The next online auction site

If you’re like me, you know many people that sell items on ebay. Let’s be honest, where would the internet and thousands of home businesses be without it? You may have also heard many complaints about their pricing system. They charge for listing; they charge for uploading images; they charge for selling; and (through Paypal) they charge for transactions.

Most people I know are tired of all the fees and “publicly owned company” mentality and decided to build an online auction site of their own. You can check it out at www.mondro.com. What’s interesting, and I believe good, is that they conscientiously kept the layout as simple and direct as possible. They explained it as a cross between ebay with the feel of Craigslist. Personally, I think it looks better than Craigslist but I understand where they’re coming from. Almost everything is text with the exception of the site logo and the images of the items up for auction. There are no ads or “latest do-dad” or “most popular widget” screaming for your attention.

What I like best and I think most people will agree, is that it’s free. Free to register, post, sell, and buy. The site also allows you to upload up to 10 high resolution* images for each item. That means you can upload an image directly from your 10.1 megapixel camera. Also, if you’re savvy enough, you can embed youtube videos into the description section.

mondro just launched so there aren’t too many users and items right now. Hopefully, it’ll catch on and become a player in the online auction community. I’m an avid believer in capitalism and market competition is always good news for the consumers/users/public.

*4 MB maximum

My WebHost4Life.com review

When you’re involved in web development, one of the most important considerations is how you go about hosting your sites. I can’t afford or justify buying myself a dedicated server and renting rackspace. So I’m left with paying a hosting company to allow me to share space and resources with other customers on the same server. A few years ago I was hosting with uplinkearth.com because honestly, the slick graphics and subdued colors of their site lured me in. Things were going ok for a while until they started having major issues. Their FTP server got hacked so they implemented a clumsy security check before any of their customers could upload files. This got progressively worse and when I tried to cancel my account, they ignored it and kept charging my credit card. The only way I could stop the charges was to call the credit card company and place a block on any transactions coming from uplinkearth. Rumor has it that the company was bought out and the new management just didn’t care about customer support or service.

 

That’s when I discovered WebHost4Life.com. Despite their unattractive website, I signed up for their shared Advance Plan because it was cheap, the features were there, and I was in a rush to migrate my site. Two years later, I’m seriously considering upgrading to their MS Power Virtual Private Server plan. Like any good consumer, I wanted to do some research before devoting $59.95 a month. If you type in “webhost4life.com reviews” into Google, you’ll find quite a few sites come up. The first 3 results (here, here, and here) I got were forums for people to rate hosting providers. While good for a quick read, I noticed that the reviews either unmercifully bashed WebHost4Life or had nothing but good things to say about them. If I recall correctly, there are always 3 sides to every story. I’m also a firm believer that you can’t please everyone all the time. What I wanted to see were posts that outlined the good and bad. In addition, there were no reviews about the their VPS plan. As a matter of fact, hardly any of them mentioned what type of plan they signed up for. So what I needed was more of a blog detailing the experience with WebHost4Life. I found a few blogs here and here but they were written in 8/2004 and 5/2004 respectively…not much help for me.

 

And that’s why I decided to write my own review.

 

As I mentioned, I’ve been hosting with WH4L for 2 years. In general, I’d say I’m pretty happy with them. Right now, I’m hosting 6 sites with their shared Premium plan. One of my favorite feature is the their control panel. There are lots of features you’d find in IIS such as setting up an Asp.Net app, controlling virtual directories, and configuring MIME types. If you know what you’re doing, all this freedom means you don’t have to submit a support ticket to get it done. When reading other reviews of this company, one recurring complaint is regarding their level of support. I think that’s why my experience has been better with WH4L. I tried to configure the sites myself instead of submitting a ticket. I’m not saying the reviewers didn’t know what they were doing, maybe they needed something done that only tech support could do. But during the years I’ve been with WH5L, I’ve only submitted a handful of support tickets and most of them were address within 4 hours. Truth be told, these tickets were not of critical matter so the response time didn’t matter too much to me. As for the quality of answers provided by their techs, only 2 or 3 required further communication to resolve the issue. A lot of people have also said that the rep in the live chat are useless. I’ve chatted with them a few times but it was not about technical issues…mostly sales and account information. The chats for me went smoothly but it could be a totally different story if it was technical. I’ve always used their support ticket system for that. I’m most happy about what you get for the price. I won’t go into details because their site lays it out for you but one thing I don’t think is mentioned is that if you go with the shared hosting plan, it only allows you to host 1 website. If you want to host more, it will be an extra $15/year for each additional site. You can have as many subdomains as you would like. That’s not a bad deal.

 

Up till now, I’ve hosted static sites and Asp.Net applications that are not resource intensive. So sharing server resources with x* number of people was not big deal. But now I’m on the verge of releasing a site that potentially can grow very fast. It involves intensive database access, image manipulation, and if all goes to plan, many many users. Preliminary test of the site on the existing shared hosting were not good. My logs showed that the ASP.NET app restarts at least 14 times per day. This results in recompilation of the app, longer load times, and lost user sessions. Further logging revealed that the app restarts because the server process crashed. I submitted my findings to tech support and they said the crash might because of bad code from another customer on the server. They moved me to a “less crowded app pool” but the problem persists. I submitted a follow-up ticket and told them it’s still happening. This time a different person responded and said they moved me to a “less crowded app pool”. Still, the problem persists. So, barring any coding error on my part, I have to assume that there are many other customers sharing the server and at least one is causing the server process to crash.

 

That’s how I came to the conclusion that I need to upgrade to the MS Power VPS plan. There’s supposed to be only 10 other people on the server and I get my own hosting environment, including my own app pool. The rep on the live chat said the it’s a Dual P4 3.0GHz Xeon server with 4GB of RAM. According to her, the server requires about 1GB of RAM to run so each customer has about 300 MB for themselves. Hmm. She also said my database would be moved to a server dedicated to VPS customers only. When I asked about the specs of the database machine, she asked me what my requirements were. I told her, I don’t have any right now and I’m just curious. Her response, “Sorry, we do not give that info for database server. If you need to know whether it meets your requirements, it needs to submit a ticket to our senior server technician”. Hmmm. I wonder how many VPS customers are allocated for each database server?*** I didn’t bother asking. But they do offer 75% off for the first 3 months if I upgrade.

 

So there’s my dilemma. WebHost4Life has been good to me overall but I have a bad feeling about upgrading. I want my site to succeed but right now, it would be nice if I didn’t have to pay a premium to host it**. Should I stick with them and their low prices and risk the fallout? Or should I find a much pricier and hopefully more reliable provider? WH4L’s site states a 15 day money back guarantee but I’ve read it’s hard to get them to honor it.

 

Now that I think about it, I’ve always been a person that has to learn things the hard way. I need to experience for myself regardless of what others say. So I think I will upgrade. I’ll have all my fingers crossed, hope for the best and hopefully will have nothing but good things to say about my lasting relationship with WebHost4Life.

 

*100? 200? Who knows how many?
**The site will not bring in income for at least a year.
***Back in the day, if you connect to their SQL server via Management Studio, you can see all the other databases on the server. On my server, there were at least 100 others.

UPDATE: It’s been a week and a half since I upgraded and so far, I’m glad I did. The migration process was not too bad. WH4L moved all my sites to the new account. Although there were some initial glitches, there wasn’t anything that couldn’t be resolved quickly. The speed and performance of the site now is definitely noticeable. The real test comes when it starts to get actual visitors. I will post another update then.

Put your hard drive in the freezer to fix it?

When my hard drive died a few weeks ago, a part of me died too? Seriously, I had some important images and files that that I really needed wanted but didn’t have the foresight (or common sense) to backup. What happened was I left my machine on overnight and when I woke to wish my pc a good morning, I heard a strange ticking sound from within the tower and screen read something along the lines of “Corrupt or Invalid boot partition”. I didn’t start panicking until at least the fifth reboot with the same result. Logically I opened the tower to find that the ticking was coming from the drive. To me it sounded like the head was trying to move into position but was stuck. Every time I rebooted, the ticking started and lasted for 10 seconds before giving up and the drive stopped spinning altogether.

 

So I ran the diagnostics and it came back with an error stating that it can’t find a hard drive to diagnose. Not good.

 

The next step was to call HP as my machine was still under warranty. I was on the phone with someone in India for an hour pretty much duplicating the tests I had just run.

“Ok, you determined my hard drive is dead*. Ok, so you’ll send me a new drive and when I receive it, I’ll send you the dead one. But what about my data? How do I get all my data back? Oh ok, you have a “data transfer”** service and it’s not guaranteed to get all the data but you’ll charge me $50 if any data is found. That’s not too bad. Wait what’s that? In order to do that, I need to send you the entire tower??? But why? To ensure that the issue is with the drive and now with some other component of the machine? How long will it take to get my machine back? 5 TO 7 WEEKS???!!! Forget it, just send me the replacement drive.”

 

Now on to what this blog title entailed. The replacement drive was due to arrive in 2 days. Then I had 3 days to return the old drive in order to get it to HP in time and not incur a charge. Before then, I had to get to my data. My first thought was to use a data recovery service. I called around and for a mechanical failure, they charge anywhere $995 to $1500. I’m not sure if I wanted my pictures and files that badly. There must another way. One of my co-workers heard that if you put the drive in the freezer, you’ll be able to get it working just long enough to extract the data. I called BS and did some research on it. To my amazement, there are many articles and forum threads detailing this process. You can find some of them here, here, and here. Some posts even described the same ticking sound I experienced. According to the articles, the cold affects the metallics in the drive allowing for easier transference of electricity and sometimes moving the metals just enough to allow proper movement (in my case, the head). Worth a try right?

 

That night, I put the drive in two Ziploc bags and tried to remove as much air as possible to reduce condensation. Waited 3 hours and hooked up. Same ticking. Same result. Remembered that a forum post said to tap it gently to try to know the pieces in place. Tried that. Same result. Tapped it more aggressively this time but that didn’t help. Hmmmm. Didn’t I read somewhere that someone left the drive in the freezer for 24 hours and it worked for them. Back in the Ziplocs and back in the freezer the drive goes.

 

24 hours later, tried again but no joy. Disheartened and feeling stupid with a freezing cold hard drive in my hand, I finally gave up. It was time to let it defrost*** and pack it up to ship to HP. I’m not saying the freezer trick doesn’t work, it just didn’t work for me. Oh well. I learned a hard lesson this time and still feel I lost a part of myself in the process.

 

And by the way HP, thank you sooooo much for sending me a newly
REFERBISHED drive. I’m going back to Dell for my next pc.

 

*Wow! Really?!

**Not “data recovery”. So this sounds like they can only get the data if actual drive still works.

***Didn’t want any trace of my activities found when HP got the drive.

UPDATE: In case anyone is wondering what my drive sounded like, go here and click on Head Damage 1.

And if you need a visual…

What is up with Windows and Flash?

I had a total hard drive failure this weekend which of course sucked because I hadn’t done a real backup in months*. If there was any bright sides to it, it would be that now I get to install Windows 7 RTM. I had RC1 installed before the crash and it really impressed me. Almost everything ran better than I had hoped. A trip to Fry’s, two 320GB hard drives**, and a day later, I was up and running. After a few hours of playing with the system, I was in a sour mood again. Ahhh, well played MS. The old bait and switch. RTM is a TOTAL DOWNGRADE compared to RC1. Why do app install just fine in RC1 but not in RTM? Why can I install my McAfee 8.5i problem free in RC1 but RTM won’t even let me pass the Incompatibility screen? How is it possible I can installed the drivers for my MICROSOFT wireless keyboard on RC1 but the RTM Incompatibilty Troll won’t let me cross the bridge to Wireless Land? Not even if I answer those riddle three? And what is up with Flash movies on a site??? Yes I have a 64-bit system. Yes, I’ve read that the Flash player is not supported on these. But c’mon. REALLY!? I know this is not completely MS’s fault but 64-bit technology has been around for so long***. Why has there not been a fix for this? Someone told me today, that I have to run the 32-bit version of Firefox. Turns out, FF only comes in 32-bit. Even IE8 freezes up on me. All I want to do is play Karoshi Suicide Salaryman. Won’t someone please let me play???

*Luckily, I have TFS on another box and have most of my projects.
**Learned my lesson. It’s all about redundancy.
***Relatively speaking.

Bing vs. Google

The following post was written last week and has been a draft till now

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I’m an avid Google user but never appreciated the quality of their search results till now. Ever since Bing.com has been release, I’ve been going there to see what all the hype is all about. After all, I like their tv commercials. I find them funny in a warped way. I’m not entirely impressed with the homepage interface but the little rollovers that you have to hunt for is kind of entertaining.

So one day my co-worker and I were talking about game 4 of the NBA finals. We were trying to recall the player that committed the flagrant foul against Gasol during the final seconds of the game. It was the double hammer fist against Gasol’s back as he was dunking. Try as we may, we could not think of his name and it was bugging the hell out of me. As soon as I was able to get in front of a computer, I fired up Bing and typed in “game 4 gasol flagrant foul”. Nothing on the first results page was relevant. There were a bunch of articles about the Lakers acquiring Gasol for a steal. At this point I was too lazy to go to the second page and wanted to see how Google fared. As I expected, Google’s second search result on the first page read “Pietrus’s flagrant foul investigation”. Bingo!

I have no doubt that Bing is superior to Microsoft’s dated Live.com search engine but at this point, I’m sticking with Google until I have a reason to switch.
———————-

Update: I performed the same search on Bing again today. This time Bing delivered. I guess it just takes a little longer than Google to index pages.