Tag Archives: Tips And Tricks

How To Get Back Old Facebook Chat

Recently, rolled out a new video calling feature in collaboration with Skype. The new feature allowed for one-to-one video chatting with your friends. However, they also rolled out a new  chat sidebar which has been annoying people to no end.

Facebook Video Chat

Facebook has been known to annoy users with newer design changes, and it is no surprise that people are upset with such an attitude. Last time Facebook annoyed users with a new rollout for the image viewer, however, you can easily disable the Facebook Theater mode too.

Earlier last month, Google also annoyed users by changing their homepage design and adding a black bar at the top. You can easily remove the black bar in Google and similarly also revert back to the old Facebook chat.

Also Read: Group Video Chat on Facebook with Social Hangouts

In order to get rid of the new Facebook sidebar chat that has been included, you will need to install a script. Just head over to this link and click on the install button. This will install the script and revert Facebook chat to the older version.

The script should work out of the box in and with the Greasemonkey add-on installed. If you are using a browser like , Internet Explorer or Safari you might want to read our earlier guide about a workaround to run Greasemonkey scripts in Opera, Internet Explorer or Safari.

Don’t forget to read our earlier article on how you can make Facebook better in Google Chrome.

Update: You can also use a called Facebook Cool to restore the old Facebook chat. Download the extension from here.

Merge Word Documents to Outlook Email Recipients

Merge to Email in WordSummer’s here!  The birds are chirping.  The butterflies flutter by.  All this just screams, “COMPANY PICNIC SEASON“!  So let’s make some plans and get those invites out!  Microsoft Word is a great way to make pretty invitations.  But what is the easiest way to distribute them?  You could attach your invitation to an e-mail, but then you would have to go through and select all of the recipients.  You also have to consider the fact that putting all the recipients names in the “To:” field lets everyone who gets the e-mail see the e-mail addresses of all the other recipients.  This is a real problem if you want to protect the identity of certain people.  You could resolve this by placing all the recipients in the “BCC:” field, however, then you have to put something in the “To:” field or it just looks weird when the recipient gets it.  Confused yet?  This whole process can be simplified using the “Merge to Email” feature in Word.

Let’s begin by creating a custom contact folder Microsoft Outlook.  In Outlook, right click your mailbox folder and choose “New Folder” from the menu.  You will see the following window pictured below.  Give your folder a name and make sure that the “Folder contains:” field has “Contact Items” selected.  This will assure that we have a contact folder.

Create New Contact Folder in Microsoft Outlook

Next, add some contacts to your new contact folder.  Pictured below, you will see the contact window with a couple of contacts shown.

Contacts Window

Once you have all of your contacts entered in you new contact folder, you are ready to proceed to your invitation.  Open Microsoft Word and type up your invitation.  When you have it all typed up the way you want it, click the “Mailings” tab on the ribbon toolbar.  See the picture below.

Mailings Tab in Word

On the “Mailings” tab, you will see a button that says “Select Recipients”.  When you click this button you will see a drop down menu where you can choose the source of your recipients.  In this tutorial you will choose “Select from Outlook Contacts” from the menu shown in the picture below.

Select Recipients

You will now see the window, pictured below, asking you to select the Outlook contacts folder.  Choose the appropriate folder and click OK.  Choosing the contacts folder will set that folder as the source for the merge in Word.

Select Contacts

You now have the opportunity to pick and choose which contacts from that folder you want to receive the invitation.  Note that all contacts in the folder are selected by default.  In the picture below, you will see little check boxes beside each contact name.  Simply click the check box to select or deselect the contacts you wish to send to.  When you are finished, click OK.

Recipient List

Now the magic really starts to happen.  Let’s personalize the invitation to show the recipients first and last names at the top.  To do this, make sure your cursor is at the top of the page, then, from the “Mailings” tab choose “Insert Merge Field”.  This will give you a drop down menu with all of the fields in the contact folder you chose.  See the picture below.

Insert Merge Field

Now, choose the “First” field.  Notice you get a little merge field at the top of your document with the word “<<First>>” listed, as pictured below.  What this means is when you finish the merge, and your contact receives the e-mail, they will see their first name in this spot on the document.  Go ahead and hit the space bar, and  insert the “Last” merge field too, so that the recipients last name will appear there as well.

Edit Merge Field Font

Double click the “First” field to see formatting options, as pictured above.  Here you can change the font style and size.  Go ahead and set the font to look the way you would like for the recipient to see it.

The last step in the process is to click the “Finish & Merge” button on the “Mailings” tab.  You will see the drop down menu pictured below.  Click the “Send E-mail Messages” option to start the merge.  Now all of the recipients you picked from the contacts folder will receive an email with the invitation in the body of the message.  WARNING! Once you click “Send E-mail Messages”, the message is immediately sent!  There will be no dialog boxes asking you to click OK or anything.  So don’t click this button until you are ready for it to go.

Start the Merge

You can verify that the mailing went out by checking your “Sent Items” in Outlook.  You will notice that every contact received a single message.  This means there is no more worry about hiding people’s email in the “BCC:” field.   Problem solved!

Hopefully you will find this feature useful for your next big mailing.  Oh, by the way, don’t forget to save me a little dessert at the picnic!  ;)

Add Some Spark to Your Excel Spreadsheets

Creating SparklinesHave you and your spreadsheet lost the old fire?  Do you find your eyes wandering?  Rekindle that flame!  Add some “spark” to your spreadsheet using one of Microsoft Excel 2010’s coolest new features, “Sparklines”!

“Sparklines” are kind of like miniature charts that you can fit into a small area, such as a cell.  They are great for showing trends in a data series.  In the spreadsheet below, you see a series of numbers representing recordable safety violations by month.  Some people can extract what they want by looking through long rows of data like those below.  Others, however, prefer something more visual.

Insert Excel Sparklines

Notice the column labeled “Trends” in the picture above.  This is the ideal place for a “Sparkline”.  To insert a “Sparkline” here, click the cell in which you wish to place the “Sparkline”, then click the “Insert” tab on the ribbon toolbar, and click on the type of “Sparkline” you want from the “Sparkline” group.  See the picture below.

Inserting Sparklines

When you choose a “Sparkline”, you will see a dialog box like the one pictured below.  The first field asks you to input the range of cells that contain the data.  You can manually type this in, for example, A1:A12, or you can click the little square at the end of the box.  This little square will minimize the box and allow you to highlight the data range with your mouse.  It really is just a matter of preference.  The second field asks you where you want your “Sparkline” to reside in the sheet.  Note this can be a range and not just a single cell.

Creating Sparklines Window

Once you have inserted the “Sparkline”, you will see options to format it under the “Design” tab, highlighted in green below.  You can choose from a number of styles.  You can even set different colors for markers, such as high points and low points.

Customize the Sparkline

The next time you have to present a report in a spreadsheet, take a moment to insert one of these neat little “Sparklines”.

Speed Up Formatting in Microsoft Office with Format Painter

Format Painter ButtonLay down the canvas!  Put on your painting clothes!  We’re going to do some painting!  Today I would like to show you an easy way to format multiple objects in Microsoft Office using the “Format Painter” tool.  You may have noticed a little paint brush icon that sits at the top of most Microsoft Office applications.  This button is called the “Format Painter”.  Below you will see a screenshot from Excel highlighting the button.  So what does this button do, exactly?  First you have to understand the word “format”.  When you format something in Microsoft Office applications, you are basically changing the way something looks.  In the picture below, you will notice that the spreadsheet has column headers.  The first column header says “First Name”.  It is different from the other headers because it has been formatted to have a bold font, background color, and font color.  It took a few steps to get that header to look that way.  So what if you wanted  the “Last Name” column to look exactly the same?  This is where “Format Painter” saves the day.  First, Click the cell that has the formatting you want.  Now click the “Format Painter” button.  Notice the highlighted cell below and how the mouse changes to a white cross with a paint brush icon beside.

Format Painter Button in Microsoft Excel

Now you click the cell that you want to change and presto! change-o!, you have duplicated the formatting from the selected cell.  See the picture below to verify this.  Once you click the cell that you want to change, the mouse will go back to normal.  You can click and drag with the “Format Painter” button activated, and it will continue to work until you release the mouse.  Once the mouse has been released, “Format Painter” disables.

Selecting Cells with Format Painter

What if you wanted to do multiple  non-contiguous cells?  This is possible.  In the example below, you will see that I was able to format cells that were not contiguous.  To achieve this, you double click the “Format Painter” button.  Doing this enables you to keep on painting until your heart’s content.  Once you are ready to stop formatting, all you have to do is hit the “ESC” key in the top left corner of your keyboard.

Selecting Multiple Cells Using Format Painter

Below, you will see an example of how the “Format Painter” button appears in Microsoft Word.  Notice that the first paragraph has blue font and 1.5 line spacing.

Using Format Painter in Word
In order to duplicate the formatting of the first paragraph in the second, you must highlight the entire first paragraph, click the “Format Painter”, and then highlight the second paragraph.  Why do you have to highlight the entire first paragraph?  If you highlighted a single word in the first paragraph, and then applied the “Format Painter’ to the second paragraph, it would only duplicate the word formatting.  The paragraph formatting would not be duplicated.  Highlighting the entire first paragraph duplicates both the word and the paragraph formatting.  See the picture below.

Formatting Paragraphs in Word Using Format Painter

Using “Format Painter” can make quick work of formatting in Microsoft Office.  Plus, there’s no drippy mess!  :)

Categorizing Contacts In Outlook

Categorize ButtonIf you’re like me, you have hundreds of contacts.  Sometimes trying to sort through all the clutter can be daunting.  Microsoft Outlook offers a great way to categorize these contacts.  Categorizing your contacts enables you to sort them into logical groups.  For instance, you may want to only view contacts that you work with, or you may want to only see family.  It is very easy to do this in Outlook.  In order to categorize we’ll need to open up a contact in Outlook.  In Outlook 2010 there is a colorful square labeled “Categorize” on the top right corner of the ribbon toolbar.  See the picture below.

Categorize Button In Outlook

You will notice that there are several color coded categories listed in the drop down menu.   Some of these categories have default labels on them such as Businessand Holiday.   The cool thing is you can use these, or you can customize them to make sense to you.   Below you will see a picture of the Categorizemenu.   At the bottom of the menu you will see an option called All Categories.   This is where you click to customize this menu.

Categorize Menu

When you click the All Categoriesoption you will see the box below.   Notice I have selected the generically named “Green Category”.   Over on the right side of the window you have the option to rename.   I chose to rename this Geeksjust for fun.

Renaming Categories Window

Once you have customized the categories the way you want them, you can assign them to your contacts and save them.   Now we can view our contacts in categories.   If we go to the Viewtab in Outlook, there is a button in the top left corner that says Change View.   Below you will see what this looks like.   Notice the envelope with the words By Categorywritten underneath.   Click this option to view your contacts by category.

View Menu By Category

Now you can see a list of categories.   There is a sideways triangle beside each category. When clicked they will expand to show you all of the contacts that are listed in that category.   In the picture below you will see where I have expanded the new Geekscategory I created.   You will also notice that each category heading tells you how many items are listed in that category.   Another thing to note is that a contact can be a member of more than one category if you so choose.   For instance, a personal contact may also be a business associate too.     Hopefully you will find this helpful and maybe think of creative uses for the categories in Outlook.

Outlook Contacts Categorized View

 

 

 

Hate the Black Bar in Google.com and Search Pages – Here’s How To Remove It

Google recently launched a new design which sports a new Black menu bar with grey colored text. The new menu bar is an eyesore and is being hated by many people.

No Black Bar in Google Search

If you are someone who does not like the new design change by Google, here are few ways to disable or change it back to an earlier version with white background and blue links (coming soon). Right now you completely disable the black menu bar on all Google pages.

The trick uses a script so you will need a compatible browser or user a workaround to run Greasemonkey scripts in Opera, Internet Explorer or Safari.

Like I said, right now I just hide the bar completely, but I am working on modifying the script to change the black bar to an earlier version of Google. Stay tuned for updates on this post to know when it has been updated. I have tested the script and it works in , and . I am still testing it in Internet Explorer 9.

In the meantime, have fun without the ugly black bar in Google Search. You can download and install the Google Black Bar hider script from here.

Update: You can also return back to the classic toolbar for Google by installing this script.

 

 

Twitter For Newsroom Launched: Your Guide To Twitter Basics

twitter-logoTwitter is no doubt one of the best ways to find breaking stories and up to date information about something which is happening right at this moment.

Whether it be the death of Osama Bin Laden or the Japan Earthquakes, Twitterverse is always booming with information, news or scoops in real time. What makes Twitter so useful and compelling is it’s universal and spontaneous nature. Anyone can break a story, news or deal on his Twitter profile and if the tweet is really worth, it will spread within minutes. This is very different as well as way faster than old media where the end user gets the information after much editorial processing.

But here is the catch: not everyone is familiar with Twitter basics and sometimes they need clear and concise guidelines on how to use Twitter to dig out specific information they are interested in. Most newbies think Twitter as a large chat room with useless discussions without going into the finer details, which is now made a little easy.

Twitter has launched an official site at media.twitter.com/newsrooms which provides detailed guidelines on how to use Twitter to find sources, embed tweets on webpages or promote your own stuff on Twitter. The site is geared towards people who are new to Twitter and need help in understanding how Twitter works.

twitter-for-newsrooms

Here are a couple of sections from the Twitter Newsroom site which are worth reading:

#Report

This section outlines a suite of search tools which you can use to find tweets that are related to the topics of your interest.

  1. Twitter Search: This section gives some insights on how you can use Twitter search to find information about a particular subject. Please note that Twitter search is also available at twitter.com/search apart from search.twitter.com
  2. Advanced Twitter Search: This is for power users who have lots of Ifs and buts. Learn how to use Twitter advanced search, combine search operators and track conversations between two people (see example).
  3. TweetDeck and Twitter for Mac: Use TweetDeck on your desktop and dedicate columns for specific hash tags. Get real time notifications and there is no need to manually search for the same hash tag or topic every other day.
  4. Archive Search: Need to find old tweets? Use Topsy.com

Twitter says that it is their goal is to help creative professionals in news, TV, sports and entertainment use Twitter effectively.

#Engage

Still not getting hold of Twitter or find it rather confusing? The success stories page will be a good start which showcases examples of Journalists and media persons using Twitter everyday to find information that matters to them.

Furthermore, Twitter gives some more tips on branding your profile with a custom   image, a profile picture and writing a clear and concise bio.

#Publish and #Extras

Some tools of the trade. Learn how to embed tweets on webpages, display selected tweets or add a Followor Tweetbutton on your website.

Finally, the wrap of section contains links to Twitter help pages, problems and troubleshooting issues and a lot of other useful resources.

If you are using Twitter for a year or so, chances are you already know these things. However, if you have a friend or colleague who is new to Twitter and needs help in understanding the basic things, the Newsroom page will be a good start.

Some Tips On Using Twitter Wisely

1. There is no rulebook and the so called ethical guidelines for using Twitter. Everything depends on what you want to achieve through this medium and your tweets should be a reflection of your goals.

2. You don’t need tons of followers to tweet. Everyone started with zero followers.

3. Respecting your followers is a good practice. It won’t hurt if you are tweeting about your lunch or last night tequila party but make sure your tweets are meaningful and not offending or disturbing.

4. Build relationships, not just blind followers with an egg as their profile picture.

5. Communicate with people you care about and talk about things you love, rather than stealing tweets of random celebrities or mimicking someone.

6. Avoid personal attacks or stalking someone publicly. Not only you will lose trust, but you will regret your behavior as the reactions are most likely to pour in.

7. If you are promoting your business on Twitter, register a different account for branding reasons. Your business followers can quickly subscribe to that Twitter profile and get real time updates about your website, without having to go through each and every personal tweet of yours.

8. It’s fine to use auto tweeting services like Twitterfeed but don’t overdo. Be human, no one likes robots.

9. You don’t have to tweet every single hour. Do it when you feel it and don’t worry about F.O.M.O (fear of missing out).

twitter-cartoon

10. Twitter is a great way to connect with strangers and like minded people. When you are talking about something very specific, remember to use appropriate hash tags. People who are searching for the same topic will notice you and they will eventually follow your tweets.

11. Don’t forget to thank your followers when they Retweet your tweets and reply to them when they are mentioning you. It should ideally be a two way channel.

12. If you are using Twitter to market your business, help as many people as possible rather than tweeting about your business all the time. You must deliver value in some way or else no one will stick around in the long run.

13. Self promotion isn’t bad and remember the fact that no one else is going to do that for you. But excessive self promotion equals spam.

14. Your followers are 1000 times smarter than you. Respect their time and attention.

Happy tweeting! See you there

 

How To Display/Enable Preview Pane in Yahoo Mail Beta

Back in April 2011, we had posted an article about the new features in Yahoo Mail Beta. Though Yahoo Mail has improved a lot, it has also added a little bit of annoyance by making the preview pane hard to find.

On the said post, several users have been discussing how to show the preview pane in Yahoo Mail beta, but it looks like most of the information available might not be helpful.

I recently wanted to enable this feature in my own account and found going around circles with no preview pane in sight. Turns out that the Options -> Mail Options -> General -> Show all messages in a scrolling list (with Preview Pane option) does not change anything.

However, I found another trick which can be used to display the preview pane in Yahoo Mail Beta. The trick is really silly but not many people will be aware of it.

Enable Preview Pane in Yahoo Mail Beta

In order to enable the preview pane in Yahoo Mail, go to your Inbox and click on the "Switch view" button next to the "Actions" button. From the available option select "In Scrolling List (With Preview)" option. Yahoo Mail will say that it needs to refresh the page to change the settings. Click on Ok and you should now see the preview pane below the email messages.

I have tested this change in multiple browsers including , and Internet Explorer 9. Unfortunately, the new version of Yahoo Mail Beta does not support . If you aren’t able to see the preview button in Yahoo Mail, you might want to try going to options and changing the settings.

If the above solution does not work for you, you can try logging in to Yahoo Mail using another browser and making the changes. The change is sticky, so it will then reflect across all browsers.

Solutions For Firefox 5 Crashes – Firefox 5 Crashes After Install

Firefox 5 was released before schedule with far less fanfare than Firefox 5 is now also available for Ubuntu. If you have already upgraded to 5, you might be able to enjoy all the latest features it has. However, a lot of users are complaining about Firefox 5 crashing after installation among other problems.

Firefox 5

Though there is no specific reason for Firefox 5 crashes, you could try out one of the several solutions listed below to see if it helps to solve your problem.

Bad Installation

One of the main reasons behind Firefox crashing could be a bad installation. This could be caused due to several reasons. One of the solutions would be to backup your Firefox data and then completely uninstall it from your system.

Once you have done that, download Firefox 5 again and do a clean install. This should more likely than not stop FF5 from crashing.

Disable All Extensions and Themes

When Firefox is updated, some outdated extensions could cause problems which might lead to crashes. Firefox add-on manager provides you an easy way to disable out-dated extensions. Make use of the add-on manager to disable those extensions and restart Firefox to see if that solves your problem.

Use Different Profile

If you are not keen on uninstalling and installing Firefox or cannot disable the , you could try creating a fresh new profile in Firefox. You will instructions on creating and managing new Firefox profiles in this Mozilla support article.   

Debug Crashes

Now you might not be a programmer, but you can run some basic crash debugging by going through the points listed in the Mozilla support topic. You can submit your crash reports to Mozilla or contact them to see if there is a solution to your problem.

If none of these work, try downloading an older version of Firefox and installing it to see if it solves those crashes. If not, you could switch to a temporary browser like , or Internet Explorer 9 till an update is available from Firefox.

Create Strong, Secure and Safe Passcodes for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad

A recent study about iPhone passcodes revealed that several users use unsecure passcodes for the , and . This study shows that people are more than vulnerable if their mobile phone or gadget lands in the hands of intruders.

While it is easy to create strong passwords with password creation tools and more, not many take the time to do it. If you are someone who uses any of the most common passcodes for iPhone or the most common passwords on the internet, it is time to buck up a bit and create a stronger and secure password for your device.

If you are an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad user, here is a simple way to create stronger passcodes for your device.

How To Use Strong Passcodes on iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad

Step 1: Go to the Settings App on your device.

iPhone General Settings

Step 2: Go to the General option and then click on the option "Passcode Lock". This will prompt you to enter your current passcode. Enter the same and click on the "Done" button.

Step 3: On the passcode screen, click on the "On" button next to Simple Passcode and change it to "Off". You will now be prompted to enter your current passcode, followed by an option to create a new alpha-numeric passcode. You can create very strong passcodes using alphabets, numbers and special characters.

Performing these three easy steps will allow you to protect your iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad better than the 4 digit passcodes. You can always create strong passwords using the tips and tools mentioned above in this article.

How To Get Invites For Google Music Beta

Earlier Today, Google launched Google Music at Google I/O 2011. The new music service will seamlessly integrate with mobiles and Android tablets.

google_music_beta_invites

Sadly, the service will be limited to US only for the initial period and there is no information on when it will be rolled out to other countries. Google Music is a service which gives you access to your personal music collection without the need to use wires or sync. You can add your music collection to Google music and access it from the web or any other compatible Android device.

If you are interested in trying out the new service, you can request a beta invite for the service by visiting http://music.google.com. You can learn more about Google Music by visiting this page.

How To Setup And Use Memcached With WordPress

A few days ago, I spoke about the architecture that powers Techie Buzz. In that post, I had mentioned that memcached was one of our key ingredients.

Memcache is a powerful tool to share objects across servers and it is used by several big sites including , Yahoo and many more. The best part about using memcached on your server is that you can cut down on your database queries significantly and store commonly used objects in memory and share it across multiple servers.

If you use WordPress on a multi-server setup, you can easily cut down on DB queries by up-to 50% by implementing memcached. If you are interested in knowing how to implement memcached on your server, here is a tutorial. The assumption is that you are using Ubuntu, if not, the installation steps might change.

How To Install Memcached And Configure It

Step 1: Install memcached using the command given below

sudo apt-get install memcached

Step 2: After you have installed memcached you will have to configure it through a .conf file, to do that use the command given below

vi /etc/memcached.conf

Step 3: In the configuration file you will find few parameters, you can ignore the -d, -u and logfile parameters and leave it as default. However, change the -m, -p and -i parameters to suit your servers. The -m parameter specifies the memory that will be allocated to memcache. The -p parameter specifies the port that memcached will run on and the -l (ell) parameter specifies the IP address the memcached server will run on. You will need to change the -l (ell) parameter value from 127.0.0.1 to a local or global IP address of your server. This is necessary because your memcached server will be accessed by outside servers and using 127.0.0.1 will not work then.

Once you have done that run the following command.

service memcached restart or /etc/init.d/memcached restart

Using Memcached With WordPress

Once you have setup your memcached server, it is time to now setup WordPress to use memcached to store your objects. To do that, head over to http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/memcached/ and install the memcached plugin for WordPress. Unlike other plugins, you will have to drop this file into the wp-content directory and not the plugins directory.

You will have to install additional plugins for your server to make use of this plugin, namely PECL memcache extension which can be downloaded from http://pecl.php.net/package/memcache.

Now comes the part where you will actually tell WordPress to use memcached as an object storing mechanism. To do that, open the wp-config file and add the line below to it.

global $memcached_servers;
$memcached_servers = array(‘default’ => array(‘memcache-server-ip-or-name:11211′));

The array is used to define multiple memcached servers which can be used for your site. Please make sure to edit the name/ip of the server and the port before you save the file.

That’s it. Now just refresh your cache and WordPress should start storing the objects in memcache and will access your database very sparsely.  Do let me know if you have any problems or difficulties in setting this up through your comments.

Bonus Note: You can browse and manage your memcache server through a WordPress plugin called WP Memcached Manager which can be downloaded at http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-memcached-manager/.

How To Use Ubuntu Font On Your Website or Webpage

The Ubuntu font was released last year in August to everyone and it was definitely one of the best looking fonts I have come across. I also use the Ubuntu font extensively on my PC thanks to this handy trick to install Ubuntu font on Windows.

Use Ubuntu Font on Websites

As I was redesigning the website to give a fresher look to it, I wanted to make use of the Ubuntu font for it. Unfortunately, it is not a web font yet modern web browsers won’t understand it.

However, you can use the Ubuntu font for your website or any webpage on the internet thanks to Google Web Fonts. In , you can also change the font of any website using a called Google Font Directory.

Ubuntu Font for Websites

To implement the Ubuntu font on your website or webpage, head over to this page and click on the link which says "Use this font". On this page you will find code and instructions to use the Ubuntu font on your website. Just copy over the code to your webpage and you can specify your font as "Ubuntu"

Google Web Fonts also has several other fonts which can be used on any websites or webpages, head over to http://www.google.com/webfonts to browse the entire collection.

P.S. Don’t forget to tell me what you think of the new Techie Buzz design.

Techie Buzz Server Architecture

Cross Posted from my personal blog.

When I launched Techie Buzz, I started out with a shared hosting with Dreamhost, which I got at a steal for $40 a year. However, over time I had to gradually move out to a Virtual Private Server (VPS) for the site.

In the initial days, LAMP (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP) suited me well on the server but over time Apache literally killed me. This is when I decided to move to a Nginx (pronounced Engine X) setup for my website.

All said and done, I had a great run with Nginx, but then my 2GB setup crapped out on traffic. I increased it to 4GB and things worked fine for a while too.

Then one fine day I had a lot of traffic, like 1000s of visitors a minute and the site crashed so often that I had to literally cry. I tried to upgrade the server to 8GB memory too but it didn’t hold up.

In my entire time of dealing with servers, I have helped several people to setup their own but never revealed my own. So here is the secret on how Techie Buzz runs.

There are some key ingredients on the server which make it a successful setup. I will list them out below.

  • Nginx and PHP FastCGI
  • Memcached (No point using this if you have one server only)
  • NFS (One file system rules it all)
  • W3 Cache

These four things (plus several other secret ingredients) are core to the setup at Techie Buzz as it allows for scalability without having to make a system cry. For starters, here is a diagram of how the servers at Techie Buzz are setup.

server_plan_thumb4

Though the configuration in the above picture is outdated, the technology we use is still the same. We have a multi-server setup which is basically made up of one host server; where all the requests come, and several other proxy servers which serve users.

When a user visits Techie Buzz, they first land on the host server. The host server then redirects the request to one of the proxy servers we have setup. We can add and remove as many proxy servers we want within minutes based on the traffic we get. However, currently we can deal with more than 3000+ users in a minute without adding new proxy web servers.

This makes the setup highly scalable and allows us to grow as the traffic goes.

We use memcached as a core component of our setup to store cached objects so that we don’t hit the database frequently. MySQL is not optimized for high traffic and without a cache the site would die.

An added advantage of using memcached is that it is a perfect fit for caching and sharing objects on a multi-tiered server setup. This means that, we cache an object in memcached and the same can be accessed by 100s of servers without the cache having to be present physically on any of them accessing it. Think of it as a centralized storage for objects.

Another important part of the setup is NFS (Network File System) which allows us to share the same files over multiple systems.

When you have multiple servers, it does not make sense for you to have multiple copies of the same files on all of them. The problem arises when you have to update even a single file. If you use the local file system on all the servers, you will have to update that single file across all the servers. Now imagine if you have 100 servers, this process simply becomes dreadful.

Thankfully, NFS allows us to share and use common files across multiple servers. This means that if we change one file it will reflect across multiple servers without having to deploy it separately. Bliss.

In addition to all those things, we also make use of an HTML Cache in the form of W3 Cache and of course WordPress.

Additionally I have written several shell scripts which run on individual servers to check server status every two minutes. If the script finds that the server is not responding well, it restarts the core processes automatically. Another script runs frequently to ensure that the CPU process and memory usage is under acceptable levels and reboots the server if required, however, this script has hardly rebooted the server thanks to the optimizations I have done.

There are several other shell scripts I have written to make sure that we have things running fine. One of them backs up the MySQL DB every 4 hours and emails several addresses with an attachment. Another script takes a snapshot of the WordPress directory every week and emails several email addresses a copy and so on.

Other than that, I use SVN for themes, plugins etc so that I have a copy in the cloud. This again is replicated to several platforms like Dropbox, Windows Live and Sugarsync through my local PC.

The DB and Files are also mirrored to several other servers using rsync so that I have multiple copies of the same file everywhere. All in all it is almost a fool proof setup and backup.

Our servers have always been powered by Ubuntu. We have used all the available releases including Hardy, Karmic and Lucid, however our current setup is powered by Natty.

Our servers have been hosted on Dreamhost, Slicehost and currently Linode. Linode (Slicehost earlier) powers our non-static content, while our static content is served by Dreamhost and optimized by a CDN through MaxCDN (who are our sponsors).

Although there is nothing unique about our setup, I take pride in creating a highly scalable environment which is easy to setup and move across any network. I took only 10 hours to move from Slicehost to Linode and most of time spent was used to transfer files, so you can imagine how simple and easy the setup is.

Encrypt and Password Protect Your Notes in Evernote

I have come to love Evernote as a note-taking and idea collecting software. I have used it extensively for the past couple of years or more to store bits and pieces of information that has come in handy all through these years.

Evernote

I always had a problem with storing sensitive information in Evernote, because of the lack of security/password protection in the app. For example, if you login to the Evernote app and leave it open, anyone who has access to your PC or mobile device can view the notes and get access to your sensitive information.

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In fact, anyone who has access to the local database storage file on your PC will be able to view those notes on another PC or installation. This is a scary proposition considering how much losing sensitive information could affect you.

Luckily, Evernote provides users with a very handy feature that allows them to encrypt part of their notes. Users can use it to encrypt sensitive text in their notes (It only works with text). To encrypt your notes in Evernote, follow the steps given below.