Archive for the ‘Housekeeping’ Category

Helpful thought for SNB notifications

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

For those of you who miss the regularly occurring newsletter, this might be a bit of a help. Check out ChangeDetection.com. Use it to watch the blog site and you’ll get an email notification whenever Scot’s Newsletter Blog is updated.

Scot’s Newsletter Blog Now on Kindle

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Last week I published this blog to Kindle. If you have a Kindle or an iPhone with the Kindle app installed, check it out: Scot’s Newsletter Blog (Kindle Edition).

Why newsletter readers got info that blog readers didn’t

Monday, September 1st, 2008

SNB reader and registered member FuturePerfect posted this comment today in response to my last blog post:

I’m confused. I thought this blog is your newsletter, replacing your old newsletter site which is now an archive. And didn’t you mean you e-mailed not [snail] mailed the newsletter? And since you can’t re-mail your newsletter, is it now unavailable to me forever? Could you please explain?

OK, let’s see if I can clear up your confusion. The blog is the locus of the primary content that was previously Scot’s Newsletter (emailed and web page). And, yes, any newsletter I “mail” is emailed. But there’s a little more to this that you may have missed.

When the blog was launched, I merged the HTML and Text newsletters into a single list and began sending a notification newsletter to let people know whenever there is recently added content on the blog. For the most part, the notification message contains headline, blurb, and links to all (or most) of the blog entries since the last newsletter.

I expected to mail the newsletter on a roughly monthly schedule, but also promised only to mail the newsletter when there was something of benefit to the majority of subscribers. I polled people about this before I made the decision to switch to a blog and use the newsletter this way. Many people were not in favor of the blog, but the vast majority of existing newsletter subscribers wanted the newsletter to continue on as a notification message.

When I made the switch to the blog, I converted the newsletter to text only. Prior to that, the newsletter consisted of two separate lists, HTML and text only. We merged and de-duped the lists. De-duping means that when the same email address was found on both HTML and text lists, one instance was removed. We also cleaned the list so that recent bad addresses were deleted. The list size went from about 47K to about 43K.

Somewhat surprisingly, few people unsubscribed from the newsletter when I made the transition to a notification newsletter.

A key point

So, this may be the main point of your confusion, FuturePerfect:

Occasionally, I write exclusives for newsletter subscribers, which go out via email along with the list of links to the recent blog posts. Usually, these are not items of general interest to blog readers. Having been absent from subscriber’s inboxes for 5 months, though, I decided newsletter subscribers deserved some explanation. So, the email message contained a detailed explanation of why the newsletter hadn’t been mailed since March 27th.

Part of the reason for the unintended hiatus was a nearly three-month security battle I waged with hackers who penetrated the Web servers of my last webhost (IX Webhosting). As a result, part of the explanation included a quick overview of events and even some of my takeaways. I expect to publish a more detailed version of that story in the blog. I’m still not completely out of the woods (although it’s looking good), so I’ll hold off on my fully public report of my security challenges until the story is concluded.

So, if you’re someone who wants to stay very, very close to all things Scot’s Newsletter, subscribing to the newsletter is a good idea. It was my earlier judgment that most blog readers don’t need that much detail. It’s really your choice, however. If you’d like to subscribe to the newsletter, please use the Scot’s Newsletter Blog notification list sign-up page. It’s text only, is easy to unsubscribe from, and is likely to mail somewhere between 5 and 15 times a year.

Additionally, if you’d like to support Scot’s Newsletter, subscribing would be a fine way to do so. Although I have no plans to do this right now, it is at least possible that I might someday return to primary content being published in a newsletter format. More than likely, that would be after major new antispam technology became prevalent.

One of the reasons I moved to the blog was that the rise of Yahoo mail (the worst offender), gmail, Hotmail, and other free webmail services has meant the successful delivery rate of most newsletters — especially large HTML newsletters — has plummeted. Webmail services (I prefer gmail of the lot) tend to be quick to block newsletters. Because webmail is a free service, there’s no advantage to Webmail providers in delivering every message. There’s no service level they are compelled to meet. If they deem something to be in some way suspicious, then it’s blocked. And subscribers never even know.

A shorter, text-only newsletter has a much, much better likelihood of making it by the spam filters, though. So, for now, the notification newsletter makes a lot more sense.

Six reasons why the newsletter was on hiatus

So, because some people are interested, here’s a summary of the reasons I published in the newsletter explaining why it took a five-month breather. Unlike the newsletter, I’m placing these issues in chronological order. The delay to the newsletter — and the reduction in the number of my posts over the same period — was actually caused by a series of decisions and events:

1. I have young kids and a wife who is pursuing her own demanding career. My wife needs help, and my kids need time with dad. Nothing is more important than family, so over the last year I’ve been devoting more of my “free” time to my personal life.

2. Last fall I took on a new professional role as editor-in-chief of Computerworld. As you might imagine, the job demands a great deal of my attention. My professional responsibility is to the 39 editors, reporters, and writers of Computerworld’s editorial staff — even on my own time. Something has to give, and since Scot’s Newsletter is for the most part a moonlighting labor of love, it has been getting less of my time.

3. After delivering the Best Firewall Software of 2008 story in March — a decision and a story 18 months in the making — I gave myself a four-week break from even thinking about Scot’s Newsletter.

4. Over the last two years I have become a confirmed Macintosh user. Perhaps even more so after the latest detour into my own little security nightmare (see #6 below). Most SFNL readers are Windows users. I am still actively watching and using Windows, but I have recommended against Vista and there’s not a lot more to say about Windows XP. Until Windows 7 arrives, there’s a dearth of material to cover. The same thing happened at the end of the Windows 98SE/ME cycle, by the way. People take my lack of Windows coverage of late as a sign that I have abandoned Windows. While I have abandoned Vista, I have not abandoned Windows.

As long as I’m speaking of Windows, here’s some advice. Windows XP users: Please Install Service Pack 3. If you’re using an HP machine, make sure you have the latest updates (including firmware) for your computer before doing so. Also, Windows XP isn’t going to last forever. Windows users should be thinking about their next move within the Windows world. If you can afford it, have the hardware to support it, and you’re technically minded, Windows Server 2003 or 2008 might be an option. Windows Server is not for everyone, though.

Expect Windows 7 to arrive in 18 months or so (although Microsoft may not be able to deliver quite that fast). My best guess is that Windows 7 might wind up being something that might also be called Windows Vista Service Pack 3 with visible new changes (something like Windows XP SP2 or Windows ME). In other words, it may not be the fix that people who aren’t fond of Vista are waiting for.

In my opinion, Microsoft needs to downsize Windows. It has become bloated with non-essential extras. Simplicity, elegance, reliability, and performance should be the watch words of the next version of Windows. I wish I could say that’s likely to be the case, but I’m still hoping that I’m wrong.

5. When oil prices spiked in May and June, my interests turned sharply to a few of my other passions, automobiles, climate change, and alternative energy sources and technologies. Several posts were devoted to that, and I opted not to send a newsletter just for those posts, since most newsletter subscribers didn’t sign up for that type of content.

6. The Scot’s Newsletter sites were under security attack from May through early August. Once I discovered what was going on (in June), I was forced to shut down the blog and forums during this period, and I also spent well over 120 hours of my personal time fighting the problem on my home networks and machines as well as on my shared webhosting server. In the end, I had to research and select a new webhost, migrate my sites to the new host, update all my server applications, and resurrect the blog, forums, and other website in their new location.

The new webhost is much better than the old one in all aspects, including security, performance, and tech support. I’ve opted not to mention the new webhost by name (and I’d ask folks not to post the name if they decide to research it) until I write about it in a future post. What I can tell you now is that, so far, it’s the best webhost I’ve ever had. So there is a silver lining to my security hassles.

Not getting rid of me that easily

Finally, it should be noted that Scot’s Newsletter will continue to be updated as often as I have time to do so. It will continue to cover Windows, the Mac, broadband, security, Microsoft, Apple, and all the many things it has always covered. It may also cover other things I’m passionate about. Nothing has changed, really, it’s just that 2008 has so far been a year when I’ve had less time for writing posts. I’m not suddenly going to stop writing about computers. And I have no intention to discontinue the blog or the notification newsletter.

Scot’s Newsletter mailed today (first time in 5 months)

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

This is just a quick heads-up that the first issue of Scot’s Newsletter mailed today after an unintended 5-month hiatus. The contents of the newsletter are no longer published on the Web, since the newsletter is primarily a blog notification message. There is some information in this issue of direct interest to subscribers — including an explanation of why it’s been so long since the newsletter mailed.

Because, these days, newsletters often accidentally wind up in spam traps, I wanted to make sure that newsletter subscribers got this little extra notification from me with a suggestion that they check to ensure they got their copies. (Please note: I cannot resend the newsletter to you if you didn’t get it. My apologies.)

If you’d like to subscribe to or unsubscribe from the Scot’s Newsletter Blog email-notification list, those tasks are quite easy. Please visit SNB subscription page.

— Scot

Scot’s Newsletter Forums Open for Business

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

It’s taken a lot of work to get there, but the curtain has raised once again on Scot’s Newsletter Forums after a hiatus of more than three weeks. The closure, like the locking of this blog to comments and new registrations, was caused by hackers who were able to repeatedly access these sites via FTP. Both blog and forums have been moved to a new webhost and their underlying applications have been fully upgraded.

If you’re a frequenter of the forums, drop by and help us beta test the new forum software, configuration, and customizations.

Now that the forums are back open, the migration to the new host is complete. I’ve learned a lot from this less than happy experience. I’ll pass along some of my lessons learned in future blog entries.

And … We’re Back

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Good news! Scot’s Newsletter Blog is back in business. I have removed the registration block and reinstated the ability for registered readers to comment. Thanks for your patience.

During the hiatus, the blog was moved to a new webhost and was updated to the latest version of WordPress. Those jumps represent a major upgrade to the site, and I’m still working out some minor kinks. Please report any issues you may find by posting a comment to this thread or by sending me an email. Much obliged.

Welcome back. It feels good to be in business again.

— Scot

Performance Issues

Monday, February 18th, 2008

At 10:15AM Eastern Time on Monday, we are experiencing both Scot’s Newsletter Blog and Forums performance issues due to too many simultaneous connections on their databases. I have no way of knowing whether there continues to be a shared concurrent connection limit between the two databases (something that I thought I fixed) or whether this is simply a coincidence that the newsletter’s appearance last evening has created a big surge this AM on both sites, since it contains links to both.

I have temporarily turned off the forums while I check its database for corruption. Perhaps that will improve performance here at the blog. We’ll see.

— Scot

Statement of Independence

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Long-time Scot’s Newsletter readers know this, but the newsletter’s transformation to a blog makes it a bit more public than it was, and I think it’s important to make something clear:

Scot’s Newsletter does not accept any payment from any computer product vendor. I don’t do product consulting of any sort. I do not accept random payments of any sort from any computer software or hardware maker.

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Scot’s Newsletter List Comes Together

Monday, January 7th, 2008

Just a quick note to let longtime subscribers of Scot’s Newsletter know that the planned merger of the HTML and text lists has taken place. The subscription tools have also been upgraded (and greatly simplified) to support the change.

It’s important to note that Scot’s Newsletter has become the Scot’s Newsletter Blog Notification List. It is now a text-only, blurb-and-link newsletter that links to the blog. I merge/purged the HTML and Text lists into one. There’s no need for those previously subscribed to the HTML list to unsubscribe and resubscribe. This change is automatic for all subscribers and completely invisible.

So, beyond that … where’s your Scot’s Newsletter Blog content? It’s coming. As I do every year around this time, I took a vacation the last 10 days of December — which pushed me back quite a bit.

Expect a software firewall update in the near future. I’m also testing NOD32 3.0 (so far so good for me, but I’m hearing about issues).

Ciao,

— Scot

Blog Performance Improvements

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

As many “first responder” Scot’s Newsletter subscribers found out when the last newsletter went out on December 6, access to the database that underpins the Scot’s Newsletter Blog is limited to 50 simultaneous database calls by my webhost. Every shared webhost that I’ve come across has a similar MySQL access limit. So the limit was no surprise.

But I was not expecting so many readers to be unable to read any of the stories at all, or to have to wait “minutes” for pages to load, during the first couple of hours after the newsletter mailed. Normally, the blog is very fast, snappy even. So the problems that many people saw were temporary. But I experienced the slow performance myself. Even though the problem lasted only about two hours until peak demand wound down, the experience for the people who respond right away to the newsletter is unacceptable.

In case you’re wondering why this happened, there are some underlying technical issues that I’ll come back to shortly, but the primary cause is that the change to a blog focus means that the newsletter no longer contains whole articles; it describes articles and links to them on the blog site. Everyone who reads a blog post by clicking a link in the newsletter is making a call to the database. Scot’s Newsletter has never worked this way in the past. So it’s a learning experience.
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