Archive for category Website

The only constant is change

I had been running this site off a Linux server in my basement for the last 7 years or so. At the time, I got the fastest connection available: 768k DSL. I later upgraded to 1.5Mb DSL. Now life has different priorities. I spend much of my free time with my family, and I no longer had time to maintain the machine or the OS. I have moved the server to a hosted space, disconnected the DSL and turned off the server after all this time. I can safely say that my basement is now devoid of the whine of fan motors. We also have a much speedier 16 Mb connection thanks to Comcast. Qwest had sent us advertisements over and over again saying that Fiber was coming to our neighborhood (with 20Mb service), and even went as far as to put flyers on the doors of the whole neighborhood saying that it was available. Calls into Qwest proved fruitless in that regard. Their loss.

For the curious, the previous site was run a dual processor Pentium III 450 that I inherited from a previous job on Gentoo Linux. I only had one crash the whole time it was up, and that was because of unexpected power loss and damage to the motherboard. I’d recommend a UPS for any computer without a built in battery.

The site goes on. Whee.

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Weather Station more stable…

The weather station software stopped working a couple of times in the past 24 hours, so I tried another Serial to USB converter I had available. I’m pretty sure the converter that shipped with the La Crosse WS-2316 was the culprit because I could get things working by stopping the software, removing the USB device, reinsert it, and reenabling the software. The symptoms seem likely to be a driver issue with the original adapter. I guess I’ll know if that is true after this new adapter runs for a while.

I wonder if the protocol for the WS-2316 is published anywhere… It would be interesting to see what it provides and perhaps create some different software to process the data. After a bit of searching, it appears there is a little information on the protocol here and here. Maybe if I can find some free time, I’ll try to put together an application to get the data from the unit. I’m using the WUHU software right now, and it works ok, but I’d like to optimize the data I collect for what I am interested in.


Weather Station activated…

Yesterday was another adventure with the aluminum extension ladder. Normally, it comes out when I need to clean the gutters, put up the Christmas lights, and remove the lights again. Occasionally, I use it to retrieve a stuck rocket, ball or airplane that somehow “accidentally” gets launched up on the roof. Yesterday was an all together different beast. This year, I got a weather station as a gift. Installing the rain gauge and sending unit was a piece of cake. The anemometer, and wind vane was a little more work. The manual suggested that it should be located three to four feet above the peak of the roof. It came with a 30 foot cord to connect to the sending unit, which made the whole configuration a little tricky. I decided the best thing to do was mount it on a mast on the chimney. This is where the adventure begins. I found the parts I needed on the Radio Shack website: the mast, and a mounting kit. The mounting kit comes with two stainless steel straps. Or should I say eighteen foot razor blades. Those things are sharp. I ended up working with gloves on to get them in place. The straps also have a lot of memory, which makes some things easier and some things more difficult. The difficult part is that our chimney is on one side of the house, so wrapping the straps around it involves spanning the area that you can’t stand next to. My wife is uncomfortable with heights, so I ended up having to do most of it by myself. The ratchets were not the best. The metal they are made of it quite soft, which makes them a little hard to get tight. Creative use of duct tape to hold the strapping in place temporarily, and a few choice swear words later, and the mast is mounted on our roof.

I’ve been having a problem with the USB->Serial adapter that came with the unit, as it seems stop responding occasionally, and I have to reboot the host computer. I’m guessing the Vista driver isn’t all that great. When it is working, you can see what the data looks like here. I added a Weather Underground widget on the right that displays information from it. If I can’t get the USB->Serial connection working consistently, I may have to make a host computer out of a machine with a dedicated serial port. It sounds like I could make the host machine Linux based too. That’s an adventure for another day.

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Upgrading the Gallery with Gentoo

I recently upgraded the gallery installation we have on our server using the gentoo webapp-config package. All in all, it was relatively painless. There were a couple of pain points, which I would have been easier if I had understood them better. First, upgrading from gallery 1.5X to 2.X involved importing the entire set of images in the gallery. All 7000+ of them. This meant that the drive that houses the images had two copies of them. Unfortunately, the images occupy about 49% of the drive. By the time I was done with the import, the drive was at near capacity.

The second issue was the thumbnails and alternative sized images. The importing process has the option of creating them at import time. I opted not to do that. Instead, I had to do it through the administrator page, through one of the maintenance tools. It took over 18 hours for it to complete.

Lisa uses Gallery Remote to upload images to the server. I have noticed that it doesn’t cause the gallery to generate the thumbnails or middle sized images either.

It seems there isn’t feature parity between Gallery 1.5x and Gallery 2.x, either. For example, in the old gallery, we had a link at the top of the main page that showed the most recent additions to the gallery. I haven’t found a way to do that with the new installation. The new installation is so much faster than the previous installation that it is worth the loss of the features in my mind.

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The Great Reconstruction

The webserver that hosted this site was also recently hosting (albeit temporarily) the Lupper worm. That has been rectified, but it wasn’t simple. There was an installation of awstats on the old server setup that I had mostly forgotten about. While I believe the firewall I had setup on the box prevented any of the backdoors the worm opened from being useful, I couldn’t be certain. I decided to rebuild the box. I chose to use a new gentoo install. After some initial pains with booting the LiveCD (because my CD-ROM doesn’t support DMA), I was off to the races. Slowly. I started on Wednesday of last week, and just managed to turn on the blog again last night.

During the process, I managed to lose all the content to the blog. Luck was on my side, and I managed to recovery it. WordPress uses MySQL as its backend database. Before I wiped the main drive of the server, I had exported the contents of the database and stored them on a separate drive. After getting gentoo up and running, I “emerge”d apache, MySQL, WordPress and other stuff I needed. (The virtual hosting in gentoo is well done, btw.)

I was in the process of restoring my database and made a one character error. Instead of using “< " to redirect the text file to the mysql command I used ">“ and redirected the output of the mysql command over my text file. One slip of the finger and two years worth of postings were gone. Ouch. I wasn’t pleased.

I managed to figure out that I could dump the unused blocks on the drive using debugfs. I let that go for a while and ended up with an 800MB+ file. A few greps later, and I confirmed my hope: the data was still on the drive. A little more investigation and I found the data was relatively contiguous in the dump file, AND because I hadn’t compressed the mysql dump, I could actually piece it back together. I threw together a couple of C programs. The first chopped out the stuff before my data and the second chopped out the stuff after my data. I ended up with a few megabytes of mostly text data that needed to be cleaned up, and as you can see, it worked.

What have I learned?:

  1. Understand your system
  2. Keep up to date on releases if you are going to have a public website
  3. Make sure backup files are read-only
  4. Don’t make major changes to your setup while tired, or if you do, triple check before hitting “return”

I’m confident managing this system will be much easier now that I am using gentoo. The old server had been running RedHat 8 with lots of stuff hand upgraded by me. Now it is running a 2.6.x kernel, and a sane packaging management solution. Kudos to gentoo. Hooray for being able to go to bed at a sane time again.

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Creeps Everywhere

I had to remove some of the pictures from the gallery because some mal-adjusted asshole posted links to a few of Morgan’s pictures on a little-boy fetish website. This is quite disturbing to both myself and Lisa. If this continues, I’ll be forced to password protect all of our images.

I’m not a violent person by nature, but the notion of someone using Morgan’s pictures that way makes me want to be.

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Updated to WordPress 1.5

I had to do it. No really, I had to. I had 350 spam postings today. All went in the moderation queue, so none of them appeared on the site. I couldn’t take it anymore. In the last week, I’ve deleted well over 1000 spam postings. It is a huge waste of my time, and my inbox gets filled with notifications of this stuff. Hopefully the blacklisting features in 1.5 will make a dent in the whole thing. I certainly hope so.

Work and home are keeping me very busy — I’ve been wanting to do this upgrade for a couple of weeks, but I haven’t had the time. I hope to find more time to post soon.

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404s on the gallery page

Someone is having difficulty seeing the gallery. I am getting a lot of 404’s in the weblog that don’t make a whole lot of sense. It looks like a browser may be interpreting the stylesheet incorrectly, but there might be some other problems as well. I haven’t had time to dig into which browser is generating the 404’s, so if you are having problems with missing images, let me know what browser and version you are running. Thanks!

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Halloween Is Nearly Here…

Halloween, or as everyone seems to be referring to it now, Harvest Party time, is nearly here. My father carved a pumpkin for Morgan.
Morgan's Pumpkin from my father

Lisa has been busy uploading the pictures we took of the pumpkin, and Morgan’s costume as well.
Morgan is ready for battle
If you are curious, you can see the whole gallery here.

I was quite astonished when I backed up the gallery images the other day. We are pushing 10GB of images within the gallery. I believe this is due primarily to the purchase of the digital camera. There is no cost to taking pictures, unlike 35mm film. As a result, we take a lot of them. Some of them we actually print out. Some of them we get developed at Costco. It all depends on how many we want. We are in the midst of a digital transformation in terms of imaging. Pretty nifty eh?


WordPress Initial Impressions

I have been mucking around a bit more with WordPress. I am evaluating it because Moveable Type’s pricing makes it prohibitive for me to upgrade. I have been getting regular spam type messages here, and Moveable Type’s default interface for comment elimination isn’t great.

All in all, I have found WordPress pretty easy to use. It was really painless to import all the MT entries.

I am becoming more familiar with CSS, which seems to help too. I had a couple of difficulties regarding the install.

  1. The install.php file came up blank initially. I solved this via some hints in the WP forums.
  2. All comments were initially being moderated. I solved this by removing a blank line in the words to filter. I guess everything matches a blank line. 🙂

I haven’t figured out an easy way to map the RSS feeds to the same URLs they were before, so I’m not going to bother. I’m hoping self discovery solves the problems. Now I just need to learn a bit of php, and I should be good to go! 🙂

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