Is CloudFlare Reliable?

This website and some other websites I maintain had their ups and downs. All of my websites are running via CloudFlare.

When you are utilizing CloudFlare and your website is dynamic (not static HTML pages), CloudFlare will still need to contact the server where your website is hosted in order to get the latest content. Few examples of dynamic websites include the popular platform like WordPress (what this site is running), Joomla!, Drupal. That is a tiny list as an example.

Well, unless the host is running RailGun but that’s a totally different story for a different time.

So this is the dreaded screen:

cloudflare-website-offline

I used to think that it was CloudFlare’s fault. But after a lot of observations, I do think that the hosting providers are not reliable enough especially if they are not Cloudflare certified. I’ve used popular providers in Malaysia (at least 3) and the USA (one giant), and I still receive this page a lot. Well, even if I don’t receive this page, I receive regular alerts from UptimeRobot telling me that my websites are not accessible.

All websites at the same time. So the most logical explanation was that the origin server was down.

I have had people emailing me telling their experience that CloudFlare is not reliable, but for me, it’s really good to save bandwidth and increase the load time for geographically scattered visitors. Sure, there are times when they make mistakes like what happened in February last year but hey, we’re all humans. Plus the service is really cheap compared to the value they provide.

Some hosting providers who aren’t aware about Cloudflare will mark the IPs as abusive since only CloudFlare IPs will access the website (Note: HTTP server logs can have real IPs using modules or configurations). Plus, providers who charge based on bandwidth will lose a significant amount of money to be billed to their customers since Cloudflare intercepts and caches static contents very well.

Because of this reason, the sites I own are now running in VPS fully managed by me. So far, after more than a month there isn’t a single case of downtime. So far so good.

So go ahead and give CloudFlare a try.

Redirecting WordPress Permalinks in Nginx

I know, it’s been really a long time since I last wrote an article in this blog. But trust me, I’ve done a lot of improvements at the back end. The blog is now in a new server, with new backup infrastructure, and most importantly served by Nginx.

I was just casually looking at 404 errors in my Awstats and saw a bunch of these:

romantika.name-404-errors

I’ve changed the permalink structure for this site ages ago, and I did not notice this. I have no excuse for this mistake.

To avoid more 404 I made a simple fix in my Nginx configuration:

rewrite "/\d{4}/\d{2}/\d{2}/(.*)" /$1 permanent;

So now if visitors try to access https://blog.adyromantika.com/2007/05/02/wordpress-plugin-random-posts-widget/ they will be redirected to the new permalink https://blog.adyromantika.com/wordpress-plugin-random-posts-widget/

That’s it. I love Nginx for its simplicity and speed. I should thank my friends Welly and Englebert for promoting Nginx to me.

I love challenges using Regex so if you have any questions do leave a comment. Can’t guarantee in what year I will be able to respond though!

Sluggish iChat, Messages, Terminal, and Others in Mac OS X Lion

After about 60 days using my MacBook Pro running Mac OS X Lion (10.7.3), I saw some sluggishness in some apps. At first, it was Messages (iChat replacement for Mountain Lion). It went unresponsive and displays the rainbow wheel for a few seconds, enough to annoy an impatient user.

Then, the same behavior happened in Terminal. This is where I realize the common behavior. You know, when you press delete on an empty prompt, you get a bell. The default is the audible bell. When I change it to the visual bell, sluggishness disappeared.

On Messages, I had the default sound effect setting when messages are received or sent.

Boy was I right. In the log /var/log/system.log there were a bunch of these:

May  3 22:30:57 ADYMAC iChat[66352]: [Warning] Actions: Couldn't create SystemSound from /Applications/iChat.app/Contents/Resources/Received Message.aiff
May  3 22:31:07 ADYMAC iChat[66352]: [Warning] Unable to find a sound action ID for /Applications/iChat.app/Contents/Resources/Received Message.aiff  errorResult: 268435460
May  3 22:31:07 ADYMAC iChat[66352]: [Warning] Actions: Couldn't create SystemSound from /Applications/iChat.app/Contents/Resources/Received Message.aiff
May  3 22:31:17 ADYMAC iChat[66352]: [Warning] Unable to find a sound action ID for /Applications/iChat.app/Contents/Resources/Received Message.aiff  errorResult: 268435460

These are when I tried to change the system bell using the System Preferences application.

May 11 01:45:55 adymac System Preferences[44495]: Error 268435460 setting AlertSound
May 11 01:53:22 adymac System Preferences[44678]: Error 268435460 setting AlertSound
May 11 01:58:20 adymac System Preferences[44678]: Error 268435460 setting AlertSound
May 11 01:58:25 adymac System Preferences[44678]: Error 268435460 setting AlertSound

And so I tried a lot of things, including logging out then in, inspecting the file permissions, and also ran the verify permission utility on the hard disk using Disk Utility. Nothing worked.

Finally, I saw that there was one process called coreaudiod

_coreaudiod    45197   0.0  0.1  2453172   5228   ??  Ss   Fri02AM   0:10.52 /usr/sbin/coreaudiod

And so I tried killing it:

$ sudo killall coreaudiod

And as expected, it respawned itself and all audio effects were now working. Sluggishness and the dreaded rainbow wheel are gone.

Googling after, I saw that people mentioned that this may be a bug, and killing coreaudiod is only a workaround not the solution.

Come to think of it, it also caused unnecessary delay when making screen shots using the Command-Shift-4 key combination.

I hope this can save you some time.

Build LFTP on Mac OS X Lion

If you’re a seasoned Linux SysAdmin, you’ll miss LFTP. It’s a really powerful FTP client. Yes, you can also install it using MacPorts or Fink but right now, this is much quicker for me.

Here’s how I built LFTP 4.3.6 on my MacBook Pro. For the record, I’m on 10.7.3

Prerequisite: Apple developer tools (Xcode)

1. Download The GNU Readline Library (The library that came with OS X will not work). This is how I built Readline 6.2:

$ cd /where/readline/was/extracted
$ ./configure --prefix="/usr/local" --disable-shared && make && sudo make install

This will build a static library and install in it /usr/local

2. Make sure the library (libreadline.a) was built successfully in /usr/local/lib

3. Download LFTP and build it:

$ cd /where/lftp/was/extracted
$ CXXFLAGS="-O0 -Wall -fno-exceptions -fno-rtti -fno-implement-inlines" \
LDFLAGS="-Xlinker -search_paths_first -L/usr/local/lib" \
CPPFLAGS="-I/usr/local/include" \
./configure --with-openssl --disable-shared --disable-nls
$ make && sudo make install

In the lftp configure line, the “-Xlinker -search_paths_first” is necessary so that the linker will not prefer the system shared /usr/lib/libreadline.dylib to the static libreadline.a we just compiled.

The final binary will be installed into your /usr/local/bin/lftp and if your build was successful you should be able to run “lftp” and get the prompt:

lftp :~>

My LFTP version:

LFTP | Version 4.3.6 | Copyright (c) 1996-2012 Alexander V. Lukyanov
 
LFTP is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify
it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or
(at your option) any later version.
 
This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE.  See the
GNU General Public License for more details.
 
You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License
along with LFTP.  If not, see <http: //www.gnu.org/licenses/>.
 
Send bug reports and questions to the mailing list lftp at uniyar.ac.ru.
 
Libraries used: Readline 6.2, Expat 2.0.1, OpenSSL 0.9.8r 8 Feb 2011, libiconv 1.11, zlib 1.2.5

Good luck!

Perhaps some of you arrived by searching for “error: ‘rl_kill_full_line’ was not declared in this scope”. Yep, the above steps should help you.

UniFi Phone Call Forwarding

If you’re here to look for the way to forward the phone that comes to UniFi to another phone number, I apologize. I don’t know how. I tried asking TM call center but they told me to call UniFi support for UniFi phone.

For the record every time I try *61*XXXXXXXXXX# the automated voice response is “harap maaf, anda tidak mempunyai akses ke nombor ini”. I think it’s related to a protection so that users can’t simply forward to any number. Protection is good only if there are procedures to follow to make a feature useful. Not in this case.

I created a ticket in the My Support section in myUniFi only to be closed by X1012121 – it’s not even a real name. The ticket was closed without any explanation whatsoever. Nada. Nothing. Nil.

So what they put in their Microsoft SharePoint website Phone (Voice Features) page doesn’t work. At least for me. If you can see any instructions on adding custom phone numbers to the forward list, do let me know. I might need new spectacles.

As a matter of fact, I created a ticket a week earlier about something else and although I specifically asked to be emailed, they called. Maybe the text on their system is too small to read especially the “Preferred communication” field. I don’t know. The annoying thing was that the person kept calling and calling and calling when the call was not picked up.

When the call is not picked up, please call later.

If you’re not going to fully support your value added services, you might as well not offer them at all. I am fully satisfied with the Internet service, but since there are “FREE” added service I thought I might utilize it. Now that I know they don’t work, I’m unhappy.

One thing that really bothers me is that I think they don’t really have an SLA with customers, and KPI to fulfill. Closing tickets without any reason is unacceptable by any standard, not even in inter organization support services.

I will never understand why TM work like this… and I know this post will not mean anything to them. I am just disappointed. Having some exposure on how they do stuff, I think they can do better and generate more profit than now but the mentality is just beyond me.

Malaysia boleh?

Mac Messages Beta

Apple has just released the developer preview for OS X Mountain Lion yesterday and at the same time released the beta version of Messages, an upgrade of iChat. Here is the link to download Messages.

Installation is straight forward but you will be warned that the machine will need to be restarted. After installation, the spanking new icon will appear in the dock. The rightmost icon in the screenshot, not the middle one.

After installation (and configuration with your iCloud account), the familiar iChat UI will appear. Alongside with a new “iPad inspired” message list. Messages will continue to work with the existing accounts, just with additional features. As you can see in my screenshot my Google Talk (Jabber) account works fine.

I really wanted to know whether old messages from the iPhone will be imported. They were not. Which is no big deal. I’m not sure whether some background sync will happen while I use it. I’ll update if it does that.

I sent a test message to a buddy, Nazham:

At the same moment, my message and his reply appeared in both Messages for Mac and the iPhone. This is what Apple meant by “Start an iMessage conversation on your Mac and continue it on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch.”.

I love it.

Knowing Apple, Mountain Lion might be the only OS X I can upgrade my 2010 MacBook Pro with and I hope the price will be more or less like Lion.

Until next time, happy computing.

VirtueMart Custom Login Module in Joomla!

Here’s a short article on making a simple module to include on your Joomla! pages that displays login / logout links. I’m a Joomla! newbie so there might be better ways to accomplish this.

I was helping a friend-client to accomplish redirection to the same page after logout.

Here’s the basic code that you need to have in a module with the Jumi extension:

< ?php
    $user=& JFactory::getUser();
    if (!$user->guest)
        echo '<a href="index.php?option=com_user&task=logout&return=Lw">Logout</a>';
    else
        echo '<a href="index.php?page=account.index&option=com_virtuemart">Login</a>';
?>

The code above will redirect users to the root or uppermost level of the website.

Let’s say that your website is http://www.yourwebsite.com/ and your shopping page with VirtueMart is installed at a subfolder http://www.yourwebsite.com/shop/

The question is simply where you want your user to end up after logging out. If you need your users to end up at http://www.yourwebsite.com/ then you’re good to go. If you want your users to be redirected to the shop or a thank you page, here’s where you need to be a little creative.

You need to replace that “Lw” in the logout link to a different string. “Lw” is the base 64 representation of the character “/”. So this means that the user will be redirected to / which is http://www.yourwebsite.com/

A solution I came out with:

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
< ?php
    $redirect_to = '/shop/';
    $user=& JFactory::getUser();
    if (!$user->guest)
        echo '<a href="index.php?option=com_user&task=logout&return=' . base64_encode($redirect_to) . '">Logout</a>';
    else
        echo '<a href="index.php?page=account.index&option=com_virtuemart">Login</a>';
?>

So only line 2 needs to be changed. Let’s say you want users to be redirected to http://www.yourwebsite.com/thankyou.html here’s how you will change line 2:

2
    $redirect_to = '/thankyou.html';

If you’d like your users to simply be redirected to the same page where they clicked the logout link, here’s what you should do to line 2:

2
    $redirect_to = $_SERVER['REQUEST_URI'];

That’s simply it. At first, I totally forgot that I can use PHP’s base64_encode so I ended up confusing my friend with an online encoder so that he can replace the “Lw”.

One annoying thing that I wasn’t able to solve is the login page always displays the error message:

Error: You do not have permission to access the requested module.

I think Joomla! is trying to load VirtueMart too early and I can’t make it go away. Looking at the Internet a lot of other websites has this message displayed. If you know how this message can be removed without hacking the CSS or source code, please let me know and I’ll give you credit.

References:

  1. http://forum.virtuemart.net/index.php?topic=88802#msg290906
  2. http://forum.joomla.org/viewtopic.php?p=1457876

Crocs Malaysia Warehouse Sale

I have always been a fan of Crocs shoes because of their lightness, durability and the airy design. As someone who suffers from athlete’s foot since the teen years, airy means better air circulation and dryer feet.

Back in 2009 or 2010 we went to a Crocs warehouse sale in Ikano Power Center in Damansara. It was held in an empty unit next to the IT hypermarket at the top floor. We bought 5 pairs – two for myself and three for my son.

I bought myself an Olive Baya, and a Black Trailbreak.

For my son we bought him a Green Baya, a Batman Cayman and a Crocs Electro.

For other models than the Baya, links are from other websites as they no longer exist on the official website. Maybe they have been taken off production or something.

The purpose of this post is to make sure that if there is any more warehouse sale in the future, and if you’re going, you better thoroughly check the shoes you’re buying.

A few days back, my son was having trouble to put on the Crocs Electro on his left foot. That was weird, and at first I had a silly thought that his left foot has grown more than his right foot. I was surprised to see that the shoes, although marked with the same size, had the left one smaller than the other.

I don’t know how this happened but I’m not happy. Lucky for us we realize this before his feet were bruised more. It is not my intention to accuse anything at anyone but I have to admit that I am disappointed. Knowing Malaysia, we can’t return the shoes especially since it was bought in a warehouse sale. Heck, we can’t even return them if we buy them at retail price.

And of course, living in Malaysia I’m not excluding the possibilities of foul play. It’s how most businesses make maximum profit anyway…

You can see more pictures in the full post.

Continue reading Crocs Malaysia Warehouse Sale

Leverage Browser Caching

In the previous post I wrote about enabling compression for your pages so that they would load faster to the visitor. Today I’m going to write about how you can make use of browser caching to save some bandwidth.

Some people told me that their ISP or hosting provider requested that they upgrade the hosting plan or subscribe for more bandwidth. Since this site doesn’t have that much traffic, I wouldn’t know.

However recently I was able to help on a website which has a lot of visitors compared to this site. Around 14-18 visitors per minute on a working day and the bandwidth usage was very high, more than a gigabyte per day.

For the website, I saw that there were many requests for images (photos). The images aren’t that big anyway, around 100KB each but the amount of request made it significant.

Armed with knowledge of mod_expires, I added the following clauses to .htaccess while hoping that the server has the module installed. The following configuration is minimal, and Google Pagespeed actually suggests for 1 week.

<ifmodule mod_expires.c>
        ExpiresActive On
        ExpiresByType image/gif "access plus 2 hours"
        ExpiresByType image/png "access plus 2 hours"
        ExpiresByType image/jpg "access plus 2 hours"
        ExpiresByType image/jpeg "access plus 2 hours"
        ExpiresByType text/css "access plus 2 hours"
        ExpiresByType application/javascript "access plus 2 hours"
        ExpiresByType application/x-javascript "access plus 2 hours"
</ifmodule>

Although I know why Google Analytics set its expiry to 2 hours, it’s kind of amusing since the suggestion comes from another Google product. Oh well I am allowed to be amused right?

So let’s get to the results. Here are the bandwidth graphs from both days. I enabled mod_expires at around 6PM on 5 January 2012.

We can’t really see the difference by looking at the graphs. Google Analytics shows that there are at least 200 more visits on 6 January 2012. The numbers? Here you go:

At least 400MB were saved by this technique. You can actually put specific settings for each folder in your website. For example 2 hours is nice for cosmetic images which may need to be changed frequently but not for photos. For example if you run a photography website, you can even make your photos to expire in 1 year!

What mod_expires does is actually telling the browser that the resource (images) will expire on a specific date. It’s flexible enough to set the date from the access time. Here is the link to the official manual page for mod_expires.

Please be careful to note that this is not a quick solution for the lazy. You must think hard enough to set the proper amount of time before the images expire otherwise normal users will not see your changes or updates to the image until the cache on their browsers expire!

Good luck!

Let Apache Compress Your Website

Website speed is one of the most important factor to make people like to visit more. In 2008, I wrote Compressing WordPress Output and this is done by adding one line to index.php

The problem with that approach is that when you upgrade WordPress you have to manually add the line into index.php, and the technique does not improve loading time for administration pages.

Compressing is done on the fly by Apache, and it helps improve loading time because your browser receives smaller files. While some browsers were broken (they do not know how to handle compressed content), today’s browsers are much more efficient.

If your webhost allows you to add your own .htaccess then you can use this technique. Please note that you can do this for any type of website, not limited to WordPress.

<ifmodule mod_deflate.c>
     AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/text text/html text/plain text/xml text/css application/x-javascript application/javascript
</ifmodule>

As simple as that. The directive above will ask Apache to compress text, html, xml, css, and javascript files before sending them to the browser. We don’t compress images because we don’t save much on image compression plus it will be too stressful for Apache.

You can use Firebug or Chrome to actually verify whether your content is now zipped. You might have to clear your browser cache first otherwise the files will not be requested from the server. You should look for the content-encoding header and it should say “gzip”. To satisfy yourself, you might want to capture the size of the page (there should be a column for that) before and after you add the directives into .htaccess and you should be able to see a significant reduction in size.

If you don’t see gzip then the possibilities are either your webhost does not allow .htaccess or mod_deflate is not installed on the server. To see whether or not mod_deflate is installed on the server you can remove the 1st and 3rd line in .htaccess and refresh the page. If it’s not installed then you will see an error.

For Joomla! users, there’s an easier way to do it in the Global Configuration section:

Simple eh?

For WordPress, one might argue that they can change the parameter gzipcompression in the semi hidden configuration page http://www.yourblog.com/wp-admin/options.php but I tried it in WordPress 3.2.1 and it did not work. I read in WordPress forums, they removed this feature because Apache can handle it much better.

Go ahead and try it out. Your visitors will be thankful.

Sparrow and Shortmail

I’ve been pushing the limits of my mid-2010 13″ MacBook Pro lately, running all sort of applications and leaving them running. There has been occasions where the machine will freeze while it struggles to schedule the CPU time to all of the applications.

I use a lot of email, and by a lot I don’t mean 10 emails per day. No joke. The features of Apple Mail 5.0 are actually enough for my daily use but it does feel a little bit sluggish with 5 IMAP accounts.

Recently, I signed up to Shortmail via my Twitter account. The idea is nice. 500 characters max per email, straight to the point.

While casually browsing through my Twitter stream last night I saw people talking about setting up Sparrow to access Shortmail and sending attachments via Dropbox.

I was thinking, Shortmail is short, Sparrow is light. Combining them together should be nice… and since all of my email accounts are now running via IMAP, why not give Sparrow a try with Shortmail before using it for serious communications.

I downloaded Sparrow through the website to try it out, instead of buying it from the Mac App Store for $9.99

I was pleased that it only asked for my email address and password so I entered my Shortmail account details. It was nice. Shortmail’s logo was displayed on the screen. But it took ten minutes to sync my 3 messages. I don’t know what it was doing and I’m not sure whether the waiting time is caused by Shortmail servers or Sparrow itself.

One thing I hate the most is how markup is displayed in the preview lines in Sparrow. It’s not in Facebook’s email but markup are there for the first 2 emails.

I can understand if there are glitches in Shortmail as it’s still fresh but I don’t expect glitches from Sparrow. I wonder how long it would take for it to sync my gigs of emails from other email accounts. I can’t even imagine and I can’t afford to waste so much time.

Looks likes it’s going to be a while before I am convinced to try Sparrow again. I am glad I didn’t rush to buy the app for $9.99 in the Mac App Store. For now, I’m leaving it to AppZapper to cleanup!

Update 16 December 2011 11:15 AM GMT+8

Less than an hour ago, I received a shortmail from Shortmail telling me that they are working on a new version of their IMAP service that should make a difference. This is great news for those who prefer using Shortmail service via regular email clients. From @Shortmail‘s timeline I can see that they are responding to many users about improving the IMAP service.

Keep up the good work! By the way, my Shortmail address is romantikaname [at] shortmail [dot] com

Thanks for the shortmail! This is nice, and it shows that you are serious about what you do!

For the record, I was more disappointed with Sparrow displaying ugly markup on the preview pane.

Compiling flip on Mac OS X

I was looking for a simple utility that will work like dos2unix tool on Linux to convert endlines from DOS to UNIX. I was scraping some contents from a server running .NET and those ugly ^M characters appeared in vim.

I found this https://ccrma.stanford.edu/~craig/utility/flip/, downloaded the PPC binary and used it happily for a while.

That is until I upgraded to Lion. I am not an expert in Mac OS X yet, but since Lion took away Rosetta and PPC codes away I got this:

Launch of "flip" failed: the PowerPC architecture is no longer supported.

The “file” utility gave me this:

flip: Mach-O executable ppc

Since I have the old Xcode installed on my machine, I thought I’d try and build it since the source code (a single .cpp file) is provided at the URL above.

Here’s how I was able to build it:

g++ -ansi -O3 -o flip flip.cpp \
-I/Developer/SDKs/MacOSX10.6.sdk/usr/include/c++/4.2.1 \
-I/Developer/SDKs/MacOSX10.6.sdk/usr/include \
-I/Developer/SDKs/MacOSX10.6.sdk/usr/include/c++/4.2.1/x86_64-apple-darwin10 \
-L/Developer/SDKs/MacOSX10.6.sdk/usr/lib && strip flip

The three -I provided it with the include paths, and the -L provided the libraries for the binary to link to. To run the compilers, you need to add them to your PATH: /Developer/usr/bin

Now flip runs well:

Usage: ./flip [-t|-u|-d|-m] filename[s]
   Converts ASCII files between Unix, MS-DOS/Windows, or Macintosh newline formats
 
   Options: 
      -u  =  convert file(s) to Unix newline format (newline)
      -d  =  convert file(s) to MS-DOS/Windows newline format (linefeed + newline)
      -m  =  convert file(s) to Macintosh newline format (linefeed)
      -t  =  display current file type, no file modifications

And “file” recognizes it as:

flip: Mach-O 64-bit executable x86_64

If you have the new Xcode 4.1 (the one that Apple just released for free in App Store), you might need to change certain paths. You’ll have to look at the errors and adjust your parameters.

I am not sure whether my development tool paths were removed as a result of Lion upgrade, but I am currently downloading Xcode 4.1 to the machine. Let’s see whether it’ll automatically set the INCLUDE, LIB, and add the development tools into my PATH.

If it does, then compiling might even be as easy as:

g++ -ansi -O3 -o flip flip.cpp && strip flip

Good luck!

Used Nikon D50 Kit For Sale

Since Mudah.my has decided to be Susah.my (again) I have decided to post this item here, on my own blog. This is my old DSLR, fully functioning and very much loved. It’s for sale as I have upgraded to a faster camera suitable for shooting children in normal and low lighting conditions.

Here’s the same text I posted in Facebook and Mudah:

Nikon D50 kit (with 18-55mm lens)

Shutter Count: ~17636
Purchased on 1 August 2006

Great camera for beginners, and 2nd body for slow moving or static subjects. Tough body, no defect in function. Complete box, including *expired* warranty card and manuals.

Reason for selling: upgrade.

I love this camera but I am unable to bring 2 bodies out, and it has been sitting in the dry box for more than a month. Such a waste for a such beautiful body.

COD/view in Cyberjaya/Putrajaya only. You may request other areas if reasonable.

Serious buyers only please. Send me an email: ady at romantika dot name

Sorry, I don’t dare to ship internationally. If you want it shipped to other states, I might be able to consider it but you’ll need to cover the shipping cost.

Here’s a link to the public Facebook album (visible to everyone) containing this camera and other used items for sale.