I updated to OSX 10.9 Mavericks this week, and as with all updates, it broke PHP. I run a local MAMP server for development purposes and it all works OK except that you have to re-enable PHP in the apache configuration file. I found a useful guide over at coolestguidesontheplanet.com which included these steps:
Open a terminal window and edit the httpd.conf file:
sudo nano /etc/apache2/httpd.conf
Uncomment this line:
LoadModule php5_module libexec/apache2/libphp5.so
Write out and save the file, then restart apache:
sudo apachectl restart
… and Robert’s your Mother’s Brother.
I’ve been developing a site for a national competition to be launched in October and ran into a little difficulty with Internet Explorer. Despite this browser losing ground amongst even the unthinking default user community, it is still sufficiently popular that I needed to look at the problem.
The site is running WordPress on a LAMP server using Konstantin Kovshenin‘s Expound theme. One of the testers noticed the letters “Ski” next to the Home menu item. Mousing over it produces a fleeting grey box to appear top left of the browser window. This turned out to be only visible in IE8, IE9 and IE 10 in “compatibility mode”, a feature of IE that allows the browser to render sites that are broken by IE’s shockingly poor implementation of standards, using a model from an earlier version. It’s what a code monkey might call a Kludge.
The “Ski” is in fact, the first few letters of “Skip to content”. It is one of several features of the site’s theme implementation which are broken in IE’s compatibility mode.
There are several suggestions in the forums designed to force IE into non-compatibility mode and render the site properly. Most rely on delivering a <Doctype> tag on the very first line, followed immediately by a X-UA-Compatible meta tag. Unless this tag is placed on the line immediately after the Doctype tag, IE ignores it.
I considered trying to knock up a plugin to make this work in some kind of customisable way. Editing the theme’s header.php file seemed doomed to be overwritten on the next update, and branching a child theme felt like too much hard work for such a small fix to accommodate a browser that I personally would like everyone to stop using. Part of me wants all sites to look broken when viewed with IE so as to encourage the masses to make an intelligent choice for once. Let’s not start talking about democracy.
Anyway, a little more digging found a really elegant solution which suited my particular needs from Reza Qorbani, which is to use the .htaccess file to have the Apache server sniff the browser and send the metatag. This is what I finished up with:
BrowserMatch MSIE best-standards-support
Header set X-UA-Compatible IE=edge env=best-standards-support
It works a treat. Thanks, Reza!
Continuing the summer of code into the early autumn, I have been developing, enhancing and debugging the new server. New and migrated sites are stable and responding well within the resource limits I’ve chosen of 10GB disk, 50GB traffic (although we’re close to whacking this one) and 256/512 MB RAM/Swap space. Uptime has been 100% for over 60 days now.
Within the suite of services running on the server are database, web server, CGI, mail, stats and monitoring. What is not, is the DNS service, which I have learned to keep in a different place, with the registrar. Setting up reverse DNS for the mail service to work correctly is important: I discovered that one client had been having difficulties receiving mail from just one of his friends. This was because the MX DNS entry for his domain pointed to an IP address which some service providers will reject as it doesn’t comply with the RFC. Changing it to the host domain of the server’s IP, however, stopped all mail getting through to the client. This was finally resolved by pointing the MX record for the domain to the domain itself:
example.com. A 192.0.2.1
@ MX 10 example.com.
If you want to know how the Internet works, by the way, a really good place to start is the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). They have a good introduction here. Many internet standards are defined in RFC documents.
Other services on the server operate as database-driven php suites such as the WordPress CMS, Moodle, LimeSurvey or phpBB. All of these are subject to modifications, code hacks and tweaks to make them work to the needs of the site owner. Whilst the Parallels Plesk Panel allows install-at-a-click for many application suites, I prefer to manage the installation and customisation of these myself. Until now, I had used the download-unzip-upload over FTP method but I’m going to try using the more elegant command-line facility offered by Git. I’m getting started by using their excellent online documentation. This should allow me a much faster update route and potentially a way to be a better contributor to open source than the consumer I have been.
I’ve been a user of AudioBoo for some time now, and have recorded a few dozen commentaries, some of which have been listened to thousands of times. I find it an excellent tool for easy podcasting and most of my broadcasts are automatically cross-posted to iTunes and edutalk.cc. I’m pleased to find that audioBoo have launched this week a facility for educators who might consider the power of audio for their learners. From the announcement:
…we’re delighted to announce the launch of Audioboo for Education: a new initiative to help students and educators to enrich the learning experience and encourage conversation and debate through the power of audio.
Apart from ideas and examples of how audioBoo can be used to support and enhance learning, there’s also an intelligent and useful app for Edmodo, the VLE of choice for many teachers.
New channels of engagement are essential to the flipped classroom and the enabling of access to education on the learner’s terms, which is something that if you’re an educator and not driving it, then it will soon be driving you. Why not try it? It’s free, it’s easy and it offers leverage to your impact on learners: if you want an example, my most recent public talk has reached hundreds more through the podcast than it did in the flesh, so to speak.
The summer has had me getting to grips with the nitty-gritty of internet web hosting, caused by a consolidation and move of all of the websites and services that I host to a new server. I had been using HostPapa in a shared environment for several years but the traffic and resource usage of these sites had been on the increase for about 18 months, to the point that HostPapa invited me to pack up and leave.
After a detailed survey of requirements and possible alternatives, I elected to move to the affordable but much more powerful next-step-up of a virtual private server (VPS) solution from HostingUK. I’ve known these guys since they set up business in the late 90’s and felt comfortable that I would get good support from the people behind the business. I haven’t been disappointed.
The new server runs CentOS 6.4, a version of the Red Hat Linux operating system and has the usual LAMP features of Apache Web server, mySQL and PHP, with the Parallels Plex 11 management panel.
My development has been firstly in the area of learning how to set it all up using the Plex panel: it’s a very powerful tool but it’s not quite plug-and-play. The DNS for each of the domains on the site is best managed at the registration server using their nameservers: they have redundancy built in and although the VPS can be its own NS, if it goes down for any reason, this can lead to problems with mail transport and SEO indexing. Within the DNS records for each domain, minimum configuration requires appropriate A, MX and CNAME entries as well as TXT or SPF records to stop your mail from being forever consigned to the spam folder.
Further learning has included getting down and dirty with the *nix command line, from basic file operations to examining logs, setting up CRON and managing and installing further packages. I’ve installed Munin to help identify what normal operation looks like. One of the things that my new insight has given me is an appreciation of just how much sustained attack is endured by even the smallest of websites by the likes of Turkish, Chinese, North Korean and other interests. The importance of having decent passwords is underlined when you see 20,000 (yes, twenty thousand) attempts to guess the root password in a single day.
The summer of code has reminded me of what I’m best at, and what I enjoy doing.
Switched my Nexus 7 on today for the first time in a little while today. I’ve got to the point now where I don’t use it much, as it’s such a flaky piece of junk. I can’t be relying on flaky pieces of junk. This is what I saw:
It’s still faulty. Same fault I returned it for back in November. And again twice more since. This is seriously the worst product service I have ever had. And that’s coming from a guy who once bought a Lada. Get it sorted, please, Asus.
The future is technology. So goes the idealistic vision of the future theme of edcmooc and the happy dreams of those who dream of a digital utopia in which our lives are enhanced by amazing geekery and augmented reality.
My world is different. Mine is a world in which technology doesn’t work. It claims to work but forgets to mention the endless hours you will spend trying to get it do what you thought, foolishly, that it would do. Don’t even mention the word “GLOW” in my presence.
I bought a Sony Bravia TV because it had internet connectivity. It does, sort of, but not the way I understood it. It connects to a half-assed clunky version of the internet. It doesn’t, after all, play stuff from the web. I doesn’t let me browse. At all. I discover that I can jigger about with things to make it do that, sort of. I bought a Roku Media Streamer so I can stream digital media from my network to the TV. It does, sort of, but not the way I understood it. It has an interface clunkier than a clunky thing from clunky-land in the far forgotten time of the early nineties. I took it back. I bought a Boxee Box which according to the manufacturers, does all the things I want it to do. It does, sort of, but not the way I understood it. It falls over a lot. The display is intermittently broken and it switches sound output on and off suddenly, threatening my lovely expensive speakers (which were made in the 1970’s by the way and still work when not rapidly switched on and off by a dodgy boxee). I took it back.
I got an Asus Nexus Google 7 tablet which has had a flickering display fault since the day it arrived and despite being returned to the manufacturer twice, still has the fault. The audio output has never worked. I’m sending it back. Again.
The future may be technology but don’t you rely on it doing what you think it will do. It will, sort of, but not the way you understood it.
e-learning and digital cultures: a digital artefact – my assignment for the EDCMOOC. Comments welcome.
I’ve been having a conversation with a couple of friends about things like moocs and blended learning and the future of education. In that dialogue, the issue of sharing content under the Creative Commons License arose – this being offered as a reasonable step to take to share resources for online learning without having somebody steal it and sell it on for profit.
My first blog was posted in 1997 and within a few months I realised that the images and content I so carefully created were being used by others to make money, either through aggregation or lazy theft of copyright material. Since that time, I have tried on a number of occasions to seek redress, either by having the content removed, or properly acknowledged and back-linked to the source, or by seeking some kind of royalty or compensation for the use of my intellectual property. Only once have I ever been successful in getting appropriate acknowledgement posted for my articles and images.
I’ve often defended against leeching by substituting another image – something a little less appropriate for the thief’s original purpose, usually. There’s not much you can do when your images or content are posted into someone else’s server space. Legal fees are prohibitively extortionate – £150 per hour is mate’s rates around here and it’s only lawyers that can afford that kind of expenditure.
Encouraged by my friends’ assertion that I have the law on my side, I’ve just billed a well-known Scottish University £200 for Royalties for an image (a drawing of mine) they have stolen from one of my sites which is clearly marked copyright. Ironically, on the site where they have posted the image, there is a notice for students which states: “Note: Don’t post other people’s pictures to your blog without permission” a few lines down from the infringement.
I’ll let you know how it goes. UPDATE 28 March 2013: They paid up.