Embracing The “M” Word

Yes, I maintain websites after I’ve designed them. Yes, I maintain websites designed by other people.

Apparently a lot web designers want to just that: design websites.  They don’t want to do minor changes or, God forbid, touch a site someone else originally created.

Many of the calls I get are from tired business owners who want to change some things in their site, but they don’t need — or want to pay for — a complete overhaul. They report problems finding someone who can help them.

Sometimes their original web designer has found a full-time graphics design job (a lot of web designers seem to be frustrated or underemployed graphic designers).  Other times the business owners report that their original designer doesn’t do maintenance.

I think we web designers have to be available to make changes and tweaks to our customers’ pages.  Phone numbers change, photos get outdated,  new products come out, business hours expand!  All of these updates belong on your website.

Sometimes the business owner needs more substantial changes. They want to add a video or a series of pages about new things they’re doing.  The owner wants to update their site, but they aren’t up for a total re-do!

I get asked to help with all sorts of websites, even sites created on WordPress or other platforms that supposedly allow non-technical users to update content. WordPress, Joomla, and proprietary systems by Wix, GoDaddy, and others all require some computer skills.  Although they do not require special software on your computer, these tools take time to learn and tame.  Many owners are too busy running their business to spend hours coming up to speed and implementing changes.  I am happy that they call me!

Doing maintenance may not be as fun as creating an eye-catching design from scratch. And, when I work on a site that someone else created, I have to adjust to whatever style that person had.  I also have to find out where they have put the images, layouts, and styles I’m being asked to use and modify.  And, of course, the original designer is never as organized and clear as I am!

Still, I am happy to do maintenance.  I have done one-time updates, and I have some clients whose sites I change several times a month like Theatre Rhinoceros, a San Francisco theater company.  I like making all of them reflect the owner’s current activities.

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iPage Raises Prices, Makes it Difficult to Cancel

Just a heads up for people who have iPage hosting or are considering their services.

I looked at my credit card bill today and saw an iPage charge that was $20 higher for hosting a website than I paid last year.  No notice, no nothing. iPage just charged more for the automatic hosting renewal.

The charge comes 15 days before the end of service I’ve paid for.  So, I called iPage’s billing department.  If the price really went up, then I wanted to move the site to another hosting service.  I figured I move sometime this week, before the expiration of the hosting service I have already paid for.

Here’s what I found:

It takes 30 minutes on hold to reach an agent.

The agent confirmed that they raised the price.

She said that they can cancel my account and issue a credit on my card, but cancellation will immediately take down the web site that I paid for through October 14th.  If I want to move the site before it’s taken down by iPage, she said that I will have to call billing back when I am ready for the cancellation (and wait another 30 minutes on hold, I guess).

There is no way she can either reduce the price to what I paid this year or simply not let the renewal take place in October.

I wonder if there’s some type of theft going on when they only accept immediate cancellations and take the two weeks of already paid-for hosting service ? Of course, I am not an attorney, and I am sure that iPage’s attorney’s would explain that they have the right to do what they’re doing because of some fine print somewhere.

So, let me just say that their practices are user hostile and sleazy.  I recommend staying away from iPage.

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Stop Using Internet Explorer, Feds Say

The latest security alert is an official warning from the Feds!  There’s a flaw in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer that bad guys can use to get into your computer and have their way with it.

The technobabble US government warning is Brithish-like in its drollness.

US-CERT [United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, Department of Homeland Security] recommends that users and administrators review Microsoft Security Advisory 2963983 for mitigation actions and workarounds. Those who cannot follow Microsoft’s recommendations, such as Windows XP users, may consider employing an alternate browser.

If you click through to Microsoft’s site in the link, you’ll see there is a whole list of rather difficult technical work-arounds that will, at best, “mitagate” the potential problem. For example, Microsoft’s first of six suggested work-arounds is to “Deploy the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit 4.1″.  Others are equally daunting.

Remember, after you’ve done everything Microsoft says, you’ve simply lessened the possibility that the bad guys will get through.  The vulunerability is still in the Internet Explorer program. Plus, once you’ve implemented the work-arounds, you may discover that you can no longer do some things that you expect to.  Why did IE originally have the settings and permissions Microsoft is now saying to change? I am guessing that IE probably needs them for some functionality you expect in a browser.

Anyway, there is a much simplier way to avoid the problems in Internet Explorer.  Even the government suggests it: use a different web browser.

The two browsers I regularly use are:

Both are free and fast.  Just click on one of the links above, download and install the browser, and start it up.  Make sure that you make the new program your default Internet browser so that Internet Explorer doesn’t run when you click on a link.

Yes, if you switch away from Internet Explorer there will be some adjustment to a different look and feel. But, both Firefox and Chrome have a lot of free add-ons that make web surfing better.  My favorites are add-ons that block ads and the annoying Flash ads.

But, really, you have to switch for your own security.  Even the government thinks you should “consider” switching!

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What’s Heartbleed and Why Do You Care?

Heartbleed LogoYou know how you’re told to put your private social security number or credit card information only into sites that are secure?  Their site address is https:// instead of just http:// .   Your browser will display a lock icon, turn something green, or give you another indication that what you send in cannot be stolen by third parties?

Well, it turns out these https:// sites are not secure at all.

Monday one of the biggest suppliers of encryption code said that their widely used library has a flaw in it which allows anyone to look at 64,000 characters that is in the host server’s memory. Your retirement account username and password and social security number might be part of the 64kB of information a passing bad guy looked at. Or, the username and password to Gmail account could have been scraped and sent to Bad Guy Central.

And, the theft of your information would leave no trace on the victimized computer server at Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Chase, or wherever.

The Ugly

This bug has been named “Heartbleed” in a nerdy reference to the communications heartbeat code that it lives in.  Cute name, but I’ve seen statements that the seriousness of Heartbleed on a scale of 1 to 10 is 11.

The geek world is uniformly saying that this problem is very awful.

On the Other Hand

I cannot find a report from anyone anywhere that says this bug is the apparent source of any loss of data, money, or privacy.  The bug was discovered by honest programmers who notified the people responsible for the faulty code. A patch was immediately released, and most larger sites have already updated their servers.

2 Actions You Must Take!

Still, the Heartbleed problem is real, and there is a potential that some bad guys have broken into systems and have used, or have stored for future use, the information they stole. They could have broken into your bank just as you logged on, which would give them your username and password.  They could have done the same with your investment firm, credit card company, or many other places you enter data you want to keep private and secure.

So, you need to change your passwords for every secure site. Today.

I suggest using LastPass for creating strong new passwords and tracking them. (See this post for more information on why.)  But, whether your use LastPass or manage your passwords manually, at the very least add or change one character for all of your current passwords.

But, first, make sure that your secure service has patched its software. If not, change the password now, do not use the site for secure transactions, and check again tomorrow. Now that the bug is well known and easy to exploit, your chances of having your data stolen on an unpatched server is much, much greater than it was last week.

C/net recommends http://filippo.io/Heartbleed as a place to test whether the Heartbleed patch has been installed.   Use it!

Heartbleed patch test screenshot

References To Read

Here are sites I used for this post.  Check them out for more information.

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Amazon Joins (Suddenly Leads?) the Streaming Video Race

This afternoon I went to Amazon to buy dog dental treats (why else??) and was greeted with the slash page announcement that Amazon now has its TV-connecting box for streaming NetFlix, Amazon, Huluplus, etc., etc.
Announcement for Amazon fire TV
Amazon fire TV takes voice commands, which might be fun, if it works, and I’m intrigued by its claim to buffer programs it thinks you’ll want before you hit play.

We love our old Roku, but if you haven’t taken the plunge to streaming video this looks pretty good.  Check out more info at Amazon.

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