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Perceptual Rankings:
You Make 'Em.
We Post 'Em.
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Aww yeah.

Working on the new SR

and the constant annoyance of technology. Ok, let me just rant for a minute. You have probably noted that parts of the site don't seem to work anymore. Particularly, the video upload, and until just now, the image upload, and including the weather data graphs on some platforms. These are technologies that worked great in 2006,2007,2008, and so on. But for some "unknown" reason, in 2009 and 2010, the browsers decided, in their infinite wisdom, that they weren't "secure" enough, or slow enough, or because individually they all felt that they were losing the browser war, that they removed support for a number of technologies: Java, Flash, and a number of js functions, included. Because of all of these changes, site technologies that worked just fine, even great with less advanced browsers, on slower, less advanced hardware, somehow broke entirely and/or became memory hogs in the newer browsers. By now, I hope you see where I'm going with this. In the "real world", when you go to buy a car, every year you expect it to be a little more advanced. It manages fuel more effectively, has better cooling, better GPS, all kinds of things. In the "real world", when technology advances, products get better, support more, and are more resilient and tolerant of varying uses. However, in the "computer world", as technology "advances", all your existing software breaks, somehow the experience gets slower, and everyone has to dump increasing resources into keeping up with the new bleeding edge. And it is the bleeding edge, because now software giants force constant updates on you which don't support your existing code, so you have to spend hours and hours fixing, learning, and overcoming problems of compatibility that weren't there except for an update forced upon everyone. And so it is that much of the site has to be rebuilt, not because it should be, and not because we planned the where and how, but because everything broke when Firefox/Chrome/IE whatever version foisted it's new code policies upon everyone. 

And I have to do the same thing with my HTC phone, my Playstation, and every other "computing" device I own. By the definitions of the real world, technology doesn't move forward, but backwards instead.  (My Playstation and HTC are rants for another time, but man does the mega-hold those companies have over technology that I own really piss me off).

Destroying Spam, Spam, and more Spam

While we get slammed a lot for being optionally anonymous, which is actually one of the awesome things about SR, the consequence of it is just the magnitude of resources to deal with the growing spam problem. I can see why many sites go to requiring a FB login before posting anything -- it makes the process of submitting spam through a robot substantially harder for ne`er do-wells, and thus far more manageable for the site heroes. [Un]Fortunately, SR chooses not to require people to submit their identity, which means that our servers are getting hammered quite constantly by robots. We use all kinds of blacklists and spam detection, which is usually successful, but invariably some gets through. Fear not! We've upgraded additional levels of spam blocking, but if your comment legitimate comment is not showing up, please email us and we'll check to see if the spam guardian is being too militant. Similarly, if you see spam, please let us know so that we can get rid of it.


Tags: studentsreview, server

Now with a buglist!

StudentsReview is happy to announce that it finally has what other software companies have had for literally years. A buglist. Hopefully everyone should be seeing a marked improvement in site usability and fixed problems now that we have a more or less reliable method of tracking all the errors and problems with the site. Actually, this isn't a trivial problem because there are many "buglist" type maintenance software packages out there, but none of them really work well with a small 1-3 flexible person team. They have too much account management and overhead built in. But surprise surprise, despite my general loathing for Google, Google Spreadsheets actually finds itself somehow usablẹ as an easy way to share a list of problems around the team and edit them/mark them fixed.

Before now, we used a giant text file, which also contained grocery lists.

Tags: studentsreview

Major Server Hard Drive Crash

Oh here's why the drive crashed, there were no disks in it!Oh here's why the drive crashed, there were no disks in it!
And of course, my ultra-stylish-arty shot.And of course, my ultra-stylish-arty shot.

Hi everyone, in January and into February, SR saw a major hard drive crash on its main database.  Fortunately we maintain caches of the content on the delivery nodes, so when you saw SR behaving strangely, that was why.  I happened to be in Singapore running a workshop at the time (everything happens at the worst possible moment), so there was no way to get the server up in the mean time.  The drive crash was also very frustrating because besides being a major drive, it also (somehow) corrupted data on our solid state drives, from which the database is run, and pages are delivered.  Super Frustrating.

Anyway, if you’ve noticed pages gone, comments gone here and there, weird things like more spam and fake-comments appearing than usual, this is all being corrected as we bring the services back online.  Fortunately the new hardware seems to be running more or less smoothly for now, but I have to admit, I kinda have my fingers crossed.

For those who are techy-inclined, the drives that crashed were Western Digital 1TB Caviar Black’s in RAID 1 configuration.  Turns out that those drives aren’t long term compatible with RAID, despite it’s moniker “Redundant Array of INEXPENSIVE Drives”.  My mom jokes that it is actually a Redundant array of Incompatible drives. hah!  Also the Intel Server-Raid is actually a firmware raid, not a hardware raid, so electrically faulting drives don’t get handled properly — i.e. when one disk went down, it took the whole machine with it. <LAME>.

Anyhow, it’s back up and delivery content (it seems) as fast as ever, I took the opportunity to upgrade the RAM and the disks some more, so it should be even faster.

Also, it seems like this was partially caused by our WEATHER DATA, which we loaded and was so large that the backups were overloading the disks and stalling the server.  Cheerio!

Tags: server

Wow! Look at that traffic!

I guess acceptance letters are arriving for students because the SR servers are noticing! :D  Around 170,000 pages are going out of our new servers per day lately, so a lot of you must have gotten into a lot of schools.  Congratulations!!! I know it was a hard process, and it’s over for a little while at least :)

We’re also looking to bring lots of exciting new features to you, not the least of which is the long-outdated need to edit reviews after they’ve been made :P  Plus lots of little fixes that have affected the review and data quality are about to be addressed!  And when the additional delivery nodes come online as they will shortly, we’ll be able to handle even more reviews!!

One particular feature is the ability to write “comparison” reviews.  I for one have been itching to write an MIT vs. Michigan review, given that I’ve attended both schools :)

Tags: admissions, server