Archive for July, 2021|Monthly archive page

Another host

Don’t worry, this is not science fiction and I haven’t transferred my consciousness into another body. It’s just that the time has come to start moving my small number of websites to another hosting provider, which means the usual pain of making sure everything transfers along with the sites themselves.

My own recent history with tsoHost has been (happily) uneventful, despite the other problems reported elsewhere – outages, poor support experience and so on. Not unusually I didn’t sign up with tsoHost directly, but with a predecessor which was acquired – 5quidhost. They did honour the pricing deal, which was good, but there has been very little apparent innovation in the interim. In particular I wanted to move to SSL support for the sites that I run to avoid them being blacklist, but tsoHost has steadfastly refused to implement it for their cpanel-based customers without a significant increase in charges. So it seemed like it was time to think about a change.

It turns out that some of the original 5quidhost founders have fetched up at Stablepoint, so I thought I give them a look. They do have included SSL, but more to the point it was a good opportunity for me to split out the sites I author (it’s only really 2 currently, with one for my partner) into separate environments rather than having them sub’d off the base domain. So far I’ve only moved my personal domain – bassoongb.net – but this seems to have gone pretty well. I’ve taken the monthly subscription for now just to make sure it all works before committing for the other sites for a longer period.

The move has been pretty straightforward. SSL worked out of the box. Even the mail move proved uneventful, mainly because I have used POP3 so really had no mail to move server-to-server. While I do like the benefits of IMAP, I’ve been quite disciplined in my POP usage, and tend to only send a lot of mail from one place. I guess it’s also because when I started this internet lark POP was all that was available – I’m a dinosaur really.

Naturally it’s also turned into an opportunity to “freshen up” the website…

The Hunt for Red October

No, not really the old Sean Connery/Alec Baldwin subsea adventure, but the search for a Linux distribution that could possibly replace Windoze as my day to day workstation platform. I’m not planning on the exhaustive evaluation of, say, the “top 20” Linux distros, but I have been weeding the criteria down.

(1) I don’t really want to be delving into the weeds of the operating system. For example I don’t ideally want to be compiling my own binaries. I do have a technical background, and I want to be able to see more than Windoze shows me, but I do have a life. I expect this will discount Arch-based distros and others that need a lot of customisation.

(2) Speaking of customisation, I’d like the desktop to be reasonably familiar but I’m not averse to doing SOME work to get to what I want. After all, I’ve tinkered with the desktop in Windows for years already. However, I’m not in the mood to install tons of extensions. As you might guess this is tending me away from Gnome-centric distros. I started with plain Ubuntu (20.04 LTS) for example, then moved on to Ubuntu Mate, which I preferred, but would still require quite a lot of messing. I’ve never used a Mac in anger, so simple things like windows close buttons on the left have me reeling. I also have large screens, so having what amounts to a split task bar (yes, I know they’re called “panels”) isn’t working for me.

(3) It probably goes without saying, but there are some applications that I’ve come to depend on, some of which don’t have direct Linux equivalents. I also have some that DO have direct counterpoints, and it would be nice to find those already in the distro. So I liked the look of KDE Neon, but it is relatively light on pre-installed apps. The slightly less bleeding edge Kubuntu does come with more pre-installed, and Firefox, Thunderbird and Libreoffice are on my list. It’s become my favourite so far. I’m sure there will be more discussion of this later.

(4) I’d love to find some new features and functions, or simply some improved methods. For example my current backup and synchronisation tools leave something to be desired. I’m also very optimistic about KDE Connect for combining my mobile phone with the desktop – very easy to set up in the first place (compared with the Microsoft “equivalent”).

I’m more or less resigned to using Wine for a few apps, but if anyone can find a straightforward way of importing 25 years of financial transactions into an alternative tool to Quicken2000 I’ll be all ears. I’ve tried many of the Opensource alternatives, and I think I’m just too old to attempt Gnucash 🙂

Finding the attackers

Possibly a slight over the top description of what I found while doing some housekeeping on my main orchestras website. I keep track of the statistics of visitors to Amateurorchestras.org, on a monthly basis I download them to a spreadsheet and draw a couple of graphs to convince myself that I’m doing something.

Whilst doing this I wandered down to some of the more abstruse statistics that are kept for my site, specifically the “required but not found” URLs section (i.e. all the ones that generate a 404 response code). This is helpful to see if anyone has any links pointing to the site that are out of date, or in this case spots an incorrect reference I had on the site itself. While doing this it’s interesting to see what ELSE people are looking for on the site.

The vast majority that aren’t simple mistakes are actually links that would exist were my site to be powered by WordPress. I imply this to mean that they belong to “people” looking for vulnerabilities. This seems to reinforce my earlier experiences trying to run my own hosted WordPress site – it’s simply quite difficult because nefarious actors are ALWAYS probing. Interesting.

Finally learning a new language

Having promised myself that I’d pick a new skill during the period of passivity occasioned by the pandemic, I eventually started a concerted effort to get a new programming language under my belt. Like a lot of people my age I started life with BASIC, in my case via a batch service when I was at school followed by typing programs in labriously on an Amstrad CPC-464 and hoping they were saved by the tape machine afterwards. I carried on with BASIC on an RM 380Z while at college – principally to produce fixture tables for our hockey team.

Once I moved into the world of work I picked up FORTRAN for my first job as a trainee actuary – principally used in the valuation of pension funds using a sophisticated underlying suite originally running on a Pr1me mainframe, subsequently replaced by an IBM 4341 and a rapid conversion to VS/Fortran under VM/CMS. At that point I changed jobs and REXX became my lingua franca and has remained so for the 35-plus subsequent years. Yes, I’m not really a programmer, just a dabbler. REXX has probably encouraged a certain laissez-faire attitude. It has no form of data typing (actually it’s dynamic), very freeform syntax, and not very many native instructions. It’s original purpose was a scripting language for IBM’s VM operating system, and for the purposes I’ve used it, it’s been more than adequate. My main use currently is to produce the (static) web pages that represent my list of amateur orchestras in the UK.

Consequently picking another language to learn has exposed my somewhat homespun approach until now. I’ve decided not to stray too far from what I know, and take on Python. I’ve started out by following the edX course “Computing in Python”, and it’s been an education! I did think of simply trying to understand how to replicate my REXX efforts into Python, but decided that it would make more sense to understand properly how Python works. Next week I’ll be looking at “Data Structures”…