Hosting downtime

None of the sites hosted on my sever were accessible for most of yesterday.  That was caused by some emergency maintenace done by the hosting company.  They didn’t warn me before, so I weren’t aware of it coming and for how long it would last.

This is the third downtime for this month.  Needless to say, I am not satisfied with the service no more.  Firstly, the downtimes are too frequent and too lengthy.  Secondly, total absense of notificatios – either before the downtime or after.  No explanations.  Nothing.

I’ve been with this hosting company for more than two years now and it was OK most of the time.  But now, once again, I am thinking about moving somewhere else.   Suggestions?

PSD slicing service recommendation

This is a follow-up to my recent post “MostSliced.com summary – picking PSD slicing company“.

Once the choices for the PSD slicing service were established, I did the next step – actual order.  I started from the top of my list, which happened to be xHTML Master.  I sent them the order through the form on their web site and got a pretty fast response apologizing for the fact that they were too busy to undertake my order.  No problem.  Good that they notified me in a timely manner.  So, I went to the next choice – PSD Slicing.  Again, submitted the design and went into the waiting mode.

Pretty soon I received an email letting me know that the order is OK and that they can start on Monday (next working day) and finish it by Wednesday (two pages, with one of them being a rather complex design).  The timing was well within my limits.  I sent them 50% of the down-payment and started waiting again.  Today, on Tuesday, around lunch time, I got my order back, fully done and finished.

First of all, of course, I was a bit surprised with the speed.  I thought it would take them more.  When I checked the results I was even more surprised.  In short: outstanding job!  The images were cut properly, some in PNG, some in GIF, some in JPG – properly chosen each time.  The xHTML was small and clean, validated perfectly with XHTML 1.0 Strict (not even Transitional!).  DIVs, proper CSS, nicely indented.  CSS was also done nicely – small, simple, and straight-forward.  Fully valid.  Also, the whole codebase is pretty semantic and, as a bonus, validates with web accessibility standard (Section 508).  To say that I was really impressed with the result was to say nothing at all.  I was stunned for a few minutes.  It’s been a really long time since I saw anything so beautiful.

It was so good that I couldn’t believe it.  So I thought maybe it will break in one of the major browsers.  Then my attention was caught by something else in that email message that they sent me.  It was a link to BrowserShots.org , which is the web service that can show you how your web site looks in a whole lot of browsers.  PSD Slicing provided me with the link to the screenshots of their results in all major browsers that I cared about!

After checking that code back and forth, the only suggestion I could come up with is … comments.  They aren’t required or anything, since the whole CSS and xHTML files are very small (something around 6-10 KBytes), but still it would have been nice to have some comments, especially in CSS.

Am I satisfied with their service?  You bet I am.  Will I ever recommend it?  Yes, of course.  I’m doing it already.  Is it worth the money (around $120/page)? Yes!  [insert more questions here and answer them “yes”]

MostSliced.com summary – picking PSD slicing company

Everybody who ever made a web site, knows that design is hard. Making something outstanding and unique, but at the same time classy and easy to use, requires a professional designer. Everybody who ever made a web site knows that almost all web design is done in Adobe Photoshop, and that after the actual design is done, there comes an often lengthy and painful stage of slicing the design into its web variant – a conversion of Adobe Photoshop .PSD file into HTML, CSS, and web optimized images.

Apparently, slicing up a design is not a tough job it all. It’s slicing it up properly that makes all the difference. Anybody who has Adobe Photoshop installed can slice up a design. Photoshop can do most of the job for you anyway. But it takes a real professional do it properly. Don’t believe me? Let’s see. Have you ever sliced up a design? If so, feel free to answer the following questions in the comments:

  • How complex was the design?
  • How much time did it take you to slice it?
  • In how many browsers did you check the results?
  • Did you try to validate the HTML and CSS?
  • Did you spent any time making the result load faster – optimize images and code for slow connections?
  • How about accessibility – can people with disabilities, people using special software like screen readers, make any sense of the pages that you created?
  • Was there any SEO (search engine optimization) – semantic coding – in your work?
  • What about the comments in the markup and styles? Did you left any? Will other people be able to modify your results easily?
  • Did you have any considerations regarding technical nuances of the job – DIVs vs. tables, fixed width vs. fluid, scalable fonts vs fixed sized ones, etc?
  • Did you have to shape your slicing results into a theme for some CMS software, like WordPress or Drupal?
  • Have you enjoyed the process? Would you like to do it again?
  • How much would you pay not to do it again? Ever again?

If slicing up designs is not your bread and butter, you’ll pretty soon arrive to the conclusion that you need someone else to do it. One of the solutions is to outsource this job to one of the PSD slicing companies. There are quite a few of them out there – some are better, some are worse, some new, some old, and some we know nothing about.

But which company to choose? How to pick the one that will do the magic for you without screwing a thing or two in the process? Well, of course, there is always fear, uncertainty, and doubt involved, but if we are to put these aside, how can we proceed?

Finding a company to outsource PSD slicing was something I’ve been asked to do on more than one occasion over the past few weeks. Finally, I got over my busy schedule and unlimited laziness and came up with something.

There is a web site called MostSliced.com . It is a directory of PSD slicing companies with some brief information about each, user submitted reviews, ratings, and what not. It’s not a huge directory – it only features 20+ companies. It’s not a very user friendly web site. But it’s a good place to start.

Before making any decisions, it’s good to figure out the requirements for the best match. Here are the things I had in mind while learning about these companies – your mileage may vary of course:

  • How fast can they do the job?
  • How flexible they are in their technical expertise – cross-browser compatibility, W3C standards compliance, SEO, accessibility, code commenting, etc?
  • How many people have ever used their services and how many of those got satisfied?
  • What were the weak points from those users who weren’t satisfied?
  • How expensive are they?

I quickly realized that I need to group MostSliced.com listing into a table, add my own rating, and see which companies are doing the best. So, I fired up my Google Spreadsheet and did exactly that. I’ve published the table for anyone to see, but if for some reason you can’t access it, feel free to use an image below (click it for a larger version).

Things that you see in that table are:

  • Company name.
  • Company URL.
  • Price. This is a price in US Dollars for the first page, as reported by MostSliced.com .
  • Time. This is the time in days that the company will need to slice up your design.
  • Reviews. This is the number of reviews for this company posted at MostSliced.com for the moment of creating the table.
  • Reviews rating. This the average rating of the company given by all reviews at MostSliced.com.
  • Combined rating. This is the rating that I came up with. It is calculated like so: combined rating = ((Reviews / 2) * (Reviews rating / 10) / (Price * Time)) * 1000. The idea is the following: half of the ratings are submitted by the companies themselves or by their very biased users. So we’ll just use the other half. We’ll decrease the review rating range from between 0 and 10 to between 0 and 1. Then we’ll multiple this rating by the number of the reviews the company has. The result of this multiplication we’ll divide by a product of time and price. The slower they are, or the more expensive, the lower their rating will be. The more reviews they have, and the more positive their reviews are, the higher their rating goes. And just to make the rating numbers into some sensible numbers, multiply the result by 1,000.

To make things a little bit easier to digest, I added some colors. White and gray backgrounds are just for stripes, to make it easier to read. The best values for each column are highlighted in green. The worst values are highlighted in red. The values in between are highlighted in yellow. The final table is sorted by the Combined Rating, so that the best companies to choose from are at the top. According to these findings, the top three best companies to give our trust to are:

  1. xHTML Master
  2. PSD Slicing
  3. Frontenders

As I said, your mileage may vary. Things that you should keep in mind are:

  • There are more companies out there than those that are listed in MostSliced.com .
  • There are other factors to take into consideration which weren’t even mentioned here – for example, the timezone the company is in, languages they can communicate with, payment conditions, etc.
  • I am pretty bad at anything that needs any calculations. Seriously.

I will most likely continue with the research in this area. Or maybe I will just go ahead and try a few of them out. But in either case, if you have any suggestions or ideas in these matters, please let me know.

More on Skype

Let me do a little side note, before I start – Mom, you should really read this post! :)

Now, just a couple of days ago I wrote that I decided to try Skype. I downloaded it and installed on my computer. There were few nice things about it that I noticed immediately, but there are so many more that need a second look!

Here we go…

Continue reading “More on Skype”

Managed dedicated hosting anyone?

If anyone of you guys knows of any good hosting company that offers managed dedicated servers, now is an excellent time to let me know via comments or the contact form. So far the best I’ve found is XLHost.com . I am also talking with Rackspace.com, but something tells me that they will be a bit too expensive – not that I am jumping to conclusions here though.

I’ll need two servers to start with. I might grow up to anywhere from 6 to 20 in the next 6-8 month. Servers should have fast processors (3.0 GHz is ideal). Better even if they will be duel CPUed. 2 GBytes of RAM should fit me fine. I am not yet sure about the storage. I know that it has to be SCSI and that there should be at least 40-60 GBytes of it. Maybe more. I’ll have better numbers later. I will also need a lot of bandwidth. Both incoming and outgoing. 20 GBytes per month is the red line minimum. 200 GBytes per month is something I feel more comfortable with. 2 TBytes will make me smile one extra time.

Software-wise, I’ll need a Linux-only setup. Fedora Core 4 is preferrable, but anything Red Hat labeled should do just fine. I’ll need MySQL 4 or above, perl 5.8 with A LOT of CPAN modules that I’ll need to install myself, python 2.4, and a Subversion client.

What do I want from the hosting company? Well, I want my servers to be available 24×7. That’s the main requirement. Then, I’ll need their help with backup configuration. I’ll have a large MySQL database to backup and a lot of small files (think mail spool and proxy cache scale). Also, I would expect them to manage security updates and fixes for all the servers – I’m really out of time to keep up with that right now.

An additional strong wishlist item would be a LAN interconnecting all my servers. I’ll have a lot of traffic between the servers and I don’t see any reason why I should pass it via a outside network, where it is slow and expensive.

That’s about it.

Oh, the budget line? Let’s say anything within $300 USD.

Are you still with me?

30 Boxes solves calendaring

http://30boxes.com is a brand new webservices. The public beta was launched last Sunday.

The purpose of the site is to solve the surprisingly difficult problem of calendaring. What’s wrong with calendaring, you might ask? Well, lots of things. Existing calendaring applications are complicated and clumsy, unpractical for sharing and social interactions, and, well, “traditional”.

http://30boxes.com chose a fresh approach. They have totally and completely minimized and simplified the user interface.

Entering events can be done with as little as filling in one single text field. Application understands human language like “tomorrow”, “yesterday”, and “next week”. You can have “buddies” which is just their term for contacts. All you have to do to add a contact is specify email address. You buddies can have calendars of their own, you can share calendars and even use the system to send invitations and confirmations/denies for events. You can track a lot more information about your buddies too – Flickr photos, LiveJournal entries, MySpace blog, and any other RSS feed. When there are new items – you get a small icon on the appropriate day of the calendar and can quickly check what they are up to.

The interface looks very clean and works pretty fast. It’s also based on AJAX technology which allows you to see updates without refreshing the page – feels nice.

Check it out – it costs nothing, and can do a lot for your organized life!

My Stickies – the missing piece of your browser

By pure luck I cam across a new service, which is still currently in beta, – My Stickies. Within the first second I realized that it was something that I waited for a long time now.

In essence, My Stickies allows you to attach yellow sticky notes to websites. You can have as many of these notes attached to as many websites as you want. Whenever you come back to the website, you will see all your notes at the same place and of the same size as you left them.

My Stickies

Not only this functionality alone is great news, but there is more. You can even see your notes from a different place. This is great, because you can add notes to sites at home, and than see them later on in the office – no synchronizations are needed.

You can also see all your notes at their website. You can tag them, search them, and use notes as a sort of bookmarks.

Getting all this is easy too. All you have to do is register at My Stickies and install the Firefox extension. The service is free and works exactly as expected. Check it out.

Pandora – the music box

Listening to Raven’n’Blues show from BFBS I learned about Pandora.

Pandora is a result of Music Genome Project. Basically, what they do is analyze a lot of music for rythms, instruments, vocals, and a whole lot of other criterias and then help you find the music that you like.

Excellent science project with perfect end user appliance. You get a single box to fill in – write the band or album that you like and you’ll get a whole bunch of music that matches your taste. I’ve been playing around it for half a day only and I have to say that it works out great. Maybe my taste is too simple though. But anyway, I’ve heard many songs that I’ve heard before as well as a lot of new stuff.

You don’t even have to register to try it out for an hour or so. If you’ll listen for longer, it will ask you to create an account, which is as simple as giving your email address, adding a password, and specifying your birth year (you can lie, ma). They also aks for a ZIP code, which is USA specific, but you can always use the Beverly Hills’ 90210.

Enjoy! Let it be my Christmas present to all of you.

Update: You can also save your favourites to a list, share your stations, and do a lot of other cool stuff. My favourites page is here.

Daily del.icio.us bookmarks

If you’ve been looking for an RSS reader, today is your lucky day.

Continue reading “Daily del.icio.us bookmarks”

On spending money

My Linux Weekly News expires in a couple of days. I’ve been supporting the publication for the last two or three years and I still find it to be a great source of good journalism. But I realized that I haven’t been using it that much in a last year. Sometimes it were weeks between my visits to LWN. It just doesn’t matter that much to me anymore. And I think this is a good reason to stop renewing my account.

With all those extra money I feel like I have to find a new place to spend them. The problem is that I don’t use that many web services anymore.

Most of the stuff I do on the web is connected to my site in this or that way. So I was considering donating to WordPress at first. But they say that time is the best thing I can give to them, not money. And I do promote WordPress as much as I can both on this website and when I talk to people.

Than I thought about Gallery. But I figured that I am not that happy with it yet and I’ve only just started using it. I am not sure yet that I will stay with it for a long time.

By this time, I was practically out of alternatives. And than it hit me – Flickr. I don’t use it much yet, but it bugs me all the time. Flickr is an excellent service and I want to find the way to use it. And maybe I will. Currently, I am just backing up some of the most important images there, but I think it’s that monthly bandwidth limitation that stops me from working with it seriously.

Another point that made me consider Flickr more than anything else is that by paying them money, I won’t be just donating. I will get a FlickrPro account that will increase the monthly bandwidth limit from 20 MBytes to 2 GBytes and provide me with a bunch of other useful functionality.

I haven’t yet made my mind though. I am still thinking about it. If you have any suggestions on which other services or product I might be interested in, let me know.