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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair

Regular blog here, 'microblog' there

Many of my traditional blog post live on this site, but a great majority of my social-style posts can be found on my much-busier microbloging site at updates.passthejoe.net. It's busier because my BlogPoster "microblogging" script generates short, Twitter-style posts from the Linux or Windows (or anywhere you can run Ruby with too many Gems) command line, uploads them to the web server and send them out on my Twitter and Mastodon feeds.

I used to post to this blog via scripts and Unix/Linux utilities (curl and Unison) that helped me mirror the files locally and on the server. Since this site recently moved hosts, none of that is set up. I'm just using SFTP and SSH to write posts and manage the site.

Disqus comments are not live just yet because I'm not sure about what I'm going to do for the domain on this site. I'll probably restore the old domain at first just to have some continuity, but for now I like using the "free" domain from this site's new host, NearlyFreeSpeech.net.

Sat, 13 Jul 2019

Shared hosting does take care of a lot for you

As I build my own server — and this would be the same for a cloud VPS or a local computer, there is a lot to set up and configure.

Shared hosts like NearlyFreeSpeech.net (which I will be using more soon) and Hostgator (which I've used for years and will probably be using less) take care of many things in a safe and secure way.

Setting up your own server is very much like reinventing the wheel. It's better if you like making wheels, have used a lot of wheels, fixed broken ones and rebuilt old ones.

Sometimes you want somebody else to fix your wheel. Other times you want to do it yourself. Both ways are OK.

Tue, 25 Jun 2019

Unison works between Ubuntu and NearlyFreeSpeech.net's FreeBSD, so blog migration is a go

As long as I've been using Unison, I've been running version 2.40 because that's the newest package I can get for CentOS 6, which is the Linux system that my current shared host runs.

The first thing you learn about using Unison to synchronize files on a server and a number of desktops, is that Unison likes to see the same version on both sides of the "transaction." If you have different versions of Unison, or even the same version compiled with a different version of Ocaml, it's probably not going to work.

I haven't even figured out how to sync from Windows to Linux with the same Unison version on both sides. It probably has something to do with Unix file permissions vs. Windows file permissions.

But from Linux to Linux, you need the same Unison, compiled with the same Ocaml, on both sides. Even in Fedora 30, the project doesn't package "newer" than Unison 2.40, so that's what I run locally.

See if you can wrap your head around this: Forward-thinking Fedora packages Unison 2.40, but Debian and Ubuntu have been packaging 2.48. And the current "stable" version of Unison is 2.51, which seemingly nobody packages anywhere.

But NearlyFreeSpeech.net offers Unison 2.51, which the admins likely built from ports for their FreeBSD infrastructure. Even OpenBSD offers Unison 2.51, and you can get it with a binary package.

Let me tl;dr this: I downloaded the source for Unison 2.51, untarred it in my Windows 10 WSL (which is running Ubuntu 16.04), used apt to install Ocaml, untarred the Unison sources and used make UISTYLE=text to compile it. Then I had to make a .prf configuration file for the new site (building off my old .prf) and play around until I got it right. It worked, and now that I can successfully use Unison to sync between the Ubuntu 16.04 WSL in Windows and NFSN's FreeBSD system, I am free to move my Ode sites over there.

Why do I use Unison? Ode's has an extension that allows the server to put its own timestamps on post files after they are uploaded, so if I only pushed one way, say using rsync, the local files wouldn't have the timestamps that are on the server versions. Unison checks in both directions for file changes and reconciles them. Git is another way to do this, and it's something I might explore in the future, though I'm more interested in syncing the two filesystems than I am in version control, and that's why I decided to use Unison in the first place.

I'm thinking of giving up on /blog: I originally set up this blog with a /blog subdirectory because I couldn't figure out how to make the /cgi-bin/ode.cgi part of the URL "disappear" via Apache's .htaccess any other way. Since then, I have figured out how to do that, and I might either dedicate http://stevenrosenberg.net to this blog, or more likely put it on a subdomain like blog.stevenrosenberg.net. That MIGHT mean breaking the Disqus comments, but I could probably save them. Even so, I've been thinking about giving up on outside-hosted comments and instead creating links to Reddit to allow for discussion of entries on this blog.

Changing the URL could break all the old links. I could set up redirects in the Apache configuration, or I could just let it go. Or I might keep the old URL along with /blog.

Mon, 06 May 2019

I can't host my sites on the 'free' tier of Google Cloud Platform unless I want to pay

I got pretty excited about the "free" tier of Google Cloud Platform and the idea of getting a free VM running Debian with which to do what I pleased.

I thought I might move all of my websites over there so I could enjoy the "free"-ness and learn more about running my own server and how to configure Apache and all of that.

But there's the fine print.

Google is giving these GCP services to anyone who wants them, but in the case of the free Debian VM, the big sticking point is the bandwidth limitation.

Google gives you 1 GB of "egress" per month. That means they don't charge you for "incoming" bandwidth, which is things like uploading to your VM, but you do have that 1 GB limit on "outgoing" data -- i.e. people, bots and others reading your web site.

I figured that maybe I could live with 1 GB/month. Not so much.

My personal sites (more this blog and much less my microblog) take up 5 to 20 GB per month, according to a check of my account with Hostgator, which could be charging me a little bit less but has otherwise been a rock-steady source of shared-hosting service.

And I'm hosting a client site that eats 20-30 GB per month.

So that's 25-50 GB per month total. That doesn't anywhere near fit in GCP's 1 GB bag.

For comparison's sake, Hostgator offers "unlimited" bandwidth, which I assume means that if you use a whole lot of bandwidth, they'll probably ask you for more money. That has never happened to me.

A "droplet" (aka VM) from Digital Ocean includes 1 TB of bandwidth per month. That's about 1,000 GB, in case you're not playing along at home.

A site from NearlyFreeSpeech.net, which meters you "as you go," and would probably cost me or less per month, gives a baseline of 10 GiB, which is slightly more than 10 GB (here is their expanation of GiB vs GB). And they say they really don't meter your site, so if you use more than 10 GiB (or 10 GB and change) per day, you are unlikely to get charged for it at all. For a month they'll give you 100 GiB a day (about 3 TB, which coincidentally you can get for the same price from Digital Ocean).

On Google Cloud Platform, it looks like if I used up to a terabyte a month, I'd pay 12 cents a gigabyte for delivery to areas other than China and Australia. So my 50 GB would cost about . If I used less, I'd pay less (and I'd pay more for more). If I used 100 GB a month, costs would double to . In the unlikely event that I used the full TB, I'd be in for . I could get that same bandwidth from Digital Ocean for . At my current "level," of traffic, GCP would be very competitive, but a spike could sting.

The cost to run 3 sites on NearlyFreeSpeech.net, according to their own estimates (2 sites using CGI or PHP and 100 MB of storage) is between .13 and .33 a month. I don't know why there is so much data in my current shared hosting account, but I'm using a lot of it, and my current hosting company seems a-ok about it. NFSN charges for storage, but if I factor in my increase in storage, I would still pay about a month. Not bad.

I'm paying more than this for HostGator, but not much more. HostGator is super stable. It uses CentOS 6, which is great in some ways and not so great in others. HostGator is STRONG in Ruby Gems, but not so strong in the Unix utilities like Unison (they don't have it, and it's hard to even find it in a "modern" build for CentOS 6).

NearlyFreeSpeech.net has way fewer Ruby Gems, but I really don't need them on my server, and for all I know I can install what I want. I love the idea of having built-in Hugo, Jekyll, Unison, etc. at NFSN. I could also install all of those things on a Digital Ocean (or any other) VM. It's possible but messy to do them in HostGator.

I have a sometimes complicated workflow in HostGator that works for me, but I could also replicate it elsewhere. Whatever happens, I do want to thank HostGator for years of great service.

Digital Ocean is a killer deal, but I'd be managing my own VM, and NearlyFreeSpeech.net is more limited, though there are a LOT of things you can do with all of the languages and utilities they offer out of the box.

The thing is, a VM is not automatically better or cheaper than shared hosting, as NFSN details in their FAQ. Having professionals handle all of the details involving security, server updates, system problems, etc., is really worth something.

One thing I do know is at the "level" I'm at, hosting with Google Cloud Platform could leave me with a nasty surprise when the bill comes due. I could say the same for AWS and Azure, though I'd have to do some more research to be sure. My "free" AWS account's year came and went some time ago. Azure gives 15 GB of outbound data on its free tier, which is 15 times better than 1 GB but still not enough to keep me from being charged.

Here are my takeaways

  • Digital Ocean is a great deal if you want a VM
  • NearlyFreeSpeech.net is a great deal if you want shared hosting and know what you're doing
  • HostGator (I'm a longtime customer) is a pretty good deal if you are happy with the service
  • The traditional cloud providers -- Google, Amazon, Microsoft -- are meant for huge users at real companies with massive needs and the money to fulfill them. If hit with a traffic spike, the small user will feel pain

Hobbyists, students of programming and small-business users are better served by shared hosting and Digital Ocean-style VM providers than they are by the big clouds.

What will I do?

  • My conclusion is that a combination of shared hosting and a VM is probably what I need

I'm still thinking about it. I like what Digital Ocean and NearlyFreeSpeech.net are doing. Yet in many ways, HostGator has treated me very well. But a shift to NearlyFreeSpeech.net will probably cut my bill by 50 percent.

Moving my sites and services from one host to another would be a lot of work. That's what companies are counting on. It's easier to stay where you are. But I'm probably ready to make a move.

Wed, 09 Jan 2019

I have a new domain

I have a new domain, and I'm wondering what to do with it. I'm thinking about using it on DigitalOcean.

Sun, 14 Jan 2018

How to get a free static website with SSL from Gitlab

How to get a free static website with SSL from Gitlab https://rolodato.com/2018/01/14/static-websites-for-hackers.html

You don't have to use Jekyll. Gitlab provides a list of a bunch of other static-site-generators it supports, including Middleman, Octopress (which is really just Jekyll with extras), Hexo, Metalsmith, Hugo, Pelican and Nikola.

Tue, 07 Nov 2017

Squarespace can be your online store and website

When Dan Benjamin mentioned that his Unwound watch podcast co-host Seth Roberts' website for his Hub City Vintage business is now running on Squarespace, a bell went off for me.

Not that there's anything wrong with Shopify, but it's nice to know that there's an alternative for the small (or maybe not-so-small) business to both have a website and offer fully integrated e-commerce for a reasonable monthly fee and without a lot of development cost and hassles.

Many say Shopify is a better choice, but if you want to keep it simple, Squarespace is a viable option.

Fri, 02 Aug 2013

Hostgator and this site were down today -- the problem is in Provo

Hostgator is usually plenty reliable. I don't remember the last bout with downtime.

But we had one today. All of my Hostgator-hosted sites were down for what seemed like an hour.

The sites -- including this one -- are back now.

Hostgator says a networking issue at its Provo data center is responsible for the outage. They are working on resolving the issue, according to the forum thread.

Mashable has a story about how the Provo problem is affecting Hostgator, Bluehost and HostMonster, which are all owned by parent company Endurance International Group.

While I've been pretty lucky in terms of the amount of downtime I've experienced from this outage, others in the Mashable thread report up to nine hours of downtime for their sites.

At least one commenter says that ever since Hostgator upgraded the hardware on his/her account, service has been spotty. My account's server has been upgraded, and all I've noticed until today have been performance improvements.

Here's hoping that Hostgator gets this together and we can all go back to not worrying about site availability.

Tue, 11 Jun 2013

HostGator moved me to a new server, and everything's working

HostGator emailed me recently about moving my shared-hosting account to a new server and a new version of the CentOS Linux distribution.

The move happened. Everything seems to be working. There were some changes in my DNS servers, but nothing broke. I had to change the URL I use to access my webmail over ssl.

I do have a new ssh key, which my FTP client prompted me to accept. And so I did.

Since everything is working, I haven't checked the DNS servers on my domains.

I give HostGator a whole lot of credit here because the only thing I had to change was my browser bookmark for accessing my secure webmail.

I don't remember which version of CentOS I was using before, but now it's 6.4. The version of Perl (5.8.8) didn't seem to change. PHP is up to 5.3.24. My OwnCloud test site works.

So I guess it was just the matter of retiring old hardware and bringing up new on the part of HostGator. They kept me informed, and all is well.

Wed, 13 Feb 2013

Get a VPS from InceptionHosting for 4 euros -- that's about $5.38 -- per month

I have no way of knowing how good or bad InceptionHosting is in terms of service, but the UK-headquartered company has somewhat of a presence in the U.S. and is offering VPSes -- virtual private servers -- running Linux for prices beginning at 4 euros per month. The latest exchange rate puts that at .38.

If you have a few extra bucks a month and want to mess around with a VPS, I sure haven't seen anything cheaper.

Tue, 06 Mar 2012

Hostgator is a solid shared-hosting performer -- and why you need a shared-hosting account of your very own

I've been with Hostgator for a few years now. I have a shared-hosting account that I use to run a few small web sites and experiment with anything for which I need access to an Apache web server.

The experience has been a good one. The service is extremely solid, the Cpanel interface helpful, and overall it's been easier to deploy services on Hostgator than on the other servers and shared-hosting services I've used.

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