June 17, 20131 Comment

New sort-of-site

aderowbotham.com.2013

Having left my big important position of responsibility in London I still need to take stock of all the work that I'm proud of from the past few years and put it together as a new portfolio. However, I've been pretty much flat out since the day I left Pirata, and I'm currently juggling three projects among other things, so it's going to be a little while yet. It’s a truism that your own website can be the hardest thing to get round to when paid work is vying for your time.

I bought a new laptop the other day and it has one of those ultra-high-resolution displays. It's a lovely bit of kit but (as is well documented) old software and old websites now look terrible on it, the graphics being either pixellated or blurred as they're scaled up. The newest of my personal sites was created in 2007, and looked particularly outdated on the new laptop so I decided that – at the very least – aderowbotham.com needed a quick and dirty makeover.

The old site was just the front and back of my business card from 2007:
aderowbotham.com.2008

The new site doesn't contain a whole lot more, but here are some of its key features:

  • Pretentious introductory ‘mission statement’ (in lieu of having some actual work to show)
  • Works on mobile (obv.)
  • Big silly tooltips
  • Shows off a few of my best photographs in high resolution
  • Some technical stuff that means it’s quick

Anyway, not much to see really. This post is mostly for myself, Google and of course The NSA. My website is at https://aderowbotham.com.

Next-up: a new CV.

May 4, 2013No Comments

Purging in Varnish 3

I wrote some notes on using 'ban' in Varnish 3. Read at GitHub for better legibility.

March 28, 20135 Comments

Farewell Pirata

Pirata logo

After four years at Pirata I have very recently departed in order to pursue some personal ventures and to spend more time with my family. It's been an incredible four years during which we created a bounty of outstanding and beautiful work, took on some brave challenges and had a lot of fun together.

For me as Technical Partner the biggest satisfactions came from putting together a great team of talented and creative developers, and from overseeing the evolution of our capabilities as we went from building Flash microsites for ad campaigns to creating high profile high capacity dot-com sites in the contemporary world of HTML5, mobile and 'The Cloud'.

Much credit must of course also go to the design team which contains some remarkably talented individuals; Pirata's design prowess has always been second to none under the creative direction of Eduardo, Stuart and David. And I'll get in trouble now if I don't also include a nod to the producers. Of course nothing would have ever launched without you.

The key to great digital design is Agile integration with the development process – something we achieved more consistently than anywhere I've worked before, particularly so in the last year. We've always ensured that designers and developers sit and work together, and the quality of the work really shows for it.

Among the work I'm most proud of is the that which we've been doing for Team GB, not least teamgb.com itself which was a roaring success during London 2012. And more recently Pirata has re-designed and re-built the McLaren Formula 1 team's website from the ground up for the 2013 season. It still has McLaren Live during every Grand Prix, but it works better than ever before and looks fantastic.

I'd like to thank everyone past and present at Pirata for making it a brilliant four years, I'm going to miss everyone greatly and I wish you all the very best of luck! And likewise to all the splendid clients I've been fortunate enough to work with.

What now? Well I'm interested in talking to anyone about projets that lie anywhere around the cross section of technology and creativity. I have a lot of experience to bring to the table and would love to work with small teams of talented people to create tools, apps and games.

And in the short term I'd better get on because I have some websites to make. I still love doing that too.

March 10, 2013No Comments

Moved this blog

Click away now if you're not interested in web servers.

Having spent much of the last few years making sure clients’ websites are fast and responsive, I finally got round to sorting my own blog out. It was letting the side down, being quite sluggish and unoptimised in its shared hosing environment. So I've moved this over to my own server which is running Varnish, nginx and also PHP 5.4 with APC.

WordPress, which this blog runs on, works out of the box in Apache + PHP environments but getting it running in nginx (with PHP-FPM) was a bit of a pain in the arse. This is mostly because .htaccess files are an Apache thing so don't work in nginx. nginx has its own syntax for setting up redirects and there are tools out there for converting between the two but none of the ones I found converted my existing rules successfully.

Frustratingly, following these official instructions to the letter did not work either. Getting the main WordPress installation working was fine but the problem was WP Super cache which relies on some specific rewriting logic. Certain valid post URLs were throwing up 404 errors depending on the state of the cache and what characters were in the address. At that point it had reached 1am so I decided as an interim to put Apache on the server too. I'll return to the nginx configuration sometime soon. I have other sites running off this server through nginx, it's just that WordPress-plugin-specific problem that needs solving.

Running Varnish on the server means it's now easy to route traffic to either Apache or nginx as required based on the request hostname and of course it caches the returned documents so speeds things up even more. Ideally I'd have assets going to a CDN but given that I only get a handful of visitors each day it doesn't really seem worth the effort.

Anyway, that's it for dev-ops news. Hopefully this blog will be a bit more responsive from now on.


P.S. OK, so signing in to leave comments is currently broken. This is due to my Varnish configuration. I need to make exceptions for cookies. I'm sure you'll manage in the meantime. <-- Now fixed

February 22, 2013No Comments

Bitcasa having teething troubles?

*See update at the end of this post*

Bitcasa_Logo

Having read several favourable reviews I signed up for a Bitcasa account yesterday. The desktop app for OS X looks good and works well. The user-experience is not entirely dissimilar to Dropbox in that you have a special folder which is then synchronised to their cloud storage. However the the Bitcasa drive is a mounted network drive, so doesn't take up space on your hard disk, whereas the Dropbox folder is local.

bitcasa-infinite-drive

"Infinite storage" sounded appealing and they're running a $69.99 offer for a year, so I went for it.

However... I'm now finding it incredibly slow to upload files. Speedtest.net tells me the upload bandwidth of my internet connection is 13Mbps, or ~1.88 MB/s. Bitcasa (mirroring a folder through the app) is just about sustaining 190KB/s which means it's using only around 1/10th of my available bandwidth.

Dropbox by comparison on the same machine and connection manages around 750KB/s, which is about 4 times as fast.

I've tried to get some help from them but at the moment it's like talking to a brick wall. 24 hours on they've still failed to respond to two support tickets I raised, nor have they replied to my nudge on Twitter. And there are at least a couple of threads in their community forum filling up with comments from what sound like extremely dissatisfied customers - such as this one.

I hope it's just teething trouble and they sort this out, but the apparent stony silence from the company doesn't bode well to me. As one forum user commented (here):

"The bottom line is it came out of beta too early and we're paying the price now."

Surely the first and most important thing to do is talk to their new paying customers. When people part with their cash they want service!


Update - 23 Feb

Last night I received a reply from Bitcasa on Twitter:

Also, they've responded to my ticket and have commented (and apologised) in a number of the forum threads, such as this one:

"We definitely are inundated with tickets, and are working very hard to respond to everyone as quickly as we can, in order to best address everyone's help needs."

It sounds as though they've had a huge influx of users and that's taking its toll on both customer support and the system itself. Plus there are seemingly a few bugs in the software that need ironing out. From their explanations, due to their protocol the data transfer rate is affected by the ping time to the server. They're using Amazon Web Services so are currently restricted to US, Japan and Ireland data centres.

Being in the UK I'm getting a ~30ms ping time to eu1.api.bitcasa.com, which is pretty good, and my Bitcasa upload speed seems to have vastly improved overnight without me having changed anything. I'm now getting around 800KB/sec according to their app, which is not too bad. I hope it stays that way.

I'm sure they will get things sorted out but, as ever, customer support is key. If things are going wrong 24 hours without a response can feel like a long time for a paying customer. Even to acknowledge that there's a problem and to say "we're working on it" goes a long way in these situations.

February 3, 20131 Comment

Pirata featured in .net Magazine

This month's edition of .net magazine contains a feature on Pirata. It's based on an interview with Eduardo, Lee, Stuart and myself, in which we talk about our work over the past four years.

dot-net-magazine-profile-pirata-2013-01a_web

dot-net-magazine-profile-pirata-2013-01b_web

June 27, 2012No Comments

Leap Motion demo

Great demo video of Leap Motion's new device in action:

And here's the full accompanying article.

Thanks to @kerridashanne for the link!

June 27, 20124 Comments

Overshare

I'm no great fan of Facebook, though over the past few years my hatred for it has mellowed into more of a grudging acceptance of its presence. I killed my account once and didn't log in for a whole year. During that time one person actually ended up calling me to ask whether I was OK; apparently I'd "dropped off the face of the Earth". I eventually ended up coming back to it for work reasons. We get asked to make Facebook apps, and to do that you need an account.

Things were more fun before Facebook and, working (as I do) in the online marketing industry, briefs are generally far less interesting than they used to be. Almost everything is now a Facebook app of some variety, and everything else at least features "social integration" which is a pseudointellectual way of saying it has Facebook and Twitter share buttons, and maybe a comments panel. And it'll probably prefer (or sometimes only permit) single sign-on with a Facebook account. Basically creativity has by and large gone down the toilet at the behest of the planners whose measure of success is the number of Likes their client gets, which in digital adspeak translates conveniently as "the size of their community".

The worst and most idiotic crime that gets committed to this end is the insertion of what's being termed a "Like Gate": Users are forced to click "Like" on a brand's page before they're permitted to use whatever app it is they went there to use in the first place; hardly a surefire way to build up a strong and loyal fan-base I would say.

None of this is surprising and the blame doesn't lie with any individual (except perhaps for Mark Zuckerberg); it's just the business basics of misguided quick-win marketing, but hell is it bland.

Of Facebook itself, I accept that it does have benefits: Most notably, I can just contact a person without having to know whether they have changed their email address. That feels contemporary, but then I'd like to think that anyone who considers me a friend would drop me a line to let me know their new address whenever they change jobs. And anyone else, I don't really care so much if they drop off my radar.

And in terms of content, if Twitter is my constant source of personally-tuned news, industry chatter, comedy and expertly crafted witticisms, then Facebook is my Daily Mail and ITV. It's low rent material. The follow model is much more interesting than the friend model.

But, oops, none of this is what I set out to write, I'm just ranting.

What I meant to say is that something I find increasingly irritating (and it seems to have stepped up a notch in 2012) is the amount that apps are all-but forcing me to share my every interaction on Facebook. And it's now starting to include largely passive actions. This morning I went to read an article on the Guardian's website and was presented with this:

Welcome Ade, Sign into the Guardian with Facebook

...and next to it the names and avatars of some of the 62 friends who "use The Guardian".

I understand that these are desperate times for the traditional press, but I don't wish to know whether a friend has merely read an article (for that is one of the Guardian Facebook App's features), it tells me nothing. If they "Like" it then arguably that's more useful, and even better they might post a comment about the article along with a link to the original, but the simple fact that they've read it is just utter noise. Likewise, Spotify wants to actively tell the world whenever I simply listen to some music!

And this is all down, of course, to the great fallacy about social media: That companies are doing it for the benefit of the community, for their users. When I play Bejeweled Blitz on my iPhone, OK it's nice that I can compete against the two of my Facebook contacts who also play the game, but then after every single go, it wants me to share on Facebook the fact that I've had that go. No thanks.

Please, please, please share me!

And people are doing it. My Facebook news feed (or whatever it's called at the moment) is strewn with: "Mike read an article on The Guardian", "Luke 'Likes' Volkswagen", "Tom was awarded a 300k medal on Bejeweled Blitz!!!", "Matt listened to [some album] on Spotify". Yes I can opt out of these things by hiding updates from various apps or users, but really I'd rather just not opt in in the first place.

The number of sites and apps using Facebook as the default form of registration and login, and then defaulting to sharing everything that happens within that site on Facebook, and the fact that so many people are simply going along with these schemes, apparently unthinking, is to me nothing short of a slow motion car crash for the Web. The idiots are winning. Facebook, let's not forget, is a proprietary and privately owned platform and the Web was founded on quite opposing principles.

As users the power is in our hands to reject all of this. So, for as long as it remains possible I'll be reading my news anonymously if that's quite alright. And no, I won't be linking my Spotify account to Facebook, though thanks all the same.

January 16, 2012No Comments

The Problem with SOPA (via Copyblogger)

Copyblogger has posted a great overview of the problems with SOPA:

SOPA is the Stop Online Piracy Act, written with the intent of more vigorously protecting copyright around the web. The entertainment industry wants to come down harder on file sharing and the theft of copyrighted material, so it lobbied for a draconian law to add to the many anti-piracy laws that are already on the books.

SOPA would be a sweet deal for giant music and entertainment companies. That’s why the law got written in the first place.

But it’s not a good deal for countless small businesses in the U.S., including yours.

Go and read the full thing at www.copyblogger.com/sopa

April 13, 20112 Comments

How I lost £900 to eBay fraudsters

iMac for sale on eBay

Last week in an attempt to clear out the house I put a few items up for sale on eBay. Among them was an Apple iMac computer that belonged to my wife. It wasn't particularly old but she was selling it because those glossy screens aren't great for accurate colour matching, which is essential for her work. So she'd replaced it with a different set-up.

The auction wasn't due to end until Sunday 10th April but on the preceding Tuesday at around 17.30 I noticed I'd had two missed calls and a voicemail from a man saying that he had bought the iMac using eBay's Buy it now feature. It was a slightly garbled voice-mail so I called him back. The number was +44 7550 710 157. The conversation was also difficult to follow; it wasn't a great line and at the time I was walking through a crowded Holborn in central London. I asked for his name and he told me it was “David Anderson”. With hindsight he did sound a little bit dodgy. I said I'd check and call him back.

I checked my emails and the eBay app on the phone and confirmed what he told me. The buyer's username was sharisace – Sharon Anderson, and I'd been left a note on the item:

“please call me on 07550 710 157 or 0207 1400071, i am in LONDON for 2days”

Back on the phone to “Mr. Anderson” I told him he could collect the item if he wanted later that evening. He said it would be a "bit later tonight", because he was still at work. I jumped on the tube back home.

I got home at about twenty past six and sent a PayPal invoice through eBay to the buyer. I figured that PayPal is safer than using cash because there is a record of the transaction and besides: they'd already requested it. My wife and I went out for some dinner, five minutes walk from home.

Shortly after we'd paid for our meal our friend Mr Anderson called again. He said he'd paid for the iMac and that there was a car waiting to pick it up but that nobody seemed to be home. I told him I'd be back in a few minutes. At this point – and this is the most annoying thing – I was pretty sure there was something dodgy going on. I checked eBay on my phone as I walked home, and the payment had still not been made.

On arriving home I walked past the waiting cab and straight into the house to check PayPal on my laptop: Still no payment. I called Mr Anderson: "Oh really? Let me just check." Then he mumbled something about using his brother's PayPal account.

At about 20:20 I received an email:

Subject: You received a payment of 900.00 GBP from sharisace (r.taylor57@virgin.net)

PayPal Instant Payment Notification

Given that I was already a bit suspicious I logged into PayPal to check that the email was not a fraud. It wasn't. I had indeed been paid, so I was happy it was legitimate.

At this stage, in my mind I had they money so I didn't really care about much else. So I took the iMac outside and carefully placed it in the back of the cab. We even wrapped it in some protective foam. The cab driver was complaining in broken English about having waited for 30 minutes and how we'd have to pay waiting fees, so I told him to speak to the people at the drop-off address. He drove off.

And no, I didn't get the numberplate or details of the taxi firm, nor his phone number.

I called David to tell him it was on its way, that we'd wrapped it carefully and that I'd created a fresh user account on the computer and set the password to 'password' for him. You know what? He didn't seem that interested.

Five minutes later my heart sank when I received this email from PayPal:

Subject: Please respond by 12/04/2011 regarding Case no.PP-001-268-479-221

Dear Adrian Rowbotham,

A review of recent transactions indicates that you might have received a
payment that the PayPal account holder did not authorise.

To protect you from problematic transactions, we sometimes request
additional information about PayPal payments.

We need more information about this transaction. Please log in to your
PayPal account, click the "Resolution Centre" tab, and provide more
information by 12/04/2011.

I phoned Mr Anderson who kept up the act: “Really? Oh that's weird. Let me check. Maybe there's a limit on my brother's account". He even sent me a text to which I responded:

SMS conversation

I duly filled in the PayPal dispute forms, at this stage assuming that the buyer had simply decided to cancel his payment. Maybe it was an honest mix-up. Maybe. I'm an optimist.

Then the following morning, to my dismay, I received a another email from PayPal:

Subject: A payment has been reversed

Dear Adrian Rowbotham,

We've concluded our investigation into the transaction detailed below.

Because you did not meet the eligibility requirements for the PayPal Seller
Protection Policy, you will be charged for this reversed transaction. We've
returned the funds to the PayPal account holder. Your account will be
debited for the amount of this transaction.
Helping ensure safe transactionsMost payments<sic> you receive will be from
good, honest buyers. However, there may be some that are not.

You can often reduce your risk to these payments by paying close attention
to payment details and unusual requests.

Watch for address inconsistencies:

Although it's fairly common for a buyer's postal address to be different
from the billing address, in some cases it could indicate fraud. For
instance, a high-priced item that has a billing address in one country and
a postal address in another may be suspicious.

...

Shit.

The transaction details were as follows:

Robert Taylor
sharisace
r.taylor57@virgin.net

Shipping address - confirmed
Sharon Anderson
58 The Dukeries
Westgate
Gloucester, Gloucestershire
GL1 2PU
United Kingdom

I sent an email to the contact address on the transaction saying that I was going to call the Police. I promptly received a call from a confused-sounding Robert Taylor, who lives in county Durham, and knew nothing about any iMac or eBay transaction, nor the fact that his PayPal account had been hacked. The penny dropped.

Unsurprisingly Mr Anderson was no longer picking up the phone, I guess because by this time it was most likely sitting in a public waste bin.

Cash is the safer option

Having raised the case with both parties, neither eBay nor PayPal seem willing to cover this, despite the fact that PayPal's system has been compromised.

Retrospectively, looking at the small print I'm not actually covered by their Seller Protection Policy. So actually, if you are handing an item over in person you are not covered by PayPal.

The mistake I made was to think that once I had received payment through PayPal it meant that the money was mine. This belief alone led me to hand over the item. I was completely unaware that a PayPal transaction could be reversed by the payer once it had been made.

Now, looking back at the text further down the payment notification email it does actually say:

Please be aware that your payment can still be reversed, (e.g. if it is subject to a chargeback), even after you have posted the item to your buyer. Complying with PayPal's protection programs and following the trading guidelines, in our Safety Advice Centre helps to protect you from things like chargebacks.

This needs to be made more obvious. The conclusion to draw is that for the seller cash is actually safer. I guess PayPal just don't want to draw your attention to the fact. eBay should disable PayPal as an option for sales with the delivery type set to Collection in person.

I've reported it to the police but unless it happens to shed light on some larger case I don't imagine a S.W.A.T. team will be crashing through Mr Anderson's skylight anytime soon.

Contact

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