Author Archives: Paul Silver

Weeknotes 14

8th April 2019 – 14th April 2019

A busy week between work, childcare and tiredness.

Client work

Last week I managed to mix in a lot of the work on my client’s new server that was actually done this week – an easy mistake when working across the weekend then only writing up my notes half way through the week. So, on top of the mixed in work, I managed to get the last bits of the sites set up and tested, some database queries optimised to make a report page work correctly again, and the old server switched off so the client won’t be paying for two running with only one doing any work.

Otherwise it was all investigating situations to find bugs, fixing minor bugs, getting Laura to work on bigger tasks with me testing them, and lining up potential future work.

My Projects

Not enough progress to talk about this week. Must do better next week.

Productivity

Thanks to friends and family, I got a lot more work time than I expected, with Tom visiting people for at least part of the day every day Katie was working. That let me get on with client work, and some tasks for home as well on Thursday.

One thing I forgot from the notes last week was I woke up with a migraine during Friday night, which didn’t help my productivity as I had to work that Saturday. This week I again woke up with a migraine during Friday night. Fortunately both were weak, with this one weaker than the previous. I think the cause of both was some food I got from the Street Diner street food market in Brighton, which is the only common link across the two days before the migraines. Most likely the sauce they added to the food was the cause, but I’m not interested in experimenting enough to work out if it’s that or something in the marinade the stall was using. Shame as the brisket they serve is lovely.

Learning

Still not enough time on this, I’m hoping to get some done this coming week as I’ve got a bit more time for work than this week, around some more family care time.

The Farm

In the Caxton Arms this week, and numbers up a touch to 14, and another good night, although I spent a bit too long talking to one person, although he is new and I thought he did need a bit of help trying to slim down what he is trying to do (although he may have felt otherwise.) My general notes were…

  • Handling clients who use technical language incorrectly
  • Automation
  • Hacking Notepad
  • Looking forward to a meeting
  • Reasons to learn Assembly language
  • Smaller services being bought by Amazon/Google/Microsoft/Apple
  • Commenting code
  • Putting out educational material for self promotion and profit
  • Oauth
  • How to narrow down what to learn next
  • Searching Google when there’s not much material on a topic
  • Training a machine learning system

Family

We headed to Nymans Gardens on Sunday so Tom could take part in their Easter Egg hunt, which this year was finding hanging letters and poems scattered around the gardens. A very nice, relaxing trip that let me dust off my old Canon bridge camera and take some photos.

Boy over old stone wall

Reading: Still on A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick. It’s decent, but a bit confusing when I’m tired.

Watching: Solo the Han Solo origins Star Wars film. A decent addition to the franchise, I’m not sure it really needed to be made but it was enjoyable and nice to see another Star Wars film not built around The Force.

Writing with: Mainly a Papermate Inkjoy 0.7 gel pen. Another smooth, consistent writer from Papermate, in common with their other gel pens this one is rather ink hungry, but as it gives a thick, dark line that isn’t a surprise.

Weeknotes 13

1st April 2019 – 7th April 2019

A busy week between work, childcare and tiredness.

Client work

I finally got access to my client’s new server from my development machine, which runs OSX and was having trouble. The end part of the week became packaging up their main site, test site, and 30+ small sites and moving them over to the new server and setting them up again.

We had been using a couple of different ways of doing URL re-writing on the old server, layered in over time. One of them didn’t work on the new server so I had to update several sites to use something IIS 8.5 could run. Unfortunately IIS 8.5 seems a touch fragile, in that whenever I stuffed up a re-write rule it stopped responding and needed it’s service restarting, taking out everything not just the site or set of directories affected by the re-writing. I was glad I got a chance to fiddle with them before the sites were live as although restarting the service didn’t take long, it was still more downtime than I’d like.

Moving the sites was a little time consuming but not too bad, mainly compressing them in to big files and transferring between servers – nice and quick as they’re in the same datacentre (or ‘cloud’, which of course is another name for a datacentre in this case.) Most of the time disappeared in to getting email sending through the client’s web servers – always a problem as it involves two layers of support at their IT support firm, setting up SQL Server and transferring a database, configuring ColdFusion, and myriad other small fixes.

To get everything done quickly before the client starts getting charged for running two servers – they get a grace period for a cross over, a lot of which was chewed up getting me access to the new server – I worked a chunk of Sunday to make progress, knowing the school Easter holiday starting next week would mean a lot of my time would disappear on family things. Hopefully the move will be finished early next week.

My Projects

I have a small web app which I made a couple of years ago to track how my marketing for my app and the Farm was progressing. As part of it’s monitoring of what I put out, it reads the RSS feed of this site and I noticed that was failing. A quick investigation discovered that it didn’t like certain types of secure certificate, i.e. the type used by Let’s Encrypt, due to the version of Java running under the site (which uses Railo, an open source ColdFusion engine.)

At the moment I’m putting up with the irritation of it not working. I might up my hosting package at Viviotech to get some space running Lucee, a more recent open source ColdFusion engine. That’d be cheaper and more robust than spending the time trying to write around the problem, which would involve me having to work out which feeds are affected and then crawl them via another of my sites running something that can read the certificates correctly. Delving in to that felt like a big distraction so I’ve left it for now.

Productivity

I got quite a lot done, in the time I had for work as I was doing a lot of school runs and childcare this week and felt knackered for a lot of it.

A bonus was several hours of no pain from my hip on Tuesday morning, which I’m putting down to doing several short walks in the day on Monday as I needed thinking time for solving some problems. I tried to replicate that in other parts of the week but didn’t quite manage it.

The gap in pain brought home to me how used I am to having it play up in one way or another at the moment, which is not really positive for the future as I was rather hoping my hip would last for as long as I need it (say, another 40 years or so) and it doesn’t seem to be going that way.

Learning

Not enough time on this as I got time in for one lesson, but haven’t managed to schedule some exercise/research time, which I need in a couple of decent sized blocks. Hopefully I’ll be able to get that done once the server move is done.

The Farm

Once again in the Caxton Arms this week, and numbers down to just a dozen, although it was quite a good night – sometimes the smaller group can feel that way as you get a chance to follow so many conversations and threads.

  • Finding bugs in your own old software
  • Car problem noises
  • Doing your accounts
  • Reconsillyrubbish
  • Pay an accountant or do your own accounts?
  • Hardcoded paths and IDs that should never have been hardcoded
  • Mutual almost project catch up
  • Rates for Node.js work in London are _very_ high right now
  • Cavern diving in Mexico
  • “If you crash it, you pay!”
  • Mega zip wires
  • Bitcoin
  • Mackrel, dogfish and fishing on hard mode
  • Learning fishing from YouTube
  • Is there an ethical way to catch a fish?
  • How to kill a goat
  • How to tell a potential client their budget is just too low for what they want to do
  • Cat stories
  • Addiction to Love Hearts

Reading: Finished Ancillary Mercy, which I found very satisfying but I can see why some people don’t like the series. I’m going to try to find time to do a longer write up of some of the themes I saw in the books, hopefully I’ll find time rather than letting it fade in to the background because of work. Started A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick, as something completely different.

Writing with: I did indeed stick to the Zebra Z-Grip Max until it was finished, then switched on to a Papermate Inkjoy 0.5 needlepoint, which is also a nice, smooth writer.

Weeknotes 12

25th March 2019 – 31st March 2019

More feeling rough, still too much Brexit news, and some progress on my projects.

Client work

A busier week, although still feeling rough which slowed progress.

Cloudflare is looking better for the client I am testing it for and seems to knock about half a second off their page load time now it has settled in. I’m now working out whether to use it on their standard domain or register one for their static assets (CSS, images and so on.)

I finally actually managed to get access to another client’s new server… but only using Windows 10, which I have on a very underpowered PC I use for testing. This is far from ideal as I don’t want to cart around two laptops whenever I need to work on that site, and the PC is really too slow to comfortably develop on. I’m currently waiting for their support to come back with enough details that I can get a VPN client for OSX working to connect. OSX has VPN software built in, but I’ve tried all the options in it and can’t get it to connect to the firewall the host has set up. I’m still finding this very frustrating.

Mixed in with this, various small updates for all my clients, and testing work that Laura did for them.

My projects

After a motivating talk with Dave at the Farm, I managed to get a chunk of work done on Brisk. I’ve still got a bunch to do on it, but it feels good to get some more, very useful features in and work towards getting in some changes one of my beta testers requested to match how she works.

Productivity

Better than last week, but still not great. I hurt my knee doing a walk in the Downs with my son’s Cub group on Thursday night and was in pain until something clicked back in to place on Saturday. This leads me to think I have the same problem in my knee(s) that I do in my hips, which isn’t great. Before I’d blamed my reoccurring knee problem on wrenching it when ice skating a couple of years ago. I have to hope that it’s really just that coming back, but I need to get it checked at some point.

Several days at The Skiff helped with productivity, and thanks to family help and Tom going to a special music event one day after school, I got more work time than our schedules would suggest this week.

Learning

A chunk more 30×500 is now under my belt. I’ve got a few more stages to do then I want to sit down, finish a chunk of content for the Farm site, then get on with researching what to write for Brisk.

The Farm

We were back in the Caxton Arms this week, and I was back driving so no beer for me. Numbers were down a bit again at only 15. My notes are…

  • Looking for the right kind of marketer
  • Brexit votes
  • American tax forms
  • Building vs marketing an app
  • You need to understand some marketing yourself even if you get someone else to do it
  • Mutual client project catch up
  • Google Cloud Talent Solutions
  • Changes of management at a client/employer can be problematic
  • Scheduling your time effectively
  • Wanting to become a better writer
  • Procrastination
  • Terry Pratchett
  • Embuggerance
  • Client troubles
  • Trying to find time for building your own app/assets

Family

The Downs walk on Thursday finished at the same time as the ISS was visible, causing my excitement from Tom which transferred to the rest of his pack. I had Tom all weekend as Katie was working. I got Garageband working on my laptop so he could practise what he learnt using it at a special music event at our local secondary school on Wednesday.

The highlight of the weekend was going to Robots Live in Burgess Hill, to see various remote controlled ‘robots’ fighting, as per the TV show Robot Wars (once again cancelled, which was how the Robots Live touring show started many years ago.) As well as enjoying the robot battles, Tom was delighted to get a chance to drive a tiny version of one of the fighting robots thanks to a member of one of the teams generously letting a lot of the younger members of the audience have a go on several robots under his watchful eye.

We’ve been to the show three times now and the STEM links to building robots is getting mentioned a lot more than it used to, but if this is the sort of thing that encourages kids in to science and engineering, that is all for the better. It’s not all just seeing 100kg lumps of metal throwing each other around, honest.

Here’s a blurry photo of some of the robots fighting in their heavily armoured arena…

Robots fighting at Robots Live in Burgess Hill

Reading: I’m very much enjoying Ancillary Mercy and I’m going to be disappointed to leave the characers behind when it finishes.

Writing with: Started on a Fountain Pentel, then kept bouncing back to the Zebra Z-Grip Max I have on the go as it’s almost empty. I’ll probably stick with the Zebra until it’s done next week, then work out what I’m switching on to.

Writing in: I finished the Lemome notebook I started the year with and started a Flying Tiger bullet journal dot grid A5 notebook. The paper isn’t as thick and good as the Lemome, but at £6 it was a bargain and I think better than the Leuchtturm1917 notebooks I’ve had in the past. Minimal ghosting meaning I have a chance to use both sides of the page which is difficult in a Leuchtturm and nigh on impossible in Moleskine with the pens I’m currently using.

Weeknotes 11

18th March 2019 – 24th March 2019

A week of feeling rough and juggling projects, with too much Brexit news in the mix.

Client work

Client work was slow as I was feeling rough and tired all week with a low level cold. There wasn’t anything particularly interesting to talk about – fixes to bits of a Twitter integration for a client, checking Laura’s work with Google Cloud Talent Solution for another client, and checking whether it was worth putting Cloudflare in front of the site.

I finally got access to my client’s new server… almost. They have a new server, but actually getting at it is being a frustrating set of roadblocks. When they got their first server from Host My Site, we received a document listing how to access the site. Now they’re owned by Hosting.com we get details in a web based dashboard, which don’t actually list what to do with them, and after a lot of faff so far I have some VPN software that works in Windows but not OSX, and still no knowledge on how to get to the web server itself. Highly frustrating given they are not a cheap service. I’ve got outstanding requests with their support which will hopefully be answered tomorrow. I will be delighted if it turns out I’ve missed something obvious from their support section.

On the Cloudflare front… I’ve set up two domains pointing to a test site of the client’s site, one using Cloudflare and the other not so I can benchmark response times between using Cloudflare and their standard setup. We get a very small benefit if using Cloudflare, but very little as the site uses Cookies and if you do that, Cloudflare doesn’t cache the HTML page itself. It does cache the static assets (image and Javascript in this case) but we already have those on long browser cache times so don’t get a great benefit from also being on the Cloudflare Content Delivery Network (CDN.)

Happily, Cloudflare have a generous free version so this testing has just cost some time. I’ve got a couple more things to check, but I don’t think we’ll need it for this particular project.

My projects

I host my friend Richard’s blog, and it had broken on the hosting I had it on. I’d been meaning to move it off, and this was a good time to do it. It hit a problem when I moved it to some of my Cloudways hosting where WordPress, the software it was running on, wouldn’t update itself. Working out how to fix that also lead to me fixing it on my own site, which I wrote up here.

So, Weeknotes 9 finally get a photo of my son at his air rifle shooting competition.

Otherwise – a little work on Farm things but no where near enough on my own projects.

Productivity

Badly hit by feeling rubbish, and far too much Brexit news which triggered some interesting conversations at The Skiff, but were not good for focus. My hip pain was variable but seems to be getting better now with a mix of walking and physiotherapy exercises.

I ended up working half of Saturday to catch up due to low work rate and juggling family things. I hate working at the weekend but am getting pushed in to it with Katie’s shifts being bad for business at the moment.

Learning

Very little time on 30×500 this week, although some time on building up content for the Farm using it’s teachings. Need to get back on this horse next week.

The Farm

We shifted to the Evening Star pub this week as our usual venue the Caxton Arms had a charity pub quiz on taking up the whole pub. It made a nice change, and I got a lift so was able to have some of their lovely Dark Star beer.

There were 17 of us at the meeting this week. My notes on what was talked about…

  • Laravel App Containers – good idea or not?
  • PHP-Slow log
  • Moving a site from Laravel 4 to 5
  • Debugging Laravel
  • Rush rates
  • Structuring your work to fit in other work
  • Apollopad writing (web) app
  • NanoWriMo
  • Bookcrossing
  • Finding time for non-client work
  • Scrivener – good or bad?
  • Marketing problems
  • 30×500
  • Oat beer – no enzymes so how does it work?
  • Brexit mayhem
  • Cloudflare not making much difference – good sign or not?

I had a nice catch up with Dave Child from Readable.com about what to do with the bootstrapping group I’ve lapsed on running, and about business in general. A lot of this week’s Farm was talking about clients or projects I’m involved with, which was fine but I missed some of the more relaxing side of the event.

Family

Some helping son with making a space themed game, which Katie put a lot of effort in to both on the getting a nine year old to do something front and organising the building of it. We shifted Mother’s Day to this weekend as Katie will be working the day itself.

Reading: I gave up on The Powerbook and took it back to the library. I’ve started Ancillary Mercy by Anne Leckie, the third part of her Imperial Radch trilogy. It’s started well and page count-wise I’ve read as much in 3-4 days as I did in a few weeks of reading Powerbook.

Writing with: A Zebra Z-Grip Max gel pen. Great on the right paper, but it’s unfortunately scratchy on some including the Fabriano pad I leave at The Skiff. I think this is due to it being old and the gel ink starting to degrade a bit. I’ve a few left of this discontinued pen so I hope the others are in better condition as it’s a lovely pen when it works.

Solving a WordPress update problem on Cloudways hosting

I have several sites hosted on Cloudways, both my own and access to clients ones. I hit a weird problem where WordPress on some sites would update fine automatically or through the admin area of WordPress, but it would not on my own site.

Recently while moving a friend’s site across different parts of my hosting, I found the problem.

Cloudways gives me two levels of SSH account to access the sites on each virtual server. A ‘master’ account which can access the files on all sites and an account on each website which can only access that particular site.

For my own site I hadn’t bothered making an SSH account for it, I just used the master account to upload the files. Not having an SSH account seemed better for security, even though you can turn them off quite easily.

This meant PHP did not have enough permissions to overwrite the files when it came time for WordPress to update itself. For the Farm site, I’d given Haze a website-specific SSH account to upload the files, and that version of WordPress could update itself without issue.

So, I made an SSH account just for my site. Ah-ha, I thought, rather than have to delete the site and re-upload it with the new account, I’ll use ‘chown’ to reassign the files to the user I’ve just created. But… no dice. Something either in their setup or my commands wasn’t working.

Rather than spend even more time faffing, I deleted the site and re-uploaded it using the new details. Now WordPress can update itself with no problems. [Update:] See below for a comment from Mustaasam from Cloudways with how to solve this with a few clicks rather than deleting and re-uploading.

If you’re a Cloudways customer and are having problems with WordPress not updating itself, check how you uploaded the files in the first place. You can do this by using SSH to view the site and ‘ls -la’ to list all the files and which account owns them – if it’s your master account, try deleting the files and upload them again with your site specific SSH account.

Thanks go to Tony Crockford and Matthew Beck for helping me with WordPress and pointing me in directions that eventually lead to me working all this out.