Do you happen to have a really bad uptime for PHP’s APC, and it seems to randomly restart after 2 hours or so? Well, chances are that you are running cPanel/WHM on this server as well?
The problem is that you need to enable Piped Loggin for Apache. This can be found under Apache Configuration in WHM.
Configure Apache to use a single log target for all virtual host access and bandwidth logs. The combined logs will be piped to a helper application where they can be split based upon domain. This option will reduce the number of log files Apache manages freeing up system resources. Piped logging is recommended for systems with a large number of domains. By default this feature is disabled, and Apache will create distinct log files for each virtual host entry.
Once you do this, your log files will be processed (it defaults to every 2 hours), without APC restarting. For even more information, head over to this post on the cPanel forums.
This problem is obviously very frustrating and it took me quite a while to dig up the solution. Hopefully this helps others out there.
A few weeks ago I came to the realization that my current implementation of upgrading and billing users on FantasySP using Paypal was pretty terrible.
It was a clunky process where the user left my site to go to paypal, then they could sign in and/or input their credit card information. After that, they get directed back to my site to a “success” page.
The user was unable to upgrade from a monthly subscription to a yearly subscription, if he so chose. I never implemented automatic membership downgrades/upgrades because I thought I would be leaving paypal sooner rather than later. To top it off, the design of the page was just plain bad.
Talk about a mess. This is what my upgrade/billing page used to look like:
Simplicity is Key
When it comes to designing and implementing the new upgrade flow, I knew I wanted something extremely simple and easy to use:
User should stay on the fantasysp.com domain during the process (SSL would have to be installed)
Only 2 subscription choices to pick from with a suggested audience.
Able to upgrade from monthly to yearly with a prorated cost.
Able to apply a coupon code during selection BEFORE he checks out.
Easily see the breakdown of features.
Design the Page
Instead of hiring a professional designer, I decided to take a crack at this one myself. If what I made looked like shit then I would bite the bullet and hire a pro. I would never say that I am a designer, but I can pretend to be one. I looked at quite a few checkout pages ranging from 37signals to Old Navy. I skipped the Photoshop process of a mockup and went straight to designing in HTML/CSS because I knew what I wanted in my head:
The boxes look pretty much like Monopoly cards, right? Instead of smashing everything together, I wanted to make sure I utilized the entire width of the website. The user is presented with a CLEAR option of free, monthly, or yearly plus. Underneath the price suggests who would benefit best from the plan. Monthly is for the seasonal fantasy player, whereas Yearly is for hardcore players, and Standard is for the casual player. When mousing over each box, the background turns yellow.
You may notice that I decided to use different fonts (via Google Fonts) because I think it makes it appear and feel more unique. Arial gets boring real quick. I also wanted to make sure that the page relied solely on CSS for styling. Everything you see there are some fairly simple and common CSS techniques to add a bit of flare to each box.
The coupon code is shown just below the choices WITHOUT a button. My site will analyze the text as the user types or pastes the coupon into the box. In order to proceed to the next page, the user must click a box. If a valid/expired coupon code is detected then it gives a message like so:
But of course, the user needs to see the full breakdown of the features. The user also needs to see what the site would look like as a Yearly Plus subscriber, which means the top banner of the site will show Player Trends instead of banner ads:
The user can mouse over the bottom 4 choices and see more information about each via tooltips powered by qTips. Now lets move onto the actual form to submit the subscription order:
Thanks to Stripe, I don’t need their billing address or even full name to process an order. We want the bare minimum here so the user can quickly move on. Next to the plan is an option to change their plan. There is also an option to “Go Back” incase the user changes their mind. The “Submit Payment” button is BIG and BOLD because the user should be able to quickly find the “Submit” button.
Again, clicking the “Submit Payment” button sends the information to Stripe and then responds back with a token if valid. Once that happens, then communication between Stripe occurs and the user is upgraded to their selected plan. If all goes well, the form is finally submitted and the user is presented with a Success page.
But Wait, There’s More
You thought that was it, huh? That is the basic checkout process, but the user needs to see an email invoice to ensure they have something for their records. Sounds like something else I have to design that also needs to look just as good and be just as simple. Luckily I recently redesigned the email newsletter that goes out, so I used that template for the invoice:
Looks like I should be nearly done with the design of the billing process, but there are a few more possibilites to take into account. What about Cancelling memberships? What about Upgrading from a Monthly subscription to a Yearly Plus?
As you can see, choosing to upgrade a subscription prompts the user with a new box via jQuery UI. After clicking yes, the user is shown the price and is sent a new prorated invoice. Similarly, if the user wishes to cancel, then a similar box would pop up.
Revamping a billing page takes a lot of planning, testing, and fine tuning. Just the design implementation alone took about 2 weeks with lots of tweaking. Lots of frontend technologies are used including jQuery, jQuery UI, Google Fonts, Stripe, and qTip. There are still a few things that need to be tweaked on the frontend and backend, but overall the new billing is exactly what I envisioned and is light-years better than what I had.
Hopefully this post will help others who are thinking about revamping their upgrade flow. Nearly 3 weeks of hard-work launched a few days ago and it was great to see a few users already go through the process with no problems. Merry Christmas to me.
For those of you interested in a brief summary, building your own 3D HTPC is recommended for the technically inclined. You will likely run into small snags and it is a bit pricey. Despite that, it beats ALL small media players such as popcornhour or wdlive in terms of features and performance.
I used to use my PC for my media playing needs before I purchased the original Popcornhour A-100. Since then I have been using popcornhour up to version A-210. Eventually I realized that the media player’s limitations were really starting to get to me. There are limitations in 3D movie support as well as the lack of high definition audio support. Not to mention the slow clunky interface.
I decided last week that it was time to go back to using a PC, though this time it will be a Home Theater PC dedicated to task at hand. My goal was simple: Complete support for all modern audio and video formats and future proof it the best I can.
Step 1: Research
I’ve built plenty of PCs in my day, but never a HTPC, so I honestly wasn’t sure where to start. Then I figured, since I plan to use XBMC it would be a good idea to check out their forums. I began by reading this post by eskro to find out which type of setup I’d fit into. My build fits into group #7, which then leads you to his recommended base specs. Ultimately, I went with this base setup that he recommended.
As you can see, this setup does not include memory, hard drives, or a DVD/Blu-ray drive. I also need to upgrade the video card to the GT430 to make sure I have 3D support. I also decided the boot drive should be an SSD, since I want to make sure this thing boots up quick and has a snappy interface. My final specs look like this:
As you can see, I had to buy a low profile cpu heatsink/fan. The reason is that the default heatsink was too big when I was trying to install it. I had no choice but to wait until the new heatsink came. In fact, if I could do it over again I would also opt to get low-profile memory as well. It is an extremely tight fit in there so any time something is offered in a smaller format, go ahead and buy it.
You may also want to purchase a 2.5 to 3.5 inch bay converter for the SSD to fit snug. The western digital hard drive is a very tight fit as well and just bare fit with the SATA cables touching the cpu fan. If I had to do it over again, I’d opt for the 90 degree SATA connectors to avoid them sticking out too far.
Install Windows 7 / Software
As you probably noticed, I did not buy a DVD/Blu-ray drive, mainly because I don’t intend on using it and would free up space for the future. The only problem with that is there is no CD drive to install Windows on. If you have a 8gig USB stick and have a Windows 7 ISO handy, then create a bootable USB thumb drive. Though you can install whichever OS you are most comfortable with.
Playing Blu-ray ISOS
XBMC should be your media player of choice for your HTPC, but Boxee is also worth a look. Both are free, so it can’t hurt to install both to see which one you prefer. I opted to install the Nightly build of XBMC 11.00, which is scheduled to be released in Dec 2011. Both have an awesome interface and its quite refreshing coming from a Popcornhour.
As you may know, XBMC does not support menu’s for a Blu-ray ISO file. When you mount a blu-ray image via daemon tools, you will see an option called “Play Disc” and the movie will play. If you want menu support then you will have to use something like PowerDVD 11. Luckily they offer a 30 day trial.
XBMC 11.00 supports high definition audio formats such as DTS-HD and Dolby True HD. Obviously, PowerDVD will also support these formats.
Playing 3D Blu-Rays
In order to get 3D Blu-ray ISOs to play you must first enable 3D support under the nvidia control panel. There is an option to modify your 3D settings, so have your glasses handy and run through the quick setup process. Once you do that, open up PowerDVD and 3D mode should work with no problem, assuming the movie is in 3D.
Also keep in mind that you need to purchase the Geforce GT 430 (or similar card) to have HD Audio format support and 3D playback. It goes without saying that your receiver and TV also need to be 3D capable. Your reciever must support HD audio formats and have 3D pass through via HDMI 1.4
Is an HTPC for You?
As you probably guessed, building your own HTPC and setting it up is a bit of a pain in the ass. It will likely be a weekend project, or at least a full day. There are a lot of steps and things to set up before you can watch your movies in all their glory. If you have never built your own PC, then I’d advise against building your own HTPC. Instead, you might want to purchase a pre-built one like the ASRock 3D for $699. I also hear that new sigma chips to support 3D playback and HD audio will make their way to devices in 2012 (if they haven’t already). That should be an interesting option for those of you who cannot handle building an HTPC.
As for performance, this HTPC setup will be able to handle anything you can throw at it this year and for several years to come. Now that the system is set up, minor upgrades for more HD space, new video card, or new software updates will be extremely easy. Furthermore, XBMC is actively being developed and will continue to improve much faster than anything else out there. Similarly, PowerDVD will also be able to handle playing blu-ray movies with no problem with full menu support.
Is it Worth it?
If you want to take the plunge into HD audio and 3D blu-ray’s then it is most definitely worth it. I used to play mkv 1080p backup movies and thought, “what more could I need?” Those rips are fine, and I’ll continue to play them, but for action movies nothing beats the original blu-ray. The movie experience now is truly awesome. Some people rent Netflix movies while others build an HTPC. I happen to prefer the latter.
The bottom line is that if you have the time, money, and hardware then go with an HTPC. Not to mention it’s also a handy extra PC for the living room.
The web is a mighty big place and the fantasy sports market has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 5 years. All of that growth spawned many sites that have come and gone, in the news one day and no where to be found 6 months later. Some of today’s best fantasy sites are having record traffic numbers, and for good reason, because they provide incredible fantasy insight.
What people often forget about, is the technology behind these sites. Are fantasy sports sites up to date using the latest technology and do they spend time optimizing the sites for speed? I will be tackling the latter category in this blog post: speed. The speed at which a website loads is a huge factor in end user satisfaction. Below you will find the best known names in fantasy sports news and I will compare them to the big boys to see how they stack up in speed. As most of you know by now, I developed a site called FantasySP and will also show you how FantasySP compares to these sites in terms of speed.
In order to test each website’s performance, I will be using Firebug 1.7.2 with YSlow 2.1.0 under Firefox 4.0.1. I will load each site’s homepage with advertisements shown and advertisements blocked (using AdBlock Plus). I will also be using Pingdom’s Site Speed tool to test load times. This should give a fair comparison on the speed of each site.
Rotoworld needs no introduction as it is the premier site when it comes to fantasy news and analysis. However, does the same hold true when it comes to page speed and size?
With advertisements shown, you see 228 HTTP requests and a size of almost 2 meg on initial page load. Your second page load has 212 HTTP requests and 104k in size. Without a question, they do a terrible job at optimizing their site for speed.
Without advertisements, loading Rotoworld has 214 HTTP requests and around 1.8 meg in size. The second pageload is at 202 HTTP requests and page size is about 40k. Blocking advertisements at Rotoworld will save you a little bit of time, but not much since their site is in desperate need of optimization.
Perhaps the second biggest name when it comes to fantasy news is Rotowire. Are they any better when it comes to load times?
Rotowire has 165 HTTP requests and the size of the page is 1.6meg with advertisements. Second pageload will see 134 HTTP requests and around 150k in size. Slightly better than Rotoworld, but still quite poor.
Without advertisements Rotowire has 103 HTTP requests at 1.3 meg in size. The second pageload has 88 HTTP requests and 70k in size. Rotowire has room for improvement, but it seems most of the extra requests and bloat come in the form of advertisements.
kffl is another top fantasy news site in the industry, perhaps they can do a better job when it comes to speeds?
As you can see HTTP requests with advertisements are at 97 and the size of the page is around 1 meg. Second page load shows 88 HTTP requests and 75k in size. So far kffl does a much better job in terms of speeding up the site and minimizing requests and size of the page.
Pingdom Load Time: 10 seconds. (Why 10 seconds? My guess is that their server isn’t as expensive as the other two and they are in desperate need of a CDN to help with load time)
RotoInfo isn’t a huge name, but Fanball is no more and these guys were the only other ones I could come up with for good fantasy analysis and news. So let’s have a look at how they perform.
Initial page load with advertisements has 158 HTTP requests and weighs in at a hefty 3.2 meg. Second page load has 46 HTTP requests and 80k in size. Looks like we have a new winner for total page size thanks to their enormous added size in images.
With advertisements blocked, it has 147 HTTP requests at 3.1 meg. Second page load has 35 HTTP requests at 72k. They are pretty much as bad as Rotoworld and Rotowire.
Looking at the past 4 fantasy news websites, it is blatantly obvious that these guys aren’t the best when it comes to speeding up their sites. kffl is the best at keeping HTTP requests down and page size low, but that didn’t seem to translate to a fast page. Rotoworld, Rotowire, and RotoInfo are remarkably bad at utilizing modern techniques to make sure their sites are as fast as they can be. Some are lacking a CDN, others are riddled with too many HTTP requests, and most have both problems. All of these things are fixable, and I urge them to fix these problems.
So you might be wondering, how does FantasySP fit in all of this? FantasySP was built from the ground up to be fast. It was built because I wanted a centralized location to keep an eye on player news and manage my fantasy teams. What FantasySP does is grab news from your favorite fantasy sites (listed above), blogs, and newspapers and presents the information to you as fast as possible. When you read something interesting, you head over to the source site to get the full scoop.
Before I show you how fast FantasySP is, let me show you how fast ESPN and CBSSports are since they are the best in the business with an unlimited budget.
ESPN is one of the premier sports sites on the internet and they have recently undergone a major redesign. Perhaps they need to show us how to create a speedy website?
With advertisements, ESPN has 88 HTTP requests and weighs in at 800k. The second page load has 26 HTTP requests with 62k in size. Clearly, these guys know what they are doing.
Without advertisements, ESPN has 76 HTTP requests and is 674k in size. The second page load has 15 HTTP requests and 60k in size. They do a fantastic job at minimizing HTTP requests, making sure the size of the page is small, and utilizing a CDN. Even with their embedded video on the front page and interactive scoreboard, their site does a fantastic job at keeping things speedy. Perhaps the only thing they could do to further improve things is to create a CSS sprite for some of their images.
Pingdom Load Time: 2.5 seconds. (Using the best techniques with the best hardware results in super fast load times, no surprise there)
How does CBSSports compare to ESPN? Let’s find out.
CBSSports has 51 HTTP requests with 700k in total size with advertisements. Second page load has 10 HTTP requests at 48k in size. These are extremely impressive numbers considering they have advertisements shown.
I’ve talked a lot about load times and speed, so hopefully my site runs more like ESPN and CBSSports and less like Rotoworld. Let’s find out:
With advertisements FantasySP has 55 HTTp requests at 358k in size. On the second page load, 25 HTTP requests at 42k in size. Clearly one of the best sites in terms of HTTP requests and the smallest in size. This sounds great, but keep in mind that some of the other sites such as ESPN, CBSSports, and Rotoinfo have a richer user experience by including videos and/or interactive scoreboards. This is the main reason why I am able to keep page size so small.
Without advertisements FantasySP has 38 HTTP requests at 241k in size. On the second pageload there are 9 HTTP requests with 29k in size. When it comes to reading fantasy news, the end user might prefer FantasySP over any other fantasy site listed here based on speeds alone. In fact, new signups to FantasySP get advertisements disabled to speed up their experience and they are replaced with Player Trends. Hows that for enticing?
So What’s Your Point?
The point of this whole post is to inform sites in the fantasy news space to spend the time to improve the user experience. The size of your homepage should not be near 3 meg in size with 150+ HTTP requests. Your products and news are great, and all you need are some fine tuning. Major sports sites like ESPN and CBSSports are highly optimized and well oiled machines. There is no reason why Rotowire, Rotoworld, Kffl, and RotoInfo can’t follow their lead. I am a HUGE fan of these sites and FantasySP would not exist without them, so please use what I’ve talked about in this post and improve your sites.
Questions? Comments? Glaring mistakes? Please let me know.
UPDATE: Here is a handy spreadsheet with speed data. Light green denotes best performing, dark green good performing, orange is bad performing.
UPDATE #2: As per request, I’ve taken a look at DraftSharks. They have also been added to the spreedsheet above.
DraftSharks with advertisements has 80 HTTP Requests at 1.1 meg in size. The second pageload has 6 HTTP Requests and 38k. This puts DraftSharks on par or better than kffl. Completely respectable job optimizing the site for speed. Much like all the other sites, if they combined js files and created a CSS sprite then HTTP requests would be even lower. It also wouldn’t hurt if they looked into a CDN solution if it fits in their budget.
Without advertisements DraftSharks have 79 HTTP requests at 1.1 meg. Second page load has 5 HTTP Requests at 38k. Not much of a difference, mainly because most of their ads aren’t blocked by default by AdBlock Plus.
Pingdom Page Load: 7.2 seconds. (The pageload slowdown is likely due to Pingdom adding 80 or so EXTRA images that I did not see based on my testing.)
Web developers who plan to work alone, or are already doing so have a lot of obstacles to overcome. One of which is being isolated and having no like-minded professionals to turn to for advice and feedback. I know this one all too well and have been working alone for the past 5+ years on various projects. My current project, FantasySP, has been extremely challenging and rewarding at the same time. Reinventing how people manage their fantasy sports teams can be quite a challenge.
Smashing magazine wrote a great article detailing why you should not be working alone. However, some of us have no choice but to work alone. It could be that you are doing a solo project that no one believes in, or you simply do not have enough funding to get anyone else on board. Fear not, this article will show you where to go to get some helpful feedback.
This is my personal favorite for websites to turn to when you are stuck in a bind. As a developer on your own you will eventually run into programming problems that you need to get some outside advice on. Whether it be a MySQL scalability issue or how to parse JSON in PHP. You are free to post about whatever problem you are having, even newbie questions are often given great responses. Questions are mostly geared towards programing, but can occasionally touch on server configuration or just plain old HTML questions.
Best part about the site? The community is friendly, extremely knowledgeable, and eager to help. I’ve asked questions on that site that directly and indirectly led to answers. I can’t say enough good things about this site and suggest anyone who is involved in coding to sign up and participate. You’ll feel compelled to help others and try to be the first one to get selected as “Best Answer” to rack up points.
Forrst is a site that can be used for networking with like-minded individuals and provide a spot to ask a wide range of questions that usually don’t pop up on Stack Overflow. This site isn’t specifically limited to questions. You have the option to post code snippets, screenshots of projects, to gain feedback. You can even post useful links that you think can be beneficial to others. Your posts can be private or made public, it’s completely up to you.
If you are looking for feedback on a blog layout, design mockups, or coding then Forrst can be a great spot to check out. I do not have much experience here, but from what I’ve seen thus far the community seems helpful and eager to help. Getting started on Forrst you may feel a bit isolated, since it has a social aspect to it. The site requires you to apply for it, but after waiting a week or so then you will recieve your invite code in your mail. However, if you are helpful and engaged in the site then you should gain quite a few followers and get the feedback your looking for.
Dribbble’s sole focus is to post your designs and try to gain feedback from it’s userbase. The site is invite only and is fairly difficult to become a member of without getting lucky or knowing someone already on the site. I am not a member of Dribbble, but a designer friend is and told me the site is less about feedback and more about showing off your awesomeness. Egos abound.
So should Dribbble be on this list of helpful sites? Yes and no. It’s still a great spot to post your designs and get feedback, but if you aren’t up to par then expect to hear about it. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you are a pro, but amateurs beware.
Web Hosting Talk
Here we have a throwback site that you probably heard of. Unlike the other sites mention, this is a forum and is geared towards web hosting questions. Being a developer on your own means making web hosting decisions as well, so this site is a must to learn which places to avoid.
It may not look the best, but the forum is loaded with people who have lots of experience with multiple web hosts and it even has employees from dozens of hosting companies. Ask your questions about domain registrars, VPS’s, cPanel, or Plesk and you’ll get lots of great feedback
Another blast from the past, webmasterworld is the place to go for questions related to your server and SEO. This is a fantastic place to go to learn about harmful webbots that should be blocked and the latest rumors/news about search engines. Users on this site are anonymous, and for good reason.
This site is about asking questions that you probably wouldn’t ask elsewhere. For example, if you plan to partake in questionable practices such as cloaking content for Googlebot. The community is helpful and there is a large mix of newbies and experts on the topic of SEO.
This list is far from perfect and I have a feeling I’ve missed quite a few useful sites. Be sure and leave comments to other helpful websites to go to for feedback.