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Archive for the ‘My Web Site’ Category

Linkedin

Ever since I joined Linkedin I’ve been trying to work out what it is good for apart from aimlessly collecting connections in order to be able to boast ever greater numbers of contacts.

Today I discovered a new feature there that allows me to embed a feed from my blog and to upload PowerPoint slide shows. So I syndicated my blog and uploaded a PPT file of the exhibition I have running currently in NDS. Enjoy.

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Yes, this is it! the new site went live this evening although you may still be seeing the old one until the Domain Name Servers around the Internet get updated with the new location.

Sorry for another computer-technical post, but after spending a lot of energy on a couple of problems I had setting up the new site, it would definitely be a shame not to share them. These tips are very specific to Lunarpages and the second one is even more specific to my site, but just in case you run into this as otherwise you could spend hours and not even get to the bottom of it.

My first problem was in setting up my database server. Turns out that the excellent myLittleAdmin interface that Lunarpages provide to manage your MS SQL Server 2005 database is not accessed through the Plesk control panel but via a separate URL. However (and this is the important bit) you still need to create your first database through the Plesk interface and add your users at the SQL server level in order to be able login to the admin interface. This is kind of logical when you think about it because this is what you do in fact when you set up users on your database with Management Studio. First you add them to the server and then select them and add them to the database.

The second problem was a more difficult one. I have an AJAX page method call on my homepage that makes an asynchronous call to the RSS of this blog as soon as the HTML comes up but while the page is loading. This is to prevent the page taking time to load just because of delay retrieving the RSS while rendering the page server-side.

Anyway this wasn’t working. I started looking into it and found that the page method was returning the full HTML of the page instead of the string of HTML rendering of the RSS. It was as if the callback was ignoring the method call and just re-calling the page. After a while I got the idea of checking with Fiddler (an incredibly useful tool when debugging AJAX code) what the difference was between the requests that the AJAX code was sending in my test site and that which it was sending on the production server.

It turned out that what was happening was this. I was viewing the site through the site preview URL that Lunarpages had given me because I didn’t want to switch the DNS until I was certain the site was up and running. What the site preview was doing was sending a 301 redirection for every request I sent with a modified URL. AJAX Callbacks like regular ASP.Net postbacks are sent as HTTP Posts. When the browser receives the 301 back, it resends but this time as an HTTP Get and without any of the posted fields and therefore the callback isn’t made. Instead the server renders the page again and sends it back to client. Below is the HTTP conversation that was going on (with a few bit blanked out for privacy/security):

POST /Default.aspx/GetRSS HTTP/1.1
Accept: */*
Accept-Language: en-us,he;q=0.5
Referer: http://xxxxxx.lunarmania.com/$sitepreview/rafistern.com/
Content-Type: application/json; charset=utf-8
Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflate
User-Agent: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1; InfoPath.1; .NET CLR 1.1.4322; .NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 3.0.04506.30; .NET CLR 3.0.04506.648; .NET CLR 3.5.21022; WWTClient2; MS-RTC LM 8)
Host: xxxxxx.lunarmania.com
Content-Length: 0
Proxy-Connection: Keep-Alive
Pragma: no-cache
Cookie: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

----------------------------------

HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently
Via: 1.1 Address Is Hidden
Connection: Keep-Alive
Proxy-Connection: Keep-Alive
Content-Length: 21
Date: Mon, 04 Aug 2008 09:34:50 GMT
Location: /$sitepreview/rafistern.com/Default.aspx/GetRSS
Content-Type: text/html
Server: Microsoft-IIS/6.0301

Moved Permanently

----------------------------------

GET /$sitepreview/rafistern.com/Default.aspx/GetRSS HTTP/1.1
Accept: */*
Accept-Language: en-us,he;q=0.5
Referer: http://xxxxxx.lunarmania.com/$sitepreview/rafistern.com/
Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflate
User-Agent: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1; InfoPath.1; .NET CLR 1.1.4322; .NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 3.0.04506.30; .NET CLR 3.0.04506.648; .NET CLR 3.5.21022; WWTClient2; MS-RTC LM 8)
Host: xxxxxx.lunarmania.com
Proxy-Connection: Keep-Alive
Pragma: no-cache
Cookie: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

----------------------------------

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Via: 1.1 Address Is Hidden
Connection: Keep-Alive
Proxy-Connection: Keep-Alive
Content-Length: 14435
Date: Mon, 04 Aug 2008 09:34:51 GMT
Content-Type: text/html; charset=utf-8
Server: Microsoft-IIS/6.0
X-Powered-By: ASP.NET
X-Powered-By: PleskWin
X-AspNet-Version: 2.0.50727
Set-Cookie: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx; expires=Tue, 04-Aug-2009 09:34:51 GMT; path=/
Set-Cookie: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx; expires=Tue, 04-Aug-2009 07:00:00 GMT; path=/
Cache-Control: no-cache
Set-cookie: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx; path=/

<html>xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx</html>

After I worked that one out, I decided to go live and that decision proved to be right as the site is now live and working just great.

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I am in the middle of changing my website (not my blog – at least not for now) host at the moment.

Up till now my site http://www.rafistern.com has been hosted with GoDaddy.com.  My hosting agreement with them is about to run out and I have been sufficiently annoyed by them over the last two years that I have decided to invest valuable painting time in transfering my site to a new hoster – LunarPages.

So what’s wrong with GoDaddy? Apart from having a really silly name (the kind you’re embarrassed by when you have to explain to a computer-outsider where your site is hosted), I have over the last while got a bit frustrated with the features and service that they provide.

First off, their admin interface is bloated and sooooooo slow. Secondly the option that they offer to configure are rather basic. Now that I am setting up my site on LunarPages I realize just how basic they are – one database login with full admin privileges only, that I couldn’t do a database backup at all, the ability to run the site in medium trust only (see here for the grief that caused me).

Anyway, I am currently in the process of moving to LunarPages. I have only been dealing with them for a few days but the difference is so big that I felt I had to write about it. First off, they give lots of features for a good price. I am paying $9.95pm for ASP.Net hosting with a virtually unlimited MS SQL database. That is all I really need. Add to that unlimited email addresses, a mailing list and a whole load of junk I don’t need, that’s pretty good. Next – and this is why I chose them – they have an excellent reputation for uptime and customer service. So far I can vouch for the service. I got a reply to a pre-sales question in record time and they are currently helping me set up my database (admittedly with some problems) and I am getting prompt and comprehensive answers from tech support even at the weekend. Their control panel is fast even from Israel and is really fully-featured as if I was sitting on the server itself. They use Plesk for their IIS and file management and myLittleAdmin for SQL which blew me away after using the interface that Godaddy were giving me.

My timetable is that I need to get everything set up by the end of the week and then I point the domain (still registered via GoDaddy) to the Lunarpages DNS server and open a new chapter.

In the new site there will be a couple of enhancements, including PayPal shopping cart integration which is a pretty major feature, and some usability features and cosmetics. I am also including a new policy section including shipping, privacy and copyright policies. Maybe I will devote blog entries to explain those over next weeks.

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The exhibition is now over and I can sum it up. Overall, the exhibition was a success even though I didn’t actually sell anything there.

The main positive point is that I got a lot of publicity. My flyers got seen by a lot of people, some of who came to see the show, others who just looked at the work online and others who cam up to me and said “are you the artist?”. Add to that the local news coverage I got in Beit Shemesh and the mention in the “what’s on” in the press in Jerusalem, that’s quite something.

In addition, I can chalk up the exhibition as an event both for my own ego and when talking to potential customers and galleries and in today’s market and in Jerusalem, it’s not so bad that I didn’t sell anything. Everyone is having a hard time selling.

So what next?

On Wednesday I brought all the pictures back from the gallery except for two (this and this) that Haim is keeping there. He has taken the opportunity to reorganize his walls and he has some nice stuff there now. I hung a couple of the framed pictures at home and another in the office and I will put the rest into storage.

I need to work now on widening my channels for showing my work and for sales. With most of my pictures back in my storage, the chance of selling anything has gone down a bit but I have some ideas already and more coming.

  • I am currently working on an upgrade to my website including the integration of PayPal and online checkout. I am also going to do a review of item statuses to reflect that work can be on sale online (and dispatched by mail) in a gallery or by enquiry (larger, framed and more expensive pieces). I have already made changes in the search but there is more to come. You may remember that a couple of weeks ago I sold a piece from the web site so I decided to invest some effort here.
  • I am thinking of going back to my idea of a large piece for a public place to get some work on permanent display (apart from the free publicity when it goes up).
  • I am also thinking of finding a second gallery and not in Jerusalem – like Tel Aviv. This is quite a project for me as I know nothing about Tel Aviv and just getting there will involve investing large amounts of time.
  • What I won’t be doing is disaplaying in any group shows in Beit Shemesh, unless somebody comes to me with a very good proposal for something considerably better than any of the shows that have been up till now.

So as you can see I have a few ideas to be working on. Readers, do you have any more?

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Follow-up 18th March 2009: This article refers to Iron Speed Designer version 5. Version 6.0 now officially supports medium trust.

If you have been following me, or if you have read my about page you will know that when I am not painting, I work in the IT industry as a web-programmer-architect-tech-geek. So when it comes to improving my website, I don’t go shell out money to somebody to do it for me; I do it myself. Also when I want to learn something new and I haven’t got a chance to do it at work, then I can always try to implement it on my own site.

I wanted to build a better interface for uploading new items to my website and managing the database and I was going to learn a new tool in the process. As you will see, I ran into problems.

Anyway we have this cool tool (cool in a geeky way, not really cool) which we use at work called Iron Speed Designer that is a web site generator. You create a database on SQL Server, Oracle or MySQL, give your tables and fields meaningful names, add foreign key relationships and then run the wizard. Five minutes later you have a “good-enough” full ASP.Net web application for insert, update, view of all your data tables. Cool. Well cool if you want to build a website and especially if you are understaffed, lazy or are just not a geek and don’t know how to create your own website. Seriously this application can save you (wo)man-months and loads of money.

What is even cooler is that the whole thing is XML template based, so you can modify the templates and the code generated is ASP.Net, so you can (and are positively invited to) add your customizations after generation and do what you want. If your database has changes you can then get the tool to pick up the changes, regenerate and keep all your customizations. Well cool have I said already?

Iron Speed have three versions of the tool which just include increasingly more functionality as you pay more. We use the most expensive one at work. I downloaded the free version to use for myself.

However – and there tends to be a however whenever you get to one of these technological wonders – it works wonderfully on your own internal servers but not on hosted servers. Why? Well if you thought this post was geeky, then it is going to get worse now.

The problem is in the trust level required to run the generated code. For some reason the base classes that do the basic plumbing of the system appear to be making unmanaged calls or reflection. If your site is running under full trust this is no problem, but in a typical hosted environment this means trouble. My host (GoDaddy) imposes medium trust and although there is a guy who claims in the Iron Speed forums that you can get around the problem, I couldn’t. I tried rewriting the classes like he says and in more places but in the end I gave up.

Conclusion Iron Speed v.5 does not support medium trust. A shame, but that’s the way it is [Version 6 now does – RS 18/03/2009].

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If you go to my website and you are particularly sharp eyed, you may notice that I have just switched on the new version of the site. If you can’t see the difference, then don’t worry – that’s the idea :-).

The new site is built in the latest version of ASP.Net instead of the old one that was in older obsolete ASP technology. As you can see, it looks more or less the same, but underneath it is all new.

The only practical difference is that if you have an old bookmark to the site, then you may want to update it. All the URLs work the same except they have “.aspx” at the ends of the page names instead of “.asp”. There is a redirector there to help you get where you want, even if you use an old URL but you can save time by bookmarking the new one.

In the next while, I will now be adding new things to the site, so keep watch.

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Since I started my blog, I’m getting a lot of hits on my site from Google searches. The links in my blog page seem to have done wonders for my site’s rating and the blog itself doesn’t too bad either:

Some searches to do for fun:

  • definition of real art (blog comes out #1)
  • real art studio (blog #5)
  • Paintings by Israeli Artists (rafistern.com comes in at #3)
  • israeli artist painter (rafistern.com#8)
  • jerusalem fine paintings (rafistern.com#4)
  • שדה פרגים (rafistern.com #4 after Van Gogh)
  • בניאס (rafistern.com #6)
  • Nahlaot (rafistern.com #8)
  • חומות ירושלים (rafistern.com #3)

The downer is that if you change the searches even a little bit, then the results come out differently. Shows just how fickle Google can be.

For example while “Paintings by Israeli Artists” comes in at #3, “Paintings Israeli Artists” comes in at #11 on the second page and they say that they are ignoring the “by”.

Worse, while “jerusalem fine paintings” does really well at #4, “jerusalem fine art” is just nowhere to be seen. My guess is that the latter is what most people search for.

Oh well, more work still to do…

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