Recovering A Hard Disk Full of Memories - Part 1

Memories are what give life purpose. They allow us to go back to the past, into a time that shall forever be stateless. Most importantly memories are experiences that mould us into the person we are today.

For some reason, when I think about the word memories the first thing that come to mind are pictures... Photos to be exact. I only started thinking how important photos are to me whilst I was having a conversation with my cousin Tajesh. Tajesh popped over this weekend gone by and like always has many fascinating stories to tell. One story in particular got my attention. He told me about an amazing trip he had in Australia many many years ago and how he lost all the photos he had taken after recently damaging his hard drive. On hearing his predicament, I was profoundly moved and imagined how I'd feel if I was in his position.

Even though our brains are wired to remember events and experiences, memories seem to somehow fade away over time and we start forgetting the little detail of images until it forms into a hazy recall. We remember enough to transport us back to a time or a place, but the brain has a strange way of patching together what we once saw. As if they are pieces of a larger puzzle. If your brain is anything like mine where you can only selectively retrieve one piece of the puzzle that is most meaningful, we're missing a vast array of information.

I decided I'd make an attempt to try and recover my cousins lost photos. He handed over his Western Digital Caviar edition hard drive carefully enclosed in an old VHS box, entrusting I'll have it's best interests at heart and keeping whatever memories that maybe locked away safe inside... A damaged hard drive is in some ways like our brains selective recall. The data is stored somewhere but we sometimes have problems accessing them.

I'm no hard disk recovery expert and I am hoping some off the shelf software will help me in getting at least some photos back from his holiday. So what's the game plan?

I'll start with using a piece of software I blogged about back in 2011 - EaseUs. EaseUs provides a line of software ranging from backup to recovery. It helped me then and (fingers crossed) it'll help me now. I'll also need a 3.5 inch disk caddy to allow the hard drive to be connected via USB and start the recovery process.

As it stands, my cousins Western Digital Caviar disk doesn't seem to have any visible damage and there are no noises when run. It just doesn't boot.

Stay tuned for future posts on how I get on.

To be continued...

My Time At Melia Bali Hotel

Family. Family is what comes to mind when I think of my time at Melia Bali. I only happen to come to this conclusion as I checked out on the calm and (strangely) cool evening before having to depart back to the UK.

I don't generally write about my travels (or lack of!). But my time at Melia has energised me to write something and as a result, I scribble away madly trying to make sense of processing my erratic thoughts and feelings during my long flight back. Just so I can write this post.

Melia Bali Beach

I find it ironic I started writing this post about "family", when I happened to visit Bali with people to whom I deem most dear: mum, dad and sister. I feel that family forms centre place to the services they provide.

If you happen to have the privilege of staying at the Melia Bali Hotel for long enough, you'd get a sense of familiarity of the people working there. To some extent I hope I am perhaps familiar to them - The Indian guy with the ridiculously frizzy hair (a result of the climate ;-) ).

These people truly are the back bone of the hotel and make it what it is. Yes, Melia is a pretty place on the surface but it's the people that make it truly shine when compared to the other hotels staggered along the beach shoreline. They are without a doubt amazing at what they do. From the lady who cooks me the most delicious fluffy omelette in the morning down to the lobby personnel who are willing to help with any query or concern.

From the moment I wake up and make my way to the breakfast hall to the moment I enter the lobby at the end of a long day gallivanting, I am greeted with many smiles. You can't help but be infected with a sense of positivity and happiness, something I don't think I've ever come across when holidaying elsewhere.

The lobby statues and wondrous ceiling mural makes for a welcome sight at any time, setting the ambience and standard for the hotel. If you're lucky to be at the lobby during the evening, you'd be greeted by two classically trained balinese dancers dressed from an era of time gone by. As they dance with delicate intricacy to the tune of the rindik, I am reminded of similarities when compared to classical Indian dances - a lost art and cultural heritage slowly eroding with time, making for a visceral experience and something you can't help but appreciate.

Melia Bali Dancers

Melia offers around five restaurants to cater for the guests varying palettes - each with their own theme and cuisines. We found ourselves venturing outside to nearby restaurants as after a few nights as we found the prices a little dear based on the portion sizes of the main meals. Even though the food was very tasty, my western belly expected something more sizeable. When taking into consideration the 21% combined tax and service charge on top of the prices on the menu - not so cheap. There are many fine eateries at the Bali Collection for consideration, just a 5-10 minute walk away.

When there are issues, it is family that are there to support at time of need. We happened to experience some very loud noises from the room above us at an unsightly hour. Spoiling the serenity we become accustomed to. Now this went on for a couple nights. We just happened to make a remark of our problem in passing to one of the workers whilst feasting on the morning breakfast buffet and within a a short period of time this was communicated to the customer service representative who apologised and organised a room change swiftly.

The rooms themselves are all very well maintained, clean and provided nice views from the balcony. Based on our room change, you can expect subtle differences in terms of the what the rooms offer. For example, our first room just had a shower, but the second room had a shower/bath. My only quibble is the shower head position - not a deal breaker. There are generous bathroom amenities, consisting of toothbrush, toothpaste, vanity kit, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, shaving kit and body lotion. All fully restocked daily. The crazy thing is that you get a new toothbrush every day! As much as I like a new toothbrush, I sometimes have to question the environmental impact.

Melia Bali - View from Lobby

Even though our noisy neighbour was no fault of thier own, Melia took us under their wing to ensure our holiday was perfect. We were even given a fruit platter for our troubles. I think what struck a chord with me is before we departed, is that the management seem to know everything about a guests stay to a granular level. The hotel manager hoped we'd comeback again to visit even with the minor inconvenience we experienced.

If I do get another opportunity to visit again, I will consider paying a little extra for "The Level" experience. I have to admit, I was quite envious of all the things I heard about this upgrade when talking to other guests on the beach. I felt like a pauper. I like the idea of having a little more privacy in terms of accomodation and your own space on the beach. More importantly it's adults only. No noisy kids! :-)

Melia Bali - Entrance At Night

I look back at my time at Melia Bali with fond memories that will be permanently etched into my memory. For me, Melia compliments Bali as the wondrous land of Bali compliments Melia.

New Year, New Site!

This site has been longing for an overhaul, both visually and especially behind the scenes. As you most likely have noticed, nothing has changed visually at this point in time - still using the home-cooked "Surinder theme". This should suffice in the meantime as it currently meets my basic requirements:

  • Bootstrapped to look good on various devices
  • Simple
  • Function over form - prioritises content first over "snazzy" design

However, behind the scenes is a different story altogether and this is where I believe matters most. Afterall, half of web users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less and they tend to abandon a site that isn’t loaded within 3 seconds. Damning statistics!

The last time I overhauled the site was back in 2014 where I took a more substantial step form to current standards. What has changed since then? I have upgraded to Kentico 10, but this time using ASP.NET Web Forms over MVC.

Using ASP.NET Web Form approach over MVC was very difficult decision for me. Felt like I was taking a backwards step in making my site better. I'm the kind of developer who gets a kick out of nice clean code output. MVC fulfils this requirement. Unfortunately, new development approach for building MVC sites from Kentico 9 onwards will not work under a free license.

The need to use Kentico as a platform was too great, even after toying with the idea of moving to a different platform altogether. I love having the flexibility to customise my website to my hearts content. So I had to the option to either refit my site in Kentico 10 or Kentico Cloud. In the end, I chose Kentico 10. I will be writing in another post why I didn't opt for the latter. I'm still a major advocate of Kentico Cloud and started using it on other projects.

The developers at Kentico weren't lying when they said that Kentico 10 is "better, stronger, faster". It really is! I no longer get the spinning loader for obscene duration of time whilst opening popups in the administration interface or lengthy startup times when the application has to restart.

Upgrading from Kentico 8.0 to 10 alone was a great start. I have taken some additional steps to keep my site clean as possible:

  1. Disable view state on all pages, components and user controls.
  2. Caching static files, such as CSS, JS and images. You can see how I do this at web.config level from this post.
  3. Maximising Kentico's cache dependencies to cache all data.
  4. Took the extra step to export all site contents into a fresh installation of Kentico 10, resulting in a slightly smaller web project and database size.
  5. Restructured pages in the content tree to be more efficient when storing large number of pages under one section. 

I basically carried out the recommendations on optimising website performance and then some! My cache statatics have never been so high!

My Kentico 10 Cache Statistics

One slight improvement (been a long time coming) is better open graph support when sharing pages on Facebook and Twitter. Now my links look pretty within a tweet.

I Ain't Afraid Of No Ghost

As I have been writing the last few blog posts, I've been getting the case of "twitchy feet" during the writing process. I normally get "twitchy feet" when frustrated or annoyed by things in my life that I feel could be done easier. In this case, my site has started to frustrate me and felt that adding new posts became a chore.

Over the 10 years (has it really been this long!?) owning and maintaining this site, it's started to become a bit of the beast from the initial outset. I've jumped from platform to platform based on my needs at the time:

  • Wordpress (2006)
  • BlogEngine (2007 to 2012)
  • Kentico (2012 to present)

I feel at the grand old age of 31, I need a platform that nurtures my writing creativity without having to worry about general maintainance and somewhat restrictive editorial functionality. Ever since I tasted the pure nectar that is Markdown, my writing speed has gone through the roof and love having full control through the simplistic editing interface - Markdown is the furture!

I am a certified Kentico Developer (you may have got that impression from my vast posts on the platform) and specifically chose Kentico CMS because it gave me the full flexibility to build the site how I wanted. As great as the platform is, I've come to the conclusion that this site will never grow to be anything more than one thing: a blog. So I want to down-size like a person getting on in his years and move to a smaller house.

Enter Ghost...

Ghost

The Ghost platform has garnered a lot of traction over the years ever since its concept in 2012. I've been keeping an eye on it over the years and never really gave the platform much thought until I noticed quite a few popular bloggers making the move and experiencing the lightening fast performance. This is possibly down to the blogger hosting their instance on Ghost Pro. Could be wrong. I am planning on going down the Ghost Pro hosting route and get everything setup by the very nice people behind the scenes at Ghost HQ, who will lovingly host and look after my site.

I opened up a dialog on Twitter to Ghost who were very kind in alleviating my initial migration worries:

The only thing I will have to get over, which Ghost will not be able to help me with is getting over the mindset that I will not be able to to tinker around with my site to the full extent as I do now. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing and will give me the opportunity to concentrate more on writing quality content. I just hate the thought of restricting myself.

Ghost has put a framework in place that no other platform has done so well - giving power to write content anywhere:

  • Desktop browser
  • Mobile browser
  • Desktop application

Looks like Ghost lives up to its main selling point:

An open source blogging platform which makes writing pleasurable and publishing simple.

What I also love is the SEO optimisation out-of-the-box. God knows how many hours I've spent trying to get my site SEO friendly, not only from an search indexing standpoint, but a social sharing standpoint too with all the open graph tags built-in. No need for extra plugins or development from a code perspective.

Whats Next?

As it currently stands, I am evaluating Ghost through their 14 day trial and need to send an email to their support team before I make a confirmed decision to move. I like what I am seeing to far. Just need to get the time to put a migration process in place to move the 200 posts on this site. Eek!

Ghost is definitely not as scary as I once thought. Cue Ray Parker Jr...

Made The Move To HTTPS!

Early last month, I decided to make the move and finally run my site under a secure certificate. This something I’ve been meaning to do over the last year as it became apparent that Google will soon penalise your search rankings if an SSL is not installed. Quite a few of the developer blogs I follow have already made the transition, so I thought I too should do the same. I was surprised how cheap it was to move to HTTPS. For myself, I pay around £25 a year that consists of a basic Comodo SSL certificate and a dedicated IP. This is purely because my website is hosted on a shared hosting provider. It’ll probably be even more cheaper for those who manage their own hosting.

I highly recommend anyone who still has qualms on making the move to https to read the following post by Scott Helme: Still think you don't need HTTPS?. He brings up some very interesting points and benefits that motivated me to make the move.

The transition to making the move to HTTPS was painless and required no major downtime. But I did have to spend time in ensuring all external requests from my site were secure, for example Disqus, Google Ads and some external JS references. However, something a little more pressing caught my eye and got quite a fright when I logged into Google Webmaster Tools yesterday. Unbeknown to me, ever since my site changed to HTTPS, both my clicks and CTR statistics declined drastically over the month. Take a look at the blue and yellow lines:

Google Webmaster Tools Clicks/CTR Decline

At least this decline has not been reflected in my Google Analytics report. The number of visitors to my site has remained stable and have even noticed a slight increase - I don’t think the increase has anything to do with the SSL certificate. So what caused the rapid decline in Webmaster Tools? It seems like I missed something in my haste. I needed to in fact create a new website inside Webmaster Tools that contained my website URL prefixed with "https://". This is because a "http://www.surinderbhomra.com" is considered a different URL to "https://www.surinderbhomra.com". Makes sense when I think about it. I wrongly presumed that as long as I have the correct 301 redirects in place so all pages on my site is served over HTTPS, there won't be an issue.

HTTP and HTTPS Sites In Google Webmaster Tools

John Mueller wrote a FAQ post on Google+ that covers most of the important things you need to know and how to setup Webmaster Tools correctly on change to HTTPS: https://plus.google.com/+JohnMueller/posts/PY1xCWbeDVC.

I won't lie to you, seeing that green padlock in the web address bar whenever I visit my site gives me a new found sense of euphoria!

So I Rebuilt My Site Again

Welcome to my new and improved website built in Kentico 8 and MVC Razor 5.

My old site was crying for an upgrade and now seemed like a good opportunity to make quite a few modifications, such as:

  • Upgrading to Kentico 8
  • Ditch ASP.NET Web Forms for MVC Razor 5
  • Refresh the front-end (designed by yours truly!) ;-)
  • Responsive support using Bootstrap
  • Refactored all code to improve website performance and caching

The new build has been a bit of a pet project and allowed me to put into practice everything I've learnt from over the years since my last build.

Still work in progress and more refinements are in the pipeline.

Goodbye BlogEngine. Hello Kentico!

Kentico LogoFor many years, I've been a happy BlogEngine user. However, recently my website was starting to expand in a way that wasn't flexible enough for the BlogEngine platform. Don't get me wrong, BlogEngine is a great blogging platform and it is without a doubt one of the best out on the market. But the capabilities and features Kentico provides made moving over to another platform an easy decision.

The future of my site needed something that would give me free reign and control on making full customisations myself in a solid framework, and Kentico seemed to fit this requirement.

Having worked with the Kentico platform for quite a few years now, I was impressed by how easy or complex I could make a site. Most importantly, the page perfomance of my site has got quite a boost. For a site that doesn't look like is doing much at face value, it is behind the scenes.

What was the migration process like?

Migrating all my BlogEngine content into Kentico did take some time, but the Kentico Import tool really does take the hassle out of getting key blog post information into the CMS. Just don't be expect tags and categories to be imported in the process. Migrating these facets is a manual job.

In addition, I decided to overhaul the friendly URL's used for my blog posts in keeping with the URL structure provided by BlogEngine. Even to this day, I'm not sold on the way Kentico generates it's friendly URL's for blog posts. For example:

/Blog/February-2013/My-Blog-Post.aspx

When it should be the following format:

/Blog/2013/02/03/My-Blog-Post.aspx

Luckily, it was pretty easy to write a Custom Eventhandler to add additional custom URL paths whenever I update or insert a new post (will add a post in the near future on how to do this).

I still have some additional features to add to this site (and dare I say fixes!) so watch this space...