It’s a Big Ocean

Filed under: Personal | 1 Comment

A project of mine that hits close to home has just just gone live. It’s a Big Ocean is documenting the human side of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. We have interviews with fishermen, business owners, park rangers and more people directly affected by this disaster. Content will be posted as it becomes edited, but we have some teaser stuff up now.

What’s Twitterbot/0.1?

Filed under: Web/Tech | 2 Comments

Some webmasters have seen HEAD requests with the User-Agent Twitterbot/0.1 hit their sites recently and as usual this causes a flurry of questions (I’ve never really cared too much about bots unless they hit hard, but some webmasters take it really seriously). I did some digging and the IP (128.242.241.134) that Twitterbot is using is from the same data center that Twitter is hosted. That’s unusual, most bots following URLs in Tweets come from Amazon EC2 or similar services. I did a little more digging and apparently links in DMs are also being followed which means it must be an official Twitter run bot. Now the question is what is Twitter doing with the data? Is it for analytics? Anti-spam?

Update: Looks like it may be in preparation for launching a URL shortener. I wonder if they will play hardball and rewrite existing links to use their own shortener? That would help future proof tweets for things like the Library of Congress, but would instantly screw Bit.ly and similar.

Update 6/9/10: Bing!

On Google Webmaster Tools site performance tips

Filed under: funny | 2 Comments

Google Webmaster Tools is a great resource, but the site performance feature makes me chuckle from time to time. I checked how Crossword Tracker was doing and while the site runs really quickly (faster than 88% of sites according to Google), they had two tips. Unfortunately both are impossible…

It suggested that I serve Google Analytics hosted Javascript with gzip compression and that I could cut down on the number of DNS requests by serving the same JS from my domain. Great ideas guys.

Google Webmaster impossible performance tips

iPad claim chowder

Filed under: Apple | No Comments »

John Gruber in December on The Tablet:

One common prediction I disagree with is that The Tablet will simply be more or less an iPod Touch with a much bigger display. … If Apple’s starting with a hardware size where the iPhone OS can’t be used one-handed, then trust me, they’re designing a new interaction model.

Of course, it’s easy to be a pundit after the news breaks. Color me surprised that this was an evolution, not a revolution.

Crossword puzzle database, search engine, etc

Filed under: Python,Web/Tech | 1 Comment

I’ve become a fan of crossword puzzles and recently started downloading a lot of them and processing them with Python. It was interesting itself (finding the most common answers and what not), but I decided to make a UI for it and create a site that lets you browse both crossword answers and clues, viewing what points to what and related data to both. You can search too, even if you don’t know all the letters. It’s pretty interesting and if you do crossword puzzles you should check out Crossword Tracker.

Impossible job postings

A chuckle-worthy gig came up today on a Craigslist feed that I follow. Somehow I think working for this joker would be an excruciating experience (emphasis mine):

To apply, email your resume along with a link to your greatest Web Development project. Describe your responsibilities of that project and any additional information (looking for writing structure and literacy here). What makes you unique and different than other programmers and Web Developers? Your message will be deleted if this information is not contained in the body of the email. Limit your message to 250 characters or less. Thank you.

They should just cut email out of the process and only accept applications through Twitter. Or in haiku.

AT&T Wireless reverse number lookup

Filed under: Web/Tech | No Comments »

Craigslist never fails to amuse. What a couple they must be.

AT&T reverse phone number lookup

Percentage Django template tag

Filed under: Python | 1 Comment

Here’s a handy template filter that calculates percentages inside Django templates.

@register.filter(name='percentage')
def percentage(fraction, population):
    try:
        return "%.2f%%" % ((float(fraction) / float(population)) * 100)
    except ValueError:
        return ''

Usage

There were {{ yes.count }} yes votes ({{ yes.count|percentage:votes.count }}) out of {{ votes.count }} responses.

Result

There were 40 yes votes (40%) out of 100 responses.

Constant Contact’s insane API downtime practice

Filed under: Rant,Web/Tech | 1 Comment

Constant Contact is the leading email newsletter company and hundreds of thousands of businesses use their service to send marketing emails to customers. Constant Contact is a lot bigger than most people think, they are even a publicly traded company with a half billion dollar market cap. However, money can’t buy sanity.

Constant Contact is typically used through a web interface, but they do provide an API to allow some basic functions to be handled remotely. It’s a pretty limited API (you can’t even send email through it!), but that’s a rant for another day. All I’m using it for is adding contacts and basic list management. Simple stuff.

I’ve had a lot of problems with reliability in the past, but last night takes the cake. Constant Contact had a scheduled downtime for the API that resulted in all requests returning a 200 OK HTTP status code and an HTML page explaining the issue. If you tried to search for a contact, you got the page. If you tried to add a contact you got the page. Etc. But the 200 OK status code makes it look like the request was processed correctly and this HTML was the response (which should be XML if everything did go as planned). They’re using a browser error screen for API responses… Insane.

Read more

An inside look at the new GOP.com

Filed under: PHP,Web/Tech | No Comments »

The new pretty much been a disaster. This project started poorly and never caught up. In any event, here’s a look at the technology behind the site.

Hosting

Hosting is through a firm called Airnet that operates hosting services its SMARTTech brand. If you haven’t heard of them, you aren’t the only one. They host only a few thousand domains and primarily serve GOP political interests (most famously the gwb43.com email server). The site is hosted on Windows, using IIS 7 and PHP 5.2.11. Curiously they didn’t spring for the dedicated IP address, GOP.com is sharing an IP with domains like georgebush.com and the venerable flippercam.com.

CMS

ExpressionEngine is the content management system. This is easily confirmed by the presence of a text file you typically delete before launching a site (in case it’s deleted, it says “Welcome to ExpressionEngine!”. Looking for files like this is a great way to see how a site works—WordPress can often be confirmed along with its version number by looking for readme.html on the root level).

ExpressionEngine is a fine CMS and is in use for other political sites on both sides of the aisle. The performance issues were more likely due to poor planning than anything with ExpressionEngine. One example of said poor planning is the Expires header sent is set 12 years in the past.

Libraries / Tools

There’s lots of social media API integration which is pretty typical these days. Facebook loads JS on every page load for example. SWFObject is used throughout. The main Javascript library used is MooTools and MooTools More, which are embedded in a single JS file that also does the other sitewide scripting.

Shadowbox.js is also embedded in that file though without any attribution.

Speed

Speed is being kind, the site is dog slow. For good reason too, all the previously mentioned social media integration makes for a huge number of requests. I just loaded the home page and Firebug says: 194 requests, 2.02MB and an amazing 83 seconds for full completion. Compare this to Democrats.org which has 69 requests, 900KB and loads in under 4 seconds (not a speed demon in its own right, but not insane).

No CDN is used and far in the future expires headers aren’t used for navigational elements.