CloudFlare Can Boost Sites Performance For Free

Website performance is a big deal. Experiments conducted by the biggest websites on the net conclude page performance is directly related to revenue. found a 2 second slow down equals a 4.3% reduction in revenue per user. A 400 millisecond delay on Google search pages led to 0.59% fewer searches per user. Aol found users who experience the fastest Web page load times view 50% more pages per visit than users experiencing the slowest page load times.

Content Delivery Networks (CDN) can be a big boost in page speed by 1) saving a copy of the fully-rendered page and 2) serving that copy from a server as close to the user as possible. Big CDNs like Akamai and CacheFly charge hundreds of dollars a month at the minimum. CloudFlare, a new  start-up, is hoping to change that by offering a CDN for free. I tried it out with two of my sites, this blog and, and below are my findings.

Setting up CloudFlare with my sites was a breeze. All you have to do is change some DNS settings to route your traffic through their servers. Since I use Dreamhost as a host, CloudFlare made it even easier by hooking into Dreamhost’s system to make the changes for me. An e-mail with the original DNS settings was also sent as a backup in case I wanted to revert back. Within 5 minutes, I was up and running. saw the most benefit from CloudFlare as it serves up dynamically generated images. Once that image was cached, any subsequent requests for that URL would be for a static image without needing PHP to create it. Dummyimage is popular and the reduced load on my measly shared servers was noticeable.

CloudFlare provides a bunch of stats for monitoring the amount of traffic going through their network as well as the bandwidth saved.  In my case, for both of my sites, I’ve saved 11.5 gigbytes of bandwidth on 23,985,639 requests in 14 days.

Another advantage of CloudFlare is the security aspect. The network will identify and block threats ranging from botnet zombies to web spammers. CloudFlare presents suspected threats with a captcha and a chance for the user to leave a message if they might have been falsely accused. Part of their stats lets you see all of the threats including ones that passed the captcha and/or left a message. So far I have seen no false positives.

So while things have been mostly great, there are a couple of drawbacks. For one, the service is still figuring things out. There was about 50 minutes of downtime when all sites running through CloudFlare were inaccessible. It didn’t irk me too much. I figure I can’t really complain when the price is free. Another issue is the stats take forever to load. The stats for the free version are delayed 24 hours on purpose, but several times when trying to access the statistics dashboard the site would timeout.

Because all of the traffic is now coming from the CloudFlare servers, any code on your end that relies on the IP address of the end user will need to tweak their code. CloudFlare has a simple guide for how to do this on their wiki.

So if you’ve made it this far you’re probably wondering, “should I run my site through CloudFlare?” If you run a personal site and can live with a little downtime here and there, then absolutely. If your site is your sole means of income and any downtime causes your blood to boil, then you should probably find a more trusted CDN (and expect to pay for it). You could always experiment with it over the weekend for a couple of days and then switch back if you run into problems.

Content Delivery Networks bring a big performance boost to a site and with a free one out there like CloudFlare, there’s no excuse to not be using one.

Put Your Print Stylesheet At The Bottom

I woke up this morning with a profound realization. “Why not put print stylesheets at the bottom of the page so they load last?”, I thought to myself. It makes perfect sense to any performance-conscious web developer who savors every last millisecond of performance gained. Your print styles aren’t needed until you print the page, so it is okay if it takes a little while longer to download.  Unfortunately the quirkiness of the browser makers trumps our otherwise sound logic.

According to tests done by Steve Souders, web performance guru extraordinaire, Internet Explorer blocks the rendering of content until all of the stylesheets have been downloaded regardless of their media type. And since Internet Explorer is the dominant browser by visitors to most mainstream sites, there is absolutely no benefit to including the print stylesheet at the bottom of the page.

A possible workaround would be to dynamically insert the print stylesheet (using JavaScript) into the web page after it has finished loading. This just feels icky to me as the poor sap who is most likely to print out the webpage I so meticulously coded is also the poor sap using Internet Explorer 5.5 with JavaScript turned off and BonziBUDDY turned on.

Using A Skateboard To Control Music

Who would think to strap a MIDI controller to a skateboard? Apparently new media artist Simon Morris did with his project Musique Concrete which aims to “explore sound and the urban landscape through the movements on a skateboard.”

The Musical Skateboard Set-up

This is how it works according to the site:

Mounted underneath the skateboard is an interface which transmits data wirelessly to a laptop computer. Physical actions are detected using three sensors connected to the interface. Acceleration, turns and vibration are monitored by a photoresistor, a flex sensor and piezo sensor respectively. Using the MIDI protocol, a software program enables the skateboarder to control and modify real-time sounds directly from the skateboard.

There are a couple of videos showing the set-up in action but the results aren’t really music, more like a cross between a machine gun and a jack-hammer. It is still a cool idea nonetheless.

Spruce Up Your Old PowerBook

Even though their are loads of more powerful laptops out there, the tried and true PowerBook can still be a nerds best friend. I’m running the slowest of the slow 867Mhz 12″ PowerBook. This is the bottom rung of supported hardware for Apple’s latest operating system, Leopard. But I keep chugging away on it. In fact I write most of my blog posts on this machine while out in the living-room after work. Below are a few things you can do to get the most out of your second hand machine.

Computer RAM Stick

Max out the RAM

RAM prices are always in a constant free fall until you reach the point where the particular type your machine takes is officially classified as an antique. But for the most part upgrading your RAM is the best bang for the buck. Check out which can help you figure out what type of RAM you need as well as how much it will take to max out your system.

Screenshot of Firefox 3 Beta 2 with Proto Theme

Upgrade Firefox to 3.0

Most of my computer use happens within a browser. Firefox 2 has been a particularly frustrating release filled with memory leaks and sporadic crashes. I found it particularly unstable on Macs, both Intel and PowerPC systems. Firefox 3 is a completely different story with much quicker startups and a more responsive interface. Surfing sites on my pokey PowerBook is a joy once again and not a chore like it used to be. Note: As of this posting Firefox 3 is in beta (See the changes). You have nothing to lose by trying it out and I have been running it for a couple of weeks without a hitch.

SideTrack Calibration for your trackpad

Install SideTrack

Those newer MacBooks and the Air have such a snazzy trackpad that lets you use all sorts of finger gestures to manipulate your windows. PowerBook users can use SideTrack to get at least some of that functionality. The biggest improvement is the ability to use the edges of the trackpad to scroll horizontally and vertically as well as assigning actions to corner taps. The software is fully functional and free with an occasional nag screen or you can purchase the full version for just $15.

Tinker Tool Logo

Further Tweaking

If you really want to squeeze out every little drop of available performance then you will need to tweak some settings. First set your desktop background to a solid color instead of a picture. Head into your dock settings and uncheck the ‘Animate opening applications’ option and turn off magnification. If you don’t use Spotlight then consider unchecking all of the categories in the system preferences pane to stop the search program from scanning your hard drive for changes. If you really want to get into the nitty gritty details check out TinkerTool which uncovers hidden menus and options that let you do all sorts of things.

Now with a little sacrificing and tweaking you can get some good use out of your old, trusty Mac. If you found these suggestions helpful or if you know a tip to further spruce up your PowerBook let me know in the comments.