Category Archives: Nerd Stuff

Does Your Website Make the Grade?

websitegrader.jpg

Yesterday I discovered Website Grader, and I’ve been doing some experiments to improve my overall grade. My initial grade was 74, and I had a few significant problems. Namely, and I’m embarrassed to admit this, my site did not have a description or Meta keywords set. Shame, and I call myself “savvy.” When I used to hand-code all my pages, I did not have that problem. Since I switched to WordPress, I did not pay attention to it… until now.

After a few slight modifications and additions, my grade has shot up to 87, so now in the B+ range. 🙂

Permanent Redirect

My main issue that I need to address is that I lack a “permanent redirect.” What that means is that if you type either http://tipsfor.us OR http://www.tipsfor.us into your browser, you will reach this site, BUT some search engines may treat those URLs as two different sites. My grade will go up a few more points if I set a “permanent” (or “301”) redirect from one of those links to the other.

I’m going to do more research on redirects before I implement one. My site already gets a decent amount of traffic for certain keywords, and I just want to make sure I know what I’m doing so that I don’t break anything.

Pagerank

What else did I learn from Website Grader? Currently, tipsfor.us has a Google Pagerank rating of 4. What does Pagerank mean? From the mouth of Google:

Google PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves important weigh more heavily and help to make other pages important.

Essentially, sites are ranked from 0 -10. The more incoming links and traffic you receive, the higher your rank. I was surprised that I earned a ranking as high as four, as I do not spend as much time maintaining or promoting this site as I should. So, I’m happy with a ranking of 4 right now.

For a full score explanation for tipsfor.us, please follow this link. I hope that by fixing my redirect problem I can boost my score into “A” range. 🙂

My Offer – Get Linked!

Speaking of links, here is my offer to you: earn a link in my sidebar! All you have to do is get your site graded and post a comment below. Include your overall score and a “report link,” which is included at the bottom of your evaluation.

Why include your report link? We’re talking grades here, so I have to verify that there is no cheating happening, of course! I reserve the right to refuse a link if it is pornographic, offensive, or outright spam, but hopefully there will be no trouble with that. Remember, a link coming from my site will help improve your Google Pagerank and your overall score.

So, post your scores, even if they are “failing!”

Wowio – Free eBooks, Plus a Free IPod Shuffle

wowio_logo.gif
I just discovered Wowio, a service that allows you to download free eBooks. As a benefit, the eBooks do not have any DRM, so you can freely move them from computer to computer (or PDA). The files ARE secured with a password, which means that you cannot modify them, but there are no restrictions on viewing or printing.

Is there a catch? Well, you can only download five eBooks per day, and the selection is not yet tremendously vast. However, they do have many categories, and they will continue to add more in the future.

Here are the five titles that I downloaded today:

  • Excel for the CEO
  • The Art of War
  • The Tales of Mr. Tod
  • The Black Cat
  • The Science of Getting Rich

If you want to join, there are a few ways to do so. To cut down on multiple accounts, they require that you verify your identity. Verification includes one of the following methods:

  • A non-anonymous e-mail address (no Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, etc) – this is probably the easiest way)
  • A scan of an ID (student ID or driver’s license) – I don’t recommend this method
  • A credit card (that will not be charged – supposedly)
  • Friends and Family Code – You can “vouch” for the identity of up to 3 other people. Don’t vouch for yourself or your account will be terminated

fb_fm_fipod.gif

Currently, they are running a promotion to give away iPod Shuffles to everyone who refers 10 people. Unlike most of those other iPod giveaway offers, this one is quite easy. You do not have to give out your credit card number or sign up for any “trials.” All you have to do is refer people to sign up for their free service. That’s it.

As an experiment, I’m going to start a referral chain here. If you list my e-mail as the referrer, please contact me or leave a comment below. Once I reach ten referrals, I will replace my e-mail address with yours so that I can help you earn ten referrals. I’ll do this in first-come, first-serve order.

brian [at] bondari [dot] com

All e-mail addresses will be broken up like that to avoid spam. Enjoy your free eBooks, and let’s try to earn a few iPod Shuffles for one another.

Updated “About” page

I recently updated the About page with lots more information, including a brief history of this site. The previous information was quite ambiguous, so hopefully it will provide readers with a clearer picture of myself and my intentions for this site.

Google adds themed homepages

I admit: I’m a fan of the Google homepage. I use it to organize and keep track of a lot of information, including my calendar, e-mail, weather, To-Do list, bookmarks, and more. I love the slick ability to simply drag elements around on the page, or the option to create additional tabs with more information.

This morning I noticed a new option: the ability to select a theme. There are currently seven themes available, and my favorite is “Tea House.” After you select a theme, you can enter your city/zip code to enable slight changes depending on the time of day. It is currently evening here, and my theme reflects it (see screenshot).

tea-house_theme.png

Nice! I wonder if Google will allow for user creation and customization of themes. In a way, I hope not. Most people have horribly bad taste anyhow, if Myspace custom pages are any indication. Anyway, the changing Google themes are a welcome aesthetic touch to an already functional homepage.

Most popular search term?

It’s become quite apparent to me through watching my web stats that the vast majority of visitors to this site come here for one main reason: GHOST!

That’s right. Most of you arrive at this site by searching for something like “ghost windows free.” My high ranking in the major search engines for terms such as these has caused a steady stream of traffic over the last few months. Naturally, the article that is causing this traffic is the one titled Ghost Windows XP for Free.

I find it ironic, of course. I take pride in my support of open-source software, and the most popular article on my site is for closed-source freeware on imaging a closed-source operating system. 🙂

The masses have spoken through their search requests. In the future I’ll dedicate some of my energies to extending this topic. Happy reading.

To VPS or not to VPS…

That is the question. Whether tis nobler a choice in web hosting options than “shared” hosting will be determined, though I have high expectations.

If you are confused and are wondering what on earth a VPS is, I call your attention to my article on “Web Hosting Options.” Essentially, most “shared” web hosting offers are completely unrealistic borderline on being outright scams. If you read the TOS (Terms of Service) for almost any “shared” host, you will find clauses limiting your use of the server CPU. So, what good are those terabytes of bandwidth if you willl NEVER be able to use them. I’ve seen TOS contracts which state that your account will be suspended if you consume more than 1% of the overall CPU. Excuse me? I understand that hosts need to protect themselves from CPU overload, but they should be more forthcoming about it. I’d much rather see a hosting plan that features “CPU minutes” rather than oodles of bandwidth. Will it ever happen? Not with shared hosting.

This is why a VPS is attractive to me. So what if a shared plan supposedly offers ten or twenty times more bandwidth? You’ll never be able to use it before they slam you for CPU consumption. Hosers.

I plan to switch fully to a VPS by the end of the year. Yes, it will cost a little more than my current shared plan, but at least I won’t have to worry about actually having to handle more than a few site visitors at a time. I have a few articles in the works that should generate some traffic this holiday season, and the last thing I want is for my host to lock me out of my own site (again).

Web Hosting Options – The Downside of Shared Hosting

Earlier this month, an article I wrote on Ghosting Windows XP for Free found its way to the front page of digg.com nearly a year after I wrote it. The ensuing spike in traffic caused my web host (1and1) to move my site temporarily to a new server. Naturally, I received an e-mail from them stating that my account was “seriously threatening the resources of the shared server” and that I should consider purchasing an expensive dedicated server. Furthermore, they informed me that if I decline the dedicated server offer, the next time a traffic spike occurs I MUST either purchase the dedicated server or find hosting elsewhere. Sheesh.

Now, this is not an attack on 1and1. Until this incident I’ve had nary a problem with them. While I do not like being forced into a decision, I certainly cannot blame them for trying to protect their resources and the other accounts on their server. While I have moved my current domain to another host, I still have other domains hosted with 1and1.

So, what is the big deal here? Supposedly, even my “beginner” package is supposed to handle 250 gigabytes of traffic a month. Surely I was not saturating that much bandwidth, as my site has hardly any media. While the “digg” effect sucked up several gigabytes, 1and1 locked my account long before I reached the allotted 250 gigs.

Herein lies the problem with shared hosting packages from any hosting company, not just 1and1. Their sales pitch sounds stellar. Many hosts easily boast of fifty gigabytes of storage space or more, with bandwidth stretching into the terabytes, all for less than $10 a month. Many offer “unlimited” subdomains and SQL databases, which of course is unfeasible. What they decline to tell you is that the ONLY way you will be able to harness these resources is with static HTML pages and large, static file downloads.

The problem here is that most web sites no longer function in this late-90s manner. Most sites are dynamic, and include processor-intensive scripts and databases. Hosting a Content Management System (CMS), a forum, or a blog in a shared-hosting environment is fine provided that only a few users at a time are accessing the data, but a sudden surge in traffic can cause even a single WordPress installation to consume “excessive” resources in the eyes of a shared host.

Of course, none of this information is new, and I’m certainly not trying to take credit for it. Web hosts know it. Clients with popular sites know it. Casual site owners who are at the wrong end of a good “slashdotting” or “digging” painfully find out about it. If you have a shared hosting plan, you will not find out about it until it is too late. Those oodles of storage space and bandwidth promised by your host are in reality a pipe dream. Chances are that you will overload your allotted CPU time long before you approach the bandwidth limits. Sadly, this simple fact is only exacerbated since many hosts “oversell” their shared plans in the first place.

While every shared host will giddily advertise how much space and bandwidth they offer, not one that I’ve found even mentions how much CPU time one can consume. In my hunt for a new host, I decided to largely ignore the boasts of bandwidth and try to determine just how busy a given server generally is. Since most hosts offer a live “demo” account, I checked the server load in each of these demo accounts. Now, my plan is not flawless because a web host can have many servers, but I hoped this would give me a general idea of average server load. A conservative estimate is that a server should not remain above one full point for each processor/core. Several popular hosts that I checked were around this vicinity, but one not-to-be-named host had a dual-processor server that averaged between 18-20 points at the time I checked. I decided not to go with that one. 🙂

Here are sample stats from two anonymous web hosts:

service_stats2.png

(Host 1)

service_stats1.png

(Host 2)

The moral of this story is that shared hosting is only good because it’s cheap. Sometimes, you get what you pay for. What, then, are better options for people who “outgrow” their shared hosting packages?

Naturally, one can choose to personally host a web site. Do you have Cable/DSL? Do you have an old computer lying around? If so, running a server can be a satisfying experience. It can also be frustrating, especially if your connection is flaky. Also, the “upstream” speeds for most popular broadband plans are significantly lower than the “downstream” speeds. Dealing with a dynamic IP address can be like chasing a rabbit as well, though there is software to overcome this obstacle. Many people successfully run sites from their home computers, but most choose to give that duty to someone else.

With that in mind, one could jump straight to a dedicated server. Most hosts would be gleefully happy for a user to migrate from a shared to a dedicated plan. Of course, this comes at a hefty price, usually exceeding $100 a month. Price aside, all the CPU time belongs to you. If you *really* need it, a dedicated server is great, but it’s overkill for people like myself. Before the “digg” effect I received 50-60 hits per day. Now that the effect is winding down, I’m receiving about 300-500 hits per day. For me, a dedicated server is like dropping an atomic bomb on an anthill.

Another option is for a Virtual Private Server (VPS). Quite simply, this is the process of using virtualization techniques to divide a single server into multiple environments. Using software such as OpenVZ, Virtuozzo, Xen, or VMware, one can run multiple copies of “virtual” operating systems with a pre-defined amount of dedicated hard disk space, RAM, and even processor usage. For instance, a host might offer five gigabytes of space, 128 MB of guaranteed RAM, and your choice of operating system. With VPS hosting comes more power and customization as well. With a VPS plan, one usually gets root access, a dedicated IP address, and the ability to install and customize software. Because of the independent nature of VPS hosting, no one user can monopolize resources. If one user’s site on a VPS is getting blasted by Slashdot, no one else is affected. Each user is guaranteed a slice of the server “pie.”

Naturally, VPS hosting is more expensive than shared hosting, even though the offered space and bandwidth are usually (and falsely) more generous for shared accounts. Honestly, I’m still on a shared plan, simply because I’m still investigating VPS offers. I plan to migrate most/all of my sites to a VPS by the end of the year. While my articles may not get tons of traffic, at least I’ll be more prepared in case of a sudden onslaught.

Before the sudden bombardment of traffic, I knew very little about the various types of web hosting. The needlessly bloated space and bandwidth numbers on my shared package gave me a false sense of confidence. Little did I know that those inflated numbers are hardly achievable if one’s site has any dynamic content. My lesson has been learned, and I hope this article is useful to someone.

If you notice, aside from listing my current host at the beginning, I have not named any other hosting companies. It is not my plan to advertise for any web host, but rather to inform the reader of various types of web hosting out there. Let the buyer decide which is appropriate for his/her needs.

— Brian Bondari
October 2006