The Wadden Sea – Weekly Travel Photo & Product Review

The Black Sun – it almost sounds ominous doesn’t it? If you’re a small worm, grasshopper, or fruit tree around south-western Jutland in fall, I suppose it is.  But, for the rest of us, it describes a stunning bird migration which is one of those you’ve-gotta-see-it-to-appreciate-it experiences. While photos like these or video like this may help convey some of the wonder of the Black Sun – the annual migration of more than 14 million starlings – it’s only when you’ve seen the birds in person, heard their chatter, and the incredible whooshing sound of their wings as they move in unison, that you get real insights into why the Black Sun is special.

How does that relate to this week’s photo? It was the main reason that drew me to the historic Danish town of Ribe in southern Jutland.  And, while I was drawn to Ribe to see the Black Sun, I soon fell in love with the city itself, often hailed as Denmark’s oldest, is historic, charming and home to beautiful doors, wonderful architecture, and lovely people.  It also serves as the home-base for an exploration of the Wadden Sea or “Vadehavet” National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site which is immediately in/around/outside of the town.

2014 – A Year of Travel In 65 Color Photographs

As 2014 comes to a close it is time to look back over the year and to highlight some of my favorite photography. In 2014 I traveled less far-afield than during previous years but simultaneously spent more time familiarizing myself with the intimacies and breadth of texture present within Denmark. The image above is of the the Sand Buried Lighthouse, Rubjerg Knude, in North Jutland, Denmark. I’ve started this post with it because it embodies the spirit of this post; the re-discovery and excavation of memorable photos that might otherwise get lost beneath the persistent march of the sands of time. With this post I’ll be dusting away the sand and re-visiting highlights from a gorgeous year. I hope you enjoy the photos.

Design Updates and Why You Shouldn’t Host With Ipower

First The Good

There have been a number of major, but subtle changes made to the site over the past month.  My hope is that while subtle, that these changes will drastically increase your viewing and navigating experience while on the site.

The most obvious of these changes is site performance based.  I’ve spent the last few weeks transferring all of my hosted websites off of my previous host – Ipowerweb – a company I was with for over 7 years and had, unfortunately recommended for years.   This also has to do with the bad – which I’ll get into in greater detail in a moment. The end result of this move, however, is a ten fold increase in website speed and performance.

Why Ipowerweb Sucks as a Webhost

The image above is a screen capture of the website performance statistics offered by Google Webmasters.  Note the point mid January where performance changed dramatically and stabilized.  The graph displays with the following blurb, “On average, pages in your site take 1.0 seconds to load (updated on Jan 27, 2010). This is faster than 89% of sites. These estimates are of low accuracy (less than 100 data points). The chart below shows how your site’s average page load time has changed over the last few months. For your reference, it also shows the 20th percentile value across all sites, separating slow and fast load times.”

If you’ve been a long time visitor, you’ll note that up until two weeks ago 8-15 second load times and periodic timeouts were somewhat regular.  I specifically targeted a new web host that guaranteed a higher level of performance for their mySQL servers – the part that was killing blog performance on Ipower.  That webhost is Dreamhost.  As I write this all of my sites and content has been transferred and running smoothly.  If you experienced any brief downtime over the last month, I apologize.  The construction/transfer period should be over!

A huge thank you goes out to Glenn Jimerson  at Vista Web Media for all of his help and time transferring the site over.

Second – More good!

In addition to a new webhost you may have also noticed a number of layout changes as well as the addition of entire new page to the website. Earlier this week I added the “Travel Videos” page which you’ll find linked to above.  This page replaces the old “Photography” page which took you to a page, then forcing you to click a link which re-directed you to my main photo gallery on Alex-Berger.net. Don’t worry though! The “Photography” link has been re-located to the right hand side via an image front and center which you’ve no doubt noticed.  The image links directly with my flickr gallery – which is where I upload select shots (compared to my self hosted gallery which has ALL of my travel photos).  This also brings me to one of the other added benefits of the new webhost. My old photo gallery is now…well usable. It, like all mySQL database driven portions of the site was painfully slow in the past.  No longer.

I have also re-designed my RSS button to be both more visually stimulating and to provide a cleaner sidebar.  Search has been re-arranged, and several of the other sidebar elements have been slightly tweaked.

In the page/nav bar at the top of the site – you’ll noticed that About is no longer an option.  It hasn’t gone anywhere, I’ve simply moved it from 2nd on the list to 4th and renamed it “Alex Berger” which I feel is more relevant.  I’ve done a similar thing to “Audio” which is now “Podcasts”.

Lastly, more on  the Travel Videos page:  You’ll notice that the page is little more than a list of youtube videos.  I recently realized that I have over 180 uploaded videos on youtube.   Of those, fewer than 20 are polished travel videos. In an effort to make it easier for viewers to find my polished, final products – without removing the various individual travel clips and other (must see) material I have uploaded – I’ll continue to add my travel compilation highlight videos to the “travel videos” to improve access to the content.

Third – The Bad and an Apology

I mentioned above that I’d been with Ipowerweb for years (Since 2002).  For the first couple years, they offered great services at a great price.  Performance was good, tech support was responsive and the solution was incredibly powerful for the money.  Needless to say, they built up a lot of good will with me. So much so, that when I registered a second hosting account a few years ago – I opted to set it up with them.  I’d also maintained an affiliate account with them for years and referred friends, family, etc. who were interested in a decent hosting solution – boy was I wrong.

I’d run into a few major headaches when they changed control panel platforms, or got bought out by new corporate parents – but by and large after a brief headache every 6 months or so they’d fix things and assure me that everything was not only good as new, but that they’d be rolling out new features and services to help.

3-4 years ago things really took a nose dive. The company was purchased and transferred to a new platform which resulted in major downtime, and while told it would improve performance – did the complete opposite.  You can read some of the exchange from 2008 here. At the time I was lied to, blamed for the poor site performance [common theme] and eventually assured that the company was going through great lengths to fix the problem.

In January of this year I had another bout of performance issues.  Some of you may recall how debilitating they were. Eventually I was contacted by Ernie Lopez who in addition to having a management role in Ipower was “Manager – Quality Assurance, Engineering” for Endurance International Group who as I understand it, own Ipower and a large network of other hosting providers.  I had a series of conversations with Ernie about my frustrations, before eventually agreeing to be put in a beta test program.  According to Ernie, endurance had purchased Ipower in 08′ resulting in the huge fiasco mentioned above, and was hard at work improving network structure, performance, etc. he flagged my account with Premium support, added Akamai and Gomez to the account, and put me in contact with David Brazzell at Ipower.

Thinking that the issues would be completely resolved and expecting a strong improvement in performance, not to mention impressed by the top tier people who were helping me with what was being couched as an a-typical issue, I continued to recommend Ipower as an affiliate.  Boy was I wrong. After an initial burst of attention and help – communication died off with everyone except the premium support contact who i’d been put in touch with. Even that was canceled by late October of last year.  After an initial test on the Akamai software – the stats David passed on to me showed that instead of improving performance it had added more than a second to load times.  Which were still floating around 10 seconds.  10 seconds is a lot of load time for a site.  In fact, it has probably cost me tens of thousands of views over the years.  Each time I’d complain to Ipower I got the same bullshit.  It’s your site, it’s you, etc.  – here’s an example:

“You’re very welcome. I understand that this type of issue can be frustrating, especially due to the difficulty in being able to accurately replicate your issue over a different network.

I did run some further testing on your site today, and tried running load time tests on your site after disabling the loading of all 3rd party images, java code, and youtube references using firefox plugins, and comparing them to load times of the site in it’s entirety without any stripped content.

I loaded the site ten times with each configuration, then removed the highest and lowest result, to get the following average load times:

  • stripping java, 3rd party images, youtube: 2.76 average load time
  • no stripping: 4.52

Given this information, and as you mention, the dynamic nature of your site, the load times that I experience seem within expectations. “

The above was a final response in an extended exchange – after I complained about severe periods of major slow down.  Slowdown that impacted all of my sites equally, was obviously a mySQL database overload issue, and which also was directly visible when looking at the performance of their myPHPAdmin cpanel. Hell, when working on transferring my databases to Dreamhost, the buddy helping me ran into the same timeout and agonizing speed issues – just trying to navigate their phpMyAdmin site and generate a backup was nearly impossible. Honestly, what kinda of shit company is doing such a piss poor job providing database servers that even their backend sucks – then has the balls to turn around and tell the customer that it’s their fault and that the piss-poor database performance is “normal”?  Also, keep in mind the google webmaster tools data. On Ipower = 10 second average load time.  Same EXACT setup/site on Dreamhost = ~1 second average load time.  That goes beyond fishy, straight into the realm of dishonest.

Long story short – I’ll never recommend Ipower again. Worse, I find myself now in a position where I am deeply embarrassed to have ever so much as recommended them.  So, to those of you who are current using Ipower on my recommendation.  I am deeply sorry and I owe you an apology.

To anyone considering using Ipower webhosting? Don’t. They’re cheats, liars and crooks. Just glanced at their profile on Yelp – not that I needed further confirmation – but it looks like I’m not alone in my estimation of the company.

Thank you all for reading this blog and sticking with me through thick and thin, fast and slow!