The Case of the Crippled Magento Site

April 20th, 2015 by

The Case of the Crippled Magento Site

A client’s Magento site was taking 13+ minutes to load the home page.

The very short version of this solution is turn off the ZealousWeb Magento extension
“Customer [sic] Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed” and see if that solves your problem.

The longer version of this solution contains:

1. A few techniques to analyze slow sites and / or slow MySQL databases
2. Making the extension at least nearly usable.

We had ssh access to the host site. The “top” command told us the MySQL CPU usage was very high; more specifically, that the sum of MySQL and the PHP processes was ~100%, with MySQL over 50 – 60% and sometimes spiking to 100%.

We did not have Linux or MySQL root access. Thus, it was best to copy the site to my company laptop for more analysis.

Note that you don’t need the Magento “media” (mostly pictures) folder hierarchy at all. I spent too much time copying 4GB of product images. In the end, it did me no good. Magento will run (or fail to run) just fine without the images. (Note that there is an images folder and a media folder. The images folder was small, but “media” was 4GB and contained images.)

Also in the category of wasted time and bad assumptions, my local copy of the site did not come to a crawl until I clicked on a product. Because the production site’s home page took minutes to load and my copy’s home page was instant, I incorrectly concluded that something was badly wrong with the production system independent of Magento.

Once I realized that the site crawled on my computer, I turned on and viewed the MySQL general_log. You’ll need MySQL root access to the mysql prompt:

mysql> set global general_log_file = ‘/tmp/glog.txt’ ;
mysql> set global general_log = 1;

(Note that putting the log in /tmp is a bad security idea in some cases.)

The log starts writing immediately after those two commands.

(To turn off the log:
mysql> set global general_log = 0;

The log is readable to the “mysql” Linux user and group (in Ubuntu Linux 14.04 and almost certainly other Linux / UNIX systems), or the Linux superuser (root), of course.

From the Linux prompt:

# tail -f glog.txt

Then click a product in Magento. You’ll see hundreds of queries like this:

SELECT `main_table`.* FROM `who_also_view` AS `main_table` WHERE (product_sku != ‘410569’) AND (session_cod=’Ix4ygm838p18Qaw’)

Each of them takes 0.1s, so that’s the (major) cause of the problem.

An 80% solution is to create these indexes:

CREATE INDEX who_also_view_novarata_ps ON who_also_view (product_sku);
CREATE INDEX who_also_view_novarata_sc ON who_also_view (session_cod);

(I tried both a) combining the fields in one index and b) each field indexed without the other indexed. The above was by far the most effective.)

All of the SQL zips by after that, but by continuing to view the logs, some products, when clicked, ran 10x more SQL than others. That 10x SQL was fast, but the product came up in 6s instead of < 1.

I measured this SQL difference by changing the general_log_file before and after running a product. The file size of one was 10x of the other. (I never figured out the difference beyond that.)
TOTAL SOLUTION (other than not using the extension)

When I turned the ZealousWeb extension off, the 10x SQL problem went away, and all products loaded quickly.

To turn the extension off:

1. Log into the Magento admin site / sub-site
2. System menu
3. Configuration (at the bottom of System)
4. On the left, you’ll see, ZEALOUSWEB EXTENSION / Customer Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed
5. On the right, you’ll see an “Enabled” dropdown. Set it to No.
6. Save Config (upper right)
7. You’ll get a white on green checkbox and “The configuration has been saved.”

That’s it.

The ZealousWeb XML files called the version 0.1.0. The Magento Connect Manager (in /admin) said (stable). The Connect Manger did not show any available updates. This is for Magento

Using an external ( bluetooth ) GPS on Android

March 28th, 2015 by

Field work is very battery intensive.  In addition, the GPS accuracy needed for certain jobs is higher than stock GPS chips on a smartphone or tablet can provide.

Both of these reasons make an external bluetooth GPS a very good idea in certain scenarios.

On Android devices, this is pretty straightforward to set up, but there are a few steps which need to be minded.  This post will help you get going.

Firstly, we’re assuming you have a bluetooth GPS unit already.  For the purposes of this explanation, we’re using the Holux M-1000C because of its price, battery life and relatively good accuracy.

Step 1 – Pair your bluetooth device with your Android device

  • Turn on your device
  • Go to the settings in android for pairing blue tooth
  • Make sure bluetooth is on

Step 2 – Download a bluetooth GPS service for Android

  • Bluetooth GPS type that into Android search in Google Play

Step 3a – Make sure developer options are enabled

Step 3b – Enable mock locations

Step 4 – Turn the service on and find your device

Assuming you followed the steps, your device should now be using your bluetooth GPS to send location events to the operating system and applications like google maps and your own will pick up location information from that device.

More importantly, you’ll have better GPS accuracy and save battery life on the device.

Pen to page!

February 2nd, 2015 by

If you think too much about what you’re doing, thinking will be all you’re doing.

You MUST put the pen to the page!

There are infinite pens and infinite pages. For anything that must be done in life, there is only one way; start. Don’t over think it.

When you sit around with writer’s block for instance, wondering what to write, the pain is endless. But when you sit down and just start writing, the page pulls the words from your fingers as though it wrote itself.

My favorite self-encouragement for this is “draw the man”.

It sounds silly, but if I’m having trouble feeling inspired I’ll imagine a little man I want to draw and I’ll imagine him the best I can. I’ll imagine whether he’s a stick figure or a full drawing and I’ll think about his features and what it is he’ll be doing.  Then I’ll start. An hour later, I’ll look down and the resulting figure is WAY different than I imagined. But he’s the better of the two little men, the one I imagined and the one I drew, because he EXISTS! And others can see him too. Usually too, there are things about the real little man that just happened that I didn’t predict which are WAY better than I imagined.

It’s like this in any creative work. It’s so obvious, but so often missed. If you want to create, then CREATE. Don’t wait for it to be perfect in your mind or be sure it’s going to work, just do it.

Later, once your initial efforts have started to teach you about your project, you may step back and “design” a little.

But I warn you to walk that line carefully.

Draw the man! Pen to page! Go!


Buzzword compliance: IoT

December 11th, 2014 by

The “Internet of Things” is still “The Internet.”

As we here at Novarata are required by law to be buzzword compliant, I thought I would take a minute to explain what IoT, the Internet of Things, is all about and why it’s still just “The Internet”.

Let’s start with what it is and explain why it’s gaining popularity. Then I’ll leave you with a couple of examples which should get your mind thinking about what’s to come.

According to Google Trends, the site where you can map interest in a keyword over time, it looks like the phrase has started to rise in popularity only in the last year or so.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 3.29.33 PM

But, as with most buzzwords, IoT is not a new thing. The IoT has been around about as long as the internet itself. I can remember in 2001, I was working at Verizon Wireless. We were sending off text messages to our engineers whenever a cell tower’s fire alarm went off or the door was left open. So the rise in popularity comes from new products being introduced which are bringing this concept mainstream. The factors going into the widespread use of IoT have finally started to come together and all be mainstream and readily available.

  • Wireless networks are now very fast and ubiquitous
  • Sensors for many different senses are suddenly cheap and in billions of devices
  • Internet Addresses have gotten an upgrade with IPv6 which allows us to uniquely address everything on earth and then some
  • Mobile devices are now high resolution, high performance and touch driven, allowing for exact control over this “internet of things”

An example of a consumer startup exhibiting this principle is lockitron. It’s “thing” which is being connected to the “Internet of Things” (the internet) is your door. It’s going to take this door and fit it with a device, the lockitron, that allows you to manage that door from anywhere. Unlock it from the mall. Let your friend in while you’re away and many more interesting scenarios.Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 4.33.19 PM

Another example of an IoT company is Nest, the thermostat company which was acquired by google. Their device becomes your thermostat and let’s you control it anywhere as well. You can also get alerts if someone left it too high among other things.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 4.32.23 PM

So, this is all great right? Well yeah, it’s great, but it’s also dangerous. Look at the havoc caused by viruses like Stuxnet. The challenge now will be to make sure these devices are secured and the control of them remotely is only in the hands of those who should have it.

Only time will tell how it all plays out. We plan on being involved in helping it be safe and effective for businesses to take advantage of. I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any comments or feedback.


Design more, program less, ship faster

November 13th, 2014 by

iStock_000015416486XXLarge (1)You can actually design your software projects to ship faster with higher quality through more up-front thought and planning. Even with agile processes, design is still a crucial component that needs more love. There are several reasons for this.

First, code is expensive to change. It’s like the concrete of text. Once it’s written and fit together, it’s not trivial to rewrite. Second. code isn’t the only thing which is hard to change. People’s expectations can crystalize into an unstoppable force. Once you set them, it may be hard to double back if things turn out to be more difficult than you thought.

“Never try to solve all the problems at once — make them line up for you one-by-one.” – Richard Sloma

Third, the design phase is a great place to smoke all the project killers out of their hiding places. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten to the 11th hour of a critical project only to figure out nobody thought to buy the domain name.

Moreover, it forces the whole team to really come to terms with what is the most important aspects of the project. This usually centers around the business process and what truly matters to the bottom line. Chances are you all have different ideas of what this is. Get that all out in the beginning, it’s cheaper.

Finally, taking time to figure out what the project is all about allows you to define success. What if you’re solving the wrong problem? What if people don’t really want this new system? What if they’ll only use it if it’s got red buttons? Better find that out up front.

“The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions.” – Peter Drucker

I’m certainly guilty of forgoing this step in the past and thinking “ah, it will just slow us down.” In the end it’s never slowed me down. Quite the contrary, I’ve wasted months backtracking where a few hours of design could have help us ship faster. So, do what you have to do, but do design in the beginning if you can make the time. Good luck! I hope this post was helpful.

Keep it on the lo: GPS woes

October 26th, 2014 by

Overall, there is nothing wrong with GPS on smartphones.  It’s pretty damn accurate.  It’s biggest weakpoints are when you are indoors or attempting to use it from a cold start without wifi or cellular coverage.

GPS on a phone is a feat of software and hardware engineering.   That said, there are a lot of times when location accuracy on a phone isn’t reliable.  It’s something we struggle with a lot with our apps.  You might say “Yeah well it gets me where I’m going”.  This is true, most of the time it does.

But what about when you try to use your phone to set a location, like telling an uber driver where to pick you up?  Or logging where a user took a photo?  If you happen to be obstructed from satellites, have a low cell signal or have wifi turned off,  then the problems become apparent.  I once had an uber driver waiting for me on the street behind my house and eventually give up on me.

I’d like to explain why this happens by explaining how smartphones get their location, illustrate some of the problems we have faced and provide a few solutions to help you improve your accuracy.

How smartphones get their location

First, how does GPS on a smartphone work?  Using something called assisted GPS (aGPS), your phone gets a leg up when looking for its location.

The hard work is now being done by aGPS servers either connected to your phone’s cell network or through wi-fi.  Using aGPS, your phone gets a cheat sheet that tells it where it is and where the satellites are that will continue to update it.  This is why your phone asks you to turn on wifi sometimes to improve GPS location.  It’s also why it takes longer to find a location if you’re totally off the grid in the woods.

A-GPS helps us overcome the “first time to fix” problem that your old Garmin GPS receiver used to have.  Do you remember when you sometimes had to wait 10 minutes for your car’s GPS to find a lock?  That hasn’t magically been eliminated from GPS technology.


Problems we have faced with smartphone location accuracy

We’ve found the biggest killer of GPS accuracy on a phone is the usage pattern.  It’s very rare that you take your phone out of your pocket and say “Ok, I’m just gonna wait here a minute and let this thing warm up”.  Yeah right!  You are constantly taking your phone in and out of your pocket, opening apps, looking up information, and all around being the dynamo you are.  This constant off and on to the GPS radio results in a relatively low accuracy.  If it weren’t for aGPS, location services on a phone would be borderline unusable.

Another big killer of GPS accuracy is being indoors.  If you stand in the middle of a normal sized grocery store, you will probably lose signal.  This is a line of site problem.  This can also sometimes be overcome by aGPS.  But in buildings like this, you sometimes can’t even get a cell signal.  We also experienced this with our users who were making deliveries inside large buildings and having trouble data not being tagged with geolocation information.

The answer in most of these situations is guessing.  Meaning, you come up with ways to intelligently guess the users location.  This is essentially how aGPS works and also how work arounds we’ve come up with work.  That’s why you may sometimes get a surprisingly bad location on your phone after many accurate measurements.  The guessing isn’t always accurate.

Some things you can do about it

If GPS accuracy is important to you, here are a few things you can try.

  1. Keep wifi on, this will help it lock on.
  2. Wait a minute after opening a location based app before you try and access the service.  This gives it time to find satellites and get its bearings.
  3. If things are really bad and you need better signal, try a 3rd party GPS logger like the Holux M 1000.


Location apps on smartphones will just continue to get better and better.  And with the rise of microcells, blue tooth beacons, point to point wifi and other radio advancements, aGPS will just continue to get better and better as well.  Thanks for reading!




Android “L” for Love?

July 27th, 2014 by

On Thursday, June 26, 2014, Google released the Preview SDK of Android “L” along with factory images only available for the Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 (WiFi).

We are all curious about what sweet treat the “L” stands for and Google will not tell us until the final release this fall.

I decided to try it out and see what it is all about.

First some screenshots from my Nexus 5:

Screenshot_2014-06-27-13-05-17 Screenshot_2014-06-27-10-33-47 Screenshot_2014-06-27-10-25-10 Screenshot_2014-06-27-10-28-50 Screenshot_2014-06-27-10-31-23 Screenshot_2014-06-27-10-57-39

My take on Android “L”

The “L” release contains a new UI look and feel. This new theme is called “Material” and reminds us of “Holo Light” except with more color and contrast. The Back, Home and Task buttons are now switched out for a Triangle, Circle and Square which looks like a game console remote in some regards. After all, it is the subtle details in this release that makes the phone feel smooth, responsive and alive.

I like the new look and I cannot wait to see beautiful apps showing up on the play store. I have a feeling the developer community will try to mimic this look and feel in their current apps as we await the first official release.

L is for Love.

Stay ahead in the constant changing Mobile space

We are preparing for the final release and are watching the progress closely. If you want to stay ahead of the release and update your mobile app we are here to help. Contact us and we will gladly help you out with your mobile strategy.

Read more about us.

For the tech savvy people out there

You can read more on how to install “L” on your  Nexus Device here:

Caution: this will wipe out your data on your phone.

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Flooding the image gallery on Android

July 23rd, 2014 by

The inspiration for this blog post came from using an offline mapping application on my Galaxy S4. It saved all the map tile images into my gallery on my phone. Not only was this completely annoying, it was also entirely unnecessary. In this post I’ll outline the two options Android developers have when saving images to the phone and some brief guidelines for when to use each.

The two options are essentially public and private (details about the actual implementation are in the link at the end of this post). Public will be picked up by the image gallery and can be used by any application. In contrast, private storage is confined to just your app and can’t be seen anywhere outside of your app.

NOTE: Private data storage of images will be cleared if the user selects “clear data” in app settings.

Public should be used when your app is:

– A replacement for the stock photo app
– A consumer app that creates images users would want to share/keep

Private should be used when your app is:

– A business app that users will use on their personal phone, keep images off their gallery
– Using images in the application itself, but they shouldn’t stay in the users gallery (map applications)

Most apps we build for customers seem to have at least one feature which is tied to taking photos. It makes sense. It’s one of the most attractive features of a smartphone, so of course we want our users to have photo-driven functionality in our apps. Using these simple tips, we can ensure they aren’t frustrated by our products.

That’s it. Please let me know if you have anything else to add about private vs. public data storage on Android and pass this along if you found it helpful.

Also, for actual technical details about the different data storage options in Android, please see this section of the Android Developer guide.

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Look ma, no images!

July 18th, 2014 by

– How to make things look good on Android without images – 


– How to support multiple display sizes and capabilities –

The other night I was sitting on my couch at home thinking about something to program on Android.
It was about 10:30 pm and I wanted to solve a simple puzzle before I went to bed.
As I was sitting there I received an update for a meeting sent to my gmail.
There it was, the puzzle I had been looking for. The blue and white calendar graphic on the left.

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“Could I create this graphic with the tools given to me in the Android Developent toolkit?”

After about 1 hour or so I had managed to create something that looked fairly similar to what I saw.

“I could have just simply put an image as a background, so why didn’t I?”

Displaying things like this without images is critical to increasing the quality of your app.

A few reasons to use layouts and drawables instead of images:

  • More easily support different screen sizes
  • Better support for different resolutions
  • Better performance


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Android Battery Drain

June 30th, 2014 by

Is your battery draining a lot lately?

More than normal?

Here are a couple things to check to make sure radio related apps (wifi, gps, bluetooth) aren’t draining your battery.

  • Apps that use your location, like Navigation or local reviews like Yelp.  Make sure these are not open constantly checking your location.
  • Wifi – If Wifi is off, then you are more likely to be using your GPS radio when Google services might otherwise be able to get your location from wifi.
  • Is bluetooth on?  Sometimes something simple like this can make a big difference in battery life.

If you know of others, please send along.

Was this helpful?  If so, pass it on.

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