MediaTemple vs. DreamHost

Four days ago, my webhost (who will remain nameless for the time being) noticed that its aging servers (all hosted by third-party enterprise hosting services) were dying. So they decided to upgrade all of the servers, and switch to a different hosting location at the same time. The result: my sites hosted by them were down or unusable for (well, actually, I cannot give an accurate number because at the time of writing, the sites are still down, and the server on which they were hosted is only “27% migrated”). I had been thinking of switching webhosts for some time, but foolishly did not take any action on these impulses, since “everything seems to be working ok for now”. Luckily, with month old backups of my different wordpress databases, plus cached feedburner feeds, I have all of the content I will need to recreate my sites on a new host (and then add back some missing items when my old host finally gets their act together).

For me, it came down to MediaTemple and DreamHost. I have used DreamHost for a client site in the past, and found that they are a company that is very concientous of their customer’s well-being. They go out of their way to give easy access to different server features on their (somewhat bizzare looking but very useful) control panel, and overall are very open about different issues that are occuring with their servers (and are not afraid to take responsibility when things get messed up and it is their fault). Overall, I have been pretty impressed with their hosting, as well as customer service. (And am reassured that if problems occurred on a server, that they would take care of it ASAP, unlike my current webhosts). Continue reading

Where Sql Server Management Studio Falls Short

When I was installing programs on my new laptop (Dell Latitude D820), some of my coworkers recommended that instead of installing Enterprise Manager (the client tools for SQL Server 2000), I should use the Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio that is included with SQL Server 2005 instead. It can perform all of the functions that Enterprise Manager/Query Analyzer can perform, except better. It is just constructed better, and lacks many of the annoying features of the previousl client tools (like how the modify Stored Procedure dialog box was modal, preventing you from doing anything else – like opening up another sproc and copying some text – while it was open, as well as close integration between the query windows and the manager interface). Plus, it could manage SQL Server 2000 databases perfectly well (which is important, as my company still uses this for their primary DB server).

So I installed the Management Studio a few weeks ago. Yet today I find myself reinstalling Enterprise Manager/Query Analyzer, because it has some features I need that Management Studio does not provide. Here they are:

  • Cannot handle diagrams from Sql Server 2000 – This one was the deal-breaker for me. The database diagramming component of Enterprise Manager was always my primary way to define relationships and foreign keys between tables in the database. The graphical representation made the whole process much easier and helped me make sure that I wasn’t missing anything. When I tried to make a DB diagram for my 2000 database using Management Studio, I was directed to a MSDN help page that informed me that this was not supported by Management Studio (since MSSQL2000 uses a different diagram definition than 2005). Argh. I know that the format is different, but knowing that lots of people still use 2000, would it have been so difficult to add in support for the old formatting model? (This was the most annoying. The rest of the list are other pet peaces I have with Management Studio that I will be happy to see again when using Enterprise Manager)
  • Setting the Identity Column – In Enterprise Manager, when defining the Identity column in a table, I can simply double click on the No in the Columns property display and it is set. In Management Studio, I have to First expand the Identity Specification section in the Column Properties, and then double-click on the (Is Identity) value. This extra click is annoying, especially considering how the Column Properties always needs to be made taller (it opens up too short) and the checkbox to expand the section is very small. Why can’t I just double-click on the value of Identity Specification like I do in Enterprise Manager and be done with it?
  • Declaring Column Sizes – In Enterprise Manager, when defining a table, the column type and the size of the column were in two different rows, so when I want to enter a Varchar(100) row, I type “varc” (at which point the drop-down box identifies my selection as a varchar) “[tab]” (to get to the size column) “100” to set the size. In Management Studio however, there is not separate column for column size. So when I am setting a Varchar(100) column, I have to type it all out “varchar(100)”. You might say “It is only five more characters, quit crying about it”, but it actually makes a difference in terms of work-flow (especially considering how if you want to change the size of a column that was previously set, you have to either retype the entire type+size, or use your mouse to highlight the numbers and change them. It is impossible to do the editing with the keyboard alone. Plus, if you make a typo when putting in the parentheses, you have to start over)

It is the small things that make the difference. So at least for now, I will be using Enterprise Manager again for initial database setups. Too bad, since other than these things, Management Studio really does excel. (Subtle hint from anyone in the Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Management Studio team who is reading this).

Select All Conversations in Spam

One of the reasons that I really like Gmail is that I know that the development team in Mountain View is pretty active. How do I know? Because every few weeks or months I notice new, helpful, well thought-out features in Gmail that were not there before.

Every few days I go in and clean out my spam folder. Today there were 399 conversations waiting for me. Usually I have to do the following:

  1. Select All 100 conversations on the screen
  2. Delete
  3. Repeat for every screen

I understand why they make you do this, but it still gets annoying when you have a bunch of screens to take care of.

Today when I went to delete my spam conversations, what do I see?

Gmail - Select All Spam

That’s right. You can now select all of my spam conversations and delete them at once. Or don’t. (I did). The nice thing is that there are new features constantly being added with the intention of making my life easier, something only possible with a web application. Thanks Gmail!

Getting Your Work Day Started Late

Since I have started working from home, I have noticed that there is a direct relation between the intensity and quality of my work day, and the hour of the day in which I actually start working. The magic time seems to be somewhere between 11am and 12pm. If I can wake up, eat breakfast, do my hour-plus of Internet nonsense (check email, blogs, etc) and perform other necessary morning rituals (helping with the kid, etc), and still start actually working before 11-12 in the morning, then I will normally be able to get in some very solid work time (and end up working the equivalent of a whole day). If I miss this window (like I have done today), then for some reason it becomes much harder for me to actually get up and start working productively (and I end up spending most of the day refreshing Bloglines to see if anyone has written anything new, checking Newsvine to see if there are any new comments, and thinking up new blog posts – like this one – to write. Basically anything that I can do to avoid getting started with work).
Continue reading

Visual Assist X

When I started getting into more of a development role in my previous job, and was using Visual Studio, C# and more and more, I was a frequest visitor on sites devoted to .Net programming like Code Project and 4Guys. One day on CP, I saw a review of an extension for Visual Studio 2003 called Visual Assist X. The review descibed how this product helped improve the native intellisense in VS, and in general added shortcuts and other things to make the program friendlier to use. They offered a 30 day trial, so I downloaded and installed.

Within a couple of days, I was hooked. I got my boss to approve it, and sent $130 to Whole Tomato Software in exchange for a license to use their program.

I did not notice how much I relied on its features to help me speed up my overall development time until I had to switch to a different computer recently (one without Visual Assist X installed). As I started to code in Visual Studio, I was waiting for the extremely helpful (and actually intelligent) intellisense that I was used to to pop up with suggestions as to what variable I was looking for. The program is so well-integrated into VS that I had forgotten that it was separate. Suffice to say, I right away went to the site and downloaded a copy of the most recent build (and extended support with them in the process). Now that it is installed, Visual Studio seems much more familiar again (and I have made my coding at least 30% faster).
Note: I have no affiliation with Whole Tomato, nor do I receive any kickbacks or referral fees. I am just writing to let you know about a product that will almost certainly make Visual Studio friendlier, improve your overall productivity in the IDE (and pay back the investment within a few days).

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Dreamhost Experience Good So Far

I just set up a website for one of my clients on Dreamhost. So far, I have to say that I am impressed with the service. I am still hosting my personal site (ie: the site you are reading) on a different host, and would consider moving over to Dreamhost in the future (assuming that performance stays good).

Before this move, I did some reading up on them – like all other hosts, they have had some disgruntled customers in the past (usually the guy who put up a forum that is using 1 hour of CPU time per day, who wants to do this on a $10/month plan and mess up everyone else on that server). In general though, reviews were good.

The things that have impressed me most so far are the small things that tell me that show that they have put an effort into providing a good service:

  • They do not use the normal cPanel install that everyone else uses. Instead, they have their own homegrown management panel. Although this can spell disaster if they authors don’t know what they are doing, in this case, it seems to work pretty well. The menu sections are well laid out, documentation is provided, and support is available when needed
  • When I have needed support, the representative that contacted me answered quickly, politely and with a good response. They also have a pretty good wiki that has already answered a few of my questions
  • They have a sense of humor. The copy on the site was obviously not written by someone in corporate (this is a good thing). For example:
    • On their homemade auto-install page, it starts off “Fantastico, shmantastico.. DreamHost now has its very own one-click software installation!”
    • On the bug submission page, instead of severities like “high”, “low” and “medium”, they have “I can’t get things done until I hear back from you, please reply asap” and “OMG! EXTREME CRITICAL EMERGENCY!! EVERYTHING’S BROKEN! People are DYING!
    • Also on the support request submission page, they have a selection for your expertise, with options like “Overall I know my stuff, but I’m a little shaky in this area” and “Not to be rude, but I probably know more about this than you!“. I personally appreciate stuff like this – I do not what I am talking about (most of the time) – just because I am contacting tech support doesn’t mean that I need someone to tell me how to click on the Start menu
  • They seem to offer options for free that others either don’t offer at all, or offer at a price. Things like Subversion, Jabber support, Auto-installed software (that you can auto-update when a new version is released), unlimited domains, lots of space, etc

They also have a pretty good referral program – you can get up to $97 or 10% (“forever”) per referral, plus secondary rewards as well. On that note, I have been authorized to offer a special discount for anyone who would like to sign up for a new account at Dreamhost. Here is the deal:

  • Sign up for a new Shared Hosting account
  • When prompted for a promotion code, enter ELLISWEB30
  • You will receive $30 off any plan that you sign up for. No catch

Disclaimer: Links to Dreamhost in this post are affiliate links (meaning that I get some money if you sign up). If you don’t want to use an affiliate link, click here.