Props to Hulu.

We’ve caught up on all the Hulu shows we watch, no new ones for a couple of months. There is really nothing we need from them until the new season is available. Went to cancel my subscription, with the intent of re-starting in April or May. Hey — they let you “pause” your subscription for up to 12 weeks. Sweet!! Exactly what I needed to do. Thanks for anticipating our needs, guys.

Sorry, I don’t read Chinese…

For the past several weeks I’ve been getting a fairly large amount of Chinese language spam leaking through. Since nearly all of the data (From:, subject, etc) are Chinese characters, my regular Postfix spam filters have not been effective in eliminating it. I finally got tired enough of it to do a little Googling. It’s trivially simple to just reject any incoming email with Chinese characters in the subject line:

/^Subject:.*=\?GB2312\?/ REJECT Sorry, this looks like SPAM (C1).
/^Subject:.*=\?GBK\?/ REJECT Sorry, this looks like SPAM (C2).
/^Subject:.*=\?GB18030\?/ REJECT Sorry, this looks like SPAM (C3).
/^Subject:.*=\?utf-8\?B\?[456]/ REJECT Sorry, this looks like SPAM (C4).

I made the change last night, and this morning came in to find no Chinese spam and several rejects in the mail log… all from pretty obvious spam sources, like this one:

Jul 6 01:12:51 newman postfix/cleanup[30385]: 99EB31A6D3: reject: header Subject: =?utf-8?B?44CQ5Lqk6YCa6ZO26KGM5L+h55So5Y2h5Lit5b+D44CR5bCK6LS155qEZGFpbmlz?=??=?utf-8?B?6I635b6XMTAw5YWD57qi5YyF5aSn56S85rS75Yqo6LWE5qC877yM6aKG5Yiw5bCx5piv6LWa?=??=?utf-8?B?5Yiw?= from[]; from=<> to=<> proto=ESMTP helo=<>: 5.7.1 Sorry, this looks like SPAM (C4).

Small business shipping made easy

This may at some point begin to sound like a commercial, but it really isn’t.  I promise.  I receive nothing from anyone in return for writing this kind of stuff; I do it just to hopefully help out fellow small business owners.

I know (and know of) a lot of owners of small businesses who regularly ship packages all over the US and worldwide.  Most of them expend a lot of time and effort on shipping.  I suspect this level of hassle is the norm for small businesses; I have talked to several large dealers and distributors who offer to be my exclusive distributor and relieve me of the crushing burden of shipping and order fulfillment.  The truth is, order fulfillment and shipping take up a very small amount of the total time I spend running my business.

I know people who pack up each order, write the recipient’s name and address on the package (or print a label), drive to the post office and stand in line to have packages weighed and postage added.  Ugh.  Incredible.  I used to do that too, but it was years ago.  And filling out Customs forms for overseas shipments?  Torture!  At one time I seriously considered just NOT accepting any orders from outside the USA – -including APO/FPO addresses.

Others use on line tools like USPS’ Click-n-Ship to prepare labels.  It’s a lot better, but the user interface is clunky, and you either spend time cutting and taping paper to packages, or pay through the nose for expensive labels.  I looked into it, I even used it a few times.  It’s only marginally better than the trip to the post office.

If you ship more than a few packages per week, you owe it to yourself to go with a postage supplier.  I use Endicia, a choice I made after looking at them, and one or two others.  Pitney Bowes was at the bottom of the list by a wide margin.  I don’t remember the specific disadvantages of, but Endicia was the best suited for my needs.  With any of these services, you pay for postage on line, print your labels with postage included, and drop your packages off or have them picked up.

So why Endicia instead of Click-n-Ship?  With Endicia, I get a slight discount on postage and free delivery confirmation/package tracking.  Their software is installed on my PC, and can communicate with a USB postal scale to automatically weight each package.  I don’t use one simply because I know what 90% or more of my packages weigh, but when I see a good enough deal on a scale I’m buying one.

I use 4×6″ thermal labels.  They’re available for very little money, since they’re produced in vast numbers for UPS, Fedex and others.  I buy cases of 400-label rolls.  They go into the used Zebra LP2844 printer I picked up for under a hundred bucks on eBay.  In its former life it was used in a UPS store, and it’s given me three years of trouble-free service so far.  The really nice part?  I can print ANY kind of postage.  First class parcel, Priority Mail, Express, and international — INCLUDING the Customs form.  It’s SO nice to never have to fill out that stupid non-printer-friendly green form again!  Some forms, like an Express International package, can’t be done on a 4×6″ label.  For those I have the regular printer and USPS-supplied stick-on document sleeves.  Endicia prints all the required forms with postage, ready to go.

For $15.95 per month I get the ability to print labels without the postage amount shown…  so I don’t have to explain over and over to customers why I charged them $2.50 for shipping when the postage was only $1.93 (boxes, labels, printer paper and ink for the packing slip, packing material and gasoline are not free). I can get a refund on labels I don’t use; I can print return labels when a customer needs to return something.  In short — my shipping is as close to effortless as it can be.  And the post office employees love it when I drop off a tub full of packages WITH a USPS scan form so they don’t have to scan each package, just the form that puts each one into the system for tracking and delivery confirmation.

If you’re still writing out shipping labels, or if heaven forbid you’ve got a postage meter, you really owe it to yourself to check out Endicia.  They’ll usually give you a free trial period, and you don’t need anything special to get started — you can use your existing printer and plain paper or a box of Avery labels form Office Depot while you try it out.  Then you can develop your own process and streamline your shipping to take up less of your time and energy.


Why I’m Leaving GoDaddy

There are a couple of reasons why I’m migrating off of GoDaddy’s virtual dedicated hosting service.

For one thing, I’m really not all that happy with GD to begin with.  While they haven’t done anything lately that has massively pissed me off, they have done so before.  Like when they claimed they had backups of my web hosting account stuff.  Well, they did, sort of.  When I needed it, they wanted to charge me $149 and it would take them two weeks to restore the data.  ‘Scuse me?  They should be able to rebuild an entire data center in two weeks.  Come on.  Then there was the time I contacted their tech support (and I do use that term loosely).  My virtual dedicated server (their term for a VM) was sputtering and dying, logging thousands of “NIC_NL waiting binding to NETLINK_ISCSI socket” errors.  Turns out their host machine was having problems which apparently went undetected for weeks.  It seems they didn’t even know it until I emailed their tech support.  Then they gave me some bullshit song and dance about “This process is most likely used for an internal purposes and unfortunately due to security reasons we are unable to go more in depth on this process.“  I suspect that means, “We don’t know what it was, so we rebooted the host and it went away”.  I don’t know.  I suspect they don’t either.  It really bothers me, though, that they apparently have no monitoring in place to tell them when things start going south.  I just wonder how many people on the same host wiped and re-imaged their VMs trying to fix the problem. 

Then there is the cost.  I have found what appears to be a very good hosting provider that charges 1/3 less per month, and their add-on services like extra bandwidth and disk space – should I ever need them — are FAR less expensive.  They also don’t treat their customers like complete imbeciles, and their web site is not a constant barrage of upsell that makes it hard to get to the stuff you’re paying for.  Anyway, I’m switching over to Linode.  The prepaid domain registrations and stuff will stay with GD for now, but I have zero allegiance to them – so if someone else has a better deal for domain registration when mine start to expire, I’ll yank that business from them as well.


Spammers suck.

This morning I came downstairs to find over 100 SPAM comments had been posted to my blog overnight.  None of them were ever visible, of course; I don’t allow comments to be seen until I have seen them first, and that is the exact reason why.  So far I have had one real comment (thanks, Lisa!  I love you, too) and several hundred spammers trying to publish links to God only knows what.

Screw ’em.  I have a delete button, and I know how to use it…

Web site overhaul

I have been helping a friend of a friend who is trying to get her web site going.  In the process, I took a look at what others have done with osCommerce.  There are some pretty slick sites out there.  I had been trying to figure out how to integrate somethings I wanted to do into OSC; now I see I was thinking bass-ackwards.  Build a whole site, and wrap the osCommerce shopping cart into it.  Duh.  I’ll be looking at different ways to do that.