July 25, 2015

Federated Wiki is new and confusing to me

I've been playing with Wikis now for 14 years. I bought Ward Cunningham's 2001 book on Wikis. I can't remember now if I set up a Wiki while I was still at CNN in 2001 or whether it was 2002, but I know when I went to EarthLink I set up one of the the first Wikis there.

The canonical Wiki site was Cunningham's C2 Wiki, which I've poked around in occasionally. The last time I visited, I noticed that the site had stop allowing edits in Feburary 2015 because Cunningham was had rewritten the original Wiki software. Cunningham announced "a complete rewrite of wiki as a single page application with a distributed database which will last us for at least 20 years, maybe 200. " The result is known as the Federated Wiki.

The original Wiki was brilliant in it's simplicity and power. Anyone can edit and improve anything, and the result is there for all to see and benefit from.

Federated Wiki (also known as Smallest Federated Wiki, or SFW) is much harder for me to wrap my head around. Part of the inspiration seems to come from Git and the ability to fork anything: it's easy to fork any page on someone else's Federated Wiki and put that page on your own SFW. In theory it's easy for the owner of the original page to see who forked the page and to incorporate changes if they want to, but in practice, I don't see how you get the same collaborative synergy that resulted in the original C2 wiki.

Anyway. I'm playing with my own copy of SFW. I don't expect to do a lot with it, but we'll see.

December 13, 2014

All those (private) words

Even though I haven’t been writing in public, I’ve still written 58,000 words this year [0]. But those words haven’t been public; they’ve been in Day One, a journaling app I use on my iPad and Mac.

All this writing, only for me. A hundred words here, a few hundred there. What is it doing for me? Am I any better as a writer? I judge I’m a little worse than I was a few years ago. I think that’s because I’ve been writing for myself, and all those words are first drafts, never subject to revision or critical thinking.

On the other hand, they’ve kept me in the habit of writing. Any writing is better than no writing. And I will probably mine some of those words and revisit them here.

[0] I’ve been very prolific in my journal in the last year. I have entries in Day One going back four years; 124,000 words in all. So 58,000+ words in 2014 is 46% of the total.

December 9, 2014

Moving from RapidVPS to Digital Ocean

One Saturday morning a month ago my VPS stopped accepting mail. It looked like my server had run out of disk space, but deleting files didn’t seem to make any difference. (Delete some stuff, run df, find myself still at 100%. Grrr.) I opened a ticket with RapidVPS, and it took them a few hours to figure out that the physical server hosting my VPS had run out of disk. Not good!

I liked RapidVPS [1]. For years I’ve been paying $14.34 a month for a VPS with 7 gig of disk space, but nowadays you can find better deals with providers that give you more features. RapidVPS made the classic mistake of any company that hasn’t kept up with competitors: reminding a customer that they have other choices.

Digital Ocean is one of those competitors. Last spring they had a promotion where they gave $50 credit for signing up. They make it trivially easy to create and destroy VPSs, and you only pay for the time the server is up.[2] Digital Ocean’s cheapest server is $5 month, so bringing up a server or two for a few hours costs a few pennies.

Back when I signed up with RapidVPS in 2007, I had to pick a Linux distribution. CentOS had a good reputation, and CentOS 5 had recently been released, so that’s what I went with. The nice thing about CentOS is they support releases forever, which is good because upgrading CentOS is a pain; you basically have to reinstall the OS from scratch. Seven years later I’m on CentOS 5.11.

I’ve been thinking about upgrading for the past couple of years. The big thing that has been holding me back is setting up email again. Running your own email server is quite doable if you’re willing to do the sysadmin work, but it’s still a lot of things to set up: spam filtering, IMAP, webmail if you want it .. and if your server goes out for any reason, as mine did a month back, you’re really in trouble [3]. Making it worse, I’d done all my setup in EXIM, but EXIM packages were not available in the EPEL repo last time I looked[4]. I was looking at moving to PostFix .. but that made the barrier even higher. I actually got as far as setting up Postfix and IMAP on a Digital Ocean VPS, but the prospect of setting up and training spam filters again didn’t look like much fun.

In the end, I decided to pay FastMail to handle that problem for me. $40 dollars takes care of email for an entire year; that’s $3.33 a month, and it’s run by sysadmins who are paid to make sure it stays up[5].

Even without email, I still have a few services on my server - including this blog, so I went ahead and set up a new server on Digital Ocean. I was planning to upgrade to CentOS 6, but I delayed long enough that CentOS 7 was released, so I went with that.

The last thing I brought up was this blog. I’ve let the poor thing sit there for too long. Time to start using it again.

Welcome back to me.

  1. I even wrote a post 6 years ago about how much I liked them, but the world has moved on.  ↩

  2. This is in sharp contract to RapidVPS. I was hoping to be off their service before the monthly bill on the 3rd. On the 7th I told them to shut the server down, and asked if they prorated the bill. Not on cancellations, they said.  ↩

  3. For example, I was trying to make a change in my DNS, but I forgot the password to my DNS service. No problem - reset the password, which sends the reset message to … my email. Which was down.  ↩

  4. There are repos that have builds of EXIM, but it’s not part of EPEL, and I’ve had problems in that past enabling non-standard repos. Particular with dependencies. You ever go to upgrade your packages only to find a bunch of dependency conflicts. I have. You don’t want to.  ↩

  5. I’m a sysadmin, too. But $40 doesn’t buy that much of my time. It’s worth it.  ↩

December 7, 2014

It's been such a long time

It's been six and half years since I published anything on this blog. 2377 days, to be precise, and you know I like to be precise.

There are many reasons for that, both technical and non-technical. I may or may not get into those. (Probably not.)

I'd like to say I'm back to blogging, but only time will tell.

June 4, 2008

Now on centos 5.1

My VPS server is now on CentOS 5.1, moved up from CentOS 4.6.  

My server is hosted on RapidVPS.com, a virtual hosting provider.  Since going to CentOS 5 is a major upgrade, the safest way to do it was to create a new virtual server, install it clean with CentOS 5.1, and migrate services over one by one.   

I love virtual servers.  Doing the migration by creating a new server was much less stressful and less hassle than upgrading a physical server in place. 

The cost was creating another virtual server, but I could do that for extra $12 a month on RapidVPS.  And once the migration is done, I kill the older server and go back to paying for a single server.

February 4, 2008

RapidVPS has been good to me

I moved this weblog and my personal email out of the closet and onto a virtual private server last summer.  After looking around, I picked RapidVPS as a hosting provider.  They had good reviews and reasonably priced service.

After I moved, I was quite happy with the performance of my server, but increasingly unhappy with its reliability.  My server was sometimes down or hard to reach, and indeed it was in fact less reliable than it had been living on a Dell P3/550 in my closet.  When I contacted RapidVPS about the problems, they generally responded quickly, but the problems kept occurring.

In November I vented my frustration and sent a message to them.  I was "reluctantly unhappy," I told them. I got a response from Rick Blundell, the owner and chief tech person: what can I do to make you happier?  Make my service more reliable, please, I replied.

Today I just sent Rick another message thanking him.  For the last three months, my service has been everything I could want.  It just works.  No more slowdowns, no issues reaching it. It's been boring again, and that's just what you want out of infrastructure.

Doing server Infrastructure is hard work.  People only notice when it stops working.  When it works, they don't care.  I know; I've run server farms at CNN and EarthLink.  Problems happen. And sometimes fixing it can be difficult, frustrating, and expensive.

Rick and RapidVPS have made me a happy customer.  Thank you, guys. 

January 24, 2008

Take your Kindle to the beach

Just after Christmas I got away for a few days to Jamaica.  All I did for 5 days was read.  I read by the beach, by the pool, in bed.  It was lovely.

But unlike every other vacation I've ever taken, I didn't take a large pile of books.  Instead, I took my Kindle.  And a small pile of books.  (I wouldn't want to end up in another country with nothing to read.  Heaven forbid!)

Understand, even if I don't have time to read more than a few books, I like having choices.  And I like to be able to leave off a book for a while and try something else.

The lure of the Kindle is instant gratification: you get bored with a book, you can download another one in less than a minute.  But that doesn't apply if you're outside the US.  So the night before I left, I bought five more books.  Ah, choices.

I did end up finish four books over my little vacation:

I read more than I have in years.  And I think I know why: no internet!

Another reason I like my Mac: it's QUIET

My Mac Mini may not be the most powerful computer I have in the house, but it has one huge virtue: it's quiet.  I love that.  

The earliest Mini's didn't have a fan.  This one has one, but it is amazingly quiet. 

Nice work.

January 17, 2008

A great laptop bag: The North Face Surge

I carried around an Intel-branded laptop backpack for perhaps 8 or 9 years.  I got it when I worked at CNN, and at the time computer backpacks were not common. 

Various parts were finally giving way, so I decided to buy a new bag as a Christmas present with money my folks gave me. 

I started trying to do some research, but ended up going down to REI to see what I could find.

I picked up a North Face Surge, and I've been very happy with it.   Features I like:

  • Unlike the Intel bag, this is a true backpack, and it feels very good on the back.  I've learned why hip and chest straps are good.
  • It has a little pocket for power cords.  It actually took me a while to find it - it's on the front of the bag at the bottom. 
  • No separate sleeve - the pocket closet to the straps is padded.
  • Small pocket just for electronics - iPod, etc.
  • Very well organized outer most pocket for pens and all the random stuff I carry.  
It's not a cheap bag - around $100 - but if it lasts as long as my last bag, it could serve me for 10 years.  Highly recommended.

I'm happy with my MacBook - no Air for me

My experience with the the Mac Mini I bought in October has made me a convert.  Even though I built a new AMD-based Windows system at the same time that's faster than my Mini, I like the Mac environment.  And for those Windows applications that I can't live without, VMWare Fusion works just fine.   So since October, the Mac has been my primary environment. 

I've never spent my own money for a laptop.  I work in IT, and since 1996, every company I've worked for has provided me a Windows laptop.  But it seemed unlikely that a company would buy me a Mac laptop.  So in December the bug bit me, and I bought a black MacBook. 

I was never really in the market for a sub-notebook, and the specs on the air don't attract me.  1.6 Ghz processor vs my 2.2.  2 gig of ram vs the 4 gig I put in mine.  (From Fry's - only $90 with rebates!)  No DVD.  80 gig 4200 RM drive vs my 160gb 5400.  Higher res screen on the Air - that's nice - but not worth the extra money.

The lower weight and sleekness isn't necessary for me.  The Macbook is already thinner and lighter than the other Windows laptops I've had.   I like it a lot.

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