Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

File Under: Business, servers

Register.com Victimized by DDoS Attack

Register.com is having a rough week. The popular domain registrar and website hosting company has been having coughing fits for a few days. Service has been intermittent, with some users complaining of outages on the company’s web servers as well as its e-mail and data storage services.

Turns out the problem was the result of a DDoS attack.

Today, this e-mail was sent out, and the company posted the same note on its website:

For the past three days Register.com has been experiencing intermittent service disruptions as a result of a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack – an intentionally malicious flooding of our systems from various points across the internet. We know the disruption of business this has caused our customers is unacceptable, and we are working round the clock to combat it. (For more information about DDoS attacks, please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denial-of-service_attack.)

While we are still under attack, our counter-measures are currently minimizing the disruption to your services. We are using all available means to halt this criminal attack on our business and our customers’ business.

We are committed to updating you in as timely manner as possible, please continue to check back here for additional updates or go to www.twitter.com/Register_com.

Thank you for your patience.

File Under: Business

Web Design at 65 MPH: A Family of Web Workers Hits the Road

TumbleWagon family Olivia, Tristan, and Nathan

Given laptops, web-based tools and an abundance of free WiFi, most of us can do our jobs from just about anywhere. But how many of us actually take advantage of that fact?

Well, at least two.

Pittsburgh web designers Nathan Swartz and Olivia Meiring, along with their 7-year-old son Tristan, are on a yearlong journey around the United States. They live, work, sleep and travel all within the confines of their 100-square-foot RV. As they say on their travel blog, Tumblewagon.com, “That leaves a lot of room for the backyard.”

Webmonkey caught up with Nathan Swartz in Austin, Texas, where the family plans to spend about a month. In an e-mail interview, we asked Swartz how he and his wife balance their roles as vagabond freelance designers, home-school teachers and rig drivers.

Webmonkey: Where did you get the idea to drive around the country for a year?

Nathan Swartz: Well, I’ve always loved taking road trips. Since I took my first cross-country trip about five years ago, I’ve done something every year. My wife is from South Africa and has lived in Brighton, England, and traveled Europe and now is living here, so she loves adventure too. Our son is young enough that we can home-school him — or “road-school” as we like to call it. Add freelancing and the flexibility that gives us and it just seemed natural to take advantage of this while we can. Who knows when Wal-Mart will come out with a web design section in their stores and we’ll have to go back to selling coffee or something, you know?

Webmonkey: What did you have to do at home in Pittsburgh to get ready for this trip? What happened to where you live and where’s your mail going?

Swartz: Well, we had to save up a nice chunk of cash, since between my credit and the state of the economy, we weren’t exactly going to get a car loan for the RV we live in. Aside from that, we basically just gave most of our stuff away to Goodwill and put a few things into storage. We were just renting an apartment, so when our lease was up, so was our obligation to Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is a really cool city, by the way, and we’re fortunate to have gotten to live in such a cool place, but having been in western Pennsylvania most of my life, I just really wanted a change of scenery.

As far as getting mail, that’s a bit more tricky. First and foremost, I try to get paid via Google Checkout and handle everything we can via e-mail. When someone just has to mail us something, you know, because they refuse to let go of the Jurassic period, we use Earth Class Mail. It’s a website that gives you a physical address — in our case a Portland P.O. box — and then you can check your mail online. They’ll scan stuff for you so that you can just read it right on their website, and then you can have things forwarded to wherever you’re staying if you need a piece of mail in hand. I’d prefer to never need a physical address, but the world just isn’t ready to stop stuffing pieces of trees into little boxes yet, I suppose.

Webmonkey: How does work work? When do you get work done, how do you get a connection and how do you keep a work/life balance when work and life are both within 100 square feet?

Swartz: This was one of the most fun parts of the whole preparation, sorting out when we’d work, making sure we’d have time, the technology, et cetera. First of all, aside from just working, both of us are teaching our son, Tristan, four days a week. We take turns. My wife, Olivia, does Mondays and Tuesdays and I do Wednesdays and Thursdays. I personally do most of my work on the days I’m not teaching, and then a little in the afternoons of the days I am. I’m probably only working 20 hours a week or less now though, compared to closer to 40 hours per week when we lived in our apartment in Pittsburgh. Expenses are lower living in the RV, and to be honest, I’m really trying to explore more than I work. That might sound “la-dee-da” or something, but the amount of money I can make from freelancing isn’t necessarily the amount I want to, you know? I’d rather have $10 and two days to spend it than $500 and no time left to explore the places we’re visiting.

Of course, we do still work and have to pay some bills and whatnot, so we use the internet connections on our iPhones and we’ve also got Sprint AirCards. The iPhone connection is mostly just for sending e-mail and checking on things that don’t require any coding or heavy lifting, and the Sprint cards do the bulk of the work. So far we’ve had pretty good luck. Only about 10 percent of the campgrounds we’ve stayed in have absolutely no connection. Basically, with Sprint’s connection we’re not exactly “high speed,” but it’s enough to get the job done. Reminds me of web design in the earlier part of the century, when you’d spend an hour coding and three hours uploading the two lines of code you changed.

One thing I have noticed is that while Pittsburgh, for example, is getting to the point of being nearly blanketed with free WiFi spots, that isn’t the case in most of the country. State parks, campgrounds and RV lots generally don’t have WiFi, so you’ve got to bring your own internet.

Webmonkey: Your son is also on the trip. What’s it like for him? How is school, play and bedtime different for him?

Swartz: He’s all about the experience of living in new places and he’s really good at making “friends for a day.” I’m the total opposite; it takes me five years just to meet my neighbors, but he’s off jumping in trees and riding bikes with whatever other kids are around in the campgrounds where we live.

As far as school, since he’s the only kid in his class, school doesn’t take six to eight hours a day. More like three hours, and it’s only four days a week. He’s learning important stuff like how to pronounce the alphabet and read and some math, sure. But he learns way more really important stuff like how to skip stones, navigate a map, ride a bike without coaster brakes and even some Spanish. And because school isn’t such a forced thing, where he has to sit still for the majority of the day, he’s much more open to learning things when it is time. Which, honestly, is all the time. He’s always asking things like “Why do people build skyscrapers?” and stuff like that as we just wander around our neighborhoods.

As far as bedtime, he’s a heavy sleeper. So even though Olivia and I are talking and hanging out only 10 feet away with no doors, he passes right out, ready for another day to come.

Webmonkey: What advice do you have for someone wanting to join the ranks of the vagabond web designers?

Swartz: It’s definitely worth it. I have no idea how long we’ll be able to keep up this great freelance industry that seems to be abundant in the web design world, but our generation is super lucky. We’ve got the internet — and connections to it — spreading like wildfire, and the global economy means people don’t really care if they can meet you face-to-face. Just make sure you’re able to set expectations for your clients. I find that once they know that you’re off being an adventurer, whether from jealousy or admiration or whatever, they’re usually like “Cool, let me know when you get back to civilization.” It’s one thing if you don’t answer your phone because you’re a bad freelancer, it’s another if it’s because you’re in the middle of Yellowstone.

File Under: Business, Software & Tools

Headaches Continue at Gmail, New Outages Reported

GmailGoogle’s web-based e-mail service continues to suffer a few hiccups and outages Monday. The service has been spotty ever since a significant outage last week left an untold number of customers without access to e-mail and other Google web services like Calendar and Docs.

According to numerous posts to personal blogs and Twitter, Gmail users — in several locations, but mostly in the New York area — are reporting that Gmail is down or that they’re experiencing reduced functionality. A search of recent tweets shows even more problems, including threading not working properly, IMAP access not working, extremely slow page loads or the Gmail site not loading at all, instead showing a blank page.

Though Monday’s problems are causing headaches, they don’t yet add up to last week’s trauma. Last Thursday night, Google suffered a high-profile outage to its Google Apps Premiere Edition (GAPE) service, which unlike free Gmail, is a paid service aimed at businesses. For some, the outage lasted over 24 hours.

On Sunday, blogger and small business owner Loren Baker saw his entire Google account locked out for 15 hours, apparently through no fault of his own. As Baker writes on his Search Engine Journal blog, he considers Gmail a critical part of his business, and when the service fails, his business suffers greatly.

“Since Google has decided to take my account away from me, the nucleus of our company communications has been taken away and now is replaced by a black hole,” Baker writes.” My small business communications are now ruined until my account is reestablished.”

It’s certainly a view shared by many a small business owner relying on web applications and cloud computing resources of any kind. It’s a hurdle the industry as a whole is struggling to overcome as customers weigh the convenience of webapps with their apparent lack of reliability.

All in all, last week was a bumpy one for Google. Aside from user accounts locking up and GAPE e-mail failing, the company also pushed out a redesign to its iGoogle homepage that caused faithful users to cry foul.

Are you experiencing problems with Gmail today? If so, leave a comment describing the trouble. Or if you want to blog about your frustrations, link back to this post so we can find you in our trackback links.

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File Under: Business

How Much Is the Apple Tax?

Apple taxApple announced new notebooks Tuesday, but not before Microsoft unleashed the hounds, ranting about an Apple tax.

The concept, which has merit, is that Apple’s computers cost more than PCs. Just how much? Apple hinted at the number in its press event Tuesday:

Retail share: 17.6 percent market share of unit sales.

Revenue share: 31.3 percent of retail sales.

In other words, where one in five computer sales is an Apple, these account for one of every three dollars spent. Apple has more share of the revenue because its computers cost more.

No matter how you crunch the numbers, they imply that Apple charges at least 50 percent more than other manufacturers, maybe even twice as much. This isn’t a new revelation, but it’s an interesting method used by Microsoft, which doesn’t even manufacture hardware.

Some of the discrepancy in price could be due to the low end of the market. As in, Apple doesn’t produce a cheap laptop and most everyone else does. Many who are in the market for laptops, including the education market Apple is so proud of, are comparing MacBooks to laptops that cost half as much. To them, the Apple tax feels real, even if it’s an unfair comparison.

Though PC makers, like Dell, offer an astoundingly large selection of laptops, it’s still hard to determine exactly what is comparable. Factor in the details that Apple includes to make its machines higher end (or at least seem that way) and you’re quickly comparing apples to…. Oh, you finish the joke.

Many web developers have switched to Mac for reasons beyond hardware features or cost. The built-in Unix-ish command line is comfortable. It’s easy to set up a development environment similar to the servers that hold our code.

Is the Apple tax worth it to you? Regardless of whether you’re an Apple user, what would you want from other computer manufacturers?

Updated to include comparisons to low end of the market

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Webmonkey Maps iPhone App Developers’ Frustration

Let’s face it, a number of iPhone developers are pissed at how Apple has been treating them — the prohibitive $100 fee to register as an Apple developer, the proprietary development tools, the overreaching nondisclosure agreements (NDA), the possibility of your app being banned. Worse, developers are cowering in fear and playing along lest Apple get temperamental and exclude them from collecting their slice of the very profitable Apple pie.

We believe the strength of the development community is a very powerful thing. Apple, or any other big player, shouldn’t take that for granted. Community is the bread and butter of the internet and computer science, and it’s what Webmonkey is all about.

We’re providing a semi-anonymous forum for developers to document their involvement in the events in this debacle so far. We’ve used the web service Dipity to create a timeline of App Store gaffs, rejections and bans. We encourage you to add to the timeline where you see fit. Drop in an event, link to your blog or a news story about a particular app — whatever you feel belongs.

We are doing this because we think it’s important to get the information out there. We don’t want you to get sued by Apple for breaking an NDA, so if that’s your worry, we encourage you to tell your friends about our timeline. Also, Dippity doesn’t ask for a login or e-mail to post. And of course, there’s always Tor. Alternatively, you can leave a comment below.

If you need some help catching up, here’s a brief rundown:

Apple forces everyone to sign an nondisclosure agreement (NDA) to download the software development kit — the very basic tools needed to start programming for the iPhone. The NDA forbids developers from talking about programming for the iPhone with other like-minded developers. No talking means no community, and you are 100 percent reliant on Apple for all of your development needs. Developers can’t even complain about the NDA under the NDA. Fear of Apple’s wrath gets worse. Once Apple started accepting applications, some apps got through and appeared on the App Store while others did not. It’s not a first come, first served process. There isn’t a thorough vetting process either — some apps get into the store by accident, before they even work. The process seems completely arbitrary.

These are the frustrations that have led some to pursue ad-hoc distribution outside of the Apple App Store. Some developers are also preparing to jump ship and begin coding for Google’s much more open Android mobile OS instead, albeit without the lucrative ecosystem of Apple’s App Store or the volume of potential customers in the iPhone’s user base.

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