The new Apple iPhone 5S

compare_iphone5sI finally upgraded my iPhone from the 4S to the 5S. Overall it looks like the 5, but the new features are pretty cool and from hearing about bad battery life from my friends on the 5, it most likely has been increased as well. It is definitely better than my 4S’ battery life.

So far, I’ve mostly played around with the camera. It is substantially better than previous ones and has much better low light capabilities. Video is now 1080, but doesn’t benefit much from the low-light lens. Here is a video I took of my friend’s cat. I slow-motioned it at the point the kitty dives off the counter chasing a laser.

Compared to previous iPhones, it also seems quite a bit more responsive. The new TouchID is awesome, but I found that if you work your hands and get minor cuts or abrasions, the sensor can have a hard time distinguishing your prints on those fingers. Also after washing dishes, it had a hard time probably due to “granny” fingers from the water.

I would recommend this phone as a good upgrade if you’re out of contract or on a 4S or below. 5 users may want to wait for the next iteration if they are happy with their current phone.

Linode “Nextgen” upgrades

Linode has invested over a million dollars into upgrading their network, servers and bandwidth to levels that are unparalleled when it comes to all the features they have already made available to subscribers.

There are three parts to the “Nextgen” upgrade so far.


The Network

“We’re spending $1 million making our network faster. Way faster. Cisco Nexus 7000 routers. Cisco Nexus 5000 switches with Nexus 2000 Fabric Extenders. Linode outbound network cap increased 5x. Outbound monthly transfer quota increased 10x.”

The Hardware

“We’re investing millions to make your Linodes faster. Crazy faster. We’ve begun a refresh of 3/4 of our entire fleet to a new ‘NextGen’ host hardware specification. And we’re upgrading all Linodes to 8 cores! Right now. As in all you need to do is reboot to double the computing power of your Linode.”

RAM Upgrade

“We’re doubling the RAM on all of our plans. This upgrade is available to existing and new customers. New Linodes will automatically be created with the new resources. Existing Linodes will need to go through the Upgrade Queue to receive the upgrades.”


These upgrades represent a MAJOR upgrade. I went from 1.2 TB of outbound to 12 TB. That is quite substantial. The 8 core hardware upgrade is a little harder for most to quantify, but it’s better than the 1-2 “visible” cores I get on DigitalOcean or other “minor” providers. The RAM went from 512 (for me) to 1024. That is very substantial as well when you determine how many sites you can run on a single 512 machine and how many more you can run with double the RAM.

I actually, to Linode’s loss, removed one of my VPS servers and moved sites over to one of the newly upgraded ones. I’m sure, once I outgrow my latest linode, I’ll expand to a new one once more, but for the time being, I love having the additional resources. For my “first” linodes and client ones, it’s great to have the additional resources, especially the “pooled” bandwidth.

Anyone who is looking for a VPS server would be stupid not to get one on Linode with all they have to offer. I manage 9 linodes split between 3 different accounts and the piece of mind that my sites are “safe” is reassuring. I have linode backups on half of them. 30 day S3 and personal rsync backups on the others and do not have to worry about my clients.

Here is my referral link.

Goodbye 2012. Helloooo 2013, you look good!

2013This will be my first (and last) post of 2012. It has been a busy year, so I’ve neglected posting.

2012 was a good and bad year for me. These are both personal and business.

The good.

  • I have been kept busy with various ventures and expect some of them come to fruition in 2013
  • Have built a foundation for personal and business growth
  • Have a LOT of good friends that have referred a lot of business and been there to hang out with
  • Got a cool new office space (see next item)
  • Still freelancing, but I’ve organized a new local (Somerset, KY) collective of amazing freelancers (Hivemind)
  • Visited and met with the main people I work with at my primary and oldest client in New York City (for the first time)
  • Flew in the co-pilot seat of a private jet, a Cessna Citation CJ-3 (vid). (Probably doesn’t happen often)
  • Got back into the “dating scene” after 17 years out of it. (Still looking)
  • The world didn’t end on 12/21/2012 :)

The bad…

  • My iPad mini “disappeared”, at a family event. :(
  • Still a bit “lonely” in life
  • Running out of storage space on my NAS’ (plural)

Can’t really think of too many “bads”. I guess that’s a good thing.

2013 is here!

I am pretty sure this coming year will bring new opportunities for everyone. The world is so crazy these days, sometimes we just have to tune it down and focus on improving our own lives and spending time with those who are important to us. I’m sometimes guilty of beating around the bush and not taking the leap to make things happen in my life, but I’m going to try to change that this coming year.

There are many things out there that can bring us down, both personally and in business, but we can’t let them. Stay positive, realize that even on our darkest days, we are more fortunate than most people in this world.

Have a Happy 2013!

PS – I’ll try to post more often.

Why I like Linode (after using others)

When I started hosting websites for clients, I hosted them in-house, literally, in my house. This was nice because I had direct control over the servers and could quickly fix them or migrate data if there were hardware failures. But obviously, it does not scale very well when it comes to bandwidth, and if you need many servers, the power and cooling requirements can get out of hand.

GoDaddy

At the point when I felt my home setup was “obsolete”, I then took the plunge onto GoDaddy dedicated servers, 2 of them at the time. One was for websites and ran Windows 2003 Server with IIS. The other was a mail server and each had DNS running on them so I didn’t have to depend on/pay for a third-party DNS provider.

GoDaddy dedicated servers ended up being the biggest mistake I ever made.  They ran well for a while, but then a worm of some kind crawled around their internal network and came in through some backend they use to manage the servers.  I had everything well locked down, all Windows sharing turned off, including unneeded admin shares (C$, etc.) and had the firewall pretty tight. It took around 3 days to recover fully from the crash and even though the machines were virtually “destroyed”, I was fortunately able to FTP out all my customer data.

Crystaltech

I moved most of my ASP & .NET sites over to a Windows 2008 Server at CrystalTech. Including email (SmarterMail), which I love, but with the limited space on a Windows VPS, it is quickly filling up with email (people rarely delete things when using IMAP). I still use Crystaltech and they’ve been very stable, but their cost is quite a bit higher than other virtual solutions.

Slicehost

After the GoDaddy crash, all my PHP sites moved to virtual servers running Ubuntu with a standard LAMP stack. Apache got old real quick. It required constant tuning.  I explored many web servers to find one with better performance, at one time, I had three setup for ALL my virtualhosts where all I had to do was stop all the web daemons, change the config of the one I wanted to use to 80 and just start that one, bring up all my sites on a different daemon.  I finally settled on Cherokee and have NEVER looked back.

Slicehost, in my opinion, had HUGE potential at one time (pre-Rackspace buyout).  The support was phenomenal, everyone in the company was open and reachable. I many times talked to the founder via chat and email.  But all of that went down the drain with Rackspace and all Slicehost’s offerings and prices went stagnant.

I recently cancelled Slicehost completely after getting a hard to access domain, whose DNS was hosted with Slicehost, to change their nameservers to Linode’s.

Others

I’ve used a number of other minor providers from time to time that I won’t get too much into here. None of them seemed to be as “turnkey” as places like Linode and Slicehost when it came to the admin backend experience. They were either too complicated or did not even have some of the basics required for “full service” hosting.

Linode

Linode, so far (knock on wood), has been the best company I’ve ever done business with. Rock solid, great support at all hours, fast host servers, lots of datacenter locations, excellent control panel, iPhone app, etc. I can’t say enough to express my happiness with the service.

I currently host a number of VPS servers with them and have brought over a few clients onto their own server(s).  We host everything from test servers to full production and even PBXs. All runs perfectly.

It will be a sad day in VPS hosting land if Linode ever gets bought out by some mega hosting company like Rackspace.

To end this up, decentralization has been the best thing I have done and it is multi-faceted. I separated websites onto multiple, less expensive virtual servers, which prevent ALL my sites from going down when something happens to one of them. I’ve moved most of my clients to Google Apps for Domains, both business and standard, for email.

My uptime has dramatically improved, my customers are happier and that’s what matters.

What I think Apple Should Do…

Dear Steve Jobs,

I feel that with the “death” of the XServe Server and the uncertain future of Mac OS X Server OS, Apple should delve into offering hosted services to pull in entities who are now scattered among numerous other services such as Google Apps for Domains, commercial hosting, and numerous other third party hosted or self hosted apps, which require a lot of maintenance, multiple accounts, billing, etc.  Many of my IT associates who have switched to Apple laptops and desktops have commented to me that they hate still having to use non-apple apps to complete their daily business.

For example, the MobileMe interface already is an attractive and functional interface for email, contacts, calendar, iDisk, Photos and location services.  How much harder would it be to allow a company to signup and fully attach their own domain to the MobileMe framework.  Perhaps even create a separate enhanced version of MobileMe in their [Apple’s] newest “cloud” datacenter in North Carolina and, over time, have an ‘a la carte’ offering of additional new services that users need/request.  Maybe even allow developers to write custom Apps that can be cleanly integrated into the web interface and a matching app for the iOS device(s).

Keep the price reasonable, no more than $1-2/mo per user, which would be very attractive for small businesses, special pricing for larger corporations and perhaps discounts when Apple devices are purchased and attached to an account.  Perhaps 1 year for free when any iOS device is purchased to draw users in.

The advantages of this would be numerous, it would give small businesses and organizations a unified and complete “Apple Branded Experience” on their Mac PCs, iPhones, iPads, etc.  Almost everyone I know has a Apple device of some kind and many would prefer to use their own domain.  Apple does offer the capability of attaching a domain to your MobileMe webspace, but that does not extend to customization of the other services.

Also, with minor modifications to the existing MobileMe framework, it would bring a whole new potential residual revenue stream that millions of users could utilize.  It may also spur additional companies and users to buy Apple hardware knowing that all these services are so well intergrated. Adding similar features as Google Apps for Domains and improving upon them would make it a very attractive alternative.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do use and am VERY happy with Google Apps for Domains, but it would be nice to have some competition from another major player to keep things interesting.  Google does accomplish a lot of what I’ve stated in this email, but it’s not as “pretty”, well integrated and cost effective for those with many needs.

Perhaps Apple could even purchase a VoIP company and add that to their portfolio of services.  With an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and an old Mac Mini, it would be nice to get deep integration of all my communications needs while not being forced onto the @me.com domain.

I guess only time will tell how far Apple is willing to ascend into the cloud.

Ways to integrate QR Codes into your life

Website link to QRCreate.com

Website link to our QRCreate.com code generator

Look around you when you read magazines, order pizza from Papa Johns and surf the web. Chances are, you’ll spot a QR Code.

QR Code use has taken off with the advent of smartphones, especially those running Android. Most Android phones come with a barcode reader capable of decoding QR Codes as well as standard consumer UPC codes and others.

QR Codes are much more versatile than normal barcodes and can contain much more information. There are many ways to utilize them for personal or business use.

  1. Labelling
    For example, you can label boxes while moving and more easily put much more information like: Contains PC accessories, cables, power plugs, software X, software Y, software Z, etc… Sometimes the unpacking process is slow and by having QRCodes on all your boxes, you can simply scan them to find the contents.
  2. Business Cards
    There are many sites out there that’ll help you create codes for use on cards, some have direct integration with product creation and purchasing sites like Zazzle.
  3. Real Estate
    Real estate agents can generate codes they can put on signs that will allow more savvy home seekers as they look around neighborhoods for homes. Most people who use QR Codes are pretty much guaranteed to scan them to see what they say. Those who aren’t as knowledgeable about them may become curious and can be directed to a website printed under the code to give further explanation. You can easily put a lot of information about the house such as the MLS number, square footage, # of bedrooms and baths, agent name, contact information and more.
  4. Inventory Management
    Specialized apps can be utilized to allow businesses to manage inventory and assets.
  5. Product Discounts
    Put a code on your flyers, emails, billboards and other advertising mediums to offer discounts and draw new customer in. Again, people who know about QR Codes are very likely to scan them and tell others about them.

There are many other uses, these are just a few. People are doing lots of things with them… T-Shirts, hats, sweaters, bumper stickers, scavenger hunts and much more. Please leave a message in the comments with unique uses you have seen.

We, of course, prefer to use our own QR Creator site (http://QRcreate.com). It contains a few form input styles for different uses and makes it fast and simple to generate downloadable and embeddable QR Code images.

We can help you integrate QR Codes into your business. Let us know how we can help you embrace this relatively new technology.

XENServer: Simple Virtualization Solution for Small Businesses

Over the past few years, I’ve become a big fan of Virtualization technologies like VMWare, VirtualBox, Xen, Microsoft Hyper-V, etc. So much so that I moved the majority of our clients to virtual server solutions.

On the desktop, I tend to use VirtualBox from Sun. It seems to perform the best for both Windows and Linux, but does not contain (on Windows) many “enterprise” level features found in XEN and VMWare Server.

I initially used VMWare Server to setup numerous VMs for software and platform integration testing and other fancy stuff like that.  I still use VMWare Player for a couple VMs I have left from the past, but VirtualBox is my favorite for desktop testing.

When it came to XenServer, I did not have much experience with it since I *thought* it was more of a IT Backendish type of Virtualization software and more arcane (CLI Only). Perhaps it was at one time.  Now I’m no stranger to the command line interface, but still like a nice interface to be able to “see” all the settings right in front of me.

But regardless of my misconception, I decided to download XenServer and install it on one of my spare test boxes. XenServer is full virtualization host “OS” that you install and all the guest machines are run inside it.

I won’t go through all the minute details, but XenServer was a breeze to install, only asking basic questions and the IP to assign to the server. It’s best to put it on a decent machine with lots of hard drive space, plenty of RAM and processor power. Having virtualization extensions on the CPU is a BIG plus and allows you to run Windows VMs.

On older machines, like my old Pentium D Dell server, that do not have virtualization extensions, are not able to run Windows virtual machines.  The Linux (Ubuntu in my case) VMs worked just fine without them.

For Windows VMs, I used a newer Quad Core Phenom box and put 4 Windows Server 2003′s (by cloning them) on it by using the VMWare to XEN conversion program.  It was a little buggy getting the image converted, but the Citrix XEN forums helped quite a bit.

Overall, I’ve been extremely happy with the performance of XenServer and when it comes to testing, I don’t think I’ll go back to desktop type virtualization solutions like VirtualBox (big learning curve for advanced CLI functionality) and VMWare Server (which has a crappy, buggy web interface, the last time I used it).  They also require you to already have an existing full blown host OS, at least under Windows.

To manage the servers, there is a desktop application called XenCenter you can use to connect remotely to one or more XenServers.  It allows you to manage all aspects of your XenServer(s) even allowing you to easily upload, install, snapshot, clone and even do live migrations of VMs between XenServers.

One of my favorite features was the ability to create “templates” of a machine so you can easily spin up a new one from the template.  It’s always there and you can have many different variations of a server for example, like a clean server install, one with IIS & ASP.NET configured and yet another with a full custom configuration.  Just use the template, create a new VM from it, be sure to change the default IP so it doesn’t conflict with an existing machine and you’re good to go.

There are some sites out there you can google that have XEN ready images you can upload through the XenCenter software into the server and boot.

XenServer is an OS+Virtualization solution all-in-one and helps you get the most out of your machines.

Why you should switch your email to Google Apps

Lots of small businesses who are just getting established tend to go out to places like 1&1 and other “a la carte” style ISPs to get a domain name, email boxes, calendar, file storage, etc. Most of these services don’t have much, if any, integration with one another, limited space and they all have some associated cost.

Enter Google Apps for Domains.

Surprisingly, lots of people, outside of administrators and IT nerds, don’t realize Google Apps for Domains even exists. These are 2 main levels of service with Google Apps, Standard and Premier. Standard provides 50 email boxes, each with ~7.5gb of space EACH and this is slowly, but constantly, increasing. Included are utilities such as Google Docs, Calendar, Groups, Sites, Contacts and more that are all integrated into one interface with a single signin.

For file storage, Google Docs now supports the uploading of more than just documents, spreadsheets, etc. You can now upload any kind of file and have up to 1gb of space in additional to the email space.

There are more settings and features than 90% of people will even use. It is absolutely perfect for small/medium organizations.

Best of all, Google Apps Standard is FREE.

For larger entities that need enterprise level features and organizational integration, Google Apps for Business fills those needs. There are many additional options within the control panel that allow integration into existing auth servers and corporate IT resources. Instead of 7.5gb of email space per box, it is increased over threefold to 25gb. That is a massive amount of space for email. I get a lot of mail, including large attachments, and have been keeping all my mail for the last 5-6 years in my standard account. It’s only 50% full.

Per user, Google Apps Premier only runs around ~$5/month. Most “enterprise” level email systems such as AppRiver and other Exchange providers cost anywhere from $9 to $15/month or more if you need a blackberry or other smartphone connected.

There are too many features to list here, visit the Google Apps for Business page to find specifics.

Clayton Design has setup many standard and premier accounts over the past year and the endusers seem to love it. Their own email can now be used across all of Google’s services instead of having to have a separate gmail address.

Contact us with any questions or if you would like us to help you set it up. Even if you already have email boxes somewhere else, we can perform an virtually seamless, full migration over to the new service.

We’re sure you’ll like it, we did and have never looked back.

New Verizon Android Phone: Samsung Fascinate

Over the years, I have always swung back and forth between Microsoft, Apple, Linux, etc.   I get into Open Source moods, then realize there’s something I need on one the more ‘closed’ platforms of Microsoft or Apple and lean back towards those.  Because of that, I currently have machines running all three major OSes.  A PC Desktop running Windows 7, a Mac Mini (Intel) running the latest Mac OS X and my old Desktop running Linux (Ubuntu 10.04).

I’m sort of the same way with other devices, for phones and PDAs, I’ve used Palm (legacy and WebOS), Windows Mobile, Apple iOS (v. Original-4.x), Symbian, etc. But I had never taken the plunge into the newer Android OS.  Perhaps I figured it wasn’t as stable or mature as iOS and some of the others that have been around for a while.

This past week, my wife lost her phone, so she met me at the Verizon store on her way home.  I was there about 20 minutes earlier, so I was admiring the new Droid X, HTCs and the Samsung Fascinate.  When she arrived, I suggested that we try the Fascinate since there was a “buy one get one free” special, we’d get rid of the MiFi 2200 since they have the WiFi Hotspot feature for only $20/mo more, and we’d come out a bit ahead.  We were both Upgrade Eligible, so I did everything I could to sell her on it.

Now my wife is NOT really a techy person and since she already used her iPod touch as a PDA, I didn’t think she’d go for it, but she did.  I was amazed.   Now I’m the happy owner of a new Android phone.

My first impressions are good, it’s fast, has plenty of features and customization, a decent selection of apps, great hardware while still maintaining really good battery life and form factor.

Virtually everything I needed and had on my iPhone 3G plus more are now installed on my Fascinate and I only paid for one app (WebSharing).  The camera (5mp) is excellent, the video (up to 720 HD) is also very crisp with GREAT audio quality for a phone.  The screen is very bright and does a good job auto-adjusting based on the ambient light level.

The only minor con is that there is only a Bing search widget available.  There is no factory option to change it to Google Search.  This is just wrong in so many ways.  Other than that.  The Samsung skinning of the Android interface is a bit annoying, but since I’m a first time user, it’s not too bad, but I did like the interface better on the non-Touchwiz Droid phones.

My favorite feature so far is the Swype text input.  You just draw the word on the popup screen keyboard and it intelligently pulls out the words, even if they’re names or website addresses and so on.  It is very accurate and intuitive.  The Swype website has a bunch of nice tutorials for more advanced input options.

Now that I’ve had it for a few days, I am sort of disappointed I waited so long.  Perhaps it was a good thing to let some of the early bugs get worked out.

Linode turns 7, gives ~42% RAM Upgrade to all customers!

Linode has turned out to be the best VPS provider I’ve ever used and it as of yesterday (6/16/10), they upgraded all VPS’ memory by ~42%.  All I have to say is Wow.  Since I’ve been with them, they have upgraded HDD space, which is also nice, but not something I really needed.  RAM is a different story, that is very important for VPS customers.  That much more memory means a LOT and really makes the entry level 512 servers (for only $19.95) much more useful without breaking the bank.

I currently have 5 512MB Linodes (upgraded from 360) and one 768 (upgraded from 512).  I should now be able to do much more with these servers now and offer more scalability to my customers who are paying for their own servers.

Linode, in my opinion, destroys the competition and always seems to be ahead of the gang of “peer” VPS providers like Slicehost, Rackspace Cloud Servers, VPS.net and others.  They may not have the “prettiest” or most user friendly control panel, but they offer a level of flexibility unrivaled by others.