The OS Quest Trail Log #46: Housekeeping Edition

Picture of Santa Celebrating with a beerIt’s been over a month since I’ve done a Trail Log and I got some time for blog updates this weekend so I might aw well do one. The day job has kept me busy and pretty well burnt out by the time I get home so I haven’t dived in depth into anything for awhile. But recently I’ve started to take a look at things that have piqued my interest.

Optimization

I’ve been on a Google kick lately, first looking at Picasa Web (because of the Google Eye-Fi offer) followed by Google Public DNS. Then I went down a unexpected rat hole with the newly added site performance feature in Google Webmaster Tools. This was actually a quit enjoyable foray into site optimization and I learned a lot in a short amount of time. One thing I learned is I have a lot more to learn. I’ll have one or two posts out in the next couple of days on this and other tools along with the optimizations I made. I’ve already made some changes like compressing the header and other images that appear on multiple pages. This was all pretty ad-hoc and I didn’t keep very good notes, but I want to start optimizing some of my most viewed pages so I’ll write up the posts when I do them.

Regular visitors may also notice the social bookmarking links at the bottom of each post have changed. This is also the result of the optimization testing. I tried several and all had a pretty significant performance impact. Several others I tried were just as bad but for other reasons. The one I’m using now, Social Bookmarks, provides the best performance. Even so, I can’t use all it’s features and there was a bug in it’s CSS that I had to fix (it was trying to load a non-existent image. This was all part of the fun, since trying to optimize things required me to try and figure out how things worked. It comes as no surprise that all those web 2.0 bells and whistles are expensive.

Along the optimization lines I’ve also been researching a new web host. I really like Slicehost and have no complaints. If I was running a business I’d be staying with them. They have solid support. The best part is their server has been reliable enough that I’ve rarely needed support and only to have them do things I couldn’t do myself (like kernel upgrades before they added that ability to the console). But the reality is there are now competitors with more hardware for the buck. After the holidays I’ll pick one and give it a try. The question is can I get the same or better for less money. No sense starting now since it would site idle most of the time.

Other Website Changes

I’ve made a couple other changes, only one is worth mentioning. I had been closing comments 90 days after a article was published as a way to stop spam. I turned this off and re-enabled comments. If a certain posts attracts spam and isn’t otherwise worth commenting on I’ll turn off comments for the post. I don’t check the spam queue for false positives so if you post a comment you should limit the number of links. Also, when moderating comments I’m more likely to spam a short “nice post” type comment instead of checking any links.

I’m turning it back on because I’m even worse at answering email than I am with replying to comments. At least with comments others can join in. I still have a couple emails I need to respond to. Still feel free to send an email. I’ll just apologize in advance for the slow response.

Frustrations

Of course, things haven’t been frustration free. As I started writing this article my netbook woke up in the other room and started doing a backup to my Windows Home Server. This serves as a reminder then when a PC does a backup to my WHS it slows the server down to a crawl for everything else. So tonight my streaming video stopped. It’s not usually a problem since the backup occur in the dead of night. But occasionally they aren’t. Eventually I’ll have to dig into this. Unfortunately once the problem occurs I can’t get a remote connection to see what’s going on, so I actually have to set up a test and be prepared. On the plus side, the problem seems consistent so once I set things up it should happen the first time I test.

The new Handbrake also stopped working on me. I’d upgraded it and it was working without a problem. Then I applied Apple’s latest updates and it stopped (that Mac Mini is still on Leopard). I’ll try a Handbrake re-install first. VLC is also pretty old so my next step will be to try and update that since Handbrake uses it’s library. It’s just one of those annoying things that’s not hugely important yet.

DNS Errata

In between writing my Google Public DNS article and now I listened to the latest Security Now podcast by Steve Gibson. In it, he mentions a DNS benchmarking tool that he’s written. He’s written some great utilities so I’ll be sure to check it out. Steve is also my hero because he writes his utilities in assembler. They rarely need updating for bugs and they’re nice and small. His DNS benchmark utility is 150kb while the namebench utility is over 8MB even when compressed. And it’s not because his is command line, it’s a Windows GUI too.

Happy Holidays

SantaHi That’s about it for this trail log. I might get another Trail Log in before the end of the year since I have some days off, but there’s no guarantee. I’ll be happy if I get the optimization article(s) done this weekend. The coffees’s on so we’ll see how long I can go. Thanks to the miracle of WordPress post scheduling I’m hoping to get pretty far into the future so this site isn’t so dormant. So happy holidays to everyone.

Google DNS – Close But No Cigar

image of WWW on goldAmong Google’s recent announcements was their introduction of Google Public DNS. I’ve been using OpenDNS and have no complaints. Well, actually I recently found I had defaulted back to using my ISP’s DNS (Comcast), probably during a router firmware upgrade. When I switched to back OpenDNS I also didn’t notice a different over Comcast. I wouldn’t have noticed unless I was in the router config for another reason and happened to see it.

Comcast and OpenDNS both do typo hijacking and display a search page with ads rather than an error page. I went through the process of opting out of Comcast’s typo hijacking. OpenDNS also allows an opt-out for typo hijacking which I have set. Interestingly enough, the advertising company – Google, doesn’t hijack typos for ads and they display the error page for typos. But this lack of hijacking wasn’t a benefit for me since my opt-outs were already in place and were working fine.

To be honest I didn’t notice any performance difference when I was set to use any of them. When I first switched from Comcast to OpenDNS long ago I did notice imroved performance, but not this time. So I went looking for a way to benchmark performance and came across namebench. It’s simple to use and provides useful information.

Just download namebench and run the executable. You’ll be presented the following screen:

namebench main screen

The “Benchmark Data Source” is a drop down that let’s you pick one of your browsers or the Alexa Top Global Domains as a data source. Picking your most used browser provides results that are specific to the way you browse. Some people have complained that this could send all your browsing history to one person (the Google developer). Since the source code is public it’s easy to confirm it doesn’t. But, if your still concerned, picking Alexa will use generic sites.

Click “Start Benchmark” to get things going. Once the benchmarking is done (took about 10 minutes for me) a page with the results will open in your browser. At the top will be the information yiu really want:

namebenchresults

The above result is from a run after I’d already re-configured for it’s previous recommendations and OpenDNS is the second fastest DNS server according to the benchmark. The right box displays the recommended DNS servers that should be used. In my case the first one is the internal IP of my local router so should be ignored. (I didn’t include it in the screenshot but you’ll get detailed info on the servers tested. See the previously linked namebench page for samples.

The bottom line is Google Public DNS didn’t make the cut. So, while the accuracy of the benchmark may be questioned (as would any benchmark) it’s pretty clear there’s no Google favoritism. M5Net, UltraDNS and Comcast were my recommended DNS servers. Another note, because of caching the first time run of namebench will deliver the most accurate results.

So, I started off by looking at Google Public DNS but by the time I was done I was off of it. But looking into it I considered the following:

  • This gives yet more of my information to Google, which at it’s core is an advertising company. Their privacy policy is pretty good and Google hasn’t monetized DNS yet. Of all the info Google has on me, my DNS info is probably less of a concern. Let’s face it, someone is going to have this data. It’s Google’s recent cavalier comments about privacy and all the other info they have that’s a concern.
  • Google doesn’t have to match the info to me to benefit. The additional information they collect about were people surf and how often is a treasure waiting to be mined. They don’t need to put ads on error pages to profit from DNS.
  • Google does continuously hit on speeding up the web so it’s likely they’ll keep improving performance. They have studies showing that slow response on their search results generates lower revenue.
  • They also promote security and Google certainly has the money and talent to keep DNS as secure as possible.

Like my recent foray into Google’s Picasa/Eye-Fi deal, Google Public DNS is yet another Google offering that sounded good but wasn’t quit right for me. Like Picasa, Google DNS will stay on my radar and I’ll check it out sometime down the road. Anyone else trying Google Public DNS?