Tag: Websites

Wow. It’s been almost 12 full months since I wrote on these pages. Partly this is down to laziness, and partly a result of having too many cool things to do. Since I do enjoy writing and describing interesting things here, I want to make a point of writing on a more regular basis.

So what was I doing during the last year?

Here is a list of things I hope to write about in future posts.

Writing iPhone applications

Since the start of 2011, I’ve been working full time at a small mobile software company in Ottawa. We build mobile applications for iOS primarily, and are edging our way into Android to follow the rise of that platform. Applications are generally a mix of website companion apps, utilities and games, with a nearly even split between developing for clients and ourselves.

Our latest title, Tanks of Fury (win a Samsung Galaxy Tab!), is a colourful shooter with excellent graphics, hilarious sound effects and intuitive game play. Built with the Cocos2D framework, it was a excellent learning experience for combining graphics, efficient development processes and sound effects with the iPhone platform.

Despite not having any Objective-C and iOS developer experience prior to starting work, I was delighted at how easily I was able to pick up the language. Since I’m always looking for new ways to learn more, I decided to write my own apps and put them into the store. I previously wrote about one, and have had a moderate usage of about 1000 users. Shortly after, I came up with an application that would have been useful for my engineering studies, called Equation Library. By compiling many common equations into a directory and allowing users to solve for individual variables, I hoped to make it easier to do boilerplate math equations (engineering has a lot of that). Despite rushing the app into the store, I was shocked to see about 18,000 downloads in the first 48 hours! Part of this is likely down to its free price, but part could be that other people see value in it. Like this blog, I’ve somewhat neglected that app since releasing it, and hope to have a new, more useful version out when I have some time.

Overclocking my PC

Since having a little extra cash to put towards electronics, I’ve really taken an interest in DIY computer builds and tweaking. In fact, I’m writing this post on the computer that was the subject of my last post, building a watercooled PC. Since that post, I’ve made some changes to the setup of the computer, including overclocking it to 4.0 GHz. Although not strictly necessary, overclocking is somewhat of a badge of honour among computer enthusiasts, and is now gaining mainstream attention thanks to Intel’s latest chipsets and improved cooling solutions. I decided to leverage the superior cooling power of my custom fluid loop and bring the chip to a nice round number. So far so good.

Additionally I did things like adding a second GTX470 video card, more RAM, an SD card reader and added a third Reserator. That last part exemplifies overkill, but the way I see it, I’m futureproofing! Replacing my single 25″ ASUS monitor with dual 28″ HannsG screens has really made the space easy to work in. Maybe some screenshots and photos of the screens in action will be in a future post. In the mean time, check out this related post from Jeff Atwood on the benefits of using multiple monitors.

Adding MythTV to the Ubuntu Server

As a perennial digital tinker, I like to investigate and experiment with all of the interesting software available to a computer on 24/7. One of the most complex, but also most rewarding, applications is MythTV, the open-source DVR. I mentioned previously how getting it set up was a real pain, and the good news is that I’ve sorted through that. Now I have a MythTV setup where I can browse listings, schedule recordings and see system status from within a simple browser, using MythWeb and watch videos on a separate computer running XBMC. Using a simple coat-hanger-based antenna, I get one good channel in perfect HD, and a number of others if the wind is right. If I moved up to a commercial antenna, I bet I could get more. Right now, though, it’s nice to just be able to watch live and local TV whenever the mood strikes.

WordPress websites

Over the last few months, I’ve started doing some additional website work with my sister, who resides at www.creative-e.ca. Through various channels, we have 4 or 5 projects ongoing, which are visible in the above image. To take a look at one of the currently live websites, visit www.jessiebehan.com, and look for more links in coming posts.

Each website so far has been based on the WordPress platform, which has allowed me to become more efficient at building administration panels and custom themes. In fact, the more I’ve used it, the more I’ve come to appreciate its simplicity and adjustability. Hopefully I can apply this new knowledge of the WordPress API to updating my plugins in the very near future.

GoPro Camera

I’m a big fan of the GoPro camera. Not necessarily because I’m an adrenaline junkie, but more for the way it does a single job exceptionally well, and packs a lot of tech in a very small footprint. Once you recognize them, it becomes a game to point them out in regular TV shows, sporting events and online videos.

I bought the GoPro HD Hero camera in the summer of 2011, with the intention of using it for driving videos mounted to my windshield and for snowboarding. So far I’ve captured some cool time lapses while driving across Ontario and interesting pool footage. Recently, however, I was able to put it to a stiffer test, where I used it while snowboarding at Mt. Tremblant, QC. In fact, here’s a YouTube video my sister put together about it. Most of the video was recorded while the GoPro was mounted to a custom camera pole mount (read: wooden dowel with a cable loop) so I’d like to write a future post about how to make your own, along with a fishing line camera tether. Hopefully I don’t ever really need to test the tether, but it’s at least a bit of piece of mind.

3DConnexion SpacePilot PRO

This device brings me back to engineering. The present and future of product design and testing is done inside a computer, using design suites that handle full 3D representations and analysis. To work more efficiently, many engineers swear by left-handed 3D mice. Built by Logitech subsidiary 3DConnexion, the SpacePilotPRO includes the largest feature set of any similar mouse. I purchased it for developing my skills in CAD programs like SolidWorks, AutoDesk Inventor and even Google SketchUp. It also works in applications like Google Earth, which allows it to provide a unique interface for zooming in and out through space.

So far it has proven its worth while helping me learn about SolidWorks’ analysis components. The control knob provides fantastic 3D manipulation and the buttons are laid out smartly to provide instant access to any application more common features. It’s true that it takes some time getting used to, but it can provide a 20-30% productivity boost once integrated in the workflow.

So that’s what has happened in my last year, relating to technology. Look for more detailed posts in the coming weeks!

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If you’ve worked on a website, or had someone build a website for you, or even purchase webhosting, you’ve probably heard the “buzz-phrase” Search Engine Optimization. What exactly is this long-winded acronym?

SEO, as it is commonly referred to, is editing and building a website so that traffic can be increased. At its foundation, it is based on modifying and building code so that search engines such as Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask can better crawl your site in order to properly place it in search results. The easier the search engines can determine what content your site has, the better chance you have of having a favourable placement in keyword results.

Things you can do for SEO

  • Strong titles — Make sure your site has a good title for the browser. Usually this is simply the title for your website, plus the title of the specific page. If possible, make sure the website title is somewhere in the title of every page on your site.
  • Clear metadata — Metadata is the text in the code of your site that search engines display next to your search result. The most important piece of code to include in this is the description tag. Use and put it in the html head of each page. If possible, have a different description for each page, or if that isn’t possible, just use the tag on the homepage.
  • Use descriptive URLs — When designing the URL layout of your site, try to use .htaccess rewrite rules to turn ugly, number based urls into worded ones. You’ll notice on this site that each post has a url that includes the post title. That is generally favoured over the basic variable + number approach (ie. /item/watches is better than ?i=3403).
  • Use a sitemap when starting — While their merit for established sites is often questioned, submitting a sitemap to Google when your site is first starting out is a great way to get all your pages indexed so people can find them. Do that by signing up for Google Webmaster Tools. A sitemap can be as simple as a single list of individual pages, or an automatically generated XML sheet. View my site’s sitemap here.

Things to watch

  • Don’t pay to gain search ranking — When you sign up for webhosting, you may be intrigued by the company’s “get into every search engine” offer. Never pay for services to immediately boost your Google rank. Google makes it clear that they will never charge users to increase their search results, and no company can offer surefire ways to gain rank. Gaining search rank takes time, and can be done with no money spent at all.

Instead of paying money to gain rank, you must look at every way to gain incoming links. Respected sites that link to you make your site more respected, and will likely boost your rank for general keywords. Do this by finding website directories related to your topic, or join a related forum and put your URL as a signature for your posts. Over time, search engines will move you up, and you should see an increase in traffic coming from them.

[tags]SEO, Search Engine Optimization, hosting, website[/tags]

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I mentioned in an earlier post that I moved webhosts. It’s now been more than a month since that move was made, and I have already seen the benefits. By sharing what I’ve learned in my transition, I hope to enlighten other hopeful web users who are about to start their own site.

I moved from webserve.ca to Bluehost.com in June of 2008. The reason for the move was that I became annoyed with webserve’s downtime, and relatively basic feature list compared to other hosts. While their support was generally quick and responsive, the fact that I needed to put in so many requests was unacceptable.


Now that I’ve moved to Bluehost, I’ve noticed that Google response times are down, meaning the bandwidth for my site has been greatly improved. A faster server means more visitors, which is always a good thing.

If you’re in the market for a new webhost (or your first) here are some things to look for:

Bandwidth


This shows the difference that a good web host can make. The graph represents the average time Google needs to download a webpage. The drop is when I moved to Bluehost.

Bandwidth when related to web service means not only how much data your site allows you to transfer in a given month, but also at any given time. A higher number is always better, because most hosts institute large penalties for going over this number. The problem is that bandwidth often varies widely month to month, as sometimes a single link on a popular site like Digg.com can cause massive bandwidth spikes in mere hours. If the bandwidth link to your site isn’t large enough, an influx in traffic can cripple it. Unfortunately, you won’t truly know how well your site is connected until you receive one of these influxes.

Disk storage

In an age where portable hard drives have hundreds of GB and cost ~$100, don’t settle for less. A large data limit means you can store your own data outside your website for transfer, and also use advanced features on your own site (like a photo gallery). In many cases you won’t actually use your entire quotient, but it is good to have the excess if you ever want to expand.

Server hardware

This is important, but is often not a limiting factor. Simply put, a faster server system can handle more connections at once. This means that on a hosting plan with a fast server and good bandwidth, events like the Digg effect can almost be completely avoided. Usually hosts use the fastest hardware available, but some of the lower priced services achieve their savings with slower machines.

FTP and email accounts

With my original web service, I was only given 1 FTP account, without an option to configure more. At the time I had no real need to have more, but now that I have the ability to create an unlimited number of users and email addresses, I’ve learned how handy it can be. With multiple accounts, you can give friends or family access to a specific folder on your server with stored pictures, or any other large files that cannot be emailed. It’s the same way with email; you want the option to make more addresses than you originally think.

Multiple domains

The internet moves fast. While you may start with a single website, within months you could find an entire new niche with real potential. With the ability to host multiple domains with single hosting packages, you can get started much easier with a brand new website: simply buy a new domain, point it to your current package, and you’re good to go. Just keep in mind that you are also sharing resources, so if any of your sites become very popular, it is definitely worth while to switch to a dedicated package for that website.

Online configuration

The online configuration of a webhosting package is where you do all the administration tasks like adding email accounts, MySQL databases, and backing up your data. It should be intuitive and uncluttered. Unfortunately not many hosts give you the opportunity to try this panel before purchasing, so you’ll have to do some online research to learn about them. If things like MySQL databases make your head spin, be sure to look for hosting packages with step-by-step instructions to install popular features.

Server software

Mostly the domain of a website administrator, the server software decides what your website can do, and how reliable it is. A poorly managed server can be unstable, and cause more downtime than truly necessary. Look for companies that run PHP 5, MySQL 5 and update all their applications regularly. Even if they sound a little foreign, these are the applications that keep the internet running.

Support

If you really want to start a website, but are slightly frightened at the acronyms and version numbers involved, be sure to investigate a company’s support record. This can only be done properly online, at unaffiliated websites, but it is invaluable to know what you are getting involved with. You’ll always find a mixed bag of reactions, but generally if the dominate response is positive, you’ll be in good hands.

This is by no means the definitive list for choosing a website provider, but everything here you should keep in mind when searching around. The webhosting industry is quite competitive, so be sure to do plenty of reading to find the best deal. I chose Bluehost.com to host wesg.ca because it offers infinite bandwidth and storage, multiple domains and has efficient support, all at an affordable price. Happy surfing!

Disclosure: I am a member of the Bluehost affiliate program.
[tags]websites, blogs, hosting, ISP[/tags]

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After writing my last post about picking a new Mac, I decided to create a page to take some of the thinking out of the process. The Mac Chooser is a small form that evaluates the data given to it, and returns a recommendation for a new computer. It is by no means the last word, but it does a good job at processing common tasks.

If there is an activity missing in the form, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

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If you visited the site in the last 24 hours, you’ve probably grown familiar with that nice 404 Not Found error page. That was because I was moving hosts and basically botched the transition.

In December 2007 I started this site with webserve.ca. At the time I had no problems with the cost or package they were offering, and the fact that they could register a .CA domain name was great. Within a few months, however, I needed to open many support tickets with them. Their service was quite good, but the fact that I needed to ask them so often wasn’t. The biggest problem was that they blocked Googlebot in the firewall. This meant that for 2 weeks Google had no idea what was going on with my site, and my rankings suffered. Fast forward to last week, and an unannounced control panel upgrade left my with an inaccessible site. Even after the site came back, my statistics weren’t available, so I had no idea what was happening. That was the last straw, so I began looking for alternatives.

After a few evenings surfing the hosting review sites, I found bluehost.com, a popular service out of the United States. I read some reviews, opinions and comments, and decided it was a great fit for my blog. It’s all available on the Bluehost website, but here are the features that caught my attention:

  • Host multiple websites — link multiple domains to the same hosting account. Different domain, websites, databases, same account.
  • FTP users — give people select access to your disk space. My other provider didn’t give me this ability out of the box, and I’m really going to use this often.
  • Anonymous FTP — no password access. Similar to the above item, give someone access to a folder without having to share a password.
  • Per-domain stats — view stats based on single domains. This is a big one for me, as I use multiple subdomains, and this is very easy to view them separately.
  • Custom preference panel — Bluehost’s custom preference panel is the easiest way I’ve seen to modify databases, domains, everything related to your account. All the options are available from a single page.

I’ve now transferred everything over to Bluehost, and my Webserve account has been cancelled. During the transition, I had to remember to save all data from the site: MySQL databases and FTP files. Once I had double checked the connections and paths, the site was good to go, and I changed the domain name servers over. Badda bing, new host. Of course, I’d definitely do it differently during the second time around, but that’s another story.

So, after all this work, we now return to the regular blog programming.
[tags]websites, hosting, ISP, blogs[/tags]

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