From January 9th to the 16th, 2012, this website (DenyConformity.com) was shut down. Though I would love to say that it was because I was engaging in an extended protest of SOPA, it was actually something far more boring. Since I am making a post today, though, I am bound by the INTERNET CODE to reference how evil SOPA is as much as possible, so I apologize in advance for that.
We’ll have to go back a bit (just for a few sentences, I promise), to the early days of this website. Back in the ye olde days of 2005, I was a young, go-getting amateur web designer looking for a place to put a website that I could use to learn how to set up a website. After a tiny bit of searching, I found the cheapest host I could find, otherwise known as “Startlogic.com.” I set up my site, and everything worked fine. Over the years I had a few troubles here and there, but most were the fault of my lack of experience with the entire process. Startlogic, it seemed, was perfectly adequate for the task of hosting a low-tech website with an audience of several.
That was a problem solved, then (well, it wasn’t ever really a problem, so I guess it was a problem invented and then also solved). Over the last six (and a half) years, my little website has grown to a . . . well, it’s still the same hacked together, obviously made by somebody who didn’t know what he was doing mess. However, my little web empire has expanded to include quite a few other little kingdoms. I’ve pointed a few other domains at my Startlogic webspace, allowing me to host a couple websites for much cheaper than if I set them up separately. These sites include mynameissmac.com (the website for my mediocre music producing alter-ego), mcgillandhughes.com (the website for my on again, off again podcast with Will Hughes), and factorydinosaur.com (the site for the improv comedy group I am a part of in Chicago). I also set up a few sub-domains for some friends.
In late 2009, things started going rather pear-shaped with good old Startlogic. It was around that time that I started using a service called “Pingdom.” Pingdom will automatically poll a web domain every fifteen minutes, and notify you (via various methods; my favorite is Twitter) when the domain is down. I set it up to check on DenyConformity.com, just to see how good Startlogic’s uptime was.
This elicits a very quick technical aside. One of the more important aspects of a web host is “uptime,” or the percentage of time their servers are actively serving content. I would copy the definition from Wikipedia, but it is currently down in protest. Basically, if they have a problem with their servers or they shut them down for maintenance, their uptime goes down (time). Lower uptime means more time that your site won’t be visible, which is the opposite of what you want your website to be. It’s totally a buzzword, though, like “HD,” “Organic,” or “Democratic.” There’s no regulatory committee keeping track of uptime, and there’s no burden of proof for anybody who claims “99.99%.” Therefore, it’s pretty easy to just fudge the numbers a bit, and most web hosting providers do, in fact, claim 99.99%. Of course, uptime won’t mean anything anymore if SOPA goes through, so you should go call your Senator right now.
According to WebHostingStuff.com (which isn’t blacked out in protest right now), Startlogic’s uptime is 99.99%, which is great. That means in the last 2,319 days (which is how long this WebHostingStuff place has been tracking it), Startlogic has only been down 0.01%. Let’s look at the numbers. 2,319 days is 200,361,600 seconds, and 0.01% of that is 20,036 seconds, or about five and a half hours.
Yeah, but who the crap is WebHostingStuff.com, anyway? They aren't protesting SOPA and so they are evil corporate weiners who are probably in the pocket of Big Webhost. Luckily, I’ve been using my own tracking service for the last three years. In that time, Pingdom has recorded an uptime of only 99.68%. Since October, 2009, DenyConformity.com has been down a total of two days, fourteen hours, fifty-nine minutes and fourty-six seconds!
If you know anything about stats and math, you’ll know that the more numbers you include in your mean average, the closer that mean will approach 100%. A site could be down quite a bit, but if you look at it over six years it will average out to be closer to that 99.99% that everybody claims. Also, if you know anything about the web, you might realize that downtime is a necessary part of how things work, and if a site is down a few hours a month it’s not really a problem if it’s always at 5 AM, when nobody will be trying to look at it, anyway. I could try to paint Startlogic as a bad company (though they are also not protesting today) just because they have some downtime, but in truth it’s nothing to be concerned about.
So anyway, it was then, when I started using Pingdom, that I really started thinking that I should look for a new place to hang my @. I was getting almost daily reports of outages at all times of day, and any time I tried to contact Startlogic to figure out just want their deal was, it was like talking to a brick wall. A brick wall that charges you a bunch of money. My biggest push in this regard was to set up my own server to host my site, and thereby avoid dealing with bad third parties entirely. I wrote a couple posts about those efforts back in April, 2010. I still plan on continuing that tale for you, my only audience member, and it is the subject of a different post than this. However, the short story is that the Official DenyConformity.com Web Server is simply not yet (and will likely never be) quite ready for full-time hosting duties. However, it was, among other things, a distraction from the task at hand, namely G’ing the F O from Startlogic and their oppressive boot of ineptitude.
Presented for your perusal, anecdote number one from the history of DenyConformity.com’s many outages. The two most basic parts of a website are the Domain and the Server, and though you can buy them (though you’re really just renting them) both together, they are basically separate entities. If you aren’t quick enough on the draw and your domain’s aren’t set to auto-renew, after a year or two passes they won’t be yours anymore. Who owns them at that point depends on a lot of strange, theoretical conditions, but the world of domains is still very much the Wild, Wild West. Instead of banditos taking over your ranch, it’s GoDaddy.com squatting on your domain, charging you ridiculous (and illegal) amounts of money to get it back. Instead of revolvers, it’s DNS caches, and instead of Will Smith, it’s Danika Patrick in extremely misleading ads.
Anyway, this happened to me around September, 2010. I registered DenyConformity.com in August, 2005, and renewed it perfectly well over the next five years. Apparently, though, I forgot, and in 2010 it expired and was eventually sat (or shat) upon by a cyber squatting fiend. Luckily, DenyConformity.com is a lonely person’s seldom visited, angst-filled blog worth almost exactly nothing, so it was somewhat easy to just register it again and point it back at my site. It did mean that for a few days all you got when you went to DenyConformity.com was this garbage:
Particularly amusing is just how these completely automated sites dealt with what they thought DenyConformity.com was for. Apparently the primary categories for my site, according to robots, is “Conformity,” “Deny,” “Real Estate,” and “Apartment for Rent.” I’m glad that for those few days anybody who wanted to see DenyConformity.com immediately got a link for “Conformity.” I guess I should be glad they weren’t making judgements about my life. Well,
According to this robot, I seriously need some psychotherapy, and am also, apparently, a cartoon. That was somewhat disconcerting.
So I lost my domain for a few days and then got it back. Big deal? Well, the question is, how exactly could this have happened? It absolutely shouldn’t have is the answer. The fact is that Startlogic made absolutely no attempts to contact the account owner that their domains were expiring. Sure, the domains were still registered on my Purdue email address, and this was a year after I graduated, but my hosting account was definitely updated properly. They were perfectly content to let me continue to pay them for hosting access, even though my primary domain name, at the time the only way to access that web space, no longer existed. That’s a pretty great business model, I guess.
That should have been my sign that the time to G the F was finally N. I pushed forward with my server at home and settled on a complacent, “eh, who cares?” Eventually, Startlogic dropped the final straw bomb that broke the camel’s back.
It perhaps wouldn’t have been so annoying if Startlogic hadn’t picked the absolute worst time to drop this bomb. I just started a full-time job, so my free time immediately went from tons to nones. The very first day on this new job I received an email from Startlogic, saying the following:
denyconf / Cgi abuse 
This is to inform you that your website and CGI have been suspended. Your files are causing too many requests to the server and utilizing heavy network/server resources. The files causing the problems are given below:
I suggest you to delete these files and upgrade your application and then get back to us. I will then revoke the suspension of website and CGI.
If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to contact us. We are available 24x7.
That probably doesn’t mean much to someone who doesn’t know anything about web developing, but don’t worry, it doesn’t mean much to me, either. Needless to say I did have further questions. I contacted them that evening, mainly to ask fuck, and what about it. I tried to get them to clarify exactly what they meant, or when or how these heavy resources were being used. However, nobody gave me any info outside what was stated in Dylan’s email. Let me be clear: this site hasn’t changed in six years. That file, /content/olds.php is the same olds.php which has lived right there in /content/ for as long as this site has existed. That’s what I needed clarification on. Just what, exactly, has changed? They had no answer for me.
I understand that they have little room for customers using “heavy network/server resources,” but this time enough was enough. At this point I had no intention of fixing whatever “problem” suddenly appeared for no reason after six years. They made no effort to either warn me of the problem or work with me to fix it. Perhaps I’m being naive, but I feel like that’s not how a company should treat a (until this point) loyal customer of over half a decade. I had no interest in “upgrading” my application.
After an evening or two analyzing my options, I decided to move my business to Bluehost (.com). I’ve worked with Bluehost in the past with no complaints, was referred there by a colleague or two, and had a reasonably positive exchange with one of their support team. Also, hey, they have a big “Stop SOPA” banner on their site today. After finding the host, it took another evening to go through the process of transferring all of my domain names (a process that is far too complicated). Then, frustratingly, I had to sit and wait five more days for the domain transfers to be processed (for which I blame Startlogic). Finally, though, the site is back up and running (as made clear by the fact that you’re reading it now). All that’s left to do is somehow get Startlogic to give me as much refund as I can get out of them.
So, basically, if you need a summary of this post, because I can’t keep from writing page after page on the simplest of subjects, it is this: my website was down, for a reason I don’t know, and it took a week to get running again. Also down with SOPA.
The real sad thing is that I was planning on posting the rest of my Halloween costume pictures last week . . .