Oh What a Difference a Hosting Service Makes

by Nick Wednesday, May 31, 2006 4:51 AM

As I mentioned last week, and as some of you continued to notice, my blogs were having some issues after I moved to my new domain.  As I've mentioned before, I chose a great tool for blogging called dasBlog.  It is used by hundreds of people, has an active developer community, and is used by many high traffic blogs.  I felt like I made a solid choice, and still do.  Unfortunately, I took the word of one of the community members about which hosting service to use.  Big mistake.  The hosting service I was using up until yesterday was BoundGrid.net.  They offered a pretty good package, and a very reasonable price.  But as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for.  And what I didn't get was good service.

I'm sure that if everything went smoothly, I would have loved them like the person who had originally recommended them.  But the true test of any company is how they react when you are having problems with their service.  Last week, The World According to Nick was crashing about 3 to 4 times per day due to Out of Memory Exceptions.  This also had the effect of taking down The Coding Monkey.  The sites would automatically recycle, but would be down for 5 to 10 minutes while this happened.

When I originally emailed the technical support group, they looked at the site, said it was up (it had recycled by then), and told me to contact them when it happened so they could "investigate further".  I sent them my copy of the error logs that showed exactly what was happening, but they insisted they could only do something if the site was down.  For a problem that occurs randomly, this is not an easy thing to do.  Luckily for me, I was able to catch it when it was down, and I immediately contacted them.  Their "solution" was to perform an iisreset and thank me for using their service.

This would happen 3 to 4 times a day, and each time I happened to notice it and saw the site was down, I would contact their technical support group, and all they would do was perform an iisreset.  As I continued to escalate my complaint, their response turned into "check your code".  Of course, I'm running production level code that hundreds, if not thousands, of other people are using, but I did anyway.  I also contacted one of the lead developers for dasBlog (Scott Hanselman), and asked for his help.  He was baffled and had never heard of anything like this.  We started asking basic questions about the environment I was running on, to try to see how the site was configured.  BoundGrid basically told me that I had more memory than a site like mine needed, and refused to answer my very specific questions about where I was running.

At this point, not only had I looked at the dasBlog code, but I had made more than a half dozen configuration changes to dasBlog that might ease the memory requirements.  None of these changes worked.  On Monday I finally got sick and tired of it all, and decided to switch hosting providers.  I chose StormHosts, and I couldn't be happier with my decision.  They're slightly more expensive, but their service and support has been fantastic thus far.  When I originally copied my site up to their servers, there were some permissions issues that were not allowing me to post.  They worked the problem through, kept in constant contact with me, and gave very personal responses that showed that they knew what they were looking at.  They also host several other major bloggers who all use dasBlog.  I highly recommend them.  As for BoundGrid, I can only assume that their technical support team's only previous experience with computers was working the automated fry machine at McDonald's, and being handed a copy of "So You Want To Be a Network Administrator".

Thankfully BoundGrid offers a 30 day money back guarantee, which I am taking full advantage of, so my mistake won't cost me any money.  However, it has cost me great frustration, time, and effort.

I'm Not The Only One

by Nick Tuesday, May 30, 2006 12:32 PM

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how I was an anti-technology technologist.  Well, it looks as if I'm not the only one:

Nathan Bales represents a troubling trend for cellular phone carriers. The Kansas City-area countertop installer recently traded in a number of feature-laden phones for a stripped-down model. He said he didn't like using them to surf the Internet, rarely took pictures with them and couldn't stand scrolling through seemingly endless menus to get the functions to work.
But they've also shown a growing frustration with how confusing those added features can be. A J.D. Power & Associates survey last year found consumer satisfaction with their mobile devices has declined since 2003, with some of the largest drops linked to user interface for Internet and e-mail services.

This reminds me of when I bought my most recent cell phone a couple years ago.  When I went to a kiosk to look at new phones, I asked the guy behind the counter if they had any phones that don't make toast.  He looked at me as if I was from outer-space.  My old phone was easy to use, had a fantastic phone book system, was small... just perfect.  I still miss it in some ways.  This one I eventually got was pretty good, but not quite there.  Do you know how hard it is to find a phone that doesn't have a camera?  I do.

Great... More to Uninstall

by Nick Friday, May 26, 2006 10:17 AM

Apparently now Dell will start installing certain Google desktop applications on their machines at the factory.  This article doesn't directly mention which Google apps will be included, and which ones won't, but the first thought that came to mind was, "Great, more I have to uninstall."  I've actually been looking into buy a new laptop as my old one is starting to show its age and is having more hardware problems that annoy me.  The latest is a barely functioning CD-ROM drive.  The reason I have a hard time selling myself on buying a new computer is how long it takes me to get it the way I like.

When you get a new computer from some manufacturer these days, it almost takes more time uninstalling the crap they add than it takes me to install all the stuff I want.  Between demo versions of software I never use, trials of antivirus programs I'll never buy, and who knows what else, it takes forever to clean it up the way I like.  Adding Google software won't help.  I use exactly three Google desktop applications... the toolbar, Gmail Notifier, and Picasa.  I have not, and refuse to install the desktop search application because I don't know what they do with my private data on my machine.  If Dell were to install it, that would be the first thing to go.

It's Actually Pronounced Zamel

by Nick Wednesday, May 24, 2006 8:52 AM

I have another book review up at BlogCritics.org, this time on a new O'Reilly book, XAML in a Nutshell.  If you're into the latest and greatest trends in software development, go check it out.  You can see a list of all my BlogCritics reviews here.

My Conversation With My Dell Laptop Over Drinks

by Nick Tuesday, May 23, 2006 11:52 PM

Laptop: Would you like to restart now?
Me: No.
Laptop: How about now?
Me: I'm not done with what I was doing.
Laptop: What about now?
Me: I know you just installed a Windows Update, but really, it can wait.
Laptop: Now?
Me: ...
Laptop: Now?
Me: No means no!  Stop pressuring me!
Laptop: So, you lost tonight playing poker huh?  That must suck.
Me: Fine!

The Right Tool for the Right Job

by Nick Monday, May 22, 2006 9:10 AM

People in insurance companies, financial institutions, and many other industries for that matter, absolutely love Excel.  Love it!  I think Excel is a great program, and you can do some absolutely incredible things with it.  But too many people treat it like the only tool in their toolbox.

I don't know how many times I've received an Excel spreadsheet from someone with no numbers.  None.  Zero.  Excel is built for doing number crunching, yet too many people use Excel to perform tabular layout of text.  It's the wrong tool for the job!  The first tendency of people when they type text into a cell in Excel is to shorten their sentences, use fragments, and provide incomplete information.  The cell looks small, and almost encourages people to be incomplete.  Not only that, but it takes forever to get it to print correctly because people have no concept of page size when it comes to a spreadsheet on screen, and Excel is not built for doing WYSIWYG formatting.

Did you know you can create tables and columnar pages in Word?  It's pretty easy, yet people almost never do it.  If there is one thing I'd love to see the Microsoft Office team do with the next version of Office, it's somehow either make that feature in Word easier to use so more people would use it, or create some Excel/Word hybrid for the purpose of doing tabular data presentation in a more complete and readable manner.  The power of Word's text editing, with the easy layout of Excel.  Sounds like a winner to me.

Switching from Blogger to dasBlog

by Nick Sunday, May 21, 2006 4:37 PM
As I mentioned in my earlier post, switching from Blogger to dasBlog really wasn't all that difficult.  In fact, the hardest part was getting my data out of Blogger and Haloscan, not getting it into dasBlog.  With that said, its always nice if other people don't have to reinvent the wheel, so here is everything you need to do in order to switch from Blogger to dasBlog in the most complete way possible.

Getting Your Data Out of Blogger:  I had been hosting my blog on a blogspot address.  In order to get Blogger posts and comments into a useable format, you will need to change several settings on your blog, and change your template.  Then you need to republish your blog to an FTP site so that your blogspot address won't  be affected, and so you can easily download the resulting data to your computer.

Step 1:  Change Your Settings  All the setting changes that I describe here will make sure that the resulting XML file you will download will be as clean as possible, and have the data in the most useable format.

First turn off Quick Editing and Email Post links.  This will make sure that Blogger doesn't try to insert extra CSS or Javascript into your XML.  This may be unnecessary, since your template won't have a <HEAD> tag, but I did it to be safe.

Change your time stamp format for both your posts and your comments.  This will ensure that all dates and times in the XML file can be easily read into a DateTime object by the Importing tool later.

Step 2: Set Your Blog to FTP Publishing  This will make sure that your blogspot blog won't get overwritten while you're doing your exporting.  It also makes it easy to get your XML files when you're done, and allows you to turn off the Blogger Navbar.  You can only turn off the Blogger Navbar if you're using FTP publishing.  Once again, it may not be necessary to turn it off since you won't have a <HEAD> tag, but it's probably a good idea.

Step 2: Change Your Template  Download the following template, and copy the text into the template area of Blogger.  Don't forget to save your old template for when you're done!  This template will create a blank index.html file, and blank post files, but all the archive files will have your XML data in it (even though they still have the html extension).  I used monthly archiving, so this worked out well.  You could try to just use the index page, but if you have more than a few months worth of posts, Blogger won't allow you to put every post on the index page.  Likewise, you could put each post in it's own XML page using the <$ItemPage$> tag, but if you've been blogging for as long as I have, then you will have hundreds of files to download.  Also, you'll want to turn off the Navbar.

Step 3:  Republish your entire blog.  Once that is finished, use your favorite FTP program to download all the archive files to your computer.

Importing Your Content Into dasBlog:  The first thing you need is the Importer program I wrote.  If you just want the executable, that is here (requires the .NET Framework v1.1 to run).  The source is available here.  Unzip the binaries to a directory on your computer, and run Importer.exe.

The Source Directory is the directory on your computer where you downloaded the archive files to.  The Destination Directory is where the dasBlog XML files will be outputted to.  You can import old posts with a default category if you'd like.  I chose Old Blog, but if you don't want a default category, then leave this blank.  The username to import with is the username you will use for posting in dasBlog.  By default this is admin.  The checkbox for converting line breaks to paragraph was because of the template I use on this blog.  Blogger by default will insert line breaks in your post which this template didn't render well.  So I replaced all double line breaks with paragraph tags.

If you use Haloscan for trackbacks, check the Import Haloscan checkbox, and type in your Haloscan username.  Please note, that if you check this box, importing will take a significantly longer amount of time because for every post you import, the Importer has to hit the Haloscan server.  Unfortunately, Haloscan provides no way to export your trackbacks, but they do provide an RSS feed for each of your posts.  Using that RSS feed in combination with the trackback display page, I'm able to get all the information about your trackbacks and import them into dasBlog.  It just takes a while.  When I imported The Coding Monkey (which didn't have trackbacks), it took about one minute.  Importing The World According to Nick (which did have trackbacks) took more than half an hour.

After the Importer has run, copy the contents from the Destination Directory to the /content directory of the server where you have dasBlog installed.  If you're running dasBlog locally, you could set the Destination Directory to output the files directly to the content directory of your dasBlog instance.

Forward People from Blogger to Your New Blog:  The last step of course is to point people to the content on your new blog.  This requires you to modify your current Blogger template (you know, the one you saved before you replaced it with the XML template.)  All you have to do is add the following code to the <HEAD> section of your existing template:

         <meta http-equiv="REFRESH" content="2; URL=http://www.nickschweitzer.net">
         <meta http-equiv="REFRESH" content="2; URL=http://www.nickschweitzer.net/PermaLink.aspx?guid=<$BlogItemNumber$>">

Obviously you'll want to change the base URL to your weblog location.  And that is all it takes.  I hope this helps anyone who is looking to move off of Blogger.

Why Switch to dasBlog?

by Nick Sunday, May 21, 2006 11:45 AM
I first found out about dasBlog about a month ago when I attended Deeper in .NET, a conference sponsored by WI-INETA. One of the speakers was Scott Hanselman, who is one of the primary contributors to dasBlog. I personally thought he was the best speaker of the bunch, and though he didn't talk an awful lot about dasBlog specifically, he mentioned enough to get me interested, since I had been thinking about moving off of Blogger for a while at that point. I also thought that anything this guy was involved in was probably going to be pretty damn good. So far I haven't been disappointed. My problem is that the tools I used for blogging to this point, Blogger and Haloscan (for trackbacks) were both black boxes. Though they worked well in general, you never had access to the back end data, and could only use their web interfaces to do things. Customization was difficult to say the least. Of course, this also means that getting your data out of these services would take some work also, but that is a subject for my next post. For me, there were several requirements for picking my new blogging engine:

Must Be Extendable: This was probably my biggest frustration with Blogger. Although you could do a lot with the templates if you worked at, it lacked certain basic features, and they seemed in no hurry to add any. This meant that I was constantly trying to pull features in from other services to complete my blog package. It made things much more difficult than it needed to be. Although many people prefer WordPress for switching from Blogger, because it's written in PHP (which I only have a cursory knowledge of), customization would be harder for me. Because dasBlog is written in C#, which I know like the back of my hand, customization for me is extremely trivial. In fact, I've already written several macros which are being used on my blogs, which took about a total of 1 hour to write and test.

Had to Run Locally: I wanted to be able to run a version of my blog locally on my laptop. This would allow me to do all the importing and testing locally on my machine, before I even bought server space. That way I could get everything exactly as I wanted it before I moved to my server. This goes hand in hand with picking a .NET blog engine, because I already have all the tools available on my laptop without any extra configuration. WordPress requires PHP and MySQL to run... neither of which I have. dasBlog only requires ASP.NET with no database requirements since it uses XML files as its datastore. This has an added advantage of making it cheaper to host, since most hosting services charge extra if you want to run an instance of a database on your domain.

Import Old Content: I had to be able to import all my old content. That means posts, comments and trackbacks. Though getting this data out of Blogger was going to be a pain no matter what, I wanted to make sure that importing wouldn't also be difficult. dasBlog has an extremely well thought out Data Access Layer that made this process trivial. I can't stress enough how simple it really was to get my data into dasBlog.

Preserve Permlinks: They're permlinks, not templinks. I get a lot of hits via Google, am on many people's blogrolls, and have a lot of old posts which people have linked to while I've been blogging. One of my biggest blogging pet peeves is when you follow a permlink, and you find out that the blog has moved, but you simply get forwarded to the person's homepage. I wanted to make sure that I could change my Blogger template in such a way that people going to a specific post of mine would get forwarded to that same post on my new blog. Once again, dasBlog made this simple because you can pick the unique identifier for imported posts.

Active Developer Community: I wanted to make sure that whatever engine I chose was still being actively developed, and that there was an opportunity for me to get involved. I haven't really been heavily involved in any extra development since I was participating in Winamp3, and wanted to get involved in something again. dasBlog is still being actively developed on SourceForge, and there is an opportunity for me to get involved.

Extra Blogging Features: Of course, one of the primary reasons for moving off of Blogger was that it didn't offer certain basic features. I wanted Categories, built in Trackbacks, and built in file uploading. dasBlog does a very good job with all those things. In addition to that, it has built in ability to cross-post between multiple sites (which is great since I was doing that manually from time to time between my two blogs), and has a really sweet search engine that outputs search results using your template with word highlighting.

Don't worry, my next post will include all the steps and code that I wrote to do everything I've described here so that if you want, you too can move from Blogger to dasBlog.

Welcome to My New Home

by Nick Saturday, May 20, 2006 10:18 PM

Welcome to the new home for The Coding Monkey.  I've moved both of my blogs to their own domains.  You can find The World According to Nick at this new location.  My blogs are being powered by a very cool .NET blogging engine called dasBlog with lots of great features.  Importing my old posts along with the comments was very easy.  In the next few days, I'll post a more complete informational post on how to import your Blogger posts and comments into dasBlog, along with all the code you'll need right here.  I've also written some macros for dasBlog (which allows you to extend its functionality) which I'll also provide here.

In the mean time, take a look around (the Search feature is really sweet) and stay a while.

On Being An Anti-Technology Technologist

by Nick Wednesday, May 17, 2006 1:35 PM
Scott Hanselman (recently added to my Blogroll by the way) points to this absolutely fantastic post:

With the amount of crap being vomited up by his Ethernet connection -- all day, every day -- it's tough to walk away from the spigot for fear that he'll return to waist-deep water. Ethan reads his mail in real-time to avoid being greeted by a hundred-message pile-up when he gets back from lunch. Bringing the computer with you is the only way to keep up.
Years ago, someone phoned you and you weren't home, you missed the call and they had to try back -- now, the messages queue up in voice-mail. TV shows used to slip unwatched by unless you were there to suck them up them in real-time -- today, my TiVo has hours of mindless crap that it's faithfully holding for me. The Web originally required me to actually go out and do something as quaint as visit sites to read them -- these days, my feed reader pulls down megabytes of data -- a large portion of it, of course, cat pictures -- and piles it up, forever. Each of these swollen reservoirs of data silently mocks me with my inadequacy.

For my part, my life looks nothing like this, and it took a lot of work to keep it that way. I recognized the pattern early on when I was working for a small consulting company while going to MSOE. They gave me a pager... and my life changed. I started calling it my mood changer, because every time it would vibrate, now matter where I was or what I was doing, I'd get a scowl, and everyone knew I got paged. Did you know that nobody ever pages you with good news? When I interviewed for my next job, and they gave me a chance to ask questions of them about the position, my very first one was, "Will I be required to be on call or carry a pager?"

For a couple years after that experience I even refused to own a cell phone. I didn't want to risk being that available. I liked the fact that people had to send me an email, or leave a... *gasp* ...message on an answering machine. It's frankly quite liberating. Even today, now that I have a cell phone, I'm fairly protective of the number. I don't use SMS, don't own a Crackberry... hell... I don't even carry a PDA around anymore (though I did experiment with one for a while).

At the various companies where I work, they tend to have mass email lists for every project that flood you with useless crap every five minutes. Instead of sending a very directed message, peole love sending it on the list, even though only 1% of the list members really care. I make it a habit to have myself removed from that list as soon as I'm off a project. If I can't swing that, then I always set up a Rule Wizard to file the message off into a folder I never read. I'm religious about it.

Someone I used to work with never was that good about getting off those email lists. If he was out of the office for a week, he'd end up with hundreds of messages in his Inbox. When he got back into the office, he would delete all his Inbox messages, and then send one mass email to everyone saying that he'd "lost all his email" while he was out, and that he'd "appreciate it if everyone would forward any important messages". He'd end up with about five. I vowed to never let my Inbox get to that point, and so far it's worked.

My sister Sarah is a great example of someone who bucks this trend. She has two cell phones, a Crackberry, and who knows how many other little gadgets. When she commented to me about how surprised she was to see I didn't have these things, since I work in the technology field (I even still file my taxes on paper), I laughed and told her "I'm the last anti-technology technologist". I use technology to improve my life, and not let technology determine my life. Sometimes I wonder whether she brings this flood of information onto herself because she has the technology, as opposed to using the technology to manage the flood.

I will concede one point. I love my RSS Reader. But the nice part about RSS is that it uses a pull, as opposed to a push method. I subscribe to things I'm interested in (like a good dessert), as opposed to having emails forced down my throat because others think it's good for me (like broccoli). Even if not every item in the feed is worthwhile, the fact that I chose to get it makes it more palatable to me.

About Me

Nick Schweitzer Nick Schweitzer
Wauwatosa, WI

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I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit. ... Full Bio

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