Freewaregenius rises from the ashes!

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After being offline for most of the past week, Freewaregenius is finally back online. I am hoping at this point that all the issues are resolved. The site should be running faster than it was before. There is a blank space on the upper right where my Ajax navigation tabs used to be that is not looking too good, but that will be remedied soon. I am looking into new designs/Wordpress themes so the site’s look and feel may change in the coming weeks.

My site first went offline Dec 30th. At first I thought it was a vanilla, run of the mill outage most probably due to a traffic spike (my last posting, “Ten lesser known “must have” free programs, part 1” was generally well-received in the blogosphere and featured on Lifehacker). Alas the problem turned out to be some sort of server “meltdown” where the host computer’s hard drive (and my site data on it) were simply inaccessible. This all was taking place on Dec 30th and 31st, needless to say not the most convenient time. Nonetheless the guy from my previous hosting company (hi Greg), bless his heart, was working late into New Year’s eve trying to get my data out (the last backup we had was taken in October). He finally managed to retrieve a snapshot of my site as it was on Nov 17th, with approx 20 postings and comments wiped out. If you find that a comment that you made is gone, that would be the reason.

My first response was to kick into gear re-creating the missing postings from saved files on my desktop (and at least some comments from cached versions of the pages saved by Google). This was much more time consuming than I thought, but I was thinking that at least its doable and that when all content is recreated the problem would be solved. Alas, this was not to be. Although it was missing some content, my site was now back but it was consuming too much of the shared server’s resources, resulting in it being bumped offline again. This was not a new issue, but we had previously solved it by using WordPress’s “Super Cache Plugin“. Except this time the caching did not seem to work for some reason. Murphy’s law in action. Most annoying of all, whenever my site was pulled offline it was replaced with a message that said something like “contact billing department”, making it seem like all of this was happening because I hadn’t paid the bills. Grrrr!!!

I therefore needed to go into my site’s code and either optimize it or remove whatever was using so much of the server’s CPU resources – a time consuming task which I am certainly not the best candidate to perform, but I was determined to get the problem fixed. After making the site inaccessible to the outside world I went about disabling unnecessary plugins, but this was not going to solve the problem. I realized that the culprit may be my Ajax navigation (which I had paid someone to implement for me about 6 months ago), and decided to remove it altogether. In any case I had been doubting its usefulness/efficacy since its inception, and was not sad to see it go. Many hours later I was able to take it out, and my site did indeed seem to load up much faster than before. I was certain that there would be no more problems and informed my host company that the problem was 100% solved (the guy had understandable concerns at this point that my site was again going to hog the resources of the shared server and slow down other customers’ sites). Less than 24 hours after the site was re-instated it was pulled down again for the same reason: was still using too much resources.

It was also at this point that my previous host told me that he couldn’t host my site on a shared server anymore. This was not so bad because in actuality I had been researching hosting options for days and had come to the conclusion that I probably needed to move to a host that was better able to deal with traffic spikes like the ones I occasionally got. I chose Media Temple, which in fact was recommended by one of my readers the first time that I switched hosts (thanks Devon). These guys apparently use a “grid” structure where servers are inter-connected and idle servers can chip in and help servers that are in need of resources if the need arises. They also host a lot of high-traffic blogs that were familiar to me and, moreover, I figured that if I ever needed to move to virtual private hosting their package was extremely reasonably priced.

I hope that all the issues are resolved now; during the past few days I have made many changes, including changing hosts, removing inefficient elements from the site (including the Ajax navigation), upgrading WordPress to the latest version and disabling unnecessary plugins. I realize that a lot more can be done to make it more efficient; hopefully will get there sooner rather than later. Thanks to reader Alfred for recommending Yslow in a previous postings comment section. Yslow is a Firefox plugin that analyses a site’s performance and provides recommendations to make it better; the analysis was very interesting, although it would have been more useful to someone who knows more about building websites than I do.

A part of me still thinks that the problem will somehow manage to reappear and continue to haunt me, but still, I am hopeful. I am also looking to change the site template and to reinstate some sort of navigation widget in that black space in the upper right, but one that was not a resource hog and did not slow the site down. Keeping my fingers crossed!


 
 
 
  • anand

    ohh…
    at one point of time i actually thought you had bills to pay 😀
    normally i visit your site atleast once a day…so even i was getting impatient.hope nothing troubles know.
    freewares rockk !!!

  • Tima

    Welcome back!!! That,s fine you rose from ashes as you call that,for 3 days i tried to reach your site unsuccesfully and was greatly concerned about that.

  • pedro

    Welcome back, Samer, what would we be without freewaregenius? 😀

  • Sreekanth Menon

    Welcome back…. friend…

  • Joe Quark

    Welcome back, Samer. My day is not complete without a visit to freewaregenius. Joe

  • Transcontinental

    Nice to read you back. Coffee, email, news and RSS feeds which wouldn’t be complete without Freewaregenius.
    I hate changing my habits 🙂

  • Toni (from Holland)

    Glad to see you are back! Freewaregenius is my favorit daily visit.
    There are many unmissable freeware programs on my harddisk, which I found here.

  • Welcome back,
    I was afraid we had lost a good web resource and I am glad it was all a false alarme. These things happen…we’ve all been through one or two 😀

  • Art Richardson

    Welcome back-I missed one of my favourite startup pages each morning
    I too have many freeware progies you have suggested.
    Keep up the good work…..

  • nonglare antiskid

    This is one of my very favorite websites – I visit just about every day. I was alarmed, now I am happy.

  • Stan

    Blast from the past..eh?..Missed your lively posts. Its good to see you alive,kicking and rising from the ashes. At one point, I thought all these freeware reviews got to your head and you forgot not everything in life is so free…hehe…All jokes aside welcome back…and I sincerely hope the year 2009 is less action packed as far as hosting this site is concerned…Keep up the good work..and glad to see you fighting to get back in here.

  • Mofoo

    Welcome back!
    Site does seem to be much faster.

  • Great to see ya back in action!

  • my daily feed is back online. YIPEEee!!!!

  • Hi, Samer, I had similar problems with my blog (healthy-family.org), now I’m using Semi-Dedicated hosting at downtownhost (one shared server is only used by 20 clients), but most important thing that I want to advise is to disable WordPress revision tracking (introduced only in v2.6), that is ON by default. At the beginning it looks as very cool feature, but if you like to write long post (and I know that you do ;-), every edit and save cycle creates a copy of the whole article, what eventually blew up my data base 10 times in size…

    It’s very simple to disable revisions, you just have to add one line to config file, here you can read more: http://www.mydigitallife.info/2008/07/22/disable-and-turn-off-post-revisions-tracking-in-wordpress-26-or-above/

  • Bruno

    @ Samer,

    So, it was not the financial crisis, you had not invested too much on a server hosted by one of the companies financed by Madoff. We all feel so much better to see you back. Well, ‘see you’ is kind of language abuse… May be instead of your Ajax application, a picture of you would be less CPU consuming 🙂
    Happy new year and thanks for your wonderful work.

    Bruno from Tanzania.

  • Joe

    I’m glad you got it mostly sorted out. I’ve been looking forward to your second “10 essentials” post, and it sure seems like I’m not the only one.

  • Mark

    The host I use, hostingmode.com, does daily backups (including databases). I’m pretty sure most hosts do that nowadays.

    PS: No plug above, I’ve been using them for years and am happy but seriously just about any host will have complete daily backups and with their client’s just being a supplment!

  • Eddie

    So glad to see you back. I’ve never posted a comment here before but your presence was missed when everything went offline.

  • Glad you are back. 🙂 I am displaying latest post title for blogs in my blogroll and it was quite a rollercoaster seeing how freewaregenius (dis)appers and gives throws different posts all the time.

    On Ajax navigation – I told you so. Sorry, had to say it. 🙂

    I hope you will sort out all load issues, YSlow is indeed good for that, so are some online benchmarks.

    PS I see you lost Skribit widget in the process? What version was you using? Latest is very light.

    PPS email me if you need some any input/help/links on blog optimizing, I am not really expert but like to keep my blog as light as possible 🙂

  • RG

    Welcome back Samer, I was one of the ones who posted on Lifehacker, was wondering about your host, glad freewaregenius is back

  • Robert Tipping

    I missed the site big time and i knew it was not the bill.
    I have had this kind of thing happen on my sites(built for others)and it really, really hurts.
    Good to see you back.

  • Defi

    Glad to see you back!

  • Aw-right it lives.
    It was my fault actually. I was trying to show it off to some friends New Years – I had touted it as beyond insanely great & incredibly useful – so of course it was DOA. I’ll never do that again.

    Very glad to see the site back – after all it’s insanely great & incredibly useful

    DK

  • Hey man,

    I was actually looking into navi bars myself, and came across a few different ones. None look like the old one, but these could do the trick

    http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/cms-navigation/screenshots/

    http://www.liewcf.com/blog/archives/2005/05/wordpress-navigation-bar/

    http://alexking.org/blog/2005/05/23/popularity-contest

  • Samer

    Thanks guys for all your positive feedback!

    @ Tomas M.: thanks for the tip! Disabled revision tracking, hoping that will have an impact.

    @ Bruno: a picture of me? I dont want to scare people 😉 hark hark.. Actually I think I will add a picture somewhere in the new template.

    @ Rarst: I did lost the Skribit widget. Its not very well implemented IMHO. They ask people to register to comment, and it is not clear that users can use their Yahoo/Gmail/Hotmail logins to do so. Instead I will probably add a page with some polls on it and people can comment there if they have ideas.

    @ Voltaire: thanks for the tips. It’s actually not the Navbar that I am looking into but a tabbed widget (latest posts, popular posts, featured posts, latest comments, etc). Yours is a cool site btw.

  • @Samer

    Huh? Skribit allows suggestions without login of any kind, most of suggestion I receive are anonymous. Login is just an option so person gets notified when his suggestion is linked to the post and closed.

    Looking forward to new theme by the way, current BlackCrunch was used for a looong time, as far as I remember. WordPress themes improve with amazing speed eve in short time since I started my blog and keeping eye on them.

  • Gregpcs

    Very glad to see your site back up and running!!

    I only recently found your site but quickly made it a top fave of mine and a must go-to when looking for various helpful utilities and apps. So much so in fact that I was using a late 2007 cached version of your site off the Internet Archive to scout some things while you sorted your hosting issues out.

    Thanks for running an especially useful and informative site for all of us who are trying to operate on a budget and borrow from all the expertise out there that has already solved problems with unique software solutions.

  • DComedian

    Delighted to see your very well written reviews are back.

  • mouser

    welcome back samer! you are not allowed to leave again!

  • Brent

    Whew, thought I was doomed to searching for freeware on my own. We all know how frustating that is…. WELCOME BACK…..

  • Anonymous

    Its good to see you back mate