Talk about a fuckup of gargantuan proportions: last night, the co-founder of the webhosting company Dreamhost launched a script to trigger a billing cycle for the 2007 end-of-year, but mistakenly used December 31st, 2008 as the run date, meaning that all accounts had their bills run for the entire year of 2008. And that means that if accounts were set to automatically pay, people’s credit cards were charged and bank accounts were debited for one or two years’ worth of charges, leaving a slew of customers with overdraft and over-credit charges from their banks, not to mention other planned transactions that now can’t take place given hundreds or thousands of dollars in unanticipated charges. (I received over $600 worth of bills from them via email, bills that weren’t auto-paid only because the credit cards they have on file for me are thankfully expired.)

From the sounds of things in the Dreamhost Status comments and discussion forum, despite the fact that the webhosting company is already trying to work through the mistaken charges and reverse them, it’s going to lose a bunch of business over the fiasco — even with reversing the charges, it sounds like most of the folks who’ve been assessed overdraft fees aren’t going to be able to avoid them, at least not without quite a bit of effort and fighting with their individual banks (something for which I’m sure the customers will be oh-so-grateful to Dreamhost). And the scope of the overall problem is made clearest by the fact that Dreamhost’s account management control panel has been down all morning, probably because every single customer is trying to get more information about why their accounts were charged and what they should do about it.

Ironically, the most recent Dreamhost newsletter, written by the same co-founder of the company in his trademark (and tiresome) jokey style, had the following item in it:

4. New Office!
Another important thing I’ve been doing instead of writing newsletters is looking out the window of our NEW OFFICE:
If your next web hosting bill from us is mysteriously tripled, now you know why.

Talk about bad timing on Josh’s part… or perhaps, talk about a good lesson in the error of joking about things that could easily become the catalysts that drive customers into the arms of your competitors.

Seriously, this is awesome. This morning, web hosting provider 365 Main announced in a press release that it had provided Red Envelope with “two years of 100% uptime at [its] San Francisco facility.” This afternoon, an outage in San Francisco left 20,000 without power, including 365 Main — and for reasons that are still unknown, no backup generators kicked in, knocking Red Envelope, Craigslist, Technorati, and all the SixApart sites (TypePad, Vox, etc.) offline for over two hours. Talk about the karmic boomerang coming around and smacking you on the ass…

Update: As of about 9:00 PM Eastern tonight, it appears that 365 Main took the press release out of the “In the News” section of their home page — seems like a good move.
Update #2: As of about 9:30 PM Eastern, they’ve also deleted the press release from their archives; seems like an all-out cleansing. Fishy!

A few short takes:

  • Michael Lopp, the man behind the weblog Rands in Repose, has the computer monitor setup I can only dream about. That’s a 30-inch Cinema Display on the left, and a 20-inch Cinema Display — turned vertically — on the right… all I can say is wow. Maybe if I lead a good, clean life from here on out…
  • I’m generally not the largest fan of Walt Mossberg’s, but he’s dead-on in his evaluation of today’s typical first-run experience on new Windows PCs. It literally takes hours to wade through all the crapware that manufacturers load onto a new PC these days, getting rid of trialware and all the other useless dreck that comes along for the ride; it’s one of the biggest differences between the first-run experiences on PCs and on Macs.
  • Mostly as a bookmark for myself: here’s how you tell your Mac to stop creating the annoying .DS_Store files on Windows file shares. Damn, these are one of the more irritating things that come part and parcel with using Macs in a Windows networked environment…
  •, a new “service” that claims to provide a good cache for images you’d like to link to on the web, has collected a good number of links over the past few days; I’d love to know what their privacy policy is, though, and how the service plans to give webmasters the ability to prevent caching of images on a given site (since it’s fundamentally a whopping copyright violation in the making).

Wow — as of this month, DreamHost is offering free webhosting to all nonprofit companies, which seems like an awesome deal. The plan is their “Strictly Business” one, which comes with 500 gigs of storage, 5 terabytes of monthly bandwidth, and more databases, email addresses, shell users, and the like than most nonprofits could ever hope to need. I’m not sure I see any downside to this if you’re a nonprofit… I know that there are people who’ve had bad experiences with DreamHost (I’m certainly not one of them), but this seems great.

I’m pretty sure that the main qualification for being appointed head of IT for any of the popular marathons is a complete inability to anticipate people’s desire to use online services to track runners. Take today, for example; in my 50 to 100 attempts to load the NYC Marathon Athlete Tracker over the past hour, I’ve had the page successfully load and render a sum total of five times. Or take last weekend’s Marine Corps Marathon, where the reliability of the athlete information site was a slight bit better, but the system which sends alerts via text messaging was spotty at best (the norm was to get an alert somewhere around 15-20 minutes after a runner passed a waypoint). In my three years of living in Massachusetts, the site for the Boston Marathon always became unusable within 20-30 minutes of the official race start, and last year I didn’t get a single text message update for the people I was tracking.

In today’s day and age, the technology and knowhow certainly exists to build a reliable site capable of handling a short-term heavy load; given that every single popular marathon decimates the IT systems meant for public use, how long will it take for a company like Google or Yahoo to step in and solve this problem?

Interesting: Google Apps for Your Domain. Veeerrrrrryyyy interesting. It’s hosted Gmail, chat, calendering, and web design all under the banner of your own domain name, all currently in beta-test mode. Unsurprisingly, Anil does a better job of reviewing the landscape than I’d ever be able to do.

I run a web-based email application on my domain, and it’s coming up on time for me to renew the SSL certificate that keeps people’s email sessions secure. For the past four years, I’ve used Thawte to issue the certificate, mostly out of inertia, but looking at their offerings today, I noticed that the price for my type of certificate has somehow increased 20% since the last time I renewed (from $299 to $349 for a two-year certificate). Given that I can’t imagine the actual cost to Thawte of issuing a certificate has increased one cent during that time period, it’s time for me to do a little comparison shopping.

In the past, I’ve stumbled across a few alternatives to Thawte (and Verisign, the questionably-trustworthy company which owns Thawte) when it comes to issuing SSL certificates. There’s InstantSSL, which currently is offering a two-year cert for $100, but which only issues chained-root certs (requiring the installation of additional layers of trust in order to get the whole thing recognized by a web browser as truly secure). It’s a bit cumbersome, and there are a few webservers out there that don’t support chained certificates, so if you’re interested in this route you’ll want to make sure that you check into this. (The certs issued by GoDaddy and DigiCert suffer from the same issue.)

RapidSSL looks like a very reasonable alternative ($70 for one year, $121 for two years), and they’re running a free one-year promotion right now for people switching from Thawte. Their certs are single-root, and provide up to 256-bit encryption, and appear to be well-supported, so they might be getting my business soon.

I have a few weeks to mull all this over; does anyone have any other specific recommendations (or warnings of companies to avoid)?

On the perfect day for it, Flickr announces photo printing services! This makes me an awesomely happy Flickr user. Right now, the services appears to be limited to people who live in the United States, and allow you to have prints mailed to you or have them printed to any Target store (another hoo-rah from me!). You’ll also have to set your printing preferences before the “Order Prints” button will show up above photos, and everyone’s default is to only allow themselves to print the photos they’ve uploaded unless they specify otherwise. (I’ve set my photos so that anyone in my contact list can print them.)

Thanks, Flickr people!

Apparently, DreamHost has extended the deal I wrote about this weekend through April 24th, so again, if you’re in the market for webhosting, it’s worth a look.

For those who didn’t know, today’s the last day that DreamHost is tripling the specs on most of their webhosting plans, meaning that you can get a ton for a lot less than you’d think. (For example, the third level of hosting includes over 7.5 gigabytes of disk space and nearly 200 gigabytes a month of bandwidth, as well as 3,000 email accounts accessible by POP or IMAP, unlimited MySQL databases, custom domain name service, access to all your log files in raw and processed forms, and even a free domain name registration, all for $19.95 a month.) On the plus side, DreamHost gets reasonably good reviews from some of the users at MetaFilter (and by a few other people out there); on the minus side, I’ve heard that the company holds some sort of grudge against Movable Type, to the point of sending emails to users talking trash about it. (How odd!)

DreamHost has also been running a promotion for new users since last October, where if you sign up for a level 1 account (think all the above specifications cut down to anywhere from 1/3 to 2/3), prepay an entire year on a credit card, and use the promotion code “777”, the whole thing will cost you $9.24 for the first year. If you combine the two — the sale ending today and the 777 promotion — you’ll end up with about 2.5 gigs of disk space, 120 gigs a month of bandwidth, a free domain registration, and more email addresses than you’ll know what to do with. Seems worth it in almost any event!

I’m posting this because I think it’s a really good deal, not because I have any prior experience with DreamHost. That being said, because of a confluence of needing a hosting provider for a project I’m helping develop and the good prices, I did sign up for an account this week, and I’ll surely be posting my experiences as I start delving in to their offerings. And since I have an account, you can feel free (or not!) to use my referral name, hombrequeso, when you sign up (which earns me a small, small percentage). Also, feel free to post your own experiences with the hosting company — every signup comes with a 97-day money back guarantee, so in the next 94 days, I’d love to hear how other people feel!

Interesting — while updating a setting on one of Shannon’s domains today, we noticed that Dotster added the .info version of the domain to her account for free last week, without asking or notifying her in any way (other than it just showing up in her account list). Shannon and I both got a number of notices from Dotster over the past few months that they were giving away 25 free .info domains to all of their customers, and we ignored the notices. The logical conclusion from this is that we just weren’t interested, right?

If my assumption is correct that she’s not the only one for whom they did this, then that begs the question: isn’t this a profound waste of domain names, and particularly, of domain names that were likely not registered by the owners of their .com correlaries as conscious decisions?