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Notices for 9th December 2006 to 5th November 2006


Saturday, 9th December 2006

I have no clue why Mistress Melanie chose ICDSoft as her hosting company, but I chose them on her recommendation in January 2003 and have been with them ever since. Having encountered the likes of Dreamhost and Nearly Free Speech, I no longer feel I can recommend them as far as value for money goes and I have no idea how they compare otherwise, but I’ve realised there can be a lot worse. Steve of WetInRed whose site I am renovating, is with Globat, who are driving me insane. They’re the hosting company equivalent of the stark paranoia that Chuck Shotton displayed developing the MacHTTP Web server: features are nothing but security holes.

Globat use Apache. They don’t allow the use of the Options directive even to remove directory indexing with Options -Indexes which would make the site more secure, although IndexIgnore * is acceptable. The use of AddType to add new MIME types is also forbidden, despite its substantial canonicity and the drawbacks of mis-assigned types (don’t get me started on the insanity of types in MacHTTP). ErrorDocument is not allowed, so patching the 404 page into the site template is not possible; nor can Steve check up on membership abuse with a custom 401 script. The changes involved a lot of URLs becoming obsolete, but Redirect* directives are also forbidden. Rewrite* directives are, oddly, permitted, which seems exceedingly strange given its immense power when something as trivial as AddType is banned. This is all under the guise of “security” but they won’t give any reasons and tend to just ignore my mails now.

And their control panel is dire.

For any disagreements I have had with ICD, and their really flaky Web mail program, they respect me as an adult and don’t nanny me by declaring everything I try to do as a security hole. If I want to reconfigure Apache to my heart’s content, that is fine by them. I have a case sensitivity fixer and 404 reporter inside a custom error handler page. My directory listings and error pages are customised to match my site style and use the standard navigation. Since I serve some less-common file types from my site (module music, Photoshop files, etc) I’ve set all the appropriate MIME types for them, which helps certain browsers like iCab and Firefox 1.5 cope better with them. (Firefox 2.0 appears to fix the problem of not obeying download settings when the extension and MIME type conflict).

For this, I am truly grateful: my site is mine to command and it shows. Steve is hoping to be done with Globat whenever he can find a suitable replacement host. I cannot recommend ICD because he has substantial bandwidth and storage requirements that ICD are not geared up for, else I would recommend them: everything that I find annoying about Globat, ICD get right. And while all support staff are shifty by nature, Globat’s are hopeless. Simple bug reports like phpMyAdmin 2.5 (!) not reading any MySQL character sets take days to get back a “I have no clue what you just said” level of reply, whereas ICD get back to me far faster than they claim is their intended minimum time.

I no longer have the reply and thus his name, but they do have one decent soul who helped me track down a bug in my code that was causing serious problems. The scary thing is, though, you can’t threaten them; they’re content to have you leave instead of trying to provide a better service or look into any complaints. The most stunning part is that one of them was suggesting that the Billing department might – but no guarantees, since he was admittedly making this up – offer Steve some free goodies as compensation for lousy support and excessive security restrictions. Why not just go get a big lump of wood and clout someone into giving some proper answers into why we can’t have any features, a working control panel, a halfway up-to-date version of any software (they’re still on phpMyAdmin 2.5, MySQL 4 and PHP 4 and I am on versions 2.9, 5 and 5 respectively!) or know what is going on? It would do them a world of good.

Cheers ICD! Here’s to more years of freedom to come.

Wednesday, 8th November 2006

Well, another step along the road to optimising all the images on the site. Some people may be aware of how badly JPEG compression copes with fine detail and with anything bright red in the image. I wrote to Thorsten Lemke, the developer of GraphicConverter, about this problem and he told me that the answer is simple: switch off subsampling in the JPEG compression options. Subsampling is the process responsible for breaking all your images when you compress them. It does a good job of reducing file size further for most images, but if you need bright red, text at small point sizes or other fine details, it is beneficial to switch this feature off.

I don’t know how many programs offer this as an option. GraphicConverter on the Macintosh does, as does IrfanView for Windows (I just checked). But it is definitely worthwhile. Switching off subsampling allows you to bring the compression quality back down to a sane level with tricky images, as you don’t have to ramp the quality up to 100% in a vain effort to preserve red areas and fine detail: it is never lost in the first place. The ThinkNerd images directory was 1.2 MB before this process, and just under 1 MB afterwards, a saving of over 200 kB in total. I saved nearly another 100 kB hand-optimising a few more images. The file size did increase slightly though as a result of adding one more t-shirt :)

Sunday, 5th November 2006

Okay, this is going to be the mother of all notices entries. In the past, theTED posted some of the strange search terms by which their site was found, including “German Sheitze Porn”, and, “hello kitty toaster”, which is not as scary as Hello Cthulhu.

Looking at this month’s list of search terms that led people to my own site, I think I have them beat. With “child porn”.

Yep. And three more instances of it last month. What the hell? Child porn on my site? Back in 2003 I was offered a chance to look and feel 20 years younger; had I gone for it, I’d be nearly six now, but unless you get off on photos of Mr Spock as a kid then I can but do my best Iraqi Information Minister impersonation at this point.

Allegedly there are also hot teen girls on my site. Allegedly. That could have been argued back at the time I had my old photos page up (skylar was still teenage at the time). But otherwise, I don’t see any. There’s a photo of Anna Venishnick but she’s too old to qualify. But no, not hot teen girls, just a scabby computer nerd.

In this context, even a search term like “doggy cursors” seems quite filthy! Of course, I get plenty of total nonsense, too, like (and these are all from last month):

There are plenty of interesting terms too, though, including “watford electronics eprom” (do they want a blower, or a software ROM image?), “the first computer”, and “resume hints and tips” (oops – they wanted résumé tips, not tips on resuming downloads in iCab). Someone was looking for “another word for gold digger”.

Someone found my site through searching for “micro user ram and buffer”. Many searches seem to be where some nefarious bot has collected phrases from a site and used them to seed further searches, but that exact phrase is not on my site. It would warm my heart if by scanning in that rather amusing story, someone else was able to find a copy of it once again. Lots of the searches I see suggest that something I posted was exactly what someone was looking for. While I get effectively no mail from any visitors, it’s nice to know that my site has been useful to people somehow. That is, after all, why it is here. That, and to amuse and disturb you all.

And of course, some searches are just plain daft:

I’ll leave you with a sad tale of someone trying very hard to find QBasic Gorillas:

gorilla program -monkey -zoo -film -endangered -conservation