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Blog has been moved to a new server -- notes on shopping for hosting

As I noted earlier, my web site got hacked. As a result, I decided to leave my old hosting company, PowerVPS.com, and find a new host. While another VPS would probably have managed, I know a woman in San Jose who runs a hosting company, simpli.biz, who offered me a good deal on a fast dedicated server. I’ll grow into it, and in the meantime you should see much greater performance from my site.

I will make some final commentary on PowerVPS. I left for a variety of reasons, and they were certainly not 100% bad.

  • They were on the other coast, so my ping times to them were 80ms or so. This was no fun for ssh and would have made running things on them impractical. I was surprised that most of the virtual hosting companies with good reputations and prices were not on the west coast.
  • At first I looked for hosting in Canada. This was not simply because I was a Canadian. I thought it might be good to get hosting (in Vancouver) that was not subject to U.S. law. Not because I intend to break U.S. law, but being at the EFF we’ve been fighting some of these laws and it would be good to be on another level. And I’m Canadian. However, all the hosting offerings in Canada I tried that matched my parameters were much more expensive.
  • VPSs are in general a great idea. However, it’s hard to make them swap. That means each VPS duplicates in RAM a copy of apache and mysql and the rest, which is wasteful. Dedicated servers, which swap, allow the big programs that have a lot of pages which are rarely used to swap them out to disk, while the active programs get use of all of the ram. You can’t overdo this, but it’s pretty handy. One VPS provider, Iron Mountain, does what I have been advocating — gives users access to a virtualized MySQL server on a fast machine, so you don’t have to run your own. Doing this is rare.
  • They would not support Ubuntu, only Centos. I am running Ubuntu on almost all my machines. I really like the idea that I can just duplicate efforts onto my hosting server, with now learning how to do things in a different distro. And that I can compile stuff at home and just move it to the web host. CentOS is the most popular distro in the hosting world, and people have done a lot of fancy things for it (control panels, automated installs etc.) and I understand why a company will decide to only support one distro. But that just means I go to a company that picked the distro I want.
  • PowerVPS screwed up when most of their customers got hacked. The hack wasn’t their fault, as far as I know, but once they realized so many of their customers were compromised, they should have E-mailed all of us immediately. Because they didn’t, I only noticed the attack when they broke some of my scripts. My site redirected unsuspecting users to a frame which might have infected them, which I regret. I should have been told about this as soon as possible.
  • The kicker: When I told them I wanted to replace my server after the hack, they said I had two options. I could back up the server (many gigs of data) and they would erase it and give me a new one with a fresh Centos 4. Then I could restore the files and rebuild everything, being down during the period I did this. Or I could buy a new server, transfer, and then move the DNS or the IP as desired. They would not temporarily give me the 2nd server, and then delete the old when I was ready. They said too many people took too long, and freaked out if deleted. Being forced to buy a new server simply sent me on a shopping trip. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Why send your customers on a shopping trip?
  • Another sin: When I went shopping, I looked at the list of special coupon offers various competitors offered. There I saw PowerVPS selling the same server I was paying $85 for for 30% off, lifetime discount. Be very careful when you offer new customers a much better price than existing customers get. I hate it, and I will leave you for it.

Now as I say, it was not all bad. Their support was good, and during the recent episode where I was on the digg.com homepage, they temporarily upgraded my VPS capacity — which is one of the prime things a VPS can do that a dedicated server can’t. I liked those things but the above mistakes lost a customer.

Let me know if you encounter any problems with the server move.

Updated note: After you change a server’s IP, all users should switch to a new IP after the “time to live” on the past lookup expires, which in my case was set to about 3 hours. However, turns out many people have broken (or deliberately broken) software that retains stale records for much longer. The leading culprit right now are web spiders, including googlebot, which continue to hit the old address. Actual users doing so are rare. For E-mail, a previous move found that spammers continued to use the old addresses for months after the fact. They presumably kept DNS lookup data on their CD-ROMs, or didn’t want to be subject to attempts to use DNS to block them, or had some other reason.

Yipes, badwared...

A few weeks ago, my site got hacked. The attacker inserted an iframe pointing to a malware site into most of my html pages. That of course is bad, but the story doesn’t end there. (I should of course have upgraded my OS from the ancient one my hosting company gave years ago, but they don’t really support that, and feel an upgrade consists of rebuilding from scratch.)

I cleaned out the entire site and searched for any remnants of the bad link. Having done this I thought all was well. However, as it turns out while the ideas.4brad.com domain and other domains were clear, the 4brad.com domain, which I don’t use for anything, still had a web server on it, pointing at a different directory far from where I keep my own web sites. (I try to never put my stuff in system directories.)

Unfortunately google, for unknown reasons, looked at 4brad.com, even though there are no links to it anywhere on the web. And found the placeholder page, with hacked link in it. From there it declared the entire site, including ideas.4brad.com, to be a malware site. I think that’s a bug, since there were never any malware links on ideas.4brad.com pages — this is a drupal site, and while the hacker’s script attempts to modify PHP scripts, it did not do so correctly, and just broke them. Running linux, I didn’t see the malware hacks on the other sites where they made the changes, but found them soon enough and removed them for now.

Alas, that means for some time people have been directed away from this blog by google. It shows up in search results, but you can’t actually click on the results, and there are warnings that going to the site may harm your computer (you get these warnings even on non-windows computers, which is reasonable, I guess, if incorrect.) I’ve asked the site stopbadware.org, which Google teams with, to confirm the hacks are gone, and now I have to rush out to rebuild the site from a fresh install. Sigh.

Update: Google reacted to the cleanup of 4brad.com very quickly and no longer lists the domain as unsafe. I did file a review request with stopbadware.org — perhaps they are much faster than they let on.

I’m shopping for hosting. I think I will upgrade to dedicated hosting, even though virtualized hosting has its merits. As I wrote before it would be great if MySQL could be virtualized independently of the OS. The ideal marriage would be a virtualized linux with access to sharable, non-virtualized services like web serving and database. The trick is memory. A typical virtual host will have 16 copies of MySQL and 16 copies of Apache and 16 copies of PHP or similar running on it. Because virtual machines don’t truly understand how much memory they have, or see the paging of the underlying OS, they can’t manage memory as well. But their ability to burst in unused capacity is a big win.

Photo server being dugg

Well, this site is at a crawl now because the panorama I assembled of San Francisco in 1971 is on the digg.com front page. If you haven’t seen it before it’s on the San Francisco page, the panorama of SF from the top of the Bay Bridge in 1971.

My hosting company, Defender Hosting/PowerVPS, has been kind enough to do a temporary upgrade of my server capacity to their top level, though the site’s response is still poor. This is something that virtual hosting can do that you can’t as easily do with dedicated hosting, though virtual hosting has its own costs, mostly in wasted memory.

I think it would be nice if virtual hosting companies sold this “bump” ability as a feature. When your web site gets a lot of load from a place like digg or slashdot, this could ideally be automatically detected, and more capacity made available, either free for rare use as a bonus, or for a fee. Most site owners would be glad to authorize a bit of extra payment for extra capacity in the event that they’re subject to a big swarm of traffic. (The only risk being that you might pay for capacity when under a DOS or spam attack or when being used by crackers or spammers.)

One place this might happen well is in the Amazon ec2 service, which I have yet to really try out. EC2 offers a cloud of virtual servers on demand. In this case, you would want to have a master controller which tracks load on your server, and fires up another virtual server, and then, once it’s up, starts redirecting traffic to it using DNS or proxy techniques, or both. If a web site is highly based on an SQL server, all the copies would need to use the same SQL server (or perhaps need an interesting replication strategy if not read-only) but making SQL servers scale is a well-attacked problem.

Has anybody done this yet with EC2? If not, I expect somebody will soon. The basic concept is fairly simple, though to do it perfectly you would need to do things like copy logs back after the fact and redirect any pages which want to write data to the local server to a common server if one can. For a site with static pages that don’t change due to user activity, such replication should not present too many problems.

Whoops, bad alias created on iphone story

Whoops, the URL for the iPhone item got published missing part of it, so I created this alias.

The real item is at jobs-warns-knockoff-iphone-lacks-many-key-features.

Whoops on task list

Whoops, sorry. I was playing around with a shared to-do list manager in drupal, the software that runs this web site, and it seems to have poorly configured security defaults, so the test entries showed up on the home page. I've made them unpublic now.

A new sub-blog about Battlestar Galactica

I’ve been participating in online discussions about my favourite TV show, Battlestar Galactica, so I have collected a number of my selected postings about the show, along with some new ones, into a sub-blog on this web site.

If you are a fan of the site I invite you to subscribe to my Battlestar Galactica Analysis Blog.

It has its own RSS feed as well. You can also find it in the menu for this site. The show is now on a 9 month break before Season 4, so postings should become scarce after a while, but I still have a number in my queue to add. Theories will range from the well-grounded to the invented, but I hope it will help you enjoy the show.

We're #12. We're #12!

From the shameless narcissism department: I was surprised to see myself and the EFF picked by PC World today at #12 on their 50 most important people on the web list. I’m really there as a proxy for the EFF, I suspect, but it’s great to see our work recognized. I’m pleased to say the EFF is going like gangbusters right now with so many cases under our wing, and many thousands of new members in the last year, thanks in part to the AT&T lawsuit and others. Of course every year we must repeat our fundraising efforts all over again — the vast majority of EFF money comes from individual members and donors, not from corporations much at all, and only to a small degree from foundation grants.

It’s also good to see fellow EFF board members Larry Lessig, Brewster Kahle and Dave Farber on the list, along with many other EFF friends and associates, and my Bittorrent compatriot Bram Cohen appears at #3. Of course, this and $4 will get you a cup of coffee.

Upgrading to Drupal 5.1

I have upgraded the site to the latest Drupal 5.1. For a short time that means some features I coded won't be available until I re-patch, such as my anti-spam comment tool (comments are moderated for now.) If stuff is broken, let me know. (I don't know what happened to the category menus and will try to get them back.) I'll also be adding some new features, such as RSS feeds of comments and nodes and some other things mostly only seen by those who create an account.

I've put in drupal's simple captcha module which does a math problem instead of the old simple question I had. It seems to be generating an sql error, but is otherwise working. I may change it to the simple text question as a default captcha is subject to spammer attack.

Drupal has had a pretty terrible upgrade procedure for some time now, with upgrade consisting of simply replacing the entire file tree, and proctecing your local config. This had no accounting for local changes to code or even installed modules. At least in 5.0 they have moved to putting non-core modules and themes in their own site-only directory. I'm also now installing from CVS which should let me make my changes and import their changes as well.

16 years of EFF next Thursday

Join me next Thursday (one-eleven) at the one-eleven Minna gallery in San Francisco to celebrate EFF’s 16th year. From 7 to 10pm. Suggested donation $20. Stop by if you’re at Macworld.

Details at http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/archives/005055.php

In Edmonton

I'm in Edmonton. Turns out to be the farthest north I've been on land (53 degrees 37 minutes at the peak) after another turn through the Icefields Parkway, surely one of the most scenic drives on the planet. My 4th time along it, though this time it was a whiteout. Speaking tomorrow at the CIPS ICE conference on privacy, nanotechnology and the future at 10:15.

Idea of the day. I joined Fairmont Hotels President's Club while at the Chateau Lake Louise because it gave me free internet. When I got to the Fairmont Jasper Lodge my laptop just worked with no login, and I was really impressed -- I figured they had recorded my MAC address as belonging to a member of their club, and were going to let me use it with no login. Alas, no, the Jasper lodge internet (only in main lobby) was free for all. But wouldn't that be great if all hotels did that? Do any of the paid wireless roaming networks do this? (I guess they might be afraid of MAC cloning.) It would also allow, with a simple interface, a way for devices like Wifi SIP phones to use networks that otherwise require a login.

Of course, as we all know, the more expensive the hotel, the more likely the internet is not only not included, it's way overpriced. At least Fairmont gave one way around this. Of course I gave them a unique E-mail address created just for them, so if they spam me I can quickly disable them. But once again I, like most of us, find myself giving up privacy for a few hotel perks.

EFF Debate on Charging for E-mail Dyson v. O'Brien in SF

TONIGHT, April 20th, there will be a debate on the issue of per-message charges for E-mail, sparked by the recent debate over Goodmail and AOL.

The debate will feature former EFF Chair Esther Dyson, who has become a surprising supporter of pay-to-send E-mail, and EFF Activist Danny O’Brien, NTK author and coordinator of EFF’s involvement in the efforts against Goodmail. Esther is also publisher of Release 1.0, host of the PC Forum conference and former chair of ICANN.

Alas, I won’t be able to be there, as I am at a conference out of town, but those who followed the debate in my blog may wish to attend.

EFF will be fundraising, suggested donation $20 but donations are not mandatory.

You can get full details at the BayFF page

Upcoming speaking and conferences

Next week (Mon-Tuesday) I will be speaking at David Isenberg’s “Freedom To Connect” conference, on an open net, in Silver Spring, Maryland (Washington DC.)

April 10 I will be at UCSB’s CITS conference (Santa Barbara, obviously) on growing network communities.

The next week April 19-21 sees the annual Asilomar Microcomputer Workshop, always a good time.

See you there.

Nominate for EFF pioneer awards

Each year since 1992 the EFF has given out the EFF Pioneer Awards to a wide array of online pioneers. Check out the lists on the web site.

We’re seeking new nominees for this year’s awards, to be given at CFP 06. We need them by Feb 28. Check out the web page, and e-mail us the nominee’s name and contact info with a description of their contribution. Organizations and Systems can be nominated, as well as individuals.

Who do you think has helped make the cyberworld what it is? Get them recognized.

Map of the restaurants on Irving St. / Outer Sunset, San Francisco

We’ve been working on an inherited house in the Irving Street/23rd avenue neighbourhood of the Outer Sunset of San Francisco. This is one of SF’s “new chinatowns” — the original one on Grant St. long ago given over to the tourists. Irving is where the real asians go to shop and eat. I’ve been impressed at the incredible quality to price ratio of the food here, I think it’s the best locus of value in the city.

As such I have prepared a map of the Irving Street/Sunset Restaurants with some commentary for those visiting the area. I did it as an HTML table to mimic the streets. Of course, this is mostly for readers in the Bay Area. The Sunset is rarely visited by tourists, and has notoriously bad fog in summer, but it has a lot more character than I expected. The street is also full of asian grocery stores and miscellany shops.

It’s also just one block from Golden Gate Park. One can readily gather food on Irving and walk to picnic tables in the park at 25th or 18th.

Experimenting with Yahoo Publisher for RSS

While I have been using Google ads on the blog for some time (and they do quite well), they don’t yet do RSS ads outside of a more limited beta program. So I’m trying Yahoo’s ads, also in beta but I’m on the list.

They just went live, and all that’s showing right now is a generic ad, presumably until they spider the site and figure out what ads to run. Ideally it will be ads as relevant as Google Adsense does.

Competition between Google and Yahoo will be good for publishers. Just on basic click-rates, one will tend to do better than the other, presumably. If one is consistently doing not as well, they will lose all the partners, who will flock to the other. The only way to fix that will be to increase the percentage of the money they pay out, until they get to a real efficient market percentage they can’t go above.

Read on for examination of the economics of RSS ads.  read more »

Reinventing the phone call -- demos for team members for re-startup this week

This week I will be doing some demos of Voxable, my system that combines VoIP, presence and all sorts of cool stuff I won’t be writing about in the public blog to create a new user interface for the phone that is both as modern and internet as it can get while also being a reflection of the ancient interface for the phone that was lost.

This project underwent development a couple of years ago, but was put on hold after investment in telecom became a dirty word. Suddenly, with the $3 billion purchase of Skype, the excitement about a Vonage IPO and other hot deals, new tech in telecom is attracting investor attention. I have the software (not shippable) but to get funding I need to expand the team. I’m seeking hotshot programmers. (the current work is in Java, the web interfaces will be in javascript/ajax, and the windows client is in C++/win32 but truth is, if you’re the type of programmer I like, the language isn’t crucial.) Later I’ll be seeking other folks in marketing and bizdev when there is significant work for them to do.

Anyway, if this space interests you, contact me (btm@templetons.com) to try to attend one of the demos. They will be Wednesday the 11th in Sunnyvale, CA at 1:30 pm and Thursday the 12th in the financial district of San Francisco, 1pm. For the right folks, and for potential investors, demos can be arranged at other times, even remotely. (Though I tend to reserve telecommuting to those I’ve worked with and know have the discipline for it.) This is pre-funding startup mode — which means working or moonlighting for lottery tickets (options) with at most survival salary — until the funding arrives. People I know are Ok with frieNDA, for strangers a two paragraph written NDA will be appreciated. Coders should send me an ASCII resume in advance.

While most of the action in new telephony up to now has been in the “how” and “what” — infrastructure and PSTN replacements, I believe the user experience is where the value will truly lie. And he who owns the user experience will own the user, something a lot of companies are very keen to do in the telecom world. That’s why I’ve invested and coded in this area and why you might be too.

As blog readers will know, I’ve been in the innovation seat before, beginning as the first employee of the first major PC applications software company (VisiCorp), then creating many innovative and award winning programming tools, then founding the world’s first dot-com (ClariNet) and next there will be Voxable.

Blogger's rights campaign from EFF

At the EFF, we’re announcing today a membership drive around our various efforts for blogger’s rights.

In the EFF blogs in my blogroll, you will have read this year about our legal guide for bloggers, and the various free speech cases we’ve done protecting publishing rights online, anonymity and assuring reporter’s privilege for online journalists.

If you have a blog, we encourage you to promote our campaign and add one of our buttons on your blog. The bloggers who bring in the most members get some goodies, but the real reward is in defending freedom of the modern press. Those bloggers who put up the button can get a membership of their own at a discounted rate too. They can see this page for more details on that.



Australia, fair

I’ve arrived this morning in Melbourne, a very pleasant city in which I haven’t allocated enough time, as per usual. Lots of interesting food, seems very livable with great transit, pleasant spaces and parks and architecture. And also surveillance cameras, everywhere. And warnings about stopping terrorism even though there hasn’t really been much here.

Once again I wish there were simple agencies to rent you all your tourist things so you didn’t have to pack them or worry about them. As I wished for before, there was a Vodaphone store in the airport arrivals lounge that sold me a SIM card for $30, though to get a really good deal you have to buy another $50 (AUS, 37.5 USD) of airtime.

My tour will take me now to Adelaide briefly, then up to Darwin to stay in Kakadu national park, then to Cairns (reef, of course) and finally ending in Sydney on the 17th, including speaking at the AUUG open source and unix conference on the 19th. Should be a great trip, and I’ll try to blog other observations about Australia.

Some immediate ones: Most people have told me they felt australians were great friendly people. My cab driver (black) said he loved Australia except the people were the most unfriendly in the world… Race may have something to do with this, I fear. I’m told my (barely) Canadian accent will sound sexy here.

Upcoming conferences and speaking

In addition to the EFF party, here are some upcoming conferences I will be attending and/or speaking at:

  • Sunday, a half-day at Accelerating Change 2005, Stanford

  • Monday, Sept 19th at 10pm, panel on CALEA Wiretap rules for VoIP, at Pulver Voice on the Net conference in Boston at The BCEC (not Hynes as I reported earlier) Convention Center. I’ll be at the conference for most of the week.

  • Friday Sept 23, I’ll be going with Kathryn for Ray Kurzweil’s talk on his new book, The Singularity Is Near : When Humans Transcend Biology, which Kathryn worked on. The talk is for the Long Now Foundation, at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. He’s doing many talks on a long book tour.

  • We’ll be at George Gilder’s Telecosm at Lake Taho on the 26th.

  • EFF Party, of course, on the 2nd of October

  • Keynoting the AUUG Linux conference, in Sydney, Australia, on Oct 19th

  • Back for Foresight Nanotech’s annual conference on the 22nd of October. (I’m on the board) At the San Francisco Airport Marriott.

EFF 15th Anniversary Party, Oct 2

Join us for a party.

When:  Sunday, October 2nd, 2005 at 5 p.m.

Where:  EFF Headquarters in San Francisco, 454 Shotwell Street, 94110

EFF is 15 years old this year, and we are going to celebrate! We’re having an anniversary bash at our San Francisco headquarters on Shotwell Street on Sunday, October 2nd, 2005. The party starts at 5 p.m.

Join us for delicious Mexican food and drinks from Pancho Villa, hear a special address from our founders, John Perry Barlow and John Gilmore, taste our special 3D cake, and enjoy both the grooves of Gypsy Jazz from the Zegnotronic Rocket Society, and the hypnotic beats of DJ Ripley and Kid Kameleon.

Our celebration is free of charge and open to anyone, so bring your friends and family. We look forward to celebrating with you!

Please let us know you’re coming so we don’t run out of food and libations! Send an email to rsvp at eff.org, or call 415-436-9333 x129.

EFF’s office is located at 454 Shotwell Street and is BART accessible. Take BART to 16th and Mission, walk to 19th street and take a left, and take another left on Shotwell Street, three blocks down. We are located
between 18th and 19th on Shotwell.

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