Category Archives: Hosting

Easy ways to save bandwidth

After reading Jeff Atwood’s terrific post about saving bandwidth on web sites I’ve moved the Geekrant RSS feeds over to Feedburner, using Steve Smith’s mavellous WordPress Feedburner plugin, which works in WP 2.0x and 1.5x.

I also turned on HTTP compression, which in WordPress is as easy as clicking a checkbox. It not only saves you bandwidth, but users get your pages served quicker, since the bottleneck is bound to be their bandwidth, not their browser’s ability to decompress.

We’ll see how it goes. Bandwidth has been growing recently: January 2.8Gb; February 2.7Gb; March 3.4Gb. It’s not at ludicrous levels, but if it keeps climbing, I’ll end up paying more for the hosting. Hopefully this will help bring it back down.

Update 8:40pm. First thing I notice is that when reading the feed from within the Feedburner site, it doesn’t treat relative paths to images properly. I guess I’ll have to put absolute paths, ‘cos at the moment in the previous post it’s trying to load http://feeds.feedburner.com/files/2007/mediagate-mg35.jpg instead of http://www.geekrant.org/files/2007/mediagate-mg35.jpg. I wonder how it treats relative links?

Outages and response times

Cam ponders web hosting SLAs and wonders what’s reasonable. For his hosting, they guarantee 99.99% uptime, which works out to 52 minutes per year. (His outage was about 9 hours, or about ten years’ worth).

Bad stuff happens. We all know that. Even if it’s the most reliable setup ever. But there’s some major factors in determining what’s acceptable:

Frequency — If it’s happening too regularly, then there’s a reliability problem. They need better hardware, better software, whatever it is, needs to be fixed. Cam reckons it’s the second time in a few months.

Response — Obviously, you want a quick response, and a quick (and reliable) solution. There’s also sorts of monitoring tools out there these days. Typically anything like a full outage should be known about within minutes. A reputable web host will have substitute hardware ready to switch-on and go just as soon as that nice recent backup is restored.

Communications — Any third party like this has to keep the customer informed. There’s no excuse for not doing so. SMS alarms, emails, phone calls, whatever. (I wrote about alarms recently for my work blog.)

BTW, Cam’s also having troubles with his iPod… or more accurately, Apple’s 90 day warranty on replacement units.

I reckon he’s jinxed, myself.

Seeing a new server before re-delegation

One of the weaknesses of WordPress and most other web-configured applications is that unless you want to go SQL or config-file-wrangling, it’s pretty much only configurable via the web, at least for tweaking, importing posts, setting up most of the options. This is a problem when, for instance, you’re migrating an existing site onto WP, and it’s on a new server, as you can’t get to the wp-admin screens.

The way to do it is to hack your hosts file. Once the new server is running and WP is setup on it, find your hosts file and add an entry to the new server. On Windows, this is the c:\windows\system32\drivers\etc\hosts file.

Chuck in a line that says contains your new server’s IP address, and the hostname. Something like:

192.168.0.1 www.evision.com.au

(Whoopsie, real-world example with a fake IP. The new evision site is going live Real Soon Now.)

Save, then away you go. You can see the new site and tweak to your heart’s content, but nobody else will be able to see any of it until you re-delegate.

The catch? It probably won’t work from behind corporate networks, where your computer uses a proxy.

Hurricane Rita

I’ve been notified by my web ISP that Hurricane Rita is approaching Houston. Why does this matter? Because geekrant.org (and a number of other sites I run) are sitting on a server in a data centre in Houston. I’ve been encouraged to take backups of important content, which I’ll be doing. It’s a reminder that regular backups are an essential precaution.

If the site goes down in the next day or two, you’ll know why. Best wishes to those in the affected areas.

More from George

More goodness from George Skarbek’s column in The Age (19-Jul-2005).

A punter asks George about sending large files across the net. One suggestion is to set up a web host, and the reader is sent off to GoDaddy to find out about domain names and hosting fees, and even ponders if a web server should be set up on their own computer. Uhh, but these days but most ISPs provide a basic web hosting facility, good enough as a drop point for leaving big files… surely it’s better to look at this first? Not to mention the many online storage services, such as Yahoo Briefcase.

A question about whether one should turn on IE’s “Do not save encrypted pages to disk” option comes up with some gibberish about “static web pages and dynamic data”. Eh? The point of this option is explained in IE’s help: it avoids the browser saving the pages onto the hard disk where they might be snooped upon by other users on the same computer. Since an HTML page is plain text, and depending on the site used, user or session IDs or even passwords could be embedded in the HTML, in some environments it might be desirable to not save this in the cache.

(Don’t get me wrong; most of George’s answers are spot on. Just a few that haven’t quite lived up to expectations, and it’s been bugging me a bit…)

Pirates! Spammers! Gyroscopes! Bandwidth thieves!

This is officially getting ridiculous. Not only are my blogs getting a lot of comment spam, but my personal blog site is burning huge amounts of bandwidth, as particular (I assume zombie) hosts hit the site.

Below are the top ten bandwidth users of danielbowen.com for June:

Top 10 of 15312 Total Sites By KBytes
# Hits Files KBytes Visits Hostname
1 14380 4.10% 3801 1.77% 111235 2.22% 159 0.24% host-148-244-150-58.block.alestra.net.mx
2 17558 5.01% 3191 1.48% 99441 1.98% 157 0.24% host-207-248-240-119.block.alestra.net.mx
3 3927 1.12% 3640 1.69% 75989 1.51% 3 0.00% csr010.goo.ne.jp
4 3062 0.87% 2797 1.30% 74881 1.49% 171 0.26% rrcs-24-97-174-130.nys.biz.rr.com
5 3057 0.87% 2200 1.02% 62547 1.25% 392 0.60% msnbot.msn.com
6 2691 0.77% 2248 1.04% 60684 1.21% 153 0.23% 64.124.85.78.become.com
7 2256 0.64% 2082 0.97% 56383 1.12% 124 0.19% 98-101-196-200.linkexpress.com.br
8 2146 0.61% 2033 0.94% 51665 1.03% 279 0.43% dsl-250-198.monet.no
9 2001 0.57% 1755 0.82% 47605 0.95% 23 0.04% host133.sprintnetops.net
10 1686 0.48% 1571 0.73% 35979 0.72% 325 0.50% corporativos

It’s not like this site is hosting pr0n or something — there’s just no reason why any single host would need to grab 110Mb of traffic in a single month. In total traffic topped 4Gb for the month, which is ludicrous for a diary site with a few photos on it. 4Gb is actually my monthly limit — thankfully my web ISP isn’t too strict about charging extra for hitting that, but there’s always the risk if this is consistent that it’ll be costing me real money.

As a result I’ve started a list of bandwidth hogs’ IP addresses, which I’m putting in the .htaccess file. Anything with lots of hits and grabbing above about 5Mb per month is going onto the list, and the list is being duplicated (manually unfortunately) across to the other WordPress sites that I run.

Inspection of the access_log is particularly enlightening, with at present a staggering number of requests coming in with a referer at poker-related sites. Of the 6665 hits in the file for today (covering about 13 hours) there are 674 from texasholdemcenteral.com (note the wonky spelling) and 1212 from sportscribe.com. All of these too are now being blocked with a 403 (forbidden) via .htaccess.

Sigh. I suppose it’s just too much to expect people to place nice?

.htaccess extract – Feel free to copy for your own site to block miscreants.
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Green sites, dead pixels and Remote Desktop

Keep your web site green by hosting it in an environmentally sustainable data centre.

Unstick your dead pixels by flashing rapid colour changes through them. 60% success rate, apparently. What have you got to lose?

These guys claim to have got round the limitation of Windows XP Remote Desktop of only one user at a time, by replacing one of the Terminal Server DLLs with that from an older build of SP2.

Ad blocking begins to have an economic effect

So I was checking out copper (as you do), and followed the wikipedia copper entry link to EnvironmentalChemistry.com’s copper data, and I discovered that ad blockers are beginning to change the economics of the web. The web site whinged that they had detected ad blocking, and if I wanted to get the content I’d have to turn it off (and provided directions – which I followed, but it just turned out to be a bunch of atomic numbers and covalent bonds and useless crap like that).

The economics of a lot of the web are not dissimilar to those of free-to-air television; there’s a covenant between the producers (broadcasters/webauthors) and the consumers – we will let this stuff out to anyone, and you will consume our advertising. Advertisers give the producers cash to cover the costs of publishing. There’s a profit in it, and everyone’s happy.

Except that consumers have decided they don’t like the deal anymore. People are taping TV shows, and skipping the ads. People are using ad blockers in their browsers. The economics of the model are breaking down. I personally am behaving this way because I find the advertising increasingly intrusive and irrelevant, and thus annoying. The ads suck, for products that suck, and they’re shoved down my throat. So I avoid them. This is how a character in Carl Sagan’s novel Contact became the richest man on earth – by selling TV ad blockers.

The three outcomes I can forecast from this are:

  1. increased relevance of advertising (unlikely, the reason advertising is necessary is because of an inherent suckiness of the products, otherwise they’d be compelling)

  2. decreased expenditure on content provision (on TV, cheaper nastier shows – if that’s possible; on the web, uneconomic sites being pulled or at least not updated)
  3. product placement, which is a bit like 1, ‘cept different because it’s more about appropriate products in appropriate places

I for one have no idea how this will play out, but I’m sure advertising will get more subtle. It’s done that over the last century, and will continue to in response to increasing consumer sophistication. Perhaps advertisers will find a way to back off, and only offer their products to customers who want them; they certainly want to act that way, because it’s a waste of money advertising women’s sanitary napkins to the gay male viewers of Friends — unless they’re planning to fix their car’s leaky roof with one.

BTW, how did they figure out I was blocking their ads?

Any GeoCities users

For anybody who dabbles in GeoCities, they’re doing a little cleanup which means rarely accessed or updated sites may get the flick:

“We noticed that you haven’t updated your web site in a while. If you wish to keep your web site, we encourage you to update it within the next 30 days so that it will not be deleted due to inactivity. If your web site is deleted, visitors will no longer be able to access your web site and all files will be permanently deleted.”

I took a look at my site (which has bugger all on it) and got this warning:

Geocities Inactive warning

If you’ve got a site you occasionally glance at, now would be a good time to tinker a bit. And grab a copy of whatever’s on it, if you don’t already have it.

Okay, we’re running

Obviously in a geek blog, you should blog about how the blog got setup.

Domain name. Geekrant.com and .net were already taken, but .org was free. I registered it with Gandi. They’re a French company, have been around for a while. I think I first encountered them some years ago in a list of domain registrars. At the time they were up near the top of the recommended registrars not only for being reasonably cheap and reliable, but also for having a domain registration policy that precluded all sorts of the kind of legal mumbo jumbo that some other registrars had at the time, which theoretically gave you rather less than complete control over your domain. Whatever the reason I originally went with them, they’ve been good over the years, and provide useful stuff like free domain and e-mail forwarding. At 12 Euros a year, perhaps not the cheapest around, but reliable and quick. Quicker than I thought, actually. I assume Those In Charge have improved the speed of new domain propagation over the last few years, because everything seemed to be done after a couple of hours.

Hosting. The hosting is at Aussie Hosts, a mob in Brisbane who specialise in shared hosting on Linux, and using the Plesk7 web site control software, which is frikkin’ marvellous. I’ve never come across a web control panel quite so useful and user-friendly. It does everything, and is light-years ahead of most of the other very clunky web control panels I’ve seen.

Software. Installing WordPress is dead easy. Upload the files into the http directory, create the MySql directory and its user in Plesk, then run WordPress’s install script. That’s it. It creates all the tables, creates the initial user, and away you go. Then I logged-on to WordPress and created the users, set the various options like comment spam parameters, and structure of permalinks. For the latter it tells you what your .htaccess needs to look like. You just paste it into the file and you’re done. (Admittedly it shat itself the first time I tried it. I wiped it out, and tried it again a bit later. Not sure what was different the second time, but it worked.)

Template. For WordPress’s templates, you basically need to edit: index.php (the main page), wp-layout.css (the stylesheet), and wp-comments.php (the comments section, which for some reason WP’s default installation has quirks like the caption for the comment fields appearing after the fields themselves. Wacky). I’m not entirely a master of CSS yet, so I just fiddled with the fonts and colours, and fiddled a bit with the links and so on. I’ve messed the template up slightly — right now the XHTML validation gets a thumbs-down. Will fix that when I get the chance to look at it.

We started creating a (perhaps over-ambitious) hierarchy of categories for articles to fall into. Hmm. Probably should have just copied out of DMOZ or Yahoo or something. (Just the hierarchy that is. If you look around, it’s incredible the number of directory sites that have swiped content completely from Yahoo.)

Also created a basic logo in my trusty old copy of Corel Photopaint, added in a Google advert to try and recoup some of the hosting and domain name costs, and that’s about it for now. Further fiddling can (and no doubt will) come later.