Chip Anderson

A Solution for Kaspersky Users with Scrambled/Slow Charts

Apparently, the good folks at Kaspersky - the Windows Anti-Virus company - hate us.  We don't know why.  We don't know what we did to bring on their wrath.  But Kaspersky's Anti-Virus and Internet Security programs have given us - and more precisely many of our users - nothing but trouble for weeks now.  Around that time, we started get reports from people who were seeing something like this on their screens:

Kaspersky1

Whoa!  Who hijacked our charts and turned them into monsters?!

After lots of digging it turned out to be, you guessed it, Kaspersky.  Specifically, their "Web Anti-Virus" feature.  I'll get back to that in a moment, but first I need to clarify an important point.

Several people wrote in to us saying something like "I haven't made any changes to Kaspersky so it must be you guys.  What did you change?"  Security software - all security software not just Kaspersky's - is very complex software that is intricately connected to the "guts" of the computer it runs on.  In the case of Kaspersky, they have to hook into both Windows and your web browser in order to work properly.  The downside of that approach is that they have to update their software frequently to stay on top of everything - the latest threats, the latest changes to Windows and the latest changes to the various web browsers.  Because of that, security software is constantly changing - often without you noticing.  If weird things start happening on your computer "out of the blue", there's a good chance that your security software is the culprit.

The bottom line answer is "No, we didn't change anything - Kaspersky did."  I'm sure they had a good reason and I'm sure they didn't intend to scramble our charts, but that's what happened.  And, it will probably happen again at some point unless you take the following steps.

If you are a Kaspersky user and you are seeing scrambled charts or your charts are loading very slowly, please follow these steps:

1.) Click on the Kaspersky icon to bring up the Kaspersky window.

2.) Click on the "Settings" button on the right size of the window.

3.) Click on the "Web Anti-Virus" entry in the list on the left side of the Settings window.  You should now see something similar to this:

Kaspersky2

4.) Click on the "Settings..." button in the middle of that window.

5.) Click on the "Trusted URLs" tab at the top of the "Web Anti-Virus" window that appears.  You should see something like this:

Kaspersky4

6.) Make sure the "Do not scan web traffic from trusted URLs" is checked.

7.) Click on the "Add" button.

8.) Enter "stockcharts.com" in the "Address mask" box that appears:

Kaspersky5

9.) Click "OK"

10.) Make sure the checkbox beside "stockcharts.com" is checked (like in the picture below) and then click "OK" to close the "Web Anti-Virus" window.

Kaspersky6

11.) Finally click the "Apply" button on the Settings  window to complete the process.

These steps prevent Kaspersky's "Web Anti-Virus" feature from interfering with our website and should eliminate the scrambled/slow charts problems that Kaspersky users have been reporting.

- Chip

Attention Kaspersky Internet Security Users

Recently, we've been getting some disturbing reports for users about our charts appearing very slowly and then sometimes disappearing after about 20 seconds.  Initially these reports were very confusing to us because we had not made any significant changes to our website that would cause those kind of problems.  In addtion, only a couple of people were reporting the problems - most people were not experiencing any issues.

Some follow-up messages from some of the people with the problem revealed a suspicious pattern - all of them were using the Kaspersky Interlet Security program to protect their Windows computers from malware.

Given that information, we spent some time today installed and configuring the latest version of Kaspersky on several different test machines.  After some tweaking, we were able to reproduce the problem!

(As many of you know, recreating the problem on a programmer's computer is 80% of the battle.)

We discovered that there were actually two strange problems that Kaspersky is currently causing for people using our website:

1.) Google Chrome users would see a SharpChart for about 20 seconds and then that chart would get replaced with a "broken image" icon.

2.) Internet Explorer users would have things work fine for 2 to 3 minutes and then they would stop seeing charts at all and would instead see a big white space.

Next, we started experimenting with the various "Settings" that come with the Kaspersky program.  The first thing we verified was that if you disabled Kaspersky entirely, both problems went away.  That confirmed that Kaspersky was the culprit.  The next thing to try was to see if there were some less-destructive settings that could be changed that would allow most of Kaspersky to continue to operate while eliminating the charting issues.

Pretty quickly, we discovered that if you only disabled as small part of the Kaspersky suite of tools - the "Anti-Banner" feature - the Google Chrome problem (#1) would stop happening.

Later, after more trial and error, we discovered that if you added "stockcharts.com" to the "Exceptions " list for Kaspersky's "Web Anti-Virus" feature, the second problem would also stop happening.

So, if you use Kaspersky Internet Security 2012, here are the steps you need to take:

1.) Click on the "Settings" icon (gears) on the main Kaspersky control window.

2.) Click on the "Anti-Banner" item at the bottom of the list of features.

3.) Click on the top-most checkbox that appears to disable the "Anti-Banner" feature, then click the "Apply" button.

4.) Click on the "Web Anti-Virus" item which is about 4 items down on the list of features on the left side of the window.

5.) Click on the "Settings..." button that appears

6.) Click on the "Trusted URLs" tab that appears

7.) Click "Add" and enter "stockcharts.com" to the list of trusted URLs.

8.) Click "Apply" and then "OK" to close the Kaspersky window.

Those changes _should_ fix any slowness issues and/or disappearing chart issues that you have.  Let our Support Team know if you still see problems after following these steps.

Tracking down issues with Anti-Virus/Firewall programs like Kaspersky can be maddening.  If you see problems like this, please follow the general approach I outlinded above (disable everything, does it still happen?, un-disable various sections until it goes away, etc.).  Finally, when reporting this kind of "strangeness" to us, be sure to include the names of any security programs you use.

- Chip

StockCharts' Uptime Report for 2011 - Four Nines!

The results are in and StockCharts.com was faster and much more stable in 2011.  Did you notice?  No?  That's good!

In 2009, Pingdom reported that we were available 99.77% of the time (a total of 18 hours and 25 minutes of downtime).   In 2010, Pingdom reported that we were up 99.94% of the time (a total of 5 hours and 9 minutes down).  And in 2011, Pingdom reported we were up 99.99% of the time (0 hours and 50 minutes down).  That means we're up to four nines!  And you have to like that trend!

Uptime for StockCharts.com: SharpCharts: 01/01/2011 - 01/01/2012

By the way, how does that compare to other popular web services?  Check out this post from the guys behind the "Basecamp" service.  They are crowing about "only" being down 16 minutes since mid-December.  They point out that other popular services have been down anywhere from 6 minutes to 6 hours during that same period.  StockCharts.com has been down zero minutes during that same time - even with a major snowstorm in the Seattle area at the start of January.

Some of the credit for the improvement in our uptimes has to go our decision to switch data vendors from ThomsonReuters to Interactive Data.  The Interactive Data feed has been MUCH more stable and reliable making it that much easier for the rest of the website to remain up and running.

In addition to being up most of the time last year, we continued our trend of getting faster.  The average response time for our SharpCharts workbench page decreased from 518ms in 2010 to 448ms in 2011 - a 13.5% decrease in the time it takes to get you your charts.

As I said when I reported last year's results, WE ARE STILL NOT SATISFIED WITH THESE NUMBERS.  Our goal remains 100% uptime and we will continue to work towards that goal.  There will be more bumps ahead along the way.  We appreciate your patience when bumbs happen.  But these numbers show that progress is happening.

Finally, there are two "gotchas" that come with this great news:

1.) Parts of our website are not under our direct control in terms of performance or uptime.  Specifically, the Blogs area and the Support area.  The Blogs area (controlled by a company called TypePad) was down 1 hour and 45 minutes last year (99.98%) and the Support area (controlled by a company called ZenDesk) was down 7 hours and 54 minutes (99.91%).  We are not thrilled with those numbers and may being looking for alternatives if those companies cannot improve their results in 2012.

2.) Unfortunately, posts like this - where I point out how well things have been going - usually result in something going wrong somewhere almost immediately.  Sigh.  "Murphy's Law" is hard to fight.  Hopefully, that won't happen this time.

Here's to an even better 2012.

- Chip

New Database Machines Improving Site Performance

Every week we do hundreds of behind-the-scenes things to make StockCharts.com better.  Most of the time, these things are relatively unnoticed by users - which is a good thing - except that the website continues to perform reliably and accurately.

Occasionally we make one of these changes that can be seen.  Check out this graph:

Dataserver16_1440hr

This graph shows the response times of the database servers that contains information about our members and their accounts.  As you can see, the responses times for this test were getting slower and slower over time.  (The test was a kind of "worst case" test so users didn't actually experience such a dramatic slow down.)

A little over a week ago, we replaced the hardware for this database with two of the the latest and greatest machines from Dell.  You can see on the graph that it has made a dramatic difference.  Our new database hardware should be able to take us well into the future without seeing these kind of performance issues anytime soon.

CALLING ALL NORTON USERS!

Recently we've received a number of complaints about the speed of our website or, more accurately, its lack of speed.  This has puzzled us greatly because we have been unable to spot any problems with how things are working.  If anything, we are faster than we've ever been.

Starting about a week ago however, another piece of the puzzle started showing up in some user reports - Norton.  Here's an example:

I recently had problems with my computer. I had Windows XP reloaded and Norton antivirus put on my computer(Norton is new). I now find your site to run very slow. It takes anywhere from 5-10 seconds for a chart to come up where it use to be half that time or less. I do not seem to have this problem on other sites. Do you have any ideas what could be the issue. Could Norton be slowing things down? Is there a setting I could change?  - T.S.
We have tested and re-tested our website using several different combinations of Norton's software, different versions of Windows, and different browsers but we have not been able to duplicate this mysterious slowness.

So I wanted to ask the "blog-o-sphere" (hey, that's you!) for help.  If you use Norton security software with Windows XP (or something similar), please add a comment at the bottom on this entry and let us know how fast (or slow) StockCharts.com works for you.  Thanks in advance!

- Chip

(Note: Please only comment if you are using StockCharts.com with Norton security software installed.  Please use our Support page if you want to report other issues with the website.  Thanks!)

Real-World Perceived Browser Speed Results Point to Chrome as Fastest

The good people at Gomez released some very interesting numbers last week with respect to browser performance.  They monitored real-world performance data from over 200 different websites and broke the numbers down by browser.  Here are the broadband results:

BrowserSpeedTimings
This shows both actual page load times as well "perceived" page load times.  The perceived numbers are what's exciting to me.  Usually you don't see that kind of information in these kind of test results.

The numbers fall into 3 broad categories:

  • Slowpokes - Internet Explorer 6, IE7 and Safari 3 are all over four seconds for perceived time.  If you are using one of these browsers, you really should consider upgrading.
  • Mid-Pack - Firefox 3.5, Internet Explorer 8, and Safari 4 are all between 2.5 and four seconds for perceived time.
  • Zoomers - Chrome 4, Chrome 5, and Firefox 3.6 are all below 2.5 seconds for perceived time.

The bottom line:  If you are using an older version of Internet Explorer or Safari, you can double or even triple(!) the perceived speed of the Internet by switching to Google Chrome or Firefox 3.6.  Why wait?

While these results are for broadband connections, there's no reason you shouldn't see noticeable improvements if you use a slower connection.

At StockCharts, we want to make sure that you have a great experience on our website.  We do lots of things here to make sure our charts get to you as quickly as possible.  Here is something - upgrading your browser - that you can do to help.  Let me know in the comments if you notice any improvements.

- Chip

Big Bandwidth Boost Coming Friday Afternoon

Bandwidth is defined as the amount of data that one can "push" through an Internet connection at the same time.  The commercials on TV for home service equate bandwidth with "speed" and, while that is somewhat true, in the case of a high performance web site like StockCharts.com, bandwidth is really all about capacity.

Over the years, our bandwidth has grown tremendously and each time it increased our customers benefited.  Initially, we had a 1.5 megabit T1 connection to the Internet.  We managed to fill that up pretty quickly.  So we added another (3.0 megabits), and then another (4.5 megabits) and then another (6.0 megabits).

At that point (2002) adding bandwidth by adding T1 circuits didn't really make sense.  So next we stepped up to a huge (at the time) T3 circuit - 45 megabits!  Over 7 times more capacity than we currently had.  We'd never run out of bandwidth again!  Right?

We added our second T3 (90 megabits) in 2004.  And our third (135 megabits) in 2006.  And our fourth (180 megabits) in 2008.  That's where things stand today.

Right now, on a busy day, we use about 160 megabits for serving our charts.  Since we never want to use up all of our bandwidth, we've been looking into adding even more bandwidth.  But, as with the T1s, adding yet another T3 doesn't seem to be the right solution.

Fortunately, there is now another option: Fiber Gigabit!  That's 1024 megabits in one connection.  That's over 5 times more capacity than we currently have!  We'll never run out of... bandwidth... again... oh, wait.

Well, even if (when?) history repeats itself, we'll be ready.  In the mean time, by moving to Fiber Gigabit, we will be enabling much more growth in the future and we are ensuring that you will always have full access to our charts without any delays.

We are going to be switching over to our new Fiber Gigabit connection on Friday afternoon after the market closes.  IN THEORY, the move will be invisible to you.  IN THEORY, our site will run uninterrupted throughout the process.  IN THEORY, no one will notice the change.  That said, I wouldn't be surprized if there was a short interruption in service just because I like to err on the side of caution.

I'll make another announcement once the change over is complete.  If we are offline for more than a couple of minutes tomorrow, we'll post messages up on our Status blog.


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