Having discussed basic hardware, software, and utilities in previous months' columns the Spy now resumes his beginners' tutorial with some comments on web sites, notes a technical problem with OS X sleep mode, provides yet another market roundup, and updates his forecasts.
Why? If it's just for vanity's sake, don't bother. It's not worth the trouble unless you have a message to get out to people waiting with bated breath to hear about your ideas, products, software, or latest novel (ahem).
Now that the Spy has tried and failed to talk you out of the venture, let's move on to the mechanics. There are four rules to follow to create a successful web site, one that can effectively deliver your message. In the order you need to follow them, they are:
1. buy your own domain,
2. design your own site,
3. purchase professional hosting,
4. promote your site effectively.
Buy your own domain
The first is a prerequisite to and intertwined with the other three. If you use your ISPs offer of a few free hosting pages built with their handy web site builder software, you'll end up with a long, cryptic, hard to remember URL that looks like http://www.cheapISPhosting.com/clients/toocheaptopay/~joesgarage, a web site that cannot be moved elsewhere because both the pages and the url are locked in to and dependent on your provider (change your provider and you have to start over), an email address that also has to be changed every time your ISP changes and a site that search engines may not index (they know which services are free, and discount their importance).
On the other hand, if you go to a domain registration service and buy your own domain (actually, you rent it for one to ten years) you can advertise your network presence consistently and indefinitely as http://www.joesgarage.com. Even if you don't take the rest of the Spy's advice, the traffic for this can be directed to your free site, and later redirected to a professional site, without changing your advertising.
Tips: Do not pay more than $12US for a .com domain. If the domain you want is not available in .com or .net, consider paying slightly more for a .ca, .us, .uk, or other two-letter country domain. Get as short and as meaningful a domain name as possible (but keep in mind that two and three letter domain names were all taken years ago).. Also, ensure that the address attached to your domain registration is not at the purchased domain itself, and that it remains up to date. If you miss a renewal notice, your domain will cease functioning, and a few days later revert to the pool of available names.
Where to buy? (Note conflict of interest disclaimer.) The Spy's sister company Arjay web Services, offers two registration options, a $9.95 no-frills service at WebNameSource.com, and a more elaborate $11.95 one at nameman.net (for .com domains, other prices vary). It is possible to pay less (and your kilometreage will vary), but no one can offer you anything better by taking more of your money. Finally, never agree to buy or renew with a company that pressures you, sends unsolicited advertising in the mail, or quotes a price over $12 US for a common domain, or $16US for a .ca domain.
Design your own site
Yes, like all things done properly, this takes work. The laziest way is to use Microsoft's Front Page, or some other commercial (not ISP-based) page design software. The best way is to learn how to code html and write your pages with a text editor such as the highly regarded BBEdit. This latter is far more work, but produces a superior end product for both the site and your skill set. It is worth it. Equally important, the master copy resides on your own computer (which you keep redundantly backed up in several places) and is not subject to the vagaries of bankrupt service providers, proprietary site-based software, or a server collapse that takes out your only copy. Besides, you get to be a geek, even if only for a small portion of this life. If you have the next in order, and your other priorities here straight, then hey (as the Fonz would say.)
Purchase Professional Hosting
Why pay, when you can get a little space for free? Because you get what you pay for. ISPs exist to provide you with a point of connection to the net. Their web page facilities are an afterthought, may be poorly maintained, are often slow to load, and do not have the important additional tools a professional supplies as part of the price.
For a new site with little space and traffic requirements, expect to pay no more than $3-$5 (US) per month. For this you should get enough space for up to several hundred pages, sufficient traffic allowance (called "bandwidth") for a thousand or more visitors a day (depending on the complexity of your pages), a control panel for setting up email accounts, adding optional extras to the site (guestbooks, counters, banners, shopping cart, photo galleries, and discussion forums are among the more common) and analysing statistical information of who has visited the site and what they looked at. (Can you read that out loud without taking a breath?) Look for a host who offers the cPanel or HSphere control panel, as these are feature rich and industry standard.
Even at these low rates you should be able to set up five or more email accounts and/or databases (mailing lists, catalogues, etc.) and also forward email to any number of additional addresses outside the rented domain. Sending and receiving email via your own domain's "virtual server" is likely to be faster and more reliable than an ISP can provide. Most commercial hosting of personal and small business sites is done on Linux servers located in large well-connected well-looked-after data centres called server farms. Again (same disclaimer) Arjay Web Services offers CPanel hosting on fast, well-connected Linux servers through subsidiary WebNameHost.net.
If you need more, most hosts (WebNameHost included) offer instant upgrades for additional space and traffic, and on CPanel, can even make you a reseller. You can charge all your friends for designing their websites and go into competition with your host on their own boxes. (Fine with us, BTW.)
Promote your site effectively
Just putting up a site does not mean anyone will see it. You need to make it visible from certain key locations. This involves a three-fold strategy.
First, make sure the web site code appropriately includes what are called metatags. These are coded markers that do not affect the appearance of the site, but inform search engines about its contents. The critical ones are those for title, keywords, and contents. However, examining the source code for other sites in your browser will revel more useful metatags, and so will any of the many books on the subject. Note that words in the keywords tag must actually appear in the text of your site, or they won't do you any good. This also implies a site cannot consist only of graphics, for then there would be nothing for the indices to index.
Second, go to Google, Yahoo, and MSN, as well as to any other search/index sites you use yourself, and submit your site URL and descriptions. Unless and until you do this, they will not include your site. Even after you submit, it may take months for your site to appear on theirs.
Third, offer to cross link your site with others on similar topics. The more sites that refer to yours somewhere on theirs, the higher yours will appear in the search engine standings. To see what this means in practice, type "Christian SF" or "Rick Sutcliffe" or "Irish SF" into any search engine, and see how close to the top one of the Arjay sites appears. Getting these high rankings for these keywords took careful strategic action on these points over several years, so don't expect yours to appear very high at first. However, if your site has valuable content that you add to regularly, others will be happy to link to yours if you do to theirs, and eventually the search engines may decide yours is the primary authority in the field, and list it first.
'Nuff tor now, but next time when the Spy concludes this topic, it will be with some more advanced design ideas, tips to avoid span or password hijacking, and some comments on online shopping.
Macintosh sleep disorders
have plagued a few models over the years, but were thought to be in remission until recently. The latest versions of OS X have resurrected these difficulties and they now apply not only to portables but also to desktops. The Spy's work habits (use of two computers one monitor and keyboard) reveal that the problem is a general one. On a 1G PowerBook and a twin 1G G4 desktop, there appear to be two different versions of sleep.
(1) manually put the computer to sleep via menu
The heartbeat light comes on and the computer will eventually wake normally.
(2) Allow the computer to time out and go to sleep.
The heartbeat light does NOT come on and the computer will only wake normally if it is still plugged in to the same peripherals as when it went to sleep. Since The Spy uses a dock, he needs to be careful here as if he take s the PowerBook home from work and put it in the dock there, it will not awaken. The black screen results.
Plug and unplug USB peripherals a few times while the computer is awake, and it's very likely to do a hard crash.
(For several different 10.3.6 and later systems, including latest Tiger)
(a) Put the computer to sleep, then use a KVS switch to change the screen and keyboard over to a different computer. The one being turned off will wake up (it did not with early OS versions), find no monitor and keyboard attached and not know what to do. Eventually it goes back to sleep on its own, but improperly, for it is now in state (2) above, and switching the KVS back to it will yield only a black screen.
(b) If the keyboard and other peripherals are plugged into the USB port on boot or on wake from sleep, there is a high probability of a freeze and/or crash. At the very least, on reboot, the USB peripherals will be nonfunctional until the chain is unplugged and replugged. The Spy routinely unplugs the lead to the peripherals (goes to a powered hub on one machine and directly to the peripherals on another) and then plugs it back in after the machine is well awake.
Conclusion: There is a sequencing problem both in the go to sleep and in the wake from sleep (including reboot). Perhaps the machine is trying to do too many things in too short a timeframe and there is excessive current draw on the USB bus, (not a problem if the same bus is connected after the machine is awake). IOW, discovering a USB chain on wake from sleep is a problem, but discovering it when fully awake (not just partway through) is not.
These difficulties have been getting worse with each new iteration of the OS, including both Jaguar and Tiger. Everything up to and including a motherboard reset makes no difference. Hello, Apple, are you reading this? You've got some issues here. Should consumers worry? Besides the Spy, how many people torture a machine sufficiently to cause the above behaviour even once? Just so.
Watching the market
Apple Computer Inc. recently reported the highest quarterly revenue and net income in the company's history. On the strength of iPod and higher Macintosh sales the company reported a profit of US$295 million for its first fiscal quarter, shipping 1,046,000 Macintosh computers and 4,580,000 iPods during the quarter, a 26 percent increase in CPU units and a whopping 525 percent increase in iPod sales over the year-ago quarter.
The net profit of $295 million, or $.70 per diluted share, compares to a net profit of $63 million, or $.17 per diluted share, in the year-ago quarter. Revenue for the quarter was $3.49 billion, up 74 percent. Looking forward to the second quarter, the company expects revenue of about $2.9 billion and earnings per diluted share of about $.40.
These figures continue a well-established trend to higher sales, now accelerating sufficiently to gain new market share at a faster rate than predicted in this space over the last few months.
Since that time, Apple has also announced the long-awaited flash-based iPod Shuffle at $99, the new Macintosh Mini, and $499, brought out a low end software productivity suite (iWork) and upgraded its portable line--all likely factors in further marketshare increases. It is widely rumoured that Microsoft executives have grown worried about the large percentage of employees bringing iPods to work. If they aren't, they should be. Right now, Apple is out designing and out marketing the rest of the industry by a wide margin.
Most important of these in the Spy's HO? In the short term, the mini, which is the perfect "switch" convincer. Transfer the files, unplug the old PC and plug the Mini into the old keyboard, mouse and screen, and you've a brand new and far more reliable and efficient machine. But in the longer term, a solid Apple commitment to grow and develop the new productivity suite into a competitor for MS Office could prove the smartest move. Apple already produces better operating system, browser, email, and presentation software than the MS counterparts. Once the word processor surpasses Word, and a spreadsheet comes on line the reasons to stay with Wintel problems instead of buying Apple solutions could well evaporate. As the Spy has noted before, marketshare will follow two to five years later. Indeed the earlier forecast of a 0.5% swing in marketshare over the next year has already been eclipsed in the first quarter.
Oh, but note that the speed and feature bump in PowerBooks confirms the Spy's prediction that there will be more iterations of the G4 architecture in this line before any G5 portables appear.
We live in interesting times.
--The Northern Spy
Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Trinity Western University. He's written two textbooks and several novels, one of which was named best in the science fiction genre for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.
Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to ArjayBB.com. Participate and you could win free web hosting from the WebNameHost.net subsidiary of Arjay Web Services. Rick Sutcliffe's fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Bowker's Booksurge.
The Northern Spy Home Page: http://www.TheNorthernSpy.com
WebNameHost : http://www.WebNameHost.net
WebNameSource : http://www.WebNameSource.net
nameman : http://nameman.net
Arjay Books: http://www.ArjayBooks.com
The Spy's Laws collected: http://www.thenorthernspy.com/spyslaws.htm
The Fourth Civilization (text): http://www.4civ.com/