Finding Decent Unix Server Hosting?

I haven’t been visiting /. alot lately. It’s just been so lame lately. However, via a comment on DiveIntoMark, I see that yesterdy they had a discussion on Unix-based web hosting.

I’ve hosted my website and a number of others at Communitech for 4 years now and I’ve enjoyed affordable, quality Unix hosting that has given me no headaches. Recently they have been bought out… So now I’m searching for a decent Unix host. My requirements aren’t too bad: I need PHP, MySQL, the ability to configure my server somewhat (htpasswd, htaccess), raw log files, SSH, FTP, crontab, decent bandwidth (~10 GB), POP accounts, around 300 MB disk space …

Sounds alot like my config. What I would suggest is reading the comments in order of hightst ranked. You don’t avoid all the trolls, but most of them at least.

And NO, I’m not looking for a new host. Once my host moves to a new datacenter (still a work in progress), I think things will run very nicely for a very long while.

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backUpMySQL.pl – is it cool?

Yesterday, Mark Pilgrim’s message of the day was
You know what’s cool? Backups.

Well who am I to argue with such coolness? So in the spirit of “what is Hip“, and myself being in a situation where my host is also changing data centers, I would like to share with you a little utility script I run on my system every night ubiquitously entitled “backupMySQL.pl.”

Basically this little Perl takes advantage of naming conventions used by the standard-fare Apache configuration many of us enjoy. That is, our accounts are usually stored in directories such as “/home/USERNAME” and our database are prefixed with our USERNAME, such as USERNAME_mt. Moreover, a properly configured system will allow you to securely house and run such scripts BELOW the public /public_html &/or /www directory where all your public stuff is published.

With this configuration in mind, I FTP this script in ASCII mode to my root directory (below HTTP access), a chmod -755 so it would execute. I then created a subdictory entitled /dbs and chmod -755 /dbs so my script can access it. I then went to my control panel and cron’d the job to run every night. Okay, so I lied, I did this all from the command line, but as you can see, you can implement this script without having to bash yourself silly.

One other optional feature I have in this script is the ability to FTP my backup to a friend who hosts a website on an entirely different server and service. I reciprocate in kind for him. What this does is insures that we have an “off site” backup — based on the principle that if both our servers go down, then we’ve got a much larger issue at hand (how about global thermonuclear war?). So here it is. Use it, tweak it, let me know ho you like it — just make sure to check the files from time to time to make sure your backups can be restored.


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Web giants to declare war on spam

Ealier today, ElectricNews.net reported that:

three of the world’s largest technology companies — Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft — are to announce details of a major offensive designed to combat unwanted e-mail. The initiative, details of which are expected on Monday, will see the three rivals cooperating and calling on other technology leaders to participate in measures aimed at checking the rising flood of spam.

Well it is about stinking time!

I’m not one for big or intrusive government, but I personally believe that spam is crippling our economy in numbers not yet understood. I mean, what else would you say to an act that causes so much of us to lose time and our systems to lose resources when everyone knows that breast enlargement for Dean would be a really bad idea!

Excuse me for that horrible imagery, but most of you have seen much worse by way of spammers. Yet worse than that:

Already unwanted mail is on track to make up some 40 percent of e-mail by the end of 2003: AOL Time Warner, Yahoo and Microsoft say they fear that people will simply stop using e-mail if spam is not stamped out.

My hope is that Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft will use their lobbying resources for pure good instead of using this as a means of leveraging a technical advantage over competitors large and small. There are already enough criminals out there trying to get me to help them get $12,000,000 tax free into the U.S.

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The Rise of the Spam Zombies

As reported by Kevin Poulsen of SecurityFocus

Pressed by increasingly effective anti-spam efforts, senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail are resorting to outright criminality in their efforts to conceal the source of their ill-sent missives, using Trojan horses to turn the computers of innocent netizens into secret spam zombies.

In not-to-geek. Spammer’s are using the same technique as those who employ distributed denial of service (ddos) attacks to bring down a web site. This is done by means of taking over someone’s computer, or as Mr. Poulsen describes:

One of those programs popped up last week. Named “Proxy-Guzu,” when executed by an unwitting user the Trojan listens on a randomly-chosen port and uses its own built-in mail client to dash off a message to a Hotmail account, putting the port number and victim’s IP address in the subject line. The spammer takes it from there, routing as much e-mail as he or she likes through the captured computer, knowing that any efforts to trace the source of the spam will end at the victim’s Internet address.

Trojan horses generally rely on their wielder’s ability to trick innocent people into executing them. Proxy-Guzu, naturally, arrives as spam — in one sighting the program was offered as a naughty peek at an online webcam.

In other words, all the more reason NOT to click on a free pr0n offer — or ANY executable/attachment in an email (unsolicited or otherwise). I mean, imagine trying to explain to your church administrator why you’re getting a huge flood of hate mail and complaints for sending spam after that one? All the more reason to keep your virus protection up-to-date, to train your church staff about the dangers of attachments and why I always recommend keeping a church web site on a different server than the office intranet.

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Rumors of Dick Cheney’s Death exaggerated

Not that CNN isn’t already in enough deep Falafel over some conspicious reporting practices, but now some laxed security — and some development work not ready for publication that appears to have leaked. Or as the Smoking Gun reports:
 

Rumors of Dick Cheney's Death exaggerated

APRIL 16–While all news organizations prepare obituaries in advance of the deaths of famous individuals, the folks at CNN inadvertently gave the Internet-surfing public a chance to preview how the network’s web site would note the demise of Vice President Dick Cheney, Ronald Reagan, and a few other prominent figures. Until earlier this afternoon, a CNN server housed mock-ups of web pages announcing the yet-to-happen deaths. The CNN pages, which were discovered by the intrepid folks at fark.com, were yanked about 20 minutes after being exposed (though TSG was able to grab a few of the pages for posterity’s sake). The premature obituaries, housed in a publicly accessible area of the CNN server and searchable via Google, were apparently the work of Peter Rentz, a senior multimedia designer at CNN. The mock-ups are virtually identical to the obituary design currently used by CNN when a notable person dies (click here to see how CNN covered the Queen Mother’s March 2002 death). In fact, elements of the Queen Mum’s obit template can be seen in the below Cheney design. In addition to Cheney and Reagan, CNN also prepped online farewells to Fidel Castro, Bob Hope, Pope John Paul II, and Nelson Mandela. (6 pages)

Today’s lesson? If you don’t want people to see what you’re developing, password protect it via .htaccess — or at least ask your service provider to disable the ability to “surf” directories. If nothing else, just create a file named “index.html” with the words like “go away” in it so any attempt to cruise an image path is thwarted.

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RSS::FeedFinder -> grace-driven or totally permiscious?

When I started blogs4God back on July 29, 2002, I had but a couple hundred links to deal with. Now, we’re getting close to 700 links and it’s getting hard to write-up caches on who said what. So I’ve finally started in earnest my blogs4God aggregation project.

The first step is to see who’s updated their pages most recently. Only one problem, using LWP doesn’t help me out with server-assisted &/or dynamically generated pages, such as those that end in .shtml or .php.

Fortunately, those who are slick enough to use server-side includes or server-side scripting languages are also usually slick enough to provide some sort of RSS, RDF or XML syndication file — which is static and offers a very good substitute for finding out when a page was modified.

So what I needed to do was write a program that would use LWP to get the last-modified date of the page. If the date failed, then call a program that would seek out and find an associated syndication file. So I tried Aaron Straup Cope’s RSSAutodiscovery module, only people such as yours truly tend to make all sorts of omissions and mistakes in offering a link.

So I wrote a Perl module named RSS::FeedFinder which looks for anything closely resembling a link or a reference to an RSS, RDF or XML feed, adds it to a weighed list based upon search criteria. One can then retreive the entire list, or just the entry for a particular method/weight.

Yeah, that was total geek-speak. Okay, it employs some really light-weight heuristics to give you the best shot at syndication file. It also needs alot of work. The code is ugly, and there are about a dozen things I could do better. But it works for me for now — so here is your chance to improve on it:


See what I mean? Needs work. That said, if you’re interested in how the pros do it, then I’d suggest a quick visit on over to Mark Pilgrim’s RSS Parser Project. I know I am, because that’s the next step.

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Just Because You Can, Part 3

Back in early January, I displayed two pictures over two articles entitled “Just because you can …”

There I asserted that just because you can add ‘neato-keen technologies’ such as spinning animated gif of a cross, or implement a Flash-based menu on your church web site, doesn’t mean you should.

Just in case you’ve forgotten that important message, here is yet another visual to drive the point home. What you don’t see (for those of you with the bandwidth to click on the picture) behind the blossoming tree is a second eight-foot inflatable bunny in the driveway. That and the dozens of colorful plastic eggs hanging from the aforementioned tree.

Clickhere to see HUGE image

Every prudent man acts out of knowledge, but a fool exposes his folly. – Proverbs 13:16
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Thanking YOU for all YOU do!

I’m still in a bit of limbo with the server move. That said, I’ve got a pretty funny post I’ll throw down a bit later. In the meantime I just wanted to say thanks!

I love you guys (and gals). I mean it. There have been times I’ve wanted to bail on blogs4God, this usually occurs when the “waiting to be offended” or “waiting for Dean to misstep” crowds get in a snit over something we’ve all since forgotten. But you, my beloved friends, my mondo-cool regular readers here at Heal Your Church Web Site, you guys (and gals) make this site a pure joy.

I’m sitting here watching your comments regarding my recent topics regarding tabless design and I just love how you guys respectfully and intelligently discuss your points. The end result being we all walk away a bit smarter at publishing and maintaining your church or para-church websites. Thank you! As the benevolent despot of this site, I now command you to remove your right hand from the keyboard, turn your palm towards your face, then reach your right arm upwardly (palm still towards face), bend arm over shoulder and pat yourselves on the back! I’ll wait …

… okay, enough of the Sammy Maudlin show. Lets get back to the show … and keep up the good work!

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Heads-up, server Move sometime this week

Here is a message my host provider sent me earlier today — what it means for you is that you may experience some connection problems later this week.

Hello, As you probably have heard, we have been planning a move of our operation to a new data center. We will be proceeding with the move this week. Our move is mostly in response to the frequent network outages we have experienced with the data center we’re using now. Our staff will be working to minimize any inconvenience to you, or to the people who visit your website. For the most part, it will not interfere with the functionality of your site, nor require any direct intervention on your part. However, for sites with dedicated IP addresses, or with dynamic content such as a forum, we will need to make special arrangements with you. Please use our help desk as a point of contact with us for your specific concerns …

Prayerfully, any inconvience will be a short one.

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The Mother of all Table Talks

I have to admit, I was caught a bit off-guard by the theological debate raging under my post A Call to Bug Me … Apparently, the mere mention of “tableless design” has divided the house faster asserting that the King James is not the version canonized sometime around the year 375 A.D. Okay, I exaggerate, but it is interesting to see how much passion this issue inspired. So in my best effort to throw a bit of gasoline on the fire, here are a list of blogs, articles, and discussion groups on the topic, in a pseudo order of importance:

  • Table Layouts, Revisited – Why avoiding tables (for layout) is important
    On Scripting News on February 13, 2002, Dave Winer asks why avoiding tables is so important in web-design and points here …
    I want to make clear that I’m not saying you should never use tables. Tables are in HTML, and when you want to display tabular data, you should use them. But for layout, there are other options.
  • Macromedia – DevNet : Tableless layout with Dreamweaver
    A few years back, I stopped for the night at a farmhouse in Wales. It was a traditional farmhouse with slanted walls, a thatched roof, and narrow, winding staircases. In the kitchen, the Aga was well stocked and cats slept on almost every horizontal surface. Right in the middle of the kitchen was a large oak table.
  • Jeffrey Zeldman – Table Layouts, Revisited
    The framers of CSS reckoned its advantages were so obvious that all browser makers would rush to support it, and table layouts would soon go the way of the leisure suit.
  • Evolt.orgRevisiting Table Layouts, Revisited
    More important than the raw numbers is knowing about your site’s (or your client’s site’s) audience. You should know before writing one line of code if you need to give version 4 browsers good layout support.
  • [Craig] Saila.comTables or CSS?
    Advocates of tableless design have their own pet reasons as to why style sheets are better (“it’s faster”, “there’s better design control”, “it’s the right thing to do”), but three common reasons are presented again and again: …
  • fMonk.comTableless Design (a rant)
    Tableless Design is a wonderful method, but some designers have taken it too far. Look at the term Tableless Design what’s the key word there? Design. For years designers have been laying out websites using tables which are only meant to display data, which they do amazing well. CSS was developed to remove layout from content, as a result tables reclaimed their rightful place- holding bloody data.
  • Climb the StarsRipping out tables
    This page was not really written as a tutorial. It is an account of what I went through when I turned my site table-less. I’m aware that many people visiting this page would like to learn how to turn their site table-less. Though reading my account will definitely help, here are my suggestions for how to get going:
  • Paul O’Brien3 Column Layout in CSS
    With the advent of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) pressure has been brought on designers (via the W3C) to veer away from the table design of old and move forward into tableless design. The three column layout has always been a favourite of web designers for a long time and with that in mind I have created this version as a basic example of a 3 column layout in CSS.
  • WebMaster WorldCSS
    I´m just trying to switch my design from old fashionend table based layout to complete CSS layout. But – it really makes me mad. I don´t get it.
  • Meyrl.netCSS Tableless Web Sites
    This was put up from the Web Nouveau’s cache, so it’s not perfect. I finally talked to Donimo and he approved of the list being revived. I will post a note from him at a later date. In the meantime, here’s the list of sites using CSS without tables except in the case of data tabulation, which is the purpose of tables.

As for me? My thought that though the separation of formatting and content is not in the Constitution, it should be. That is, whenever possible, I try to avoid tables – though I do use them when enumerating column and row like data.

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