April 24, 2016
As I’m sure you are aware, the April 27th deadline to switch off of Mandrill(or upgrade to a paid Mailchimp + Mandrill account) is approaching quickly. I’ve been using Mandrill for projects for some time now and overall have really liked the service. Its Magento/Mailchmip integration is really cool and painless and for the most part, deliverability has been fairly good.
However, back in February, Mandrill pivoted and announced that they were redoing their system to require all Mandrill accounts to have a paid Mailchimp account going forward. They gave users a rather short notice to either start paying for a Mailchimp and Mandrill account or switch to a different service.
I completely understand needing to charge for a service and would of probably been fine paying a monthly fee to use Mandrill(especially for its Magento integration,) forcing all my clients that are using it into a paid mailchimp account, especially when many use other services like iContact/Constant Contact/etc, didn’t sit right with me.
The Mandrill Pivot
Prior to February, Mandrill was billed as an:
Email delivery API from MailChimp
Mandrill is a reliable, scalable, and secure delivery API for transactional emails from websites and applications. It’s ideal for sending data-driven transactional emails, including targeted e-commerce and personalized one-to-one messages.
And, this is how I used it…as a way of ensuring better email deliverability than you can get using a random hosts sendmail functionality. However, the pivot resulted in the following new description:
Transactional Email for MailChimp
Mandrill is a transactional email API for MailChimp users. It’s reliable, powerful, and ideal for sending data-driven emails, including targeted e-commerce and personalized one-to-one messages.
So, as Mandrill was moving away from their initial use-case, I decided to also move away from it. Of all the people who I have using Mandrill, only one decided to stay with it and we may revisit that this week given how well Mailgun seems to work. In this case, the client actually used Mailchimp w/paid account already, so it wasn’t a big jump to also pay for Mandrill.
Transitioning to Mailgun
I suppose as a glutton for pain, I moved to yet another third-party service, this time choosing Mailgun, which was acquired by Rackspace several years ago. My reasoning for not wanting to roll my own transactional service, use the server’s sendmail tool, or just use SMTP on one of my email servers is mainly due to deliverability and, to a lesser extent, tracking/logging of clicks, opens, messages, etc. Of course, this could backfire if/when Rackspace decides to shut this down, but hopefully they will just eliminate the free version and convert it’s user’s to paid if that happens…not do a complete pivot like Mailchimp.
Overall, the transition has been painless and I actually like the web interface a lot more than Mandrill. It has a sane way to search the logs, SMTP responses and error codes are reported in a better and easier to understand fashion, and setup was easier. It feels like a much more mature web-interface.
Similarly, the PHP api was very easy to get working and I switched out all my Mandrill send mail functions to use Mailgun in no time at all. If anything, it is a bit simpler than Mandrill’s api. A couple of my sites were also using a WordPress SMTP plugin to send wordpress emails and switching those over to Mailgun’s SMTP offering was also painless.
First impressions of the service, website, and api are that it is a much better product than Mandrill. I’ll reiterate my hope that if it ever gets to the point that offering it as a free service doesn’t work out, Mailgun does a sane pivot to paid accounts, I would happily pay at this time.
Mailgun vs Mandrill Deliverability
I have not had any issues yet, although don’t have that much data. I will revisit this post in the coming months once I have been using it for longer and have more data to play with.
I imagine it can not be any worse than Mandrill, which sometimes silently failed, reported mails as sent that were not, and didn’t always properly report SMTP codes.
February 2, 2016
I run Arch on an older Intel Dual Core PC as a media center, which uses a pretty old, but relatively high memory Nvida Card. After upgrading Arch, I ran into a bug with Nvidia’s legacy 304xx driver and the latest kernel, which prevented XFCE/Xorg from properly starting.
The bug, aside from just the obvious no XFCE, was:
modprobe: ERROR: could not insert 'nvidia': Unknown symbol in module, or unknown parameter (see dmesg) dmesg nvidia: Unknown symbol mtrr_del (err 0) nvidia: Unknown symbol mtrr_add (err 0)
After a bit of digging, I came across several bugs on the topic from various distros, including an Arch one bug report, which indicates that the bug was introduced in Nvidia 304.128 driver on Kernel 4.3.
Per the bug, I found the easiest way to fix it was to just enable the Arch LTS Kernel, which uses an older version of the Linux Kernel, at the time of this writing 4.1.16-1, which works a bit better with legacy hardware.
Warning: The below involves changing your grub settings, so use caution, make backups, and as with any time you mess with grub, you should be comfortable booting to alternate media(like a live CD) if something goes wrong.
1) First, install the LTS Kernel, LTS Headers(optional,) and LTS Nvidia Driver. Depending on your hardware, you may need other LTS software like if you run an older Realtek network card.
pacman -S linux-lts linux-lts-headers nvidia-304xx-lts
2) As root, make a backup of your /boot/grub/grub.cfg file
cp /boot/grub/grub.cfg ~/grub.cfg.bac
3) Update /boot/grub/grub.cfg to use the LTS Headers(again you should be comfortable fixing with a Live CD before messing with grub)
In the first grub menuentry section, probably titled ‘Arch Linux,’ find the two lines(which will probably be a bit different depending on your install):
linux /vmlinuz-linux root=UUID=xxx-xxx-xxx-xxx- rw quiet echo 'Loading initial ramdisk ...' initrd /initramfs-linux.img
Add ‘lts’ to both the linux and initrd lines as shown below, so that they read /vmlinuz-linux-lts and /initramfs-linux-lts respectively:
linux /vmlinuz-linux-lts root=UUID=xxx-xxx-xxx-xxx- rw quiet echo 'Loading initial ramdisk ...' initrd /initramfs-linux-lts.img
4) Reboot your system and if all goes well you should now be able to get your display working. If your system doesn’t boot at all, you can revert your grub.cfg to the backup you made. Otherwise, you may need to do a bit more troubleshooting.
January 20, 2016
For the past month or so, I have been using a safety razor and wanted to share my experiences with them. The TLDR is that even though it takes a bit longer than my previous shaving method, I’ve grown to enjoy it and think I am sold on the double edged safety razor.
Trying out a safety razor has been something I have wanted to do for some time now. However, the initial cost of ownership and vast difference from my normal shaving method had always gotten in the way of me jumping in.
For the past ten or so years, I’ve been what you could call a lazy shaver. Rather than getting caught up in the newest Mach XXX $haver from Gillette(whom seems to always be adding one more blade,) I’ve been using 2-blade disposable razors for years. I’ve found that as long as I keep them dry, they last for a long time and when they only cost a few cents, it ends up being a really easy way to go. So, I’d shave in the shower without shaving cream, touch up in the mirror afterwards, and be done in a few minutes. Probably not the best way, nor did I always have an exceptionally clean shave, but it was really easy and in-expensive.
I’ve been reading about the safety razor for a couple years now, possibly just because like Arch Linux, it’s proponents are often quite outspoken, so it is something that has intrigued me for some time.
One of the main things that has been preventing me from jumping in was the initial cost of the shaving kit. By the time you buy a halfway decent razor(unless you get lucky at Goodwill or something,) shaving soap, optional stand, aftershave, and a brush, you are looking at around $40 – $60. For someone who is buying a new Mach-16 blade every week, $40-60 is incredibly cheap, but with the way I use disposable razors, that is at least 20 years of razors.
So, for me the biggest hurdle was a mental one overcoming my the frugal part of my brain. The common argument is that it is actually cheaper than using a regular razor, but this simply isn’t the case for me. Using a safety/double edge razor is actually more expensive and takes longer for me. I’m extremely glad I finally did take the plunge though, as I have grown to enjoy the ritual of the shave. It is sort of like how brewing coffee, reading the news in the morning, or disassembling old hard-drives can be…cathartic.
I’m sure my process needs some work, but I watched a few videos and am doing a three pass shave, following a hot shower. My kit could use a bit of work, as I just went with the standard Merkur 34C that everyone gets, after reading through a few guides/faqs over on /r/wicked_edge. Likely a razor upgrade will be due at some point, but for now this one seems to work well. For now, the short of it is that I enjoy the wet shave and can’t see myself going back to my old lazy-shower shave!
November 30, 2015
If you use an Adblocker, like Ublock or Adblock, and have tried to visit Newegg’s website this weekend, you might not of had much luck. In fact, you might not be able to use their website at all, resulting in more of a Cyber Monday Fail rather than the intended Cyber Monday Sale.
As it stands, visiting Newegg.com redirects you to a static email landing page with a bunch of buttons enticing you to save money and check out their Cyber Monday Deals. Unfortunately, clicking those buttons just open a new window that redirects you back to the landing page, effectively breaking their website.
I discovered the issue when I was looking to buy a motherboard for a client, which according to another site, they had the best deal on right now. When I couldn’t get past the landing page, I hopped on twitter to see if anyone else was unable to get on NewEgg’s website and got a bit of an LOL.
This issue has kept NewEgg’s Twitter employee(s) quite busy today, as they have been tweeting and responding to tweets all day telling people to disable adblock, clear their cookies, use Internet Explorer, and that their web team is working to fix the issue. Some twitter users are also reporting issues in the Android app and on mobile devices, along with still being unable to access the site correctly after clearing cookies and disabling their adblock.
So, this probably hasn’t been a great day for Newegg and I would imagine this probably had a not-insignificant impact on their Cyber Monday sales. Any site that caters to tech users most likely has a higher than average number of users who use an advertisement blocker. So, if your website is completely broken for ad block users, you will probably have a bad time.
I think it also provides a nice lesson for web-developers too…make sure your website still works when someone blocks your tracking pixel :)
Update 12/01/2015 – Newegg’s website is working again. The rather tiny(268 member) subreddit /r/newegg blew up yesterday due to the issue as well. According to a several posters, there where other issues with their website, mainly shopping cart issues, that prevented people from buying things even after disabling adblock.
See below for some of the Twitter Carnage:
So, you couldn’t tell it by Godaddy’s Status Page, but there is currently an email outage for many of their Cpanel users. One of my clients has been down since Monday at around 4PM and from reading Twitter, it looks like people started reporting similar issues between 10/17 or 10/18.
Talking with Godaddy was not helpful, despite there being a number of similar reports on Twitter, when I initially reported it they said that they were unaware of any issues, but had me do a traceroute for them to help them identify the issue. My client called in several hours later and they told him that they only became aware of the issue before he called in.
It wasn’t clear what the issue was, but emails were being deferred when sent to his address(meaning they were rejected and the sending MTA put them on hold) and logging into webmail to send emails didn’t work, nor did sending via Outlook.
From what I can tell from speaking with them, my client speaking with them, and from reports on Twitter, there is no ETA and they haven’t indicated what the issue is. If you were to look at their status page, you wouldn’t know anything is wrong…however there is definitely an outage.
When the 24 hour mark hit for my client and still no update or fix from Godaddy, I went ahead and switched their email hosting temporarily so that they could get some work done and respond to the emails that have been piling up for the past day. Amusingly this triggered some angst from Godaddy support who in, what my client said was a rude tone, indicated that not only did they not have an ETA, but now he would not be able to tell if his email did start working again. Of course this isn’t true, as sending emails via webmail and SMTP doesn’t work, so all he needs to do to check is login to Godaddy Webmail or try to send an email from Outlook to see that it is still broken.
Update 10/22/2015: Email started working again yesterday evening. Total downtime for my client was around 3 days…over 72 hours. Of course it was obvious when it started working again, he called me within minutes of it coming up as he stopped getting errors in outlook.
When a Status Page isn’t a Status Page
To be fair, or I guess pragmatic, given their size maybe it just isn’t practical to keep their Status page updated every time there is an outage. If it was, there would always be something on there, as just from reading twitter, you will almost always see someone complaining of an issue with their website/domain/email. Even if only a small fraction of those are actually Godaddy’s fault, it is probably safe to say that there are at least weekly Godaddy Service Outages that impact a good number of their customers. This just wouldn’t be a good use of time for their employees…surely this Is Par for the Course with Web Companies? /S
And to be even fairer, they do change things from time to time. From browsing the Way Back Machine, they crawled the page 103 times in 2015 thus far and I was able to find two outage reports…well three if you count the two that were on the same day. So, while this page does change from time to time, obviously not every outage warrants an update.
For example on September 7, 2015, there was the below:
Hosting Control Center September 7, 2015 at 11:06 AM
Some customers are unable to login to CPanel, and some CPanel sites are down or running slowly. We are working to correct this issue as quickly as possible and appreciate your patience.
So, the question is what warrants a Godaddy System Alert…perhaps there a certain number of customers that must be impacted. This might explain why it typically says No Significant Issues. There may be some sort of metric where the number of impacted customers/sites must hit a certain point to be considered Significant and they can’t just ignore it.
Is this Par for the Course with Web Companies?
When you compare this to other companies, like Rackspace, Amazon, or Google, the difference is night and day. There are thousands of crawls compared to hundreds, as their status pages change a great deal. They typically provide a much more detailed and useful status page as well, which list out their services, what their current status is, and reports issues as they occur. After all, people depend on their services for business and are their customers, so having this information available is important.
It is possible that Godaddy is just a rock solid host, awesome company, and never has outages, unlike these other companies with fragile infrastructure. Or perhaps they are just a really small company and their IT team is good enough to mitigate issues within minutes when they happen, so there is no need to update the page. However, I think it is much more likely that proper hosts provide proper status pages, while Godaddy only reports items when they his a certain metric of customer impact.
October 2, 2015
This morning, I was greeted with an announcement from the Adblock Chrome Extension stating that it had been sold to a new owner and that they were now participating in Adblock Plus’s Acceptable Ad Program.
In the message, there is a link to disable the program, although I have verified on a different machine that if you do not click that link, users will get automatically opted into the acceptable ad program with this update.
What Is Adblock’s Acceptable Ad Policy?
For those that are not familiar with it, Ad Block Plus started a program several years ago with a stated goal of promoting sites that have non-obtrusive ads by disabling Adblock on these sites. The program allows a website’s advertisements to bypass Adblock’s filters, provided it has been deemed that the ads they show are not terribly intrusive.
In some cases, although likely not all, companies are paying to be put on this list and there are some big names that are paying to bypass the filters, like Google and Microsoft.
Since money is changing hands and the list has grown from a relatively short one to one that is now over 7,000 lines long, it has drawn a lot of criticism and concern over the years. Some feel that it is contrary to the spirit of the plugin and are concerned with the implications of third-party tracking/ad networks. However, some laud it as a necessary way of encouraging ‘good’ sites and rewarding content producers.
Recently, Ad Block Plus announced that an independent board would now review the sites to provide some transparency and likely alleviate some of the criticism that this program is just a money grab that extorts users/site owners.
Plugin Sold, Updated, and Users Opted In
In the announcement from the developer of the Chrome Adblock Plugin(different from Adblock Plus) it was stated that in part due to the change to an independent review board, he was fully on-board with The Acceptable Ad Policy and was selling the plugin.
The update opts-in existing users to the program, which bypasses filters of the plugin.
The vagueness of the message, along with the opting in of this setting and no mention of who the buyer is is concerning and does not instill trust that this is a good faith transition.
Now, Adblock Plus will be transferring custodianship of Acceptable Ads to an impartial group of experts. I love this idea — in fact, it was my wife Katie’s suggestion! Due to this change, I’m happy for AdBlock to join the program. As a result, I am selling my company, and the buyer is turning on Acceptable Ads.
No one can say what they would do when offered the right amount of money for their project.
The message shown after you install his plugin has been a donation request for years, which has a picture of him and his wife and states that he(they?) quit their job to work on the plugin. As far as I know that was the only monetization and donations can be fickle, so if that really is his only job he may feel it isn’t worth his time or effort, he could be burnt out, or perhaps he just wants to move on to something else. This is, of course, conjecture, but the point is, I can see many reasons why an attractive offer would be jumped upon and can not say what I would do if I were in his shoes.
It is not clear who the new owner is yet, although it has been announced that Adblock Plus’s parent company is paying ad-blocking plugins to take part in this program, so this appears to be a way of monetizing the popular chrome plugin. For instance, Crystal(one of the first ad-blockers for IOS9) is now accepting payments to default opt-in their users to the acceptable ad program.
The Fragility of Trusting Plugins
This highlights the fragility of trusting plugins and in a big way.
It only takes a bit of money to purchase an incredibly large user-base, per their plugin page ‘over 40 million users,’ and make a significant change that is likely contrary to the reasons the end-user installed the plugin, while almost certainly offering a monetary benefit to the new owners…it wouldn’t of been bought unless someone had plans of how to monetize it.
This is something that has played out before and is often worse, as there are documented instances of malware or adware vendors buying a popular plugin and subverting it.
It is a difficult issue to address…how do you ensure that a plugin you trust isn’t going to be sell out to someone who will turn the plugin sides., Both Chrome and Firefox do take some action to keep this from occurring, but it is often caught after the fact and after damage has been done.
Thoughts on Acceptable Ads
As a content creator and someone who makes money off advertisements(there may even be some on this page that WordPress.com is making money off of,) I fully understand and support the end user blocking ads. In fact I encourage it and install ad blockers when fixing people’s computers to help protect them. Third-party ads can be dangerous and are a leading cause of malware infections.
Even without clicking on the ad, the network is still accumulating a ton of data that they can use/sell about your browsing habits. Networks that are very well moderated, like Googles, can show bad ads or link to sites that are dangerous. Until relatively recently, doing a search for popular open source software like VLC Media Player or Firefox would yield results on Google and Bing for third-party bundles that were not safe to install. Smaller networks are even worse and often show dangerous ads that install PC Optimizers and Tune Up Programs that hijack computers…or adware browser bars that track and inject ads while browsing.
So, I feel that browsing is much safer place without ads and getting your site whitelisted because you paid an adblocking company some money is not a good alternative.
Not to mention, there is a huge performance boost when you aren’t loading 20 random trackers and ad networks.
What About Content Creators
Whenever this is brought up, the argument is inevitably that sites/content creators are not being paid for their work. By using an advertisement blocker you are stealing from them and depriving them of a way to monetize their work. Instead, you should just not visit their site if you don’t want to be tracked/advertised to.
And this isn’t exactly wrong. It isn’t free to host a website and putting your site behind a paywall probably doesn’t work out well for people. I haven’t researched the numbers, but I would be pleasantly surprised if the New York Times or Washington post paywall is(was?) a big money maker for them. I would imagine most people just bypass it or ignore links to their site.
Some have suggested an easy way of making micro payments for accessing sites or simply ads that are targeted to the site content(rather than re-marketing) and self hosted might be a good alternative. I think it is inevitable that ad-networks will eventually evolve to bypass third-party network blocking. They are typically a leader in this sort of development.
So, this is a tricky problem and I can certainly see both sides to the issue. However, opening yourself to tracking/malware, aggressive marketing, and obtrusive adverts really shouldn’t be the solution.
September 21, 2015
With the start of IE9, browser testing got a whole lot easier. While it still has some annoying warts and limitations, it is way better than IE8 was and doesn’t even compare to the nightmare that was IE6 and before. Now with IE11+, Microsoft has stepped up their game and is more in-line with browsers like Firefox and Webkit Browsers(Chrome/Safari/Etc.)
Back a few years ago, dropping support for IE 8 gained steam, despite the fact that for people still using XP, IE8 was the latest version of Internet Explorer you could get. Google may have been the forerunner on this, as they dropped IE8 support in 2012 for their Apps, but other companies/devs were already limiting support by then as well. Since then, both due to dwindling numbers and better alternatives, many new devs don’t even test it anymore and the web simply don’t work well for those running it.
Apparently, Microsoft Devs don’t either.
While preforming a clean install of Windows 7, I decided to checkout a few pages in it and came across the Windows 10 page. The below screenshots are from the new Windows 10 Upgrade Page and as you can see, it wasn’t cross browser tested in IE8.
After turning on Compatibility Mode, I got the below. It actually worked better, although I got a script error that slowed the browser to a crawl.
Just to be on the safe side, I fired up my IE8 XP Virtual Machine, which has all the XP Internet Explorer Updates, as to be fair the windows 7 machine hadn’t had any updates yet. As you can see, it looks similar, just with certificate errors.
So, it seems that Microsoft doesn’t care too much about cross browser testing in Internet Explorer 8 anymore, which I suppose is good as it is another nail in the coffin. Of course, I can’t help but think that given they are the ones that spawned this demon on us, the least they could do is continue putting some man hours towards it.
Personally, while I don’t spend time making sure everything looks identical in IE8, I do at least check it and typically make the page largely readable. Does it matter? Probably not, as if you are still running Internet Explorer 8, the web is probably a horribly broken place, but basic IE8 support is something I include in most cases.