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Hostmonster hosting problems; downtime fun!

Posted by james on April 8, 2007

A while back I was up for renewal at my much loved older host (<a href="http://www.e-rice.net/">e-rice</a>, cheap and can't beat the service). I really loved their service; on average a few hours turnaround for email support, most issues fixed right away. They had some downtime, and a pretty firm no-upgrade rule (which is why I left... needed newer versions of PHP), but overall I still really like them. If you're just starting out, really look at those guys.

So I decided to upgrade to a bigger host. I ended up deciding on one of those too-good-to-be-true overseller hosts, <a href="http://www.hostmonster.com/">Hostmonster</a>. They offer ridiculous amounts of space (200gigs??) and lots of features (Ruby on Rails, in case I want to play with it... not many others had it). I knew it was a risk, but I decided to try anyway. They seemed really quick on service, offering phone, IM, and email support. It's been going good until the last month. I've had about a week of downtime, and I've had to contact tech support 4 times. The first time I was told that there was regular maintenance going on and that I should check back. "Can I get an email back when it's done?" "No." "Is there a way to get emailed when this is supposed to happen?" "You should have already gotten an email." Hmm .... So a few days later when my site is still down, I IM them again. I spend 20 minutes waiting for the guy to figure out the problem, and then give up. Next day, I contact them and they say it must be my site, my code. Yeah, right. I convince them to take another look, and they then escalate my problem to "level 2" support. Finally, I find out what was going on. They tried to upgrade the server, botched it up, then tried to downgrade back to what it was out. And botched that too. So now the site is back up, although they did say that they're still working on the server. I don't know if that is true.

What gets me is that they have a 99.9% uptime guarantee. That works out to 8.5 hours a year of downtime. 4 days (at a minimum!) of downtime is 11 times the "guaranteed" downtime. So now I wonder, how do I invoke that guarantee? How will I be compensated? And more to the point, how can I ensure that this wont be a regular occurrence?

If this does happen again, I'll most likely switch to my number 2 choice; <a href="http://www.godaddy.com/">GoDaddy</a>. They offer less space and features, but still a lot for the same price as Hostmonster, and I have more belief that they can actually support the numbers they claim (instead ofHostmonster's obvious overselling). I have my domain with GoDaddy which has worked out well (I used to register through <a href="http://www.registerfly.com/">RegisterFly</a> , which if you've ready anything lately would be a bad place to still do business with...). And now they have a few more features that seem to make it more worthwhile. The only bad thing would be that Hostmonster has near unlimited email size, while almost all other hosts have a 10mb limit. I really don't understand why they can't offer a bit more, especially in this age of big attachments. But with most things flowing through GMail (yes, I'm slowly becoming more of a fan), I suppose it doesn't matter.

We'll see where things go. But score: E-Rice 1, Hostmonster 0, GoDaddy TBD.


Posted by james on March 12, 2007

I've uploaded some of the little programs I made to help myself, check out the new "Software" link on the left. Take a look, most of them are very specific gui-less programs, but you may find something useful. If you have a suggestion, either comment here or email them to me.

What laptop should you buy?

Posted by james on March 7, 2007

People keep asking me which laptop they should buy. Usually it's because their current laptop just turned into a smoldering pile of burnt plastic and oh-so-priceless digital photos now lost forever. I used to hate this question, because I knew deep down it didn't matter. Most laptops are made by the big manufacturers in Taiwan (which you've never heard of) and then rebranded as a Dell, Compaq, Gateway. So then it came down to the support provided by the company behind the badge, but now that isn't worth much either. The companies that used to be ranked #1 are now the worst-offenders as far as support goes, usually due to read-from-the-list “technical support" (in the way that the instructions for my toaster are “technical support"), and language barriers (to put it nicely).

But now that's all changed. Lots of companies are horrible and I still recommend staying away from some of the more popular ones. Dell is one of the worst in my books. They're still a bit pricey, though you can find decent deals (there's a different one happening just about every week), their hardware is some of the worst I've seen as far as reliability (known motherboard shorts that they simply replace but don't fix, harddrives crashing repeatedly) and their support is nothing short of moronic. I've called in with specific questions about my laptop (why does it turn on by itself and overheat till it burns stuff?) and gotten answers like... have you tried rebooting? What version of windows are you using? I actually was short with the person on the phone, and would not try their “suggestions".

Compaq and HP have the bargain bin, and their laptops seem cheap, good “value" (ie. lots on the paper for the price), and have fancy features. But their reliability seems to be pretty poor, don't know about their support. Toshiba seems middling... a bit more pricey, a bit more reliable, but I have seen quite a few of them turn to toast as well.

The bottom line is here: buy a Mac. You don't even have to run Mac OS X if you're paranoid and averse to change... just go get <a href="http://www.apple.com/macosx/bootcamp/">Bootcamp</a> which turns your Mac computer into a bona fide Windows computer (have to buy Windows separate), or get <a href="http://www.parallels.com/en/products/workstation/mac/">Parallels</a> and run Windows and OS X side-by-side. Yes, it really does work (imagine pressing a button, having your OS X slide to the left while Windows slides in from the right... and keep on working. It's that slick).

Check out the <a href="http://store.apple.com/1-800-MY-APPLE/WebObjects/AppleStore.woa/6104003/wo/UUo8YYHBhAlw2ZHbJEKDl7NEUSw/">MacBook refurbs</a>. They're good-as-new (everything replaced by Apple) and quite a bit cheaper. This is probably what I will do personally when I get a new laptop.

If you really don't want to get a MacBook (so slick... built in camera! Yuppie-friendly design!) then get a <a href="http://shop.lenovo.com/SEUILibrary/controller/catalog.workflow:category.details?current-catalog-id=12F0696583E04D86B9B79B0FEC01C087&current-category-id=19C791A03AF24034A0011B825513BCED">Thinkpad</a>. It's no longer IBM, it's Lenovo (Taiwanese manufacturer, I think) but they still have a high reputation. They're ranked #2 (after Apple) for reliability and support, and it's a bit of distance between the top two and the rest of the pack. The IBM's are business machines; no card readers, no MP3 players that activate when you bump it in your backpack, no built-in cameras (boo). Their utilitarian, thin, well-built, and are just decent. If I don't get an Apple, I will get a Thinkpad. I had a T40 for a while at work, and I'll probably go with the T60.

You'll look at these, then look at the $400 Compaq in the local CompUSA ad. It's very tempting, sure. But not many people buy the bargain-basement cars that are under $10k; most people look for the most “reliable" economical car. These laptops are a bit more expensive than the competitors, but they'll last. Lately the average lifespan for a laptop has been about 2-3 years that I've seen. Sometimes less. At this point people give up and just think that it's time for an upgrade. It may be, but it should be a choice of “I want something newer", not “I want something less burnt and melted-plasticky".

Some very interesting reading:
<a href="http://www.roughlydrafted.com/RD/Home/78CDDBA5-60D3-4AA7-8C24-3375B070A5DD.html">Study on using MacBooks</a> as Windows-only laptops in a business environment.
<a href="http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1895,2006499,00.asp">PC Magazine's Readers' Choice: Notebooks Survey</a> - shows Apple on top, followed by IBM/Lenovo. Ignore #3, they're evil.

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