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Louis Kessler's Behold Blog

Up and Down - Sat, 21 Nov 2015

My websites, beholdgenealogy.com, lkessler.com, and gensoftreviews.com have been experiencing unfortunate periods of downtime over the past couple of months.

Yesterday, I put in my third ticket with Netfirms, my hosting company, about this. My first ticket was Oct 15 and I titled it:  “My sites are down a lot”.

Could you please check the server that my sites: www.beholdgenealogy.com, www.lkessler.com and gensoftreviews.com are on. Is there some problem with the server, because Uptime Robot has reported 150 incidents of my sites going down, several times every day, for the past two weeks. These are confirmed by a second monitoring service I use: pingdom.com. This seems to have started about 2 a.m. on Sept 29. The most recent incident was about 14 minutes ago (9:20pm EST) for about 5 minutes. My sites timed out when I tried accessing them and it also affected my lkessler.com email.

Is there some bad service or problem on the server that is hosting my sites?
 
Anything you can do to improve this situation will be appreciated. Thanks.

An hour and a half later, after a few contacts back and forth on the ticket, they “fixed” it:

Our Network Operations Team has corrected the issue causing some customers to have issues accessing their sites and email . You should once again have full access to your services. Thank you for your patience as we worked to correct the issue.

So then things improved, and my monitoring services only reported a couple of incidents each day, a bit higher than the less than 1 that I was averaging prior to all this, but still acceptable. But it did’t take long, and on November 16th, my second ticket titled: “My sites are again down a lot”.

I am having the same sort of problems that I had about a month ago where all my sites are going down a lot, i.e. a dozen times each today.

Please see my ticket 14587925 - Then your Network Operations Team corrected the issue. Please look at this again.

About six hours later:

Our Network Operations Team has corrected the issue causing some customer’s websites to display a blank white page.. Your website should be fully operational once more. We truly thank you for your patience as we worked to correct the issue.

So things got good for 3 more days. Then yesterday, it was horrendous, worse than ever. I had just released version 1.2 of Behold and I had reports that the download wouldn’t install. So I checked and my sites were down about half the time I tried to access them. I figured something was happening preventing the whole installation program to download. So I put in my third ticket, titled “Once Again, my SItes are Going Down”:

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I do know what’s going on. My websites are on a shared server at Netfirms. My sites are served along with a few hundred other sites on the server. These are huge machines, powerful with lots of RAM. The MySQL databases for GenSoftReviews and the Behold Blog and Forum are served by another huge SQL server at Netfirms. Together, the power of these servers has left my site fast and responsive with very fast response on my WordPress-based sites, which were slow at IXWebHosting before I moved my sites to Netfirms in 2008.

What’s happening now is one of a few possible things. There might be someone on the same server as me who has a programming problem on his web page. It starts running into some infinite loops and it drags the server down. Another possibility is that there is someone on the server who is an abuser. He may be sending out millions of spam mail, or doing something malicious which he’s covering up. The third possibility is that one of the shared sites has had a lucky streak and got extremely popular, with millions of hits coming in to its web pages because of that. And then there’s the possibility that there is some abuser out there doing a denial of service attack on one of the sites on this server, sending millions of hits on purpose to grind the server to a halt.

Which it is, I don’t know, because the Netfirms Technical Management won’t say. They only say they corrected the “issue”.

As part of yesterday’s troubles, I called Netfirm’s priority support via phone. My “priority” support left me on hold for 32 minutes before the tech support rep answered. We spent over 20 minutes talking about the situation. I told him I understand the reasons but expect that this fix again may only be temporary.

The rep mentioned that I could consider a Virtual Private Server (VPS). Yes, I knew that as I’ve researched and considered them before. They would indeed prevent other sites on the same server from affecting my site. Now I’m not so much worried about the extra cost and extra work on my part to maintain a VPS. The real problem is that it has limited RAM and limited CPU power out of its server. That means if I have one of those lucky popular events (e.g. a super-popular web post, or piles of downloads), my VPS won’t be able to handle it, whereas a shared server would have the power to do so.

So far, in the 30 hours since the third “issue” was “corrected”, pingdom has reported 3 incidents. I could live with that, but its still more than the less than one incident per day that should be the norm.

If another build-up of downtimes happens again, I’ll definitely be asking Netfirms to try to find who or what is causing this, or otherwise move my sites to a different server. As long as the problem is not happening on or to one of my own sites, then that should fix things and bring back good reliability.

The joys of websites.

Changing Payment Processors - Tue, 17 Nov 2015

This is why I’m switching from using @BlueSnapInc to @FastSpring to process payments for Behold.

I started about 10 years ago with what was then Plimus. Plimus was founded in 2001. They were a payment processor that would accept payments for Behold on my behalf. They had a nice interface to produce a buy now page that I could easily customize so that it looked just like the Behold site. It accepted credit cards, PayPal, cheques and money orders (which they would manually process) and handled foreign currencies, VAT, refunds and more. There was no setup charge and they charged 10% for each payment processed. If Behold was higher priced, then that percentage would have been less.

Plimus did very well for me over the years. I was happy with them. And then in 2011 the company was acquired by Great Hill Partners in Boston, and bad things were starting to happen. With a class action law suit against them and their name muddied, the company rebranded them in 2013 as BlueSnap.

Okay. I could live with that. It could happen to anyone. As long as the underlying company admits past mistakes and works to improve themselves and regain ground as an honourable corporate citizen, they should be forgiven.

No. They hid everything. They seemed not to be getting better, but getting worse. They no longer were revealing their fees and charges openly. A 2014 report on them was not positive.

My Buy Now page looked like this:
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But the real coup de gras for me was what they did, without warning, to their fee structure. I guess 10% per sale wasn’t enough for them. $500 a year on $5,000 obviously doesn’t cover their costs for small merchants like me. So why not add a $75 monthly fee just for people who are grossing less than $2,500 a month. Make a change to the agreement, and require all vendors to sign. Make sure you only mention the fee in the agreement and not in the notice to the vendor. That way, they’ll likely not read it and won’t even notice the extra money you’re pulling out of them for at least a few months. If they don’t sign, then bye-bye. Sign and they’ll now pay $1,400 on $5,000 annual sales. Ummm. That’s like 28% isn’t it?

So did people like this?
BlueSnap $75 a month fee
Plimus / BlueSnap changes for those who use them
Blue-Snap-Steals-Your-Money

Well, this was too much for me as well.

Back in 2009, I had checked out FastSpring, who was then a relative newcomer on the market. I heard good things about them and even set up an account and tried it out. Their rates were a little better, charging only 8.3% on a $40 order. And the thing people liked most about them was their customer service.

But everything was working fine then with Plimus. I didn’t care about the 1.7% difference because back then there was more risk in moving from a stable working environment than to a new not-necessarily better alternative.

Now, however, Plimus–>BlueSnap has dug their own grave. This move is best made now so I won’t have to worry about things later, like others have already done.

The new page Behold Buy Now page functions almost the same as it did before. It’s still a simple, streamlined and secure payment form:

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I have had some honest advice that I still shouldn’t be giving away 8.3% of my earnings. I should try the payment system made for developers known as Stripe that has just been taking off among developers. Pricing there on $40 is 3.6%. All the tools are available to process payments however you want. But, it’s a do-it yourself thing that I’d have to put together, and that would divert time from what I really want to do, which is develop Behold. Besides, If I was really worried about “losing” that 4.7% difference, I could just raise the price of Behold to $42. But I’m not, and I don’t have to.

I’ve done enough setup and testing with FastSpring that I’m fairly certain it will work well for me. Purchasers of Behold shouldn’t notice a difference. And if the FastSpring customer service is good and the company sticks around, then it should take over where BlueSnap left off, and serve me well for a long time.

Behold Version 1.2 - Sun, 15 Nov 2015

I think I’ve got it right this time. Life Events have been cut down to include only the really relevant events that will be important in your research.

Children and parent birth, marriage and death events are important. Siblings are as well until the person of interest gets married. Half-family, stepfamily and adoptions are displayed as they should be. Too many programs make it hard to see what’s going on between half and stepfamily. These were very tricky relationships to set up. I think I got it all correct, but let me know if something doesn’t seem right.

I am quite pleased with two sets of information that Behold now presents that few other programs do. I think they are both valuable for research:

Survived By / Predeceased By

For each person who has died with a known death date, there’s a “survived by” and “predeceased by” section designed to present the names somewhat like they would be presented in an obituary. If you have the obituary, you can check it with this list to see if it matches, and update or correct your genealogy data so that this information does match.

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Current Relatives

If the person is still living, the report will show a list of all the close relatives of that person with you ages and length of marriage if possible. You can use this list to call the person up and intelligently ask them how everyone’s doing, and verify with them that the information is still correct.

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There are still a few niggling things to fix up, and I saw them as I made up some screenshots. I’ll get those right as I prepare an update to the User Guide which I’ll release very soon along with what will be Version 1.2.1. 

If you find any problems with the new version, or have some simple suggestions that I can squeeze into Version 1.2.1, please let me know.

But the bottom line is, hopefully you’ll like this version much better than 1.1.

You can upgrade to Version 1.2 from within your current version of Behold. Go to the menu and select Help –> Check Online for New Version.  Or you can download it from the Behold download page.