finding a new webhost, an impossible dream?

It is nearly impossible to pick a web hosting company these days

So, I’ve been an interland customer for about 6 years now. was originally hosted on various sites run by friends of mine. Each of these servers had somewhat dubious connections to the internet, but they were free when it was really expensive to host a website. Finally, after went down for over a week when my friend’s DSL connection was down while he was on vacation, I moved the site over to interland who I found through an ad in the back of wired or something. At that time there were only a handful of hosting companies on the net. Now there are a zillion of them and they are all offering similar plans and similar claims. If you look at 10 host-review sites you will find 10 different recommendations. I’m now paying an insane amount on interland for a ridiculously small amount of disk space (but unlimited bandwidth). The host review sites are obviously not to be trusted. I’m pretty sure that hosting companies set these up just to make themselves #1. I know I would if I was in their shoes. The cool thing is that the hosting plans are cheap enough that I can probably just try out one or two to see how they are before I sign up for a year or so. The other cool thing is that most of these sites seem to make that simple (any site that requires a 6 month sign up isn’t to be trusted). I’ll leave unitcircle on interland for now and move one of my other domains to a new site and see how that works… As I go, I’ll post here what I think.

A bigger question to me is around if I should switch from a windows host to a linux (or even a mac) one. The only server-side scripting of any kind I’ve learned to do is ASP in visual basic, but I’ve done a LOT of C# development so doesn’t scare me. The problem is that, at home, I’ve gotten rid of all my PCs and am just using macs now. I do know Java, but I haven’t done any JSP stuff and I’m not sure if I want to bother. I haven’t done any PHP, so I’d have to learn that from scratch. Currently I use asp only in on the unitcircle catalog pages, but I’ll need something like that for the on-line store.

The Cost of the war

new estimates are out (related article)

The original Bush administration estimate for the costs of the Iraq war were between $10 Billion and $100 Billion (this came from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz). Bush Administration Economic Advisor Lawrence Lindsay suggested that it was more like $100 Billion to $200 Billion and he was immediately fired. As of this moment, congress has appropriated $357 Billion dollars and we are nowhere near done over there.

These two papers
The Economic Costs of the Iraq War, by L. Bilmes and J.E. Stiglitz
The Economic Costs of the War in Iraq, by S. Wallsten and K. Kosec

represent new estimates from liberals and conservatives (the first paper is from a Columbia University prof and the second from an analyst at the Brookings institute (a conservative think-tank) estimate the Real Cost of the War between $657 Billion and $2 Trillion dollars. Their estimates take into account the expected future costs of supporting the effort in Iraq plus all the lost wages and productivity by those killed plus the additional costs in fuel to Americans and all the other little details that insurance people like to compute, but the Bush administration claimed was too hard to calculate before the war.

The administration claims that you can’t pay too high a price to protect our freedom, but that is just the same kind of mindless bullshit that they sprout anytime dares question their judgment or decisions. If you look at the real numbers, we are less safe now then we ever have been. The number of terrorist attacks world-wide are up 3 times over last year which was up twice the year before. Both are all-time highs. The US invasion of Iraq is minting new US-hating terrorists everyday that we remain there. We are providing a rallying cry for radical leaders in the middle-east. With GWB’s saber-rattling towards Iran in the last few days it makes the problem even worse.

Meanwhile we are spending our Nation’s capital in both economic and moral senses on a needless folly that all the experienced voices in government disagreed with, but were shouted down or replaced with yes-men. Anytime someone at the Pentagon or within the administration questioned the military judgment of a group of chicken-hawks playing toy soldier with other people’s children, they were removed or asked to step down. That left no real voices of wisdom or real discussion within the White House. Now, we will be paying for that stupidity the rest of our and our children’s days.

GWB has left America bankrupt and with no moral authority or respect in the world. It is time that congress perform its oversight duties and impeach this cretin before he does any more damage to our once great nation.

iLife ’06

impressive, but I don’t know if it is for me

Many other blogs will be talking about the introduction of the first mactel devices. Maybe because I just got a new Mac I’m not interested, or maybe because none of my software will run natively on them. The announcement that really got me interested yesterday was the new iLife announcement.

Now, I’ve got all the high-end versions of their apps (or equivalents). However, sometimes, it is just easier to toss a project into iDVD, rather than DVD Studio Pro. There certainly isn’t anything more useful than iPhoto. Even iMovie has its uses.

It really seems like the iLife suite is coming into its own now. The integration is getting really amazing, now that the iApps are finally taking advantage of CoreVideo and CoreImage plug-ins, I can see a lot more possibilities for the future.

The problem: podcasting. With the addition of iWeb and adding the podcasting mode to GarageBand as well as the photo-casting stuff they’ve added, the goal of this rev is obvious: make it easy for everyone to do blogging/podcasting/vidcasting/etc… Now, I think that is a pretty good goal with one exception: it is all based around .Mac. Now the iLife suite has always been trying to push people towards subscribing to .Mac before, but now they are ramming it down people throats. Why isn’t there a 1-step publish in iWeb to another website? Do iWeb pages require server-side components running on the .Mac servers?

I think that the podcasting features are very cool and very well done, but I don’t need them or want them. iWeb would be cool for an occasional web page, but I don’t need or want a .Mac account. The rest of the features are also very cool, but I don’t know if they are worth upgrading the software. Then I remember that the price is $79 which is the equivalent of going to a couple movies with my wife and I realize that the few features that are really interesting to me might be worth it…


Blixa Bargeld home improvement commercials

Blixa Bargeld is one of my favorite musicians of all time, anyone who could play in both the extremely influential industrial EN and also the Bad Seeds while carrying the name of Blixa deserves your respect. He even makes German home improvement commercials look cool:

The Unit Circle Rekkids web redesign

the geeky details (design geek and tech geek!)

I just flipped the switch on the third full design of the Unit Circle Rekkids website.

The first was the sort of get-it-up-and-make-it-look-decent version. The second was the make-it-look-good-and-make-the-navigation-better site. There was some stuff I was really proud of in the second design: each “section” had a different-but-related color-scheme so that you could tell where you were in the site; I had a javascript-based navigation bar on the left that would do the dynamic layout and UI to show you what else was related to what you were looking at; finally, I worked really hard to make sure that the pages rendered well on all browsers and nearly all versions (I even ensured Netscape3 and IE3 compatibility).

This new design was all about simplifying things and making the design look tres moderne. If the second design was an architectural unfolding: Entryway, front hallway, living room, etc…; the new design is about making it easy to get the info and find what you want. The front page basically doubles as a site-map. I’ve dropped a lot of nooks and crannies designed for people who might want to explore or look for weird stuff; that was hard to keep up-to-date and wasn’t really taken advantage of much anyway. While I believed in the notion of keeping data and design separate before, this re-design nailed that into my head like never before. The new site has about 35-40 pages. There are three main designs, the main page, the artist pages and the release pages. I wasn’t adding any new content (although I was revising some of the old content). Once I had the designs set, mostly I was copying and pasting from the old pages into the new. So, it should have taken a day or two, right? Actually, it took most of a week working a few hours a day. This is due to how much the old site had the content and layout mixed, but even in that design, I’d already started using CSS. This new design is using some tables for simple layout stuff, but all the rest is 100% CSS, also I’m now using Dreamweaver templates. I’d tried using them before, but in DW8 they seem to be much simpler, or maybe I finally figured out how to use them. I know better than to rely on a proprietary technology, but they really did help and should make any future redesigns much, much simpler.

The hardest part was abandoning the super-cool nested html and javascript sidebar navigation thingy that I did. The original goal was to make adding content simpler, but it ended up being a nightmare because of the distributed nature of the code and embedded html. I’m now setting up the sidebar in a template and showing where you are using CSS. Much simpler. I do run the risk of having to redo each page by hand if I can’t use the dreamweaver templates later, but I’m not adding content to the site the way I used to before, so I’m not too worried.

I did think about switching to a database-driven website design, like I did for Unit Circle Mailorder. There were some limitations that I’m now encountering with that approach that makes me very cautious about using it again. I’m very conscious that people are linking into my site. I encourage it mightily. The problem is that I can’t go changing my URLs around willy-nilly. I have that problem with the mailorder pages now. They are all ASP pages with parameters. I’ve got to support those urls forever. So if I switch to a linux host, I’m going to have to fake those URLs. My site isn’t big enough to warrant its own servers, so I can’t do any tricks around faking directory paths being intercepted at the web server or whatever. Doing a SQL-driven site would make doing a redesign dead-simple though, so it is in the back of my head…

My New Year’s wish…

What I hope for the new year…

I think that 2005 was the year that the Republican’s chickens came home to roost. I hope that 2006 will mark the end of the American people’s patience with graft, corruption, hubris and lies. I hope to see a new democratically-elected congress in November. I hope to see Tom DeLay and Bill Frist in jail. I hope to see George Bush on permanent vacation minus the American people footing his paycheck (I want him impeached!)

However, more than likely, GWB will allow a terrorist attack or will make some claims to something or other to scare the crap out of the American people and we’ll just get more of the same: taxing the poor, giving handouts to the rich, and hastening the end of the once-great American dream.

The end of civil liberties

The president has declared that the “War On Terror” is a real war, and that in order to fight this war, he needs extraordinary powers to protect us. This rationale has been used before to validate the erosion of Civil Liberties. It has been used in places like Soviet Russia during the cold war, Italy during World War 2, Germany under the rule of the Nazis. Just as in other wars used to justify the ending of people’s rights, this war will never end. You cannot win a war on terror just like you can’t win a war on gravity. Terrorism has existed for more than 2000 years. George Bush can’t defeat it, but by using it as an excuse, he can do whatever he wants for as long as he wants including monitoring his own citizens phone calls and internet usage and targeting American citizens who are members of the Muslim religion. His claim that he is only monitoring international traffic has already been proved false. The NSA is monitoring millions of Americans with no existing or possible ties to the terrorists. They have resumed their data-mining operations that were originally shut down when they were brought to light. Bush has restarted this with no congressional approval or oversight. Indeed, this “War on Terror” is not a war. Only congress has the right to declare war, but the administration is ignoring that check on its power as well.

US Mosques checked for radiation (BBC)
Muslims angered by FBI radiation checks at mosques (Seattle Times)
Spy Agency Mined Vast Data Trove, Officials Report (New York Times)
Seattle Times editorial

Oh, and before I forget

Happy Chanukah (don’t know if I’ll be on-line tomorrow)! And to all my Christian friends, Merry Christmas! And if anyone reading this celebrates Kwanzah, Happy Kwanzah!

And to Bill O’Reilly and Pat Robertson, Happy Holidays and bite me Jackasses!

CSS-based web design vs. table-based web design

a little experiment gave me pause

As I mentioned over on my Unit Circle Blog , I’m finally redesigning the Unit Circle Rekkids site. It must be at least 4-5 years since I last redid its look and I think it’s held together pretty good over that time, but it is definitely starting to look dated. I’m definitely a curmudgeon when it comes to web design on my own sites. Up until that last redesign, I avoided using tables in my sites because they didn’t always look good on Web TV or Lynx. Now for this time I’ve been thinking that it might be time to switch from a table-based design to a CSS-based one. (I was using CSS before, but in the simplest way to standardize formatting across many pages) The arguments are compelling: keeping data and presentation separate; ease of updating the look; etc… Also I’ve seen some pretty compelling sites that are done this way. I don’t have a book yet, so I’m just using Dreamweaver 8’s CSS features and using internet resources to figure it out. It isn’t too bad, but after putting together a simple design and testing it out in a few browsers I realized that the CSS implementations are different enough that trying to do this now is going to be an exercise in pain. I’m going back to my table-based layouts with maybe a bit more CSS formatting for this go-around, I think. Once the site is up, I will post my CSS and table based prototypes somewhere and link to them here.

I think that some of the CSS sites I’ve seen are a little to pretentious about it. I don’t think that CSS was originally meant to be the end-all be-all layout system for a website in the same way that tables weren’t either. People took the capabilities of these simple ideas and extended them into doing things that they were never originally meant to be used for. CSS files were supposed to be shared across groups of pages, creating more of template-like approach for similar pages. Tables were meant to help lay out tabular data. The war against table-based design seems a little unnecessary to me, especially since CSS consistency across browsers is still be pretty weak. My table based designs look awesome on IE4, how about your CSS ones? Now, I’m not arguing for table-based design here. I’m up for using whatever tools work well and make my life simpler. I’m going to be getting a CSS book or two for Chanukah maybe and I’ll see if I was just going about it wrong. What I am against is CSS proponents pretending that their use of CSS is more than hacking in the same way that tables were hacked.

anyway, once more into the breach.