More ISP issues?

While the latest long site outage was proximately caused by my own foolishness, it ultimately was caused because our internet connection had gone down forcing me to reset the modem and thereby getting a new IP address. Over the last few days, the connection has continued to be flaky, usually solved by releasing and renewing the DHCP lease from the router (something I can’t do if I’m not at home, which explains the long outage yesterday). Over the last couple of days, I’ve had to do this manually about 10 times.

That’s excessive.

Unfortunately, it’s also not enough of a problem for me to want to deal with the hell that is Comcast customer service. I’m being reminded of the issues I had last May, and I’m very hopeful that for a change, this latest problem goes away on its own.

I find it amazing that Comcast is unable to deliver a reliable service. We have more problems in a year than I had in my entire life with wired telephone service — for that matter, I find my cellular service more reliable that Comcast’s internet service.

I’m still waiting impatiently for Minneapolis’ wireless solution to be rolled out in my neighborhood to at least give me a possible choice of broadband ISPs (we had DSL several years ago and never got a better connection than about 256 Kbps). Based on the published pricing, speeds are comparable and it’s certainly cheaper. My questions now revolve around actual speeds and reliability. I’m expecting to sign up for a single month while keeping Comcast as a fallback; if all goes well during that month, it’s so long to cable.

Idiot breaks website; blames hackers. Film at 11.

So I’ve discovered the root cause of my site problems over the last few days.

As I host the site on my home PC, my IP address changes from time to time. I therefore use IP updating software from my domain registrar, DNSExit. That software worked just fine, and updated the domain IP just as it was configured to do. Unfortunately, a Russian spy sneaked in and mis-configured said software.

Based on my previous post, see if you can figure out what’s wrong with this configuration:

Screenshot of DNS Update configuration

Screenshot of DNS Update configuration

As noted elsewhere, I did my best to fight off the spy, but the damage was already done, and in sneaky, nefarious fashion.

Either that, or I’m an idiot. I like the bit about the Russian spy, myself.

Computers don’t fix themselves, do they?

Over the last few days, something had gone horribly wrong with the site. I feel as if it’s been hacked, but I don’t find any evidence.

For some reason, Apache had stopped responding to the “www” hostname for a few days, which is why you’ve probably been unable to see the site (not that you tried). If you’d tried without the hostname ( you’d have seen the site minus images and style sheets. Then this morning, it suddenly started working again. What gives?

I’d been vaguely looking into the problem since I noticed the site stop responding on Saturday. It wasn’t until this morning that I actually figured out what was wrong. While I was writing a post about the problem, it suddenly went away. Later tonight I’ll try to figure out what went wrong and why.

The research I’ve already done turned up a bit of strange stuff in the access and error logs right before the site went down, but it mostly looks like the usual worms and bot net scans. There’s nothing definitive that looks like an attack succeeded. None of the usual scans of my machine have turned up anything amiss (Spybot, AVG, etc.); Reinstalled ZoneAlarm and I’m not seeing any unusual traffic . . .


I’m uncomfortable with the current state of affairs. The web server is running on my own personal PC (albeit under a dedicated user account with very limited privileges — at least I secured that much) and WordPress seems to have more that its fair share of vulnerabilities. It’s pretty easy to use, but I’m not really in love with it for any other reason.

I may find myself with an extra old PC laying around the house soon and should that come to pass, I think I’ll try installing Linux (DSL or FreeBSD are my likely choices) with Tomcat and move the site over to using Roller. Roller looks pretty full-featured, and has the added bonus of being Java-based (I know Java a lot better than I know PHP — also, PHP code is ugly).

Anyway, have fun out there. I’ll be having fun fighting with PCs on my end . . .

Up and running again

The site’s now back up and running after a hiatus of a few days owing to a blown power supply.

I was playing a game of Unreal Tournament the other night when the ‘ol computer went clunk and stopped dead. I paused a second waiting for it to explode, but it just sat there. Guess the excitement of a seven year-old shooter was just too much for it. I spent the next day or so stopping by hopefully pressing the power button, to no avail.

Eventually started troubleshooting, and picked the what seemed — given the clunk and the fact that it didn’t do anything when the power button was pressed — like an obvious choice. I pulled the power supply out of my trusty 9 year-old Packard Bell PII 300, plugged it in and the ‘ol PC started right up. (I got a lot of flack way back when over buying a Packard Bell instead of something like a Compaq because Compaq was top-of-the-line and everyone knew Packard Bell was junk. However, I have a Compaq PII 300 of similar vintage to the Packard Bell sitting on my desk and when I tried to raid it for a spare power supply, I discovered that the state-of-the-art for Compaq in 1998 was to use ISA slots and ancient AT power supplies. Fortunately, the Packard Bell had an ATX. Vindication!)

Bought a new power supply for 30 bucks at Micro Center and installed it last night, with a three-hour break in the middle to pick up the new Harry Potter.

Finished the job about two AM last night. I suppose the Compaq has one advantage over cheaper hardware: I could probably replace that power supply in about fifteen minutes but had to completely remove the motherboard and standoffs in my PC to do so.

Anyway, more to post soon . . .

More connection woes

As loyal readers (yes, both of you) may have noticed, the site’s been down a lot lately. That’s because it’s still being hosted on my PC at home, and we continue to have problems with our connection.  On Sunday, I talked with a tech who gave the impression that he actually looked into the problem and he deduced that there’s a problem with our connection! Woo Hoo! He offered to send a tech out without even making any dark threats about possible charges if it’s a problem with our equipment, so I have an appointment tomorrow morning.

Anyhoo, all the problems lately have been making me think that I should actually get the site hosted somewhere else. Anyone have any particular thoughts? I’m looking at Dreamhost and 1 and 1 right now; I know some of you are using GoDaddy, and that seems decent as well. Dunno.  Maybe. Someday. Eventually. I suppose.

Hope they fix my problem tomorrow so that I can forget about looking for a host again . . .

Comcast frustrations

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been having intermittent problems with my internet service at home. Randomly, but nearly every day, we simply lose our connection. Our modem shows a connection with the home network, but no signal from the Comcast (our ISP) side. A quick glance at the router status confirms my network is A-OK, but there’s no traffic from the modem side.

“Power cycling” the modem (as Comcast likes to call it; it involves unplugging it, waiting for a minute and plugging it back in) will restore our connection, but at very slow speeds for periods that have lasted up to an hour (for example, a speed test last night showed 11 kbps, much slower than a 56K dial-up connection). After that, speeds ramp back up to the 4-6 Mbps I’m used to. Until the next time it goes down.

After putting up with this for a while, I decided to call tech support last night (*shudder*). After brief troubleshooting on their part (which I think consisted of pinging my modem, which didn’t tell them anything other than the fact that my connection was up), I got the dreaded question, “Do you have a router connected to your modem?” I’d gone through this before, and explained to the tech that I had no intention of disconnecting the router, connecting my PC directly to the modem, reconfiguring networking on my PC from static to DHCP, rebooting, etc., when the problem is clearly not on my side of the modem. From there the immediate response was that there was nothing else they could do but to send a tech out and that if the problem was with my equipment I’d be charged. I was a bit surprised that they weren’t even going to try having a level II tech look into it before sending a field tech, but I agreed to let them send the tech. Then I was informed that because I don’t have cable TV (just internet for me, thanks) there would be a $19.95 charge for sending a tech, with additional charges if the problem wasn’t with their equipment.

WTF? The fifty bucks I pay per month only grants me the possibility of accessing the internet? Apparently if I want actual service there may be additional fees.

After arguing this point for a few minutes, I hung up without accomplishing anything. Then I tried the online chat feature, and went through the exact same process, but without the $19.95 dispatch charge. So now I have an appointment for Saturday, some time between 8:00 and 5:00. Great.

Of course, I’m still not actually sure that I want to take the risk of having a tech come out. It’s an intermittent problem, and if I can’t recreate it when the tech is here, am I going to get slapped with a big fee? Even if we lose our connection while the tech is here, my experience is that he or she won’t do anything except get it working again and then leave with a resolution of “power cycled modem”. What I’d really like would be to be able to open a ticket and have someone who knows something take a look at my connection, and maybe even run a couple of actual tests on it.

Crap. All I want is to pay my bill and have a service that actually works. Is that too much to ask?

Edit: After posting, I decided to cancel the tech appointment. Next time I have a problem, I’ll start over and insist that someone actually troubleshoot the problem. Don’t know if that will get me anywhere, but it’s worth a shot.

If you can’t dazzle them with dexterity . . .

. . . baffle them with bullsh*t. After all these years, I still have the capacity to be amazed that presumably intelligent people are capable of doing something like this:

Accelerate the design and delivery of complex workflow processes leveraging event-based automation and dynamic critical path analysis.

Who writes this kind of stuff? And why haven’t they been beaten to death with their keyboards?

Here’s an English translation: Full-featured job scheduling software.

I think I’m going to go aggregate viral solutions enabling syndicated revolutionary networks to transition turn-key relationships. Or something.

Browsin’ blues

The browsers are buggin’ me. I know I’ve complained about Firefox before, and there’s also been a bit of a complaint about it over at The Feesl’s, but I have to bring it up again.

I switched to Opera a couple of months ago after getting fed up with how bloated and slow Firefox had become. I was also impressed by the fact that Opera9 passes the Acid2 test, something that Firefox still doesn’t get right (it’s far better than IE but still, with all the Firefox high-and-mighty standards-compliant self-fellating that goes on you’d think they’d actually, y’know, be compliant).

Anyway, Opera’s great. It’s fast, lightweight, and has some decent features of it’s own. I slightly prefer some of the behaviors I had with Firefox (through extensions) that I can’t get Opera to do, like automatically opening new tabs from the address bar, but it’s not a big enough deal to drive me back to Firefox.

Google, on the other hand, might be.

I’m specifically talking about Gmail and Google Reader, two JavaScript-heavy applications that don’t appear to be well supported for Opera. I honestly don’t know if it’s a problem with Opera’s JavaScript engine or with Google’s code being optimized for IE and FF and taking their JavaScript bugs into account, but the problem is there. With either of the Google apps, Opera slows down and sometimes stops responding to clicks anywhere on the page (although it’s written well enough that it’s never crashed or completely locked up on me).

Frankly, I suspect that the problem is with Google, mostly because everything else about Opera screams quality coding, from its speed and low resource usage, to its stability and thoughtful UI design.

Right now, I’m feeling towards Google and Firefox what I used to feel towards IE and IE-only websites. I want to use Opera, because it’s clearly the best one out there right now. However, I’m stuck because Google also has the best apps (Gmail in particular) and that’s the one I’m less willing to give up. For the time being, I’m giving Firefox another shot, but I’m still going to log into Gmail and Google Reader with Opera on a daily basis, just to do my part in keeping the Opera usage stats up so that Google will hopefully fix whatever’s wrong.