Month: March 2021

Technical Difficulties: Unnecessary Details

I wrote briefly yesterday about the broken commenting here and mentioned in passing that I had made some hasty decisions when moving the domain data. This post is going into unnecessary detail about what those choices were, and a plan to get things working again.

But first: why I moved web hosts.

The Straw

I really didn’t want to move web hosts at all. I’ve hosted my domain with the same company since the middle of 1999, long before I had even thought of leaving Oracle let alone moving to the States. Their web hosting service was very good: not the cheapest, but apart from some glitches early on they were helpful and responsive, with features to their service that allowed me to do all the things I wanted on a public web host.

The thing they did badly was email.

We’d had a few issues over the years with email sent to the domain being bounced. There would be a short period (usually 24-36 hours) where a sender would have emails returned because the message had been routed through a relay with a higher-than-acceptable rate of spam transmission. We would find out about it when some kind soul would try to reach us by other means.

The intent to not promote spam-supporting relays is very noble, but the response from the support was that the sender should send their email through a different relay.

That was an unacceptable answer in 2000 when most email users were tech savvy enough to be using email, but now? How many people have any control over the routing or delivery of their email? Why should anyone even care?

Then towards the end of last year we had two significant breakages in email. First we couldn’t send anything for two days, then a few weeks later the whole email system fell over for three days.

Three days.

In the end we didn’t appear to lose any email, but that – along with the blasé lack of communication about these outages – was the final straw: I started looking for a replacement web host.

The deadline was the end of February.

Hosts of Reasons

Choosing a web host is a lot like choosing a phone provider: every company has different features and different pricing models, but it is possibly to normalise the variant scales into something comparable.

The biggest difference between web hosts and phone companies is that there are only a dozen or so phone companies to look at. Web hosts are legion.

I figured out the features I needed and started tabulating based on a superficial Google search. I needed:

  • Perl CGI support
  • WordPress w MySQL
  • multiple domain hosting (more on this later)
  • storage minimum
  • email support

The last two were quickly relegated to mere sanity checks, because every host had offerings at their lowest plan tier that dwarfed my needs. Hosting multiple domains is also a very common feature; it’s not usually present in the cheapest offering, but you don’t have to get the gold-plated option either.

The main division seemed to be between Unix and Windows shops: I saw Microsoft-based hosts that provided scripting support, but I have no wish to give Microsoft money even by proxy so those were eliminated from consideration.

In the end I found three hosts who looked most promising at comparable prices and I asked their tech support teams some questions to gauge responsiveness and so on.

In the end, I settled on a host and bought a hosting plan.

Then all I had to do was transfer the data.

The Migration Plan

Twenty two years is a long time. Many things can happen to a web site in twenty two years.

All of the static content on my website lives on my laptop. I have deployment scripts that copy files from the ground up to the public server using rsync, which makes it pretty efficient.

The things I was worried about were the Mornington Crescent servers, this blog, and email handling.

I resolved to do a staged migration:

  1. stand up the website on the new host with another domain I own.
  2. test web site setup and email delivery
  3. migrate current data snapshots
  4. fix layout issues
  5. cut across hosting of dunx.org, overlaying the HTML document root
  6. setup new email addresses

Things worked as expected on the stand-in domain, and I was finding the setup I needed. Then we had that ice storm and I was unable to do anything much with the website stuff for a week.

When our Internet was restored, I had only a few days to finish the migration and cancel service before drifting into the new billing period.

But it all went fairly smoothly, in the end. There were some weird behaviours early on when things were still in the process of propagating. The hardest thing was getting the blog to work.

The Mending

… which of course is where we came in, because the blog does not, in fact, work.

The broken commenting seems to be an artifact of how I switched domains across. The WordPress installation seems to have a baked in reference to the domain I installed it on originally, even though I moved its home directory to the new dunx.org location. I know this because if I go to the blog via the other domain then I can leave comments.

The most likely plan to fix this is:

  1. split the document root so dunx.org has its own directory, then move the dunx.org content from its current shared location into the new document root.
  2. reinstall WordPress on dunx.org.
  3. import blog into new location

I’ve been verifying installing WordPress on distinct domains and want to test blog import in the new instance. I will be separating dunx.org from its neighbour next.

It should be fixed in a couple of days. I only hope I don’t have to delete the dunx.org domain and recreate it un-mirrored, but if I do then I am sure it won’t take all that long to setup the email addresses again.

The Aftermath

One lasting consequence of going through this process is that I see endless adverts for one of the providers I looked at but decided against (they use Microsoft tools for email management so I was never going to use them).

Anyway. Hopefully that will die down eventually. Maybe I should go and look at boats so I get more variety in my spamvertising.

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Technical Difficulties

Thank you to the friends who gently told me that commenting on the blog doesn’t work at the moment. It turns out that installing WordPress in one domain and then picking it up and dropping it somewhere else makes it not work properly.

As is so often the case with these things, I thought I was saving time.

I’m going to blame the snow a little bit. We had to be off the old host by the end of February, and I lost a week of transition time. I might have made better decisions on this front with a less compressed timeline.

Anyway, excuses aside, I’m investigating how to fix the problem. Thank you for your patience, and here is a cute sleeping rat picture in the meantime.

a sleeping rat almost obscures his snooze buddy
Angel uses Axel as a pillow, while Axel uses Angel as a blanket.

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Frozen Out

I grew up in Yorkshire in the North of England. Winter was cold, and snow was no stranger. We used to get at least a couple of good six inch snowfalls every year, and life would mostly carry on. The town I grew up in was small enough that we just walked most places we needed to get to, and if we had to use the car then we knew the roads would be salted so the snow would be navigable. The only reason school would be cancelled would be if the boiler stopped working.

Portland… Portland isn’t like that.

Winters here are pretty mild. It might hover around freezing for a couple of days, but weeks of freezing temperatures is not something you see here usually. Usually.

Portland is on the Columbia River, though, which means that if the weather systems line up right we can get Arctic air channeled down the Gorge from Canada. We are also close to the Pacific which brings the potential for rain. So we can get several inches of snow quite quickly, but much worse than the snow is the ice. This is the hidden secret of why Portland can’t handle freezing weather: it’s actually the sheets of ice covering everything that make it impossible to get anywhere.

We had one of these freezing weather systems run into us three weeks ago. We hunkered down as the cold air and the snow moved in, checking our supplies just in case. There was word of power outages elsewhere but we had juice all weekend. I even went for a run in the snow on Sunday morning, belligerent perversity powering me through the icy conditions. In fact, on that run the thin sheen of ice that coated everything helped stabilise what would otherwise have been very powdery snow.

Things went wrong for us on Sunday evening. We were finishing dinner and we saw a yellow flash and heard a bang. The lights went out. Moments later, they gave a glimmer more of illumination before there was a blue flash and an even louder bang.

Darkness reigned.

We were, in fact, lucky: we were only out of power for twenty four hours, and we had camping equipment we could use to cook. We weren’t looking forward to another cold night, but the lights came on just as it was starting to get properly dark.

Our Internet didn’t come back though, and mobile phone service was out too.

Normally this wouldn’t faze us. I would have caught a bus to the office, or at least walked to a place where I could catch a bus (our neighbourhood is hilly; busses often get rerouted when its icy); the boys would have gone to school. Even if we couldn’t have travelled we might have been able to go to a coffee shop to use their Internet, or even find a friend we could stay with.

But these are not normal times. We isolate ourselves and shy away from contact; we don’t dare visit each others’ homes except in very restricted and carefully arranged circumstances. Indeed, the very idea of going into the office is frightening to me at the moment.

Having taken Monday as a snow day, I ended up needing one more day off to let the snow clear enough to drive in. On Wednesday Jen gave me a lift to down town and I had the rare opportunity to do work again. I wasn’t the only one who’d come in to use the Internet; it was actually quite novel to have another human to talk to.

Our Internet came back on after lunch on Saturday, almost six days after we initially lost power.

This incident has caused us to reflect on how much we rely on these accoutrements of modern life. As I say, if we hadn’t already been in a remote working and learning situation things might have been less disrupted, but knowing that so many of our daily activities, such a large part of our lives, is entirely up-ended by losing access to electrons and bits is quite humbling. It’s certainly made me more fond of physical media.

We’re more or less back to normal now. The last breakage for us was the landline, which worked flawlessly while we were without Internet but was disconnected when the Internat came back, and that was repaired a couple of days ago. I lost time on tasks with deadlines (particularly the domain move), Jen couldn’t work at all for a week, and the boys lost a week of school, but these are pretty small in the scheme of things. We’re all caught up now, anyway.

I hope you stayed warm in the recent freezes, especially in Oregon and Texas. Be kind to each other in the snow.

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Welcome to My New Home

This post is by way of reintroduction and rededication to the idea of this blog. It’s been a while.

Welcome, then, to Identity Function. I’m Dunx. I write things. In fact, I write a lot of things. I was described by a colleague once as having hypergraphia because I wrote so much stuff down, and so I thought that was an appropriate element to celebrate here.

I’m choosing to revive this place because I recently moved web hosts, which meant copying the WordPress gubbins. This reminded me that I had a blog and that I used to enjoy writing here.

Although I haven’t posted regularly in some time, I am still writing. The hypergraphia is very much in action, it’s just been a bit more private than it used to be.

My intention is to post at least once a week, usually on Tuesday. There might be a couple of bonus posts in the near future as I catch up on things, but I really want to talk more about the stories I write and my progress in getting these things out in the world.

So, if you are interested in science fiction and code, games and the business of playing at human, then please stick around. I hope you will be at least amused.

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