Why My Website Disappeared Today

In a perfect world (one where no one sends spam and windshield wipers never streak) I would own the server this website is on. It’s really not a big deal. You take a computer – not even a powerful computer – hook it to a fixed IP address, run some free software and voila, you’ve got a website.

It’s that easy. It’s just not that cheap!

A fixed IP address and permission to run a server don’t come with a cable modem. And putting a high speed line in my house would be fun but impractically pricey. I contract with a company in Chicago, Hostforweb.com.

I pay $100 per year to rent the space and the computing power on which this site runs. For $100, the hosting package comes with restrictions. I share the computer I use with others. I don’t know how many others but at least dozens, maybe hundreds.

I have to be a good neighbor to the other websites that live with me. So, I can take some resources, but not enough to slow the others down. It’s only fair. Of course, I never have an exact feel for what I’m using or what they’re allowing.

Earlier today Hostforweb.com took a look at what this website was doing and realized the process I was running to post weather bulletins (on a day with two active hurricanes and other severe/strong weather) was a resource hog. I didn’t think it would be, but this week in general and today specifically are not the norm.

Here’s one thing Hostforweb.com does that really upsets me. When they found my server was using too many resources, they just shut me down!

Where my website once lived there was now a note telling anyone who came that there were problems. My mail was shut down too, as was my shell access (the ability to command the server computer from my home computer – or anywhere).

I contact Hostforweb.com via computer. The tech support person who answered my chat said I needed to send an email. Of course, they had shut down my email!

I called their 800 number. After a few minutes of holding I was told no one could take my call but I should send an email. On my second try I reached someone by phone.

To make a long story short, the process that was causing the problem wasn’t important enough to fight about. I like my hosting, I’m comfortable here. So, I removed one tiny part of the website and they let me back on.

Actually, they had to let me back on first. Without access to the website, I couldn’t do anything to fix it.

Case closed – I hope.

Two Computer Related Problems

Things are supposed to go smoothly, but they never do. I’ve just suffered through two computer related problems – one taking a full ten hours of time without a solution.

First things first. I notice earlier today that I had only received a few emails all day. Normally, I get 100-200 emails a day, the vast majority of which are spam.

I went to my webhost’s site (not Comcast, my ISP, but hostforweb.com who runs the server you’re getting geofffox.com on and also my mail server) and used their tech support chat. It didn’t take more than a few minutes for Fred to tell me something had hung and all mail sent to me (or at least the vast majority of it) had be sent packing.

As best I can tell this had been going on for 24-36 hours. Oh well. There’s really nothing I can do. I’m not sure about he actual bounce message returned, so some might be re-queued and re-sent.

The second problem was much more time consuming and sinister. My friend John has an old Compaq Armada laptop and a pristine copy of Windows 98 from a desktop machine that’s no longer in service. All I had to do was load it up and he’d take it back. This is something I’m glad to do for a friend.

The Armada 1590 is a Pentium 166 laptop that was loaded with Windows 95 and originally came with 16 MB of RAM. Today, that’s a ridiculously small amount of memory. Windows 98 might have run, but it would have run ponderously slow.

I reformatted the hard drive, checked for and installed a BIOS update and then set out to load Windows 98. This is a task I’ve done dozens of times… and never with a problem.

Windows loaded fine, but as soon as I got to the first screen after the installation and the computer began to play it’s little “I’m Ready” music, it locked up tight as could be. It would neither respond to keystrokes or the mouse/touchpad. Rebooting brought me back to the same problem.

I went on Google’s Usenet site which often has great tech support ideas, only to read a series of unhappy Armada owners who tried and never quite got Windows 98 to work.

I reformatted and tried again from scratch. Each time you do that, figure an hour or so until you’re at the first workable screen. I loaded Windows 98 totally at least four times.

After a while, and after staring at those cryptic Microsoft error messages (never had so many words and numbers given so little insight into what’s going wrong), I decided the problem might be with the audio driver on the Windows 98 disk. For some reason it didn’t seem to get along with the hardware which was, after all, designed long before Windows 98. I turned off the audio hardware from the control panel and booted again.

Success – but not for long.

Even a freshly loaded Windows 98 (or XP for that matter) PC needs loads of updates, patches and fixes. The more I downloaded and fixed, the more unstable the laptop became. BSODs (“Blue Screen of Death”) came fast and furiously.

Finally, I got to load DirectX 9. I have no idea what DirectX does, other than to say loading this update into the laptop brought it to its knees! Not only did the laptop crash but the Registry (which tells the computer where and what all the programs on it’s drive are) was now corrupted. Windows 98 was more than glad to restore a prior version of the Registry, which of course brought me back to square one.

I played this game twice.

Finally I called John on the phone and said, “No mas.” OK, actually it was Roberto Duran who said that, and neither John nor I speak Spanish, but you get the point.

Can this laptop be made to play nicely with Windows 98? Maybe. But, is it worth it? Probably not – I’m not really sure – oh who knows. I’m just so frustrated at this point.

The few fleeting moments I did have it running, it seemed reasonably nimble with web browsing. And, in that there’s some Internet wisdom that needs to be shared. This computer is only a Pentium I at 166 MHz. Lots of people throw machines of that speed out as too slow. With enough RAM – and John had boosted the 16 to 82 MB – even a slower Pentium is plenty fast for working the web.

Would I play games with it or edit video or run Photoshop or other high end multimedia programs? Hell no. But, most of what everyone does on the web demands much less horsepower. The laptop I use most is a Pentium II 300 MHz and it kills.

As for John’s laptop, before I attempt any more software loading, I am going to bring it near the sink with the water running full blast and explain what we do to computers that don’t cooperate. That trick always works.