Sep
19
2008
1

Virtual Real Estate – Part II – Less Obvious Benefits

Got Spam?

Got Spam?

The last post in this series was about the obvious benefits of owning your own web space and domain name.  However, there are a lot of other benefits which might be less obvious.  Frankly, I didn’t realize these benefits until well after I had set up my own website.

Virtual Real Estate – Part II – Less Obvious Benefits

  1. Outsmart spam. When I need to sign up for a new online service or website, I just create a new e-mail address – and point it to my real e-mail address.  For example, If I want to sign up for PDRater.com, I register with the address, “pdrater@my-very-own-domain.com.”  If I start getting spam sent to that address – I delete the e-mail account!
  2. Organization. Just as with spam avoidance, I can create e-mail accounts for differnet purposes and have them all routed to the same place.  Later on, I can search for information I sent myself (or had others send me) by searching for “todo@my_very_own_domain.com.”
  3. Portability. If you may need files while you’re out and about, just upload them to your website and have the file available anywhere.
  4. Redundancy. There are a lot of companies that charge for online backups.  Why not just do it yourself?
  5. Resiliency. I made a point of purchasing the domain names through a different company than the one hosting my web space.  If one of those companies were to suddenly go off-line, I would be able to put up a new site in roughly an hour.  If the web host is down, just upload a new copy of your website to a new host and connect it to your original domain name.  If the domain name host is down, just buy a new domain name and point the web host to the new name.

Next in this series: I haven’t thought of a next segment yet!

Sep
18
2008
1

Virtual Real Estate – Part I – Obvious Benefits

Virtual Realty (get it?)

Virtual Realty (get it?)

I purchased my first domain name and web space in August of 2007.  Since that time I’ve probably purchased about a dozen more domain names.  There are some fairly obvious benefits to owning your own domain name and web space.1

Virtual Real Estate – Part I – Obvious Benefits

  1. Your own website! Admittedly, there are a lot of ways to get a website for free, but there are always tradeoffs (pop-up ads, no creative control, ads inside your pages).
  2. Accountability. When you own your own webspace, your web host is responsible for taking care of problems when things go wrong.
  3. More features. When you’re paying for your own webspace, you can set up your own MySQL databases, install programs like WordPress, set up an FTP account, etc.
  4. Custom e-mail addresses. Always wanted “I-Hate-Clowns@SuperCoolAwesome.com”?  Good news!
  5. Hopeless customizerI’ve already confessed my need to customize just about everything.  Being able to tinker with every little setting on a web server is a customizer’s dream.

Next in this series: Part II – Less Obvious Benefits

  1. Its more like leasing, but whatever. []
Sep
02
2008
1

Homemade WordPress 2.6+ Plugins

If you’re at all curious, I’ve written about four eight of the plugins for this website.  WordPress was specifically written to allow users to create their own plugins.  A “plugin” is a little piece of programming code that will modify how a program behaves.

I’ll discuss them later on, but for the ravenously curious my plugins include:

  • A plugin that creates rounded corners throughout the website
  • A plugin that creates the “accordion” menu effect on the Links and Calculator pages
  • A plugin that adds AJAX effects throughout the website
  • A plugin that creates a “gray-out” screen over certain pages when you’re not logged in or a registered user
  • A plugin that redirects a user to the calculator page when they log in
  • A plugin that changes the look and operation of the registration page to be more user friendly
  • A plugin that makes lots of little tweaks to the site to make it look and act better (I’m constantly adding to this one)
  • A plugin that allows users to sign up for automatically recurring subscriptions using a credit card or their PayPal account (I’m still working to make this more user friendly)
Aug
25
2008
1

Inside the Calculators – Part IV – MySQL

I recently gave a brief overview of my permanent disability and workers’ compensation benefit calculators. In that post I wrote a little bit about how my online benefits calculators work. Since then I’ve posted about my use of javascript, PHP, and AJAX in creating these permanent disability and permanent impairment calculators.

As I mentioned in the prior post in this series, my first few versions of this website and its workers’ compensation calculators did not use MySQL.  The initial versions of this site only saved information – which meant I only had to use PHP to open a file on the server, add an extra line of information, and then close the file.  This had several problems:

  1. Once my website became more popular, it was not uncommon to have more than one user online.  That meant the server tried to open the file – but couldn’t since it was already open.  This caused the program to freak out.
  2. In order to view just a little bit of information, I had to download the entire file.  This got crazy pretty quickly.
  3. Each time the file got larger, it would take slightly longer to open, append with more information, and close.

MySQL is an incredible tool for storing, organizing, and retrieving a large amount of data.   Like PHP, it is also open-source.  This means it is:

  • Well supported.  There are lots of online resources and books to help you learn.
  • Secure.  Lots of people spend a lot of time thinking of ways to prevent security vulnerabilities.
  • Customizable.  You can configure or even rewrite it, if you wish.
  • Interoperability.  You can save it to just about any format – including MS Excel spreadsheets.
  • Free.  Unlike Oracle or any of the MS alternatives, it is totally free.

So, why did I avoid MySQL?  I didn’t want to have to learn a whole new programming language.  I had to learn how to set up a database, tables within the database, how to search for information in a table, how to put information into a table, and how to change information which was already in a table.  There was a lot of trial and error.  I ended up doing some pretty cool things in the process of learning this language.  Some examples:

  • Teaching others some of the basics of MySQL
  • Writing a program for cataloging books
  • Writing several programs which performed various calculations to track invoices, billings, etc
  • Setting up several blogs/websites

The end result of learning this language is a more interactive website.  One of the last incarnations of this site was a version that would show different color schemes, advertisers, and messages depending upon the user.  All of this was made possible by large amounts of data stored in MySQL.

Thus ends my technical overview of my workers’ compensation permanent disability calculators!  If you have any questions, please feel free to email me or leave a comment below!

Aug
18
2008
2

Inside the Calculators – Part III – AJAX

I recently gave a brief overview of my permanent disability and workers’ compensation benefit calculators. In that post I wrote a little bit about how my online benefits calculators work. Since then I’ve posted about my use of javascript and PHP in creating these permanent disability and permanent impairment calculators.

As I’ve mentioned in those prior posts, both javascript and PHP have inherent downsides. My very first attempt at online benefits calculators using javascript and ASP actually suffered from all of the downsides of javascript and PHP. Those first calculators used tons of user’s computers’ resources, bandwidth, and server power. However, learning more about AJAX enabled me to build a set of calculators which benefited from the strengths of javascript and PHP while minimizing, if not eliminating, their weaknesses.

The acronym “AJAX” refers to “asynchronous javascript and XML” – a collection of other technologies which allow a webpage to communicate with a web server without requiring an entire page download.

Example 1: A calculator without AJAX calculating “6 x 7” would send information to be calculated to the web server. The web server would then respond by giving you an entirely new page with the answer, “42”. However, in order to download that answer you would need to download a whole new page – and all the images, text, and code associated with it. Even a normal web page could be between 30,000 and 300,000 bytes in size.1

Example 2: A calculator with AJAX calculating “6 x 7” would send information to be calculated to the web server. The web server would then respond by sending back just the answer, “42”. This would be 2 bytes.

If my calculators needed to download of 300 kilobytes for every single operation, a simple calculation could take about 30 seconds on dialup and a full 1 second on broadband. Although 1 second doesn’t seem like a long time – it is in the internet age. Most of the calculations on this site take approximately .500 seconds using a broadband connection. I would guess that about 90% of that time is due to network latency/network lag – which wouldn’t be much different for a dialup connection.

For the first few months after the launch of this website, it did not use a MySQL database. I actually went to some pretty ridiculous extremes to not have to learn a new programming language. I eventually gave in, learned how to use MySQL and am a better programmer for it.

Next up, MySQL!

  1. A download of “www.google.com” was approximately 30,000 bytes and a download of “www.yahoo.com” was approximately 300,000 bytes. []

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