Entries Tagged as 'Web'

Web Servers

For several years I’ve used a combination of Microsoft IIS and Apache, which fits in with my belief that you choose the best tool for the job (and rarely does one tool work best across the board).

About a month ago I “needed” to do some maintenance on my personal web server, and I started to notice the number of things that had been installed on it… like two versions of Microsoft SQL Server (why a Microsoft product felt the need to install the compact edition when I already had the full blown edition is beyond me).

As I started to peel  away layer upon layer of unnecessary software I realized that my dependency on IIS was one very simple ASP dot Net script I’d written for a client of mine and adapted for my own use (you could also say I’d written it for my use and adapted it for them).

I started thinking, and realized it would take me about ten minutes to re-write that script in PHP and in doing that I could totally eliminate my personal dependency on IIS and somewhat simplify my life.

In about half an hour (I had to test the script and there was more to uninstall) I had a very clean machine with about 8GB more of disk space, and no IIS… and the exact same functionality (well — I would argue increased functionality since there was far less software that I would have to update and maintain on the machine).

Sure, there are cases where ASP dot Net is a good solution (though honestly I absolutely cannot stand it or the development environment, it seems to me like an environment targeted at mediocre programmers who have no understanding of what they’re doing and an incredible opportunity for security flaws and bugs)… but many times PHP works far better, and for very complex solutions a JSP (Java Servlet / JavaServer Pages) solution would likely work better.

My advice, think through what your (technical) requirements are and consider the options before locking into proprietary solutions.

Originally posted 2010-03-24 02:00:33.

No Flash

I’ll start by saying that my view of Flash is that it’s total garbage – completely unnecessary – and a huge security hole.  Before I dive too deep, here’s what Adobe says about flash on their product page:

Adobe® Flash® Player is a cross-platform browser-based application runtime that delivers uncompromised viewing of expressive applications, content, and videos across screens and browsers. Flash Player 10.1 is optimized for high performance on mobile screens and designed to take advantage of native device capabilities, enabling richer and more immersive user experiences.

What the hell is “richer more immersize user  experiences” supposed to mean?  Is that the way to say that the vast majority of sites that use flash on their first page are done by idiots who don’t know how to build a standards based web page and think that annoying glitz is all that people care about?  I dunno — but the whole spiel reeks of a load of crap to me.

No one has ever (successfully) explained to me why they feel they need to use Flash.  Does it actually do anything that can’t be done in a standards based way that doesn’t require that you update a crappy plug-in almost as often as you change your underwear?  Any one got an explanation as to why Adobe feels that they need to us a download manager and update manager that further pollute your machine?  Wait, maybe it’s because Adobe engineers are nearly as clueless as their target audience.  I dunno — seem like more crap from Adobe.

Flash is just crap — and it’s from a crappy company that lives in the past and tries to sell over-prices products to clueless individuals who don’t understand what they’re doing.  I dunno — maybe Adobe should just be used as a synonym for “crap”.  It would fit; some Adobe huts look a little like a huge pile of dung; and Adobe and it’s software share more than a slight resemblance to a huge pile of crap!

I have (on several occasions) republished a Flash video by embedding it in a post – but I certainly would rather provide a link to a h.264 or MPEG4 video in a standard container that didn’t require individuals to install any proprietary trash on their computer to view or hear it.

Join me in moving forward to make the web a “NO FLASH” place… just say no to flash.

FLASH

NOTE: One of my good friends tells me that I shouldn’t just rant on how horrible Flash is without presenting a solid argument.  I don’t, in fact, have to substantiate my opinion — my feeling is that Flash is such a huge pile of crap that it wreaks such that anyone who’d understand the argument already realizes it’s crap — and those who are clueless are hopeless… but, I’ll present a link to Wikipedia which describes what Flash is, and I’ll emphasize that anything legitimate that can be done in Flash can be done using open standards (that require no browser plug-ins) in HTML4 with JavaScript (ECMAScript) with some work, and allegedly they can be done much more simply in HTML5.  And for those with only a basic understanding of JavaScript you can find free and open source JavaScript foundations and widgets to help you build a web site that works on virtually any browser (or degrades nicely) and doesn’t require a huge stinking pile of crap from Adobe.

Flash (aka ActionScript) on Wikipedia

Originally posted 2010-10-21 02:00:39.

Just Host – Just A Dependable Hosting Company

It isn’t often that I get to praise companies over and over — and honestly this time I’m writing about Just Host again not because they’ve done something great, but because they’ve continued to do what they’ve done since day one — work.

When I originated my multi-year hosting contract with Just Host I was expecting that I’d be canceling it and taking advantage of the money back guarantee… while we’re no where near the end of the term of my contract yet, I’m beginning to believe that the likelihood of canceling the hosting is far lower than renewing the contract.

Now if you need 99.99% uptime (high availability) and you’re running a web site that makes you millions of dollars every day this isn’t for you… but if you have a business or personal site that isn’t mission critical, but could still be very important to you — this might be for you.

I don’t know much about the internals of Just Host, and I’m glad that I haven’t needed to figure all that out… when things work, I’m perfectly happy just using the service.

At the moment I’m hosting my forty plus domains; sites for several of my friends and relatives; and a number of sites for clients of mine (for the most part I designed and manage the sites — and they’re nothing lavish, just basic sites that provide these business a presence on the web).

If you’re looking for a solution to your needs for hosting, click the ad below (or the one I put in my sidebar long ago) and try a reliable, reasonably prices solution that seems to just keep working.





Originally posted 2010-10-19 02:00:31.

Browser Wars – The Empire Strikes Back

So you all have the new version of Internet Explorer and Firefox right?

I know, it’s hard to tell them apart now — they all look like Chrome… and I’m not convinced that usability has been improved; seems to me more of a “me too” change than any real move forward.

Of course, under the hood, IE9 does a much better job of actually rendering web sites correctly (how could it do a worse job).  And of course all of them now support HTML5 (well, at lest sort of support HTML5).

Personally I don’t understand why the user interface to the browser needs to keep changing… after all, it’s the web sites the browser presents that most people care about using, not the browser itself.

Sure, for the most part you can set the options in the browsers to look like the older interface — but maybe during the install the question should be ask if you want the new look or not (because it is the default).

The bottom line; it’s different… not better — and I personally am getting tired of senseless changes that really accomplish nothing much more than “putting lipstick on a pig” — and we know how well that works out.

And in closing — could someone please explain to me why in version nine of Internet Explorer it still doesn’t have spell check built in?  That certainly would be a feature worth upgrading for.

Originally posted 2011-03-25 02:00:12.

So you want to build a web site

I have a broad base of friends; from those who could explain how the universe was formed (in minute detail) to those that could build you a boat to those that have trouble starting a car… and many of them (from many different backgrounds) have asked me for help or guidance building a web site.

First, let me be clear — I’m not a graphics designer; and I’m much more autistic than artistic… but I understand how the web works (from the nuts and bolts — so to speak; on up)… and that gives me a unique perspective on how to explain to people about building a web site.

One of the first things I tell them is start small; you can grow later, but you need to get a handle on the basics and understand the dos and don’ts inside out.

My generally recommendation is something along the lines of a three page web site — and opening page, an about page, and a contact page… sure lots of sites need more, but almost all need at least those — so starting there will always get you closer to where you want to go.

I also recommend to most people that they start with a pencil and paper, and draw out roughly how they want their site to look — and then look for other sites that have the look that they’re interested in.

After that, they simply need to learn the basics of how you describe your site to a browser — HTML; and probably some JavaScript.

JavaScript???  That’s for programmers!!!

Well yes and no; there’s quite a bit a person can do with JavaScript that just understands the very basics of programming, much of the work are done by people who know JavaScript inside out, and have published a foundation and widgets… so it comes down to almost cut-and-paste (sure you need to understand a little; but if you can learn HTML, you can learn JavaScript).

Along with building a web site you really need to learn a little about search engines, how they work, and what they expect to find when they visit a site… because if a search engine isn’t kind to you, then people just won’t find your site — and there’s a limit to how many people you’re going to point out your site to…

You need to learn more about HTML, particularly META TAGS, you also need to learn about some of the conventions of the web; a file called robots.txt that will tell crawlers and spiders what to do, and what’s refereed to as a site map (that makes it easier for a search engine to do it’s job — thus it’s more likely to index your site).

But just having a site map isn’t enough,you’ve got to make it easy for the search engine to digest all the information on your site; which means you need to learn to avoid Flash, images without ALT TAGS, pages that use AJAX XHR methods to load content on demand (search engines don’t run the JavaScript on a page — so they never see delay loaded content); pages that have JSON data sets used to populate page elements (again search engines don’t run the JavaScript on a page), pages that are broken, and pages that are huge (search engines have limits to how much content they’ll crawl on a single page).

I know, it seems like a bottomless pit of things to learn and keep in mind as you do it — and it’s certainly not made any easier by the fact that like most “professions”, web developers like to exclude as many people as they can by coming up with totally nonsensical jargon to hide how trivial most of this is.

Well, it is trivial (for the most part).

But my advice is, if you want to build a web site — start with the basics, and get the mechanics dead on before you go off the deep end with a “look” that defines your site.

Form is easier to add to function than vice-versa.

Over the next few months I’ll write a few posts on some of the specifics that make building a functional web page easier — and I’ll also share some advice on JavaScript frameworks.

Originally posted 2010-11-16 02:00:41.

AT&T U-Verse – Internet

AT&T offers three separate services through their U-Verse branded advance communications offering.  This post will deal with high speed internet.

Essentially AT&T U-Verse internet is DSL broadband — though at much higher rates that you’re likely used to… the particulars of the speed offering depends on the package you pay for.

  • Max Turbo – Up to 24 Mbps downstream Starting at $65/month
  • Max Plus – Up to 18.0 Mbps downstream Starting at $55/month
  • Max – Up to 12.0 Mbps downstream Starting at $45/month
  • Elite – Up to 6.0 Mbps downstream Starting at $43/month
  • Pro – Up to 3.0 Mbps downstream Starting at $38/month

Upstream bandwidth increases with downstream, and is generally much more generous than AT&T’s older ADSL plans; though the pricing of the lower bandwidth U-Verse services aren’t as attractive as the older AT&T ADSL plans (particularly with the promotions you can probably still get for the older ADSL combined with voice or even “naked” DSL plans)..

Not shown on their ordering information is a 30 Mbps downstream plan to be offered later this Summer that will ahve a 5 Mbps upstream.

Remember from my earlier post — you must use the AT&T residential gateway.  The gateway is a descent piece of consumer technology, though I’m not sure it’s a very high performance internet router.

My tests of it show that it’s definitely capable of sustaining the advertised bandwidth of your connection (and you really get the bandwidth your order); however, my tests also show that the router isn’t capable of sustaining a large number of simultaneous connections without rather dramatic performance degradation.

Which mean in plan old English — if you’re going to do Peer-To-Peer file sharing, the AT&T residential gateway will not be your friend… you’re probably going to end up having to reset it every day or two to keep it running well (I’ve noted that simply shutting down the connections doesn’t seem to help — but that could be that other P2P nodes are continuing to bombard your IP address).

For most people P2P isn’t a requirement, and certainly most people won’t be doing P2P much — and if they do, they certainly understand how to discontinue P2P services and reset the connection (remember it affects voice and video when you reset) when they need high speed connectivity for something else.

My gut tells me that the equipment is operating as designed — and intended to enforce a “fair use” policy by penalizing individuals who try and do P2P (after all — unlimited really doesn’t mean as much as you want, it means as much as your provider is willing to let you have).

And my gut feeling about the router operating as designed is further re-enforced by the fact that a great deal of though has been put into the design of the software and interface for the router… it will do pretty much anything any use will need for it to do (don’t think along the lines of a Cisco router with IOS, think along the lines of a prosumer / SOHO router).

Overall, my feelings are that the AT&T U-Verse Internet is a good deal, that it performs well, and at the high speed levels (well, not at the highest — I think there you’re getting gouged) it’s a reasonably fair price, and a very solid technology.

U-Verse Internet is really all I wanted from AT&T; and it’s the one service I will keep.

Originally posted 2010-05-17 02:00:38.

Microsoft Office 2010

The ides of June (that was Monday the 15th) Microsoft announced the newest version of their Office suite — Microsoft Office 2010… yawn.

As part of the announcement, Microsoft also unveiled Microsoft Office Live — that’s a “scaled down” version of the office products offered absolutely free as part of the Microsoft Live website.

The online version, like the desktop version, has been in beta for quite some time, so none of the features of capabilities (or limitations) should be a big surprise to anyone who’s shown enough interest to try the online version or download and install the desktop version.

While I totally understand Microsoft’s need to sustain (and expand) their cash flow through upgrades (after all, Apple has now overtaken Microsoft as the largest technology company based on stock market valuation) — but why most people would even consider an upgrade to something they only use a fraction of the capabilities of is totally beyond me.

Microsoft is meeting competition on the office front from both Open Office (a free desktop office suite) and Google Office (an online office suite) — and competition in the office arena isn’t something Microsoft has had to deal with since killing off Word Perfect a quarter century ago!

I want Microsoft stock to appreciate (trust me, my portfolio still depends on it); but perhaps Steve Balmer should consider making Microsoft a leader through innovation rather than just putting lipstick on a pig (after all, it didn’t work in the last presidential election — and I serious doubt it’ll work in the technology race).

In my view, the features most people really need and use in an office suite are perfectly generic in this day and age — and most people fumble around to do the things they need to do anyway (read that as they aren’t an expert with the software), so why not pick out something that works, works well, and is affordable (free)?

Personally I don’t trust Google, and I don’t want my documents (or any other information) on their servers… so I’ll stick with Open Office, and I’ve been using the Go OO version (it’s a re-packing of the open source Open Office with some refinements to make it look-and-feel a little more like other programs on the host environment).  Try it out — and see if it won’t do everything you need — it’s priced right, it’s free (as in “free beer”)!

Go OO Open Office

Originally posted 2010-06-17 02:00:43.

High Speed Internet Gateways

Several of my friends have ask for help on a very similar problem — they disconnect a computer directly from a cable modem or DSL router, plug in a residential gateway (wireless or wired router) and can’t get reconnected to the internet.

It’s actually a very common problem; and there are several things that can contribute to it.

The first thing you should do is make sure you that have the newest firmware available for your device — particularly older routers have issues with DHCP (that’s how most of the devices get the connection information from the service provider).

Also, you’ll want to check your computer to make sure what type of connection you were using to get to the internet (some older DSL modems particularly required that you setup your computer to do PPPoE — most newer DSL modems will handle all of that transparently, but even they may not be setup that way).

But after you check all that you’re still likely to find that you simply cannot make a connection to the internet.

The problem is that the internet service provider setup the profile of your modem so that it will only allow a single device to connect to the internet at a time (the MAC address to DHCP table has a limit of one).  Each Ethernet device in the “universe” is supposed to have a unique MAC address; and the specification allows for what’s called locally administered MAC addresses as well, but no two devices should ever have the same permanent MAC address (and technically no device should be allowed to copy the permanent MAC address of another).

There are two ways to get around this.  One is to use the MAC address cloning feature of your router (that’s long term a HORRIBLE idea — it violates the rule that no two devices should have [or use] the same permanent MAC address; and the only advantage to it is that it might provide instant gratification).  The second, and better, way is to simply allow your modem time to reset — and you can hasten that by unplugging the power from it and letting it sit for about ten minutes.

There is potentially another way to hasten the re-binding of a new MAC address to the modem.  Some modems have a hardware reset button — but you’ll have to check the manual to see how to use it.  Most modems also have a web interface and resetting the device is one of the options.

Most cable modems have the ip address of 192.168.100.1, most ADSL modems have the address of 192.168.1.1, and VDSL modems have the address of 192.168.1.254 — but let me underscore I said most, not all (you’re going to have to read the manual if these don’t work — and to make it worse, some inexpensive modems have no web interface at all).

Once you bring up a web browser and point it to http://192.168.1.254/ (or what ever the address for your modem is) you’ll probably be able to just view much of the information with any authentication (and you need not have an internet connection for this to work).  However, to reset the modem (or possible run diagnostics) you probably will need to log in.  Many ADSL and VDSL modems will simply want you to enter the information printed on the modem (that’s to prevent a hacker from doing it, since it require physical access to the equipment), but again, you really will have to review the manual to be sure.

The option you’re looking for will be called something like “reset: or “restart”… and there should be a warning that the internet connection will be interrupted, and that it will take several minutes (worst case) for the connection to be re-established.

If all this sounds like too much work; there is a third way, and that just involves patience.  The MAC address from the old device connected directly to your modem will age out over time — you just have to wait for it to happen (and it could be a hour or more).  If it’s late at night, just hit the sack, and when you wakeup the next day everything should be working with your new residential gateway.

Also, many service providers offer a wireless residential gateway (with built in modem) in place of just the modem — for most residential users just selecting that instead of the modem makes sense… for “power users” you might want a router that has more features or better performance; but the service providers residential gateway, out of the box, will allow you to connect as many devices as you’d like (including another gateway if you like — just make sure the ip network addresses they use are different).

  • DOCSIS is used by most cable companies, and technically it’s not a cable modem, but a DOCSIS “cable” modem.
  • SDSL isn’t used much in the US any longer, so it’s unlikely you’re going to find one of these modems.
  • ADSL is used by most of the Telcos, including AT&T and Verizon.
  • VDSL (ADSL2+) is used by AT&T in their U-Verse service and Verizon in their FiOS service.

Originally posted 2010-10-14 02:00:49.

Chromium

I’ve been using the Chromium browser a fair amount lately, and while it takes some getting used to, it’s quite an admirable browser.

Initially I installed Chromium in order to test web sites under it to make sure I didn’t need to handle any glaring issues (like is often needed with Microsoft Internet Explorer and Opera); but it seem to render most everything almost identically to FireFox and Safari (though there’s definite differences in the timing of the rendering).

For the most part I work on web pages that use fairly simply JavaScript to alter the appearance or provided better user interaction (Web2.0), I really know very little about HTML5 (I’ve run some tests on various browsers — but let’s leave HTML5 to those who really know something of substance).

I don’t know if it’s because it’s what I’m used to or because the human engineering in FireFox is better… but it certainly feels more natural using FireFox to browse and download (plus I like the “Page Info” and the “Error Console” tools a great deal).

One other thing I like about FireFox is that it’s ostensibly the same experience on Windows, OS-X, and Kubuntu… and it’s not the default browser on any of them — of course I can same the same thing about Chromium (well, except for OS-X).

Chromium, though, really takes a slightly different approach to browsing the web; and I think the developers really felt like their approach was simpler… and maybe it is.  After all, humans do not have any innate ability to use a particular tool — they have to learn, and maybe the FireFox tool has become somewhat ingrained in the tool-box of any internet user since it builds on the original web browser (Mosaic) and really has never attempted any large paradigm shift.

Chromium also presents the feel of something larger than a browser (and it is — after all, it’s a fundamental part of the Chromium OS project as well); and perhaps that’s what makes it feel slightly alien no mater what environment you run it in (of course, to me, Chromium OS feels very fairly alien in itself — but then again, I’ve only run hacked builds, so we shouldn’t draw too many conclusions about the OS just yet).

One thing I’ve fairly confident of is that Google will evolve Chromium until it has a reasonably large share of the market (I think Wave might be the only Google project that was abandoned — and I suspect that will find itself re-incarnated in some future Google effort).

While I don’t see the “resistance is futile” tag line on Chromium any time soon, I think it’s probably worth taking a look at — you might find it less alien than I do — and it certainly seems to work well as a browser (once you learn what buttons to press and how to hold your head).

Originally posted 2010-10-20 02:00:35.

Dynamic IP Filtering (Black Lists)

There are a number of reasons why you might want to use a dynamic black list of IP addresses to prevent your computer from connecting to or being connect to by users on the Internet who might not have your best interests at heart…

Below are three different dynamic IP filtering solutions for various operating systems; each of them are open source, have easy to use GUIs, and use the same filter list formats (and will download those lists from a URL or load them from a file).

You can read a great deal more about each program and the concepts of IP blocking on the web pages associated with each.

Originally posted 2010-08-17 02:00:55.