• Newsletter Issue #391

    May 28th, 2007


    Up till very recently, I regarded Google as one of the good guys. The more I look into their situation, however, I find there are a few disquieting indications that they are taking their dominance of the search industry a little too seriously. This leads me to this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we presented eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer. During the first part of our session with Larry, he brought us up to date on that scandal involving, RegisterFly, a failed Internet domain registrar.

    Then he dropped the other shoe, with a discussion of how a partnership with Google, Dell and perhaps other PC makers is evidently working against the interests of the consumer.

    In another segment, Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus gave his forceful opinions on that unfortunate attempt to force Internet broadcasters to pay sharply higher royalty fees. He also talked about the coolest gear for your iPod.

    Microsoft’s Amanda Lefebvre was on hand to talk about the new translation software to allow Word for the Mac to read files created in Word 2007 for Windows, and Sam Sellers, author of “Take Control of of Booking a Cheap Airline Ticket,” explained how you can save money and enjoy your next flight.

    On this week’s episode of The Paracast, Dennis Balthaser, known as the “Truth Seeker at Roswell,” provides an another update on the forthcoming 60th anniversary of the UFO incident at Roswell and whether it’s possible to discover any additional information on this legendary case.

    You’ll also meet Mark Sceurman and Mark Moran, publishers of Weird N.J., who travel the back roads of the Garden State in search of local unwritten history and modern folklore.

    When it comes to one subject we talk about often on The Paracast, I have to wonder whether we’ll ever get to the bottom of the mystery of the crash at Roswell, New Mexico. Now that we’re approaching the 60th anniversary of that episode, doing up-to-date research is becoming harder and harder, since very few of the folks who witnessed the affair are still around to talk about it.

    Worse, memories fade, and what once seemed clear and logical has been colored by years and years of life experiences. It’s also possible that all the speculation, claims and counterclaims over the years have polluted the dwindling pool of witnesses.

    Despite the obstacles, I’d like to believe an answer will be forthcoming one of these days. Regardless of where the facts take us, we’ll continue to explore this and other aspects of the UFO enigma on The Paracast.


    For Mac users, the good old days weren’t always so good. You’d go into a store to find some software, and be told there were very few titles for Mac users, or you’d find a few dusty boxes in the rear, in some out-of-the shelf. Even if you managed to locate something that appealed to you, it was most likely a long-outdated version.

    Indeed, some suggest that Apple’s missteps in those years left the platform eternally doomed to niche status. Macs were expensive toys for the well-heeled, although they were cherished by graphic artists and musicians. Clearly they knew something the rest of the personal computing world didn’t.

    I was told over and over again that real computers required mastering command lines and understanding rudimentary programming at the very last. And no wonder, because sometimes doing simple things required extraordinary efforts.

    Take the time a colleague at work wanted to exchange messages with me via a bulletin board system. I had the software up and running on my Mac at home in just a few minutes. But each time I asked him if he was ready, he talked about having to create a “shell” to run a telecommunications session.

    It turns out that he never actually got his PC note-book to operate properly, and, last I heard, he sold it to some other victim. He did not, however, ever admit to switching to the Mac, and I lost touch with him a few years later.

    By the mid-1990s, I bet some of you felt that the Mac would join the list of failed platforms before long. Apple’s best days were behind it now, and it might just be a good idea to see if Windows was really as bad as you thought it was.

    No doubt some of you really did retire your Macs, feeling it was time to join the “real” world. Might as well get with the program.

    During this period, I actually did write a few books covering Windows software, but they were all done on my Macs, using PC emulators. In those days, you had something called SoftWindows, which was ultimately displaced by Virtual PC. But SoftWindows always seemed to be a snappier application, even if you felt you were trudging through quicksand trying to navigate through that environment.

    Despite the obstacles, however, there was a core set of Mac users who’d never abandon ship until the very end, and maybe not even then. No doubt that sustained the platform, and when Apple had the good sense to acquire NeXT, it created the climate for Steve Jobs to regain authority and right the sinking ship.

    Even then, I bet most of you expected that, while Apple would surely survive, it would never really gain much ascendancy in the marketplace. Then came the iPod and the rest is history.

    The developments have come thick and fast, and even the Wall Street naysayers are no doubt surprised how it’s all turnd out.

    Just the other day, for example, I read a survey indicating that retail sales of Mac note-books had approached 10% of the U.S. market. That does not, however, include online sales from Dell or even from Apple’s own Web-based ordering center. But the trend is obvious.

    Indeed, most surveys I know about indicate that the sales growth of Macs are outpacing that of PCs. Maybe Michael Dell had the right idea when he admitted to a tech pundit that he’d be delighted to offer Mac OS X in his computers if Apple would license it to him. Fat chance!

    Just the other day, my son, Grayson, who is presently a paid intern at The Arizona Republic, sent me a text message to my cell phone that he’d begun to see some Mac desktops at the office. On several TV shows, I’ve heard quips, in response to failures of a PC, that they should have gotten Macs instead.

    More and more tech magazines are containing serious articles from IT experts suggesting that businesses should seriously consider adding Macs to their computing arsenal. Or, perhaps, switching completely to Macs.

    Are we living in an alternate universe perhaps?

    I suppose I should welcome the turn of events. It’ll mean a larger selection of software for Macs, and I won’t have to listen to the snide remarks of Windows users who once thought my decision about computing platforms was just plain silly.

    Now I can say I told them so. Then again, being different has its charms. If the Mac ever becomes the majority platform, I’ll miss that. Really.


    I suppose most of you have probably heard that your Mac has a built-in Apache Web server, so you can run your own personal site right out of the box. While that’s just fine for a tiny blog, as soon as you get any reasonable amount of traffic at all, you’ll run into problems. Not just bandwidth — the ability to handle lots of connections at the same time — but your ISP will probably protest, since they usually have something in their Terms of Service prohibiting use of a Web server with a personal account.

    Now many ISPs offer free Web space, where you can put up your site and let them worry about handling the details. Apple’s .Mac offers a similar feature. The first serious limitation, though, is the Internet address, which can become confusing and convoluted, and if you want something akin to genesteinberg.com, you have to register an Internet domain and then find someone to host it for you. And even if you can put up with the confusing URL, if you start to receive lots and lots of traffic, you may find yourself running afoul of their bandwidth restrictions.

    Unfortunately, the Web hosting business is big, sprawling, and totally confusing. There are so many contradictory claims and offers available that it’s near-impossible to figure out where to go and what features and pricing plans to look for.

    I don’t pretend to be able to sort everything out here, but I’ll try to give you a few thoughts on the type of hosting available.

    • Free Hosting: Well, this may be OK for a small, personal site that only your friends and family will visit, but if you want the custom address, decent capacity and all, you’ll want to get a paid plan.
    • Shared Hosting: As the name implies, shared means that your site is stored with lots of others on a single computer. This is all right for light traffic, and it can be awfully cheap. I’ve seen plans available for less than $4.00 per month. Things can go awry, though, if the host stuffs too many sites onto a single server. There is only so much capacity that can be handled efficiently, and too much traffic at one time means that everyone suffers with slow loading times, timing out and all the rest. A good host will manage capacity properly, and spread the load. At the same time, if a single site suddenly gets featured on a social networking site such as Digg, everyone else pays the price. Up till recently, we used shared hosting, but I realized it was time to graduate to the next level.
    • VPS Hosting: Short for Virtual Private Server, VPS systems use software to segment a server into discrete parts, which are then rented out to customers. In effect, it’s like having a tiny Web server to call your own, where you have almost full control over how it’s used. This is the way all our sites are hosted now. At its best, you get performance that’s essentially identical to a dedicated server, at a fraction of the cost. Many business sites can exist just fine in this situation.
    • Dedicated Server: Imagine having a full-blown Web server to call your own? In such a setup, your Web host will connect these servers to high-bandwidth network pipes to deliver extremely speedy performance. There are lots and lots of options that range from less than $100 a month to over $500 and then some. It all depends on your personal needs, expected traffic and so on and so forth. Here a hosting service with a knowledgeable sales staff can guide you to the correct decision.
    • Colocation: The setup is identical to a dedicated server, except you buy or lease your own computer and have it stored at a network data center, where it is connected to an Internet backbone. In effect, you pay a monthly rental fee to store your server, and, depending on the company handling this service, they will also manage your computer on site in case something goes wrong. It’s better paying a little extra not to be awakened at 3:00 AM if the server crashes and you have to rush off to the data center (assuming it’s even in your city) to fix things up.
    • Operating Systems: You can choose from Windows, various flavors of Linux and even Macs for Web hosting. Naturally I have concerns about Windows security. I’d recommend Macs, except that there aren’t too many hosting services that offer this option and thus it tends to be more expensive than the first two options. With a rich array of open source software and proven industrial-strength reliability, Linux is probably the best and most affordable alternative.

    This is, of course, just a very simplified version of the sort of Web hosting options available to you. Some companies will use special network systems and software to spread the load over a number of computers, a sort of cluster setup, claiming it provides more reliable performance and redundancy in case something goes wrong.

    To make matters worse, there is a lot of confusing chatter online as to the type of services offered. One of the silliest issues involves so-called “overselling,” in which a Web host offers tons and tons of storage and bandwidth — say 200GB of the former, and two terabytes of the latter — for an insanely low price that is far less than it really costs to provide that level of service.

    However, overselling is not the villain it’s claimed to be. You see, overselling is common in the service industry. Your wireless provider, city bus company, electric company and cable ISP do it too, and even your bank. Their business models are based on the maximum expected capacity their systems have to handle, not the maximum levels promised. Imagine what would happen if every depositor at a bank demanded all their money at once!

    With a Web host, the responsible companies know full well that only a small fraction of their users will ever approach the stated limits, and if they manage their systems well, it shouldn’t be a problem. Forget the overselling nonsense, and look for fast, reliable performance and great customer support.

    I can’t tell you what service is best for your needs. I’ve gone through several over the years. Yahoo, for example, had mediocre performance and worse customer service. Go Daddy tried to hijack my most popular domain, so I have little to say that’s good about them, except that they are cheap. But they also try to upsell you with lots of options and higher-end plans with which to pad your monthly bill.

    My experience with our former provider, DreamHost — a large, laid-back company based near Los Angeles — was pretty good overall. They have great customer service, but an occasionally flaky network that can cause slowdowns and outages from time to time. It worked out all right for our needs for a while, but I ran into a moral dilemma when I learned that DreamHost, which prides itself on allowing any site that doesn’t engage in illegal activity to use its services, hosted a site run by the American Nazi Party. Since I’m Jewish and my dear friend David Biedny, my co-host for The Paracast, is the son of a Holocaust survivor, there was only one correct decision to make. And that was to leave.

    Besides, it was time to seek out something that could better handle our growing requirements, which is why, after careful consideration, I selected the VPS service at a small Virginia-based company that’s gotten terrific reviews and prides itself on running a robust, stable network. They also helped me to move the files over, even though DreamHost’s network crapped out that day and made the process take several hours.

    While all these considerations won’t matter for a small site, if you expect your online presence to generate an income, be careful which company you select to host your site. And, of course, good luck. When you find the right provider, you’ll be rewarded with trouble-free service, so you’re free to concentrate on creating content and making a living.


    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis

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    3 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #391”

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