete change in copyright law. For a long time these large organisations (and don’t kid yourself, they are giant corporations, not struggling musicians) have been steadily edging out what we would all consider fair use. It should not be a crime to listen to the radio at work, or to play a CD for friends at a private party. 

The way things are structured at the moment, it’s better (financially) for me to drive a car at well above the legal speed limits, placing people in serious danger - than it is to play a radio a little loud, or to share a song with a friend.  This is not the way things should be. We need to say enough is enough, and tell our elected representatives to change these obviously stupid copyright laws.