Monday 28 November 2011

Ebuyer goes titsup for Next-style bargain hunters showed Ebuyer as down this morning
Virtual queues were forming around the block from as early as Saturday, when Ebuyer decided it was a good idea to offer many of their products for just £1, and the virtual stampede has caused it's first victim - The whole website!  Not the best marketing ploy ever devised for the start of the Christmas shopping season.  Because not only is it stopping the angry crowd from getting their God given bargains, but most normal punters are heading off to Dabs and Maplin as we speak!  Ebuyer have successfully created their own DDOS attack!

Just 20 minutes after the page went live, Ebuyer have posted this message on their Facebook page:
"Hi all, thanks for your patience. We've been overwhelmed by the huge response and are working on getting the page back up and running as soon as possible."

We asked Ebuyer for a comment but they were too busy turning it off and on again to get back to us.

EDIT: At 12 noon today, 1.5 hours after the first punters were shown the bargain goods, the site is still down! Oops!  Their Facebook page is full of friendly comments.

Friday 25 November 2011

The Best Web Hosting

Update June 2020:  I am no longer a customer of Hostgator and neither do I recommend them.  I prefer the smaller hosting companies, and I'll be updating my blog with my new recommendations soon.

I currently run several websites for various ventures and had been looking around for a reliable web hosting service for some time; and if I've learnt something, it's that the best web hosting companies are not always the small players or the very big players.  In fact you can disregard what platform they use to host on, where they are based (it doesn't matter any more if they are European or US based) and how much free space you get.  If you want to find the best web hosting package, the most important single factor to consider in my opinion is the quality of support, and I'll explain why.

Many hosting companies offer the world for $1 a month, or £1.99 for the first 2 months, but if the staff don't have their heart in the company, then the service will ultimately be poor.  Many comments online tell you that if you pay next to nothing, then you should expect the same.  They also say that Unlimited offers of bandwidth and space are a bad idea because it means the platform hardware is likely to be oversubscribed.  However, all this means is that the support staff will get more complaints of slow service and the staff are likely to care more about what they are having for dinner than about your hosting experience.

 It may be that you never intend to use the hosting company support desks, and most of us hope that we won't have to, but if the hosting company has motivated and capable support staff, it says a lot about the quality of the service itself.  No one likes to be moaned at day in, day out, so a high turn over of staff = more service.  Take the top 3 "best web hosting" companies that pop up all the time.  Hostgator, GoDaddy and in the UK, Fasthosts.  Now look at what they offer.  The all offer the same sort of packages, and all of them could be considered "cheap" hosting.  But look at the comments on support services, and you'll see that Hostgator are consistently praised for their support.  In my book, that's good enough to recommend them.  Aligned with the fact that they have some good offers on Black Friday deals, I don't think you can go far wrong.  I am affiliated with them, but only because I love the product and want others to benefit from my research and experience.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

International Characters with PHP and MySQL

I'm currently writing an android application that pulls data from a MySQL database via a PHP script "API" and have come up against a problem whereby text that contains international characters with accents are replaced in my app with a question mark.  Fra├žais comes out as Fran?ais.

After a fair bit of Google abuse and knowing that the solution lay somewhere in a UTF-8 character set, it came down to 2 things, and I thought I would share the solution for those who might also be struggling.

Firstly, I defined the utf-8 character set in the header response of my PHP API script:

header('Content-type: text/html; charset=utf-8');

That didn't work on its own, but it did solve the issue for characters that I manually echo'd from php, so I knew the problem had to be with the database.

I also had to define the character set for the database connection:


I defined this right after the connection to the database is made so that it applies to the last made connection.  You can also define a specific connection.

Saturday 22 October 2011

Zen Internet Offers 832Mbps ADSL Upload Option for £45 a month

It seems Zen Internet are really pushing the boundaries of ADSL broadband by offering an amazing 832Mbps upload speed on the business broadband service!  We contacted Zen for a comment and were told that "this is just the headline speed, we don't expect many people to actually achieve this", especially as it is faster than most  everyone elses download speed.  I'm sure the ASA would have a field day, or maybe it's just a typo ;-)

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Virtualbox high CPU usage - a solution

I've been playing around with Virtualbox recently to host an Asterisk PBX on my Windows 2003 server.  Asterisk (or more accurately, Trixbox) comes as an ISO and uses CentOS flavour of Linux.  However, I've noticed - as have lots of other people - that the Virtualbox process uses quite a lot of CPU even when nothing is actually happening.  After some searching and a few failed solutions, I've come across one that works very well. I've set up another virtual machine in Virtualbox, set the base memory very low (4MB) and set it running.  It doesn't boot up with any OS, it just complains and fails about not having a boot disc, but strangely it drops my CPU on the server from 17% down to a more normal 2%.  Trixbox runs just as smoothly as it did before!

Friday 1 July 2011

How to reset Motorola WiNG 5 Controller to Factory Defaults

I searched and searched so you don't have to!  If you want to reset the password on a Motorola controller running WiNG 5, you need to connect to the console and login as "reset / FactoryDefault".  No need to thank me!  Really, they should make this information more readily accessible...!

Sunday 29 May 2011

An alternative to iTunes Software

Like millions of other people I own an iPod. I bought it a few years ago, not because I feel the need to own everything with an Apple logo on it,  but because it's small, very portable and because I like the ubiquitous support for car connections and the myriad of accessories.   In short it's the ecosystem around the product that makes it so attractive, not what Apple created in the hardware. And it's certainly not what Apple have created in the software either.

I dislike the perceived requirement to buy into the whole Apple experience just to use my 8GB music player, and iTunes is the pinnacle of my dislike.  I'm not going to get on my box about how inflated and overpowering the software is, because I don't need it.  I don't buy music from Apple and I have a product that doesn't support video or Apps, i just want to put music onto my music player and have it do the job it was made for.

So I wanted to share an alternative called SharePod. Now I don't have any affiliation with SharePod or its author but if you too own an iPod for the purpose of playing music, then I recommend you download it and try it out.  It's free, lightweight, and you don't even have to install it, it works straight off as an executable.  I like the no nonsense way it instantly displays the music already on the device,  and allows me to drag and drop my DRM-free mp3s onto it.   You do still need your proprietary white cable though!

Sunday 22 May 2011

Here we go again?

It seems another Icelandic volcano called Grimsvotn has started erupting last night. The airespace in Iceland is closed (justice!) but the ash cloud is heading in a north westerly direction at a height of 12KM so it shouldn't impact European flights if it stays like that.
The Met Office shows the ash cloud from volcano Grimsvotn

Here we go again? I doubt it.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

WiFi as a Service

When the words "Wifi" and "Cloud" are used in the same sentence, it's usually in reference to a ubiquitous provider based in St Albans.  But although they may have picked a cool name, there is growing merit to the idea of providing Wifi for enterprise customers as a service, just like web hosting is today.

What it means to the enterprise customer base is that the management and cost of deploying an enterprise class wireless network is largely reduced or at least spread over time, and the risk of hardware obsolescence and the squeeze on controller bandwidth  becomes less of an issue.  

So why hasn't this method of deploying WiFi been done before?  It's largely down to the manufacturers ability to support this type of deployment architecture, that was until recently based on sending WiFi traffic back to a centralised cluster of controllers where is was processed, marked, dropped, prioritised or spat out to its destination.  Up until 12 months ago, this was the norm and claims of this architecture being a bottleneck  were met with marketing sneers.  But as is always the case with technology vendors, a lousy feature is only lousy until it has been implemented, and now the bottleneck problem magically exists.  To give them credit, it wasn't really until 802.11n started becoming more widely deployed, that controller bottlenecks were a real world problem.  However, the combination of 11n and the fact that most enterprises were recognising the cost benefits of architecting distributed wifi networks, has meant that distributing real intelligence to the APs while maintaining command and control in the centre, is probably the way forward - for now.

So if your friendly IT supplier knocks on the door and starts talking about WiFi as a service, what are they trying to sell you?  First of all, only 2 hardware vendors currently offer solutions that you could truly call "Cloud WiFi".  Motorola and Aerohive.  Both have access points with enough real intelligence to filter, firewall, inspect, process, switch frames and route packets and perform RF management functions without the constant need for a controller, and both have features that allow the slicing and dicing of controller functions for different end customers.  In both cases, the controller is out of the data path, and acts only in a configuration and policy management function, and this means it can be hosted anywhere.   In most cases, the end customer has firewalled access to his or her own policies, rules and statistics and shares the cost of the hardware and software with other like minded IT managers through the WiFi Service Provider.  They may even lease the AP hardware.

Personally I can see this working in principal, but there is one sticking point for me.  Just as Cpanel and Plesk allow the user of a shared hosting platform to perform common tasks without worrying about the underlying platform, so there needs to be a equivalent for managed, hosted WiFi.  In that way, the end customer can choose and change the colour and brand of the APs they want hanging on the ceiling, and not be concerned about learning a new, complex and vendor specific configuration back-end.  Believe me, the complexity of configuration is going to get worse before it gets better, and by then, we'll have a new architecture paradigm anyway.  Anyone for fat APs?

Crowthorne and Bracknell Forest Fire in Berkshire - Wednesday Update

The disruption caused by the fire continues, with roads still closed around the whole area.  To get to Bracknell from Crowthorne last night we had to drive all the way to Jennetts Park near the A329M and then back on ourselves past the Waitrose depots.  Many road closures are manned by police, who seem happy to talk to people about the events of the day.  Several residents have spent a second night away from their houses after being evacuated, I feel for them and hope they get back to their intact homes soon, ready to start clearing the smell of smoke which has soaked everyones clothes and houses.

We went for a walk last night into Wildmoor Heath, around the back of our house, and although there have not been any major fires here, there were some small places with charred trees and fences.  The place was unusually quiet, with less road noise coming from the closed bypass and a stillness in the air that we hadn't experienced for a number of days.  With the wind dying down a little, we hope this will help the fire fighting effort which is still very much ongoing.

On a practical level it seems that schools that were closed yesterday, have re-opened today.  I respect the decision was made with good intentions, but was it really necessary? Was it smoke and wind direction or was it to keep traffic off the roads?  Let me know what you think.

The Daily Mail, in true Daily Mail fashion, has grasped the story too, focusing on how close the fire came (has come?) to Broadmoor.  Can you imagine the operation if they had to evacuate that place?

Of course, we continue to hear about the hard work and dedication of the people that are fighting this fire on the front line.  They all deserve huge recognition.  The Golden Retriever pub which was evacuated on Monday - not least because it has a thatched roof - has been turned into the Fire and Rescue HQ offices.  The pub is obviously closed to the public, but it is now patronised by fire fighters during their well earned breaks.  I couldn't think of a nicer place to re-group and refresh.

Finally, lots more photos emerging from people, some of which are very good.  I haven't been out with my camera yet, I was going to focus (no pun intended) on the aftermath, when it finally dies down.  Two good sets of photos from other talented people, not me.

Tuesday 3 May 2011

The advantages of Dropbox

I've had a dropbox account for a few months now, and it's probably the most used web service / piece of software on my laptop.  If you're not familiar with Dropbox then let me explain.  It's a small piece of software that you load on your PC and it creates a folder, just like any other, that will sync everything you put into it, with a secure service on the Internet.  If you have more than 1 PC and you load Dropbox onto them all, then those files will be in sync across all your computers.  Although maybe not its primary use, it's a really easy way to copy files between computers at home or home and work.  It also acts as a secure way to backup any important files, and to share files between other people who may or may not have a Dropbox account.  I use it every day to copy files between computers and to share individual files that are too big to email.

To start with, you get 2GB of storage for free, but you can earn more by referring friends.  Each one you refer gives you and them, and extra 250MB.  If you want to sign-up, use this link to get yourself (and me!) and extra 250MB right from the start.

For the geeks like me out there, there are also apps for Android and iPhone devices that makes copying files off your phone to your PC (photos and music for example) really easy.

Update: Because I run a server at home, I'm now running Dropbox as a service on that server.  It means that my files in Dropbox will sync to my server, even if I'm not logged in.  Neat.  I got help from this post.

Crowthorne Forest Fire - Tuesday Update

So far today, I've not seen any reports of the fire getting worse, but there is traffic chaos around the area because of the road closures.  Avoid it if you can or find an altrernative route in advance.

3 schools are closed.  See comments.

The BBC has picked up the story and has video from the police helicopter on their website:

Wednesdays Update

Monday 2 May 2011

Crowthorne Forest Fire

The sun is blocked by the smoke in our garden
Regular readers may have realised from previous blog posts that we live in Crowthorne.  We're lucky to live in a very green area, but today there have been major fires in some of the forest surrounding the village.  From our house towards the south of the village, we can see a lot of billowing white and grey smoke coming from Swinley Forest (also sometimes known as The Lookout).  The air is thick with the smell of smoke and even though we are still some way away, the view of trees in the near distance is obstructed because of the smoke.  The sound of sirens has been heard throughout the day and there have been several major road closures leading to restricted access in and out of the village.  Some other local residents have managed to get some pictures of the damage and ongoing fire.  The photos below are courtesy of Ian Emery.

Update 22:40: Personal reports from people on Facebook and Twitter are saying that the fire has spread across the Crowthorne bypass and towards the car park near Broadmoor.  There are 20 engines in attendance, some from as far away as Feltham.

A video from Nathan Denne shows the extent of the fire earlier today.
Video of Crowthorne Forest Fire

Advisory from Thames Valley Police on their website:
Thames Valley Police Advisory

Update: 23:10:  Although we know that the TRL site and Golden Retriever Pub were all evacuated, there are some reports that people on nearby Wooden Hill are also being moved.

Thursday 28 April 2011

Shredding your credit card statements is a waste of time

If you woke up because you heard a noise on Tuesday night, you might not have known or cared what it was you heard. But wake up Wednesday morning and you will realise that the noise you heard was the sound of the Internet bubble of trust, bursting.

The recent news that Sony seemingly cares less about personal data, than its trustworthy reputation, should be a concern for everyone, not just its 70 million identity theft prone zombies customers.  While the confidence hit and damage to Sonys reputation is one thing, the general public are quite rightly asking the question; if a global giant such as this can be so casual about personal data, who else can't we trust?  I fear the answer is "quite a few" and that isn't going to give a helping hand to a global recovery.   As someone who is potentially impacted by this, I know that I will be even more cautious about who holds my financial information in particular, even going so far as to withhold my custom.

One hopes that Sony will publish its security inadequacies so that others may benefit from hindsight, but I'm not hopeful of that given their previous form when it comes to public communication.  Maybe the American public will lend a hand.  Although I've not yet seen any mention of a lawsuit against Sony, it surely can't be long.

Still, if there was a bright-side to this episode, I'll find it.  With all the marketing dollars that Sony is going to have to pump to rebuild confidence in its online retail service and its brand reputation, the boys and girls in the colouring-in department are surely spared of redundancy! 

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Right Royal Cockup

If The Queen knew what kind of service Royal Mail were offering to their customers, do you think she would stake her name against it?  We all have stories to tell about how post has gone missing, and we've had 2 pieces go missing in just 2 months.  And that's only the ones we know about!  The first caused my car to be missing it's tax disc for a few weeks - potentially leading to a fine - and the second caused our car insurance to be cancelled outright because the insurance company didn't receive proof of our NCB.  Now we're out of pocket because of their incompetence and we can't prove a thing!  Even if we could, I guess there's no redress available, so as a consumer we're all at the mercy of a company without opportunity to use a real alternative.  I guess when you pay pence for delivery of a letter, we shouldn't expect too much by way of a guarantee.

Furthermore, it's sad but I can't see it improving any time soon.  With the dreadful influence of the unions involved, I can't see how "Royal" Mail can modernise and we can all get a more reliable service.