Category Archives: web

Website Hosting

So, if anyone has visited the site recently you likely noticed two things immediately. A distinct lack of posts and an ever changing roulette wheel of Content Management Systems (and if you dug a little deeper, an ever changing hosting provider as well). Why? Why would I do that?

I wanted to try a few different setups. I started out on Squarespace, moved to WordPress on Linode, and then moved from there to Ghost on Digital Ocean. Now I’m back on Squarespace. Between each jump I had to export and convert the posts of the blog. I also had to figure out themes, the look and feel of the site, setup an SSL cert (or not). I actually wrote blog posts about each jump, why I was moving from Squarespace to WordPress, why I was moving from WordPress to Ghost, now I’m writing about why I ended right back where I started. I mean that literally. I logged into Squarespace to fire up a two week trial and found my old site was just there, just inactive. I re-upped with Squarespace, manually copied over the pitiful 3 or 4 posts I’ve made in the few months since I moved to WordPress and was good to go.

Part of the reason I moved from Squarespace to WordPress was because this is a Systems Administration blog. It seemed (and in some ways still does) a little lame for me to not roll up my sleeves and ssh into my server and keep things running in tip top shape. But I do that all day every day at my 9 to 5 job. Do I really want to sign up to do that in my off hours as well? If I’m honest with myself, no……I really don’t. I like certain aspects of it, sure. But all in all, I get more than enough of that at work. After being on WordPress for a while I realized that all I got done with my “free” time is screw around with the underlying OS of the blog and tweaking bits of WordPress instead of actually writing for the blog. I also realized that at $10 a month, Linode is at the very high end of what a small site like this would cost to host. So between my $10 a month Linode instance, worrying about WordPress exploits, and in general feeling a bit “bleh” about the whole thing I moved to Ghost on Digital Ocean.

Ghost doesn’t use a traditional SQL database like WordPress. Without MySQL, I didn’t really need a VPS with 1 GB of RAM. The smallest Droplet at Digital Ocean would work fine (cutting the hosting cost by a whooping $5/mo or a much more impressive 50%). So I setup Nginx and Ghost (actually I used the Digital Ocean Ghost template) and configured it to host multiple separate instances of ghost. One for this site and one for my personal site. My thinking was the droplet costs the same no matter how I use it and both sites will be very low traffic so why not. The personal site never got a single piece of content written for it or posted. I spent an evening or two making it all work together and be happy with the free SSL cert from Let’s Encrypt. I got that setup and working and the only blog post I ever wrote was a brief post explaining that I moved the site to Digital Ocean and Ghost and to stay tuned for new awesome posts!

Eventually what I realized is that once you pay for a whole year of Squarespace at once to get the 10% discount and then apply another 10% off discount from your favorite podcast it’s less than the $10 a month for Linode (and my uber awesome oh-so-cheap DO Droplet….was saving me literally $2.50 a month). I decided it was time to just admit it. I love screwing around with servers just a little too much. I can’t help myself. I’d rather do that than write blog posts. Plus none of the themes and tweaks I did to either Ghost or WordPress made it look half as good as this theme from Squarespace. So why not use Squarespace for my blog? It’s cheap. It looks great. And on the occasion I get mentioned by someone with a few thousand twitter followers I don’t need to worry about my site crumbling under the load.

In addition to that stunning realization, I discovered something incredible.

Migrating content between different web sites really sucks. Like really. Yeah, import/export features get you 95% of the way there. But man, that last 5% is awful. If only there was a way to write and save blog content in plain text while keeping the formatting, etc intact. That’s right! There’s this thing called Markdown and I’m an idiot for not using it sooner! Actually I started using it back when I wrote that one post while on Ghost. But YES. Starting with this post, and all posts going forward, they will be saved as Markdown formatted files saved on my computer. Where they can be easily backed up and easily manipulated if I ever move away from Squarespace (not anytime soon).

So here I am, here I’m staying. Maybe once Google reindexes my site this post will save some other sysadmin from thinking “I wonder where I should host my blog? I know! I’ll spin up an instance of WordPress on a VPS!”. Trust me. It costs just as much to host on Squarespace once you factor in your time, if you are like me (not an artistic person) the site will look better for it, and on the chance someone famous links to your site you don’t need to worry about the server falling over.

Ghost

It’s been a while since I’ve posted last, but things have been changing behind the scenes at the site. Yep, yet another CMS and hosting provider change.

I’ll have a more indepth post later, but for the time being if you get a SSL certificate error, it’s because of moving the site and I haven’t got everything updated yet (Yay for working from guest wifi while your car is being worked on). 🙂

Installing Plex on a VPS

Plex is a great piece of software, if you’ve never heard it before think of it as an easy to use service that runs on a computer at home that streams just about any format of audio/video to a smart TV, Apple TV, Roku, or modern console. You can even easily configure it so that your iOS device can stream content from your media server across the Internet. Perfect!

However, maybe your home Internet upload speed is not very good. Or you have a data cap. Or you are trying to upload a massive amount of data to Amazon or Backblaze for backups and you don’t need to make that process even slower by using precious upload bandwidth for Plex. This site is hosted on a VPS instance with way more disk space than I need for a small blog, so I’ve plenty of disk space and bandwidth to stream my music from that instead of my from my home computer.

First of all, it’s as simple as downloading the .deb file from Plex’s site and following the simple install instructions to get the service installed. Really the one and only hiccup I ran into (and the reason I decided to write this blog post about it) is that once you’ve installed the service it is expecting you to configure it by visiting http://localhost:32400/web. However it’s a command line only Linux environment and Lynx doesn’t get the job done (I tried).

After much Googling, all I could find was references to using ssh to setup a tunnel and changing your browser’s proxy setting so that the Plex service thought you were accessing it from the local machine. That was, in my experience, a bunch of crap and never worked. Eventually I found a forum post that simply said to edit the Plex config file that restricted the initial setup to only happen from the local host. A quick trip to https://www.whatismyip.com and a quick edit in vi, and I was in business.

Here’s all you have to do:

  • Change into /var/lib/plexmediaserver/Library/Application Support/Plex Media Server/
  • Edit the Preferences.xml file
  • There should be two lines, the second line is very long. It starts with Preferences in brackets.
    • After that tag, add the following:
      • allowedNetworks=”your.ip.address.here/your.subnet.mask.here”
  • For example, you’d put allowedNetworks=”1.2.3.4/255.255.255.255″
  • Save the file, restart the Plex service, and POOF! You can now login and configure the server via http://server-ip-address:32400/web

After you configure the service, be sure you remove the “allowedNetworks” tag from the XML file and restart the service.

EXIFTOOL

We’re having a fun snow day today in my part of the world. We’re expected to get somewhere between 12″ and 24″ of snow. As I type this, we’re at around 8″ of snow and it hasn’t stopped pouring the snow since around 9 AM this morning.

Now you might be wondering, just what does this have to do with the blog? Well I wanted a way to post some snow pictures to a forum, and didn’t want to use Imgur or Droplr. So I created a directory within /var/www/html on the server, set proper permissions, and started uploading photos from the camera roll on my iPhone. However I didn’t want to post photos with GPS data embedded in them. A quick trip to Google revealed a command line tool that’s perfect for the job. I had no idea exiftool existed, but it does and it does its job well. A quick run of the tool and my photos were metadata free.

Exiftool can be downloaded from your disto’s package system, and the quick example I used on how to use it can be found at Linux Magazine

WordPress

So you may have noticed there has been a lack of posts recently. I promise I haven’t given up on the site, I’ve just had a lot going on lately so it seemed like a great time to shake things up and move web site hosts. You might be wondering why I would want to change hosts, especially when the site has only been around for a couple months, it really came down to a couple reasons.

First, for a technically oriented blog that’s specifically about being a Systems Administrator, it seemed like a cop out to have the site hosted at Squarspace and not a VPS like a good little sysadmin. As of today, the site is running on a 1024 tier VPS with Linode (here’s my Linode referral link). When I had previously tried WordPress, I couldn’t find a theme I liked. There were a few I tried that were OK, but nothing great. This theme (Simplified Blog) is lightweight, easy on the eyes, and features a responsive design that looks great on mobile devices. If something should happen that this theme doesn’t stay update with future revisions of WordPress, unlikely since so far the dev has done a good job of keeping it up to date, I can always revert back to the WordPress default 2016 theme. 2016 looks, to me, much better than previous years’ themes did.

Other reasons for the change are that there are lots of things that are intrinsically handy about having a linux based VPS. Need to share a file that’s too large to email? Need a central place to store/share scripts? Need a place to learn more about scripting languages (but need something more useful than a test VM but less critical than a production environment)? Want an excuse to learn CSS or Javascript? A VPS is a great place to do all of that.

At $10 a month, Linode is twice as expensive as a tiny VPS at Digital Ocean. But for the extra $5 a month, I get a few extra GBs of storage (nice to have, but not critical) and 1 GB of RAM vs 512 MB. WordPress runs on PHP and MySQL, both of which like their RAM. The extra performance that RAM grants is worth the extra money per month. Even though this site doesn’t have a lot of readers (yet), what Sys Admin can turn down extra RAM? 🙂

WordPress Permalinks

When setting up WordPress, by default the way it structures links isn’t pretty. Not pretty at all. I wanted to have links so that the URL would tell you what the article is about. For instance, the URL of this post is: http://www.thesysadminlife.com/wordpress-permalinks/. However, changing the permalink setting within the WordPress dashboard ends up with a lot of broken links. Everything I could find online simply said if you have WordPress and you change that setting in the dashboard, it takes care of everything for you. Except it didn’t. Or at least it didn’t for me.

Eventually I found that the problem was a setting within my apache config. Specifically this setting:

<Directory /var/www/>
    Options Indexes FollowSymLinks
    AllowOverride None
    Require all granted
</Directory>

 

Needed to be changed to:

<Directory /var/www/>
        Options Indexes FollowSymLinks
        AllowOverride All
        Require all granted
</Directory>

 

Change None to All

Once that was completed and Apache was restarted, everything worked beautifully.

One Drive Pricing

Microsoft recently announced changes to thier One Drive pricing.  They’ve done away with the unlimted tier completely, citing they had users actually using it as unlimited storage (to the tune of 75 TB for each top end user).  Obviously that is extreme, but still…..if you sell something as an unlimited thing shouldn’t it be unlimited?  Whatever you think about it, Microsoft’s answer was to remove the unlimted storage option completely.  Other changes to the paid tier include:

  • Removal of the 100 GB and 200 GB plans, to be replaced with a 50 GB plan for $1.99 a month
  • The free tier will decrease from 15 GB to 5 GB, and the bonus 15 GB storage for uploading camera photos will be discontinued

Office 365 subscribers will be able to keep thier current level of storage for 12 months while they find someplace else to put the data.

Something worth pointing with all of these changes, the much “hated” and much complained about iCloud storage prices are either the same price or cheaper in 2 of the 3 tiers!

  • 50 GB for $.99 / month vs 200 GB for $1.99 / month
  • 200 GB for $2.99 / month vs $3.99 / month
  • 1 TB for $9.99 /month vs  $6.99 /month (includes Office 365)

I’ve not been able to find out for certain, but I believe Microsoft hosts One Drive themselves (I would assume on Azure) vs building it on top of a competing product like AWS.  I wonder what Microsoft will do with all of this reclaimed storage?  Users have 12 months to get the data off, given the lifecycle of enterprise storage….it wouldn’t suprise me in the slightest to find out 12 months from now is the planned end of life for a lot of disk arrays.  By doing this now, Microsoft will save themselves from needing to purchase a ton of hardware in 2016.  Either that, or perhaps we’ll see a reduction in storage pricing on Azure as the extra capacity is folding into that system.  Which works out great, anytime Azure or AWS lowers pricing the other one usually follows suit.  Works out great for consumers!

Failing As A Service

Ars has put up an article detailing a recently released paper that used an EC2 instance on Amazon’s cloud to break 512 bit encryption in just a couple hours for a grand total of less than $100.  Technically speaking this isn’t surprising.  Moore’s Law (not really a law) is thing, pretty much everyone who knows anything about computers has heard it and knows the gist of it.  And 512 bit encryption has’t been a recommend best practice in a long LONG time.  It’s no surprise that the computing horsepower needed to break encryption from the 1990’s is easy and cheap to acquire.

However as the article points out there are still servers on the Internet that use 512 bit keys for encryption.  I’d hazard a guess that any server running 512 bit keys probably isn’t getting patched either.  In fact I bet it’s been a long time since they have been touched by an admin.  The Internet in general would be better off without those servers.  Maybe it’s time for the web browsers of the world to start throwing up the scary red title bars and warnings you get if you go to a site with an improper or invalid SSL cert?  It should be easy enough for the browser to detect if the encryption is weak and accordingly inform the user.  Hopefully these are not e-commerce servers of any sort and the only people who are affected by the eventual “issues” will be the people who aren’t maintaining them (or paying someone to maintain them on their behalf)

Site Logo

Anyone who recently visited the site likely noticed the big blue logo I had as the banner of the page.  That was a picture I took during a cruise in Alaska.  I’m quite proud of that picture, it is one of my favorites.  However, it always seemed out of place.  No matter what I did to it, it was always slow to load as well.

As a Squarespace customer, that gets me access to their logo builder.  I used it to create the logo you see now in less than 10 minutes.  It loads MUCH faster (75 kb vs almost 1 MB), and fits the design of the site….if I do say so myself.  I rather like it!   If anyone reading this uses Squarespace, be sure and check out the logo builder.