flwyd: (daemon tux hexley)
Shadow Boxing Day is February 3rd; the day after Groundhog Day. It's a holiday dedicated to getting shit done that you've been putting off for a while.

Although Shadow Boxing Day was also Super Bowl Sunday this year, I don't have TV reception at my house, so I had the whole day to spend setting up a virtual private server with not one but two hosting companies.

For the non-sysadmins out there, a virtual private server is a way to run an operating system so that it looks like you're the only one using the computer, but actually there are several other OSes on that particular piece of hardware. When you're running a data center and selling access, this is both cheaper and simpler for maintenance than maintaining a 1:1 OS to machine correspondence.

My personal domain and several for members of my family have been hosted on a server owned by a friend of mine for several years. It's been nice and reliable (1636 days uptime), but it's old enough that the software upgrade repository has gone away. /proc/cpuinfo also informs me that it's a Pentium III, the name of which brings back memories of gamers and IRC and AIM and other things from my late college years.

So I did some research on VPS packages. It looked like DreamHost had the best deal for what I needed because they included "unlimited" disk space while other offerings scale disk with other resources I don't need as much of. After reading lots of FAQ material, I created an account and started setting up the server when I discovered that DreamHost's account management is kind of painful. First, for FTP reasons I think, every account on your server must have a globally (within DreamHost) unique user ID. tstone was, of course, taken, and while I was able to get flwyd, I wasn't relishing the thought of having to remember to type a username every time I sshed in. More annoying, though, was that their account creation tool seems to require that users with sudo access and users with a website must be disjoint sets. While this makes sense if you're playing sysadmin for fun, it turns out to be really painful if you need to switch accounts every time you need to install a Ruby gem or edit an HTTP config file.

Since I was being über productive on Shadow Boxing Day, I went through the whole signup and VPS setup process again, this time with Linode. This time, I got what I was expecting: a default Linux install where I have to apt-get install and configure everything myself. And to maximize the velocity, though not with optimal direction, I did it all a third time after getting things into a weird state on initial try.

Conclusion: If you want to host a whole bunch of WordPress and phpBB sites on your own server and give your friends and family self-service options for their sites (and they can remember whatever strange user ID they end up with), DreamHost is a great VPS choice. It's also a good choice if you don't need a private server for your small site. However, if you want a Linux blank slate, DreamHost is likely to prove frustrating. They've got a 14-day free trial, so I think I'll poke around a bit more and see if I can come up with a less maddening sysadmin scheme.

Supportive Puns

Sunday, August 17th, 2008 09:16 pm
flwyd: (fun characters)
Two puns from the night before Dragonfest:

Boobuntu, the Linux distribution for people who need support.

Wow, a terrabyte! You could take a big chunk out of the Earth! Om nom nom nom...

Active Listening

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007 05:52 pm
flwyd: (bad decision dinosaur)
I've had the same cheap pair of earbud headphones at work for almost four years. Every day I bring 8 CDs to work and can often gauge my productivity (or at least the level of external distractions) by how many I listen to through the course of the day. As I'm lost in thought or plowing through code, I often chew on the wire leading to the right earbud.

Today, all that chewing has crossed a threshold. When I started listening to music, only the left channel came through. I found that I could usually jostle the wires a bit to get the right channel to come in, but if I left the wire hanging, my arms would soon bump it and the right would cut out again. But if I put the right wire in my mouth, when it cut out I could usually fiddle with it between my tongue and teeth to bring the music back. So the likely original source of the problem is also the easy solution to the problem!

On a related note, does anyone know how to set the balance of audio output using ALSA? GNOME doesn't seem to provide a setup view to do it and the ALSA command-line and ncurses interfaces don't seem to give me the ability to balance all the way to the left.
flwyd: (mail.app)
Background: My company's email server runs MS Exchange. They won't turn on IMAP support, so the ways to access one's email are MS Outlook, Webmail, and programs written to read the (undocumented?) webmail format. As far as I can tell, Evolution is the only mail user agent which runs on Linux and can access (through a plugin) MS Exchange. Evolution's theme animal is the primate: its old logo had a monkey, it was originally called Ximian Evolution, some of its background processes are named bonobo, and so forth. Though not my favorite mail user interface, Evolution works reasonably well. The evolution-exchange plugin, on the other hand, has gone through several revisions of bugginess. A year or two ago it had a tendency to crash Evolution at random, but these days the main bug is the moderately annoying habit of re-downloading mail I've already seen when I launch Evolution. I've got to give the developers credit for creating something that's at least usable given the unsupported environment in which they're working, but all things being equal I'd rather not have this setup for my mail.

This morning, I came in a little after 8:30 and stepped through my new mail. One item in my inbox was spam, so I hit the Junk button in Evolution and moved on. A few hours later, I got an instant message that a coworker had sent me an email with a stack trace. I heard my "new mail" beep, but the message didn't show up in my inbox. I asked him to resend and the same thing happened. I looked at my inbox via webmail and saw the messages, but Evolution still had no clue, even after a restart.

After a morning of not getting email, I dug around in the files Evolution stores. I could see my new mail in the file on disk, but I couldn't see it in the application. I deleted the index, the metadata file, the summary. No help. Since Evolution was clearly copying data from Exchange to files on disk, I started investigating other clients I could use to read and send mail, planning to leave Evolution as a mail delivery agent. While Sylpheed and its offspring Claws looked promising, they seem to require the internal use the MH storage format and I didn't want to add an MBox to MH step to an already somewhat fragile mail setup. I installed Thunderbird and started setup for a mailspool account. But then the Thunderbird GUI seemed to hang while loading my spool (which only contains 147 cron messages), so I figured I'd give Evolution one more try.

I looked back in my Inbox mbox file and noticed that the junk mail I'd received this morning was still there. "Hmm... maybe Evolution just flags spam, but doesn't move it." I took a gander in my Junk folder and sure enough, there was all the email I received today. Select, mark as "not junk," and my mail was magically back to its correct place. I have no idea why everything got auto-filed as junk. Maybe there's a sticky flag bug. Maybe its small sample size made it think something like "From" was a spam word and everything with "From" in it should be marked junk. Regardless, I turned off junk mail scanning and sighed about a wasted afternoon.

The lesson for today: An infinite number of monkeys will eventually misplace your email.

P.S. I think I saw that the Exchange protocol will soon be (more?) open. I hope that will quickly lead to quality plugins for a great many email programs so that Evolution can fight for natural selection with more than the null set.

Geek Pride

Sunday, March 11th, 2007 12:27 pm
flwyd: (daemon tux hexley)
Before rebooting trevorstone.org for a kernel update, I've got:
web2 12:24PM% uptime
 12:26:12 up 656 days,  1:59,  1 user,  load average: 0.01, 0.02, 0.00

Nominally Funny

Friday, February 16th, 2007 09:54 am
flwyd: (daemon tux hexley)
Ubuntu's security update this morning includes a fix to ImageMagick with the comment
SECURITY UPDATE: overflow in PALM reading.
Magick indeed.
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