Web Hosting Research

For a variety of reasons, I’ve decided it’s time to find a web host and create my own site. I’ve been bookmarking pages on web hosting providers for a few years and decided it was time go forward.

So, if anyone else is interested, here are some annotated links.

Invoke the Lazy Web

Absolutely nothing wrong with asking the hive mind first. The following links from LifeHacker and Ask Metafilter contain plenty of links, advice, and pointers to plenty of sites you can investigate.

Good webhost? | Ask MetaFilter

Ask Lifehacker Readers: Web hosting provider?

For & Against

A piece of advice I picked up from one site was to Google a hosting provider using the phrase “[provider] sucks” and see what you get back. Using this phrase, DreamHost returns a ton of results, as does GoDaddy, but maybe because they have tons of users? You decide. DreamHost also has its partisans and other review sites.

My del.icio.us links include a few other praises and pans. You can go to review sites, but I found them of little value.

What I Did

I collected up a bunch of names, set the kitchen timer for 1 hour, and surfed around really quick, just trying to catch the vibe of these places. My feeling is that web hosting is now a pretty commodity service, and until you’ve actually gone through the process, you won’t know how the support or uptime actually is. It’s also pretty clear that the provider holds all the cards–they can cancel your service at any time, they tend to be unresponsive when it’s their mistake, and the customer is usually left to clean up the mess. So, go in with your eyes open.

I want to use a WordPress blog, which seems to be included in a script package called Fantastico, so that knocked out a few local contenders.

I looked for a while at DreamHost, since it was recommended to me by a classmate. But I was uneasy with reports of downtime, so rejected them. They certainly offer an attractive package, though.

I narrowed it to three: AN Hosting, A2 Hosting, and InMotion Hosting. These names popped up because I noticed that some of the sites I admire and visit frequently trumpet their wares.

When it came down to making the final decision, they were all pretty similar in their deals and prices. So I basically made a contrarian decision and went with the one that didn’t start with “A.” A silly decision-making heuristic, but there you go. I opted for a year’s contract, so that I can switch to another provider next year if I don’t like their service.

Google Reader

Mike Shea praises Google Reader and then realizes that maybe absorbing so much ephemera of the moment may not be a good thing.

I’ve long used Merlin Mann’s “Probations folder” idea for news feeds, as I find I also like to scarf up new feeds like candy as I surf, only to have a bellyache later in the week when I see 157 new items lying in wait. As a result, I keep my active daily feeds down to an arbitrary number, between 25 and 30. Some of them, like LifeHacker and Marginal Revolution, can drown me in posts in a single day. Others, like PostSecret, only post once a week, so I don’t consider them active. I like to keep the number of inputs to a controllable number; it’s rather like keeping only as many books as you can stuff into a bookcase. To make room for new books, I either toss out old ones or consider whether this new one is really worth keeping.

Like Mike, I also enjoy Google Reader’s “Share” feature, as a quick and dirty way for me to go back to things I want to remember. (Bloglines had the same feature, but it must have been well hidden, as few people used it or referred to it.)

And on a related note: I’ve often thought that, when I become the benevolent dictator of the world, I would remove time limits on news broadcasts. They would last as long as they need to last, be it 10 minutes or 4 hours, depending on how news-busy the day was. Likewise, newspapers would have a weekend edition and maybe 2 or 3 editions during the week, if there was enough news of worth to warrant it. I think the pressure of a daily product that MUST BE PRODUCED leads to poor news judgments being made on the part of editors and publishers and broadcasters. And it leads to the problem Mike Shea touches on: maybe there’s too much news to absorb? How can our 10,000-year-old brains and emotional systems process and cope with all the ideas and feelings this morass of news induces?

I think having a few days off from the news (a news fast, as some call it, or even a Google Reader fast) gives our brains time to sort and judge and evaluate. Otherwise, we’re stunned into a submissive state that only wants more more more input to keep our neural networks tingling and excited, when perhaps we need more more more time to mull, consider, and ponder.

The Sociology of Suicide Notes

From the newsletter that accompanies BBC4 Radio’s Thinking Allowed program, hosted by the ebullient Laurie Taylor:

Whenever the subject of suicide or attempted suicide comes up in conversation I can be relied upon to describe a piece of research on suicide notes that was published some years ago (even though I’ve tried, I can’t find the exact reference any more).

What the researcher had done was collect a large selection of suicide notes written by two classes of people: those who had successfully ended their own life and those who had failed for one reason or another to kill themselves (attempted suicides).

He then submitted these two sets of notes to a computer analysis in the hope that this might throw up some interesting differences in style or subject matter.

As I remember he found clear evidence that the notes written by the ‘attempted suicides’, by people who had not taken quite enough pills, or not sealed the door sufficiently well to prevent noxious gases or fumes escaping, were heavily philosophical in tone. The writers spoke at length of life no longer being worth living, of the meaningless of existence, of the impossibility of optimism.

These were in stark contrast to the suicide notes written by those who had succeeded in killing themselves. These notes tended to be much shorter and much more practical than those provided by attempted suicides. One for example simply said “You’ll find the car keys on top of the sideboard and the will in the top desk drawer.”

There are thousands of other research papers on the subject of suicide. Indeed, it could be argued that sociology first asserted itself as a distinctive subject back in 1897 when Emile Durkheim first tried to formulate a structural and cultural account of its incidence which did not rely upon any psychological understanding of individual desires and motives.

The Hands of an Artist

The Illustration Art blog has two wonderful posts on the great Mort Drucker. This one focuses on how Drucker drew hands, and this one focuses on how he drew and differentiated hair. Tiny tiny things that you don’t notice very much as a casual reader of Mad parodies, but take them away, and the experience lessens.

Artists in Love

David Apatoff has a lovely, heartbreaking post on his Illustration Art blog about a Polish student imprisoned by the Nazis in Auschwitz, how he fell in love with a fellow prisoner, and what became of them. I don’t know where he got the story, but thank the gods that the story still exists.

"My Documents" set as read-only???

I hope I’ve just solved a nasty nasty problem that had me furious at my computer, myself, my life, and my prospects.

I’m working on a new hard drive with a fresh install of Windows XP and have been slowly rebuilding my apps and directories since January.

Recently, while working on a critical document for class, and after several hours of labor, Word absolutely refused to save the file to my hard drive. Had I been thinking, I might have tried saving the file to my second drive or my external drive. But you know how it is. Late at night, tired, and panic tends to cut out my higher self-management skills. It seemed as if the hard drive had suddenly become read-only but that was impossible. It seemed to be working fine otherwise. And it only seemed to happen after I’d been working on a document for about 20 minutes or so. Word otherwise behaved typically (I always avoid the use of the word “normal” with Word.)

Afterward, I ran the XP disk doctor and defrag, and even reinstalled Office 2000. I noticed that Word acted snappier than before. Surely, Shirley, my problems were o’er.

But just a few minutes ago, this infuriating behavior happened again. I printed out the document this time, so I could at least rebuild the document later. And then, because Google is your friend, I searched on “microsoft word not saving my documents!”.

Scanning the results led me to this IBM page from 2004 where we discover that

In Windows XP, Microsoft sets the My Documents folder as read-only…Windows XP no longer cares about the “read” state of directories, only of files. As far as the XP operating system is concerned, security permissions replaced the “read-only” folder attribute.
WTF?? I checked the properties for My Documents, and sure enough, its read-only attribute was set. I turned it off for My Documents and its subdirectories. So I’m now hoping against hope that I’ve seen the last of this problem.

Godamighty, but can Winterson write!

The British novelist Jeanette Winterson has maintained a web presence for many years. (She even went to court to protect other writers’ privileges when some wanker registered jeanettewinterson.com and refused to release it to her. She won her suit and, of course, no one thanked her for her efforts.)

Every month, she posts her latest journalism to the site, a general update column, and a poem she’s read that demands to be shared.

She’s one of Britain’s great culture warriors and, my god, does her passion for art and culture and her disappointment and hatred of the politicians and vulgarians (on both sides of the pond) come through clearly in this month’s selection of writings.

Jeanette Winterson - Journalism - The Times : Books - The Fight For Culture
“It is important to say this, because we are often fed the line that poetry and story-telling are contrived or artificial, and certainly that they are entertainment or luxury goods – in any case, stuff we don’t need. We need playstations and ready-meals of course, and cheap flights to places we don’t want to go, and two cars per family, but art? Now that’s really self-indulgent.”

Jeanette Winterson - Journalism - The Times : Books - The British Library
“I can (just) hear the arguments that not everyone wants opera or experimental theatre, (myself, I do not want war, but I still have to pay for it), but I cannot accept any arguments that jeopardise a prime cultural resource that is in trust for the nation and must be passed on to future generations.”

Jeanette Winterson - Column - March
“What any creative person needs – all they need – is not praise or blame, but an active and grown-up engagement with the process of making things. That process is necessarily experimental, either in part or in the whole, and sometimes things work well, and sometimes less well. Sometimes things work for a big audience, sometimes only for a few. That’s how it is, and I wish, really wish, that we had a mature culture, interested in creativity, that could understand that. “