Tag Archive: computers

May 12

Resetting Panels in Lubuntu

Cocked up the taskbar panel badly in a new Lubuntu install. Found the following fix:

cp /usr/share/lxpanel/profile/Lubuntu/panels/panel ~/.config/lxpanel/Lubuntu/panels
lxpanelctl restart

Nov 13

Open Letter to Moniker.com (WTF, Moniker?)

WTF, MonikerThis is an open letter to Moniker.com and its CEO Bonnie Wittenburg.

TL;DR One of my domains registered with Moniker.com expired, and they are not allowing me to renew it until I confirm my phone number, which they are making stupidly difficult to do. They seem to be having serious issues with customer support: https://twitter.com/search?q=%40moniker

Dear Moniker,

This is in regards to case KS#2014110610010145. I am not a domain kingpin. I am not one of your customers who owns a portfolio of 250 domain names. My account has 5 domains registered. Two are personal domains that redirect to this blog and the other three are related to the NPO theatre company that I run. I moved to Moniker from several other domain hosts back in 2012 in order to consolidate all these domains to one manageable location.

Until this summer, I was reasonably happy with the service. I was lucky and didn’t suffer any problems due to the systems upgrade SNAFU back in June. The new system is a bit crap, to be honest, and the mandatory password reset took several tries until it “took”, but I’m willing to overlook growing pains as a company changes.

You have three jobs, in my book, and that is allowing me to hold my domains, keeping the DNS pointing at my DNS provider, and allowing me to renew those domains each year. You have failed.

One of my domains was due to expire on November 4. I have all my domains set to auto-renew and a credit card set up as my payment method. The last domain to expire was on August 8, and on July 26 or 27 (depending on time zone), my credit card was duly charged and I was sent a notice that my domain had been auto-renewed. Your systems start sending out notices months before a domain names expires, with occasional reminders up until the renewal date. This is great. For my domain that expired on November 4, I was receiving those notifications. I took note, though, on November 5th (local time, still the 4th in North America), that I hadn’t received the usual renewal notice, so I logged into my account. After resetting my password again for some damn reason, I went to that domain and saw that it had not been auto-renewed.

Hm. That was a bit frustrating. Perhaps there was a systems glitch. I checked my payment information and it was correct, so I went to the domain and changed it to renew immediately. The invoice appeared in my inbox right away, and it stated that my credit card would be charged. Great.

Except my credit card wasn’t charged. Instead I was sent the following email:

Thank you for registering your domain with Moniker.

For security reasons, we must verify your account before processing your domain requests.

The analysis for which accounts need to be verified is not done by our system but by an external service, based on objective criteria.

The use of such policies has sadly become necessary due to fraud attempts, especially in the internet business.

Until your account is verified you will only be able to make payments via Bank Transfer

We will gladly make an exception for you and open up access to your account once you call our support teams and verify your account.

To verify your account it will need to be a live call.   This again is a onetime call for fraud prevention.

You can call us at 1-800-688-6311 for the account validation. Outside the U.S. and Canada: 954-607-1294

Our hours of operations are Monday-Friday 8:00 am EST – 8:00 pm est.

We look forward to speaking with you.

Please have the following information handy to quickly verify your account.

Account #

Email Address on the account

Phone # on the account

Mailing/Billing Address on the account.

Wonderful. I have been singled out by “objective criteria”. Like what? My credit card hasn’t changed since I’ve joined. My billing address hasn’t changed. I’m also not trying to register a domain, as the email states, I am trying to renew an existing one that has been in my name since before I transferred it to Moniker. It it just because I live in Japan?

Interesting to note here that the support hours are 8:00 – 8:00 EST, which is currently 22:00 – 06:00 Japan Standard time. Luckily, it was still within support hours when I caught the email on the morning of November 6 so I called and left the requested information in a voice message as directed by your telephone system.

Your support team called me back as promised. At 5:00 the following morning. So I obviously didn’t answer. My phone gets turned off when I go to bed so it doesn’t wake my toddler. When did get up that morning, I saw this email:

Thank you for your response.

We retrieved the voice mail message however, we attempted to reach you at the number on file and we were unsuccessful. The number on file needs to be valid to complete account verification.

To change the telephone number please go to USER PROFILE> User Profile. Once updated please leave another detailed message with your account details listed below on our verification line so we can update the account.

Please have the following information handy to quickly verify your account.

Account #
Email Address on the account
Phone # on the account
Mailing/Billing Address on the account

Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Best regards,
Torshie [redacted]

This kind of thing has happened before, but usually with a company that didn’t have my address on file—and, I might add, as part of the information I had left for you on the voice mail message that you requested me to send! Since my address was part of the confirmation process, and the person who called had to dial a country code other than +1 (US/Canada), you would think that time zones would be taken into account, no?

Still, whatever, mistakes can happen. I replied to the support email explaining the problem. No, my number did not need to be updated, I just needed to be called at a time when normal people are sleeping. I mentioned that I was available right at that moment to receive a call (still within business hours at 17:00 EST/7:00 JST). Two days later I received a follow-up email:

Hello Andrew,

Thank you for contacting us.

We apologize for the error. It look like we will not be able to reach you during normal hours today. If you leave a message on our voice mail system please call from the number on file so we can verify the number is valid.

Remember to confirm you account details:

account #
address
telephone
email

Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Best regards,

Torshie [redacted]

I sent another reply explaining that a) I wasn’t going to phone from the number on file because it would have been expensive (the number is a Japanese mobile number), and b) that I’d already called and all they needed to do was complete the call back. I also specified several times over the next few days within Moniker business hours that I would be reachable in order to simplify things. I received no reply, and those days and times passed. I sent another reply with more dates and times and a request to expedite the support ticket since my domain had now been expired for several days. This morning (domain expired for 8 days now, 4 days since last contact), I received this reply from support:

Hello,

Thank you for contacting Moniker Support.

We need to verify your Moniker account information for fraud prevention before you can make purchases.

Please provide us the following information:

* Customer ID / Domain(s):
  * Name on the account:
  * Email address on the account:
  * Phone number on the account:
  * Street address on the account:

Once your account has been verified, you will be able to make purchases on your account.

If you have any further questions, please reply back with your email or call our toll-free number 1.800.688.6311 / International 1.954.607.1294
Our hours of operation are M – F 8:00 AM- 8:00 PM EST & Sat 10:00 AM-4:00 PM EST.

Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Best regards,

Shane J

Now you can perhaps see why I included Torshie’s name earlier. It’s not to get anyone in trouble. It’s because my support person changed, and he obviously did not read the entire email chain. I’m not printing Shane’s name to get him in trouble either. It’s simply obvious that your support process is not sufficiently documented to allow your support people to do their jobs. Don’t worry, you’re in good company here; Paypal does the exact same thing. You get a new support person each time, and each time you have to explain everything from the beginning even though it’s all in the email reply chain.

I have replied to the most recent email explaining that I’ve already called with my information and I just need the call back from the Moniker side to complete verification. Since I received Shane’s email during your business hours, I suggested that I was available at that moment. Of course, he did not call.

So where does this leave me? Angry and writing a blog post about it, I guess. Waving my fist at the internet.

Moniker; Ms Wittenburg: please either complete the verification or allow me to make the single $9.95 payment needed to renew my domain with the credit card you have on file. Despite the length of my post here, this is not a complicated technical issue. This is a customer support failure only. It’s a person-problem that you can fix. No engineers or technicians are required. The Moniker brand has been seriously tarnished as of late (https://twitter.com/search?q=%40moniker). Most of the complaints are about customer service. It’s time to start turning this around.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Cheers,

KS#2014110610010145

May 10

PHPMailer Problem

Okay, here’s another tech problem I’m recording here so I can find the solution if it happens again.

I was having trouble receiving mail send from the phpmailer-based contact form on the YTG website.

The problem was that the yokohama-theatre.com domain didn’t have any MX records set up. This is because they are set up elsewhere, but mail sent from inside my webhost is using the webhost’s records, not the public MX records. By adding them in my host’s C-Panel, I solved the problem.

Jan 14

No More Sentimentality

IMG_0635It is a sad day for me, but one that should have come last year.

 

I’ve been running my websites (this one and yokohama-theatre.com) on the same web host since about 2000. My old web host (let’s call them oldhost.com came highly recommended by a friend, and so I signed up. They were a titch more expensive than other options, but they were local (I was based in Toronto at that time), and super friendly. Even now, when I send a support email in, 9 times out of 10, I have a response within the hour from the company president.

 

Here is the problem that started putting the thought of changing into my mind: My sites are slow. Too slow. I initially thought that the problem was the lag—I’m accessing the sites from Japan. Setting up CloudFlare , which can cache the files in Tokyo didn’t help, though. It was suggested to me that perhaps my sites weren’t well-optimized. They weren’t, but there was little I could do about the YTG site without also changing the template, which I was not about to do. (CloudFlare actually does a lot of the optimization as well so that you don’t have to do it piecemeal on file000111245589the back-end of your website.)

 

Just out of curiosity, I backed up the site and moved it over to a free domain host, this time in the U.S. It was faster, even without CloudFlare. No more waiting for the admin interface to slowly reload after applying a single change. No more waiting for my banner graphic across the top of the site to load. I quickly realized that I was paying for early 2000s performance at early 2000s prices.

 

Also, oldhost.com tends to lag behind on server software. They didn’t switch to PHP 5.3 until November 2012, even though 5.2 had been end-of-life since January 2011—I had website components complaining about this. There’s something to be said for caution, but this was a bit over-the-top. They offered no real support for common website software, like WordPress or Joomla, instead implying to me that these platforms were insecure or faulty in some way (not sure which platforms they expected me to use, then). They had many features considered standard by other hosts disabled for security reasons which they claimed was standard practice (and I discovered was not).

 

In addition, I had no access to any logs, so I always had to go back and forth with support to investigate issues that required me to check logs.

 

The main thing is the speed. In 2012, I shouldn’t be experiencing this level of speed from a website. And certainly not for the price I was paying. After realizing that it wasn’t only my site setup affecting the speed (I tested using a free host based in the U.S.), as I’d been told, it was pretty much just a matter of time until I researched an alternative and moved.

 

My current package:

  • 10 GB web space
  • 50 GB total space (including mail accounts, databases, etc.)
  • 2 domains
  • unlimited sub domains
  • 40 email addresses (don’t use them—I use Google Apps for Domains instead)
  • No SSL
  • Email-based support (response time 1-4 hours)

 

For this, I pay $199.99 CAD per year. I mean, seriously—is this hosting package stuck in 2006 or what?

 

New package (on HostGator)

  • Unlimited web space*
  • Unlimited domains
  • Shared SSL
  • SFTP (and unlimited users! no more having to give collaborators my main password!)
  • Support for JOOMLA
  • A bunch of software installers (fully supported)
  • cPanel and whole pile of great tools for database, file, and site management. (I can MOVE files from one directory to another by DRAGGING and DROPPING, FFS!)
  • A bunch of checkout software packages (fully supported)
  • Email, phone, and chat-based support (response time 1-4 minutes)

 

TANGENT: *You and I both know that “unlimited” anything in this industry never really unlimited. They have restrictions on what can be on your account and what can’t. For example, only one site backup can reside on the server. Which is honestly a bit impractical when I find myself backing up my site before each major change, and I’m not always in a location where a large download is possible (e.g. when I’m connected over phone tethering). However, for all practical purposes, I am not likely to run into an upper limit any time soon. The really sneaky part is that they limit your CPU usage. I don’t anticipate this being a problem, as I think it’s designed to catch people who abuse the service, but I will have to be careful nonetheless.

 

For this, I pay $228.96… for three years. 38% of my oldhost.com bill.

 

 

TANGENT: I’ve also been gearing up to move my domain registrations away from oldhost.com as well. The cost there is a flat $19.99 per year, with no multi-year discounts. For a dot com. Once I’ve finished testing the host gator platform, I will be redirecting the old domain and moving it to Moniker, which is not only cheaper, but easier to manage (better U.I).

I’m also migrating a bunch of my domains from doteasy. Doteasy was my very first host— a free one—I moved away from them because their free package had no php/mysql support back in the day. That’s how I originally ended up at oldhost.com. My volunteer web developer insisted on making a database-driven site. Which was a great idea—except what I got was a static site with php files instead of html files. I’d left some domains that I wasn’t using except for email on doteasy, but the $20/year renewal was starting to piss me off, so I moved them to Moniker and once the transfer is done, I will point them to hostgator as parked domains (with email).

 

 

One of the other annoying problems I will have fixed by moving to HostGator is a recurring file ownership issue I was having.

 

On oldhost.com, the default file and folder permissions were 644 and 755, respectively. While this is a best practice, security-wise, and one that I agree with,  it caused a lot of problems because the FTP user was different than the web account user. If you’re not familiar with ACLs and UNIX file permissions, let me sum up: the FTP user couldn’t delete or modify files created by the website software and vice versa. Like a lot of people, I tend to use a combination of FTP and the built-in tools on my CMS platform (WordPress or Joomla) to get things done. So until I realized what was happening and made a bunch of support calls to change the owner on all my files (something I couldn’t do myself), I was constantly wondering why component upgrades were failing or why I didn’t have permissions over FTP to delete or change certain files.

 

On HostGator (yeah, going back and forth on the CamelCase, I know, but my editor doesn’t have a find/replace function), the main FTP user and the default web user are the same. RELIEF!

 

So: a few things to move and test still (as of today, this site has now been rebuilt and moved), but so far things are looking positive. My next hosting bill comes due in July, and I am planning to give my notice to close down the account in June at the latest. It’s going to be a bit sad, but in the end, oldhost.com simply didn’t keep up with changes in the industry over the last ten years and their service isn’t good enough to be paying a 62% premium (plus tax, because they are Canadian—and don’t get me started on having to pay HST when I’m not residing in Canada).

 

 

TL;DR Though sad to be leaving my webhost of many years, I felt they were not delivering value for money paid so I am reluctantly leaving them for another hosting company.

Mar 04

Backups and Data

I am no expert on this at all, but I felt like writing briefly about how I try to keep my data relatively safe.

 

There’s almost no such thing as a perfect backup strategy, but everyone should have one.

 

And each backup strategy should have three components:

 

  • Live data (this is the data where it lives when you work with it)
  • Offsite replica (this is a copy of the live data that is stored somewhere physically removed from the live data; in Japan, that means far enough away not to be destroyed in the same earthquake as the live data and offline replica)
  • Offline replica (this is a copy of the live data that is stored on a device that is only activated when data is being copied; this copy protects against something like a virus or other forms of data corruption.

 

Here is my solution.

 

All my data is copied incrementally, once a month, to an external 2TB hard disk, that I then unplug from the system.  This is my offline backup.

 

Documents: Live data is automatically synchronized via Jungledisk software to an encrypted location on a Rackspace server in the U.S.  The same program also creates a local copy on each of my three main computers.  Documents that require a high availability (instant replication across all PCs, like my password file) are synchronized using a free dropbox.com account.

 

Photos: The live data lives on a 2.5” encrypted USB HDD, which I can bring with me if I’m on the road.  I synchronize that data manually (using Beyond Compare) to my Nexenta server.  Nexenta is a variant of Open Solaris that is focused on being a NAS (Network Attached Storage) server.  Like Open Solaris, it uses the zfs filesystem (yes, I know that’s like saying “the HIV virus”) which, to put it simply, handles large amounts of data very well.  At the moment, I also synchronize these files manually to the Rackspace server as my offsite.

 

However, with 150GB of photos and around 50GB of video, the Rackspace charges ($0.15 USD/GB/Month) are starting to get high.  So I’ve decided to move my photos to datastorageunit in order to save money.  I currently am using 160GB of data on Rackspace, which is costing me about $24 USD a month ($288 USD) per year.  On the other hand, datastorageunit costs $150 USD per year ($12.50 per month) for 300 GB, which means that I can add video backups to that as well.

 

The advantages of Rackspace (via Jungledisk) are that it is easy to use and sync, and it is encrypted, both in transmission, and on the server.  Which is why I am leaving ~25GB of my live documents there.

 

Datastorageunit’s philosophy is more homebrew in that the user can (must) decide how to connect and transfer files.  This means that while transmission is encrypted, the remote filesystem is not.  However, there are options available to the user to encrypt that data, though I’ve decided not to in order to keep transfer times lower and avoid a massive headache.  When it comes down to it, though, my photos do not need encryption.

I will probably never move my main documents folder there, because I need the multiple-machine synchronization features that JungleDisk offers me.  It’s really nice turning on my laptop and having it automatically download all the recent changes to my files.

 

Once the data has been transferred over, I need to figure out how to automate my rsync job so the data gets mirrored to datastorageunit every night to preserve changes I’ve made throughout the day.

 

A quick Google search reveals that this may not be as straightforward as I originally thought…