Nightmares in web hosting

About six weeks ago I decided to update my web site and upgrade my CMS software. That required having my web host transfer my site to a server that was configured to handle the new features. Upon request the site was moved, but afterward “Support” failed to:

  1. verify the site subsequently was accessible via the domain URL, which it was not.
  2. send the new URL for the site admin access.
  3. send the new settings needed for email.
  4. send the new URL for webmail access.

Support was so unresponsive that within a week I moved to a new web host just to get the site accessible again.

Lesson 1: Check web host reviews to verify whether support is responsive and thorough as well as available.

My admin and I agreed to try a VPS (virtual private server) at the new host, thinking that a virtual machine, which typically is set up within an environment that has already been secured, such as on a PC with malware protection or on a PC or server inside a network firewall, would prevent some issues that caused problems for the previous host.

My web administrator is a veteran of nearly 30 years on UNIX systems who is known for securing them well. The new web host recommended an OS that was somewhat new but assured us, orally as well as via the statements on its web site, that it would “hand-hold” as much as necessary for set up, maintenance and security.

It took several days to build the VPS and the site and to investigate and address every security issue we could identify. Within a week, however,the web host sent a nasty email notifying us that the admin password for the site - which is set through software selected and installed by the web host and which we could neither configure nor replace - had been cracked and the site was being used to send spam.

I took the site offline, got support on chat (phone support, we realized after we moved, was reserved for emergencies only) and repeatedly asked for instructions on how to block hackers. I was told only to change the admin password and make sure all software patches had been applied.

Lesson 2: Make sure phone support is 24/7 for all causes, not just for emergencies.

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Bugs along the Python trail

python programmingOne reason my sister gave me the raspberry pi was to help keep my interest in learning Python programming after I hit my first snags. I started with a book called Learn Python the Hard Way.

It is excellent in some ways. First, it focuses on the command line, which is good both for someone who likes knowing why things work the way they do and who hates the limitations inherent in using a   GUI (Graphical User Interface). The emphasis on manually typing in every command, rather than cutting and pasting for speed, helps you learn the commands faster. My favorite feature of the book was the image of what you should see on the screen after running each lesson's program.

I quickly became frustrated, however, with the extent to which the book relied on the "just do it" and "figure it out for yourself" approach in the study drills. Making you think through the logic is one

thing; asking you to do something for which you are not properly prepared is another. For example, at one point the exercise was to search the web for a "list of all Python format characters." During my search, I actually found a message board post where someone asked, in the exact language used in the book, where such a list could be found. One response to the query said the question was unanswerable as it was asked.

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Raspberry picking

Raspberry pi in optional case, shown beside business card for size comparison.Shortly after I embarked on a study of Python, which is my first foray into programming, my sister, the UNIX guru, surprised me with a little raspberry pi. If you have not encountered one already, a raspberry pi is a little self-contained computer the size of a credit card that retails for about $30. Here it is shown in its optional case. The business card beside it provides a size comparison.

It comes with connections for standard peripherals (keyboard, mouse and monitor) and free operating system and software sufficient for learning Python,handling standard word processing, spreadsheets and other tasks, both common and more advanced, such as home theater and robotics.

Designed to provide complete, low-cost tools to teach students programming, it is an impressive little package that has accomplished its goal very well and thereby taken the world by storm. Programmers like it because it lets them test programs without risking damage to the family PC. Parents and students like it for its portability, completeness and low cost. Although its power is more comparable to a cell phone than a standard computer, its design nevertheless allows very complex and sophisticated applications.

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