A month with Digital Ocean Hosting

At the beginning of the year, there was a monstrous downtime at my host that was the final straw. I has a VPS there for a little over 2 years, and while at first it was rock solid and awesome, it had become less reliable through the summer of 2015. There were several down times, that were resolved with a reboot, or restarting the Apache server, or the mysql server.

Not too big of a deal.

Then the week between Christmas and New Years, the wheels came off at A Small Orange hosting. The VPS service there was by and large down.

When it came back up, I was out of there lickety split.

My destination: Digital Ocean

Instead of a well provisioned VPS, where the configuration is pretty robust, fully provisioned with a firewall, WHM and CPanel built in, you get a very basic server, called a “droplet”. You can select the OS, and even do a lot of one click installs. LAMP, LEMP, WordPress, and many more options are preconfigured out of the box.

I spun up two droplets, one a preconfigured WordPress installation (my main tralfaz blog), and then a blank droplet which I used the excellent serverpilot to create three simple wordpress blogs. Smooth process.

One other benefit of Digital Ocean is their YUUUUUUUUGE collection of simple, granular articles to help people who are not super technical to get a clean, secure installation.

Even if you are not a geek, you can get:

  • A clean ubuntu installation
  • Setup SSH with secure key authentication
  • Remove root SSH login (for safety)
  • Configure a UFW firewall with only the ports needed open
  • Install and harden a mysql installation
  • and much much more…

For as little as $5 per month per droplet, you are good to go.

Oh, did I mention that they have wicked fast data servers in many geographical regions?

So far, 100% uptime for 30 days.

Stepping stones towards a weather station

Continuing on the thread of projects, my ultimate goal is to build a two station weather station that has in interior display of inside and outside temperature, and outside humidity/temperature readings, ultimately logging it to one of my websites, and then displaying it in graphical form.

This weekend, I got a little bit closer. I learnt how to hook up an LCD display to an Arduino system, how to display formatted data, and then connected two different sensors to gather the data.

The first test was to hook up a Sensiron humidity and temperature sensor to the arduino. Fortunately, Adafruit makes a handy breakout board for this device, and some libraries to use it. As an i2c device, it has a lot of support, and connecting it was a snap. Supply 5V, and connect the SDA/SCL and you are good to go.

The Sensiron sensor is what we use in the chamber of our 7500 series AFM, so I know it is accurate and reliable.

The sketch is pretty simple, you load the libraries for the SHT series, and instantiate an instance of the device, and it just works. You ask for a reading, and BAM it is there for the using.

The second part was connecting the 2×16 character LCD display. This has a little backpack decoder, and the Arduino IDE has built in support for it. Piece of cake to get it going.

It is of course a little trickier than the serial console, as the print/println aren’t part of the methods, but a little character counting, and voila, it was displaying the RH and Temperature every 10 seconds.

To test this, I programmed, it, and then unplugged it, taking it into the kitchen, plugging it into a USB charger, and it worked. I am almost impressed!

This is a pretty big hurdle, but the next hurdle is a lot taller. Ultimately, I want to have it log data to a file, then send it to a small raspberry pi system to display, and to upload to the internet.

My next step will be to build a simple data logger, and begin to finalize the sensors I will use for the remote system. Fortunately, there is built in support for SD cards (although I will need a breakout board to connect), and I have both a DHT22 sensor for raw humidity and temperature readings, and a Bosch BMP180 breakout board for barometric pressure and temperature reading.

Exciting, and rewarding.

But the progress is ongoing, and my shopping cart is filling up with goodies to buy…

Apple Mail – Revisited

As a long time Apple person, and a dedicated Mac user, starting with Mavericks, I had stopped using Apple’s built in mail client.

I stopped using it for a variety of reasons, but essentially, the integration with Google mail really became, uh, shitty. Really weird, unreliable connections to the Gmail IMAP server, and finally I just gave up.

I also subscribe to a mailing list of some really cool Mac OS-X users, and around that time there was tons of traffic about how shitty Apple mail was.

I ended up first using Thunderbird (meh), and finally bought licenses to Postbox as it worked pretty well, and their support for Google’s mail services was quite good.

Finally, with a recent upgrade to El Capitan (OS-X 10.11.2) the experts allowed that Apple finally un-borked their mail client. It even handles two factor authentication properly. Kudos!

So, I am giving it a second try. And you know what? It isn’t bad. It is better than Postbox.


More tinkering fun

Back to the real world. I have re-immersed myself in the learning required to build a little automated, web connected weather station.

I have been learning a lot about working with the Arduino (proto boards built around the Atmel ATMega 328 microcontroller), and have added some goodies around connecting sensors, working first with a 1 wire humidity and temperature sensor, and soon to come some more sophisticated modules that will be more flexible.

However, while it is possible to do almost all of the work I want with the arduino based system, ultimately, I am going to want to drive a little display for review here in the house, and to log it to one of my internet servers, so I can be a geek and see the readings at home wherever I happen to be.

This weekend, I dove into the Raspberry Pi, as that is a suitable central control, data logging station, and a vehicle to push the readings to the internet. However, it was a wee bit more complicated to get working than the Arduino.

Read moreMore tinkering fun

More web hosting thoughts

I learnt early on that you get what you pay for, and web hosting is no different than any other good or service. There was a time when $3 – $6 a month got you a pretty good deal as the explosion in hosting services was happening, but as with all services that are shared, the only way the economics work out is to over subscribe.

The same happens with internet service (if everybody downloads at full speed at the same time, the “promised” throughput will fail miserably) and with hosting.

Usually, you either suck it up and deal with glacial response from massively shared mysql servers, or someone destroying the IOPS on the SAN, or you move to a provider that isn’t a dirtbag, and you pay more for that service.

Of course, if you have done that, and you get long downtimes and poor support, well, you moved once.

Last week and a half were trouble for my web properties. The hosting I used, a VPS on A Small Orange was part of a lengthy and poorly handled downtime. Staring around X-mas eve, and continuing through to the 3rd of January, their VPS services were hosed. Hosed bad. Like can’t ping, no network route, and the brief flashes where I could ping, the storage was offline, so that my websites were down.

Down hard.

Read moreMore web hosting thoughts