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Yes, There Really is a Freebie Santa Claus If you are a cynic when it comes to offers of free stuff, you are not alone. Everyone has had notions like ?there is no such thing as a free lunch? and ?if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is? drilled into their heads, and for good reason ? these things often hold water. On the flip side, there ARE actually lots of places you can score some decent free stuff, if you know where to look and are willing to devote some time to hunting them down. The key to getting the best free stuff with the least amount of hassle is to stick with that healthy cynicism but to also dipping your toe in the freebie pool little by little. But why would anyone give stuff away for free? It is certainly an obvious question, but if you stop to consider it for a moment, you can see that companies actually have a lot of motivation to give away free stuff. After all, if they give you something for free, you are bound to have a little soft spot for their company, and when you are ready to part with some cash, their product may near the top of your list. Also, by giving away free things, companies can convince people to try new products. You might not want to try a new kind of shampoo if you have to pay for it, but you?d certainly be willing to give a free sample a try. You may end up loving it and switching to that shampoo for good, turning you into a paying customer. Another reason a company might give you free stuff is to complete market research. This is where getting free things can get a little complicated for some people because the products may not cost you money, but the offer may cost you a little time. A company might ask you to take a survey of your buying habits before they give you a free offer, or they may ask you to provide feedback on a regular basis as you try their product for free. Some people balk at the time commitment required here, but for other people, filling out some paperwork is a small price to pay for some free stuff. Of course, to convert you into a customer or to communicate with you about market research, a company will have to contact you, which is complicated area number two for freebie lovers. You will almost always be forced to hand over your email address in order to cash in on a free offer, and that is a recipe for opening your inbox up to a barrage of spam (many companies sell your email address to offset the costs of their free promotions, which means the number of people soliciting you can go through the roof very quickly). If you want to avoid this downside of freebie hunting, set up a special email address specifically for your freebie deals. That way all of your spam goes to this one address and your regular email you use with family and friends remains free and clear. One final note of caution about free stuff online: a lot of scammers have hit on the idea of using pretend freebie offers to solicit personal information about people or to convince people to send them money. Don?t send money, even for postage, to a company you don?t know and never, ever give out personal information online. No reputable company is going to ask for your social security number or bank account details for a freebie offer, so don?t hand them out to anyone. When in doubt, skip it and move to the next freebie.

Web Hosting - Is a Dedicated Server Worth What You Pay? In reviewing web hosting plans, many web site owners are faced at some point with the decision of whether or not to pay for a dedicated server. A dedicated server is one which holds your site(s) exclusively. It's not shared with other sites. You then have the option to put one site or many on that piece of hardware. But the decision is never easy. There are multiple considerations to take into account, far beyond just the higher dollar outlay that inevitably accompanies a dedicated server option. Performance is (or should be) a prime consideration for the majority of site owners. Studies show that when a page doesn't load within about 10 seconds or less, almost everyone will give up and go elsewhere. The delay may be caused at any of a hundred different points in the chain between the server and the user. But often, it's the server itself. In any case, it's important to eliminate the server as a possible bottleneck, since it's one of the few points over which the site owner can exercise some control. That need for control extends further than just performance, however. Other aspects of the user experience can benefit or suffer from server behavior. Security is a prime example. With the continuing prevalence of spam and viruses, a server can easily get infected. Having only your site(s) on a single server makes that issue much easier to deal with. With fewer sites on a server, there is less likelihood of getting infected in the first place. Also, since you will place a higher value on security than many others, it's easier to keep a dedicated server clean and your site well protected. You can use best practices in security to fortify your site. Having other sites on the server that you don't control raises the odds that your efforts are for nothing. One way your efforts can get watered down is through IP address sharing. Less sophisticated hosting services will often assign a single IP address to a single server and multipe sites. That means your site is sharing the same IP address with other domains. That leaves you vulnerable in several ways. Virus or spam attacks may target a particular IP address. If you have the same one as another site, one that is more likely to attract hostile intentions, you suffer for and with someone else. In other cases an IP address range is assigned to the server, with each site receiving its own address from within that range. Though better than the one IP:server scenario, this still presents a vulnerability. Many attacks try a range of IP addresses, not just a single one. But even legitimate sources can give you trouble when you share an IP address or a range. If another site engages in behavior that gets it banned, you can suffer the same fate if they ban the address or range. If the miscreant that shares your server/IP address or range is himself a spammer for example, and gets blacklisted, you can inadvertently be banned along with him. Using a dedicated server can overcome that problem. There's a certain comfort level in knowing what is installed on the server you use, and knowing that you alone put it there. But a dedicated server option may require increased administration on your part. If you're not prepared to deal with that, you may have to pay still more to have your dedicated server managed by someone else. All these factors have to be weighed carefully when considering a dedicated server plan.

Web Hosting - Databases, What Are They and Do You Need One? 'Database' is one of the most commonly used terms that one encounters in web site design. Yet, what they really are and whether they're essential is often not clear to novices. A database is a collection of organized data, stored in files that have a specific structure. It's that organization and structure that allows for easy and rapid storage and retrieval. The need for a database generally only arises when you have a certain amount of information and that information needs to have some structure. If you have a half-dozen names and addresses to store, a database is usually overkill. If you have a blob of data with no relationships between any of the items in that blob, maintaining a database is usually more trouble than it's worth. Maintain a database? Yes, like other complex systems a database, to be effective, needs to be designed properly at the outset then kept 'tuned' for good performance. The alternative is to gradually allow the database to become more and more disorganized. That leads to difficulty in use, poor speed of retrieval and more frequent failures. With MySQL, Access or MS SQL Server, the three most common choices of database product for web sites today, setting up a database is relatively simple. Even those with limited technical skill can get one up and running just by following some simple instructions. But some thought should be given to how you want the information organized, and to maintaining the system during its lifetime. Suppose you have a set of names, addresses, email addresses, products purchased, date purchased and amount. If you have only a few dozen records it matters very little how these pieces are arranged and related. A database usually isn't even warranted in this scenario. Once you have several thousand or more records, it matters a lot. Speed, the ease of expanding the set of attributes (like adding, say, product category), and other issues come into play. Even those with little technical expertise, but a willingness to exert logical thought and invest some time, can build a very robust database. Think about how you would organize a set of data (called 'tables'). Should Name, Address, and Product be in the same table? Or should the personal information be stored in one table and any product information (product, price, ...) in another? Some experimentation may be needed to get it right, but the choices have an impact on how easy the tables are to maintain. It also affects the speed with which programs can fetch old data and store the new. Having a database also introduces new maintenance issues for the server administrator, since backups usually need to be done differently. Recovering a failed database is usually more complicated than simply re-copying files from yesterday. Ask your hosting company what tools and skills they have for dealing with any database system you consider. It's true that introducing a database creates more complexity and the need for additional thought and administrative effort. At a certain level, professional expertise will be needed. But clearly the advantages outweigh the costs in many cases. Companies large and small eventually use databases to store and organize data. At some point, you may be fortunate enough to be one of them.

Web Hosting - Is a Dedicated Server Worth What You Pay? In reviewing web hosting plans, many web site owners are faced at some point with the decision of whether or not to pay for a dedicated server. A dedicated server is one which holds your site(s) exclusively. It's not shared with other sites. You then have the option to put one site or many on that piece of hardware. But the decision is never easy. There are multiple considerations to take into account, far beyond just the higher dollar outlay that inevitably accompanies a dedicated server option. Performance is (or should be) a prime consideration for the majority of site owners. Studies show that when a page doesn't load within about 10 seconds or less, almost everyone will give up and go elsewhere. The delay may be caused at any of a hundred different points in the chain between the server and the user. But often, it's the server itself. In any case, it's important to eliminate the server as a possible bottleneck, since it's one of the few points over which the site owner can exercise some control. That need for control extends further than just performance, however. Other aspects of the user experience can benefit or suffer from server behavior. Security is a prime example. With the continuing prevalence of spam and viruses, a server can easily get infected. Having only your site(s) on a single server makes that issue much easier to deal with. With fewer sites on a server, there is less likelihood of getting infected in the first place. Also, since you will place a higher value on security than many others, it's easier to keep a dedicated server clean and your site well protected. You can use best practices in security to fortify your site. Having other sites on the server that you don't control raises the odds that your efforts are for nothing. One way your efforts can get watered down is through IP address sharing. Less sophisticated hosting services will often assign a single IP address to a single server and multipe sites. That means your site is sharing the same IP address with other domains. That leaves you vulnerable in several ways. Virus or spam attacks may target a particular IP address. If you have the same one as another site, one that is more likely to attract hostile intentions, you suffer for and with someone else. In other cases an IP address range is assigned to the server, with each site receiving its own address from within that range. Though better than the one IP:server scenario, this still presents a vulnerability. Many attacks try a range of IP addresses, not just a single one. But even legitimate sources can give you trouble when you share an IP address or a range. If another site engages in behavior that gets it banned, you can suffer the same fate if they ban the address or range. If the miscreant that shares your server/IP address or range is himself a spammer for example, and gets blacklisted, you can inadvertently be banned along with him. Using a dedicated server can overcome that problem. There's a certain comfort level in knowing what is installed on the server you use, and knowing that you alone put it there. But a dedicated server option may require increased administration on your part. If you're not prepared to deal with that, you may have to pay still more to have your dedicated server managed by someone else. All these factors have to be weighed carefully when considering a dedicated server plan.