S3stat announces Self-Managed mode

About twice a week, I'll get an email from somebody asking "why does S3stat need my AWS Credentials???", followed by an explanation that this individual would be happy to set everything up at his end so that he wouldn't have to hand over sensitive information.

Ok, fine. Enough asking already! You can do that now.

A little background for those of you who couldn't parse a single word of that. S3stat is a service we built that provides Amazon S3 and Cloudfront Analytics. For five bucks a month, we'll set up logging on your cloud stuff, and every night we'll process those logs into nice shiny reports and graphs. It's pretty cool. You should go sign up for it!

But here's the deal. To do all that, we pretty much have to pretend we're you. We need you to trust us with your Amazon Web Services credentials so that we can make those changes and process those logs. Most people are fine with that (just like we're fine with handing out our credit card number to buy shoes online), but some organizations simply can't afford to take the risk, regardless of how trustworthy our company is or how nice a guy I seem.

That's fine. But it used to lose us a bit of business.

So now, we're proud to announce "S3stat Self Managed Mode", where you exchange an hour's worth of fiddling around with s3curl for the peace of mind that nobody will be using your bucket to store their vacation photos.

Try it out and let us know what you think!

Cloudfront Analytics from S3stat

We're happy to announce that S3stat is now offering Web Stats for Amazon Cloudfront.

It's actually pretty cool, if we do say so ourselves. When you sign up for the service, we'll set up your Cloudfront Distributions so that they generate the necessary logfiles. Each night, we'll download, translate and process those logs into useful reports. You'll get web stats for your Cloudfront usage without having to do any work. Sorted.

Web Log Analysis and Statistics for Cloudfront and Amazon S3
Web Stats for Cloudfront & Amazon S3
We also still do S3 Analytics, just like always. Check it out when you get a chance, and be sure to let us know what you think!

Travel Map theme for Wordpress

A few months back, I spent a few hours putting together a travel map template for Blogger, and mentioned it here. Much to my surprise, people started downloading and using it. Doing a quick search today, I see almost 500 sites running that theme now.


So I figured I'd do the same for Wordpress users. Here is a screenshot of the Theme in action:

Travel Blog template for Blogger

As you can see, it's a pretty clean look, with a Map up top that you can customize to show where you've been and where you're going. Try it out and let me know what you think!

Get a free Travel Map theme for Wordpress from Blogabond.com!

Google Adsense Serving Malware?

Last night, I noticed some strange behavior from one of my sites that uses AdSense. In Internet Explorer, the site started asking me to install some plugins from google-adservice.com. Naturally, I declined, but the install message came right back. Eventually I had to kill the process to close the browser.

This morning, I opened the same site in Chrome, and was immediately greeted with this:

"Warning: Visiting this site may harm your computer! The website at oracle-dev.appspot.com contains elements from the site google-adservice.com, which appears to host malware – software that can hurt your computer or otherwise operate without your consent. Just visiting a site that contains malware can infect your computer. For detailed information about the problems with these elements, visit the Google Safe Browsing diagnostic page for google-adservice.com. Learn more about how to protect yourself from harmful software online. I understand that visiting this site may harm my computer. "

My first suspiction was that something else was running on that page and impersonating AdSense, but no. There's only one script include on that page, and it points to pagead2.googlesyndication.com. It seems that somebody has found a way to push out some arbitrary script through AdSense.

I did some digging around to see who else has been having this problem, and what Google was doing about it. Nothing, it seems. In fact, I only found one thread about it. But that one thread is filled with real people that are seeing the same thing.

I suspect this is an actual exploit.

EDIT: Here is another thread discussing the issue.

CloudFront costs compared to S3

A little over a month ago, I did a quick writeup comparing Amazon's CloudFront CDN performance with that of Amazon S3 on its own. The results weren't all that surprising. CloudFront kicked the stuffing out of its older sibling in terms of latency. Just like it was designed to do.

That silly article kicked off quite a bit of discussion, most of which was speculation about how much more expensive CloudFront was when compared with S3 on its own, and how its costs stacked up to other Content Delivery Networks.

Well, keeping in the style of that last article, here is one statistically insignificant datapoint from which I'll draw a conclusion. Namely, my Amazon Web Services bill for two months. The following tables represent the costs of hosting imagery for Blogabond, a medium sized blog hosting platform that sees traffic of around 100,000 unique visitors per month and a little over a million pageviews:

October - Amazon S3 alone

$8.12 Total

December - Amazon S3 + CloudFront:

$6.09 + $6.28 = $12.37 Total

So there you have it: It's a little less than twice as expensive to host the same content on CloudFront as compared to S3 alone. And it's still dirt cheap at twice the price! I don't know about you, but I'm going to stick with it.

DISCLAIMER: This is not intended to be a thorough, or even fair, comparison of every available CDN on the planet. So if you happen to be a sales rep for, say, Akamai, and you've got your feelings all hurt because of this post, please remember that it was not directed at you. I'm sure your thing is really really great, but we're not talking about it here.

CloudFront Performance Numbers

Yesterday, Amazon finally released the Content Delivery Network (CDN) they had been promising for several months. They're calling it CloudFront, and so far it seems to be living up to expectations.

It's dead simple to set up if you're already using S3 to store your content. Both Bucket Explorer and S3fox have already integrated CloudFront support, so you don't even need to write any new code. Just configure a few settings, switch the CNAME records in your DNS, and suddenly your content is serving a lot faster.

How much faster? Lots. Here are my numbers for serving a one pixel .gif file to my development machine here in the North of England (I've given URLs that are guaranteed to point to the right places, even after my CNAME changes propagate):

Amazon S3:
300ms - 800ms latency, ~0s download time

46ms latency, ~0s download time

S3 performance is all over the map. As expected. Amazon never intended S3 to be used as a direct web host, so it's no surprise that it performs like a big dumb file storage system.

CloudFront, however, is amazingly well tuned. That 46ms time remained constant within 2ms every single time I loaded that file. In other words, CloudFront is so much faster and more consistent that there is simply no reason not to use it for all your S3 content hosting starting today.

How close to Zero Friction is your signup process?

StackOverflow.com just launched this last week, and it looks pretty cool. It seems like it might be our best shot at getting back to the sort of useful discussion that we used to have on the Usenet back in the 90's. Lots of signal, hardly any noise, and even the occasional correct answer. Sign me up!

Uh... wait a sec... I can't sign up.

StackOverflow has made the inexplicable blunder of requiring its users to sign in via OpenID. That means you can't simply pick a username and password, but must instead go away and find yourself an OpenID provider, sign up for that, and bring it back to StackOverflow. It's like 14 steps, depending on which provider you choose. Observe:


  • Click login
  • Read a ton of instructions
  • Locate and click the "get one" link
  • Dismiss the javascript error popup from openid.net
  • Read a bunch more instructions
  • Find and click the "ClaimID" link (it's the first one on the list of providers)
  • Click "Create a new account"
  • Type in your information
  • Open your email, find their email, click the link
  • Go back to StackOverflow, click login again
  • Paste in that giant URL that is now your OpenID
  • Type in your Username & Password
  • Type in a bunch of Personal Info
  • ... and you're in! Easy as that!

Now, for sake of comparison, let's take a look at the steps required to start using Twiddla (the web meeting playground that we've been working on these last several months here at Expat):


Can you spot the difference?

Look, it's not just me saying this. Talk to any Usability expert you like, and they'll tell you that every barrier that you put in front of your users will cause a certain percentage of them to leave and not come back. For most sites, even stopping to ask for a Username & Password is too intrusive. That's why we built Twiddla the way we did.

Our stated goal with Twiddla is to get the hell out of your way so that you can get some work done. We've taken that idea so far that most of our users will never see a login screen of any description. Some might not ever know they've used Twiddla at all, since we keep our Logo hidden away in the corner where it's not in your way.

Can we say the same about StackOverflow's new registration system? Unfortunately not. For me, it was 10 minutes of grumbling "StackOverflow", "F'ng StackOverflow" under my breath while stumbling through the painful OpenID signup process. Complete usability failure. I can only hope they'll come to their senses and put in a reasonable username/password login like everybody else.

Canvas Rendering Issue in Google Chrome

Pop Quiz. What's wrong with this picture?

Google Chrome misrendering a Canvas element

That's what you'll see if you use Google Chrome to draw a rounded box in a Twiddla meeting today, and it highlights a minor cosmetic issue in Chrome's Canvas rendering engine. Oops.

If you think about how you would draw a rounded box on a canvas (straight line, curve, straight line, curve...), you can quickly see what's going on in that picture. We've told it to "turn right 90 degrees", and it though we meant "270 degrees". Or, in math terms, π/2 vs. -π/2, which is the same as 3π/2, since it ends you up in the same place.

Here is a Test Page that reproduces the Issue. Try it in a few browsers and see it for yourself.

The strange thing here is that Chrome is supposed to be using WebKit's Canvas engine. WebKit runs Safari, and Safari draws that box just fine. Funky.

As far as I'm concerned, Chrome is a great browser. With this one minor exception, it ran Twiddla perfectly right out of the box, which is certainly more than I can say for FireFox 3 (but that's another post...), and it's rendering engine is a bit faster than Safari (but not quite as fast as Internet Explorer. Go figure.)

Keep up the good work!

UPDATE: Google fixed this issue on December 11, 2008. Here'a a link to their bug report on the issue.

Windows Search gets worse!

I have no idea how they pulled it off, but Microsoft has somehow made it even harder to find files on your computer.

I'm already wistful for the good old days, when hitting "Search" from windows explorer would pull up an annoying dialog asking a bunch of stupid questions about what you wanted to search for.

The one thing that old dialog had going for it, and I'm afraid that I never gave it its due credit, is that when you hit the Search button, it would actually, you know, search your hard drive for files.

Well, that's all gone with the new & improved Search dialog. Now, you get a bunch of even stupider questions to look at, but when you hit the Search button it immediately comes up with this:

Nothing found for query "manage.py" because the folder F:\ is not indexed.
Nothing found for query "manage.py" because the folder F:\ is not indexed.

Roughly translated: "I didn't find anything because I didn't actually look."

Now, being a reasonably computer-savvy guy, I figured it should be a simple matter of hitting the "Index this folder" button somewhere on that screen. Uhh... maybe it's in a dropdown someplace... in a menu maybe??? Nope. It's nowhere. To this day, I have no idea where to even look for the tool that might be responsible for indexing that folder. It just became impossible to search for files anywhere except for my C drive.

So here is my advice for anybody on the Microsoft Search team that might be reading this. In the case where your clever little index of "Things on this drive" doesn't know about the file I'm searching for, or maybe if your clever little index doesn't actually know anything about the hard drive in the first place, maybe you should fall back to, you know, searching the hard drive. It would make my life a little easier.

As it is, I'm back to DOS, pulling out commands I haven't used in 15 years. Thanks Microsoft!

UPDATE: LazyWeb™ to the rescue!

This got picked up by Reddit, and 20,000 people have since written comments explaining how to actually convince Windows Search to index new content. Since this page is now the #1 Google result for that annoying message, I figured it might help if I actually explained how to turn indexing on.

You've got three basic choices:

  • Go to My Computer, right click F:\, Properties, check "Allow Indexing Service to index this disk for fast file searching."
  • or, click the text of that helpful error message (not the help icon), which will pop up a help page. Read through the longwinded description of how Indexing works and how it's making your life better, and eventually you'll find some form of link that sends you to a control panel that should let you turn it on. Somehow.
  • or, of cource, the obvious solution that anybody who's not a complete idiot (according to Reddit) would immediately know: Click the Dog!

Travel Map template for Blogger

Blogabond has been growing steadily this year, and one thing that has really taken off is the Travel Map Widget that lets you embed an itinerary map into your blog.

At first, it might seem strange that a blogging site like Blogabond should offer tools to help people blogging elsewhere. After all, why not just force people to migrate their stuff over to Blogabond if they want to get a little map up on top of their blog?

But there's the rub. Forcing people to do things is BAD. People hate being told what to do. In this case, they've got a perfectly good blog going already, thank you very much, and all they want is a stinking map to put on it. Personally, I'll take a little goodwill over a new user any day, so it makes a lot of sense to just give these little freebies away.

In that spirit, you can now download an entire Blogger template that will give you the best of all possible worlds. Here's what it will look like if you install it on your blog:

Travel Blog template for Blogger

So yeah, go nuts and try it out for yourself.

Get a free Travel Map template for Blogger from Blogabond.com!

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Jason Kester

I run a little company called Expat Software. Right now, the most interesting things we're doing are related to Cloud Storage Analytics, Online Classrooms, and Customer Lifecycle Metrics for SaaS Businesses. I'll leave it to you to figure out how those things tie together.

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